On the campaign trail

Feeling like a number one.
As Twitter reminded me today, according to Albert Einstein, doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results, is a sign of madness. Or it could have been Rita Mae Brown. Anyway, whoever it was, they had a point. Self-publishing is half of an 'A frame' and without the other half - Self-promoting - the whole enterprise is soon on the ground and covered with footprints. 

Two friends of mine - Sandie Sedgbeer and Sue Louineau - have been urging me to try a freebie giveaway of my novel Covenant on Amazon. As they're both authors, I should have realised they knew what they were talking about, but I resisted because it made no sense to me.

As I write this, Covenant is buoyant in the charts and garnering new readers (you might say they're only downloads at this stage, but people have been contacting me as well, so there). Sue, meanwhile, has become my de facto campaign manager, which is both kind of her and brilliant for me, since she speaks from experience.

So, what have I learned about giveaways on Amazon so far?

1. Community is everything. That means not only letting people know in advance what you're doing, but also engaging with people when they contact you.

2. Twitter is your playpen. Eat. Sleep. Tweet. Or better yet, schedule your tweets so that you get to eat and sleep.

3. Be creative. So far, I've opted for quotes from the book, questions and the occasional translation into Japanese. Keep it fun too.

4. Track your progress on Amazon. It's sounds obvious, but the metrics help you tweak your campaign as it's happening. That could include translations, specific cultural references or different approaches.

5. Be aware that the gains may not be immediately realised. Of course, it would be great if there's an upswing in Covenant sales straight after the freebie period - I defer to Sue on that one. However, more importantly, more people will have heard of your book and had a chance to read it. That could mean more reviews, more author contact, and possibly offers of chocolate and free holidays. I may have exaggerated that last part.

I've love to hear your experiences, be they positive or negative, of the ebook giveaway on Amazon. I promise to report back on my figures when the party is over. Okay, time to get back on the campaign trail!


The Friday update

Around 60 tweets sent out (probably more, but I lost count). Half a dozen favourited. Copious retweets, especially by Sue (see above) who flew the flag and went beyond the call. I sent one tweet out in Japanese and one in German, when I saw a single download from each country. I also sent one out in French, which made no impact.

Moments of glory:

No 1 in the UK Kindle freebooks for Fantasy - Visionary & Metaphysical.
No 6 in the UK Kindle freebooks for  Fantasy - Sword & Sorcery.

No 4 in the UK Kindle freebooks for Fantasy - Visionary & Metaphysical.
No 16 in the US Kindle freebooks for Horror / Occult

The giveaway scores on the doors:

US 174
UK 147
Germany 19
Italy 2
Japan 1
Canada 6

Total = 349

I'm not sure how long it takes actual sales to follow-on, so I await the next stage with interest.

Accentuate the negative

"Are you sure this is a gastro pub?"

It's a common theme that writers exist, by and large in a vacuum. Non-fiction writers are more likely to have parameters to work within - client deadlines and briefs. For fiction writers, those boundaries may be set by a writing competition, or else by agents' and publishers' stipulations. But if you're creating from scratch, without a definite home in mind for your work, you're on a voyage of discovery.

I'm all for the wide-open horizons of creativity and possibility, but I thrive on boundaries. Give me one hour, or 400 words, or 10 topical gags today please and I'm like a pig in a trough filled with acorns.

Boundaries, limits, constraints - call them what you will - are a great incentive to focus on the job at hand and to make sure you deliver.

In my experience as a writer and a coach, it's about setting priorities and applying elbow grease. So far, I've yet to hear of a freelancer who suffers from writer's block. I've heard of some who spend too much time on a job, or who burn the midnight oil to get the darned thing into shape, but never brain freeze. Maybe it's the money; maybe it's professionalism.

Perhaps it's the power of 'No'. It's a great word, much maligned in our culture of possibility and freedoms. The word 'No' gives us definition, a (usually) non-negotiable position and an opportunity to take note and then go and do something else.

We focus on writing by saying no to other things (yeah, like a social life!).

An agent's no asks us to consider whether there's more work to be done on our manuscripts, or whether we've done our homework about where to try and place our work.

A no can force us back on our inner resources. That first rejection can feel brutal, but no writer I know of has ever said it stopped them developing as a writer - quite the opposite, in fact.

No is the reality check from the world outside our control. We cannot always understand the motive, but we sit up and take notice. To do otherwise would be folly.

Our nos may also be subtle - coming in the form of limits on our time, or our enthusiasm. We ignore them at our peril.

So the next time you're surrounded by possible projects all clamouring for your attention, or friends who think writing is a hobby and not a vocation, or a submissions list that is almost a good fit for your work, try saying no

To coin a phrase: There's sure business in no business.

Let me know what you no.

In conversation

Ooh, bubbles!
"We have to decide what sort of writers we are, not merely for the words, but also for how we shall live. 

Does our curiosity about life stir us into new circumstances and chances to be taken? 

Do we let the muse lead us blindly, gladly and madly into the forest of our own imagination, with or without the pen? 

Can we see stories in the everyday, and even, perhaps, where there are none?

Will we embrace the stillness and build a whole universe of ideas and emotions around us?

To be a writer is not to be a mere storyteller - children can do that. To be a writer is to make our readers want the fiction to be true, and to linger long after The End. To be a writer is to to make your readers yearn, to care and above all else to read on.

Yes, we have to decide how we live, on the page and away from it. 

We should not hide from the big questions of life and death. And if we fear then let us turn our fears into words. Our courage too, aye, and our emptiness.

Above all, let us retain and nurture our sense of wonder, for in writing only wonder sustains."

I know six modern writer words; they show me what to do.
Their names are blog, tweet and redraft, spell-check, contract and sue. 

We love you, grammar

Are they just jerking your chain?
I used Grammarly to online proofreader this post, because sometimes I don't know my hast from my elbow.

We all know that the right words can make the message memorable, whereas the wrong words can make the message memorable too, but for all the wrong reasons.

You could say that the holy trinity of good writing is spelling, punctuation and grammar. Or is it 'one could say'? And then, of course, there's the issue of context - as the image opposite illustrates.*

I sometimes struggle with grammar for several reasons:
1. It wasn't taught at school.
2. Strunk & White will only get you so far.
3. British English and American English are as alike as two essentially similar, but somewhat different peas in proximal pods. (And there's a reason why that particular expression never caught on.)

When it comes to subtle nuances of American English I can often rely on Monika Spykerman, but she isn't always available and refuses to keep UK hours online. So I was intrigued when the folks at Grammarly approached me to test their online product.

It checks for both American English and British English, so here's their evaluation for this post.

Check please!
It looks like I've still got some work to do!

* Available for t-shirts and affordable corporate motivational posters everywhere.