Self-Promotion & Self-Publishing for Beginners

A revealing article penned by indie author Alastair Crombie describes how he attempted self-marketing as an unknown writer.

He concludes:

Unfortunately, I’ve not found any other methods that work reliably for newbies. I’m not sure there are any. The cold truth of the matter is that instant success belongs in the fiction we write and not in the facts we live.

“And the final lesson I learnt: living with disappointment. I know most authors recognize the feeling.”

This year, I’ve been navigating the self-promotion trail, which is something I wish I’d began six years ago, before writing my first Cornish Detective novel. If you’re new to writing, I earnestly recommend beginning a blog (with a newsletter) and posting regularly on social media. The trick is to get your name known and also to collect email addresses of subscribers who may, one day, buy your book.

Remember, whether you self-publish online or you publish traditionally through a book company, you’ll be expected to have an author platform, so best start now!

When I returned to creative writing in 2013, I knew it would take at least five years to get anywhere and so it has proved. It helps that I’m stoical (and bloody-minded!). I had some experience of publishing and being a writer from selling short stories and magazine articles in the 1970s and 1980s, realising that you were only as good as your last published piece—and that it needed lots of luck to get that into print.

I’m glad that one of the first writing guides I read was How Not To Write A Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author by David Armstrong. Originally published in 2002, what he says about surviving as a non-bestselling author is even truer today. The hardships and ignominy are worse. There are affordable copies available on Amazon and eBay and Kindle:

Armstrong confirms that it’s a long, hard slog to get anywhere as a writer. Wannabee authors might well be put off starting.

At present, I’m wrestling with the hydra of converting my books to other formats, those most commonly used by e-reading devices, which are PDF, MOBI and EPUB. This is to make my manuscript flowable, able to automatically fit different-sized screens. Previously, I’ve self-published on Amazon and via Smashwords, which rather spoilt me, for they have meatgrinder software which does the conversion for you.

I should have used Smashwords again, even though I’ve unpublished my 45 titles on their site, to promote them via Draft2Digital. Instead, out of some daft sense of behaving honourably, I attempted to do the job by using Calibre, checking what the converted story looked like with Adobe Digital Editions

The main problem has been that the formatting I’ve used sometimes gets removed by Calibre, resulting in unwanted spacing between sentences and paragraphs. Trying to establish my own house style, I’d used Celtic symbols as section breaks, like this:

Calibre didn’t like that at all, substituting a capital ‘O’ for the key I’d pressed to insert the Celtic Knot. Smashwords meatgrinder did the same thing. This meant I had to remove them all, which took several hours…as did adding them last week. Note to self: stop being a clever dick!

After cleaning the manuscript of extraneous design flourishes, I put it through Smashwords meatgrinder again, which gave me a clean-looking story, complete with an attached book cover. There are still problems with the MOBI conversion done by Smashwords, which is the format used by Amazon for their Kindles.

Smashwords and Amazon don’t play well together, each insisting that any manuscript submitted doesn’t mention their rival. I’d listed my 45 previously published titles at the end of the book, linking them to Amazon, which gave Smashwords an epileptic fit! Removing them improved the MOBI reformatting results, but Amazon’s own meatgrinder will probably do a better job.

Of course, if I had the money, I could pay someone to run a campaign promoting me and my books and to convert my books to other formats, placing advertising strategically, but I don’t, so I’m doing everything myself. Paying for services is no guarantee of success. I’ve read some horror stories of people investing their life savings to promote themselves as writers, selling very few books and facing penury.

I’m 80% towards completing what I planned with blogging, having an author website, designing book covers, reformatting my five crime novels and posting on social media. I’m going to put in a couple of weeks of 12-hour days, to ready things for launching the first two stories in mid-July.

Although it’s taken thousands of hours of work to get to this point, I’m truly not expecting anything much to happen. I’m not a celebrity who’s chosen to write a book (or have it written for them), so I’ve no free promotion that way.

I’m just a nobody trying to be a somebody.

What might help raise my profile, is to do interviews with the local press and radio stations, which I’m loath to do, but needs must when the devil drives. EMOJI Cornwall Libraries have a policy of buying books by Cornish authors and those set in the county, so I’ll make some sales that way (including eBooks) as well as introduce local readers to my name.

What problems have you faced in self-promoting and self-publishing?

What worked for you?

And, what was a waste of time and money?

If anyone needs advice on what I’ve written about in this post, please contact me (before my brain melts).

I might have made the mistakes, so you don’t have to.

Personality Test for Writers

I stumbled upon a test to assess what sort of personality you have as a writer.

The first question is what sort of writer do you think you are? I guessed Savvy Writer, but I was wrong, for apparently I’m an Eternal Writer:

Of all the writers, you have the strongest most comprehensive grasp of the writing craft. Consequently, others don’t appreciate how hard you work at it. You make it look easy!

I don’t know about that…most of the time I feel like this:

Real Books Have Curves

As I continue my rambling way towards self-publishing my series of crime novels this summer, I had the alarming thought last night, that I hadn’t yet uploaded my first two stories to my WordPress Cornish Detective website to make them available to readers as downloads.

How to do that? Should they be in MS Word (.doc) format or as a PDF…or, both? And, how does the book cover fit into all of this? I found two helpful articles about both formats, then spent three hours faffing around attempting to get the Word (.doc) version to appear on my site. I’ve moaned about the complexity of WordPress before on this blog, so I won’t go on. One of the problems with WordPress is that it’s regularly updated, as are the plug-in widgets that operate it, meaning that online advice about how to do things is quickly outdated.

Getting a blog about writing and a website on my books up and running has felt like the Labours of Hercules.

I’ve spent most of my time in the Augean Stables!

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None of this activity feels like being a writer. And, anything I’ve read about WordPress hasn’t been reading for pleasure. As for my novels, they exist as intransigent digital files—it’s hard to think of them as books.

Weary with frustration, I shut down my laptop and went to bed with five books…I’m a promiscuous reader! 

Laying there in the company of real books, that I could feel, smell and move around wherever I wanted them, I enjoyed the sensuality of the experience.

I’m dedicated to self-publishing eBooks this summer, with POD to follow if readers ask for it, but as an activity it feels as sexy as scrubbing bathroom grouting clean!

For the reader, Kindles and other eBook reading devices have advantages, such as anonymity and being able to store many titles, but they’re not alluring or likely to encourage conversation. These are paranoid times, with mass surveillance of the population, meaning we seek ways to preserve whatever privacy we can—including stealth reading.

What do you think?

A Clever Way of Encouraging Reading

A post from the Word Lovers group appeared on my Facebook feed this morning, directing me to a story which impressed me.

High school English teacher Ryan Buck deserves praise and the $2,000 grant he received from the Book Love foundation to purchase books for his classroom library.


Eye-Catching or Tasteless?

I’ve chuntered on about designing book covers several times on this blog, including here and here.

I’ve recently been redesigning the covers of my crime novel series for launching them as eBooks this summer.

The importance of a book cover can’t be overstated, as it’s the first thing that a potential reader sees. Your story takes on an identity from the image on the cover, the colours used and the typography.

Recently, I’ve seen several articles about Facebook’s 3D Photos software being adapted to use for book covers. It’s discussed here:

I have mixed feelings about it. It would work well on Fantasy and Science Fiction stories, but less so for Crime tales. As for Erotica, I’m staying away from that area—after all, what ‘object’ would you choose to highlight in the foreground of the image…the mind boggles, as might the cover!

The movement of an image would certainly catch the eye, as it’s how we’re hardwired, but is it a bit naff, a gimmicky trick, a bit tasteless like black velvet paintings?

What do you think?


Reasons to be Optimistic

As I continue with my self-promotion campaign via blogging, creating a website dedicated to my crime novel series and posting on social media, in preparation for self-publishing this summer, I was happy to come across an optimistic article written by Harry Bingham.

I like Harry, as he knows the publishing business as an author:

His early experiences of the publishing world prompted him to found The Writers’ Workshop, since renamed Jericho Writers:

In the article What Fiction Decline? An Indie Author’s Asking, he makes astute points about the inaccuracies of many surveys of publishing, which ignore crucial sales figures—such as Amazon’s KDP—which Amazon doesn’t share with anyone. No one would take a survey of traffic seriously, if it only counted vehicles on two-lane and local roads, ignoring motorways/freeways, so why embrace doom and gloom when the Association of American Publishers and the Publishers Association in Britain say things are getting worse?

The fact is that nothing at all in my interactions with readers makes me feel like I’m selling horses to car owners. Indeed, if my email inbox is anything to go by, I’m selling horses to people who really, really like horses. The appetite for good, absorbing, well-written fiction feels to me as intense now as it ever did.

I was glad to read this paragraph: I’m still unsure about what I’m doing with self-promotion and self-publishing, but it feels more like progress than querying cloth-eared literary agents who either ignore me completely or only deign to reply after three months with a form letter of rejection.

People hunger for new stories, so perhaps I’ll find an audience.


Fast & Slow Beginnings

You know how much it’s stressed to have an opening to a story that hooks the reader making them want to read on? If nothing else, it’s crucial to make the first five pages compelling to attract the attention of the literary agent you’re querying.

I’ve become increasingly mindful of how I write the first chapter, and I usually rewrite it after typing The End to introduce foreshadowing I was unaware of as I set out. We all know that being a writer can detract from being a reader, as our radar is always on looking for techniques and tricks, guessing who the murderer is early on and which characters are going to become lovers.

Just recently though, I’ve read two novels that made me reappraise how to begin a story. One had an exciting start that places you in the cab of the protagonist’s pickup as she’s menaced by a charging elk. Will Dean’s Dark Pines deserves its favourable reviews and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel Red Snow.

Image result for author will dean

My heart raced reading the first few paragraphs, but once the crisis was over, the story slowed as the author set up the inciting incident of a body being found. Click on Look inside to see what I mean. It struck me that this was a false exciting beginning as if Will Dean had been advised by their agent to jazz things up!

Nothing wrong with that, I guess, and I might use the con myself for a future Cornish Detective novel. I still felt a bit cheated. Strangely enough, animals barely make an appearance in the rest of the story, just a couple of deer, crows and dogs.

The other novel that pulled the carpet out from under me has the opposite characteristics. The Cold Dish is the first story in Craig Johnson’s much-loved Longmire mystery series, adapted into a hit television series. I haven’t watched any of them, but one of my best friends, a discerning resident of Wyoming praises them to the skies.

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Craig Johnson

The opening of the novel mosies into sight like a laid-back drinker who’s quaffed four pints and is recounting a favourite anecdote of his to you after you’ve joined him at the bar. It’s as if you’ve known him all his life and he you, as he reacquaints you with who’s who and what’s what in his little town.

Granted, there’s mention of a dead body being found in sentence one, but that was reported by two ne’er-do-wells and is probably a dead sheep anyway, so let’s have another beer while the narrator continues his rambling story about local residents and police colleagues.

As a writing technique, it suits the character of Sheriff Walt Longmire, but it’s not designed to grab you by the throat. The Cold Dish was published in 2004—perhaps readers’ attention spans were longer back then—there’s nothing wrong with Craig Johnson’s writing, but I wondered if his relaxed approach would be allowed today. I think that his agent might ask him to add some gore to the opening.

My crime novels always feature the murdered victim in Chapter 1, either while still alive or when found as an abandoned corpse. I’m attempting to bond the reader with the victim, making them eager to know who the killer is and how my protagonist detective works things out.

Have you come across any stories that began in unexpected ways?

What’s the most exciting start to a story you’ve read?

And, the worst?

Predatory Publishers

Not everyone in the world of writing and publishing is nice.

These two articles by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware highlight the dodgy tactics used by supposedly respectable publishers such as Simon & Schuster;

It goes to prove how unregulated the internet is, with corporations such as Google and Amazon happy to take money from unscrupulous traders without checking what it is they’re selling. Just think of the plagiarism scandal on Amazon books.

Triple check everyone you’re thinking of doing business with, before committing to a contract.

It’s a jungle out there—and, you’re the meat!