New Release: The Indie Author Power Pack: How To Write, Publish & Market Your Book

I’ve reviewed Let’s Get Digital recently & been promoting Write, Publish, Repeat for some time now, so to have both these books, plus How to Market a Book, all for 99c / 79p, is a real no brainer. If you have any interest in writing and publishing a book, this will be the best value purchase you’ll ever make.

David Gaughran

indie-power-pack-blogFor the last few months I have been secretly planning an assault on the New York Times bestseller list. Today, I can finally announce the release of the book I’m hoping will do the trick.

The IndieAuthorPowerPack: How To Write, Publish & Market Your Book contains three top-rated guides:

  • Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
  • Let’s Get Digital (2nd ed.) by me
  • How To Market A Book (2nd ed.) by Joanna Penn
  • + Bonus Content!

It’s only available for a limited time, and you can pre-order it now for just 99c at:

Amazon|Apple|B&N|Kobo|$0.99

The box will launch on Monday, November 3, but if you pre-order now the book will automatically download to your device next Monday.

I took great care in selecting the books for this box set. I wanted to present the very…

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Recommended Reads: The Me You See by Shay Ray Stevens

The Me You See large

The Blurb

After six people are shot at a small town community theater, people gather to attend the funeral of one of the victims: seventeen-year-old Stefia. As those who knew Stefia best privately share their memories of her, we discover a collective picture of a girl everyone loved but no one really knew. 

Who was Stefia? Who knew her best? And why was she targeted in the shooting?

 

In The Me You See, Shay Ray Stevens has created an excellent mystery. On the surface, Stefia appears to be the the perfect young girl – warm, funny, intelligent – but as the book progresses we find the truth about Stefia is far more complex than first appears.

Stevens has successfully pieced together a compelling narrative based around the memories of Stefia’s friends and family. The timeline jumps back and forth, covering important events from Stefia’s life, each a step along the path to the opening shooting. What would be confusing in the hands of another author flows effortlessly due to Stevens’ skilful handling of both plot and characterisation. Each new character’s perspective feels real and unique, not an easy thing to do. It was very easy to become engrossed in the mystery of what happened. As new aspects of Stefia’s personality and life were revealed, I found myself racing through the pages to find out more.

The story made uncomfortable reading at times – Stevens isn’t afraid to reveal life’s darker side – but despite the discomfort these scenes were handled sensitively. There were one or two occasions where I felt the dialogue for one of the older characters was off – the choice of wording too young for their age – but this really is a minor quibble on what is an excellent book which successfully raises the question of whether we can ever truly know all aspects of a person’s character. Highly recommended.

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Me You See from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

The problem with reviews

5-star-reputation

I was having a Twitter chat yesterday with a good blogging friend about the recent controversy surrounding the author Kathleen Hale. Before you switch off, this post isn’t about the controversy itself (although if you want to know more, you can find a link to the original article here and an excellent response here) but a comment made during the discussion. We were talking about reviews in general and my friend said:

“As a reader and an observer of the self-publishing phenomenon: I don’t trust ratings of self-published authors.”

Unsurprisingly, the comment annoyed me, but as she explained her reasons it made me realise there is a problem with the review system, at least for new or first time authors (especially if they are self-published) of which we should all be aware.

Red Herrings

The issue is around the trustworthiness of reviews but not in the way you may think. I’ve read a lot of articles on self-publishing and many talk about authors trying to “game” the system; generating unwarranted reviews wither through the use of reciprocal reviews, paying for good reviews or even creating multiple accounts to award bogus reviews. I don’t doubt this happens (although I don’t believe this behaviour is restricted to self-published authors). However, the vast majority of authors I’ve befriended since I published my novels have been honest professionals working hard to build their careers as writers. I was approached once, many months ago, to do a reciprocal review (which I declined). To date this has been the only time it’s happened.

This doesn’t mean authors don’t, or shouldn’t promote other author’s work. I certainly do (via my Recommended Reads). I know some of these authors have read and liked my work in return. A cynic may view this as a reciprocal agreement, either by intention or through social convention, but I stand by every recommendation I’ve made. It’s not unusual to find a group of friends having a similar outlook, shared values and shared interests, especially if they me through a social media platform. I’ve once had a person – who had given  my book a great rating – upset with me because I didn’t like their book, but that could have been more to do with the clumsy way I approached the situation than with me not giving a review.

I don’t believe the majority of self-published authors, or even a significant minority, are trying to “game” the review system. I do, however, believe the majority of us are doing things, quite innocently, that are skewing the review system to the point where readers don’t trust it any more.

Proportionality

The issue has nothing to do with false reviews but whether the number of high-rated reviews truly reflect a book’s quality in the eyes of a regular reader. Let’s me use my book, Second Chance, as an example.

On Amazon UK, Second Chance has 30 reviews with a 4.8-star average. This is something of which I’m very proud. As with most first-time authors, the early reviews came from people I know personally.  Because of this, you might infer this personal relationship led to my book receiving higher ratings than it would otherwise have received. Knowing my friends, I would say this is highly unlikely. However, there is one level distortion I’m sure has happened. More of my friends bought my book than reviewed it. The reasons for this may vary (not read the book, not had time, forgotten) but for some it’s because they read it, didn’t like it but are too polite to say.

This isn’t just true of your friends. People in general dislike giving one-star reviews. I do. I know how much work goes into writing a book so if I don’t like it, I won’t leave a review (this is also why I call my reviews ‘Recommendations’ as opposed to reviews). It’s also becoming common for book bloggers to behave the same way, whether for the same reasons I don’t leave one-star reviews, or more worryingly because of fear of retribution. In my opinion this would be a bad thing, because if the review system loses some form of proportionality, us indie writers lose our greatest path to visibility.

The problem is this causes the review system to be skewed towards good ratings, especially so for newly released books and particularly so for newly released books by self-published authors. For many of us this is a nice little springboard to gain neutral readers and true reviews. What this also leads to is very poor books being rated highly, causing readers (like my blogging friend) to feel conned.

What’s the solution?

The simple answer is I don’t have one, at least not something that will fix the system, completely. I know Amazon are doing a great job in stamping down hard on those trying to “game” the system. At the same time, there are things we can do to help mitigate this effect. When you ask people to leave a review, always ask for an honest review. It doesn’t mean your friends are likely to pan your book, but it shows you are serious about understanding how good it is, or not. Send your book to bloggers for review. Don’t just send it to those you know, send it to complete strangers. For myself, it was only once I’d received my first independent review from somebody with whom I’d had no previous contact (thanks, Dave, I will always be in your debt), that I truly believed people might like my book as opposed to them just being kind. Also, be nice to book reviewers, even if they don’t like your book. Not liking something is just as natural response as liking something. It is not personal.

So what do you think? Do you trust the review system? Do you choose books based on reviews and if so, what is the deciding factor? I’d love to hear from you.

 

4 activities to avoid as a newly published indie author

11.07.15-ast_ft_decision-signs-421913814_582_387 Congratulations, you’ve made it. You’ve uploaded your ebook and cover, entered a sales blurb and selected your product categories. You’ve decided on a price, agreed to the terms & conditions and finally, with no small amount of trepidation, pressed publish. Within a few hours an email arrived to confirm your book is live. You are now a published author. The next thing to do, of course, is let everybody know. So you spend a few hours promoting your launch on your social media of choice, phoning friends and family, sending emails and mentioning it to everybody you meet. This is great. Enjoy the moment. But then what? What should you do next? Well here are five things I recommend you don’t do.

Constantly check your sales stats

While the sensible advice is to write the book you want to read, in reality most of us write books we hope others will read. When you publish your first book the natural urge is to check your sales stats, an easy thing to do if you’ve published via Amazon KDP. Checking your sales once a day after launch is a perfectly healthy thing to do. Having the sales report fixed to your computer/smartphone on permanent refresh is not. If you do ignore my advice and continually refresh the sales report page you will learn that 1) not everybody who says they will buy your book, does buy your book and 2) most people don’t drop everything they’re doing and buy your book as soon as it becomes available. This is not a reflection of you, your book, or your relationship with others, but more to do with people living their lives and having priorities other than your book launch. Yes, your book is not as important to them as it is to you. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Over time people will remember to buy your book (especially if those who have read it tell them about it). There are many options open to you to try and stimulate your sales but ‘checking one last time to see if the numbers have gone up’ isn’t one of them. You will ignore this advice.

Compare your book’s performance to others

Another really tempting thing to do is compare the performance of your book to others. It could be a book published around the same time as your own, a novel from one of your favourite authors or somebody you know, or one in the same genre of yours that you read and hated. Whatever the reason, you will find yourself looking to their sales ranking almost as much as you look at your own. Don’t. It’s a pointless exercise. You have no control over how well their book is performing, so stop worrying about it. After the initial spike at launch, your sales will drop off.  This is normal, but it happens at different rates and on different timescales for each book. Then there is the promotional activity the other author is doing, how big a platform they have, whether this is their first book – and not forgetting lady luck. Whether another book is selling at a better or faster rate than yours is of no consequence to you. Just focus on your book and the many things you can do to build an audience.

Chase reviews

If you’re organised, you will have some reviews ready for launch (either through book reviewers or friends who have read the book prior to publication). After that the reviews will slow or stop altogether. This is a tough time for an author as a hundred questions run through your mind, fuelled by our familiar friend self-doubt. Are people reading your book? Have they stopped? Why have they stopped? Do they think it’s awful? Of course they do. I’m a terrible writer. Why did I bother publishing in the first place? The temptation here is to chase reviews. Try to resist. It takes time to read a book. Many people only read at night before bed, some not even that. You will be amazed how many people don’t read except on holiday. As long as you left a polite request for reviews at the end of your book (you did do that, didn’t you?) the reviews will come. By all means remind occasionally remind people but don’t pester. Plus, you shouldn’t really be looking at reviews anyway…

Stop writing

If you follow the advice of most indie authors they will tell you one of the biggest mistakes new authors make is to publish and assume people will buy the book. You need to promote, they say. You need to have a marketing plan, a promotional plan and you need to take every opportunity to mention your novel (here’s a link to mine by the way, Second Chance – it’s had loads of great reviews in the UK and some in the US too). I would argue that the biggest mistake is to stop writing. It is very rare for people to build a career from one book. Those more experienced authors (Hugh Howey, Sean Platt) argue that you should concentrate on your writing until you have published at least three books. That doesn’t mean launch and ignore, but your priority should be writing, not promotion.

And what should you be doing…?

Writing your next masterpiece!   So, these are my top four but I’m sure you have others. What have I missed? I’d love to hear from you.

Review of Kindle INDIE EBOOK Second Chance by Dylan S. Hearn

I had a wonderful surprise today in my WordPress Reader, this fantastic review of my book Second Chance by Sarah Higbee. I’ve been following Sarah’s blog, Brainfluff, probably as long as I’ve been blogging and she’s always been a reviewer I’ve admired. To find out that she’s not only reviewed my book, but really enjoyed it, has made my week. Thank you, Sarah!

Brainfluff

This is a book I came across when browsing fellow book bloggers on WordPress and downloaded it onto my Kindle to read while I was  away.

2ndchanceFour lives become linked by a student’s disappearance: a politician looking to put integrity back into politics, an investigator hoping to atone for past mistakes, a data cleanser searching for a better life while haunted by his past and a re-life technician creating new lives for old souls. But it soon becomes clear this is no ordinary case, and in the pursuit of the truth, long-held secrets are at risk of being revealed. Set in the near future where everybody is connected and death isn’t final, this is the story of how far those in power will go to retain control, and the true price to pay for a Second Chance.

This post-apocalyptic near-future thriller unfolds through following these four characters. So does Hearn…

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Recommended Reads: Future Perfect by Katrina Mountfort

Future Perfect cover

Future Perfect is a great YA dystopian satire of today’s shallow, celeb-infatuated culture. It’s the late 22nd Century. After a biological terrorist attack the bulk of humanity live in secluded domes. All strive to reach the pinnacle of body perfect status, an androgynous state that leaves little difference between the sexes. It is a perfect world where everything is provided for but relationships are forbidden and friendships frowned upon. The majority are happy to live this way, spending the time not focussing on the perfect body image watching mindless and cruel entertainment shows, but for a few this life isn’t enough.

Caia is a well-educated woman who finds her life turned upside down after meeting a new co-worker, Mac. Unsure of what is happening, Caia becomes drawn into a world of illicit attraction and forbidden knowledge.

This is a really good read that will appeal to fans of the Hunger Games and Divergent but brings in its own unique sensibility. Mountfort has skilfully drawn together a future that is both strange and horribly familiar. In Caia and Mac, she has created two characters that most will be able to identify with, capturing perfectly the emotions of early love through innocent eyes. There were a few occasions where I felt the angst was a little overpowering but that is probably due to my age than the writing itself. As the story progressed and their difficulties mounted, I found myself racing through the pages to find out what would happen. It wasn’t what I expected. Recommended.

To buy Future Perfect from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Future Perfect from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Fear of the bad review

The biggest fear of any author is that people will hate their work. All authors suffer with this anxiety to a greater or lesser extent; whether they have a history of success or are just starting out; whether they are traditionally published or self-published. In fact, the fear is greater for a self-published author because they don’t necessarily have the sense of validation that winning and agent and a publishing contract provides (not that this is any salve for anxious traditionally published authors). To publish you need to overcome this fear but sadly, for many, they never do. You need to be a special kind of masochist to become a writer.

I’ve spoken in previous posts about how you cannot write something that everybody likes. It’s impossible. Why? Because the things that makes a book interesting and engaging are different for different people. Some people love flowery prose, others detest it. Some like their action loud, with explosions; others prefer the explosions to remain on the inside. The best, most revered books receive one-star reviews, as this wonderful post by Heather Hill explains, so at some point in your career you should expect to receive a bad review (or two).

Even if you have written a wonderful novel and it has reached the right kind of reader, there is another factor that could lead to a bad review. Let me explain.

Like most of you who have self-published, the first people to buy Second Chance were family, friends and acquaintances. This was both a good and a bad thing. The good part was that my book charted, giving me visibility and the sales boost that provides. The bad news was that I knew a lot of people who had bought my book, and the urge to ask them their opinion was almost overwhelming.

Here’s a tip: people you know who bought your book, read it and liked it, will tell you without you having to ask. This is a wonderful feeling. Those that don’t approach you? The chances are the book wasn’t their kind of thing but they’re too polite to say.

Of course, being a newly published author, I didn’t know this. So I asked. Most still hadn’t read my book but one or two had. One particularly good friend owned up said she didn’t like my book. She had tried to read it but she couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t the type of thing she normally read (you will hear this a lot if you’re a genre writer) and it just wasn’t her thing. I took it on the chin, mainly because she hadn’t said I was a terrible writer (my biggest fear) but that the style and genre wasn’t to her liking.

Six months or so later this same friend published a glowing review of Second Chance on Facebook, telling all her friends to buy it, even those that “don’t normally read sci-fi because it really is that good.” She even provided a link. I was obviously delighted (especially with the resultant sales spike) but also a little surprised. The next time I saw her I asked why the change of mind? Her answer got me thinking. She told me that what had changed was her frame of mind. The first time she attempted to read my book there were a number of distractions going on in her life that meant when she did get a chance to read, she couldn’t fully concentrate on what I’d written. It was only once she was on holiday that she could give my book the proper attention. Once she had the right mindset, she really enjoyed my book.

It was one of those eureka moments but one I should have recognised because there are a couple books on my Pay it Forward reading list with which I’ve also struggled. I’ve tried to read them both, more than once, but have been unable to get into them. Not because they are poorly written (quite the contrary), or that the stories aren’t interesting, but because they are aimed at a younger audience and I’ve been unable to make the mental switch from the type of adult fiction I write and usually read to appreciate them properly. It would have been easy just to write them off but the problem isn’t with the books themselves, but with me. And it is something we should all recognise. For example, how many of you have tried to read a book and failed, only to come back to it later and love it? I have. Lots of times. So these books remain on my reading list until I’m ready to give them the justice they deserve.

So what are the books you either hated on the first read, or failed to get on with, only to love on a subsequent attempt? I’d love to hear from you.

Book Review: Second Chance by Dylan Hearn

What a wonderful way to start the weekend. Thank you for such a kind and generous review. I’m truly touched.

Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink

Sadly, due to having too much reading material, I had to stop reviewing submissions from Indieview.com. This was a shame because I found some real gems late last year. We are a happy and largely supportive community and I hope to take it up again later on. I am however, offering to review books for people who peruse and comment on my blog and those to whose blogs I subscribe. I found Hearn’s blog earlier this year and seeing he had a book just out, I was intrigued enough by the premise to offer to review it.

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God only knows

It’s been a while since I posted music I like, but I saw this and thought I would share. It’s a promotional video for music on the BBC, featuring one of my favourite songs performed by lots of different artists.

How many do you recognise?

The ten worst writing tips I’ve received

Danger Bad Advice Ahead

The problem with writing advice is that every writer is different. This leads to lots of advice being passed around, often with the type of reverence reserved for holy scripture, that may be of limited use, or at worst, incredibly harmful to a new writer. Following on from my Ten Most Valuable Writing Tips I’ve Received, I thought I’d share the ten worst. Again, this very subjective. I’m sure there will be one or two tips listed here that some of you swear by (or according to number 3, by which some of you swear). The best advice a writer can receive is to go with what works for you. The following definitely didn’t work for me.

Write what you know

This is an incredibly frustrating piece of advice. We have been blessed with a wonderful imagination yet when starting out as a writer you’re told to stick to what you know. How many wonderful works would never have been written if authors only wrote books based on their own experience? Whole genres would disappear overnight. Instead of “write what you know”, try “know what you write”. Go where your imagination takes you but make sure you’ve done your research. I have never cloned anybody, worked in data analysis or run a missing persons investigation (although I have witnessed mass civil disobedience at first hand), yet all appear in my novel Second Chance, and I’ve been complimented on its believability. To do this, I did plenty of research to ensure what I wrote was plausible within the world I created.

Join a critique group

Let me start by saying I’m not against critiquing itself, just against joining established critique groups when you first start out. I know there are many helpful groups out there but for a first time writer who is trying to find their feet, joining an established group may be too much, too soon. I’ve spoken to many writers who found the experience demoralising, and in some cases destructive. If you ask for a critique, those critiquing feel obliged to find fault, even if what you’ve submitted is perfectly fine. There is also a macho culture of offering ‘tough love”, to prepare writers for the submission process. Add group dynamics into the mix and the result can be turn from being a critique to just plain criticism. If you are a new writer who wants to improve their writing – and you should – my advice would be to find a mentor, join a class, use friendly beta readers or form your own critique group with partners you trust.

Don’t end a sentence with a preposition

I know this advice may be a mystery to many American readers but at school in England I was taught never to end a sentence in a proposition. To this day I still find myself mentally correcting conversations whenever anybody does it, yet it’s grammatical nonsense. This is not how people talk – or think – in real life. Re-arranging a naturally flowing sentence to fit this grammatical rule ends up producing something that reads unnaturally and will throw a reader’s concentration. Ignore.

Be unique and unpredictable

I don’t like this piece of advice, not because I want every book to follow the same formula. I like difference and I like to experience the new. The problem is, most writing won’t necessarily be unique and unpredictable to the writer themselves because they are the ones that are writing it. This can lead to all sorts of problems as they try to artificially add unique and unpredictable elements. I prefer Neil Gaiman’s advice: be true to yourself because out of the millions of writers out there, you are the only you. If a writer remains true to themselves and their characters, their writing will be unique and unpredictable.

Before you start, know everything about your lead character

It is true you need to know enough about your main character’s background and motivations to be able to give depth and realism in your writing. But do you need to know the name of their best friend at Kindergarten, or what they received from their parents for their seventh birthday? Unless you are writing about a woman battling to find the last remaining red-headed cabbage patch doll to give to her childhood friend who will otherwise kill her parents as revenge for a horrible birthday, I suggest you develop the information you need to know for your story and enjoy discovering new elements as they pop into your head during the writing process.

Try X to get in the writing mood

If you take your writing seriously, you need to be able to write when you can. We all have our little quirks – I like a cup of tea and some biscuits while writing – but looking to get yourself in the writing mood is the same as only writing when the muse takes you. The more you write when it is tough, the easier it gets. The more you wait for the right mood, the less frequently you will write.

Start with your character and go from there

This one is going to annoy all you pantsters out there but this piece of advice annoys me. Not because it doesn’t work for many writers but because it is put up as the way to write. And of course, there isn’t just one way to write. Before I start my first draft I need to know what I’m writing about and where it is going. Yes, I need to know about my characters, but I also need to know location, environment, external events and everything else that will have an impact on the story, and depending on the original idea, any one of these may come before the character.

Learn about what’s hot and what’s not in the industry

I’ve seen this a number of times and I think it’s codswallop. For a start it encourages you to write for money, which is never a good target as the majority of us will never have a runaway bestseller. Secondly, books take time to write so if you target a trend, by the time your book is published it may well be over. Thirdly, if your heart is not in your work, if you don’t love what you are writing, it will be obvious to the reader. Learn about how to structure a book so that it is commercially appealing by all means, learn what turns readers on or off (but again, reading trends come an go), but if you write the book you would like to read and forget about trends, there is a good chance others will want to read it too.

Find your voice

This piece of advice also goes hand in hand with “you’ll know when you find it.” It’s terrible advice, not because it isn’t important for a writer to find their voice but because it gives a new writer no idea what voice is or how you find it. I am sure there are hundreds of writers sitting out there as I type, sitting in the lotus pose and meditating in the hope of reaching the enlightenment of the voice. Much better advice is to write as you speak, or to write so quickly you aren’t consciously choosing each word.

Write the best work possible

The problem with this piece of advice is not that a writer shouldn’t try their best but that so many writers end up in a perpetual state of editing because they are trying to reach the unattainable: perfection. The hardest part of editing is knowing when to stop. The breakthrough for me came after see in Philip Pullman’s annotations of Northern Lights, one of his most famous works. Please click on the link. You will find images where he has completely shredded the well loved piece and rewritten large sections, not because it is bad but because he feels differently now to when it was written. Yet the piece he is editing has been published and sold in the millions. When editing, always ask yourself if you are improving or just changing. If you are just changing, stop editing.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/interactive/2013/may/18/philip-pullman-northern-lights-annotations

So what about you? Do you agree with me? Are there any that I’ve missed? Or do you think I’m peddling nonsense? Please let me know. I’d love to hear from you.