Tag Archives: e-publishing

Author platform – who needs it?

I’m not sure I ever set out to develop what is now called an author platform. I started to blog partly for fun and also because of an instinct that in the increasingly digital world (this was back in 2007) it would be good to have an online presence. As an unpublished author it was also a way of finding an audience for some of my writing and of celebrating any successes that came along. If I’m honest I’d also say that knowing I could publish a few paragraphs every week bolstered my confidence and gave me a raison d’etre at times when the fiction-writing muse had gone totally AWOL. Similarly Twitter, when it came along,  struck me as a fun way to connect with people, especially those like me working in solitary confinement. And despite its distracting effect, it soon became the best place to go panning for the  writerly nuggets (tips, comps, chat) we all need.

Then came my publishing deal with Thornberry and I was gratified to find that my author platform (recently bolstered by joining a writers cooperative) as desired by agents and publishers  was already in place. In e-publishing terms I could hit the ground running.  But as time goes on, and with no royalties/sales feedback to date (these things take time apparently!) I’m beginning to look at it at all with more of a business eye and to wonder how much difference all this blogging and tweeting has actually made in terms of sales.

In the wake of a couple of months fairly frenetic online activity (when I might otherwise have been concentrating on my WIP) this question was already nudging at my brain. Then a writer friend mentioned a book called Making a Killing on Kindle  by Michael Alvear and the question is looming a lot larger.

Make a Killing on Kindle coverThe author’s thesis is that sales on Amazon are not driven by external promotional activities  but by working the Amazon system in terms of how the book is presented on Amazon itself. I haven’t really delved into the technicalities of how to make this happen (most of it pertains to the indie publisher) but what has jumped out at me are his compelling stats on the ‘conversion rate’ of blog visitors who actually go on to make a purchase, claiming that 10,000 visitors a month (no mean feat!)  would yield on average 1.2 sales. Well he could be wrong (I hope!) and obviously the whole blog tour concept is about going beyond your own audience to find new readers, but I have to agree that my own blog visiting is more likely to be for the purpose of getting information or entertainment than actually making a purchase.

Well arguably I didn’t set out to make a killing exactly, and whatever platform I have has grown organically and at my own pace, but it would be good to think I was  doing something to help sales along rather than the reverse and although some of his ‘guerilla’ tactics seem a bit extreme, I’ll certainly be looking closely (or asking my publisher to do so) at some of his other ideas, including his advice on titles and pitches as well as the more complex areas of SEO.

So what about the author platform? Well maybe I’ve already made my first million and they just haven’t told me. If not, I don’t think I’m likely to dispappear from t’internet completely (I mean I know how much you all love my presence here!) but I can see that marketing an e-book is possibly not the same proposition as attracting the attention of an agent or publisher in the first place  and maybe some further research is required into what actually pays off.


Ta-da! A day out brings a happy beginning

love a happy end summer audienceSo what is Love a Happy Ending exactly? An online community, a marketing venture, an author network? Even when I had bought my ticket for the Summer Audience (just up the road in picturesque Tetbury and £25 a ticket with lunch – I mean, what’s not to like?) I’m not sure I could have told you.  Having spent a day in their very convivial company, it’s still hard to put into words except to say it’s all of the above but with an energy that makes it more than the sum of its parts.

Here’s the deal. Members fall into two main groups – authors (by invitation only and restricted to around 30) and associate readers (currently 15) who support authors by posting reviews on their established book blogs (look out, some members are in both groups!) From among these there are a handful of hard-working editors who  keep the lahe website fresh and interesting by posting regular columns on writing and publishing topics. There may be more I haven’t discovered yet, but bearing in mind that some of these members are professional publishers, editors, artists (and artistes) as well as writers, we are talking strength in depth. Maybe it’s a business model for the brave new world of pubishing. If so, it’s working well; several of the featured authors have recently won publishing deals.

I was originally cautious about how/if I would fit in (if given the option!) because of an initial impression that this was for chick lit and genre romance writers rather than mainstream (?) types like me. But today brought ample proof that the group is widening its appeal with an ever bigger variety of writers ( ahem, there are even men!) And today, dear readers – this is the TADA bit – I was delighted to find I’ve been selected to join their ranks, i.e. I have a bunch of new friends and a host of new opportunities all in one go. Result!

In fact today’s speakers, workshops and readings sparked off so many thoughts (you know how it is when the solitary writer gets out) that I now have ideas for a shedload of blog posts and other activities. But something else occurred to me, possibly not before time.  I stood in that hall yesterday by dint of being a writer, and writing is what I should be doing. So although you’ll still be seeing me here, there and everywhere, I shall also be knuckling down to a bit of serious keyboard-bashing of the solitary kind.

Meanwhile, it’s time to raise a glass to the good people of lahe, with an extra glug in honour of Tricia Jones whose excerpt from Bull at the Gate (unashamedly raunchy romance) won the best book comp and  also to the two other writers admitted to ‘the fellowship’ on the day (aagh, in my excitement I missed the names). I do hope I’ll get to know everyone better soon.

Cotton Clouds

Sometimes the question of what is an indie book needs a closer look. Does it have to be published by the author? What if the author has given it an imprint? What if it’s published by a teeny weeny publisher and has limited distribution? I rather like the definition suggested by the Indie e-book review as one where (put briefly) the author, or an enterprise in which the author has a stake,  retains  rights in the work.  That sounds independent enough to me.

Playing on Cotton CloudsNow I don’t know the set-up with Crooked Cat .  They may retain all rights, they may not, but I don’t restrict myself to indie books and having read a few of their novels (which cover a huge variety of styles and genres) by far and away my favourite is fellow Ether author Michela O’Brien’s Kissing the Cotton Clouds, now reissued as Playing on Cotton Clouds. If there’s a tendency these days for novels to focus on a single character (often using first person narratives) and over a relatively short period, this book bucks the trend by following a group of teenagers from the end of school through to middle age.  There’s no riveting premise or crazy m.c. to drive things along, which I can see makes it a more difficult proposition to package and to pitch and I admit I was a bit doubtful on first approach.   A sex scene is a predictable start but it’s well-written and makes a good introduction to Aidan who’s already sleeping with a girl ‘from the grown-up world’. Then we meet the vying Grimes sisters  and finally Seth, a quiet boy who struggles to keep up socially and sexually with the rest of the gang. It’s a lot to take in in a few pages, but as soon as the gang meets up on the local bridge, I find myself not so much in the eighties (a decade which largely passed me by) as in the world of adolescence, that time when the boy/girl you fancy something rotten is oblivious to your existence because he/she is just as completely obsessed with someone else. This to me is a truth as universal as that whole man-fortune-wife scenario and one that doesn’t always recede with age! Then came this passage:

‘The bridge had waited for them all evening. It knew they would come…
[it] would welcome each one of them, with their sweet dreams and dark secrets, their hopes and their fears, their heartaches and triumphs, their handful of years and their unshaped future’.

Hmm, should that have been ‘futures’? No matter –  I just liked it. And I grew to like it more and more as the group travels through the years, more apart than together, but never quite escaping those old rivalries and jealousies, never totally casting off the friendships.  As they grow older they remain sympathetic but also retain their innate flaws. We despair of those mistakes we know we have made ourselves, the eternal ‘what-ifs’ of life and love.

The pace is unhurried and for a while I thought this was going to be more a collection of linked stories than a conventionally structured novel, but actually I was wrong.  The whole thing is skilfully drawn together in a perfect conclusion.

In many ways (setting, period,  jumps in time, even the character of Livy) this novel recalls the much-hyped One Day. But I think Michela O’Brien has pulled off a richer and more complex story (without resorting to a gimmick) and with a much more satisfying ending.

Eighties refusenik that I am, I still don’t particularly take to the  cotton clouds  (played on or kissed) of the title, but I hope this book gets as wide an audience as it deserves. For that to happen (take note Crooked Cat, take note a.n. other?) I suspect it really needs to be in print.

I hope some of you will take a look and see if you agree.

What price the 70s?

This week I entered a self-publisher’s competition which involved reading other people’s novels. As a marketing ploy I thought this wouldn’t work at all. I skim read like mad, searching for the answers to the relevant questions and paying little heed to the writing. The chance of my forking out for any of these books was infinitesimal. But then I got to Mama told me Not to Come by Sue Le Blond. This is a novel about a bunch of students settling into a new house in 1970. I read a few pages; the writing was fresh, the period references spot on without being OTT. I was drawn to it, more so than to the BBCs worthy but ponderous White Heat which I abandoned after episode two.

Tapestry album coverAh, the 70s, surely the ugly duckling of the decades:  too recent to be retro, too long ago for regular reminiscing. But yes, this decade is my decade. In 1970 I started at uni. In 1975 I had my first job, in 1976 we bought our first house,  got married and from then until the early eighties we lived, I suppose, the life of young professionals (even if no one had told us that’s what it was).

It’s not a decade that one is usually proud to be part of, but judging by this week’s offering from the beeb, it’s coming back into fashion. I can now own up to the electric blue catsuit, the Laura Ashley wallpaper, the pink wedding dress.  (Sorry, no photos, but try here and select no.2 for the general look.) For those of a nostalgic (or voyeuristic) disposition, there is more seventies fun to be found on my St. Andrews blog.

Mama Told me Not to Come coverBut what of the book, the one about student life with the nicely nostalgic opening and interesting-sounding plot? Well the thing is, it costs 7.99. Which I’m sure is a fair price. It’s what books cost, more or less. As a writer I’m fine with it. But as a reader I am an absolute skinflint. For £8 I can  buy at least four self-pub e-books. Of these, I guess on past performance that one will be dire, two will be okayish, and one will be excellent, as good as most commercially published books and better than some.  I could have bought just the one, but that’s not the way it works. It’s about curiosity, about taking a punt. I might pay over £5 for an e-version of a best-seller that comes with lots of recommendations, or I might splash out on the paperback. But buying a self-published book, represents, I think, a bigger risk than a commercially published novel. I’d still quite like to give this one a go, but how much faith do I have in it when I don’t know the author and there is no industry stamp of approval?

This is the problem with self-publishing. Your book may be well worth the money. But how many people outside your known circle of acquaintances will take the risk? Of course there is another way. A print edition is good to have. Some people don’t have e-readers, others prefer not to use them. But put out an e-edition too, and make the price lower than your tree-book. I think your potential readership will increase dramatically. Anyone who falls in love with it might even double-up with the print version.

Photocredit: Carole King Tapestry album from Wikipedia commons

Getting published – a third way

With the e-revolution fully underway and many writers ‘going indie,’ there’s another shift in the publishing landscape: a new breed of publishing house is springing up, mainly offering e-publishing and inviting previously unpublished authors to submit. I know of several writers (all with decent writing c.v.s but who up to now have failed to get a novel published) who have signed with one or other of these new kids on the block.

Crooked Cat


Sapphire Star

And so it looks as though the aspiring author now has a third option to add to the existing strategies of a) continuing with the round of submitting to agents and conventional publishers and b) self- or indie publishing.

So how can these companies make offers to new writers when mainstream publishers are being so very cautious? Presumably because the lower costs of e-publishing reduce the risk compared to a conventional publisher who has print and distribution costs to consider. So is the market for books really expanding? Can we have more publishers, more authors, all selling more books and making, in the global sense, more money from them? The answer may well be ‘yes’. I’ve bought more e-books since buying the e-reader than I ever would have bought tree-books in the same period. And I’ve heard others who are readers pure and simple (not egged on like me by curiosity about the competition!) also commenting that they are buying more books for Kindle than they would have paperbacks.

But what about individual writers? Whether we ‘go indie’ or are signed by an e-publisher, what kind of return can we expect? E-books typically sell for up to two pounds for indie publishers and up to three or four  from an e-publisher (allowing for their own mark-up).  Amazon and other distribution channels (as I understand it) also take a cut. We’re all going to have to shift shed-loads to get much of a return. Of course lots of writers have done just that, especially in theUSA. And I’m reminded that unless your book is an undisputed banker,  advances from conventional publishers have fallen off the bottom of the scale.

What I can’t say right now is how the return from indie publishing might compare to going with an e-publisher. How will the royalties pan out? How much will the writer gain from the publisher’s ‘branding’, and what else will the publisher do (design, marketing, distribution) to drive sales?

However you look at it, more publishers publishing more authors sounds like a good thing to me.  And as luck would have it, one writer who has plumped for  the ‘third way’ is coming next week to talk about her experience.

righteous Exposure cover imageMandy James’ debut novel Righteous Exposure was published last week by the cutely named Crooked {Cat} Publishers and went straight into the Amazon best-seller lists. – a fantastic achievement! I don’t expect she’ll give away any trade secrets but I’m really looking forward to having her as my guest.

We’re aiming for Tuesday. Hope you’ll come along!

e-books and p-books, or how to furnish a room

If you have an e-book, what reasons might there be for buying a printed copy? That’s one of the questions given thoughtful consideration by Gaby Wood in last Saturday’s Telegraph in an article called ‘Reading the Future’ (Review Section ppR24-R25, sorry no online version right now.) It’s accompanied by a cartoon from the brilliant Matt showing an elderly gent standing next to a wall full of bookshelves with nothing on them except a single e-reader. ‘This is the library,’ he says to his guests.  ‘Ouch!’ Devoted e-book fan that I am, the article and the picture raise some issues that have been creeping up on me for a while.

Our attachment to physical  books is more than sentimental, it’s ingrained in our cultural psyche. This means that although I might not have bought any new printed books in a while (in fact since I was given a WH smith voucher last spring), I’d still hate my house not to contain any at all. Not that I own a vast number (I was brought up to use the library!) but I’ve had some of them a very long time and they each hold particular memories, not just of the book but also where it came from and the time or times when it was read. If through the years their numbers diminish (as a result of spring cleaning, injudicious lending or just old age) will there come a time when our house, or maybe our children’s could be book-free zones? For a generation in which book ownership was  a powerful social indicator,  this is a scary thought. But on the more personal level, how can we be reminded of what these books have meant to us if they have no physical presence? Gaby Wood quotes a colleague – a book is a souvenir of itself. Exactly.

But does a digital object really  require a physical counterpart? Wood makes some comparison with digital photos.  I myself persist in printing out my favourite photos each year, partly as a last-ditch back-up method but also to satisfy that need for the physical memento.  But others probably use a digital photo frame which allows them to mount a display without printing anything out. I inadvertently installed a desk-top gadget that does the same thing – displaying my own photos in a random order – quite pleasing actually to be reminded on a February Monday of that trip toSouthern Europe two years ago . There are already ways in which we can do the same for books. Lots of bloggers display favourite reads on a sidebar or have feeds from book retail or review sites, keeping those novels from last year or the year before on the edge of our vision and within the borders of our consciousness.

So much for our work-space, but what about our lounge, hall or bedroom? Instead of a book-case, a slideshow of virtual book-covers marching across a screen? Gaby wood thinks we’ll always crave the physical object and comes up with another suggestion.  ‘The e-book is the event, the book is the merchandising’ i.e. we will buy only those books we truly love and pay significantly more for them. Which begs the question, of the books I’ve read in the past year, how many would I want to own as physical copies? Off the top of my head, maybe three or four spring to mind. Of these (all bought as e-books) half were ‘bargains’, the others were the same price or near enough as the printed version. Would I really want to pay more? Or will publishers start to think about new pricing models? In the new scenario perhaps the e-book (mass sales) might be noticeably cheaper, encouraging us to splash out o a p.o.d. version of those we have loved. Or shall I root around charity shops, not for books I’d like to read but those I’ve read and would like to own?

I’m getting ahead of myself. It will be a long time (will it ever happen?) before everyone owns an e-reader. Maybe by then the mist will have cleared. Right now I think readers still don’t quite know what they want and publishers (big six, small publishers, indie authors) are all groping around in the dark. Let’s hope not too much is lost along the way.

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Some recent favourites, incase you were wondering.


White Lies And Custard Creams: well worth e-reading

White Lies and Custard CreamsFirst up for my e-pub ‘click to buy’ award, is White Lies and Custard Creams by Susan Alison. I actually read this a few months ago, and despite the fact that rom-com isn’t really my thing, the opening chapter was so convincingly written in terms of voice and energy that I had no hesitation in buying it.

Is this rom-com? I’m not even sure. It’s certainly a romp, although not, as I’ve seen it described,  a ‘frothy’ romp, if by frothy we mean airy and instantly forgettable. I admit  I can’t remember the ins and outs of the plot (which are many and various) but the characters (plenty of them too) are all delightfully idiosyncratic if not in some cases totally mad. The heroine (even that doesn’t sound quite right) is beleagured landlady Liz whose true love is a pooch called Mooch and who is is beset by a bothersome ex and a parade of unsuitable lodgers of whom the most loyal has a habit of setting alight to his trouser pockets and the most recent gets stuck in a dog flap. I’m not sure I’m doing justice to it here, but it’s written with amazing verve, my only criticism being I did eventually feel slighty exhausted by some of the ramifications and confess to having skipped ahead as I got near the end to the very satisfactory conclusion.

But even if I didn’t quite stand the pace, I still think this is the ‘real deal’ i.e. a self-pub book at a bargain price (that’s £0.99, by the way) that could just as easily be out there with a big publisher and on a bookshop display.  The presentation is flawless (yes, I can actuallly move from chapter to chapter if I feel the need) and if there were any blots on the editing copybook, I didn’t see them.

Susan AlisonI’ve actually just noticed that you don’t have to have a Kindle to read this (although it will save you a lot of money!) as White Lies is also on Lulu. And if you are a doggy person, so to speak, or have friends who are, do have a look at Susan’s blog for links to where you can buy her artwork, not to mention an insight into the ‘real’ Mooch.


e-publishing review

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware of my dilemma about going for the self-publishing option, which is why I’ve been taking a particular interest in the recent crop of publish-to-kindle books issued by otherwise unpublished novelists.

I think I’m trying to work out:
a) ) how my own work compares with what’s already out there
b) if there’s enough ‘quality’ in the self-pub e-book domain to make me want to be part of it, i.e. is it now ‘okay’ to go it alone?

As a result I’ve been trying to read, or at least sample, as many self-pub e-books as I can, and I’m starting to work out what criteria I’m using in making my judgments. In fact I just hopped over to Jane Smith’s self-publishing review, where she applies the values of a professional editor in rating conventionally self-published books. I’ve always thought this was an excellent idea, and although I’m not a professional, when I read a self-published e-book, I’m still assessing in my own mind if it has simply been unlucky in not finding a commercial publisher (i.e. got lost in the slush-pile, arrived with an agent on the wrong day,  or didn’t quite cut it with the marketing department) or if in fact this book isn’t quite ready for the world. At the same time I’m aware that my reaction can only be subjective. I’ve read quite a few commercially  successful novels that would never have got past my editor’s desk!

I’m not dipping into the e-book word at random.  So far I’ve read novels issued by writing friends and acquaintances or recommended by online associates and fellow Tweeps, and I’ve decided to feature those I really admire on the blog.

On the subject of criteria, it’s actually fairly simple.

Even  if I’ve only paid 0.99, I’d like the thing to look reasonably professional: an active contents page isn’t vital but it’s nice, a cover  image gives a visual clue and the sense of an artistic entity. No proper  title page or stray bits of html? Not good!

The title matters. Would it make me pick it up in a bookshop?

I’m less picky over minor errors (repetition, mis-related participles, oddities of punctuation and typos) than I once was, but any in the first few pages do jump out. Finding lots in the first few chapters is a no-no.

The rest is all about the writing, or perhaps more crucially, the  story-telling.  Jane Smith (I hope you already know her other blog) says here  I’ll read no more than five pages of boring prose before I give up. How to define boring? For me, cliches and clunky prose ring alarm bells, but if the story is going somewhere, or the character is immediately sympathetic, I’ll read on, at least for 50 pages or so.  Nothing will feature here unless I’ve read to the end.

But even if you’ve done all this, i.e. produced a competent work of fiction, let’s say a Strictly ‘Seven!’  you might still not make it onto the review page.  For me to think yes, there has to be a special something: in the style, in the story, or most likely both, that lifts it from competent writing to something memorable. So stand by for those e-books that so far have got to the dizzy heights of 8, 9, or even 10. That’s what it will take to get a real endorsement and a Click to Buy recommendation. These are the ones that might lead me to think the publishing world really is changing. For better or for worse? That’s another argument!

Find me (again) on Ether Books

A small celebration today as Ether Books  have accepted another of my short stories, making four in all. They are all under 2000 words, which I thought would suit the i-phone platform, and at least three of them are fairly light-hearted. Talking To Amy is the shortest of all, but has a slightly more wistful feel.

Best of all, Ether have now added a Content page to the website where you can look up what’s available. Dare I say that for an ex-librarian, being in a catalogue brings particular satisfaction, so here’s a little illustration!

To make it happen,  just go to the Etherbooks home page then choose content. Select my name from the drop down list of writers, leaving the other boxes as ‘all’.
And here I am!



Looking good, though I say it myself!

By the way, two of these stories (A Fork Less Ordinary and Museum Pieces) are about the same characters, recently retired Derek and his wife Annie.  Think ‘One Foot in the Grave’ for the new century.  So if you like one of them, you’ll probably like the other. Not that I’m discouraging you from reading all four.

Technology. Don’t you just love it?



Academic e-books. What’s the problem?

If fiction is a well-known form of escapism (and today I
think most of us could do with a bit of that) I’m retreating from the news in another direction, by climbing the stairs to an ivory tower. Not that I’m involved in any serious academic research, but cogitations on my third novel and one of those serendipitous web meetings pointed me last week in the direction of The
Beginning and End of the World
by Robert Crawford, a highly readable account of Victorian St. Andrews (which also prompted these reminiscences) , but of a more academic quality than my usual reading fare. Yes, we are talking footnotes and references! And since in my haste to buy the book I managed to order the Kindle edition, it’s an interesting experience to read a scholarly text on an e-reader.

First of all I was seriously worrBegining and End of the World coveried I’d be deprived of the
illustrations, but a quick ‘Go to’ reassured me everything is there, and the
quality (since the Victorians didn’t quite get as far as colour photography) is
adequate if not brilliant. But until Kindle comes up with its colour version, this would be a big drawback for any book with modern photos or illustrations (a case of fetch me an i-pad?)

As for footnotes, I rarely read them in detail, but with a conventional book, a thumb lodged at the chapter end lets me skip forward momentarily and decide whether or not I need the extra information. Of course on the Kindle, thumbing isn’t an option, and whereas hyperlinks are just fine in a web browser, moving the kindle cursor to the right place and getting up the reference feels clumsy and slow. On the other hand the back button allows me to return straight away to where I was. Note to self – tell Amazon to provide a ‘next link’ button to bring up the reference as quickly as I can get rid of it.

But a more serious problem with e-readers and textbooks is the current library licensing model. At present (or when I last looked) e-books are delivered and licensed to libraries via publisher platforms to institutional or (via lots of logging in) personal computers. And as far as I know (and is this respect academic libraries are faring no better than public libraries in trying to provide access to complete e-books) there is no model whereby a teacher or student can download a whole e-book on to a personal e-reader except by  purchasing it in person. If a tribe of librarians turns up here to put me right,  I’ll be only too happy to hear from them!

If Kindle or other e-pub editions of academic texts are made available,
they may be bought by those who can afford them, and in my experience will be
much better than reading from a screen, but as the publishing e-revolution
rolls forward, it looks to me that in this respect as well as many others, the publishing industry as a whole is struggling to keep up.

Wishing you all a peaceful evening, wherever you may be.