Guest post: Self Publishing 101 by Joanne Dannon

I self published my debut novel in late 2015 without much understanding of how self publishing works. Sure there is lots of information on formatting and uploading your book to the online retail channels but the other important stuff, on branding, marketing etc…is harder to find.

I’ve written a number of articles on self publishing and the one piece of advice I re-iterate is, learn how to self publish before you chose to self publish.

There is so much wrong information and poor advice readily available on social media and the Internet. As writers, we spend so much time learning our craft. We read “how-to” books, we write, we join a writers’ group, we go to conferences, we learn. We master the art of writing a good book. And then what?

Your book maybe picked up by a reputable publisher, hooray! They will edit and format your book, give it a cover and sell it through their channels! Brilliant!

But for other writers, this road of publication may not be the right one for them. This is what happened for me. I had spent 9 years learning my craft but for a number of reasons, I chose to go down the self published route.

Are you a hobby writer or a career writer?

There is no right or wrong answer on whether you are a hobbyist or not. But it’s good to know, for yourself, and so you know where to direct your focus on.

If you are a hobby writer and just want to see your books in print, then this information may not be relevant for you. Hobby writers love writing, love creating their stories and seeing them published. But don’t want to focus on the business side of writing.

This post is aimed at the writers who are business focused and want to make a career out of their writing.

But I’ve heard self publishing is easy?

Yes and no. It’s not hard to upload your book to the online stores but it’s very hard to sell your books to people who don’t know you, develop your brand and earn a living from your writing.

Self publishing 101

Before you can be published, you must be able to write well. You must have spent the time learning how to create a good story with believable characters and a compelling story line.

While you learn to write, you can think about your brand and who you are. What genre do you write? What are you hobbies? What do you like to do?

Using me as an example. I’m a contemporary romance writer and read (predominantly) contemporary romance. I love romance movies, reading, being with family, going out with friends, cooking and eating.

My brand revolves around these things. I post pics of myself out and about, some of the foods I make, my books and things I like. I don’t talk about the craft of writing because the people I’m sharing with are readers, not writers.

It’s important to focus on one genre to start with. That’s not to say that at a later stage you branch out and write different genres but when you’re a new writer, you should stick to the genre you most prefer.

You should get a website, a blog and be on social media every day. Even if you don’t post everyday, you should be liking and commenting on other authors’ posts. Be social.

I keep my personal life separate from my work life. I don’t talk about politics or issues that may cause division. Why? Because my readers are from different walks of life and all have their own opinions. I don’t want to upset some of my readers because of my views.

This issue is heavily debated by authors, and still a contentious issue.

My opinion, keep your views to yourself and focus on your writing and building your brand.

What do I talk about?

Just because you’re not yet published doesn’t mean you don’t have things to talk about. You can talk about the latest inspiration for your book, or a fab book you recently read, or movie you watch. Where possible, link it back to writing and what you write.

This will be one of the building blocks for defining who you are as a writer.

Do I need a mailing list?

Again, another hotly debated issue. I say yes, although when I first started I didn’t see the value in it.

Newsletters/emails to your readers is the best way you can connect to your readers. Forget Facebook and social media, you want to be able to communicate directly with readers.

It takes time to learn how to create and send a newsletter out. And I recommend you do this early on as it will give you practice on using the mailing system (eg MailChimp).

But I’ve only got friends and family on my list?

You’ll find most writers start out with under a hundred subscribers, who are mainly your family, friends and fellow writers.

But these are the people who love you and want you to succeed. So use them to practice with and get into the habit of sending out a monthly newsletter. It doesn’t have to be long but it should be friendly and a way for your readers to learn about you.

How do I get more subscribers?

There are many ways, some good and some not-so-good. There are plenty of people and companies that will promise you so much! Beware!!

Group promotions are good but getting a large list of subscribers who may/may not realise they’re joining your mailing list will be a headache. Mailing companies like MailChimp are very strict when it comes to spam.

I participated in a promotion and received a list of 1000 subscribers who had been genuinely acquired. However, after uploading the list to MailChimp and contacting these subscribers with a welcome email, I was forced to delete them all. Despite my proof of the promotion, upfront terms and conditions, MailChimp made me delete all the names and email addresses. It was awful.

The best way is to give away a free book in exchange for an email address. I was horrified when I first learnt of this. A book? A whole book that’s been professionally edited with a cover? The answer is yes, and here’s why.

Why should a reader buy your book? There are plenty of great books on Amazon (millions), why pick yours? You’re an unknown author, why read yours?

Giving away a copy of your writing gives readers an opportunity to discover you, read your writing and see if they like you.

Some readers will take the free book and leave. Don’t worry about them. You’re looking for genuine readers who will love your books and become super fans.

You don’t have to write a massive book, a novella is fine. But it must be professionally edited with a quality cover. This is your “business card”, it tells readers who you are.

Editing is expensive.

Yes, it is. But if you expect a reader to pay for your book then you need to give them quality.

Do not publish an unedited book. This will haunt you. Some readers can be mean. You publish a poorly edited book and you will have those bad reviews attached to your book, forever! Don’t do it.

If you can’t afford editing, then you can’t afford to self publish. That’s the brutal honesty. Self publishing is expensive.

You need quality editing, a professional cover and your book formatted. Don’t sell yourself out because it looks like the easier option.

Should I self publish?

Only you can answer this. Apart from the cost, I spent between $400 and $800 USD per book, to publish, you need to dedicate time and effort in building your brand, marketing and advertising your books.

As a side note, many traditionally published authors also do this. But as a self published author, you have to do everything yourself.

If you’re a go-getter, detailed focussed and able to multi-task, then this may be the path for you.

KU or wide?

There are pros and cons for both options. Do you put all your “eggs in one basket” and go with the Amazon option of Kindle Unlimited (KU)? Or go wide with all the online stores?

I started wide as I was advised this was the best option. In hindsight, I wish I’d been exclusive to Amazon. Why? Because I write romance, most of my readers are in the US and most read via KU.

What’s so good about KU? Romance readers can read a ton of books for $10 per month. It’s also a good way for readers to try you out. They can read your book for “free” and see if they like you.

Many authors don’t agree with Amazon’s pricing structure of page reads but for me, I’ve made money from thousands of page reads.

My advice to new writers is to take or at least consider the KU option. There are lots of options available to you (like free days), to promote your book and get new readers.

Remembering, there are heaps of good books and authors out there. It’s not easy getting your name and book out to readers.

There are many authors who love iBooks and they are popular in Australia. Look at authors in your genre and see what and how they sell their books.

Final words of advice

There are plenty of companies that offer to promote you and your books, for a price. Be very mindful of them. Some deliver, many do not.

I’ve seen some of my author friends spend thousands of dollars for little return.

Before joining group promotions and PR companies, do your research. Ask around. There are plenty of fantastic Facebook groups where authors share their knowledge and help each other out. Ask.

You will make mistakes. I’ve made many. But I go back, fix them and move on. This career is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be disciplined and focused to be a career self published author.

Courses I would recommend are by Marie Force, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson. There are other reputable ones, but these I know are good.

Wishing you all the very best. I love being a self published author, it seriously is my dream job.

Happy writing, Joanne x

~~~

Multi published, award-winning Australian author, Joanne Dannon, writes to give her readers the experience she loves to savor–indulging in a sigh-worthy-happily-ever-after, being swept away from the everyday by diving into a delicious romance novel.

Joanne is a happily married mother of two heroes-in-training who loves spending time with friends and family. She can be found on Facebook and her website chatting about reading, writing, cooking, vintage-inspired dresses and all things romantic.

Find her here:

joannedannon.com
facebook.com/joannedannonwrites
instagram.com/joannedannon_writes/
goodreads.com/author/show/14156702.Joanne_Dannon
youtube.com/channel/UC3E1Pb5cymxz8ecxJCEIlnw
pinterest.com.au/joannedannon/

Her latest romance launches in time for Valentine’s Day, details below:

Falling for the Best Man

When the love of his life is his brother’s bride-to-be…

It was love at first sight when app developer Jonah Randall met Kaylah, but he’s crushed when he discovers she’s already dating his brother. When he’s asked to be the best man at their wedding, should he speak up, or forever hold his peace?

Lifestyle hacker Kaylah Westwood’s engagement brings her a step closer to the kind of life she’s dreamed of, full of love and family. Her fiancé is a good guy. It’s a shame it’s his brother who’s the one who makes her pulse rate skittle.

Jonah would never betray the brother who’s always been there for him. With just two days to go before the wedding, can he let the woman he loves marry his brother? But when Jonah confesses his feelings to Kaylah, a mind-blowing kiss has her rethinking her commitment. She thought she’d fallen for the right man. But is he the best man for her?

Exclusive to Amazon, Kindle Unlimited readers can read for free.

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Guest post: Reverse Planning… or Turning Problems into Questions by Andi Buchanan

I’ve never been a planner. I start with good intentions, with complex spreadsheets or specialist software, with colour coding schemes and books on story structure. I go into the first draft with a clear picture of what I want to write… and three chapters in it all falls apart.

I’ve just finished the first draft of a space opera novel, which I’m calling Shattered Stars for now, until I can think of a better title. I pushed myself a bit further with the planning this time; I downloaded the free trial of Scapple and it helped a lot. I knew the names and main features of the alien races, and I knew the main event or topic of each section of the book and who the main players were. It helped a lot.

The novel is still a mess. I’ve come to terms with the fact I’m not a planner. I don’t plan in detail and nor do I write careful slow drafts; I wrote the first 50 000 words of this novel as part of NaNoWriMo in November and the rest in December. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to plan more effectively, but that’s not going to happen just because I will it to be so. I need to write that first draft to understand my characters, to figure out what happens and how it all fits together. And the process is inevitably going to be tangled.

So this time, rather than wishing I could plan better, I’ve started thinking about how I can most effectively use this first draft to ensure the best possible second draft. To accept that there are going to be major problems with the first draft, but not carry them through into subsequent drafts.

Here’s the situation now: my timelines are a disaster: I don’t know how old my protagonist is – and I haven’t worked out if her orphan granddaughter could even have been born or if she’s too young for it all to make sense. At least one of my alien races changes its name midway through, and although I have the physical features of each race mostly worked out, I have no idea how to distinguish between individuals – are they different sizes or different colours – and is that colour of their skin or their hair… or their scales or feathers? What are the possible variations? I only worked out who the main antagonist was about 3/4 of the way through, so I need to ensure their behaviour is consistent without giving everything away. There’s a section I think might reinforce stereotypes about a group of people in a way I definitely don’t want to perpetuate.

And that’s about two percent of it.

The problem with planning at the start was that I didn’t know enough to ask the questions I needed to. But now I have the baseline. And I’ve started making a list of questions like this:
How old is my protagonist?
What were the names and professions of her children?
What’s a timeline of the significant events that happened in the five years before the story opens?
What type of cuisine does my protagonist check out every time she arrives on a new space station?
How did my secondary character obtain his false identity?
What developmental stages would the grandchild have hit at this point?
Is Earth habitable yet? How many people live there and what are their motivations for doing so?

I collected about forty of these questions before beginning a read through, and they’ve increased a lot as I work my way through chapter by chapter. Some only need one word answers, others need thought and research. I’ve also created a corresponding spreadsheet for each sentient species that collects data like physical appearance, what they breathe, system(s) of government, how culturally homogeneous they are, and so on. And I’m finding I can answer these questions in a way I could never fill in character sheets from scratch. Then it felt like I was picking random details; now I both have the background to base this information on, and know that this information is relevant to the story I’m telling.

I’ve added something else as well. While I was finishing the first draft, I was struggling a bit with why to care about the novel – I think that always happens at some point in a first draft, but I was feeling it particularly strongly this time. In a whine to my critique group, I managed to not only rubber duck the main problem, but to work out a possible solution. There are lots of things about it I find interesting or fun to write. But compared to other longer works I’ve written, there’s little that I truly care about, or find particularly meaningful to me. It touched on them, because I don’t think you can write a creative work of this length without something of your interests or your values coming through.

So I’ve added two more questions:
What is unique, interesting, or unusual about this novel?
and
Why is this novel important to me?

And in doing so I’ve realised that I do care about this novel, but that in constructing plot twists and alien species, I hadn’t focused enough on those aspects. That’s fine, for a first draft, but now I’m keeping the answers to these questions on hand as I move towards the second draft.
Maybe this will bridge the planning/pantsing gap. I hope so. It’s working for me thus far. Maybe it won’t be the solution I’ve hoped though, and I think that’s ok too. I’ve learned that as my writing evolves, changes, improves but not in a steady upwards curve but with ups and downs along the way, so does my writing process. This is just part of that.

—-

Andi C. Buchanan is a writer, editor, and part-time space lobster based near Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Their work is published or forthcoming in Apex, Kaleidotrope, Glittership, and more. Andi also edits Capricious magazine, creates websites as part of DragonByte and likes cheese, dinosaurs, and good disability representation in SFF. Their website is at http://andicbuchanan.org/.

Links:
This Other World (novella): https://www.amazon.com/This-Other-World-C-Buchanan-ebook/dp/B01J1B0B3Y
Capricious: Gender Diverse Pronouns special issue: http://www.capricioussf.org/issue-9-gender-diverse-pronouns/

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

To Kill a Mockingbird
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Written by Horton Foote based on the book by Harper Lee
(number 188)

content warning: the dog dies

This is one of those classics which has been weighing on me. I should have seen it before. I should have read the book. I have the book, on my shelf, unread and waiting. Well, I had a sick day and I didn’t want to watch something with subtitles so this was the pick. It’s just lovely. The whole movie has a gentle tone to it, a general niceness. I guess you get that with movies centred around kids.

I hate that the message of this film is still relevant :/ why can’t we leave racism in the past? I hate it. I hate how the news keeps having the names of people of colour gunned down in America. Maybe this movie should be compulsory viewing every week for every white American.

My favourite scene was Scout, Jem and Dil inadvertently breaking up the lynch mob. It’s such a perfect moment to show just how much the kids don’t understand about what’s going on. The tension is real when you see the men walk up on the courthouse, it’s been building. And you worry for Atticus because he’s in their way, but then the kids appear and it’s lovely? Like the best possible outcome of a lynch mob scene?

Overall it’s a great slice of life, a portrait of a small town, a coming of age/family story, a compelling court case and a feel good movie. It covers a lot, and it’s not short, but it never feels slow. The actors are all superb and the script is great.

I put a content warning up there for a dog dying but I have to point out that it’s like… very well handled, it makes sense for the plot and it’s not at all played for pain. It helps that much of the nasty stuff other than that happens off screen. Deaths and such, even the bit where Jem and Scout are jumped is somewhat obscured so you’re not too sure what’s going on.

Does it make me love the people? Yes, one hundred percent. Atticus Finch is a wonderful, kind and just lawyer who does his job conscientiously and with compassion. His pain when things go badly is real, it’s beautifully acted and your heart hurts for him watching it. Scout and Jem are great characters, and you can’t help but love them too. Then Boo, I had this part of the story spoiled for me (I think by reading Beautiful Creatures?) but still, it’s a wonderful character and sub plot.

Bechdel test: Yes Scout talks to Calpurnia about what she should be wearing and about the mad dog, also about Scouts manners at lunch with Walter but that’s partially about Walter.

Best line:

Atticus: If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

State of Mind: Loved it to bits. Will definitely watch again and bumping the book to the top of my to read pile. Will watch again, recommend to everyone, just generally really happy that I watched this one.

Watched movie count