The Four Firsts

tbrI’ve been on a reading binge, catching up on some of the books in my TBR (to be read) pile. AND I’ve been doing a bit of judging for various contests. Which has set me thinking about first impressions.

Once upon a time, I would finish everything I started reading. Then I realised I was spending valuable reading time on stuff I was not enjoying or learning from, so the stuff with the worst writing or the most unlikeable characters dropped off my list. But I’d still often struggle on with stuff that had some promise, in the hope it would get better.

But I’m 66. I may still have 30 years ahead of me, but beyond a doubt I’m closer to the end of my life than the beginning. I’ve become more demanding.

At this point in my life, I need to have some kind of guarantee of satisfaction. I don’t demand perfection. I can forgive a name that is historically unlikely, or the occasional cliche in a description. If the plot grabs me and I care about the characters, the rest just needs to be good, not flawless.

But I have little time and a TBR pile that keeps growing, which lesson I need to apply to my own writing. I want people to keep reading my books, so I need to pay attention to the four firsts: first sentence, first paragraph, first page, and first chapter. If the four first aren’t right, there’s a real risk my books will never make it onto people’s read list, whether or not they’d really enjoy the rest.

First sentence

The first sentence should hook you into the story, intrigue you, and impel you to keep reading.

“In the great sprawl of London, where would he find her?” (The Marquis and the Midwife, Alina K Fields)

“The man who’d murdered her stepfather was finally in her sights.” (My Fair Princess, Vanessa Kelly)

First paragraph

The first paragraph should reveal a hint of the plot, while keeping you in the moment.

“If women were as easily managed as the affairs of state—or the recalcitrant Ottoman Empire–Richard Hayden, Marquess of Glenaire, would be a happier man. As it was, the creatures made hash of his well-laid plans and bedeviled him on all sides.” (Dangerous Weakness, Caroline Warfield)

First page

The first page is often as far as you’ll read when you’re trying to decide whether to make the purchase. And certainly you will use it to judge whether a book in your TBR pile suits your mood of the moment. It needs good writing, more than a hint about at least one of the characters, something to intrigue you, maybe action.

First chapter

The first chapter might be as far as you get. I need to make it count. Check out my excerpts page to read the first chapters of my published books.

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What have you learned from this experience?

book-1012275_960_720The headline is a quote from the man I adore: “What have you learned from this experience?” (Not, incidentally, what you want to hear when you’ve just bumped your toe or broken your heart. But I love you, darling.)

Two years ago this December, I published my first historical romance, a novella. I’ve since published two novels, three novellas, and multiple short stories. I am about to publish another two novellas (in a box set) and another novel.

I am learning all the time, but here are my top five lessons from this first venture into the wild and wonderful world of Indie.

Lesson 1: We do better together than apart

In the past two years, I’ve ‘met’ many wonderful authors. My to-read list has expanded at an alarming rate, but I’ve also been privileged to share their insights, tidbits from their research, and their encouragement as I’ve dipped my toes into the indie publishing water.  I’m also part of a collaborative of historical romance writers, the Bluestocking Belles.

Without the retweeting and sharing of my friends, far fewer people would have heard of my books. And I am keen to return the service whenever I can. Readers are not a scarce resource to be hoarded; an enthusiastic reader will devour the books of many authors. When we share, when we support one another, we grow a larger market to benefit us all.

Lesson 2: 20 December is a terrible date to launch a new book

The 1st; maybe the 10th; maybe the 30th. But I launched my first book on the 20th.

The 20th was a really, really, bad idea, and very nearly did me in. So many competing demands. We have a habit of giving the grandchildren a craft day, and the year I published Candle’s Christmas Chair, we did two (one full Saturday for the older children, and one for the younger). I work full-time in commercial publishing, and 30 years of experience should have taught me that clients pile on the deadlines in the three weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Zealand summer holidays. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on Christmas shopping and baking.

I did all my own editing, cover design, formatting, marketing, and so on. The week leading up to 20 December was insane, and the next week, as I publicised the book, even crazier. And that week included Christmas Day.

I’m not planning to do that again, but check with me later this year and I’ll let you know how 13 December worked out for me.

Lesson 3: Don’t leave the cover till the last week

I’ve done a lot of research on covers, and looked at hundreds trying to work out what I like and what I don’t.  To make the cover of Candle’s Christmas Chair, I downloaded Pixelmator for the Mac, and my PRH transferred across a heap of fonts from the ancient version of InDesign on our old publishing company’s computer. We experimented with fonts till we found some we liked. But – with final tweaks on the image — the cover I actually used wasn’t completely ready until 12 December, just a couple of days before I uploaded to Smashwords and Amazon.

More pressure than I needed.

You’d think I’d learn, but when the wonderful Mari Christie suggested that my semi-professional baker in Gingerbread Bride needed a better biscuit on the front cover, I spent a fortnight hunting down a member of the Cake Decorator’s Guild, baking her some gingerbread biscuits to ice, and then photographing them; and the cover was ready right at the last minute.

Lesson 4: Distribution takes time – preorder is the way to go

I uploaded the first book on 16 December my time. The book began to be downloaded from Smashwords straight away. Somehow, I’d managed not to take that into my calculations, but hey — a download is a download, right? It took several days to filter through to the resellers from Smashwords. Apple finally started showing the book on 27 December, and didn’t really pick up speed for several days.

Amazon started selling immediately, too, but didn’t really begin to move until I managed to get them to make the book free.

Putting Farewell to Kindness up for preorder five weeks before release definitely lightened my stress load. A Baron for Becky  went up nearly three months in advance, and so did Revealed in Mist.

Lesson 5: Ask for what you want; it’s less stressful than waiting

Ask for reviews. Ask for ratings. People can say ‘no’. But you lose nothing by asking for an honest review. One thing I’ve asked for a couple of times was a free listing on Amazon. I was giving away a novella, and am now giving away a book of three shorter stories and a novella, to give people a taste of my writing style, but Amazon insisted on a price of 99c.

I’d been told that Amazon would price match, and that I should ask people to request price matching. So I did. And nothing happened. I read discussions on forums where authors talked about how hard it was to get price matching. But then I thought ‘why not ask’?

So I emailed Amazon, told them that the book I wanted price matched was free at Apple and Barnes & Noble, that my strategy was to give it away free to publicise the next few books, and that — if they price matched — we’d both benefit in the long term. Within 24 hours, it was free on Amazon to US purchasers, and that slowly spread to their other stores.

So ask. People just might say ‘yes’.

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So many stories, so little time

revealed-in-mistI’ve been updating my books, excerpts, and work-in-progress pages.

It’s part of getting ready to publish Revealed in Mist, and it proved to be a bigger job than I intended.

Step 1: update all my covers. I’ve changed my title font, and I’ve come up with a new font for the historical mysteries (of which Revealed in Mist is the first). Of course, once I’d done that, I needed to republish them all on KDP, Smashwords, and Createspace. I’ve done the first two, and am working on the third. Oh. And I’ve mostly done Goodreads. I also redid my banners here and on Facebook, with the new title font. I guess I need to do Twitter, too.

Step 2: rewrite the blurbs I haven’t been happy with for the past two years. That’s taken weeks, and I’m still not finished. I still have to write one for A Raging Madness, Concealed in Mist, and Lord Danwood’s Dilemma. But check out the others on the book page. They’re better, I think. When I’ve done the lot, I need to update them in KDP, Smashwords, Createspace, and Goodreads. And in the back of all my books (which will then need to be uploaded again to — you guessed it — KDP, Smashwords, and Createspace).

Step 3: format and load Revealed in Mist when it comes back from the proofreader.

Just three steps, right?

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What’s in a name?

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Book titles matter. A rose by any other name, Juliet claimed, would smell as sweet, but would people be as willing to put their noses close if it were called Skunkstink, or Fartflower? And titles bother me.

Sometimes, a title will occur immediately, surfacing from the interior of my brain without any effort on my part. Gingerbread Bride was like that. As soon as we came up with the concept of runaway brides for the Bluestocking Belles 2015 holiday box set, the title and the basic story appeared in my mind.

Sometimes, I’ll come up with a concept for a series, then have to find titles that will fit. All the titles for novels in The Golden Redepennings series are excerpts from quotes. Farewell to Kindness comes from The Count of Monte Cristo.

“And now…farewell to kindness, humanity and gratitude. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good; may the God of vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked.”

The one I’m working on now is called A Raging Madness, which comes from a quote by French philosopher Francois de La Rochefoucauld.

“…envy is a raging madness that cannot bear the wealth or fortune of others.”

Do these fulfill the criteria that Tucker Max lists in How to Title a Book The Right Way?
  1. Attention Grabbing
  2. Memorable
  3. Informative (gives idea of what book is about)
  4. Easy to say
  5. Not embarrassing or problematic for someone to say aloud to their friends

You tell me.

I’ve been fretting over two other titles, both books I’ve just finished.

The novel I have just received back from beta readers has been Seeking Prudence, Encouraging Prudence, and most recently Embracing Prudence. And it is part of a series loosely known as The Virtue Sisters. The other books would include a sequel to the current one, and also a book for each of Prudence Virtue’s sisters, Hope, Faith, and Charity. And all my titles are pretty blah.

After talking to friends and thinking—a lot—I’m leaning to the series titleThe Wages of Virtue.

The individual books would be Firstname in Something.

So either Prudence in Love followed by Prudence in Peril or Prudence in Desire followed by Prudence in Danger.

If we go with the ‘d’ words, we’d have Hope in Despair, Faith in Decline, and Charity in Doubt.

Otherwise, I’m sticking with Hope in Despair, but I might go for Faith in Jeopardy and Charity in Tribulation.

The novella is an entirely different matter! Tentatively entitled The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, which at least means what you see is what you get, it is again the first of a series. What to do, what to do?

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Things I’m grateful for one year on

Thank-YouA  day or two shy of one year ago, I dipped my toe into the water of indie publishing, wrestling with the intricacies of kindle direct publishing and the infamous Smashword’s Meatgrinder program to put Candle’s Christmas Chair up into the e-retailers in time for Christmas.

Nearly 70,000 downloads later, Candle is about to be replaced as my permafree by Hand-Turned Tales, three short stories and novella currently at those same two organisations waiting for their review and approval.

And in the meantime, I’ve published two novels (Farewell to Kindness and A Baron for Becky), half-completed another (Embracing Prudence), and written Gingerbread Bride, a novella published in the Bluestocking Belles box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem. The box set has sold close to 11,000 copies, and raised upwards of US$3,500 for The Malala Fund.

So with more than 75,000 downloaded ebooks in my first year as a published romance writer, it’s time to give thanks.

Thanks for my family. For my wonderful husband, who ever and always supports and encourages me. For my sister, who is my first reader. For my family, who accept my neglect with amused tolerance.

Thanks also for the other wonderful authors I’ve met and worked with. For the Bluestocking Belles, without whose support, friendship, encouragement, and incitement, I would not have accomplished nearly so much this year, and especially for Mari Christie and Carol Roddy, my partners in many different kinds of theoretical mayhem. For the Romance Writers of New Zealand, who gave me my first conference, my first award, and my first official role in our industry. For all the writing friends I’ve made on FaceBook and Twitter and in Real Life.

And, of course, thanks for my readers. For the beta readers who coax and cajole me to do my best. For the Belles Brigade, who support all the Belles so magnificently. For the subscribers to my newsletter and my blog. For followers on FaceBook, Twitter, and Pinterest. For anyone who has left a review of any of my books, or even a comment when we’ve passed one another in cyberspace letting me know that my words have struck a chord.

Thank you for a wonderful 2015.

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Happy birthday to my blog

book-cake1Tomorrow will be one year to the day since my first blog post on this site. I had written half of the first draft of Farewell to Kindness, had just been to my first Romance Writers of New Zealand conference, and had tentatively told friends, family, and colleagues that I planned to be published soon.

Tomorrow is nine months since Candle’s Christmas Chair, my first published work, went live on Amazon and Smashwords. I wrote this novella while Farewell to Kindness was with the beta readers, to tell the story of two people who make a brief appearance in Farewell. In nine months, over 58,000 copies have been downloaded.

And tomorrow is six months since the launch of the Bluestocking Belles, eight very different writers united by a love of history and a history of writing about love. Whatever story you desire: sweet to steamy, from light-hearted fun to dark tortured tales full of angst, from London ballrooms to country cottages to oriental slums, one or more of us is sure to have a tale to suit your tastes and mood.

The Bluestocking Belles have some great birthday fun planned, so look for us on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

It has been quite a year.

I’ve published two novels, a novella, and some short stories. I’ve written 258 blog posts for this blog, and probably another 100 for other people. I’ve written a novella that is currently on prerelease as part of the Bluestocking Belles first box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem, I’m half of the way through another novel, and nearly finished the first draft of a set of short stories that will come out before Christmas.

I’m a regular contributor to the fictional spaces Bluestocking Bookshop and the Belle’s Teatime Tattler, and a happy member of 10 Minute Novelists, Marketing For Romance Writers, and Writing Wenches. And I’ve not long got back from my second Romance Writers of New Zealand conference, where I won the Great Beginnings Award for the first 6,000 words of Farewell to Kindness.

A discount to say thank you

And to thank you for coming with me on the ride, I’d like to give you access to some discounts. Until 22 September, you can pick up Farewell to Kindness and A Baron for Becky from Smashwords for only US$2.

Just follow the links, select ‘buy’ and use the code on the buy page. While you’re there, collect Candle’s Christmas Chair while it is still free, and buy Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem for the prerelease price of US99c.

That makes two novels and 8 novellas for only US$5! Close to 1150 pages of reading.

Farewell to Kindness $2 with the code CS44Q

A Baron for Becky $2 with the code DC74X

Candle’s Christmas Chair permafree until December

Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem 99c until release on 1 November.

 

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WIP Wednesdays

I love how several authors offer an opportunity on their blogs for other authors to strut their stuff. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I figured I’d give it a go, so look for me to post a Work-In-Progress Wednesday every week. I’ll set a theme and show you one of mine, and you give me five to seven sentences in the comments.

This week, since it’s the first, how about first meetings? Don’t forget to share once you’re done!

Here’s mine, from the made-to-order story I’m writing for Mary Anne Landers.

As she turned the corner into Frederick Street, a particularly sharp gust skittered a broken branch across her path, tangling it into her skirts.

She stumbled, and would have landed in the mud if firm hands had not suddenly caught her. As it was, in putting out her hands to break the expected fall, she had dropped her burdens. The shopping basket fell sideways, tumbling fruit, vegetables, and the wrapped parcel of meat into a waiting puddle. The parcel from the haberdashers that she carried on her other arm thankfully stayed intact and landed on a relatively dry spot.

She took all this in at a glance, most of her attention on her rescuer. A craggy face bronzed by the sun, amused brown eyes under thick level brows, a mouth that looked made for laughter. He was bundled against the cold wind in a greatcoat, muffler, and cloth cap.

The image is of Dunedin in the mid 1860s, the setting for my story.

Dunedin Farley's Arcade

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Tuesday Talk – throwing a great Facebook party

This post is part of the series on marketing in the bazillion-book marketplace that Mari Christie and I are co-posting (her Marketing Mondays and my Tuesday Talks, thanks to the spinning earth).

partyHave you been to any Facebook parties? In the past six weeks, I’ve hosted two, and guested at another two—and I have more coming up.

The other day, someone asked me if Facebook parties sold books. Which, of course, isn’t the point of them. As Mari and I have said time and again in these posts, marketing is about making friends, and then about turning at least some of them into fans. And Facebook parties are a great opportunity to do that.

This post is not about the philosophy though. Instead, here are some of the techniques we’ve picked up for hosting at Facebook parties. We’d love to know yours!

Before the party

To create interest in the party, I post for weeks beforehand. Post stuff people want to know, not just relentless self-promotion. In the run-up to the party, you want them to know that you’ll be offering entertainment, so demonstrate that. (Show, don’t tell, right?)

My theme for the launch party for Farewell to Kindness was a country fair. I posted the songs that village singers might have sung during such a fair. I posted food people might have eaten at a fair, and games and activities that might have been on offer. I asked questions and invited comment. I also posted information about each of the guest hosts and their books. And, yes, I posted excerpts.

For A Baron for Becky, I posted a series of vignettes on courtesans through history, as well as guest hosts and excerpts. And I invited people to post pictures of what they would wear to a Courtesan’s Ball.

To prepare for the actual day, whether I’m hosting or simply doing a takeover for another author, I write myself a run-time, with the time and the text for each post and the names of the images I’m going to use. I put the posting time above each post. It might slip a minute or two on the day, but the times guide me. If interaction is high, I might skip a post, but I’d rather have too much than too little!

I put everything I need into a folder—or a series of folders if the event is longer than an hour.

Mari swears by putting the images into an album on her Facebook profile, and then linking to them. This saves loading time on the day.

If I’m host, I send a guest author checklist to those who have agreed to party with me. It has some of the tips in this post, tells them their timeslot, and asks them for their bio, the name and blurb of the book they intend to promote, and what (if anything) they plan to give away.

What kind of posts?

Remember that your goal is to make friends, so post links to your social media. I always post information about the Bluestocking Belles and any events we have coming up as a group, such as Book Club.

Post games—if you attend a few parties, you’ll find out which ones get the most comments and interaction.

Post questions. If you can relate them to your excerpts, all the better. For example, here’s a scene of a botched proposal; tell us your proposal story.

Ask people to post photos. Hot guys are usually a favourite, or suggested actors to play your hero and heroine, or anything else you might like.

At the event

My big tip is to keep the posts coming. When we did the Name Release party for the Bluestocking Belles anthology, we had three minute slots and a 30 minute event. And around 15 posts in total. Fast and furious! I’ve just done a one hour takeover, and I prepared and used 12 posts. Party hard and have a great time.

With busy parties, your posts can soon sink down the event. To make sure I can easily get back to my posts so I can comment (and later find winners), I copy the url as soon as I’ve created the post and paste it into my runtime. If you want to try this, just click on the date/time below your name on the post and it’ll bring up that post so you can copy the url. Then the back arrow will take you back to the party.

And get into those comment streams! If you’re the host, you’ll be commenting on your guest author’s posts, keeping the conversation going. I usually do a hit and run when I’m a guest host, because of the spinning earth. Parties are almost always during my working day. But I love it when guest authors arrive early and stick around to play.

After the party

Select and contact your winners as soon as you can, and don’t forget to thank the team who helped you put on the party (your host if you’re a guest author; your guest authors if you’re a host).

 

 

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Marketing in the bazillion book marketplace – giveaways

Cross-posted with Mari Christie.

prize-drawIn recent posts in the series Mari Christie and I are writing on marketing in the bazillion book marketplace, we’ve been talking about marketing plans. Posts have focused on audience and purpose. What do we want to achieve? Who do we need to reach? We’ve begun to talk channels. Where will we go to find our readers? But we don’t yet have a plan.

A marketing plan is our map for the journey to the destination ‘book sales’. But deciding you’re flying to the Caribbean for a holiday is only the first step in a travel plan. You need to do a lot more planning and take a heap of actions before you can drink cocktails under a beach umbrella. And a marketing plan is no different.

So we’re going to talk tools and tactics: the mechanisms you’ll use to get to your destination (the savings account, the airplane), and the actions you’ll take (put aside 2% of your pay packet, buy a ticket).

Watch for further posts on various tools and tactics. This week: giveaways.

Promote your book by running a giveaway

Hosting creative giveaways can help draw attention to your book. But making sure they give you the results you want takes a bit of planning.

Keep it simple — but be clear about what you want to achieve

Do you want more subscribers to your newsletter? More followers on Twitter? More party-goers at your Facebook launch party? Design your giveaway questions to get the results you’re after. Be creative. You could ask those who enter to:

  • share a particular post
  • comment on a particular post
  • post a phot
  • post a caption to a photo
  • come up with a name for something in your next book: a character, pet, house, ship, town… or even book title
  • answer questions about what they enjoy in books.

Choose a prize people want — and that works for you

The better the reward, the more entries you’ll get. At the same time, you want entries from people who are interested in the type of book you write. A $50 Amazon card may be attractive, but it might also attract people who are only interested in the prize, not your book. Here’s a post Mari wrote on prizes.

Consider combining with other authors to make a bigger prize.

Use multiple forms of social media to promote

Different people focus on different types of social media, so make sure you promote your giveaway on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and wherever else you have a presence. Use the word ‘giveaway’ in the title and tell people about the prize.

Pay attention

During the giveaway, visit the posts and comment. Talk to those entering. Show an interest.

Finish gracefully

Announce your winner or winners as soon as practical after the giveaway is over. Send out the prizes straightaway. Thank all those who have participated.

Watch the legal stuff

A sweepstake is a promotion where the winner is chosen by a random drawing. A contest is a promotion where the winner is chosen on merit (by vote or a judging panel). You can safely call them both giveaways, but be careful not to call a sweepstake a contest.

You need to state the prize, the deadline, and the conditions of entry up front, and you can’t change those after you’ve started. You can’t charge a fee to enter and you must accept all valid entries.


 

MariMari Christie has been a professional writer, editor, and designer in Denver, Colorado for more than 20 years. At the age of 19, she decided to learn to write anything. With experience in journalism, marketing and advertising, proposals and grants, technical material, fiction, creative non-fiction, critique, and poetry, this goal has, for the most part, been accomplished.

Mari holds a BA in Writing, summa cum laude and With Distinction, from the University of Colorado Denver, and has been an expert in Microsoft products since Windows 3.1 and Adobe Creative Suite since before it was a suite.

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If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans

if-plan-a-fails-383x450God thinks I’m hilarious.

Way back in April, when I first thought about pushing the publication of Encouraging Prudence out to October to fit in with Halloween, it seemed like a good idea to write a novella for publishing in late July or early August. After all, otherwise I’d have six months without a new release!

And of course I could write the other novella; the one for the Bluestocking Belles’ Christmas anthology. I even had a title, a hero and heroine, and a vague idea of plot.

Two novellas, right? A Baron for Becky and Gingerbread Bride. And carry on with Encouraging Prudence at the same time. Easy.

And then A Baron for Becky grew. By the time I sent it off to the beta readers, it was 42,500 words. They came back with questions and comments, and I spent two weeks frantically editing and rewriting. I sent it to the editor at just over 50,000 words. My novella was now officially a novel.

I’m not going to walk you through the whole thing. Suffice it to say that Mari has done a developmental editor thing on me that has improved the book out of all sight, robbed us both of sleep, and grown the word count by another 10,000 words.

I’ve also managed to meet my Gingerbread Bride deadline, but Encouraging Prudence has languished. And there isn’t time between now and October to do it justice.

BfB cover finalAlso, life. Several people dear to me have put the hard word on about overdoing things.

If you’re waiting for David’s and Prue’s story, don’t despair. I’m around half way through and I plan to finish the first draft by the end of September or at the very outside by the end of October. But I’ve just been through my book table changing the dates to be vaguer. It will be published in 2016, and I can’t say more than that.

I’m polishing up some short stories for October, including a prequel for Encouraging Prudence, in which David and Prue are bit players in someone else’s romance. It’s a Gothic murder mystery, which should be fun.

And the Christmas box set is out in November.

Oh dear. That almost sounds like a plan.

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