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Friday, 22 February 2013

To blog or not to blog...what is the compromise?

I have seen several blog posts during the week debating whether an author’s writing time is best spent on their blog or on their actual books. It has been interesting and thought provoking reading, as it is something I have been thinking about myself. I can perfectly understand each viewpoint, but I am confused about which position, if any, I need to take for myself.

In several of these posts, authors announced to their readers that they are abandoning their blogs to focus on writing their books, or they are thinking about abandoning them. One author said that Facebook and Twitter more than adequately served their purposes in terms of staying connected with their readers. 

As a full time worker, I completely understand this thinking. Since my burst with NaNoWriMo in November last year, I have barely touched my current work, and am feeling anxious at times that I am losing the connection I had with it over that month of solid writing. I was able to give attention to NaNoWriMo then because I was between jobs.  

However, since then all my writing has been devoted to blogging, and I am now preparing my posts for my upcoming blog tour, but to fit that in as a full time worker means getting up early to write when I can. I also snatch time on weekends between the necessary things like shopping, cooking washing and appointments. I also enjoy writing the blog, so it’s not really that I resent doing that as opposed to getting back to work on the next book, but because the next book is a sequel/companion volume to Mine to Avenge, I am almost feeling that there is a need to direct my energies more into that, as I don’t believe there should be too big a gap between books that are part of a series. 

The opposing viewpoint is that a blog is an essential means of keeping connected with readers and building your readership, particularly for debut authors. It gives readers an opportunity to find out more about you and your book with the depth that Twitter and Facebook don’t necessarily have. It is recommended as a valid way of using your writing skills to market yourself and your book. 

So in a sense I am torn. I want to spend more time on my current work in progress and yet I need to work on building my readership. The question I am asking myself is, what is the compromise? Is there a compromise that other authors have found? I am wondering if the compromise is somehow in changing my approach to this blog and working out how to best use it to continue promotion and maintain contact with readers while giving time to the next book. I will continue to ponder the question to see what I come up with and would welcome any thoughts and ideas.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Lessons learned planning my blog tour

It’s time for another chapter in the story of my progress towards a blog tour in April. It's been a long and drawn out experience, but I have enjoyed it.

I decided I had two choices. Because of my lack of knowledge and experience in these things, the easy way out would have been to spend some money and hire one of the many blog tour specialists to do all the hard work for me. My second choice was to continue what I’ve been doing all along - plodding along and learning how to do everything myself, and share my experience, maybe helping other novice authors to make a decision as to what might work best for them. So this post is to share some of what I’ve learned along the way.

My first piece of advice is, if you have finished writing your book and you're up to the pre-publication processes of editing, choosing covers and so on, you should also be right in the thick of planning for your blog tour. I found the process of culling and selecting blogs from lists of bloggers and blog directories to be an extremely time consuming task, taking me several months. I began working on it in November last year at about the time my book was launched, and I was still sorting through them up to two weeks ago.

What you need to do is to work your way through the blogs and select those who will potentially be a good match for your book in terms of genre and style. To state it in the most obvious way, if you have written a sci-fi story, you won’t be looking for romance bloggers, unless you’ve come up with something rather unique.

Where do you start? If you want to do as I did and ‘go it alone’, just start by typing ‘blogger directory’ into a search engine, and start making a list from what comes up. When you have your list of blogger directories, work through the lists one at a time, looking for bloggers whose blogs are representative of your novel’s genre. Some lists will have the bloggers already sorted into genres, which certainly helps. I then began a second list - this time of potential blogs/bloggers - and when I had about 5 pages worth, I started to cull through them, eliminating those that weren’t quite right.

With those that seemed a good match, I then read the blogs through thoroughly, exploring the blog content to get a feel for the blogger. I read through policies to find out whether the blogger was willing to be a host for a tour. If you are self-published as I am, you will find many blogs that are suitable in all respects, but they won’t review or look at self-pubs. So your list of potential bloggers will shrink, and you might have to go and search out even more blogger directories as I did. I also sought out bloggers to follow on Twitter and kept a list of those to work through. When you have a list of bloggers and start going through them, I also recommend that you  follow those blogs you plan to approach as a means of showing genuine interest in what they do.

How many bloggers do you need? Well, that depends on how long you want your tour to be, but you will need to start with a list that is much longer than your proposed tour, because you will need to allow for rejections and those who simply won't reply to your pitch. I thought that I would plan for a ten-day tour. I sent my original pitch to 31 bloggers and from that list I ended up with 7 bloggers accepting, 6 declining and 18 not replying. A contact from Goodreads recommended some other bloggers not on my list so I approached them and had 2 more acceptances. I was still one short, but I eventually got another from another blogger’s recommendation.

There was one thing I had expected to be difficult, but it sorted itself out quite easily. I was expecting some problems in assigning the ten dates to the ten bloggers.  Bloggers often have regular schedules for their guest posts, preferring to host or do interviews on the same day each week, and I expected that some of my bloggers would request the same dates, and that juggling this might be difficult. However, although some of the bloggers expressed a preference for a certain date within my nominated range, if that date was already taken, they were all accommodating and it was a very smooth process. In fact, the process from sending out the 31 pitches, to having my ten bloggers took 5 days.

Happening at the same time as this process, was the planning of the schedule of guest posts, interviews, etc. I have read a lot of online information about blog tours over the past months, and have found that it is best practice in a blog tour not to have similar posts on consecutive days. My schedule has two back-to-back interviews, and two back-to-back excerpts, so I will be looking to vary these as much as possible - planning for very different questions with a different emphasis for the interviews, and different approaches and presentations of the excerpts to make them unique and different. I now have eight weeks left to plan, prepare and submit the posts.

If all this seems too much like hard work, it is, but there are many experienced blog tour organisers who can take the task off your hands. They arrange these tours every day of the week and have extensive networks of bloggers to draw on, and know exactly what genres they represent. I am pleased that I have done all the hard work of my upcoming tour myself but I feel daunted when I think ahead to planning another one. Next time, I will seriously consider paying the price to have it done for me.

Having planned my tour myself, I can’t actually recommend any tour planners for you to try if you want to go that way. You’d need to research this option for yourself, but it probably wouldn’t be as long and involved as the search for bloggers.  However, I have had some helpful advice and encouragement from a lovely woman named Teddy Rose this past week. She specialises in blog tours and I think I might certainly consider her as a starting point for help and advice for promoting my second book. If you’d like to check out what she can do for you in regard to planning a blog tour, check out the link below.

And if you are of an independent frame of mind and want to go it alone as I did, I’d like to hear about your experiences. I’ll be cheering you on.

Contact Teddy Rose here:

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Changing the public opinion of self-publishing

An author colleague said something today to spark this blog post. I am in the middle of planning a blog tour at the moment, but this comment really got into my brain, and wouldn’t let go, so I had to leave the blog tour planning and let the fingertips pound the keyboard to get it out of my system.

My friend has recently had a piece of work published, but when she told me about it she qualified her statement as follows -
‘At least I can say now I have had something published that isn’t self-published.’

Her statement got me thinking about the poor rap that self-publishing has. To link this back to my planning for the blog tour, I have researched literally hundreds of bloggers over the past few weeks, and I wish I had kept some statistics, because the overwhelming majority state in their policies that they won’t review self-published authors.

Most are also quite vocal about the reasons why - the generally poor standard of self-published work puts readers and bloggers off, and they don’t want to waste their precious time. And I can’t blame them. I have read a lot of such work over the past few years, and although I am self-published myself, I think I would be almost inclined to not want to review self -pubs either, unless they could convince me that they had been professionally edited.

It is a shame really, because many self-published authors do take pride in their work and give it the care and attention it needs, even if it means waiting many more months to get their work out there. When a self-publishing author takes the time to edit, prepare and choose their publisher wisely, it can be very difficult to tell a self-pub from a traditionally published book.

I read a quote earlier this year by author Adrienne Thompson - “Being self-published makes me no less ‘published’ than the authors who are with publishing companies.” The dictionary defines to ‘publish’ as to issue printed or textual material for sale or distribution to the public. It means the same thing whether an author does it themselves or whether a large company does it for you. The end result is a paper or publication made available to the public.

The final thought my friend’s comment left me with was this - society generally applauds people who do things their way - think of the famous Sinatra song - ‘I did it my way.’ We encourage the artist and even the writer to develop their own style, but when it comes to publishing it, there is only one way deemed to be the authentic way. I think it comes from the idea that a person’s work has little value unless someone else recognises it and tells the world about it.

What can self-published authors do to turn thinking around? Continue to strive to raise the bar on the standard of self-published work. Don’t be hasty to see your book in the public arena. Take time to have it edited. Be willing to take criticism on board and consider it before rejecting it out of hand. Hopefully in time, with patience and perseverance, self-pubs will be able to turn public opinion around, and self-publishing will be seen to be the move of a courageous author, rather than a desperate act by an untalented ‘wanna-be’.

Monday, 4 February 2013

AUTHORSdB - a great author resource

One of the hardest things for me as a debut writer is finding time to do everything.  I’m like many other writers who dream of that day when the proceeds of their writing might sustain them but, in the meantime, they have to work an eight hour day to pay the bills and mortgage.  
All we want to do is sit down and work on book number 2, but each day we have to put it aside and head off to do other things. Meanwhile book number 1 also needs a push with promoting and marketing.  We might have a lovely paperback in our hands with stunning cover art, but if we are self published, we are also struggling to find time in this limited 24 hour period called a ‘day’, to send out emails to reviewers, and bloggers, write our own blog posts, spend time on Twitter and Facebook, and so on. And there are often other demands - the garden the family, and on it goes.
So what do we do? How can we juggle all this? Well I’m sorry - I don’t profess to have all the answers. I’m sorry if you thought I was about to provide you with them!
But debut, self-published authors need all the help and support they can get. One thing I am doing above all others right now, is seeking out such resources - seeking out those ready and willing to help authors in taking on some of the burden of promotion. In return I want to give them a grateful, promotional plug and vote of thanks, and maybe drive others who need their services to their door.
Today’s vote of thanks and recommendation is for AUTHORSdB. On this wonderful site, authors can register for free, in return for a very detailed listing about themselves and their work. The author provides details such as author bio, author photograph, details of their book with purchasing links, cover image, video trailer, and so on. The result is a very polished listing, where everything about the author and their book(s) is together in the one place, and of course it can be edited and updated as needed. AUTHORSdB will directly involve themselves in your promotional efforts by assisting with Twitter and Facebook campaigns too.
AUTHORSdB also offers promotional and listing opportunities for those who provide services to authors, such as manuscript appraisal, so it presents as a complete package for authors who are also looking for other services beyond promotion.
I have posted the link to AUTHORSdB below, and underneath that, the link to my own listing on the site. If you are an author looking for a promotional boost, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Coping with a bad review

A few weeks ago I received my first negative review for Mine to Avenge. It was an experience I knew would eventually come, but in spite of that, it was still something of a slap in the face.

The review arrived during my lunch break one day at work. My publisher warned me in advance that it wasn’t so great, but he told me there were certainly enough good bits in it to benefit from, and reminded me that it was only one person’s opinion. So, with this warning in mind, I read the review. I felt something like the twist of a knife in my gut to read negative comments about the ‘baby’ I labored over for more than two years to bring to birth.

However, what did surprise me was how quickly I got over this painful moment, and I realized I had been well prepared for it. By the time my lunch break was over, I’d let go of it and got back to work. I didn’t even lie awake stewing about it that night and had a wonderful night’s sleep.

How did I manage this? I think it comes down to having a realistic estimation of yourself and your work, being aware of a few facts, and being willing to benefit from the situation when it’s upon you.

In terms of having a realistic estimation of yourself, it will hurt badly if you think too highly of yourself and your skills. If you put yourself up on a pedestal, believing you are the next JK Rowling before you receive a bad review, it’s going to hurt when you fall, after finding out that others don’t see you in the same light. By the same token, I think you shouldn’t be too disparaging of yourself - believe yourself to be capable. Know that you have always got room to grow and improve.

Accept the fact that bad reviews are par for the course. You can’t escape them - they will eventually come. I had been lulled into a false sense of security because I have over twenty testimonials and reviews now, and this was the first negative one. However, I turned that around into a positive thought, and told myself that I am still way ahead in terms of the ratio of good reviews to bad.

Another fact to be aware of is that a bad review is only one person’s opinion. Reading is a very subjective thing. Everyone has their own unique tastes and just because one person doesn’t like your story, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t any good and that others won’t like it.  As I said in my speech at my book launch last year, ‘If you like my book, tell your friends about it. If you don’t like my book, still tell your friends about it - it might be right up their alley.’

Be prepared to take the criticism on board. Be willing to think about it and learn from it. Basically, the reviewer had two main criticisms of Mine to Avenge. Firstly, she didn’t like my story having more than one main character. I’m not sure that I could have approached this differently, as Mine to Avenge is a generational saga, and different characters take the lead depending on what year it is in the story. Secondly, the reviewer didn’t like my flitting back and forth between eras. This is the part I am mulling over and trying to learn from, putting my mind to see whether I could have done it differently. I couldn’t have written the story with a straightforward linear chronology as it would have revealed certain things at the wrong time to the reader, but I don’t want to reject her criticism out of hand and will keep chewing over this to see if I can benefit from it in my future work, if I attempt another generational tale.

Don’t lose sight of the praiseworthy parts of a bad review by wallowing in the bad parts. The reviewer was impressed with my research, the premise behind the story and the plotting. I found this very encouraging, given the overall generational span of the novel.

Realise that a bad review won’t necessarily drive readers away.  My son told me some time ago, that in his opinion, ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity.’ I read somewhere that apparently the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ phenomenon began because of bad reviews, though I am not sure how accurate that is.

Probably the most important advice I can give other novice authors is to be prepared for bad reviews. They will come, and they will hurt, but it’s up to you how long you let it hurt. Don’t let it discourage you from marketing - your audience is out there somewhere. Most importantly, don’t let a bad review discourage you from writing, but let it spur you on to improve your skills.