Writing to a different drummer

Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.

Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.


I write the type of historical romance that I like to read, with strong determined heroines, heroes that almost deserve them, and villains who are more than paper cut-outs. I like complex plots with real issues at stake, and I enjoy a sense of the rich tapestry of life, with characters galore. I especially like writers who create fictional worlds that they revisit time and again, where each book stands alone as a story, but where we meet characters we’ve known before from other books.

Quite early on while writing Farewell to Kindness, I had a few critiques from book industry people that suggested I was skirting too near to the edges of the historical romance genre. I should remove the villains’ POV chapters. I should simplify the plot. I should soften the heroine, who starts the book by threatening to shoot someone. I should remove some of the action and add in more about the romance. I should move the meeting of the hero and heroine closer to the front of the book. I should remove the two secondary romances, the heroine’s older sister, and a number of other characters.

These critiques were kindly meant. My advisers wanted me to write a book that would sell. Writers need readers. The story isn’t just the one I tell; it’s the one you hear, and until you hear it, it doesn’t live.

I didn’t ignore them. I tightened my writing a lot. I did remove some characters and ‘unnamed’ others to make them less distracting. But I didn’t completely rewrite my book, either. The book these advisers wanted me to tell could have been written by any competent writer. It wasn’t one I could throw a year of my life at.

I launched Farewell to Kindness last week, with over a hundred books presold and the reassurance that prereaders had enjoyed it. And I am finding readers, and I love that they’ve enjoyed the book, and cried in the right places, and argued over whether the hero’s cousin is an arrogant so-and-so, and written me some wonderful reviews. Maybe my audience will be small, and a different book may have reached more readers. But this is my book, and I love it.

Yesterday, a couple of things happened that prompted the following private message conversation with fellow Bluestocking Belle Mariana Gabrielle. The trigger was a series of comments from another writer about how we need someone experienced in the industry to comment on our books so that we can tailor them for the market.

Mariana: This laying down the law about writing for the market just bugs me. Silly, really, but true nonetheless.

Jude: It must be nice to know everything.

Mariana: LOL. Exactly. LOL really is one of those days!

Jude: Short weeks are always crazy. And I got a 3 star review on Amazon that pointed out the ways I don’t comply with industry norms. (Not a bad review — quite a fair one – but just a reminder of why I went indie.)

Mariana: I hate the fair ones.

Jude: This review started “This book is pretty good, but it’s not a good match for my tastes,” and went on to suggest cutting out a lot of the plot twists and spending more time on the romance. Which is fine, but this was not that book.

Mariana: ‘Not a good match’ says it all. At least that was acknowledged.

Jude: I get cross with those who pontificate about the one right way.

Mariana: Me, too; about anything, not just writing.

Jude: Yep. Makes my skin crawl. I’m fine with ‘right for me’; just not ‘my way or no way’.

Mariana: That’s why I trained myself to talk about what works for me. Much more palatable.

Jude: If I’d responded [on the post that triggered this conversation] it would have kept the point off topic. But I’m tempted to do a new post on how ‘the industry’ inevitably plays it safe by doing what has worked, and therefore is doomed to playing catch up when readers follow something new and different.

Mariana: That sounds like a good point, and I have opinions on that. Trying to be “the next XXXXX” is incredibly stupid. By the time you think it, you are too late.

Jude: If I let others shape my writing I might be mildly successful but dissatisfied.

Mariana: Many of my friends say, “You could write the next 50 Shades…” They don’t get that there is no next 50 Shades. No next Twilight or Harry Potter. Trying is a fool’s game.

Jude: If I write what I want to write, I will be satisfied, and if people like it they’ll need to come to me to get it.

Mariana: Yep. And my integrity will be intact.

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Publishing in 2015

2015-Publishing-PredictionsOn The Future of Ink, Penny Sansivieri, guru in book marketing and media relations, makes 12 predictions for 2015.

Click on the article for the details, but here are the headlines and my brief summary of her contention.

One – Discoverability: you won’t sell if your can’t be found

Two – Paid Social: by the end of 2015, you may need to pay to be seen in social media

Three – Goodreads/Amazon Integration: Amazon owns Goodreads; expect to see full integration this year

Four – eBook Pricing: pricing is likely to settle in the sweet spot

Five – The Surge of Audio and Print: books in multiple formats will sell better

Six – The Rise of the Reader: connecting with readers is crucial

Seven – The Rise of the Hybrid/Indie Author: more traditionally published authors will self publish

Eight – Bookstores Step up Their Game: watch for ‘pay for placement’ as bookstores open their shelves to indie authors

Nine – Combining Forces: authors will combine to reach one another’s readers

Ten – The End of the Review: it’s getting harder to find reviewers

Eleven – Publishers Reinventing Themselves: publishers need to change to remain relevant to authors

Twelve – The Bar is Officially Raised: indie authors must have professional editors and cover designers

So what do you reckon?

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Adventures in self-publishing

journeyI’m now officially an indie publisher of historical romance. Candle’s Christmas Chair hit the e-shelves a fortnight ago today, and has since been downloaded more than 4,500 times. (I’m hoping for 5,000 by 6pm this evening, in 7 hours time, because I really like round numbers.)

And, yes, I’ve reached those figures because the book is free (or 99c to some Amazon buyers, but Amazon has been very responsive in making it free to US purchasers when I asked them to do so).

So why am I giving Candle away? In a post a couple of months ago, I commented that, to sell, I needed to write a good book and I needed to be noticed by people who wanted to buy it. By delivering a free novella three months before I release my first novel, I give readers the chance to see whether they like the way I write for the investment of a couple of hours of their time. And I make it easy for them to share their pleasure in the book (if, indeed, they like it) with other people.

In theory, this should help sales of Farewell to Kindness, which will go on pre-release at the special price of 99c on 1 March (and up to $3.49 a week after its April release date).

So, to quote 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.)

I still have a great deal to learn, but here are my top five lessons from this first venture into the wild and wonderful world of Indie.

Lesson 1: Romance writers are a wonderfully generous and supportive community

Since joining various Facebook groups for Historical Romantic Fiction, 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. Without their retweeting and sharing, far fewer people would have heard of Candle’s Christmas Chair.

I particularly want to thank Helen Hollick for organising the Christmas Party blog hop at which I officially launched the novella (with a little prequel story), and the other 24 great authors who joined the blog hop and enthusiastically promoted it on Facebook and Twitter. If you haven’t read their blog hop stories and posts, please do so.

And huge thanks, too, to Mari Christie, who featured Candle on her blog. Explore her website, folks. She has some very thoughtful articles about indie publishing. And, as Mariane Gabrielle, she is the writer of Royal Regard, which is a lovely book.

Three of the people on a Facebook Group volunteered as beta readers, and gave me great feedback (and seven are beta reading Farewell to Kindness). Thank you, all.

And I’ve had some generous reviews on Goodreads, Scribd, and Amazon from some of the online community.

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

The 1st; maybe the 10th; maybe the 30th.

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 this year 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’m indie publishing, and this was my first book. I didn’t have money to employ specialists, so I did all my own editing, cover design, proofreading, 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.

Let’s not do that again, okay?

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. 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.

Okay. Not my fault. I started working on the cover the week I started writing the novella, but I had huge troubles finding the right images. Thanks to a chance conversation on my commuter train, I met the delightful Britt Leveridge, who drew the chair for me, and delivered the day before I needed to put the book on Smashwords.

More pressure than I needed. I’m currently writing an artist’s and photographer’s brief for Farewell to Kindness (the one I have is just a place holder), and aim to have it done and ready to go by mid-February.

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

I uploaded 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. As of today, it seems to be shifting around 100 books a day. Kobo don’t seem to have Candle yet, but I’m watching out for it.

Amazon started selling immediately, too, but didn’t really begin to move until they made it free (see Ask for what you want, next).

I didn’t have the option of preorder for Candle, since I was planning to give it away (and, in any case, it wasn’t ready till the last minute). But I’ll definitely lighten my stress load by putting Farewell to Kindness up for preorder five weeks before release. That’ll mean it is in all the stores and ready to go on release day.

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. One thing I asked for was a free listing on Amazon. 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 novella 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 they’ve since distributed over 2000 copies (at the time of writing). I’ve been either 2 or 3 on their free bestseller Historical fiction > regency list for over 48 hours.

So ask. People just might say ‘yes’.

 

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