traceysinclairconsulting

Writing, editing and legal directories advice

Tag Archives: self-publishing

Dealing with downtime – and more adventures in print

While there are many upsides to being a freelancer – I am writing this in my living room, with the sunshine pouring through open balcony doors, so I don’t expect anyone to be crying salty tears on my behalf – the downside is that, when you’re not busy, it’s easy to give into The Fear that you will never be busy again, that this lull in your schedule is only the first in many, and you will soon find yourself struggling to pay bills. It’s particularly pernicious at this time of year, when you know that you could, if you wanted, treat any downtime as a holiday – after all, it’s summer! Everyone deserves a holiday! But then the Fear reminds you that when you are being bombarded with images of your friends gallivanting off to glamorous locations, they are still getting paid while they do so.

My own business – tied as it is to the deadlines of the legal directories – is particularly susceptible to the summer lull. Last year I barely noticed, since I was full in the throes of my Year From Hell, and my attention was tied up with sorting out my mother’s estate and the endless red tape that involved, and finding somewhere to stay from one week to the next while I was house hunting. Since the one upside of having nowhere to live is you don’t pay any rent, I was able to survive on whatever work I could squeeze in around these two exhausting responsibilities, and even managed to use my time creatively, resulting in my last book, the novella / long short story A Vampire in Edinburgh.

This year, when I actually do have to pay rent and can’t just rely on the other people’s larders for my food, the summer slump seems a far more terrifying prospect, but it’s also one I am determined to utilise properly. I’ve built up my repertoire over the past year, and expanded my client base, so am planning to use the summer to see if I can build on both my range of products and expand my international client base, so that I can balance my schedule more throughout the year. I am continuing my project of getting my books into print (A Vampire in Edinburgh and Other Stories is now available in paperback), I have another novel coming out over the summer and I have a Dark Dates sequel in the works. But I’m also trying to accept that my chosen career will always have fallow seasons, and I need to work with that, not rail against it. I’ve always been terrible at taking holidays – even when I worked in an office, I found it impossible to switch off my BlackBerry. Now, though, I have realised that while that most elusive of things, ‘work-life balance’ is impossible to achieve on a day-to-day basis in my life (when I am busy, I am 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week busy), I can balance out that hectic period with a calmer, more restful season, when instead of fretting about what isn’t happening, I should be taking advantage of the slower pace to tend to all those things that necessarily get pushed aside when work is at full tilt.

Last year, I spent months trying to get my home by the sea – and now I have one, maybe this is the summer I learn to enjoy it.

You can buy A Vampire In Edinburgh and Other Stories here.

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Self-publishing – the next step

I’ve done a lot with my business this year to expand into other markets – in my legal directories work, for instance, I have done a lot more presentations, and more one-to-one phone calls, either handling Q&A sessions or doing mock interviews with lawyers. So it made sense that, when it comes to the publishing side of the business, I branch out on that front too. I’ve already expanded to other platforms than Amazon – in part to extend international reach, but also to reach those readers who aren’t keen on Amazon’s attitude to tax (I’m afraid, for an author, they’re a necessary evil – but hey, I pay my taxes…).

So the next step (unfortunately Amazon-dependent – whatever their problems, they are a godsend to indie creatives) is getting my books in print. The reasons for this are varied: some solid business sense, some not so much  – as a lover of print, part of me wanted to simply have my books as things I could hold in my hands. But books as physical objects are also useful as a marketing tool and a way of increasing my profile with readers: I can take them to events, readers who enjoy them can share them with friends, buy them as gifts, etc. Sure, it took a lot of time and effort to get there, and, despite the CreateSpace system being free to use, I had to pay someone to format the book and cover for publishing, so I have to sell (quite a few) copies before I make a return on my investment, but that’s what I feel it is: an investment. Stay tuned to see if it pays off…

Want to help? You can buy paperback copies of Dark Dates here.

DD Nook

 

 

Sequels: is publishing any easier the second time around?

Having previously been published by a small literary publisher, when I changed genres to urban fantasy I decided to dip my toe into self-publishing with a novel, Dark Dates.  In some ways, it was risk-free – I published it on Amazon, which is free, and was lucky enough to have a handy team of beta readers to help, plus my friend Caroline from Red Button Publishing offered to design the cover for me. It cost nothing – months of hard work aside, of course – and the worst that could happen was that people wouldn’t buy it, or that they would buy it and then say it was crap. But are the stakes higher – and the job harder – the second time around?

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Fast forward a year from the publication of Dark Dates and I’ve been generally delighted with the reception the book received. Sales could be higher, of course – I’m not quite retiring to my seaside villa just yet – but it’s had some great reviews, and received some nice accolades, including landing on a couple of bloggers’ ‘top ten of 2012’ lists. I’d followed it with a couple of short stories just to keep things bubbling over, and only a few weeks ago, put out the sequel, Wolf Night. So the question is, is it harder, or easier second time around?

What Cassandra did Next

In some ways, it was much easier, if nothing else because the technical side of it was so much more familiar. I had a (paid) formatter who I trust, Caroline again did the cover, and my beta team again came through, and the process of actually publishing on Amazon is relatively straightforward once you’re less scared of it. I had also built up some great contacts in the book blogging community over the past year, so while lots of blogs won’t review self-published work at all, I knew that I had some blogs that would be happy to host guest features, Q&As, giveaways and reviews. I’d already done some of the legwork in setting up the Dark Dates ‘paraphernalia’, too – a Goodreads author page, a dedicated website, Tumblr page and Facebook page, so a lot of things were already in place. Plus, of course, I hoped that there were a lot of people just eager and waiting for the sequel to a book they said they loved.

Of course, it’s never quite that easy, and I’m finding I still have a lot to learn this time around. For a start, I should have done more advance planning: a perfect storm of deadlines meant that I sort of shoved the book out without any fanfare, and then, once it was out, started my follow up with bloggers and online, whereas what I should have done was send out review copies months ago, and organise a load of blog posts (perhaps even pay for a tour – it’s not that expensive and cuts down on admin) to coincide with the launch. Even the friendliest of bloggers – and those who are genuinely keen to read the book – have their own schedules and towering TBR piles to negotiate, you can’t expect to put a book out and have people read and review it overnight!

Dark Dates Nocturnal Reviews

Likewise I somehow hadn’t realised that if you’re plugging a sequel, you are actually plugging two books – because you’re not only trying to get the people who liked the first book to buy it, but you’re trying to snag new readers to the series as a whole. Who wants to read a sequel to a book they’ve never heard of?

A few weeks later and the reviews are starting to trickle in and, so far, they are very positive, but it’s been a nerve-wracking time waiting to see what the response will be. I’m slowly gearing up for guest posts and promotions, with a few things done and some more down the line. But I have realised that I plunged somewhat blindly into this hoping that the process would be the same as last time, without remembering just how long and complicated that actually was (for instance, in the last month I have only just had Dark Dates reviewed by sites I sent it to last spring). I still haven’t solved the problem of getting to a much wider audience, and feel that is my next task, but I also think I probably made things more difficult for myself by being too hasty to just get the book out there (and, if I’m honest, out of my way so that I couldn’t tinker with it and convince myself it needed changing). So my advice to any writer who finds themselves in the same situation would be – plan ahead. Plan way ahead. Everything takes longer than you think, and you’re always dependent on the schedules of others, which you have no control over. Maybe I’ll have learned that lesson by the time the next book comes out…

Freelancing: Is work-life balance the great freelancing lie?

As I head into my second year of freelancing, I am belatedly realising just how foolish any attempt at creating a work-life balance is. The work I do is highly cyclical in nature, and the deadlines almost entirely not dictated by me (or generally even by my clients); take, for example, the last few months, which have included Chambers UK deadlines (mid-December and mid-February), Legal 500 UK deadlines (mid-February, mid-March, with the deadline for paid profiles the week after the submission deadline), Chambers Europe/Global (first deadline late February), Middle East (start of March) and Asia (start of March/start of April). If all this sounds confusing, trust me it is: I have spent the last few weeks working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week across time zones to try and accommodate all my clients.

But of course when you have a portfolio career, just because one part of your business gets busy, it doesn’t mean the rest of it slows down. I can’t tell my other, non-legal clients that I am putting their work on hold because I have other deadlines – the fact that I have a weekly quota of web copy to get through for one client, and a batch of magazine articles due in the same day as the Legal 500 is, frankly, my tough luck. Likewise, your personal life doesn’t stop: I’m currently in the middle of moving house, and am dealing with family health crises that consume a lot of my time and energy. You’ll understand, then, if I give people short shrift when they keep telling me how relaxing it is to work from home.

I’m not in any way claiming that I actually work any harder than office-based employees – I have plenty of friends working insane, full on hours in office jobs – just that the perception tends to be that, if you work from home, you spend great swathes of your time swanning around drinking coffee and reading magazines (this seems particularly to be true if you’re a woman working from home – I blame Sex and the City for perpetuating the myth that freelancing for women means a few minutes at your laptop, the rest of the time in cocktail bars).  I’m also not complaining about my workload. I feel remarkably blessed to be in such demand.  I spent much of last year fretting about building up my business, and it’s rewarding in the extreme to see it starting to grow, and to get repeat work from satisfied clients. More than that, I genuinly enjoy what I do – even at its most frustrating, it’s something I feel passionately about, and I want to keep doing. If I have to work my socks off to make it a success, I’m happy to do that. Working for myself still gives me a flexibility I enjoy and can use to my benefit – if I want to get up at 4am and work I can, likewise if I feel I need an extra hour in bed one day, there’s no boss to shout at me for not being at my desk at 9am sharp. But I’m realising that, at least in my chosen career, work-life balance is not a day-to-day thing: it’s a long-term haul. There simply will be weeks and months when I do nothing, nothing at all, but work, times when every other thing in my life has to be fitted in around deadlines and demands. There will, similarly, be weeks when the workload is light and if I want to I can skive off and spend the afternoon wandering around the shops or a gallery. This also of course has financial implications – I need to keep reminding myself that this is my lucrative time of year, so the money I earn now needs to be banked as a buffer against future lean times (and to pay the tax man – something which came as a bit of a jolt last year!).

It’s not a way of working that suits everyone, and it’s certainly not the fantasy of self-employment that many people dream of. Personally, I love it – I find it liberating beyond measure to be able to set my own hours and to work to my own, often eccentric, internal clock. But it has made me recognise that the one thing you need, more than anything, when you start freelancing, is realistic expectations: if you go into it thinking it’s an easier way of working, it might come as a bit of a shock. I think that, whatever your chosen field, the first year of doing it freelance is likely to be the steepest learning curve of your life – so, like all great adventures, you need to embark on it well-prepared for the journey.

[And, because I really like making things difficult for myself, I put my new book out this week… Wolf Night is available now from Amazon.]

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Digital promotion – feeding the machine

One of the criticisms of the digital book market is that it puts pressure on authors to constantly churn out new material: that on top of the ‘book a year’ demands of mainstream publishers, authors are now expected to put out digital-only short stories to keep their profile high and, of course, bring in extra income. (Although these are generally priced very low, for writers as popular as Tess Gerritsen and Lee Child – both of whom have successfully embraced this model – a lot of 99p sales soon add up). Short stories are now often used as ‘promos’ for new novels, either priced low or given away free in the weeks before a novel is published.

My reaction to this trend – both as a fan and a writer – is a positive one, and I must admit my sympathy for those professional writers complaining about this is, well, zero. For a start, it’s not exactly new: most novelists will regularly produce content for magazines and anthologies (just look at the recent Terry Pratchett book, A Blink of the Screen, a collection of his writings that brings together pieces from a surprisingly diverse range of sources). While some writers eventually have enough of this material to be compiled into standalone publications (Kelley Armstrong and Jim Butcher being good examples of this), often this isn’t the case, and fans either have to shell out for the anthologies or simply miss out.

Digital has changed all that. Now stories can be released as standalone pieces, or old stories that would have been buried in the archives of long-defunct magazines and publishers are now getting new life as digital-only releases. I was recently delighted when I discovered that the Lawrence Block’s ‘Burglar’ series – which the author stopped writing years ago – had a whole series of related short stories, now all available for less than a quid.

So I decided to embrace this trend myself. The sequel to my novel Dark Dates won’t be out till spring, but  I wanted to get something out before Christmas, and when I had an idea for a short story (and, if I say so myself, an enormously fun idea), I decided this was the perfect chance to try this model and see if it worked. While it’s far too early to know if this will boost sales in any way, initial reaction has been great, and it’s also an excuse to reconnect with bloggers with whom I have slowly started to build relationships over the past year. Plus I get another book with my name on it on Amazon. What’s not to like?

You can buy my new short story, A Vampire Walks Into A Bar, here.

New Dark Dates short story. Cover by Caroline Goldsmith of Red Button Publishing

Ebook promotion – different strokes for different blogs, and what to consider before publishing

Another update on the promotional rounds I have been doing for Dark Dates – and again an illustration of the many different types of blogs out there, and the kind of information that they like to have when promoting a book, so the types of things you need to consider when contacting them.

Over at the Jeep Diva, I got a straightforward review on the back of sending them a copy on spec, while Laurie’s Thoughts was an interview and excerpt.  I’m starting to find excerpts a great selling point, as several people have told me they downloaded the book after reading some of it on a blog post. I actually struck gold in contacting Laurie – she’s very active in the blogging community and sent me a tremendously helpful initial email, which included lots of tips on how I could get in touch with other bloggers, writing groups etc, and my interview with her has been repeated retweeted by people in her network, so I would heartily recommend indie authors getting in touch.

I also did an interview with Diana at Offbeat Vagabond, and Barbara at Reviewer Extraordinaire – as part of the Risque Reviews network, Barbara’s blog had a slightly different focus, but it was fun to bring out the sexier side of the book – and the excerpt in this post was a little bit steamier than the others I have posted!

I encountered Morgen Bailey through a writers’ group on LinkedIn, and she’s another author/blogger who is keen to support indie authors and has a strong network behind her, which saw my post repeatedly retweeted. In keeping with her site, instead of just talking about myself – again – I did a post on the 5 questions you should ask before you self-publish. She gets very booked up – this was scheduled in months ago – but she is a hugely prolific blogger, so definitely worth getting in touch.

 

Promoting your ebook – going multimedia

It’s  been another  busy week on the promotional side, and I feel I’m really starting to rack up the PR – I followed up a great review at My Tower of Books with a guest post on the eternal appeal of bad boys, which was a post tailored to fit the fun, youthful feel of the site. This came about since the blogger Jackie had been so kind about Dark Dates I thought I’d take a punt on suggesting a guest post – and she agreed! Which shows that promoting your book doesn’t have to be a one shot thing; many bloggers will be more than happy to do a follow up item.

Again, building on established relationships bore fruit: I followed up a guest post and review at Open Book Society with an author Q&A – this is particularly interesting because the reviewer wasn’t that taken with my book, but it shows that you can still get perfectly decent coverage even if one person doesn’t go for your product: obviously the site recognises that it takes all sorts and aims to give information to its readers rather than being prescriptive about content. Most bloggers are really nice and keen to engage – so it’s worth bearing in mind that a bad review isn’t the end of the world!

Another guest post – and this time a very nice review – over at LovLivLifeReviews, and topped off with a great review from a lovely blogger, Natasja, over at Natasja’s Book Blog.

But probably the most exciting thing so far it my first venture into multimedia, with an online trailer for the book. But as I can take no credit whatsoever for this, I’ll let cover designer Caroline Goldsmith explain…

Tracey and I talk about books a lot. And recently our discussions have all been about “Dark Dates” and how best to market it. Marketing self-published books is a maze that all authors need to navigate. Having worked in the publishing industry for more than a decade, I know that there is no magic key to success when it comes to book promotion. What I do know is that the more ways there are to find out about a book, the more chance there is of someone picking up on it.

As the first book has garnered a haul of good reviews, and part two in the series is due for publication later this year, I thought now was the ideal time to launch a book trailer. The London landscapes in the video are all made from photographs I took from the top of my old building on the river.

So what do you think? Are book trailers the future, or just a fun addition to a marketing plan? Watch this space…

Promoting my ebook: review round up and why self-promotion is hard work

One of the things I have been blogging about recently is the sometimes arduous task of promoting my novel, Dark Dates. As I made the choice to self-publish (having been traditionally published before, albeit by a small press) I knew it would involve a lot of work, but I have been surprised by just how much it involves: researching marketing opportunities, contacting bloggers, writing guest posts and doing author interviews – at times it has felt like a job in itself!

Still, I am starting to see some results, and hopefully this will lead to increased sales. Below are some examples of what I’ve been doing and the results…

Review: Fangs for Fantasy – was delighted to get a 5 out of 5 review at this site, which provided me with my favourite quote so far – ‘Tracey Sinclair has turned me into a fan poodle’. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I’ll take it. This is also a great example of how these reviews cross-sell for you – based on this review, the book got recommended as an interesting read over at Coffee, Cookies and Chili Peppers.

Guest post: Rebeka Harrington – author and blogger Rebeka Harrington is very active on the cross-promotion front, and does an enormous amount of work promoting her Vampires Released series. I connected with her via Goodreads and we arranged to do guest posts on one another’s blogs (you can read mine here). I’d really recommend this, because it means that your guest is not only helping promote your book on their site, but they are invested in promoting your blog, too. I’ve already seen an increase in hits and Twitter followers off the back of several guest posts.

Guest Post: Interview: A Book A Day – another cross-promotional opportunity, this time with author and blogger Tonya Cannariato, who reviews and writes for this site. We did author Q&As for one another: bringing new guests to my site (it was clear a lot of fans checked her interview out from the comments) while the interview she hosted for me got an awful lot of retweets.

Reading Lark After Dark: Another interview, this time for the more ‘grown up’ arm of Reading Lark.

Metamodo: Guest post – an example of blogs wanting not just straightforward interviews, but fun content that their readers will enjoy even if they aren’t interested in your book. These can be tough to come up with – it can be a struggle to find topics! – but bloggers like them because they are very little work on their side (as I’ve said before, most bloggers are non-professional and are fitting their activities around full-time jobs), and because they are quirkier than straightforward Q&As. In keeping with the slightly saucy nature of the site, I did a post about my favourite fictional love triangles…

Nocturnal Reviews: Guest post – this was quite similar to the above, but the blogger likes ‘top tens’ so my post was on the top ten places to take a vampire on a first date – yup, really! It sounds silly but was actually great fun, and it was also my first ‘giveaway’: I’d been wary of these because I find Amazon a bit confusing when it comes to organising freebies, but as most bloggers seem happy to offer PDFs or .mobi files as prizes, I am likely to do more in future…

As you can imagine, this has been quite time-consuming – especially when you take into account that I repost links to all of these on my own blog, Body of a Geek Goddess, and I am still reviewing at Byte The Book and Exeunt, writing for Unleash The Fanboy (who did a nice story on my book here) and Strictly Writing. And I am, of course, currently working on the sequel to Dark Dates as well as juggling all the other balls in my freelancing career. So never let anyone tell you that self-publishing is easy… but is it worth it? Watch this space…

Dark Dates by … me.

Promoting your ebook: dealing with Book Bloggers

One of the key ways to build word of mouth for your book is through the book blogging community: book bloggers not only tend to be enthusiastic about reading but also about spreading word of mouth, and will often post reviews across a number of forums, which can significantly boost the profile of your book. So how best to go about getting this exposure? Here are some handy tips – and some guidelines on what not to do!

Find a list of blogs: there are a number of ever-changing blogging directories out there, so I’d start by simply Googling ‘book blogger directory’ and working your way through the most up to date lists. Once you have found a site you like or think might be suitable, it’s also worth checking out links from that site to directories / other sites (these are usually found through ‘buttons’ on the bottom or side of the blog).

Check the blog is still active: lots of people start a blog but it takes time, determination and stamina to keep it going and to build a following. It’s probably not worth contacting any blog that hasn’t been updated in the last month. Ideally, you want a blog that updates at least once a week, if not more.

Check their review policy: this will tell you if they are accepting review copies, and what sort of books they are interested in. There’s no point in sending an ebook to someone who only reads print, and you just have to accept that some bloggers won’t consider self-published books, or will only accept certain formats. Respect their choices and move on.

Is your book a match? Look at the kind of books and features they have on the site. If they are big fans of historical fiction and you’ve written a modern horror book set in space, they’re unlikely to want to read it.

Be polite – remember they’re people! Approach politely and courteously, and remember you are dealing with an individual, not an anonymous corporation. If there is personal information on the blog that resonates with you, try to reflect that in your approach. People like dealing with other people – be nice, and you’re more likely to get a response! Treat them like you’re doing them an enormous favour letting them read your book and they aren’t going to be that keen to engage with you.

Remember they generally aren’t professionals: in nearly all cases, these blogs are run by individuals – or small groups – who are doing it for love (with some free books thrown in). They are fitting blogging around their jobs, families and other commitments. Respect that, and don’t be overly demanding: they have plenty of other priorities than responding to your email and reading your book! Also, they aren’t obligated to you in any way: just because you send them a book doesn’t mean they have to read it. Accept that you’ll strike out a few times and let it go.

Be flexible: bearing the above in mind, be as flexible as you can re: deadlines – don’t expect to send a book and have it reviewed within a week. Most bloggers will try to help you out if you’re doing date specific promotion, but they may be booked up well in advance, or they simply may be too busy. If you want to have a book reviewed when it’s published, you need to send advance copies at least a few months before publication date (most will state timeframes in their review policies).

Offer alternatives: the one thing all bloggers constantly need is content, so it’s worth offering an alternative; for instance, when you offer your book for review, suggest that you’re also happy to do an author Q&A or guest post. Many bloggers whose review schedules are packed will still accept guest posts (especially if you throw in a giveaway) and while this is extra work for you, it can be useful publicity (remember, don’t reuse guest posts: you’ll make both of you look bad if it’s not original content!)

Offer to cross-promote: All bloggers – or at least almost all – will be keen to get more readers or followers, so state in your initial email that any reviews or posts will be cross-promoted on your own blog or website (you have a blog or website, right? Right?) and through your Twitter feed (ditto). Also, if you have a blog yourself, why not offer to host a guest post from them? That way you boost your own content, and are offering them more exposure.

Build relationships: In the short time I’ve been dealing with book bloggers, I’ve already come across some really interesting and fun people – so don’t just go into this focused on how to plug your book. Think about building long-term relationships – follow them on Twitter and Goodreads, sign up to their blogs, comment on their reviews. You won’t have time to invest in every one of the bloggers you deal with, any more than they will with every author, but be open to connecting with new people and you could be very pleasantly surprised.

Never badmouth a blogger: even if you have had a negative experience, there is nothing to be gained by mouthing off or getting annoyed with a blogger. For a start, it’s unprofessional, and it’s also enormously counterproductive: there’s a fairly strong community of bloggers and the last thing you want is a reputation as being difficult – part of the reason so many bloggers won’t review self-published works is because self-published authors have a reputation for poor behaviour. Sure, you might encounter a truly obnoxious blogger – they are individuals, so you’re bound to come across some you’d rather not have, just as you will in any other community – but in all circumstances the best thing is to take the high ground and let it go.

Be realistic – they won’t all like you: One of the hardest things for writers to accept is that lots of people simply won’t like your book. They may think it’s stupid or badly written, they may hate the characters, they may wilfully misread your meaning or sentiment, they may think it looks so God-awful boring that they can’t even bother to read past the synopsis. Tough. Get over it. There isn’t a writer alive who has been universally loved, and you won’t be the first one. Don’t get into a row over bad reviews, don’t vote them as unhelpful on Amazon, don’t try and get them removed from blogs or anywhere else. Take them on the chin and move on.