Welcome to day two of the A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter, unsurprisingly, is B. So what can I say about being an indie author that begins with B? Hmm… let me think … How about, we start with:
Sounds fairly obvious, but the end result of all your hard work and angst will be a book. That may be an ebook, a paperback, a hardback or an audio book. It may even be all of the above! It’s perfectly possible, even as an indie author, to put your books into all those formats. What you have to decide is, which format is most suitable for your type of book? There are cost issues to consider, and you have to work out whether it’s worth the investment. For example, (and this is a generalisation, so please forgive me if you’re bucking the trend) many saga readers prefer actual physical books to ebooks, whereas some other genres sell widely in electronic format and barely shift a single copy of a paperback.
It’s worth giving this matter careful consideration because, as lovely as it is to have a paperback (or even a hardback) bearing your name, sitting on your bookshelf, you have to ask yourself: is it worth the costs involved, if only your mum and Auntie Mabel will buy a copy? From my own point of view, paperbacks probably aren’t worth doing. The vast majority of my sales come from ebooks, and my paperback sales are extremely low in comparison. The profit margin from print on demand books is tiny. I tend to write longer books, and since there’s a minimum amount I’m allowed to sell them at to cover printing and distribution costs, to make a substantial profit from them I’d have to set the price so high, no one would ever buy a single copy.
Even keeping profits to well under a pound a copy, I don’t sell many. And what I have to bear in mind, always, is the additional costs involved. After paying for a cover for my ebook, if I wish to have that adapted with spine and back cover for a paperback, that’s extra work for my cover designer and, quite rightly, she charges extra. To make up that additional cost, I’d have to sell well over a hundred copies of the paperback. FYI I have never sold a hundred copies of any individual title in paperback.
Not only that, but by law, every publisher (that’s you if you publish your own books!) must deposit one copy of each published book at the Legal Deposit Office in Wetherby. This isn’t optional. The British Library will send you a written request and you have to comply. As far as I can tell, this only applies if you use your own ISBNs. If you use a free one from Amazon I don’t think you’ll get the request, but if you use a free ISBN and still get the letter, don’t scream and go purple and threaten to sue me please. I did say, as far as I can tell …
You may also be asked, by the Agency for the Legal Deposit Library, to send another five copies of your book to them, for distribution to The Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales and the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. It may say on your letter that you can contact them if you wish to provide electronic copies of your books instead. I tried that and got a polite but firm refusal, so if there’s a way around sending physical copies I haven’t found it. To be honest, it’s rather nice that your book has been requested, and I don’t really object. However, the cost of all these books comes from your pocket, and you pay postage, too, although you can send them directly from Amazon to save postage costs. So, as you can see, the costs mount up. If you sell lots of paperbacks – and I know plenty of authors whose main income comes from paperbacks – then brilliant. No problem. If you’re like me (and I know for a fact I’m not alone in this) and you sell few physical books, then you have to be honest with yourself and ask if it’s worthwhile.
I have several of my books in paperback format and I’m aiming to get the rest put in paperback within the next year. Given that I sell so few copies, why, you might ask, am I doing that? Partly, I’ll admit, because it’s still a joy to see an actual book that I’ve written on my own bookshelf, but that’s not the only reason. I like to give signed paperbacks as competition prizes to my newsletter subscribers. Some authors give talks, and like to have copies on display. Some brave souls even do books signings. I’ve not done signings or talks yet (I’m not that brave!) but I do like to be able to say, when a reader gets in touch and asks if my latest book will be available in paperback as they don’t read ebooks, that yes, it will, or it already is. It probably doesn’t make great business sense for people like me, but it’s something I’ll continue to do. I’ll be looking at the various options there are for producing your books another day. In the meantime, talking of business sense, that leads me onto …
Being an indie author isn’t just about writing books. If you want to make a real career of it, you have to accept that it’s a business. That can be tough to come to terms with. I mean, I do try but you only have to read what I’ve just said about paperbacks to know I don’t always follow my own advice. My sensible, practical head should be telling me not to bother with paperbacks, yet here I am with a whole row of them sitting on my sideboard in my office, and making plans to publish more. See, I’m not exactly a hardened business woman, and all I really wanted to do was write. I’m sure many of you feel the same. Nevertheless, if you want to make a success of this job you have to put your business head on and start acting like an entrepreneur. In fact, with the recognition that indie authors have to do so much on top of the actual writing, a new phrase has been coined: authorpreneur.
It’s so popular, and so self-explanatory, that the Alliance of Independent Authors recently changed one of their membership categories from Professional Author Member to Authorpreneur Member. It’s to acknowledge that we indies must wear many hats in our careers: writing; sourcing good quality and reliable editors, proofreaders, and cover designers; making endless decisions for ourselves on the sort of cover we want, which title is right for the book, the publishing schedule, the price, the format … Maybe we learn to format our own books, or maybe we commission someone else to format them for us. Then there’s marketing to consider. Many authors are reluctant to push their own products, but unless they have some magic money tree and never have to sell a single copy of their books, they have to overcome that and get on with it.
Books don’t sell themselves. We have to understand social media, content marketing, paid advertising – the list goes on and on. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help us. I mentioned ALLi yesterday and I’ll be discussing various other sources in later posts. What you have to remember for now is that, when you decide to publish your precious book, it isn’t just a book any longer. It’s a product. A commodity. And you have to learn how to package, sell and distribute it in the most effective way you can. You’re not just an author. You’re an authorpreneur. Scary, huh? But, you know, kind of fun, too …
When I first started writing the book that became There Must Be an Angel, I was told repeatedly by other authors and those-who-knew-best that any writer worth his or her salt must have a blog. I wasn’t sure about that, because it meant putting myself “out there” and I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that yet. Nevertheless, trusting that they knew what they were talking about, I set up The Moongazing Hare – my first attempt at a blog. I wasn’t entirely certain what I was going to write about, and I think there were quite a few random posts that made little sense to anyone but me. However, some of the posts did prove to be very popular. I remember one in particular, “Can I Afford to Be An Author?” got lots of hits and loads of comments. Hmm, wonder why? 🙂 You can read it here, if you’re interested, although all the comments and likes have disappeared since I moved my posts over from my old blog site.
As the years have passed, though, blogging has become less popular. Although a website is still seen as essential for an author, it’s no longer considered essential to blog. How many people actually read blogs these days? I’m asking the question, but no one will answer. Spot the tumbleweed rolling along the ground …
I’ve been blogging since around 2012/2013. If I was starting my writing career today, I honestly don’t think I’d blog at all. There are so many other ways to communicate with readers: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, newsletters, YouTube, Pinterest, email … Sometimes, it does feel as if I’m talking to myself on here. I know people are reading my posts, but few people comment on them and that’s not a complaint, by the way. I’m the same myself. I often spot a blog headline and click on it to read, then click off again without commenting, even if I’ve enjoyed the post. Partly, it’s the faff of logging in to leave a comment. Partly it’s just I haven’t time and shouldn’t really have been reading it in the first place, never mind commenting on it. I don’t take it personally, and I blog occasionally because I like to have a little chat with my followers now and then on here – especially if I’ve got news to tell them, or the post is too long to put on my Facebook page.
It’s really up to you if you want to set up your own blog. What I would say is, if you don’t want to do it, you certainly shouldn’t worry about it. In my opinion, blogging these days is more about pleasure, not necessity. If you enjoy it, do it. If not, it’s no longer seen as essential. Do set up a website though, because that is important, as I’ll discuss another day.
Authors may not necessarily need a blog, but we do owe a lot to the phenomenon that is the book blog. Book bloggers are wonderful! They are generous souls, who give up their time to read books and write reviews of them, helping to spread the word for authors via their own blogs. And, contrary to what you may believe, they do it for free! I’m always nervous about approaching book bloggers because, by nature, I’m quite shy and lacking in confidence. I know! You’d never believe that, would you? It’s true, though, and I’ve tended to shy away from seeking reviews because of it. I’ve been very lucky, though, because some absolutely amazing book bloggers have read my books, without me even asking, and left me fantastic reviews on their blogs. When this happens, it’s an incredible feeling, and my loyalty and gratitude to them knows no bounds.
Having said that, I’m well aware that it’s not often that reviewers have the time (or the money) to buy books and post reviews off their own back. If you want a review, you need to go about it in the professional manner and do as I say, not as I do. Because what I do is pretty much zilch. I’m a total wimp, and that’s another thing I’ll have to work on this year. For those of you with more gumption, what I will say is do your research. I belong to a lovely Facebook group which has loads of reviewers and book bloggers as members, and they do get very upset when authors behave in certain ways. Please be polite! Be patient! Make sure the blogger you approach reads books in your genre. Make sure they are accepting books for review. Some of them are so swamped with requests that they have to say, no more for now, please. Who can blame them?
If they do accept your book for review, please be patient. You could be waiting a while for them to reach your book. They’re human beings! They have lives, families, jobs. They review for free! Be kind! And if you get a review and you’re not happy with it, do not hound the blogger about it, or start a public row over it. Yes, it has been known. I know, you’d never behave in such a fashion, but just in case … Truthfully, you may never get that review. Things happen. Problems crop up. Lives and circumstances change. A blogger may promise you they’ll read your book but then, it turns out, they can’t. Suck it up. Unless the blogger makes a habit of doing this, you can trust that they feel just as bad about it as you do. I keep saying it, but it’s worth repeating: Above all else, be kind!
Sometimes, books go on a little tour, all on their own. And like us, in these strange times, it’s all done virtually. The books don’t hop on a coach and head off with a guidebook in hand, though I’d love to see that. No, they hop (metaphorically speaking) from blog to blog, parading the book catwalk, and waiting patiently for the whistles and roars of approval. Book tours are amazing things, because the people who make them possible are amazing people: those book bloggers I just told you about. For a certain length of time, they will host your book on their blogs so that it gains the maximum amount of publicity. The bloggers may post a review of your book, or do an interview with you, or post an excerpt you’ve chosen. It may be a cover reveal tour, or a book birthday tour, or, most commonly, a publication day tour. You can try to organise it yourself, approaching each blogger individually, or you can hire a blog tour organiser.
For a very reasonable price indeed, the organiser will approach several bloggers, who they know will appreciate the sort of book you’ve written. Between you, you’ll decide on dates, and the type of post you should provide for each one. I have several friends who’ve done these tours, via an organiser, and they have nothing but praise for the hard work that’s been done on their behalf. Book tours aren’t guaranteed to get you any sales (though some sales may well result) but it will get your book out there, get your name in the public eye, and help to make people aware that both you and your precious book baby exist. And in today’s extraordinarily crowded market, that can only be a good thing.
Before you go anywhere near a book blogger, or even anywhere near a publishing service, you’ll want someone to read your book. Someone who, hopefully, will be able to tell you that it’s not total rubbish, and you didn’t just waste months or years of your life scribbling down something that would only be suitable for publication if it was part of a “How Not to Write” series.
Beta readers are, to put it simply, test readers. They’ll read your book and let you know what they think, from the viewpoint of the average reader – hopefully. So, if there are aspects of the book that simply don’t come across clearly enough, they can point those out to you. They’ll let you know what they think of your characters, and whether they could relate to them, or if not, why not? Did their attention wander at any point? What was it that made them lose interest? Were there any parts they especially loved? Did anything confuse them about the storyline? Are all plot points resolved? What about the ending? Did it satisfy them? If not, why not? What would have improved it?
Of course, you’re putting yourself “out there” when you send a book to a beta reader, and it can be scary – especially if it’s your first book. I have a fabulous team of beta readers and I rely on them all to be honest but constructive. I know I can trust them. But then, I’ve used them for five years now! At first, it was terrifying. I remember sending them Angel and feeling sick to my stomach as I pressed send. If I could have cancelled the message I would have done, but I just had to grit my teeth and hope to goodness they didn’t hate it too much.
What you don’t want is a beta reader who’ll tell you, “Oh, it was great. There was nothing I’d change.” Unless you’re an exceptional human being, and a literary genius, that’s not likely to be an honest appraisal, and even a literary genius gets constructive criticism. At least I’m assuming so. I’m never likely to know from first hand experience. 🙂
One of my regular beta readers – who is absolutely lovely and very good at getting to the core of the story, I should add – once told me, in her kind and gentle way, that the motivation for a main character’s actions made no sense, whatsoever. She advised me to think again about what was driving the character to behave in the way she did. Aarrgghh! With another novel, she suggested I scrap one character’s viewpoint entirely, insisting it added nothing to the story. Both times I was horrified and both times she was absolutely right. I acted on her suggestions – even though, with the first book, that meant scrapping a full half of the story and starting again – and both times it made the book stronger.
Of course, you don’t have to agree with everything beta readers suggest, and it can be extremely confusing when they disagree with each other and you’re left wondering which of them is right. At the end of the day (to use a cliche, sorry!) it’s your book, and only you can decide, finally, which of their suggestions, if any, you’re going to act upon. Just make sure you stay friends! Choose wisely …
That’s all for today, but I’ll be back tomorrow with the next gripping installment!
Stay safe, stay home, save lives.