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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Mr Angry

Mr Angry was a character on the BBC Radio DJ Steve Wright's afternoon show some years ago, one of a number of characters who would respond to various prompts in the format of the show; his was a half throttled voice on the edge of screaming, the pent up rage evident through the strain on his vocal chords, and then there is the classic scene from Fawlty Towers; John Cleese beating his broken down vehicle and pouring out his anger and frustration at life's persistent little defeats.

I didn't become that angry, but reading a writing magazine article a few weeks ago did notch up the blood pressure. The continuing discussion about the merits of taking the self-publishing route occasionally throws out some odd remarks and one touched a raw nerve. I closed the magazine and stuck it back on the shelf with a few uncharitable thoughts running through my head. The comment, oh, yes, the comment was that the self-published independent author had more to prove than the traditionally published;  frankly the remark pissed me off.

So what do we have to prove; that working by ourselves or with a smidgeon of carefully selected professional assistance paid for out of our own pockets we can produce a book of the same quality as a multinational conglomerate with a huge workforce and  a marketing budget that looks like a telephone number. Duh, yes, that's the challenge thrown down by the Trads, and a lot of Self-Pubs do just that.

There is no point the traditionally published being high minded about standards and quality when they're already dining with the demons of Vanity, sidling up and buying them out, taking a cut of the harvest and shoring up their defences against the sea change taking place all around them.

OK, I keep banging on about smashwords, and why not, they've helped me reach further than I thought possible when I published Iceline almost two years ago, and I have a great respect for Mark Coker and the staff of smashwords. I read his indie author manifesto when he posted it at the smashwords blog and agreed with it, all of it.

The sea change is startlingly simple, the shift has nudged traditional publishers into partnerships they would have avoided with a ten foot barge pole a handful of years ago because the old gatekeepers have been bypassed by the Internet.

The Internet revolution in self-publishing  has changed the landscape as much as the introduction of the printing press. Small independents are laying the foundations of more than a game changing situation. This is digging up the sacred turf and carting it away then dismantling the stadium and rebuilding it, and that is what they are doing. Independent authors/publishers are doing the groundwork of a whole new way of reaching the public and giving them what they want; good quality writing, equal to any.

This is happening and the roll of Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, John Locke and others is the proof. The independents with a brand and a readership in place, the prospect of more books on the way, with an established franchise that can be marketed and backed by an already existing word of mouth promotional network spreading the word makes a better sounding investment than the old method of taking a chance. Let's be fair, if picking a bestseller was easy we would all be doing it, and the truth of it to quote Mark Coker in an interview with LateNightLibrary  "is like throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks."

Not the best method of picking your next big thing, and the greatest shift between the independent authors and the traditional is cost effective print on demand and distribution, a way forward for the self-published without the snares of Vanity publishing. The manuscript stored electronically and printed when a copy is needed may generate slower sales but without the constant jostle for shelf space the factor of time over sales dissipates.

Does any of this mean that the independent author has more to prove than their traditional counterpart? No. absolutely not. The challenge; traditional or self-published, bought in store or delivered by post, is that the end product should be of the finest quality across the board.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

One degree more...

I briefly touched on the labyrinthine links between vanity presses and the publishing houses dotted around the world and the Internet in Come into my parlour...  and this last week has seen Writer's Digest break their connection with Author Solutions and their own imprint Abbott Press. David Gaughran who has spent considerable blogging time and energy on the Author Solutions situation comments on recent developments. Both sides are being cagey, but as David describes in his blog website links have already been taken down.

A small step in the right direction and veering away by degrees, rather than closing in. There is still a long way to go.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

To market, to market...

To market to market went my Uncle Jim,
somebody threw a tomato at him, 
tomatoes are usually soft to the skin, 
this bugger hurt - it was still in the tin.

One of those daft ditties that you hear in the school-yard and they hang around in the back of your mind, waiting for the prompt to pop out, and the nudge came thinking about marketing.

It does what it says on the tin, a wood preservative manufacturer used it recently and a variation is floating around as a verbal guarantee that something is genuine; it is what it says on the tin.

Marketing is not the favourite subject for many independent authors, and probably for a number of traditionally published writers who market their own works, but it is important. Pushing the novel to a point where it is noticeable. David Gaughran has a good piece about discoverability. Readers don't have a problem discovering books they want to read, the real headache is finding the time to read the massive list downloaded. So marketing must be about pushing the book to the top of the stashed list of down loads racked up for the days on the beach, lazy summer evenings with a nice wine, good beer, whisky, coffee or your personal choice of favourite beverage and nibbles.

Website and Blog links are straightforward, have a look  at cheekyseagull.co.uk  particularly the skyscrapers on the book pages. I have reduced the clicks to reach the point of purchase to a minimum. It takes a little while, but the effort is worth it. 

One of the links goes to Feedbooks.com, a source of traditional and self-published books. For the self-published author the deal is you can publish your book but it must be free.  With a selection of books available through retailers and toying with the idea of setting one at free on all channels this can be a useful site to add to the list. (Don't put your only book permanently to free, but if you have a series one offered as a taster may be worth considering.) Newly published novels are featured for a month after release; easy for yourself and the readers to find. The results can be reassuring, Iceline was posted in the New Year and in the first month netted over five hundred downloads. 

The analytics include a world map with downloads pinned by country and number. The daily download graph isn't 100% reliable, but a bit of simple math will give you a reasonably accurate total. They give an interesting picture of where a traditional British thriller was being picked up and enjoyed. 

Publicity will involve press releases,  (list of free PR sites here) ask the question and a host of search engine responses will leave you stuck for choice, an alternative might be to ask around on your favourite blog site and see what they can offer. A successful author is as good a place as any to start looking, the press release will have played it. The hook, well baited is what grabs the attention and we've already seen what such a hook can do to the unwary author looking to publish. If the horror stories are making you hesitate about taking the plunge, remember, you're not. There are hundreds, thousands of writers who have been where you are now and...jumped in!

"There is no stigma to success" is RjCrayton's call in her recent blog on publishing, a self-published author who enjoys success will be hunted by the traditional publishers (You are probably already familiar with the roll call of Hocking, Howey, Locke and others). She also comments that "There is a stigma to slow sales in traditional publishing," but definitely not in self-publishing. As a self-published author you have control, time is your ally not an opponent. The dearth of immediate post publication sales will not see your work remaindered or pulped.

There is time to reflect on what worked and what didn't, and the marketing doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. I carry business cards, contact details on the front, book links and a discount code on the back. Vistaprint has some good designs and ideas, or you can upload your own image or book cover. Originally supplying business cards they now offer a range of materials. Brian Marggraf offers a few pointers and an encouraging post about guerrilla marketing, a low key approach fuelled by your ingenuity.... after all, you are the best advertisement for your book.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

UPDATE The Obedience of Fools

New chapters have gone up this afternoon, taking the story a further.. The Obedience of Fools at smashwords.com, help yourself, it is a work in progress and free to download. Feedback welcome! Drop me a line and say hello...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Read all abaht it, latest

Discoverability is talked about as a difficulty for indie authors. Blogs and forums chat about pushing up the rankings, OK, now there are three ways to discover the Cheekyseagull website;  cheekyseagull.co.uk; cheekyseagull.net try one try all; they will point you in the right direction. Stop by cheeksyeagull.netand have a browse, drop me a line and let me have your feedback...

The new domain .uk came online on the 10th of June and cheekyseagull.uk was waiting in the wings to make an entrance and heralded by the biggest welcome sign in the world at Heathrow Airport "Welcometothe.uk" made an entrance. Among the first to take up the shorter domain name was the tech savvy Stephen Fry, entertainer and twitter legend, and this brings dear old Britain into line with our continental cousins in Germany (.de) France (.fr), and others as Stephen so delightfully points out, we are all three key strokes closer.

Getting it together,

I want to go back a bit, and take another look at the digital formatting. Putting the book into shape before you upload it, and maybe even knocking off the rough edges yourself to create the ePub file can be useful and there are a variety of options. Microsoft Word is the default for many uploads, but how you create that word document doesn't have to involve Microsoft, Open Source software is a useful asset to any writer's toolbox, and not just for the writing.

Open Office is a full office productivity suite, available as a free download able to produce Microsoft compatible documents and with the Write2epub extension the document can then be converted to an ePub.

Sigil and Calibre, offer ePub generation and conversion respectively, Sigil is an epub editor with the option of working with HTML or WYSIWYG depending on how comfortable you feel. Unsure of how to use it, video tutorials by Unruly Guides can be seen on YouTube, step by step instructions on how to work with Sigil, set this alongside Calibre and you have a pair of useful tools. Calibre enables you to manage the formats of ePub and convert it to specific types compatible with ereading devices, both are available as free downloads.

The manuals are available, but work with the manual and the video, put the two together and take time to work out the glitches, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Being an independent is about regaining control over what happens to your work,it does not mean you have to do everything yourself. Not unless you really want to; there are artists out there in social media who are looking for an opportunity to be creative, and among them are some amazingly talented people.

Give yourself a break, them too...you never know where it will lead you!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Tread carefully...

The Amazon-Hachette negotiation has occupied a lot of screen space over the last few weeks, pretty much since I started slotting a few bits and pieces together about how you might get your work out to an appreciative public.

The situation regarding the self-publishing arms of the big traditional publishers show them in close formation with the Vanity Presses, and with Author Solutions, owned by Penguin Random House in a pincer movement to grab the best via the traditional path and shuffle the rest towards the shearing sheds of the Vanities.

The door to self publish remains open.Yes; despite every negative thought and dismal sage advice about how many, or few, self-published books sell well; your readers are waiting, but you need to be careful. I've loosely touched on the issues regarding Vanity Press in general; and Author Solutions and its many subsidiaries in particular XLibris. (Xlibris.co.uk is the local branch of this multinational conglomerate) and a couple of days ago I nipped across to David Gaughran's blog Let's Get Visible and his latest piece The Case Against Author Solutions, Part 1 The numbers, looks at the methods and figures involved in the operation of this scammy company and how they saturate the internet with cleverly baited traps to snare the unwary writer. Thankfully, the majority of writers who stumble on the shiny new toy adverts look deeper and see what lurks beneath the surface, but not all. Some go down that road, at their peril and great cost. The way the adverts are designed and located is to catch the writer before they look further and find the many stories with unhappy endings at the hands of this Hydra like company.

I touched on the same point a couple of weeks ago in Come into my parlour... with my variation of the six degrees game, clicking the links and finding Author Solutions long before the count reached six. It was where I found the adverts, pumped out through GoogleAds, and sliding onto the screen with the Oxford English Dictionary and the Gutenberg Project among so many others that seemed unexpected at first, put then the GoogleAds follow their own track. It's the saturation level that is startling, the number of places the ads must be placed to proliferate at this level. David Gaughran explores this too.

The trick is to be very wary, it is a cliche that anything that seems to be too good to be true usually is, yet the independent author has tricks and traits tucked away. Observations picked up by Jim Devitt over at Indies Unlimited earmarking five distinctive traits found in many indie authors, have a look for yourself, and take them to heart, work with your imagination, check where you are in your journey towards publication and see what's around the corner you were going to walk past. Check out a website,, and then look at a handful covering the same area.

I am currently working  on the draft revisions of What You Ask For, as well as completing The Obedience of Fools, and further down the list is putting Iceline into print, and the search is to find a way of doing this without breaking the bank.

Starting with 'book publishing' as the search parameters, as simple as that, and a number of options pop up, some are more helpful than others. A few offer a free quote (this may involve providing an email address, not always) based on the size, the type of book, number of pages, hard or soft cover and the sort of finish you want on the cover. The prices on the quotes can be wildly different but they give an idea of what price you can pass on the book to the customer and calculate your return on the investment.

The precise details vary from printer to printer, depending on whether they put out print run or print on demand. A UK based website that offers print on demand and distribution is FeedARead. A publishing platform funded by Arts Council England where you can sign up and publish for free, have it available to purchase through the site or for a distribution fee make it available elsewhere. Click the link and have a look for yourself; yes, there is a fee involved to cover the administration costs to set up your book for distribution. The end product is a good quality paperback, well made and a match for bookshop quality. FeedARead is available to writers of all nationalities, not just UK based.

Similarly, Completely Novel, is a print on demand service offering a variety of options for the publishing author, well laid out website with a free quote option and a series of reasonably priced packages starting with Free (and able to sell through the Completely Novel website) and monthly subscriptions offering access to distribution on line and through Bricks and Mortar stores. The finished product is good quality, suitable for a bookstore. The benchmark is that degree of product quality and the reader, quite rightly, should expect no less a quality product from the Independent author than any other source.

Shaun Allan over at Flip and Catch is looking at Print On Demand and brings CreateSpace, Lulu, Ingram Spark and Lightning Source to the list. As with FeedAread and Completely Novel each one has its own criteria for accepting a novel and adding it to thei list.

CreateSpace is part of Amazon, offering a Print On Demand platform for authors and content creators in other media and offers distribution through Amazon.com, Amazon Europe, CreateSpace eStore and ebook for Kindle, and working with on-demand printing, means that your book is always available and ready to ship. I am hoping to explore the details offered by the print on demand companies (If you have any information that might be useful why not drop me a line either through the comments box here or through the contact at www,cheekyseagull.co.uk, I would love to hear from you,) then put the comparisons together in one place as an easy reference. That may take a couple of weeks, in the meantime I'll stick with my comparisons with the packages offered by the Vanity Press.

Now and again I'm stuck with the idea that writing the novel is the easiest bit, the words flow out on to the screen, paper or whatever medium you are using, they are shuffled around in the edit and proof-reading, then after final polishing the novel is formatted and published (over-simplified, but you gett the drift). Then comes the marketing, finding places to post and generally get the word out there letting the world know that your latest work is heading their way. Not as much fun as writing, but the hard work can pay off...play with your ideas, use the imagination that created your book and see where it can take you.

Dip your toe into the marketing pool and paddle around...

Game-Changer for eBook Retail...

 It took me a couple of days to pick this up, but the possibilites for author to reader contact may be about to change dramatically Smashwords: Apple's New iOS 8 is Game-Changer for eBook Retail...: Yesterday Apple unveiled iOS 8 , the new Apple operating system upgrade that will come out this fall. Buried in a slide during the live ... this is one to have a look at!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Competitive edge...

David Gaughran, author of "Let's Get Digital", on the question of discoverability and the reality of competition in the publishing world today. Well worth a look at...

Makes you wonder who really are the bad guys, Amazon may be a colossus astride the world, but is it the evil empire some make it out to be?