The Temptation to Do Nothing

No one ever said that being an indie author would be easy. It’s not. It’s hard work and I made my peace with that a long time ago. I never expected to sell thousands or even hundreds of books. I’ve always reminded myself that to sell anything at all is a massive achievement, and I still believe that.

Over the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had a bumpy ride, full of highs and lows, expectations and dreams, disappointments and achievements. Again, I remind myself when I feel thwarted, or dispirited, to look back and see how far I have come. And it works. Mostly. I do sell books every month. I have never had a month without sales since I started in 2013.

Every now and then though, I feel the need to stop, take stock of what’s going on, what’s bothering me or making me anxious, and do nothing. I don’t mean stop writing. I could never do that. If there is one thing I am certain of it’s that I will never ever stop writing and releasing books. I’m desperately addicted to writing, it’s who I am, it saves me on a daily basis, makes life worth living, fulfills me in so many ways, and allows me to release what is inside of me. I love it, and if you follow this blog, you will know that.

It’s trying to sell books that I often consider quitting. Trying to sell books is stressful. Without money, it’s almost impossible. I feel I have worked really hard over the years to build my author platform. Building up this blog, my facebook author page, Instagram, newsletters, you name it. Writing articles for Authors Publish and more. There is nothing I have not tried. Nothing free anyway.

And I guess, to some extent it works. I get sales every month. Some months are better than others and I can never work out how or why. No one ever said that selling books was easy either.

I’ve seen so many indie authors quit over the years. Announce they are closing their blog or their Facebook page, that it’s too hard and they can’t justify the time and effort anymore. I get that totally. But that will never be me, not while I still have so many books lined up to write.

Selling books is hard if you are naturally an introvert. You’re drawing attention to yourself. You’re saying, hey look at me! Look over here! Buy my books! You’re sending out free copies with your newsletter. You’re offering people ARC copies of upcoming releases. You’re contacting reviewers and bloggers for help. You’re messaging friends and relatives to see if they’re interested. You’re setting up street teams and asking for help. Introverts do not like asking for help. Introverts will do everything themselves and then cry about it. There’s a martyr inside every one of us, I swear.

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It makes us uncomfortable. And then come the rejections. Of course, you’re used to rejection if you’re a writer. You’ve got the scars from endless rejections from agents and publishers. You put on your big girl pants and went solo. Became an indie. Fab stuff. Only now there’s no one to help you, you have to force yourself to be brave, day in, day out. Put on a big professional sunny convincing smile when really you just want to climb under your duvet and hide.

I’ve had a lot of disappointments lately. I’m not going to go into them, because I really don’t want this to be a pity party. I hate it when authors moan on social media about being an author and not getting sales. I don’t want to be that person. This isn’t really about sales either. This is about being tired.

I’m tired of doing everything I can only to have it not make an impact. I’m tired of giving away free books that people don’t then review. I’m tired of the expense of sending out paperbacks that people don’t then review. I’m tired of asking and hoping and suggesting that people share my posts, comment, read or review. I’m tired of feeling like I am wasting my time. I’m tired of sharing my books on Twitter and Facebook when I know there is no point. Every time my finger hovers over the share button I’m so tempted to do nothing. And every now and again I let it win and I go with the temptation to do nothing and I hide away I write my books and my blogs and my poems and I hide away from sharing and trying to sell.

Maybe it does me some good every now and then to have a little retreat from the business of selling and just focus on the writing. I am so tempted to do that again right now. But then I feel guilty about my books, and I so want people to read them, I don’t want to quit or be a quitter. Maybe I just need a rest. A chance to refuel and come back stronger.

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Because if you don’t try, you can’t fail. There’s nothing to lose. But if you do try, and try and try, then you have to deal with the inevitable disappointments. It’s tempting not to try, believe me. And I’ve been here before. I didn’t try to publish my books until I was in my mid-thirties. All those years I wasted because I was too afraid of failure to even try. I got over that somehow, and I’ve moved on. But there it is again, the urge to do nothing. If my books don’t sell, it’s because I’m not trying and that’s easier to deal with.

But then I got thinking and I remembered a quote from a song that I once decided would look good on my gravestone. This is the full quote;

Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut,
Not everyone was born to be a king,
Not everyone can be Freddie Mercury,
But everyone can raise their glass and sing.
Well I haven’t always been a perfect person,
Well I haven’t done what mum and dad had dreamed,
But on the day I die, I’ll say at least I fucking tried.
That’s the only eulogy I need,
That’s the only eulogy I need.

(Eulogy, by Frank Turner)

It struck a chord with me the first time I heard it, and I laughed and joked that I’d have those words on my headstone. At least I fucking tried…

Some days that doesn’t feel like enough.

Other days, calmer days, sunnier days, it really, really does.

Because it’s pretty fucking brave to keep trying.

It would be so much easier to quit. And I’m going to have those days. I’m always going to have those days. I’m going to wallow in it some days. I’m going to cry about it on others. I’m going to seethe and fret and grumble and moan. Mostly to myself. I’m always going to have days where self-doubt gets it claws into me and won’t let go. I’m going to hear those voices in my head that have been with me for so long…you’re rubbish, you’re stupid, you’re ugly, you’re fat, you’re a joke…

But that’s okay. That’s being human. Deep inside, we all want attention, we want validation, we want to know what we’re doing is worthwhile and appreciated, and when we don’t quite get that, we turn on ourselves pretty viciously.

But I suppose the thing is to let those days run their course, as they will do, again and again, but then come out of the other side and just keep going. Just keep doing it anyway. Because at least you can say you gave it your best. So for now at least, for me, it’s business as usual. The temptation to do nothing has not won.

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Who Is My Reader?

One of the first pieces of advice I recall hearing when I started my indie publishing journey in 2013, was; ‘know your audience.’ It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Know your audience, know who your reader is. Once you know who they are you can figure out how to find them, where they hang out on the internet, what social media they are likely to be on, what tags you can use to get their attention, who to market your books at and so on.

I remember struggling with this at the time though. And I’m still struggling now. Back then, I had written The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, Parts One and Two, but while it was with beta readers, I very quickly churned out The Mess Of Me. The two were written side by side for a while until eventually The Mess Of me won the race and was released first.

The Mess Of Me has a 16-year-old protagonist and is essentially a book about growing up and the many teenage issues that go with it. At the time though, I didn’t think of it as Young Adult or as being aimed at teenagers.  I just listened to the voices in my head, as I always do, and they were young.  I soon figured out that not categorising and marketing The Mess Of me as YA was foolish and ridiculous. I had to get my head around something then. Was I a YA author? Did I just write YA?

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I didn’t have a problem with this as I have never grown out of loving YA books, and although I read a lot of genres, I do frequently return to YA and always feel like I am coming home. The problem was the next book. Though also having a teenage protagonist, and dealing with teenage issues, it was far harder to classify. Partly because the teenage narrator grows up and becomes an adult, and partly because there are two narrators for Parts One and Two, and the second narrator is an adult. In my head, this book was never aimed at anyone. I just had it in my head and wrote it.

I’ve got to be honest, this has mostly been my approach since too. This Is Nowhere features a grown man, but every other chapter dives back into the past to when the character is a young boy and teenager. I always felt like this one was probably better suited to adults though, so I categorised it accordingly.

The Tree Of Rebels was the first and only book I wrote with a deliberate audience in mind, and I think I mentioned on here several times while writing it, that this made it the hardest book to write. It sort of altered how I felt about the book. It was like I was trying to write to please someone the whole time.

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Since then, I returned to just writing what I wanted to write and not imagining the reader first. This is fine when writing, but presents all sorts of problems when the time comes to publish the book. What categories and keywords do I choose? How do I market it? What genre is it? How do I find the people who will like this book?

Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is a classic example of why I am still in such a muddle and still struggling to find my readers. It has a young narrator, but also an adult one. The adult themes, for me, make it more suitable for adults than teens, but Elliot’s day to day life and outlook are something that will more than likely resonate with young people. I still find it hard to describe the genre of this book. Definitely coming-of-age but also contemporary women’s fiction? Maybe even UpLit?

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With Parts One and Two of the new, revised The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series almost ready to be released, and Parts Three and Four being polished up in the background, my mind has once again returned to my elusive reader. 2019 will continue to be busy as I plan to release YA novel, A Song For Bill Robinson and possibly it’s almost finished sequel, Emily’s Baby. My list of novels is growing longer, but I still don’t know who my audience is. It’s tricky when you cross over so many genres. Most of my books cross into two or more, with psychological thriller, suspense, crime, coming-of-age, mystery and dystopian all regularly showing up.

So, who is my reader? What sort of person reads my books and likes them? I only have a small audience, so it’s hard to speculate. But I suppose really, my reader must be someone quite similar to me. I imagine them as slightly scruffy, or at least not terribly groomed and over bothered with appearances. They probably make an effort when they can, and they probably berate themselves fairly often about sorting out some kind of ‘look’, but it never really feels urgent to do so. They are probably young at heart. Stuck in the past, tinged with nostalgia, reluctant to admit and give in to adulthood. I think they are a music fan. They probably like all sorts. They’re not narrow-minded about it at all. They’ll listen to anything, but they have their favourite era of course, and their favourite songs. They see life in songs. Soundtracks are everywhere.

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What else? I imagine them as liking animals and nature. Not in a really obsessed, or professional way, just in that seeing a bird or a deer unexpectedly will really make them smile and have a better day. I think they enjoy being outside, all weathers too. Being outside makes them feel more alive.

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I think they are introverted but friendly and warm. A bit cynical and suspicious at times. Prone to the odd dark mood. Likely to panic about once a month about how the world is utterly doomed. But they always brighten up and soldier on. Despite being naturally shy, they are really interested in people, genuinely intrigued by them. They love a spot of people watching and love a character-driven book they can really get their teeth into. They are looking for stories about humans they can relate to and empathise with, and they are looking for characters to fall in love with, characters they wish were real.

They want to disappear inside a book and come out feeling different. They don’t want anything too formulaic or predictable. I think they are a bit of an eccentric at heart. They probably talk to themselves.

This is how I imagine my readers to be and I shall continue to do my best to try to find them. What about you? If you are a writer, do you know who your audience is? If you don’t know, does it make it harder to sell your books? If you’re sure of your audience, tell me about them. What are these people like? If you’re a reader, do you imagine yourself as part of a genre tribe, full of similar and like-minded people all connected by an appreciation of mysteries, or romance, or horror?

Please feel free to comment and share!

Ssh…I’m Hiding

Lately, I’ve felt like I’m in hiding. Running away. I keep attempting to stand still and face my demons but it doesn’t last for long. Every now and then I give myself a good shake and even come up with a plan…but they tend to be short-lived and easily shirked. So, what is it I’m running from? What terrible thing have I been hiding from lately? Burying my head in the sand of my writing in the hope it will just go away and leave me alone?

The answer is book promotion.

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The reasons are these;

  1. I’ve got too much to write. I’ve written about this lately in The Return of the Voices (and the nervous stomach) I won’t bore you with how many projects I am working on or have in progress at the moment, but I will say they are all moving on. They are all coming together. But I’ve never given myself a workload quite like this one…I just don’t have time to fit book promotion into my daily life. Or so I keep telling myself anyway. I just want to get these books done.
  2. Touched on above, there is just not enough time. There are the books I am trying to get ready for release, and then there is my writing business, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group which is quite rightly taking up more and more of my time. I’ve got two big projects I am trying to get funding for, plus the regular writing groups and workshops to prepare for, plus just the day to day running of a company, which is all very new to me! Then there’s the four kids and house and garden and pets…Book promotion just doesn’t get a look in!
  3. I’m bored of it. I do go through phases where social media and book promotion bore me intensely. I do love my blog and my Facebook author page, but that’s where the love ends. I tend to post more pictures of dogs and kids on my Instagram, often completely forgetting that it’s a business account to be used for selling books! I go onto Amazon and check for reviews and know I should send out some Tweets and so on…but it’s boring. I’m bored of it.
  4. I can’t afford it. Obviously, social media is free to an extent, and blogs and websites but pretty much everything else costs. Even your Facebook author page can be a cost now, requiring you to pay to boost posts to reach people who have already liked your page. And all of the worthwhile book promotion sites cost big money. I just don’t have it.
  5. It doesn’t work. As you can tell, I’m feeling a bit cynical about it all at the moment! I’ll probably feel differently in a few weeks time. I think I’m one of those indie authors who is still fruitlessly searching for the holy grail of effective book promotion. I think I’ve tried everything they suggest. Starting a blog, posting regularly (okay I flagged a bit recently but I seem to be picking up again now) running a Facebook author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, setting up email newsletters, Street Teams, discounting books, holding giveaways and events and competitions. And I’ve tried paid promotions many times and not had any success. I truly believe the answer is not simple and the one thing you think will work, does not exist. It’s a marathon, a platform you build over years of hard work. If I thought posting daily tweets and quotes from my reviews got me sales, I’d do it more often! But I’m pretty sure nothing much has worked so far…
  6. I’m jaded with it all… Yep, I’m tired of the whole thing. Hence, my efforts to find a publisher for my last novel The Tree Of Novels and next release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. Self-publishing can be a lot of fun, but it’s hard work with not a lot to show for it. And I’m well aware that authors signed to publishers also need to good at marketing themselves and their books and also have to endure the litany of promo related stuff I mentioned above…but oh how nice it would be to have someone do it all for me! So I could just write!!
  7. I’m out of ideas.  This is a big part of the problem, and I’ve been here before. Therefore I do know that I will eventually come out the other side of this standoff with fresh ideas and enthusiasm for promoting my books. I’m just feeling so lethargic about it at the moment, I can’t muster the energy. I’ve sort of given up on sales and reviews and just thrown myself into the actual writing. I’m addicted to the writing, you see. It’s the one thing I want to do passionately every day. The one thing I would choose above almost anything else in this world. I feel annoyed when I have to do other things! I turn on my laptop in the evening and I don’t want to think about promoting my books, I just want to start writing…
  8. The writing wins...Yep, at the moment anyway, the writing just wins every time. the odd tweet, the odd share of a review, the odd book selfie even, but that’s it. I want to be writing, I need to be writing, I can’t rest until this current workload is shifted.

So, that’s where my head is currently at when it comes to the marketing and promotion of my books! I am ashamed to admit that I have been utterly crap at promoting my books for a fair few months now. There are so many things I could do to remedy this, and I will. Starting maybe with a piece of paper stuck to my wall beside my laptop…A piece of paper with weekly goals and daily goals. A piece of paper with a blank space there for any bright ideas I pick up while online.

What do you think, fellow readers and writers? Any hot tips? As a writer, how do you go about promoting your books? What works and what doesn’t? Do you go through slumps where you would much rather hide from promotion and just get on with the writing? Or do you enjoy marketing your books and finding your audience?

What about you readers? What sort of book promotion works for you? What has drawn you to look up certain authors or pick up a certain book!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so do please feel free to comment and share…

 

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Today I’m going to be brave and talk to you about failure. My own recent failures, or at least, things that have not gone as well as I hoped. Talking about failure is not easy. We don’t like to admit failure to anyone, let alone ourselves.  It’s embarrassing when something is not a success.  Just lately, I’ve tried out a few bright ideas and they have all sort of bombed. I’m mostly an optimist and try not to feel down for too long, but I’ve got to admit, the perceived failures dented my confidence at the time. My head is ruled by two opposing voices. I have one constantly telling me how crap I am, how everything I do is utter, pointless rubbish. And then I have this other voice piping up constantly; ooh I’ve got another idea! Let’s try this! These voices have 50/50 control right now. I think I’m rubbish because something didn’t go as planned, and then the other voice suggests something new to try…so I keep going. I’m going to list the recent failures below and talk about how and why they failed, and how also they sort of succeeded as well…

Cancelled a workshop due to lack of interest… Back in March, I ran my first adult workshop under my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business. I had already put on a few for Dorset Writers Network and I’ve been running kids workshops since 2015. It was scary to put on my first one aimed at adult writers, but Building Your Author Platform was a great success, highly enjoyable and I received terrific feedback. I ran another one a few months later which was less well attended but I still viewed it as a success. Some people requested I run the Author Platform one again so I decided to book it for November, thinking it would be nice to help these writers and make a little bit of money before Christmas. Despite my best efforts, I could not drum up enough attendees to make it worth running. I had three tickets sold before I decided to cancel it and refund them. This was a tough decision because I felt really bad about the people who had bought tickets, but I was also feeling very low about putting it on to so few people. It sucked, to be honest. I questioned my decision to apply for Chasing Driftwood to become a Community Interest Company (currently awaiting a decision on this) and I even thought about jacking it all in. The fact my last kid’s workshop also had very low attendance was playing on my mind. Maybe I should quit this. Maybe I am bad at this. But then I thought about the reasons it failed. I think a lot of it is lack of advertising, and the reason for that is financial. One of the reasons I am applying to become a CIC is to better access arts-based funding to put on various writing projects. Some of that money can go towards advertising. They say you have to spend money to make money. Well, if you don’t have any money, you have to apply for funding! Which is exactly what I’m going to do. If I still can’t fill workshops once I’m a CIC with a decent advertising campaign behind me then yeah…maybe time to think again.

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Author Event at Library Cancelled…So, I can’t really take the blame for this one, though at the time it was frustrating and disheartening and I certainly viewed it as a personal failure. Last March my local library put on a very successful author event, where local writers paid a small fee to have a table in the library to sell books. I only sold a few but I really, really enjoyed the event. Coming up to Christmas, I wondered if we could capitalise on Christmas shoppers and have another one. The library manager was all for it, and we both contacted various writers to see how much interest we could get. We got none. Literally, none. The lovely manager said let’s leave it for now and so it never happened. I was gutted, but it did inspire me a bit too. I’ve had this idea for a pop-up bookshop for some time, and want to get started once (if) I become a CIC. The library have already agreed we could set up there anytime. If it’s just me it’s just me. But I’ve already got an email list of local writers I can contact when this happens. So, in this case, I’m viewing it as perhaps we’ll try again another time…

Hiding Books… Initially, this was fun. I had some stickers from The Book Fairies, and for ages and ages, I’d thought about hiding my novel This Is Nowhere around my village, as I set it here. I thought the local people might like to know there is a novel set where they live! It took a long time to gather the courage (I am genuinely scared of being told no) but I contacted the parish council who let me add a piece to the newsletter, detailing what I was up to. In other words, hiding four copies of the novel in the location it’s set in during a five day period. Slips of paper were included to politely ask if the finder could share pics to social media re where and when they found the book, and then rehide it to carry on the fun. It was daunting, to say the least, but I did it. I hid the four books and waited for communication. To date, I’ve heard….nothing. All four books have been taken. But I have absolutely no idea by who! They could all be slung in bins for all I know! I tried not to expect too much, but I did really hope to hear from at least one happy finder. Having said that, maybe I will. Maybe the books will get hidden again! Who knows? And I’ve talked myself out of viewing it as a total failure, as I did get one ebook sale for the novel when a local resident contacted me via Facebook asking how she could download the book… It is a shame I didn’t get more sales or communication from my local friends and neighbours, but what was nice was the response I got online from other writers. I posted on Facebook and Instagram and received such enthusiasm and lots of people excited to try the same thing. So, not a total failure. I just hope they get a better result than I did! Would I do it again? Well, considering how out of pocket I am, probably not. Not for a while anyway!

Christmas Pop-Up Book-Shop… Another great idea of mine. With the real-life pop-up shop in the pipeline, I thought why not try an online one, in the form of a Facebook event? I roped in my good friend Kate Rigby and the plan was to invite other writers to post links to their paperbacks into the event, along with other interesting things like maybe a giveaway or competition, and hope to entice some readers in to buy Christmas presents! We thought a great idea in theory. So was it a failure? Well, yes and no. If I’m having a bad day I’m going to throw it on my recent failures heap and sulk about it. But if I’m having a good day I’m going to remind myself that it was a trial run, something to learn from, something to try again bigger and better. The authors were absolutely fantastic. I bought a great book to give to Mum for Xmas, and I added some others to my to-read list. It was fun, but in terms of sales and exposure, well no, not really a great success. Hardly anyone from my friends list joined in. That always stings a bit, but then I remind myself that people are not always convinced by indie books. Also, in an online event, you can’t really pick the book up and flick through etc. Will we do it again? Yes, we definitely will.

Self-publishing… You might know by now that I have a love/hate relationship with self-publishing. I am, at times, extremely proud of my books and the platform I have been building, and everything else I have done. Then, at other times, I view self-publishing as a failure in itself, because I was rejected. Not wanted. Not good enough. I still think a lot of my friends and family have the view that self-published means not very good, and so they kind of ignore what I’m doing. I know that there are amazing self-published books out there because I mostly read indie books. It’s a bumpy ride. I don’t regret it because if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have my books out there at all. But at times it leaves me with a bad feeling because I think I have not yet written anything really credible or worthy of being traditionally published and sitting proudly on the shelves of Waterstones etc. I expect I will always feel this way while sales are low. And sales are low. It’s not a nice thing to admit, but I know most indies are in the same boat, so I try not to see it as a reflection of my work. The endless problem is reaching readers when so many thousands of books are published every day. I think readers are much more likely to notice and buy and read the trad published books because they are so much more visible to them. So, the fight goes on.

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Above are listed my recent attempts to better myself and my position, to achieve something new, to try an idea, and in many ways, they were all failures. But then I think, at least I tried. (In case you don’t know, I fully intend to have the Frank Turner lyrics from Eulogy engraved on my headstone; “At least I fucking tried”) Surely, the real failure would be in never trying at all? In thinking up these ideas and then ignoring them? In feeling great enthusiasm for a project, and then never trying it out in case it failed? In having dreams, but being too scared to pursue them?

I think so. And I also think that every failure shapes you and helps you progress in some way. You’ve got to be big enough to take it on the chin. You’ve got to be humble enough to admit what went wrong. You’ve got to be brave enough to get back up and try again. (After a mini-meltdown though, of course. Those are always allowed!)

And guess what? Since I started penning this post, I’ve had another big idea!!

So, what do you think folks? Do you want to be brave and tell me about your recent failures? How did you deal with them? Are you going to try again? I love it when you comment and please feel free to share!