Today I am pleased to bring you an inspirational guest post by UK freelance writer Iain Maitland.
Iain is an old friend of mine, whom I first met many years ago when he was editing a newsletter called Personal & Finance Confidential, for which I was a contributor.
In his article, Iain reveals how, after many years as a struggling freelance, a book deal catapulted him into the big time.
Over to Iain, then…
This is an article for aspiring writers, especially those with a dream.
This is not a how-to article.
It is not going to make you money.
What it will do is to give you hope – it’s never too late to achieve what you want.
I’ve been a freelance writer for 30 years, turning my hand to all sorts of articles, from curing hay fever by putting Vaseline up your nose to making money from Forex trading. What I’ve always really wanted to do is to be a ‘proper’ writer with a literary agent and a big-time publisher.
I had a go at various books now and then over the years and time passed by and nothing ever worked. I turned 54 last year and thought I’d drift into retirement with, between you and me, plenty of regrets.
And then something rather magical took place.
I’d written this book, Dear Michael, Love Dad – it’s a funny, sad and emotional story of my relationship with my eldest son. Think Dear Lupin or maybe Love Nina.
I sent it to lots of agents. They all turned it down. I sent it to every publisher I could find. They turned it down too. I then pretty much gave up.
Cue a magical moment. An agent, Clare, suggested we meet for breakfast. She loved the book and would pitch it to publishers. The next morning, within an hour or two, a publisher, Hannah, said she loved it as well. They’d publish it.
This was the same book that so many agents and publishers had turned down. Rejection after rejection after rejection; to the point where I doubted that I had any writing ability at all.
Yet now, same book remember, I was a wonderful writer, capable of moving people to tears and to laughing out loud.
Roll forward nine months to today, early July 2016, and I’m not sure if the book is going to be a best-seller, but it’s certainly going to do rather well. Charlie, ‘Dear Lupin’, Mortimer has said it is, ‘wonderful, moving, humorous…extremely poignant’ and that has been a big boost.
We have lots of interviews and features coming out across the press later this month, with an appearance on ITV This Morning booked on 27 July. There will be plenty of media coverage going through the summer.
I am now, almost overnight, that ‘proper’ writer I always wanted to be with an agent and a big-time publisher who has optioned a follow-up to Dear Michael, Love Dad.
I am about to start writing a stage play with a well-known actor (who may well play me) and this will see the light of day later next year.
I have a thriller, Sweet William, coming out next year too and that, it’s been suggested, will be a best-seller.
So it happened – is happening right now – for me; and, who knows, it could happen for you too. You just need to believe and keep going. And one day…
Nick Daws again: I really enjoyed reading Iain’s original article, and asked if he could follow it up by setting out some tips for writers wanting to follow in his footsteps. Once again, he came up trumps. Here is what he wrote…
Here’s my ‘how-to’ advice based on my own experiences…
* Write the whole damn book. If you don’t have a track record, the agent and publisher will want to see the complete manuscript.
* Discover similar books, either online or in Waterstones etc. The closest books to mine were ‘Dear Lupin’ and ‘Love Nina’.
* Google – you may have to dip deep – to find the agents and publishers of these books; I found leads on Linkedin and Facebook.
* Approach agents and publishers by email, with an outline of the book and a sample chapter. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t try to be smart or clever.
* Learn to accept rejection. You need a thick skin! Most will not reply. Those that do will send a template response. Few will engage.
* Take advice – when an agent does engage, listen to what they say. Dear Michael, Love Dad was rejected as a funny book but accepted once I’d woven in the bittersweet story of my eldest son’s depression and recovery.
* Remember the good news – you only need to be accepted once. You will get ignored and rebuffed over and over again. You may well doubt yourself. Your heart may break. But you have a talent and a story to tell. You only need one agent and one publisher; it will all roll on from there.
* Don’t get cross with agents and publishers who seem dismissive. They get bombarded. Publishing is a small world and you will cross paths again; not easy if you’ve called them a flipping idiot (or similar).
* Assume you are right and they are wrong and keep going – whisper it quietly, but one Hodder publisher turned my book down, another later accepted it with enthusiasm.
I am happy to chat! You can email me at Imaitland@aol.com.
Today I am pleased to bring you a guest post from my old friend (and sometime co-writer) Jeff Phelps.
Jeff is a widely published poet and novelist, and this year published his novels Painter Man and Box of Tricks on Kindle for the first time. In his article he talks about the experience of formatting and publishing his novels as Kindle ebooks, and some of the lessons he learned from this.
Over to Jeff, then.
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My two novels, Painter Man and Box of Tricks were published as paperbacks by the Birmingham-based Tindal Street Press in 2005 and 2009 respectively. They had never been issued as electronic books, which I always thought was a pity.
By early 2015 the paperbacks had all but sold out. Profile Books, who had taken over the lists when Tindal Street Press closed, were not printing another edition. Painter Man and Box of Tricks were becoming rarities.
For my own use I managed to buy a few copies at cover price from Waterstones in New Street, Birmingham before they cleared out their old stock and moved to High Street. Even now you can get new copies from Amazon for around £150 or used for a penny. Such are the unfathomable vagaries of the market.
There had been some excellent, enthusiastic reactions to both books. Among the most memorable was from a man for whom Painter Man had fitted his situation perfectly and a readers’ group in the north of England who had chosen Box of Tricks as their ’book of the year’ from among others they had read, including luminaries such as Daphne DuMaurier, Ian McEwan and Hilary Mantel.
So when the rights to the novels reverted to me in late 2014 it seemed like the perfect opportunity to relaunch the titles in a new format. There seemed to be so much life still in them.
So where did I start?
I’d recently installed Scrivener on my computer. It’s the ideal word processing package for a novelist, indeed for anyone attempting long or complex pieces. Scrivener’s ‘bells and whistles’ could easily be (probably have been) the subject of lengthy articles on their own. Scrivener has templates for drama, non-fiction and short stories and innumerable tools for keeping track, outlining plots, comparing versions and so on. Text can be written in a format that’s easy to view and work with (Courier font, for example) and then compiled in a form to suit whatever is needed – with a few clicks to specify or confirm font, paragraphing, titles and so on. I soon discovered there was a simple choice in the compile menu which could format a novel into a file ready-made for Kindle – a .mobi file.
I already had the text of the novels in Word so it was a fairly straightforward task to import each novel to Scrivener, breaking it down into chapters as I went. It’s necessary to divide them in this way as chapters are automatically recognised and separated in the final version and given page breaks and chapter numbers, or titles if preferred.
I did spend time making sure the spelling, spacing and titles were consistent, that there was the same indent for paragraphs throughout and so on. A lot of the fine editing had already been done for the paperbacks so I had a head start. I knew the text was generally in good shape.
I revised and updated the acknowledgements and was able to add a few more complimentary comments that people had made – another advantage of the books having been previously published. In Scrivener these pages are simply added in as part of front matter, from where they are automatically compiled in the right place.
It felt like a good opportunity to look at the book covers again, too. I gave this a lot of thought. Experience told me that book covers didn’t always look good on Kindle devices. The screen is small and the detail can get lost, especially on older models. It also struck me that a cover isn’t permanently visible, the way it is in a paperback. When you close your book on a Kindle device it just shuts down and when you go back to the book it opens at the page last read. You might only ever see the cover once. Even when a book opens for the first time on Kindle it tends to default at the first page of text and miss out the cover and the title pages. I wondered whether I could describe the covers of any of the electronic books I had on my machine. I don’t think I could. All this led me to conclude that the cover of a Kindle book is rarely seen so is not a big selling point, except maybe as an ’image’ that goes with the title on websites and social media.
I considered using the original cover designs from the paperbacks, but my permissions only extended to the text, so I decided to start again with something I had clear rights to. After several false starts I found a striking image of the Perch Rock lighthouse in New Brighton where Box of Tricks is set. The photograph was taken by a relative, Robbie Girven, and he kindly allowed me to use it. I was able to add titles and text using Picasa. Painter Man uses a photograph I’d taken myself in Plymouth, UK, of a peeling face on a wall by the remarkable artist Robert Lenkiewicz, who specialised in paintings of vagrants and outcasts. Check out his amazing work if you don’t know it.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Paul Johnson who worked valiantly to design both covers and whose witty drawings I found on Facebook and instantly loved, and to the consummate artist Robert Perry whose nocturnes of the Black Country partly inspired the scenes and characters in Painter Man. Neither was used as it happened. If Monet was alive today I believe he would have been painting the Black Country exactly as Rob Perry does.
After that the rest seemed straightforward. My good friend Nick Daws had given me lots of advice from his experience. He recommended some of the self-help guides that can be downloaded to Kindle, usually free or at low cost. I used How to Create an Ebook with Scrivener by James Gill and Building your Book for Kindle (Amazon kindle). Both guided me perfectly well through the technical aspects and included the invaluable advice to download free preview programs to view the books as they will appear on various devices. This allowed me to check everything before publishing. Sure enough, on my first attempt the front matter was missing, italics were shown as underlined and chapter headings were repeated. I only had to go back into Scrivener’s compile menu to correct these and resave the file.
Uploading to Kindle was straightforward, too. I set up an account with Kindle Direct Publishing and followed the guidance. There was even a useful graph for choosing the price that will work best, based on past sales of similar titles.
One thing the guide hadn’t told me was that there’s a place in the Kindle publishing process to insert the front cover (and even a cover designer) – so I had to go back, take the cover image out of Scrivener’s front matter and insert it here instead. It only took me a matter of minutes.
After that I simply pressed publish and waited for the novels to appear on Amazon, which in my case they did after about an hour.
One can go back and change things after publication – not only the sales price but the text or the details. For instance, Nick Daws suggested I add more detail to the book description which I was able to do easily. It is the main selling point – the first thing that’s seen on Amazon. There’s a character limit of 3,000, so plenty of space to describe the books and put a few good quotes and recommendations in.
That felt like the end of the process but of course in many ways it’s just the beginning. One needs to keep putting the books in front of people, encourage friends to buy, promote reviews (good ones, naturally) on Amazon and elsewhere and request shares on social media… and, of course, write about the whole process on websites such as these. Please share!
Painter Man and Box of Tricks by Jeff Phelps are available from Amazon. They are currently priced at £2.65 in the UK store, $3.99 at the US store.
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Many thanks to Jeff (pictured, right) for an interesting article that I am sure will be helpful for anyone who is considering publishing a Kindle ebook in 2016.
If you have an e-reader, tablet or smartphone yourself, incidentally, I highly recommend both of Jeff’s novels. To my mind Painter Man has the greater emotional impact, while Box of Tricks has a bit more humour. If you like well-written, literary (but unpretentious) fiction, I promise you will enjoy both. If you do, please take a moment to review them on Amazon.
If you have any comments or questions for me (or Jeff), please do post them below.
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Today I have a syndicated guest post for you from author and writing coach Earma Brown. In her article, Earma looks at various ways you can turn one (non-fiction) book into a money-spinning series…
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Are you planning to write just one book? Wait! Before you decide, at least let me show you how easy it is to make your single book into a series of books. By the way, publishers love book series and readers become fanatical over a serial of books.
Begin to change your thinking. Don’t look at your book as a one time thing or a one title event. Begin to look at it as the beginning of your successful author journey. If you are looking for an easier journey, more rewards and more profits with a series of books, follow the tips below:
1. Slash your huge book into separate books. The easiest way to do this is to separate your book into chunks, chapters, sections and parts. Writing this way will allow you to divide and conquer. You can easily take the chunks or sections and divide them into several books. Your readers will love that you made your book such an easy read and buy each one of them.
2. Put your overflow information into a second book. Gather all the overflow research material. You know all the extra information discovered that wouldn’t fit into your first book. Put it in order and develop it into a separate book. For example, if one of your chapters is becoming bloated with information overload consider marking it for book two. There’s no better time to start collecting information for book two than when you are organizing book one.
3. Poll your readers for a key point they want to know more about. Expound on a point your readers show interest in knowing more about. If you don’t know already, try to discover their problems and write the solutions in the next book. Handle this well and your sequel may sell better than the previous book.
4. Select a sub-topic to do further research. Do more research on one of your book’s sub-topics. Take a sub-topic that you only touched on in the first book and cover if fully in the sequel. Your readers will love the additional information and anticipate buying the next volume.
5. Write a companion book for the original book. You can excerpt sections from your first book, insert groups of checklists, discussion or reflection questions and voila you have a study guide or workbook.
6. Develop a meditation or journal book. Gather quotes related to your book’s topic and pair them with excerpts from your original book to put in a meditation book or devotional. Or create a journal with quotes from your original books in the corner of each lined page of the journal. You can number them according to weeks, days or lessons. For example, 52 weeks of inspiring thoughts or 365 days of inspirational thoughts from your book’s topic.
7. Repurpose your material for a different audience. Plan another edition of your book for a different audience than the original book. Remember the Chicken Soup for Teen-Agers, Prisoners, Mothers and so on sold better than the original Chicken Soup for the Soul. The original book was for a more general audience. Find out how you can target your audience even more and you may discover a better selling market within a general market.
If you don’t change your thinking, your book could end up being a tiny drop in the scheme of life. Instead plan a wildly successful series of books and make the splash you’re destined to make. You may feel you can’t dream that big. No worries; start with the simple tips above. Expand your thinking. Dream a bigger dream and write your single book into a plethora of books. I look forward to seeing your name in print many times.
Byline: Earma Brown, 12 year author and business owner helps small business owners and writers who want to write their best book now! Earma mentors other writers and business professionals through her monthly ezine “iScribe.” Send any email to firstname.lastname@example.org for free mini-course “Jumpstart Writing Your Book” or visit her at How to Write a Book
Thank you to Earma for a thought-provoking, inspirational article. There are some great ideas here any non-fiction author can apply.
You might also like to read the recent guest post here by Iain Pattison on how he turned a book of short stories into a successful series when his original book stopped selling. This principle works with fiction as well!
If you have any comments or questions about this post, as ever, please do leave them below.
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Today I am pleased to bring you a guest post by writer James A. Rose. In his article James sets out 22 great online resources for writers, many of them free. Over to James, then…
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The muse of the past was something slightly indescribable. It could be a person, a place or a state of mind. Its influence was unpredictable and arbitrary. Capturing your muse was like corralling a unicorn. In other words, it was pretty much an impossible task.
This is no longer the case thanks to our current informational and technological age. You can summon your muse at will with the same tool that most likely serves to distract you from your writing efforts. The modern gamut of technology contains more information and inspirations than we can possibly imagine, and some very clever people have found a way to make tools that organize this information in ways that are most advantageous to writers.
I’ve assembled a list of some of the most useful tools I have either used or read about. The list is divided into five sections, being Suites, Word Processing, Organization, Brainstorming, and Reference. Each item listed in each section is referenced as Desktop, Website, or Mobile App. Some of the tools listed as Desktop or Website also have a mobile app, which is noted.
Scrivener – (Desktop)
Scrivener is a complete suite of writing tools with the purpose of easing the burden of organizing the complex information sets required for long documents. Some key features include index cards, outlining, research archival and access, style templates, progress tracking and much more. This is my personal favorite writing tool. After using it for a while, I don’t know how I got along without it.
Writer’s Blocks – (Desktop)
Writer’s Blocks gives the author total control over their long form document with a wide variety of tools for organization, formatting and research. This software uses blocks with drag and drop ability as the basis for research and document structuring. This program is a little over priced and Scrivener is better in my opinion.
Snowflake Pro – (Desktop)
Snowflake Pro is a program based on the Snowflake writing method created by Randy Ingermanson. This software puts you through a series of paces with clearly defined steps to help the author visualize story progression. This process could be very helpful to some writers but the interface and features of the program are quite basic. Perhaps used in conjunction with another more robust tool, Snowflake Pro could be quite useful, but still overpriced.
MasterWriter – (Desktop)
MasterWriter is perhaps more suited to songwriters and poets due to its heavy focus on vocabulary tools. Features include rhymes, phrases, synonyms, culture references (mostly drawn from Wikipedia), basic organization, and more. The pricing is monthly, yearly or bi-yearly. I suppose this is due to the regular updating of the reference tools. Master Writer could be a convenient tool but unnecessary for most of us. Several browser tabs open to some excellent websites could perform the same service for free.
yWriter – (Desktop)
YWriter is a fairly basic and free novel deconstruction tool in the vein of Scrivener and Writer’s Blocks. Organize scenes, chapters, characters, and storyboards with some drag and drop functionality and progress tracking. YWriter is a great tool for authors that may be considering organization software but are unsure of the level of benefit in regards to productivity. If the author deems this program useful then maybe upgrade to one of the other paid options.
WriteRoom – (Desktop)
Reasonably priced and exclusively for Mac, WriteRoom touts its ability to provide a distraction free writing platform with a very basic user interface. It basically attempts to recreate the experience of using a typewriter or a computer in the early eighties. I’ve never been distracted by the tool bar at the top of Word but if you are, this may be exactly what you need.
Write Monkey – (Desktop)
Though not affiliated with each other, WriteMonkey is basically a free Windows version of WriteRoom.
iA Writer Pro – (Mobile App)
IA Writer Pro is an app that attempts to recreate desktop word processing functionality on a mobile device and it does a pretty good job. Also a desktop application for Mac, this app is one of the most efficient mobile word processing programs I have used. This program includes a very clean interface for those that get distracted by a lot of buttons and options, and it is compatible with MS Word.
Dragon Dictation – (Mobile App)
You’ve probably heard of Dragon desktop software by now but may not be aware that they have an app. Well, of course they do. It works great and allows for easy copy and pasting into almost any popular word processing application. Carrying a notepad everywhere can be cumbersome and it is not always convenient to take out the phone and start texting. This app is the perfect solution.
Android: Yes, but only allows you to use your phone to dictate to your PC.
Text Block Writer – (Desktop)
Text Block Writer is a free tool for organizing virtual index cards. It’s pretty basic but gets the job done. Be careful when downloading this program. Some locations have been reported to include malware or adware with the file. I cannot provide a link but CNET is usually reputable.
Index Card – (Mobile App)
Index Card is a corkboard IOS app that obviously allows you to organize ideas with virtual index cards. Color coding, versatile labeling and sharing capabilities make this a fabulous app for writers on the go.
Mindmeister – (Website)
Mindmeister.com is a high quality mind mapping tool. Mind mapping can be a great way to break down a complicated task such as writing a novel. Free accounts are available and the paid accounts are very affordable. There are plenty of mind mapping tools online, some of which are free with the cost equating quality, but MindMeister is one of the best.
Mind Node – (Mobile App)
Mind Node is a beautiful mind mapping app for IOS. It is a very versatile program with an interface well suited for mobile use.
WorkFlowy – (Website)
WorkFlowy.com is an outline and list creation tool. It has a clean and simple interface, and is free for personal use.
Story Tracker – (Mobile App)
Story Tracker is an IOS app that will allow you to track every place, either online or off, to where you have submitted your work. This can be a submission to a marketplace, journal, magazine, blog or a publishing house for example. You can keep detailed notes on all your work and where it’s been distributed.
Story Starters – (Website)
TheStoryStarters.com is a neat website with a simple premise. Just click the button and it generates a story idea. That’s all there is to it. Whether this will really be useful to you a writer is questionable. The ideas are randomly generated by a computer and some of the ideas can be pretty wacky, but it’s fun and free so go check it out.
The Imagination Prompt Generator – (Website)
At Creativity-Portal.com you will find the Imagination Prompt Generator. Click the button and receive randomly generated prompts and questions to provoke your writer’s imagination. This may not be a great source for a novel premise but is fun nonetheless. This tool is really better for writing project ideas to improve skills but it could spark an idea for a great story.
The Brainstormer – (Mobile App)
The Brainstormer is a fun IOS app created by Andrew Bosley that randomly combines a noun, a setting, and a concept. Click the button and wheel spins to generate potential story ideas. Sometimes this idea will be pretty farfetched but sometimes the wheel presents a compelling premise. The app also features a character builder, a world builder and a creature builder. It’s great fun.
Lists for Writers – (Mobile App)
Lists for Writers is an app on multiple platforms that compiles lists of names, personalities, plots, settings, action verbs, occupations and much more. This is a very useful tool for overcoming writer’s block.
Storyometer – (Mobile App)
Storyometer is another IOS app that aids in overcoming writer’s block. It can randomly present names and ideas or present prompts in question form to induce brainstorming. This app is cheap, fun and quite useful if you’re stuck.
VisuWords – (Website)
I love this site. VisuWords.com uses a graphical chart to show relationships between words through definitions, synonyms and grammar. The chart is color coded and can be manipulated with your mouse. This is just a great website for learning or writing.
WordBook – (Mobile App)
Wordbook is a dictionary and thesaurus app that features recorded pronunciation, etymologies, a spell checker, and much more. This is one of the best vocabulary reference apps I have seen to date and would recommend it as an indispensable tool for writers.
I hope you found this list useful and are able to use it to advance your writing skills and career. Whether you need assistance with organization, vocabulary, editing, or ideas; a tool exists. Or should I say there’s an app for that? The advent of self-publishing technology and tools such as those listed above means this is a great time to be a writer. Until the day when you can purchase a little flying robot that hovers over your shoulder while providing inspiration and guidance, these tools can be your muse on demand.
James A. Rose is a writer for InstantPublisher.com, a full-service self-publishing company with 100% of all work performed in-house. We have been helping authors realize their dreams for the past 14 years. Whether you’re printing a novel, how-to book, manual, brochure or any type of book you can imagine, our step-by-step instructions make publishing your own book simple and easy.
Many thanks to James for an interesting and valuable post. If you are anything like me, some of these resources will be familiar to you, while others may be new. Do take a few moments to check them out.
And, of course, if you have any comments or questions – for James or myself – please do post them below.
Iain is a UK-based author, competition judge, creative writing tutor and script doctor. His short stories have appeared in a wide range of magazines and literary publications, including Woman, Woman’s Own, Take A Break, Chat, Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, Writers Forum, Acclaim Magazine, and The New Writer. They’ve also been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and featured in numerous North American short story and flash fiction anthologies.
In his entertaining article below, Iain spills the beans on how he adopted a more entrepreneurial approach when his original short story anthology, Is That a Pun in Your Pocket, stopped selling. There are useful lessons all authors can learn from this, non-fiction as well as fiction.
Over to Iain, then…
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It’s a story that’s as old as time itself – or at least, as old as the digital age. You’ve got an eBook that’s doing well, attracting glowing reviews, and enjoying steady sales. Then, without any warning or apparent reason, it starts to falter. Sales dip, reviews dry up and no one mentions it any more on social media.
This is what happened to me recently, when sales of my comedy short story collection Is That A Pun In Your Pocket?: 21 Short Stories to Tickle Your Fancy began to slide. From being a book that created a buzz, garnered loads of five and four star reviews and saw sales rocket so much that other authors were asking me to share the secret of my success, I suddenly found that I had a parrot that, if not deceased, was pining for the fjords too damn much for my liking.
I was surprised and rather perplexed. I’d have understood it if “Pun” hadn’t done well at the start, had been tied into some topical date or event, or it or I had been the subject of some nationwide scandal. But none of these were true. (I certainly hadn’t been controversial in the Nationwide, although I couldn’t necessarily vouch for my behaviour in other building societies.)
So what to do? Belonging to the noble order of quitters, whose sacred motto is: “If first you don’t succeed, immediately give up and have a pint”, my initial reaction was to mutter darkly and forget the whole business. Let the parrot die.
I’d seen too many authors panic into dramatically dropping the price, doubling the decibels and frequency of their “BUY MY BOOK”!!!” tweets and Facebook posts, while messing about with cosmetic Frankenstein revamps to their creations. I wasn’t going down that road, thank you very much. I still had a little pride.
But no matter how much I tried to put it all behind me I couldn’t ignore that niggling, itching, troubling voice in my head. What God of publishing had I offended? Where had it gone wrong?
Donning my metaphorical deerstalker I set off to investigate. I quizzed lots of people, sought opinions, had many “It’s okay – give it to me straight” conversations, accepted advice, criticisms and sympathetic cups of tea.
And rapidly a clear answer emerged from all the probing and pleading. Is That A Pun In Your Pocket? had been a hit with those who knew my work – but it had failed to attract the attention of the wider reading public. Yes, I’d enjoy a mini sales surge every time I was interviewed on a writing website or did a guest blog, but the reality was that I was selling in a bubble and had exhausted my available audience. (You can experience the same effect if you sit through one of my after dinner speeches!)
I just wasn’t attracting new readers. The world was taking one look at my wonderful, satirical, deeply insightful and whimsical book and saying: “It’s good, but it’s not quite Carling.” And those I asked weren’t shy at letting me know why.
It didn’t matter how entertaining or clever my stories were, I’d got the three key selling points of any eBook badly wrong.
Casual browsers and impulse buyers were being turned off by:
the book title
and the cover
So just about everything important!
To examine each of my crimes in turn: I’d suggested to the publisher that the collection should be priced at £2.99. It had seemed a reasonable amount at the time. After all, the book was packed with competition winning stories, tales that had appeared in anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic and been broadcast on Radio 4. What I hadn’t realised was that other short story collections on Amazon were priced around £1.99, and with eBooks an extra £1 makes a huge amount of difference to allure and saleability.
Then there was the title. I’d assumed that a generic, tongue-in-cheek label would convey that this was a fun book, something guaranteed to raise a smile – an easy read that didn’t take itself too seriously. What I hadn’t realised was that most book buyers browsing on Amazon prefer a “does what it says on the tin” title. As with jokes, you can be too clever or oblique. Yes, the second part – “21 Short Stories to Tickle Your Fancy” – hinted at the tone and subject matter but many browsers weren’t reading past the opening words “Is That A Pun In your Pocket?” Even those potential buyers who did, seemed confused – and I was asked on more than one occasion if this was a book of jokes and riddles or radio scripts.
As for the negative reaction to the word “pun” – who’d have guessed it? Well, I should have. For me it seemed an easy way to summarise the deft wordplay and satirical semantic flourishes that I like to include in my multi-layered comedy. Unfortunately, for others it suggested the childish, groan-inducing headlines you see in newspapers around Easter promising Eggs-tra Special Fun. Everyone fixated on the poor three letter word – to the exclusion of anything else. Even those kind souls who left five-star reviews all worked in a mention. My fault – not theirs.
All that was bad enough, but arguably it was the cover that was causing me the most problems. How do you illustrate “Is That A Pun In Your Pocket?” without devising something visually baffling or guaranteed to be so rude it would make even Frankie Boyle blush. So I’d plumped for a text-only cover, and in so doing ensured that the book appeared drab and uninspiring next to all the colourful, dynamic, loud and eye-popping artwork and photo-montages of the opposition. Yes, it had a jaunty typeface but it came across a bit like a wallflower maiden aunt at a swingers’ fancy dress ball.
And one of the harshest pieces of feedback to swallow was that it looked so sedate that some wrongly assumed that it was a non-fiction book. So a wallflower maiden aunt librarian with horn-rim specs at a swingers’ fancy dress ball. No wonder it didn’t score!
Having digested these bitter revelations, I came to a conclusion. I wasn’t heading for despair but back to the drawing board. I was going to have another bash.
As I mulled over how to revive the parrot, two chance conversations changed my whole way of looking at the task.
Firstly, my wife Liz (immensely wise in everything except choosing me as a husband) remarked that if she was categorising my stories she’d say they were “quirky” – in fact, most of my output, even the fairly straight tales, were “quintessentially quirky.”
Then a writer friend asked me why I was so surprised that ‘Pun In Your Pocket’ had stumbled and fallen. Didn’t I know that stand-alone eBooks were notoriously difficult to sell? “If you want to make any money, you need to be producing a series of linked books,” he said. “If readers like one, they’ll immediately want more of the same and buy several others in the series.”
Eureka!!!! Cue cartoon light bulb flashing on above my head. And Quintessentially Quirky Tales was born.
I’d bring out a series of light-hearted eBooks all under the same marketing banner, all priced at £1.99. There would be 15 stories to a volume – mostly humour. And each would have an easy to understand and categorise title such as Fiddle of the Sphinx and other Quintessentially Quirky Tales. In addition, each volume would feature a striking cartoon cover designed by the same brilliant artist – each image different but the overall typography and layout clearly conforming to a recognisable QQ brand.
There would be at least two volumes launches a year. In between, I’d periodically offer a discount promotion through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program on one of the existing series – just to keep interest bubbling over.
Luckily – and crucially -when I explained my vision to the publisher of Is That A Pun In Your Pocket? he loved the idea and generously offered to kill the original book so I wouldn’t be competing against myself.
So that’s what happened and, after a hectic few weeks of editing, formatting and cover design, the first two QQ volumes have just gone live on Amazon. I’m thrilled with Fiddle of the Sphinx and other Quintessentially Quirky Tales and its sister title An Ugly Way to Go and other Quintessentially Quirky Stories and hope the reading public will be as well.
There’s one additional feature to my original vision – each QQ volume contains a guest story from an author whose work I love and whom I think my readers will love too. In volume one it’s Glynis Scrivens and in volume two it’s Chloe Banks. Both have contributed entertainingly quirky yarns. I believe that cross promotion and author co-operation is the way of the future so I’m excited to see how this pans out for us.
Well, the adventure is off and running. If you fancy checking out Fiddle of the Sphinx, and reading the first story for free, please click here.
Thank you to Iain Pattison (pictured, right) for an interesting and thought-provoking article. I hope the new publishing initiative is a roaring success!
I do very much agree with Iain that for e-book writing especially nowadays, writing a series is the way to go, and this applies just as much to non-fiction writers as fiction.The advantages in terms of cross-promotion and building your personal brand are too great to ignore.
And if you enjoy reading quirky, well-written short stories with a clever twist at the end, I highly recommend giving Iain’s books a try. They are perfect for reading on your Kindle on the beach or by the pool this summer. In addition, as Iain is regularly asked to judge short story writing competitions, you may pick up some useful lessons about his tastes and preferences by reading his own stories!
For the convenience of my non-UK readers (though they will work for UK readers as well) here are universal links to Fiddle of the Sphinx and An Ugly Way to Go. These should take you to the relevant pages of your own national Amazon store, wherever in the world you are based.
If you have any comments or questions for Iain (or for me), as always please do post them below.
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