Writer Wednesdays – Tips for New Writers – revisited

This is a little cheeky as some of was taken from an old post (2013) – but have I changed my views? The origin post was written not that long after I started self-publishing.

So let’s revisit my old post – Old in RED, new comments in black.

Link to original post

Share your most helpful writing tips and advice. What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started writing?

New writers are given an awful lot of information, much of it contradictory and it is very difficult to know the good advice from the bad. Experience is a great teacher!

Yep – it’s still true there is information overload. There is some great advice, and some lousy advice. Working out which is which can be a challenge. Indie authors, in my experience, support each other, offer advice and suggestions and understand the challenges. Listen to the advice, good and bad. After all if it hasn’t worked for one person that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. The bloody awful advice will become self-apparent.  Free advice is always worth taking in. What you choose to do with it, that’s up to you.

Here are my top 6 tips:

1)    Keep writing. This is seems to be consistent advice from all the sources I have seen. A single book is great but it is hard to build a fan base with just one title and if readers like your work they may well look out for other articles and stories. I do as a reader. As your writing experience grows you will learn what works and what doesn’t. Write for anthologies, write for your blog or someone else’s or write for research. Yahoo Voices have many interesting blog-type articles and it is a way to build a fan base. Researching for your novel? Great, use that research to help others. There are lots of anthologies looking for submissions (see links below) and some pay, although some don’t. Even the free ones are useful in getting your name out there and are writing practice.

Yahoo Voices no longer exists, but there are thousands of blogs/e-zines and groups who will happily take guest posts. Writing for anthologies – yes, I’d say it was helpful but as you get more experienced then you can pick and choose. The first few I did didn’t pay – and that’s a good way to promote yourself initially – but of course, most authors want paying for their work. Free has its place – don’t get me wrong – but it’s good to be able to pick and choose. There is also the consideration – anthology stories are varied in quality, length and style. Try and read some of the other stories, if that’s possible, or check out the author’s work. I’ve read (and been in) anthos where some of the stories need….more work. Make sure your own entry is good, well presented and not riddled with errors. 

Research – yes, yes, yes. Post up on your blog, or share on forums.

2)    Have a thick skinyou will need it. There will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like your book, will be offended by it, hate the characters or simply not get it. We do not all like the same things, if we did the world would be boring indeed.  Bad reviews hurt, but most books have at least one and unless the reviewer has a personal issue with the author (which occasionally happens) then it is one opinion. Reviews are just that – opinions, which can be as varied as the books they discuss.

Still agree with this. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Shit happens. If you don’t want bad reviews – don’t publish. That said they can be helpful. Every writer thinks his or her work is the best thing ever. Usually it’s not (sorry – and I include myself in that). There is always something which doesn’t quite work, or could have been better – but that is generally true of life. And what that is depends on perspective. I like great world and character building, for example. I’ve read books with awesome reviews only to put them aside after three or four chapters because I didn’t give a damn about the characters. It’s a matter of opinion.

No writer likes to be told their book sucks and it can be hard to deal with. One of the best pieces of advice is ‘don’t comment’, or if you feel you must then be polite, thank the reviewer for their comments and move on. Commenting, especially negatively will do far more harm, go and rant to your best friend, yell at the wall, go for a walk and release that is one person’s opinion only. The next reviewer may love the book. Even negative reviews, except the spiteful ones, have useful advice.

Don’t comment on reviews. Really. Not ever. Don’t bitch, tell the reader they are wrong, or slag them off on social media. Just don’t. That will do your brand FAR more damage than a bad review.

It is hard to work out how much store readers put on reviews, many do look and most simply filter out those which either say nothing or the obviously spiteful or overly gushing ones, but in a couple of studies I have done reviews are surprisingly low on the scale. A good cover, a synopsis which pulls in the reader and recommendations from friends seem more important. If the book is selling don’t worry too much.

Agreed – to an extent. Personally, I don’t put that much store by book reviews – but I do write them. I’m odd like that. Partly I write them because I have a terrible memory and it’s a way to remind me of a book, but also because I like talking about books. People review for many, many reasons and in many many ways. All of them are right.

3)    Write the book you want to write. Now I am sure other writers might disagree with this tip but not all. Forcing a story to work, editing out important plot ideas or making characters do something they wouldn’t do may well make the story weaker. Write the book YOU want to read. Would you enjoy it? If the answer is yes then go with it. A forced plot will show itself to be just that.  It may depend on whether you are intending to self-publish or whether you are intending to submit to a publishing house of course and whether you intend to get an editor.

I’d rephrase this as write the book you want to READ. 

4)    Write the best book you can. No book is perfect. Even bestsellers have typos which slip through, weak plots or naff characters. However, if you are an indie the threshold seems to be higher…there are plenty of posts and threads berating indie self-published books as being substandard. In some cases this is true, we have all seen them but there are very many books which are great, yes some may be a little rough around the edges but the good stories and talent are out there. There are plenty of traditionally published books which are awful. That said releasing a book full of typos, terrible grammar and weak plot/characters is not advisable. Spellcheckers are useful but invest in a dictionary, a thesaurus and a writing guide. If you can find beta readers or critique groups then do so.

If you can afford an editor, then get one. Ask around, there are various authors who edit, or know them. I found a couple of free/cheap online writing courses. Write, write, write. 

If you decide to self-edit then put the manuscript aside for a while and write (or read) something new. You will see the work with fresher eyes. I know from experience I see what I think is there not what IS there. If you can afford an editor then it is advisable to consider it, but there are great books which have been self-edited. If you choose this route be thorough, it may take several passes through. Although earlier I said write the book YOU want you do need to be strict when editing. It is easy to get carried away and go off on a tangent. Does the scene add to the story/characterisation/world-building? No – then lose it.

5)    Research and plausibility. This is rather dependent on genre of course but willing suspension of disbelief only goes so far. Fantasy gives a lot of scope, especially magic but it still needs to be consistent. Research gives the writer credibility, if you say something works which we KNOW doesn’t work in that way then at the least back it up in the story with some plausibility, or better still find something which people know does work that way. Gravity is gravity. Research medieval battle, weapons and armour, field medicine, herb-lore and such like if you are planning a fight. Movie fight scenes look great visually but aren’t really that accurate. What damage DOES a long sword do? What IS the range of a longbow. You needn’t go into too much detail in the book, but knowing if your archer can hit that bad-guy lurking in the Dark-lord’s tower is helpful. Books can educate, and encourage people to research for themselves, especially if set in a certain time period but accuracy is the key. Of course, many readers won’t go on to research or have any interest in the origins of the longbow, the war horse but some might. Besides research is great, it is amazing what you can discover!

Yep, pretty much. I spent a while looking up ancient Greek curses the other day, and I’ve researched flora and fauna, weaponry and armour, the potential airworthiness of dragons, whether salamandars are edible, poisons and herblore, giantism and all sorts of other things.

6)    READ THE DAMN MANUAL! Really I mean it. Spend a bit of time not only reading writing guides but the FAQ of KDP, Smashwords, Lulu or wherever it is you choose to publish. It will make life a lot easier. There are several free books available – ‘Publish your work on Kindle’, ‘How to Publish on Smashwords’ for example. Most of the sites have extensive guidelines and forums. That is another thing most people have struggled with whatever it is you are struggling with so search the forums for answers. You are now a business person as well as a writer and it helps to know what to do.

What do I wish I had known at the beginning? Marketing is HARD. Where is the line between being a spammy needy author and promoting in such a way that people will check out your books and not be annoyed? Well that depends on who you ask…some people hate any mention of the product, some don’t mind a small amount and some say as much as you can do is the way to go. If I find the right level I will let you know.

World Building:

http://audenstreasury.blogspot.co.uk/p/writing-fight-scenes-resources.html?showComment=1369324942695

http://cbmccullough.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/domesticating/

http://mythicscribes.com/world-building/adding-depth-to-a-fantasy-world/

http://audenstreasury.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/dark-fantasy-world-building-names.html

http://profantasy.com/

Writing generally:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9764931/The-101-best-pieces-of-advice-ever-received.html

http://robbgrindstaff.com/2013/01/why-are-verbs-so-tense/

http://lissywrites.com/2013/06/28/back-cover-text-book-blurbs-and-other-fun-stuff/

http://venturegalleries.com/blog/writing-short-stories-for-anthologies/

http://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/tips-for-self-editing?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tips-for-self-editing

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2013/07/13/rethink-advice-to-writers/#more-41613

Writers Digest

Princess of the Light Blog

 

KDP and Self-Publishing – a noob’s guide

(C)A L Butcher

There are many people who aren’t fans of Amazon for one reason or another, but it has to be said publishing-wise they have a large chunk of the market and should not be ignored.  From my own perspective I sell far more on Amazon than it’s competitor, but of course, there are other authors who’ll tell you they sell well on Barnes and Noble, or Kobo.

I lurk on the KDP forums (Kindle Direct Publishing) and every day the same questions/complaints get posted. It never ceases to amaze me that newbies can’t or won’t read the FAQ and TOS and then whine when they get stung for something they claimed they were unaware of. When you log in or sign up the help and terms pages are handily down the left-hand side and thus, easily accessed. They aren’t hard to find.

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A32I2OF1510VZV

So here’s a quick breakdown for newbies:

  • Read the FAQ and TOS. Really. This is a contract – you agree to it when you publish there. If you don’t like the terms then don’t sign and don’t publish with KDP. There are other sites – Lulu  https://www.lulu.com/ for example. They publish to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, I-books and, of course, their own site; Smashwords, Draft2Digital and several others. These sites have their own rules too.
  • Payment – make sure you are clear on the terms of payment (which are listed in the FAQ…). No publishing platform is going to pay you the instant you sell that book. If you want that sell from your website – and good luck to you. Amazon’s payment terms are 60 days after the end of the month of sale. So I sell a book in May I get paid at the end of July.  The minimum price you can sell your book for on Amazon is 99c (which is about 77p in the UK). For 99c to $2.98 you receive 35% royalties, between $2.99 and 9.99 that goes up to 70% in most stores. Keep in mind, however, any country without its own base store which must use Amazon.com pay out only 35% – due to taxes and transfer costs apparently.  So some .com sales will show as 70% and some as 35%. Amazon is not trying to con you.  They pay out monthly and with EFT for any amount. There is no minimum. You must supply bank account details. For cheques, they pay out when you hit $100/£100 etc. (per store as these are paid individually for both EFT and cheque) so if you only sell a few now and then in some stores you’ll be waiting a long time. Amazon does not pay to Paypal.For comparison, Smashwords pay out 60% from their own store sales and slightly less from affiliates. They do pay to Paypal but they pay out quarterly for Smashwords sales and the affiliate stores report on different timescales so some appear more quickly than others, which can be confusing.

https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#Royalties

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=AE24XS35AM53P

  • If you don’t get paid when you think you should read the FAQ about payment – in case you decided to ignore point 1 and 2. It may be the case the bank details are incorrect (it happens). Check them carefully. You will need an IBAN and BIC for accounts not in the USA, these can usually be found on your statements and are different to your regular account number. If needed your bank can supply them.  If your bank account details look alright then check your sales. Orders and sales are not the same – see my next point. If you need to contact Amazon then use the ‘Contact Us’ link in the bottom right of the screen. Give them time to investigate.
  • Sales and Orders – KDP issue reports (second tab – the one after Bookshelf on your account page). A lot of people get confused here. There is a graph which shows ORDERS. This covers all your titles in all the stores – so everything is lumped in together. It’s on a rolling 30 days so every day it changes slightly. It looks nice but it isn’t actually that useful. Orders do not always turn into sales – payment might not go through, the buyer might change his or her mind or somesuch.  Then we have ‘Month to Date’ report. This shows actual sales. It’s done per store (so Amazon.com, then Amazon.co.uk, then Amazon.de and so on). It also shows refunds, freebies and price matching. This is the most accurate report (usually) and is updated daily (usually). A sale can show up in a couple of hours or a couple of days.  There is the prior six weeks report – which personally I don’t see much use for, and promotions – which reports any promotions you have going.  It is up to you to tall the payments up. They are produced in Excel so download them and add them up (or copy them into Excel and let that do it. There is NOT a running total of sales. Smashwords does this (which is useful) but their reporting is confusing as the affiliate stores report on different time scales and eventually, the reports of books per store get huge.

One thing that comes up a lot  – ‘I know my friend bought the book but the sale isn’t showing up’. Unless they actually show you the sales receipt then you cannot guarantee it was an actual sale. People lie (often with good intentions) and say they have bought the book when they haven’t. They may have downloaded the sample, or are intending to buy it but they haven’t actually done so.  I always buy a copy myself when I publish something – if the sale shows up then it’s all working fine. Honestly, if you think Amazon (or whoever) is trying to diddle you out of your money you probably shouldn’t be doing business with them.

  • Bad reviews – they happen. Deal with it. Someone somewhere won’t like your book. It will have too much sex/not enough, too much violence/not enough, too much world building/not enough and so on. Some folks say what they think and damn the consequences. Remember reviews are for readers not authors and any vindictive review is going to appear as just that – vindictive. Give readers some intelligence, many will just scan the reviews for ones which have a similar view to themselves, or look for key points. There isn’t much the author can do. Don’t respond, don’t attack the reviewer (at least not in public). Move on. Do you like every book you read? No. I thought not. Amazon’s review policy is what it is. You can’t change it no matter how much you shout.
  • Reviews. Amazon has cracked down on reviews as of late. Many authors complain about reviews being removed – there is not much to do about it. If Amazon deems there is a relationship between reader and reviewer then there is a chance that review will go. How Amazon finds out or thinks it finds out is anyone’s guess. Theories are same IP addresses (so living in the same household), facebook friends, and such like. Officially family and friends are not eligible to review your book as it’s deemed a biased review.  It is a bit zealous – someone who shares a group with you on facebook or happens to know someone you know might get their review removed. Then again they might not. There’s not really any rhyme or reason to it. Only the actual reviewer can request the review to be reinstated.
  • Contacting Support. If you have a problem then us the ‘contact us’ link. You will need to be logged in with the correct email account you originally used to sign up. If not Amazon will not help (after all you could be someone else). Support usually get back to you within 24 hours. Now often the replies are ‘check the FAQ here’ or similar and a bit…vague. If this is the case reply back on the same ticket and ask for clarification. It might take a bit of back and forth so be patient and polite. Getting abusive to the KDP reps is going to get you nowhere.
  • If you make changes to your manuscript, such as fixing typos or whatever and reupload it don’t unpublish. Just upload it to the current ASIN and mark it in the edition with a code (I put V3+date) so I can check on the look inside. Readers who have already bought the book will NOT automatically get the update, even if they have the auto update enabled.  If the changes are substantial you can ask Amazon to push out the new copy and then readers who already own it can download it if they wish. It’s a pain to do and the changes really do need to be pretty major – new chapters or such like. It’s not worth doing for the odd stray typo.  The auto updater not working is a known bug which Amazon don’t seem keen to fix. Oh and don’t bother deleting the book from your kindle and re-buying it. That doesn’t work (trust me on this I have tried).  I think I’ve been sent an email about twice for all the books I own stating there was updated content (and both really needed it – one was pretty much unreadable).
  • KDP Select. This confuses a lot of people. Basically KDP SELECT is the promotional aspect of KDP publishing. You can easily publish to KDP without being in Select. KDP Select has some strict rules and people how transgress then risk at best having their books removed from the program and at worst having their account terminated.

If you opt to enter KDP Select by ticking the little box you CANNOT offer the digital version of your book ANYWHERE else. So not on your blog, not on Barnes and Noble, not anywhere else. KDP will find out, the big bad Zon check. You are locked into a 90-day term (rolling unless you uncheck the box) and even if you leave early then you are bound by this. I know an author who flouted this and Amazon threatened to close her account unless she removed the books from the other sites until the term expired.  What does Select actually offer? Promotional tools. All the advertising such as the 5 days Free, Countdown deals and the Amazon ads are only available to Select. Your book will also be in the KENP program (basically, someone in the Amazon Prime program can borrow your book for a couple of weeks and you get paid per page read.). There are lots of complaints about this new system as authors used to get a percentage of the KDP fund if their book was borrowed – so a 200-page novel would get the same as a 40-page novel. Pages read favours longer books, and is, arguably, fairer.  Some authors do quite well on this scheme.  Do I use it? Not really. I’ve had freebies for Warrior’s Curse, and a Countdown for Stolen Tower but neither netted much traction. That said I did little to actually promote them.  As promotional tools, they CAN be useful – but it must be remembered for the free books many people download them BECAUSE they are free. Reviews are even less likely and many authors and readers believe it degrades authors and their books. (See my guest posts on Mythic Scribes.)

Great Free Book Debate – the Readers

Great Free Book Debate – the Authors

More to follow another day.

 

Happy writing.