Figuring It Out

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Completely ignored by constabulary at roadblocks from here to Harare and back again, I was unable to test my willpower in the spitting department, although the long trip did give rise to several new thoughts of other things I could try that are a little out of the ordinary, and possibly fineable. At this rate I’m sure to be arrested at some point. I got back late enough for the feathered horde to have taken themselves off to bed in a huff, and have been properly chastised this morning. I’m thinking that whoever made doves the spokescreatures for peace obviously never had any angelic looking birds as pets. Two inches of feathered rage can have a seriously painful effect on your earlobes. Having a big sleep doesn’t make them forget either. Little buggers.

One thing that I especially love about my monthly trips to Harare are all the new shops that always spring up around and about during my four week absences. Remembering the hunger and the sadness on the faces of the people so few years ago, now I get a real kick out of seeing those same faces laughing, munching down on fast food, and generally embracing and enjoying the new pleasures available. I hate seeing suffering. I always want to take hurt or broken people home with me and fix them. Yesterday, although I know that there really still is a lot of suffering in this country, I didn’t see a bit of it.

What I did find though, was a brand new book shop. Full of brand new books. I haven’t seen such a shop here in years, so I wandered around like an utter dork, mouth hanging open and drooling for far too long. This was also the first time that I’ve been into a bookshop since I started writing, so knowing what I now know, it was the most amazing feeling to pick up an actual paper copy of Hugh Howey’s Wool and flick through the pages. I check out his blog, watch his trip, and read his advice and opinions. He is one of those guys that makes a real effort to answer comments, no matter how busy he really must be. It was sorely tempting to buy piles of paper books because to me they were reasonably priced at $12, but I showed great restraint for once. I wondered if these authors even knew that their books were being avidly read by so many people in Zimbabwe, for many of whom a $12 outlay would be quite a big deal. Here these books will be treasures to be read, re-read, and passed around to many others who can’t afford the outlay at all. The unfairness of it all kind of hit me right between the eyes then. Us indies frantically trying to give our books away for free to people who don’t really want them, and then all of the thousands of less fortunate people around the world with three or four treasured books to last them a lifetime of reading, who would really love to have our books, but never will.

This writing trip has kicked up a notch for me in the excitement department after that. Now I realise just how very fortunate us indies really are, to be given the opportunity to be part of this great game. The joyful side of publishing has suddenly became real to me, regardless of the actual work involved in getting to your destination. African Me will be available in paperback at the same time that it goes live on Amazon, with a bit of luck, the fates being what they are, and all that. The very possibility of some reader guy sitting on a park bench in London, or Tennessee, or any other spot in the world, holding something in his hands that I made, reading words that I wrote, just blows me away.

I’m not sure what the shopkeeper thought, having some odd woman fondling Hugh Howey’s book, drooling a bit, and staring off into space, but people here are mostly gentle, kind souls, so she left me to my epiphany. I have nothing to complain about being an indie writer. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to even access Amazon, and plonk any bit of writing I want to on there. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to be able to market my book. Lucky to be able to even open Twitter – although that’s got more to do with the bastard internet signal. I’m lucky to have the time to write, without worrying about what I’ll eat for dinner. I’m lucky to have a computer to type my scribbles on. In the same vein, I’m lucky to be able to download hundreds of books, paid or free, and then leave them lounging unread, when so many would do so much to be able to read just one of them now and then, but will never have a chance to.

I won’t be complaining about any part of my trip. I now see it for the real gift that it is. Whether my book sells millions, or just one – to me, all the work getting it produced and marketed will be worth every minute spent. I will have published a book. And what a fantastic thing to have done that will be. Because somewhere, everywhere, there is another soul, more creative than me, sitting in some shabby, sad place, trying very hard to squish the silly dream he has of writing down the stories clamouring to get out of his head, because he knows that that’s a dream too high, and all that will ever be on his daily to do list will be survival. Gratitude, not whingeing, will be the order of my trip to the end. So indie guys, so.

Till next time friends. xxx

How Hard Is Too Hard

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There are million-selling legendary authors, like those genius scribes of such modern literary classics as Duncton Wood, or Clan of the Cave Bear. Not to mention the not so literary but still million-sellers, because not all readers enjoy literary books. There are bloggers that have so much cool stuff to talk about that they have tens of thousands of followers. There are Google and SEO geniuses, like Guy Kawasaki. There are marketing wizards that could sell ice to an Eskimo. There are huge publishing houses, crumbling a little now, but still – who would refuse a contract with one of the big five? Wizard computer technicians. IT specialists that have actually studied the subject. People are Twitter heroes with thousands of adoring fans, hanging on to their every tweet. People with Facebook pages that are so “Liked” that I wonder how their owners ever find the time to read all the comments on them.

And then there are the Indie Authors. They have to be all of these things. I think that any sort of gentle, creative soul would have difficulty facing any one of these things, but if they want to succeed, and be one hundred percent independent, they have to not only face, but conquer every single one of them. Even though Amazon really is still young, in the last couple of years millions of books have been loaded on to their site. I think that the marketing strategies of even one year ago might not all be effective any more, purely because of the sheer volume of people all doing the same things. The next great marketing idea hasn’t been found yet. In the beginning posting your book links on Facebook, in groups or events, would probably have got you lots of sales. Now I doubt that you would get many at all that way. Constant hard sell drop and run indie authors confuse me a little. I very seldom click their links, purely because I don’t like having things constantly lobbed at me. Hard sell marketing is a dodgy way to go with any product. Sales people who do that for a living are generally taught how to go about that sort of strategy, and it involves a bit more than just constant bombarding of the same people with the same book link.

Now there’s just mainly a white noise of millions of book links flying around, and only a handful of true success stories. New authors jumping on the bandwagon now are going to have to find new ways to market themselves and their books. The old channels are all clogged up, and I’m beginning to wonder if we’re not heading back to the way things were before the advent of self publishing, with a lot of the books on Amazon seen as “submission to agent”, to languish there until, or if, it’s ever spotted by someone who loves it enough to start a fever of sales. Word of mouth praise is your best marketing tool after all. No matter how well your book is written, there is still an element of luck involved in it gaining real readership. Thousands of books downloaded on free days are never actually read by those who download them. Thousands of books have brilliant reviews. But. Not all of those books deserve all their praise. If these reviews have been written by friends and family, who at the end of the day are never going to give you a crap review, and then people buy your book on the strength of them, and then don’t like what they read, they are not going to buy any more of your books anyway. So it seems to me that no matter what people say about how important having loads of fantastic reviews up the minute you publish is, the best way to get them is to wait for them to come in from people who have read your book, liked or hated it, and get the urge to leave their opinion of it honestly. I could very easily ask all my buddies for honest reviews and get lots of them posted in days, but I won’t, because I know how difficult it would be to tell a buddy that I really didn’t like what they wrote. At some point the real honest reviews will come, good or bad. Maybe a little worse than they would be if someone has been misled into buying a book by glowing buddy reviews that maybe aren’t entirely true.

That’s just my opinion, and I’m more than likely going to get shot down for it. I could be wrong anyway. Indie publishing is a journey of learning, and I’m still taking my first steps. Either way. I’d rather be patient, get my books into the hands of potential readers as gently as I can, and hope that some of them will like what they read enough to want to read more. That doesn’t mean I’m going to recline on the couch eating grapes. As an indie writer, it’s my job to sell my scribbles. Of course I’ll carry on learning all I can about getting those scribbles under new eyeballs, I just won’t camp out on doorsteps, and leap out of bushes waving any of my tomes under unsuspecting nostrils, and yelling, “Oi, you!!! Buy my book!” The only platform for that sort of hard sell is possibly Twitter, but even then, it’s not going to work if all you do is post your links. I honestly believe that without a bit of support from Lady Luck, it’s not reasonable to expect overnight bestseller status anyway, no matter how hard you work. At the end of the day, if what you’ve written is liked by those who read it, you will eventually achieve some sort of success, big or small. And if it’s not, you won’t, no matter how often or how hard you wave it under nostrils. Just saying.


Indie Waffle

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My Facebook cut-back is slowly working out. I still have a pile of things to catch up on, but it’s getting smaller now, and not always growing like it used to. My internet signal is still pretty rubbish but at least now I know my regular catch ups will be doable, and at this rate I should have at least one foot on the ground in a few weeks. My excessive reading lately, of things related to SEO and the best ways to market books as an indie author has also led to me reading other related things.

Random House has changed in the royalty payment department, making it appear to be much more author friendly and, for some, make the decision to go indie a little harder. Facebook has been shutting down pages where giveaways are happening, and Amazon now appears to have removed the “Like” button on books. I think that you can “Like” a book if you buy it legitimately though. I’m sensing winds of change coming. Some indie authors who have been working their little backsides off are saying that they’ve had enough of it all. They’re tired. I’ve seen one or two get off the merry go round in the last few weeks, and been very sad to watch them go.

I’ve read articles with opinions on self-publishing that are polar opposites. Some say that reviews are key, and to be obtained at all costs. Others say that reviews have to be honest and freely given – never asked for. Some say that free promotion days are key, and the more books you give away, the more you’ll grow your readership base. Others say that the free days are killing the industry, and that if you wait long enough, you can get any indie book you like for free anyway, so why pay for it in the first place? Some say that books downloaded on free days don’t count as “sales” and should never be taken into account when talking bestseller status. Other’s say a sale is a sale even if the price is $0.00. I’m nowhere near finished my research into all of this, but I’m slowly starting to form opinions. I try never to say never, so they might – probably will – change. I haven’t yet implemented these opinions yet. I’ll wait a little till I’ve read through my whole pile.

With the Amazon search engine, your tagging when you load your book is important. It’s a good idea to have keywords in your product description, and if you can, also your title. This will put your book ahead when anyone searches for a genre or name. Don’t use the names of other already famous authors though – Amazon doesn’t look fondly on this. Or on any other obvious ploys to get good tag words into your title. You need to be clever about the whole thing. Indies are, so you’ll figure it out I’m sure.

My opinion on reviews isn’t properly formed yet. I haven’t actually asked for reviews yet, but I’m thinking that I will, as long as they’re honest. On that subject, and while I’m here, if anyone would like to review Shadow People, please give me a shout, and I’ll happily and speedily send you a copy. Still on the subject, if you spot a typo it’s nicer to tell the author rather than announce it to the world. Typos can be fixed in a jiffy, and a heads up in that department is always appreciated. Even the big guys have gremlins in their e-books – I’ve spotted them in quite a few. Unless a book is absolutely riddled with these little devils, I always focus on the story when I do reviews.

As far as free days are concerned, I do believe that they are very important for indie writers to get their scribbles out to the public. I don’t believe that you should make all your books free though. Short stories are brilliant as freebies, to give readers an idea of whether or not they’d like to read more of what you write, and maybe have one novel, or first book in a series, that you regularly give away for free. There’s not much point in putting in the amount of work that it takes to write, edit, and publish books, if you’re going to give them all away for free.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Facebook shouldn’t be used for hard marketing of anything, including books. Being a writer in a writer’s world, I will share my author friends books and freebies on occasion, but personally, I’m going to use it for what it was created for – socialising. Groups are good for writing talk, but mainly I’ll stick to the friendly waffle on my newsfeed, and use my pages for book related posting.

Twitter so far for me, is the best marketing tool a writer can have. I’ve found friends and readers there, and picked up on a lot of information that I would never had come across anywhere else, or even thought of looking for. I love the 140 letter allocation too – it makes for lots of funnies, and keeps most chats light and easy.

I’m just sticking my toe into LinkdIn groups, and PinInterest and the other social sites are still on my To Do list, so no opinions there yet.

Google right now is a lovely, friendly place to be, and even though there is book marketing going on, it’s not encroaching on our happy chats and posts. The +1’s there are working towards getting our book and blog links out there in the public stream, which is something Facebook can’t do, so that is indeed a bonus. I enjoy socialising on Google, and I love the friends I have there. What we have done is create a community that is all about readers getting to have one on one chats with authors and bloggers if they want to, or even just hang around in the background and watch our antics. Watching writers in their natural environment must be fascinating for “normal” people. Free days and promotions there can only be good, because books and writing in all its forms is what that community is all about. I have a feeling though that us indie authors should be wary of flooding Google, or any other site for that matter, with only book link plugs. Interaction is the key and I believe we’ll get where we’re going there.

So. Tagging and patience seem to be the way to go for right now. Tag the crap out of everything you put out there, and be patient. Some books will never be successful and make millions of dollars. Very few have overnight success. Not many authors hit star status, but quite a lot live very comfortably from the sales of their books. What you put into your marketing campaign is your personal choice. I know that some people set out to write something particular, in a specific genre, specifically to make lots of money, and not necessarily for the love of story telling. And they do make lots of money. You can pay for marketing, you can buy reviews – good ones – and I’m very sorry to say, bad ones too. I read lately that this method of nobbling the competition is not at all uncommon. Most uncool! You can even arrange for thousands of books to be “bought” to lift you up in the rankings – only to be returned shortly afterwards. Again – this is not right. With Amazon and other places apparently trying to level the playing field, I’m sure that new ways of getting readers and sales will be found.

Personally, for now, while doing everything I can to become visible to first time readers of my scribbles, and carrying on with my big digs into how to sell e-books in general, I’m taking the patient route. I want people to want to read my next book, buy it, and with a bit of luck review it. All I’ve picked up from the madness so far, is that apart from doing all you can with the technicalities of search engine optimisation with tags on Amazon, Google, blog and Twitter posts, and being active on Goodreads and related readers sites, the things most beneficial to indie authors are genuine and friendly interactions with your readers, and patience. I’m thinking that slow and steady wins this particular race. Oh – and have more than one book out there, so you can keep some to actually sell, and only one or two for the free. That’s my opinion anyway. Now to get to doing all of these things myself.

Till next time friends. xxx

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Onward And Google

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I’ve made an amazing discovery. Coming back this time after a big internet break, I looked at everything that was “waiting” for me to catch up with, and my heart sank to my feet. Even if I stayed up twenty four hours for a couple of days there was no way I could look at everything that had come in, and I didn’t have a hope of doing everything that had been asked of me. Looking at the little pile of things that I really want to do for myself, and have been putting off in favour of these manic internet catch-ups, it occurred to me that I was missing the point entirely. By taking on too much I wasn’t doing anyone any favours, least of all myself. So I made a very large decision. Something big had to go. I’ll never give up my lovely Twitter, and most certainly not my blog addiction, so it was cut back pretty much all the way either on Facebook or Google+. With Google surging ahead in popularity, and having all the pros with its search engine, new communities and hangouts, Facebook lost the toss up fairly quickly. I nervously set about reversing from the many things I’ve been active with on that site, expecting anger or irritation because I was “letting people down”. Across the board, all I got was not only support and kindness, but also total agreement. Facebook is not working out as the best platform for indie writers to sell books.

We’re all zooming around sharing our work with each other there. We have formed amazing friendships and bonds with other writers. We’ve supported each other, cheered each other on, and read each others books, which is lovely, and we’ll hopefully stay friends forever. But if this particular form of marketing is selling thousands of books for some I haven’t seen it. What I have experienced myself is a manic feeling that I “must” join everything, post everywhere, and do everything on Facebook, and somewhere along the way I stopped chatting to friends on my wall, catching up on their news, and seeing the pictures and photos that mark their journeys. I missed this. In fact there are always so many notifications to deal with that I haven’t cruised down my newsfeed for months. Even so I still wasn’t able to keep up, and I kept finding posts on my pages or elsewhere from friends put there weeks ago that I missed, and I cringed at the thought of how thoughtless and rude I must appear. Not being answered can be very hurtful, and I certainly wouldn’t want to hurt my friends. So now the deed is done, and I’m exploring different ways of uniting my stories with readers who want to read them. I believe there are better ways than only posting links to books on purely social sites, and that’s what I’ll be working on for the next few days. My first day without hundreds of Facebook notifications to attend to has been fantastic so far, and I do believe that I’ll be much more productive in general from now on, never fail to notice another comment from a friend again, and in the end, do more of what I set out to do in the first place. Write books.

I think that my point would be that quantity can never beat quality. Do fewer things for fewer people, but do them well. Spreading yourself too thin isn’t only bad for you, but for all those around you too. Running yourself ragged is not the way to go at all. It’s also good for you and those around you to also do what you want to do. I’m not saying that you should only ever do what you want to do. We all have to do things that we don’t really want to. That’s what life’s all about. But there is not much point to a life lived purely doing what others want, or what you think others want. I certainly got that wrong. Nobody expects too much of you at all, and most people are a lot nicer than we give them credit for. They mostly wish only the best for you too. Well. There are maybe one or two pucker nasty people, but not many, and certainly not one of those beauties are worth wasting any seconds on. In celebration of this new found freedom, I’m off to read Guy Kawasaki’s, What The Plus!, and have pea soup with a poached egg floater for breakfast. Why not?

Come and join us at my favourite Google+ community, and the place where I’ll be hanging out the most. Everyone’s welcome. We’re a friendly bunch.

Till next time friends. xxx

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Sad Soaks And Rock Stars

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I read an article by a famous multiply published author yesterday, although I’ve totally forgotten his name, so I can’t say who now. My memory is really rotten with names. He said that the reason most authors become miserable drunks is because of the terrible depression that sets in after their first book is published and sells not a single copy in months. That is indeed a depressing thing to say. I don’t think I’ll be swigging gin for breakfast while singing Mr Bojangles quite yet though. Of course I want people to buy and read my books. And thank you to those gorgeous and discerning people who have already bought Shadow People so far. How exciting to think of you guys, wherever you may be, reading it, and travelling to my worlds with me.

As a writer I’m grateful to every single person who reads and enjoys my scribbles. But I really don’t agree with that famous author guy at all. In my circle of indie writer friends there is not one single sad old gin swilling soak that I can see. Well. Not gin swilling for that reason anyway. We writerly folk enjoy the odd tipple just as much as anyone else. They are just a group of hard-working, talented, and inspired people who are doing what they have to do, to share their stories with people who want to read them. I think they “get” that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and not without a bit of spadework also. They’re not miserable either. Just a little tired perhaps from having to learn how to be salesmen (or women). Generally, the tender, creative soul of a writer doesn’t easily embrace that particular profession, most especially when trying to sell her (or him) self. Never let it be said that I am ever politically incorrect. Anyway. The amount of indie writers zooming around the web says success to me, and not desperate depression, whether they sell one book or thousands in any given month.

Maybe I’m wrong, I very often am, but to me it’s logical that no matter what you do to earn a crust, you don’t go from first day newbie to rock star overnight. Even if after all is said and done, you only end up rocking the club scene, and don’t get to open for Gaga, I still see that as success. I don’t see any reason to be depressed when you’re doing what you love, no matter how slow your first book is out of the starting gates. I reckon the main thing is that it’s actually at the gates. That achievement alone is success in my eyes, and if one person really likes your tale, so is that. If one does, more will too. It’s all just in the time.

So, if there really are any pickled pen-pilots out there today, crying into their Absinth’s, I say to you – give it a year, not a day – before you hit the booze and Prozac. And of course, so you can meet those lovely folk who will like what you wrote, join our merry group of Readers, Bloggers and Writers on Google+.

Till next time friends. xxx

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