Welcome to a new week! I hope your weekend went well, even though I realise it probably wasn’t spent the way you’d have loved to spend it. It’s typical that we had such lovely weather and couldn’t make the most of it. I know I’ve got a real longing to head to the Moors or Dales, or into the Wolds, or to the coast … Anyway, I didn’t, and I’m sure you stayed put, too. It’s hard, but the more we stick to the rules, the quicker this will be over.
In the meantime, life must carry on as normal – or as normal as we can make it. So today, it’s back to the A to Z challenge, and we’ve reached the letter E.
If you’re an indie author you probably publish your books in ebook format. The arrival of the ebook changed everything, and paved the way for indie authors to flourish. They’re so much easier to produce than print books, which means they can be sold for less, plus they’re available at the click of a button, which saves on packaging, postage, and time.
A clear advantage of ebooks is that, because they’re so quick and easy to upload, you can make minor changes fairly quickly. If (God forbid!) you spot any errors or typos, you can correct them on your document and upload the new version in minutes. You can also change your price and run special offers on your books – even offer them for free if you wish.
If you’re exclusive to Amazon, you can also enrol them in a subscription service called Kindle Unlimited; instead of buying your book, people pay a set price to Amazon each month, enabling them to download participating books for free. The author gets paid per page read. Ebooks are even available in public libraries now. I think it’s safe to assume they’re here to stay.
Not everyone is a fan of ebooks, though. I know of one writer who steadfastly refused to put his book into electronic format, which is his right and his choice, obviously. I get messages from readers asking if my books are available in paperback, as they don’t read ebooks. My own mother has no internet access and, back in the early days when she read my books (!) she only ever read the paperback editions.
Personally, I love ebooks, and I speak as someone who has several bookcases of books in my house, plus boxes in the loft, and that’s after having donated hundreds to charity shops over the years, and even selling some on ebay or Amazon! I’ve been a book addict since I was a small child, and, when I started getting pocket money, there wasn’t a week went by that I didn’t buy at least one new book to add to my collection. The problem, of course, is that books take up a lot of space. I mentioned in an earlier post that I downsized when I decided to give up the day job, and our new house is tiny in comparison to our old home. There was simply no room for all those books. I had to make some heartbreaking decisions, I can tell you.
Another thing I’ve noticed, now I’m comfortably into middle age (did I say that out loud?) is that I find my Kindle easier to hold than a heavy paperback book. I’ve realised my wrists start to ache if I’m reading a print novel, whereas my Kindle is so much lighter. Also, it’s easier to read the print on my Kindle. Some print books are impossible – even with my reading glasses. I ordered a copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion the other week, and when it arrived I took one look at it and thought, I’ll never read that. The print is tiny! It’s gone on my bookshelf but I’ll have to buy an electronic version so I can actually read it.
So ebooks do have their advantages, and it’s clear that many people agree, as my ebook sales far outstrip my paperback sales. I think, again, it depends on genre. I write romantic comedies, women’s fiction and – for want of a better term – witch lit (although I think my witch books are romantic comedies, too, actually). All my books have romance in them, and romance readers seem to read voraciously. Ebooks suit them because they can finish one book and immediately order the next without any waiting around. Or they can see a book being advertised online, click on the link and it’s on their Kindle, or other ereading device, before you can say “Gimme!”
However, I know that readers of some other genres seem to prefer a hard copy, and that’s fine, too, because there’s room for all formats in today’s world. I remember when the Kindle arrived on the scene, and there were dramatic headlines screaming that it would be the death of the printed book! Well, that didn’t happen, did it? I find reading ebooks easier, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still buy certain books in paperback or even hardback form. Some books are just meant to be read that way.
What I think is important for indie authors to consider, is that, if you can, it’s probably best to make your book available in as many formats as possible. That way, you won’t miss out on a sale because your book isn’t in paperback and your reader hates electronic books and won’t touch them as a matter of principle.
Being a writer can be a lonely job. We get stuck behind our screens, tapping away, while the rest of the world goes on without us. It’s very easy to spend the entire week indoors working, and if you live alone that can be a very lonely existence indeed. Even if, like me, you live with family members, it’s still all too easy to hibernate in your writing room and forget all about the outside world. I know, because I can go days without going anywhere. Weeks, even!
Now, I realise this is bad timing, talking about being isolated in your house when, right now, we all are. However, this situation won’t last forever, and when the good times come again (and won’t we appreciate them so much more!) you need to think about leaving your desk behind and going out to socialise with other writers and readers.
Luckily, there are squillions of writerly events to attend. Book festivals, writing festivals, parties, conferences, book fairs, talks … they’re all out there, waiting. Now, I’m a shy sort of person, and socialising really isn’t my thing, but I’ve attended several events over the last few years and, out of all those events, there’s only been one I didn’t enjoy. And no, I’m not saying which one.
I’ve been to a couple of author talks, which were genuinely fascinating and really funny. I attended a crime writing festival and heard several crime fiction authors speak, including Ann Cleeves, the creator of Vera and Shetland, and I would definitely recommend going to one of her talks, if you can, because she’s brilliantly funny. I’ve been to an interview with Ruth Jones (Nessa in Gavin and Stacey, and Stella in – well – Stella). She’s lovely, and although she was there to talk about her debut novel, Never Greener, she happily took questions about her television career, too. I was dying to ask her about kissing Aidan Turner when she played Hattie Jacques and he played her lover, John, but I didn’t dare! I’m such a wimp … I’ve also seen Val Wood and Nick Quantrill, Lucy Diamond and Lynne Truss in conversation. I was supposed to be seeing Jenny Eclair this month, but …
Because I write romance, I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association. It hosts parties and awards evenings in London. There’s an annual afternoon tea event in York (gorgeous setting, gorgeous food, and I got to hear Milly Johnson and Jean Fullerton give speeches), and, every summer, a three-day conference. All these events enable writers to mingle, swap news and information, get to know each other and, particularly in the case of the conference, learn new stuff at the same time. There’s also lots of food and lots of wine, but we don’t talk about that.
Other genres have their own organisations and their own events. For instance, there’s the Crime Writers’ Association which you can find here. And the annual Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, held in Harrogate each year, is attended by very well known crime writers and is incredibly popular.
Even if you’re the shy, retiring type, it’s good to get out now and then and meet new people, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy myself when I go to these things, even though I’ve been in meltdown for days before just at the thought of attending. Worth considering, in my humble opinion. Writing Magazine always has information about forthcoming events. You can find out more about the magazine here.
If you’re just starting out as a writer and you’re wondering what sort of equipment you’re going to need, the easy answer is pen and paper. At a basic level, that’s the minimum to begin with. Realistically, you’re probably going to need a computer of some sort, be that a laptop or a desktop, or even a tablet with a separate keyboard. That’s all you need to get going, and it’s a good job, because a cheap laptop was all I had when I began writing There Must Be an Angel.
I had no room of my own in which to write, and the novel was bashed out while the laptop perched on my knee, the television blared out in a corner of the room and conversation carried on around me. Not sure how I managed it, but I did, and it wasn’t until I started writing my second book that I got my own tiny writing space, when we moved house and there was a spare bedroom at last. With that room I acquired a cheap desk and chair, which was useful, as sitting on the floor definitely wasn’t much fun.
You’ll need an internet connection because how else are you going to post all those pictures of cake/dogs/cats/candles? And, obviously, you’ll be setting up social media accounts and a website (won’t you?) and, hopefully, making contact with other writers and potential readers. Plus, the internet is a mine of information about indie publishing, traditional publishing, agents etc.
As time goes on, you may find your office fills up with pictures and bookshelves and ornaments and candles (oh, the candles!) but none of those things are necessities. I bought a printer but I rarely use it. I have a desk lamp that seldom gets switched on, as I’m not usually in the office once it gets dark and, if I am, I put the main light on. I have an in-tray and box files and folders where I keep all my tax documentation, and two big drawers full of prizes for giveaways, but none of those things are anything you need to think about when you’re just starting out. They’re all add-ons.
If you’ve just begun to write, and you’re looking at pictures of writers’ offices and thinking, I don’t have a desktop computer, plus a laptop, plus an iPad, plus a printer, plus a (insert whatever unnecessary expense here), don’t worry about it. Get a cheap laptop and write with it perched on your knee, as I did, or at the kitchen table, or in your garden, or at a local cafe. Whatever it takes. The rest will come if and when you decide you want or need it. Chances are, you’ll never really need it!
When I finished the first draft of There Must Be an Angel, I honestly thought I’d done it. I announced to my family and friends that I’d written a book, and it just needed a few tweaks and that would be it, completed. Duh! Fast forward two-and-a-half years and I was still “tweaking” it.
Honestly, I nearly gave up on that book. I had no idea what I was doing, and the more I tampered with the story, the more complicated and confused it became. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, in the hope that someone, somewhere, would explain to me what I was supposed to be doing. I had to send the manuscript to them by the end of August, so that a reader – an established author – could critique it for me. In the June, I met up with two fellow NWS members for the first time. Jessica Redland and Alys West are now my dear friends, but back then they were just names on a screen, and I was terrified. I remember telling them I didn’t think I’d be sending my manuscript to the readers, after all, because it was just a tangled mess. I’d been taking advice from the world and his wife, and they’d all been giving me conflicting opinions, and now I had no idea what the book should be. They gave me a pep talk, reminded me it was my book, and gave me permission to write the book I wanted to write and ignore everyone else. They also insisted that I had to send the book off for critiquing, or what was the point in joining the NWS?
So I hurried home and began to write and, somehow I got the manuscript finished by the August deadline. A nailbiting wait of a few weeks passed, and it was returned to me with a brilliant commentary and lots of sound advice, enabling me to finally pull the book into some sort of shape. It then went to beta readers, whose opinion I trusted. Their advice made perfect sense. The book, I decided, was ready for publication. It had a structural edit, then went to another editor for copy edits, then for proofreading. That first draft of Angel bears little resemblance to the book that’s now on sale. Even the first published edition of Angel has been corrected and amended since it first appeared. I’m currently re-reading it, as I’m about to start work on the fourth Kearton Bay novel, and even now I can see how I’d change it if I was writing it today.
What I’m saying is, please don’t ever think that your first draft is publishable! It isn’t. Trust me on that. You need a critique from someone whose opinion is valid. You need beta readers. You need an editor, and you need a proofreader.
One of the accusations levelled at indie authors is that they just put any old rubbish up for sale. It’s frustrating to come up against that sort of prejudice, but sometimes, when I’ve read certain novels, I’ve had to admit that I understand why we keep hearing it. Please, please, take every care to make your book as professional as it can be before you publish it. Look at it this way. If you publish a badly-written, unedited novel, which is basically a first draft, and someone buys it, they’re going to assume that everything they heard about indie publishing is true, and they’ll tell all their friends not to risk buying indie books in the future. There’s no excuse for it. Don’t do it!
I’ve mentioned making your books exclusive to Amazon before. What I mean by that is, enrolling them in Amazon’s KDP Select programme. By doing that, your book becomes available to all the members of the Kindle Unlimited programme. For a monthly subscription, they can download their choice of material from over a million ebooks, audiobooks and magazines. You can find out more about Kindle Unlimited here.
Authors whose books are enrolled in the programme will be paid for pages read. The good thing about that is, you know that people are actually reading your books. Many people buy books but never get around to reading them. The Kindle Unlimited readers are reading and, hopefully, enjoying the novel you’ve slaved over. With any luck, they’ll seek out your next book, and your next.
You enrol in the KDP Select programme in three-month terms, although you can withdraw from it before the three months expires if you wish. You can also choose to let your enrollment continue automatically. During every three month term, you get a certain number of days that you can make your book free, or put it on a Kindle Countdown deal, lowering the price while retaining the higher rate of royalties. (You get two rates of royalties on KDP: 70% for books priced at £1.99 or more and 30% for 99p books.)
There’s a lot of discussion amongst authors about whether it’s wise to make your books exclusive to Amazon. There’s a valid argument that it’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket, and writers who do so are at Amazon’s mercy. However, many authors find that the majority of their income comes from Kindle Unlimited readers, so it’s difficult to turn your back on that, in the hope that readers on other platforms will buy their books and make up that not insignificant shortfall.
As with most things, it has to be a personal decision. There’s nothing to stop you from putting your books into the KDP Select programme for three months and testing the waters. You can always pull them later and go wide. Be aware that, if you do make your books exclusive to Amazon, it means just that. You can’t publish them anywhere else, even your own website. And if, for example, you’ve got several novels in Select and you then create a virtual box set of them, you can’t put the box set on other platforms. You can get into serious bother with the Mighty ‘Zon if you try that, and you really don’t want to poke the dragon!
Okay, enough for today. I’ve got a book to plot! Have a lovely day and stay safe.