Self-publishing; Good times, bad times, and ugly truths

I am writing to you from a place of confusion. I’m unsure about so many things that I feel the need to write them down to make sense of them. The one thing I am sure about is this; I am a writer and I need to write. I will always be a writer and I will always need to write. Everything else is a muddle.

Let me try to explain. When I got back into writing in 2011, I had a decade of wasted years lying behind me. Don’t get me wrong, these years were not wasted in my personal life. I was bringing up small children and earning a wage. I was too exhausted to write. Or so I told myself. The real reason? I was too afraid to take it further. I was too shy, too anxious, too introverted and too protective of my work to send it out to agents and publishers. Ahh, I can breathe a sigh of relief now that’s off my chest!

Once I started writing again, nothing would stand in my way. Not a new job, or a new baby. And at some point in 2013 my attitude towards publishing changed. I got braver. I’d shared some work on here and had some good feedback from a few very early followers. So I started sending the two books I had written, The Mess Of Me and The Boy With The Thorn In His Side out to agents and publishers. I wrote massive lists of both and worked my way through them. It was, of course, depressing and demoralising, but I felt I had to do it. I never expected any of them to like my work, and in many ways, it felt like a rites of passage to go through this.

Self-publishing presented itself to me and appeared to be the answer to all of my problems. I didn’t need to torture myself by waiting for inevitable rejection anymore. I didn’t have to stress over how to word a query or an email. I could take full control and get my books out there on my terms. Brilliant.

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It was exciting to start with. I felt like I had accomplished something. I had realised a dream. I had written and published my books! I wasn’t too fussed about sales or money as that had never been my motivation, and in those early, hazy days, I was just excited.

Of course, reality soon set in, and over the last four years I have had one hell of a bumpy ride and made many mistakes. I’m actually embarrassed now to look back on the early days. I had no idea about front covers. I had no idea about social media, building an author platform or promoting my work. I soon bumped back to earth and started the real hard graft that is the life of an indie author.

Let me tell you the reality of being an indie author.

It’s good and it’s bad. It’s pretty and it’s ugly. I love it and I hate it.

Indie authors do everything themselves. Yes, they may hire editors and front cover designers. If they have oodles of spare money they may pay for adverts and promotions too. There is nothing more evil to me than the saying ‘you have to spend money, to make money.’ That’s the crappest thing ever to say to someone who has no money.

Indie authors offer their work for free. This happens in very few other areas of life. But people expect it now. They expect freebies and offers and giveaways. We expect reviews and recommendations in return but rarely get them. In essence, being an indie is like giving your all, your everything, your blood sweat and tears, and then getting very, very little back. And again, I don’t just mean sales. I keep my books priced low because I want people to be able to afford them. I give free books and stories away with my newsletter and I post free stories on Wattpad and I do the odd giveaway.

Indie authors work extremely hard. They’ll have families, and other jobs, and still keep plugging away, writing more books, building their platform, increasing their content, remaining active on social media, trying new things all of the time in the hope it enables their books to become visible. They don’t want to spam people, they don’t want to beg. They have to learn how to self-promote without getting on people’s nerves. They have to deal with people thinking they are totally wasting their time.

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Let me be clear once again; it’s not about the money. It’s about the connection. I write books because I want people to read them. I love that connection. I love passing my stories on. I love receiving messages about how people related or reacted to the characters.

Right now I feel like I am betraying the indie scene, because I am trying the traditional route again with the next two books. I started the process the other night with The Tree Of Rebels and was instantly reminded of why I hated it so much last time. Ugh. It’s scary. I kept thinking, just self-pub it! Why are you doing this to yourself again? You’ve been here and done this! You’ve moved on! You’ve grown! You’re indie and proud! You know how to do it now, how to get the right cover, the right blurb, the right marketing plan…Yes I do, but I am also, really, really tired. My confidence is at an all time low. I am not making that connection with people. I am banging my head against a brick wall.

So, here I am again. Researching publishers and putting my heart in the firing line. I already had one rejection the day after I started this! I expect many more to come. Maybe I feel I need to do this. Give it one last try. Because I am not succeeding as an indie. I am getting better as a writer, and I am getting better at all the things you need to do to be an indie, but I am not succeeding where I really wish to, which is gaining new readers and forging that connection.

I see other authors getting promoted with their publishers and I want a piece of that action. I admit it. I am envious. I am filled with longing. I am practically drooling for the same number of sales and reviews. I want what they’ve got and I am afraid that my efforts as an indie will never be enough to get it.

So, heart in mouth, I will try the traditional route again.

But no fear, I will self-pub these books if I get nowhere. I promise you. I will self-pub the god damn hell out of them! I will market and promote the holy fuck out of them! I absolutely promise you that. I promise myself that. I will come back harder and faster and stronger.

There is no giving up. Not ever.

Either way, I will keep writing and getting better at it and if I self-pub again I will never give up trying to find more readers. This is not a post about quitting. This is a post about the realities of finding success as an indie. And by success, I mean a growing readership.

It’s just at the moment, I am tired of the indie ups and downs. The good days followed by the bad days. The endless hope that one day it will all be worth it…

And in a weird kind of way, submitting to publishers has already made me appreciate being an indie…it’s already made me feel that surge of pride and passion again about everything indie authors do, and are…I love the indie scene, I really do. I have read countless amazing books, in fact, I rarely read traditionally published books these days, because there is so much talent in the indie pool. It just makes me sad that so many of them are not getting the recognition they deserve.

Over to you. What do you think? Do you love being an indie? Is it what you thought it would be? How do you keep going when times are tough? I would love to hear your thoughts on everything I have talked about today. Join the conversation, have a moan if you need to..and then we will all get back to the writing!

Beta Readers; How and Why?

Several months ago I was convinced that my new novel, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was ready. I sent it to a tried and trusted beta reader who very patiently and kindly informed me that it really wasn’t. I listened, realised she was right, and tackled it again. And again. And…well, you know how it goes. Finally, a few more months down the line, I thought, okay, this is it, I’m happy, really happy! I’d addressed all of her concerns and it was definitely a much better book. I then sent it to another beta reader, quite arrogantly expecting her to gush with excitement about how ready it was. She didn’t. It wasn’t. Repeating these things to my husband, he asked a very important question. How do I know the beta readers are right?

This is an excellent question and one worth addressing. But first of all what should you look for in beta readers and why do you even need them?

You need them because you are far too close and subjectively involved in your marvellous work of art to see its flaws. It is very difficult for an author who is in love with their story, to be able to see where the pace is too slow, or the information repetitive. You may not realise how much of you and your beliefs and opinions are seeping into the book. You may not realise that there is too much dialogue, or not enough. It is your baby, your child, your masterpiece. Yes, your relationship with it is up and down. You love it and then you hate it. You are filled with self-doubt one moment, only to be surging with confidence the next. Either way, you need beta readers to bring your down to earth. You need them to tell you what is good about the book and what is not so good about the book. Of course, you don’t have to accept their advice, and you certainly don’t have to act on it, but to release a book or submit it to publishers without using beta readers would be, in my opinion, insane.

So, what should you look for in a beta reader? I think this is quite a personal thing and may also depend on your genre of writing, but here are the things I look for and require in my beta readers.

  • they need to have already read my work and connected with it
  • they need to be somewhat connected to me and my life, and have some knowledge of my beliefs etc
  • they need to be highly educated, or at least way better at grammar than I am!
  • they need to be an avid reader, someone who consumes books like an addiction
  • they need to be open to most genres, not snobbish or narrow-minded
  • they need to be breathtakingly honest and not scared to offend
  • they need to be able to understand how a book could be made better
  • they need to be prepared to read the book at least twice and make notes

What sort of things should a beta reader be looking out for when reading your work? Well, again this is very personal, but I will explain the way I often approach it. With Elliot Pie, I wrote the book quite naturally, just letting it flow as you do with a clumsy first draft, worrying about the finer details later. I finished the very first messy draft just over a year ago, and I honestly didn’t think it would need too much more work! This goes to show how blind you can be about your own writing. I did a few more drafts before sending it to the first beta. At this point I was looking for opinions on the plot and the actual story and on the characters. Did they work? Were they real enough etc? What about the structure of the plot and the flow of the narration?

What I got back was very interesting and resulted in me changing a lot of the chapters around. The beta had loved the characters (yay!) and the story but she found the pace too slow in the middle of the book and she guessed the ending. Not too big a problem, as it’s not supposed to be a real twist at the end or anything, but she did help me work out ways I could knock the readers off course a bit. She was also right about the pace. It was too slow in the middle and lots of it needed to go.

Job done. I attacked the book again, and again and again. Each time I went through it, I cut bits out, added bits, fleshed the characters out more, and wrote lists as I went which consisted of the things I still needed to do when this draft was done. I considered my work done when the lists ended. As far as I was concerned I could do no more. Yes it would need some more proofreading and a few more read throughs, but I was happy. More than happy.

I sent it to the second beta reader as she is my biggest critic and I knew she would be intensely honest. There was no way she would hold back if there was anything about it she thought could be better. We ended up having several Skype chats while she went through her very detailed notes on the novel. I made lists, nodded and listened. The more she talked, the more I realised how right she was, and the more I felt my own subconcious misgivings becoming unearthed. Everything she said about the book was true. I had written it in both first and third person. A bit of a challenge, yes, but that was just the way the story presented itself to me in the first draft and so I went with it and ended up sticking with it. This meant that all of Elliot’s, (the 12-year-old protagonist) perspective is in the first person. We are entirely inside his head. And in my opinion, that’s a wonderful place to be. I find him interesting and funny and amusing, you see. Of course I do, I created him! But would the reader think the same? Or would they find the narrative repetitive as he talked them through his little world? Was I telling them far too much detail when a lot of it could be shown rather than told, or omitted altogether?

I sat and nodded grimly and knew that my beta was right. I had climbed inside his head and got lost there. I was way too close and way too involved. I loved him too much but I needed to get back out and get some distance. I suggested changing his view to third person and the beta had thought the same thing. The more we thrashed it out, the more I realised how many problems this would solve. I actually began to get excited. There were other issues too, aside from POV, but I won’t go into them now as they will probably pop up in another blog post.

We talked about how I’d had a similar problem with The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. (Again, this is where history, friendship and connection aid the beta/writer relationship) Originally written in the third person, from all the characters point of view, it was eventually rewritten into the first person, and from two points of view. At the time I was both terrified and excited to take this machete to my work, to slice it up and stitch it back together again, to tell the story in a totally different way. I knew I would lose tons of scenes and perspectives and dialogue and this saddened me beyond belief. But it worked.

With Elliot I have the same problem but in reverse. I need to lose the first person, get some distance from Elliot and tell the story in a different way. There is a lot of work to be done, but the groundwork is all there. The second beta also loved the actual story, the plot and the characters and found the pace just right.

I am so glad I gave it to her to dissect. But back to the original question? How do I know she is right? How do I know either of them are right? I know because as soon as they voiced their opinions, I knew I had been thinking the same thing all along. All they did was confirm what I already knew deep down inside. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself, because admitting it meant even more work, even more drafts, even more editing and proofreading, and it means the other books that are on hold waiting for this one to be done have to keep waiting and waiting and cramming my mind and driving me insane! I wanted the book to be ready so badly I had convinced myself it was.

But I can’t let a book go until I am sure it is the best it can be, and in my case, my betas are there to help me get to that point. I can’t thank them enough for the time and effort they invest in me and my books. I trust them implicitly and I know I am extremely lucky to have them.

But what about you? Do you use beta readers and if so how did you find them? What do you look for in a beta? Have they ever felt differently to you about a book being ready for release? How have they helped your books reach their full potential? Have they ever been totally wrong? Please feel free to comment and share!

 

10 Things I Hate, 10 Things I Love About Being an Indie

The other day I was putting a blog post together and frantically searching the internet for suitable images for laughter inspiring memes. I like to try and make my own in case I get into any trouble, but I’m really not that good at it. I kind of have an idea in my head which never seems to  work out! Anyway, it was tedious and it annoyed me, just like Facebook annoys me every time it limits my post reach to a tiny amount of people. So I decided to write a list of the things that annoy me about being an indie author. And of course, to counteract the negative list, I had to come up with a positive one as well. Please feel free to add yours in the comments!

10 Things I Hate

  1. Creating amusing memes to add to blog posts, because it is time-consuming and I am crap at it.
  2. Finding or creating ‘fun’ images to help boost my Facebook reach every time I update my page because I am also crap at it
  3. Asking for reviews. Tedious, repetitive and pretty ineffective
  4. Having to be good at tech stuff ie formatting, because I am not
  5. Facebook showing only 3 people my exciting update, despite the addition of a funny meme/image
  6. Indie writers who do nothing to promote their books or build a platform, and then moan about never selling any books
  7. Indies who do not support other indies in any way, but constantly ask for support
  8. How much everything costs (I’m talking paid promotions and paid reviews)
  9. Having to write the synopsis
  10. People thinking your books must be crap because ‘anyone’ can self-publish

 

10 Things That Are Actually Quite Cool

  1. Designing front covers, and working with very cool people (and Canva!) to get your ideas out of your head and onto your book
  2. Connecting with other indies, who totally understand what you’re going through
  3. Connecting with readers, who message you about your book, article or blog to say what it meant to them
  4. Being the master of your own destiny!
  5. Learning how to run a business
  6. Embracing social media. Hated it to start with, sort of love it now
  7. Thinking up new and inventive ways to promote your books
  8. Breaking the rules
  9. Knowing you are getting better at all of it
  10. Perpetual hope that some kind of success is on its way!

 

Over to you guys! What do you love and what do you hate about being an indie author?

Do you ever think about how far you have come? Or if you are at the beginning of your journey, what are your biggest fears? What are you most excited about? To those further along, what would you do differently? What lessons have you learned?

Did Choosing An Audience Ruin My Book?

I don’t know for sure, but it feels like it.

Let me explain. I am, of course, talking about The Tree Of Rebels, a book that once seemed so simple in its concept and execution. I tend to write quite hard hitting, gritty stuff, and I decided (rightly or wrongly) that I wanted to write a book my children could read. Specifically, I was aiming it at my daughters, who were at the time 11 and 12 and devouring books like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.

It wasn’t like I invented an idea to try to fit this genre and audience. I already had the idea for a dystopian future (one I am genuinely scared of). But I have to admit, this was the first time I ever sat down and tried to write a book knowing who the audience would potentially be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing your audience. Knowing your audience is key! How else will you know how to describe your book to potential readers? How will you know what categories to choose on Amazon etc? How will you know what cover and font to go for? All these things matter!

In fact, not knowing exactly who my audience were caused me no end of problems in the early days. You see, I didn’t know what kind of writer I was, because I had never really had to think about it before. The first two books I released, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and The Mess Of Me featured young adults as the main characters, but this was purely incidental. In fact, if anything, I didn’t consider myself a YA writer at all and even kind of rejected the idea. I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself, I guess. I wanted adults to like my books too. It wasn’t deliberate that my characters were all young; that’s just the way it worked out. Or so I thought.

Truth is, I didn’t really understand the YA market at that time. I hadn’t looked into, or researched it as a phenomena. Since then, I’m glad to say I have learnt a lot and come to terms with the fact, that although not exclusively a YA author, YA is what I do best, YA is in my heart and soul, and YA is undoubtedly what I tend to seek out for reading material. I just didn’t really connect the dots in the beginning.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is this. It can be good to know your audience before, during and after you write a book. It would have made things a lot easier for me when releasing The Mess Of Me if I had got on board with this and fully embraced and accepted the YA market I was aiming at.

BUT I do feel that knowing who to aim The Tree Of Rebels at has had a negative impact on writing the book. It felt like there was someone looking over my shoulder the whole time, saying no, don’t do it like that, that’s not how you write this sort of book! Looking back, knowing which audience I was aiming at definitely changed the way I approached it, making it one of the most challenging books I’ve ever written. I mean, none of the others ever felt that difficult, you know? They just kind of, happened. It’s not the only thing I can blame it on, and anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how many issues I have had with the book including the ones talked about in  Getting To Know Your Characters  and Final Draft? Patience is the key…

I’ve done so many drafts now that I have lost count. I have sent it out to beta readers three times and received very, very detailed edits and critique. I originally wrote the damned thing on Wattpad, so I had feedback on the very first version as it happened, and then posted later versions on there too. Lots of people have been involved and all of them have been incredibly helpful. Before I started this latest draft my intention was to fill it in more, add some detail and meat about how these people exist, but then towards the end I realised there was still something major missing.

Me.

'The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publisher and the reader can, and will come later'-Patricia

 

It hit me one day while talking to my daughter.

I wrote this book to please them, and to please a certain type of reader who likes a certain type of book. I have never ever done that before. All of my other books were written to please me. They were written to scratch an itch. They were written to get the noisy people out of my head and onto the page. They were written out of passion and necessity. There was no other reason to write them other than that I simply had to. I’ve never known at the time of writing, who would like this book. Even with my current work-in-progress Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, I have absolutely no idea who this book would be aimed at or how I should even describe it! That for me, is familiar territory!

Of course, with my other books, on further drafts and edits I did begin to write and rewrite with my reader in mind. You have to! But they were not there in the beginning. It was just me.

So, how has this revelation helped me with The Tree Of rebels, you might ask? Is it totally ruined?

No, of course not. I still believe in the story and the characters. I have even started a sequel! But for now, I  have decided to leave this book alone. Put it to one side and focus on something else. I have decided to forget who it was aimed at, and essentially write it again. I have decided to write it the way I write all my books. I have decided to let it be whatever it needs to be and to stop trying to sculpt it into something I think it should be. In other words, forget about the perceived audience…For now.

I have a feeling it is now going to become an altogether darker book. But this is good. And would you believe it, while walking the dogs the other day, I had further revelations. Extra characters and another storyline, an important one, to feed into the others. It might make it a longer book. There might be more cutting. I’ve written the ideas down and that’s it for now. I am still not going back there yet!

But when I do I will be rewriting it entirely and writing it for me.

What do you think? How do you write a book? With the audience already decided or with just yourself to please?  Is anyone in your head when you write that first draft or do you really have no idea what sort of reader would enjoy it? Please feel free to comment!