Sign of the Times

I believe it was the Roman philosopher, Tacitus Bloggas, who decreed that the 31st of December (or whatever they called it back then) should be marked with a blog reflecting on the year that has been. Also, let's face it, list pieces are easy on the eye.

Like many writes I start each year with a set of goals - some are carefully considered SMART goals, while others are the equivalent of me shouting up at the starry night sky in the hope that the Universe is listening.

So, this year, my list included these gems (with additional, helpful commentary after the fact in blue):

1. Write a certain number of articles and, equally importantly, get a certain amount publishers. Ideally, those two amounts will match. Although I wrote the pieces and although I had no direct control over their publication I did meet my quota by and large. Some articles are still in outline, ready for next year.

2. Get a book contracted. At the time of writing, I am awaiting feedback on a book proposal I was invited to submit (after I pitched something). It's a different kind of book and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

3. Experiment with Amazon's giveaway and price reduction functionality on Kindle Select. I had a play around with the pricing - which I written about elsewhere on this blog - and learned more about marketing and the value of Twitter. Sales went up a little, freebies were taken in their hundreds and I got one new review.

4. Complete the first draft of new novel-in-progress, The Caretaker. I have to report [solemn, Churchillian voice] that I only reached 38,000 words. I'm disappointed - and so is my champion beta reader, Sarah Campbell, probably, but it was hard to commit fully to book three in a series while still trying to place book one. Plus, I was also trying to work as a freelance writer and find a home for transatlantic comedy drama, Scars & Stripes.

5. Write more gags and sketches for performance. I had some comedy material performed this year and got paid too. In addition, one of my gags was used on BBC Radio 4 Extra's Newsjack, which was a bit of a treat.

6. Produce another 'Little Book' for publication. This one is a bit of a fudge actually because I already have four additional Little Books in development. What I did do was explore acquiring the rights to the original Little Book of Cynics and look at branding for the other little books. Chances are that I'll be creating more ebooks in 2014. Get your cash ready!

7. Decide how and where to specialise in my writing. For a long time I have struggled with the idea of branding as a freelancer. Here's a pen picture of what I write, at different times and to varying degrees:

Fiction (short and long) - sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, children's stories, crime, comedy dramas and contemporary fiction.
Non-fiction - green living, business, human interest, Mind, Body & Spirit, and writing about writing.

I know, it's starting to look like a CV post. My point is that the lack of a brand or clear specialism troubled me. And then, just this month, I read Write. Publish. Repeat and then I had a rethink and a mini epiphany (a miniphany?).

It's hardly revolutionary, but here it is: I WRITE WHAT I WRITE, RIGHT? In fact, arguably, that very flexibility and diversity is my brand. 

Anyway, that's this year all wrapped up. I really want to thank all my readers and clients for your custom this year, especially those who left reviews or comment on freelancing sites, this blog or the Strictly Writing blog, or on sites for book reviews and sales.

Stick around - next year is going to be interesting.


One year on

It's tempting to see the world of publication - and self-publicaton especially - as purely a numbers game. That makes for a simple equation: 'n' sales = 'n' success. Likewise, using that logic, small sales = small success. But is that always the case?

It's a little over a year now since I took the plunge and self-published Covenant, my fantasy, in ebook and paperback. I was always upfront with others and myself that it was never just about the money. That didn't even register on my top five list:
1. Get Covenant out there.
2. Get reviews.
3. See whether readers got the essence of Covenant, given its mystical and magical heart.
4. Learn about marketing (another form of mysticism and magic, as far as I was concerned), and what works for a book like mine.
5. Go into a bookshop and see Covenant on the shelf.

Okay then, maybe sales / money was hovering around six or seven.

So how did I get on and what have I learned?

1. Covenant is out there and I'm very proud of it. Both the ebook and the paperback versions benefited enormously from my having supportive friends with technical expertise of, on the one hand, formatting ebooks and negotiating the labyrinthine (to me) process of setting everything up on Lightning Source, and, on the other, turning a word doc into an actual book file. I also discovered that one more proofread is worth its way in gold (let me know how you do that). It's all fixed now, but early purchasers may find those few typos make it a collector's item in the years to come!
2. I have a clutch of reviews by people who clearly appreciate what Covenant is about. I mean the deeper stuff - the story behind the story. I can always use more though - just in case anyone is still holding back.
3. Some readers loved Covenant and wanted to discuss it with me. That was fun. Others found it too long and wordy (as opposed to numbery, which only applied to the top right of the page header). Them's the breaks, as they say.
4. What I learned about marketing and sales may be specific to me, but I'm the caring, sharing type:
a) Chain and independent bookshops are not that interested in self-published novels. You can chat for a few minutes, leave a paperback and an ebook on a disc, shake on it and still never hear from them again. They have a business to run and if you can't demonstrate the profitability of your book - or you get your timing wrong - you'd best chalk it up to experience.
b) Giveaways on Kindle help spread the word, but don't hound your Twitter followers with endless (if occasionally witty or ingenious) messages about your opus. Also, freebies do not automatically lead to reviews of any persuasion. I gave away about 300 copies and received a single review - but thanks anyway.
5. I regret to report that I'm still waiting to see Covenant on a shelf in a bookshop. I could sneak one in for effect and have someone take a photo of a delighted me, but that would just be cheating. 

So is that the end of the story then?
Not at all.

I know that Covenant will be a grower and I know that because my portfolio of books is growing. When I read about someone recently who'd written 20 books, I was envious of their productivity. And then I counted up my own books - published and unpublished, novels and others - and it totalled 13. Lucky for some. 

So, although at the moment Covenant is my only full-length novel in print and digitised, it won't be the last. And of course, at some point, there'll be the sequel.

I also know that tribe is really important and I struggled to find the ideal readership for Covenant. I didn't want fantasy readers to try it and find it too esoteric or occult, and I worried that readers of occult books would find it too lightweight to be considered a credible work on the subject.

To some extent I still have that argument in my head. I mean, is Covenant a mystical fantasy, an epic quest, a set of pathworkings, a spiritual allegory, or a book about magic?

The truth is that it's all of those things, and more. You see, that's the thing about a book - it's not just the characters that have lives of their own! It's true of any form of artwork: it is what it is. If you like it, that's genuinely brilliant for the creator. And if you don't, it's a bummer all round, so you'd best move on and find something else more to your liking.

However, if you do enjoy fantasy quests interspersed with ideas about reincarnation, the tarot, pathworkings, mythology, archetypes, magic, mysticism, allegory, the Western Mystery Tradition and the occult, Covenant could be just the thing. That also applies if you have a space in your bookshop!

You can purchase Covenant by clicking on the link: