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With friends like mine …

The main obstacle to self-publishing is the publicity. How do you hook people into reading your stuff? Way back in 2012 I was desperately trying all channels to publicize my book, Hillary’s Angel. An IT friend persistently told me to start a blog. Eventually, six months later, I did.

It was scary. Blogging didn’t come naturally at first, but one day I woke up with the realization that it had become a hobby — something I actually enjoyed. However, 18 months later I still have no way of knowing if it has helped sell any books. I tried unsuccessfully to get feedback from Amazon (at one stage there was a nifty chart on my Amazon author’s page, which sky-rocketed whenever I made a sale, but that was taken down for “upgrading” months ago and never replaced) and I’ve not had a whiff of a royalty from them to date.

The idea is (or, rather, MY idea is) that people who read my blog will think WOW I’d like to tuck into more stuff by this magnificent blogger and will then click on and download my Wonderful Book. Certainly I’ve really enjoyed several self-published books that I found on WordPress. Some great writing is not being published via the old-fashioned/conventional channels. In fact, it’s often better than the stuff in the bookstores (and a whole lot cheaper). But in my case I only have positive evidence that blogging has helped me sell one copy. 

In another way (ie not sales related) I do have concrete proof that blogging has helped me publish. Early on it connected me with another first-time self-publisher who was far more blog-literate than I was and incredibly supportive with no prospect of financial reward (which still amazes me). 

Indirectly, thanks to her encouragement, on 21 December I finally delivered another book. This time I published with Smashwords (following my blog-friend’s example) in ebook format only. This is SELF-PUBLISHING in the true sense of the word. Along with the (minimal) effort and the risks involved it has one major advantage: I can now tell exactly how many books I sell. This time around I’m not uploading to Amazon and I’m not asking folk to review me (if they do it will just be a bonus). So for me 2014 will be an honest experiment to see if blogging really DOES help self-publishers connect with readers.

That said, I can tell you what (in my experience) does NOT sell books. First and foremost, a book launch. Rubbish. I had a great party, but didn’t sell a single copy. In fact, if you asked my friends I don’t think they’d be able to tell you why we had the party in the first place. Secondly, book reviews. I had at least three four-star reviews but suspect I was the only one who read them. Next, bookshops. As a self-publisher I found it next to impossible to get bookstores to sell my books. (Another reason why I’m opting for ebook-format only this time round.) I sold three books at each of the two stores that very kindly put Hillary’s Angel on their shelves.  

Then we come to “friends and family”. All the publishing guidelines recommend that you do NOT give friends and family copies of your books. Thing is, they don’t tell you how to get these friends and family to buy their own copies. In the end I gifted copies to most of mine.

So what do I hope to achieve by the end of 2014 (apart from the obvious massive sales to all you supportive WordPress bloggers)? Well, firstly, I’m already deep into a Mills and Boone type romance (publish or perish) to be published anonymously. And secondly (and sadly) I’m thinking of awarding a special prize to my friends for the most inventive excuse for not buying my books. The list is growing daily. (And yep, that would be a book prize.)  

On a more serious note, so far I’ve sold two whole copies of my new book Upside Down. Both to family, who bought them solely in an attempt to “cheer me up”. One was bought by my daughter, who doesn’t read books anyway, and one by my husband when he heard I’d reduced the price to $1. No, these are not tears of joy …

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A little about me

Thank you, Alison Stanley of Second Chances, for nominating me for the Liebster Award, although it was nerve-wracking and took me forever.

The rules for the Liebster are to thank the person who nominated you, answer the 11 questions they have asked you, nominate 11 other people and ask them 11 questions in return. According to the guidelines, the Liebster award should be sent to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers so other people can find out something about them.

I’m wondering, why 11? Sir Percy FitzPatrick (who wrote Jock of the Bushveld among other things) introduced a one minute’s silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to remember those fallen in war. But no 11 years’ bad luck will follow if you don’t do this, I promise. I should know, because I’ve taken a whole two months to get around to writing this post. Anyway this is now my 11th hour because my original list of bloggers shrinks daily as they either get nominated for this award by someone else, or top 200 followers – or (more likely) I lose the scrap of paper where I wrote down their details.  So here are some of the blogspots I enjoy. I hope this helps a few more folk to discover their talent too.

http://hevenus.wordpress.com

http://ogginblog.wordpress.com

http://camdenstables.wordpress.com

http://dearworldtravel.com

http://alcoholcats.com

http://phdavies.co.uk

http://hashandeggs.wordpress.com

http://thewritofimagination.wordpress.com

I was tempted to go with Alison’s questions (because they were fun to answer), but after great deliberation finally managed to come up with some new ones. I look forward to reading your answers and discovering some new blogs through your nominations.

  1. Which books are you reading at the moment?
  2. What is your favourite food?
  3. What do you do for fun?
  4. Where do you live and how did you end up there?
  5. Where did you spend your last holiday?
  6. What was your best holiday ever?
  7. Have the flora and fauna changed much in your area over the years?
  8. What makes good birthday presents (what do you like or dislike)?
  9. What music do you enjoy?
  10. Which (if any) musical instrument do you play?
  11. What is the best piece of art/craftwork you ever bought (or created)?

Here are my answers to Second Chances’ questions.

1. What was your childhood dream?

Fame and fortune (shared with actor Oskar Werner)

2. What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

The magic begins when we do things together – the whole is far more than the sum of the parts.

3. If you had $5, how would you spend it (on yourself)?

Another Kindle book.

4. What is your favourite TV show or movie?

QI, a “quite interesting”  quiz show where Stephen Fry puts impossible questions to a panel of stand-up comics.

5. What meal do you cook the best out of anyone you know?

Vegetable lasagne.

6. Who do you most admire and why?

My husband. For putting up with me, among other things…

7. What is your pet hate?

To misquote Whoopi Goldberg: I don’t have pet hates, I have whole kennels of irritations.

8. What habit do you have that drives other people crazy?

Not readjusting things when I’ve finished with them (car seats etc)

9. What is something that made you smile in the past week?

Discovering a missing tub of yoghurt in the freezer.

10. When was the last time you cried?

Yesterday

11. If you had 1 spare hour in your day, how would you use it?

Have coffee with a friend.

The truth about Superman

So it was announced today that Clark Kent has left the Daily Planet to become a full-time blogger.  Well, frankly I thought that the Daily Planet had been taken over by a media conglomerate years ago. Surely all that’s left of the offices in Metropolis is the advertising department, and the newsroom has been honed down to a single desk in the editorial offices of … well, I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out for you.

As for Clark. Well I always thought he was that househusband round the corner who has been looking after the kids since mom went back to work after their first. I’m not sure about the blogging, but he’s certainly been on Facebook for as long as I can remember, changing his profile three or four times a day, picking up the kids from crèche, doing the washing, making supper, buying the groceries.  Isn’t it obvious? I mean, we’re talking about Superman here, aren’t we?

Intellectual property – size counts

OSCAR WILDE: I wish I’d said that.

FRIEND: You will, Oscar, you will.

When Amazon first displayed my book cover with a “look inside” option, I was horrified to see how much of the content was being “given away” free of charge. I understood it was all for the greater good of Me, and I did support it, but it still made me nervous, despite the “copyright” warnings at the top of the pages. Surely a few lines would have been sufficient? Perhaps I’m ignorant of most readers’ habits, but do people really need to read whole chapters before they decide to buy a book? For me, it seldom takes more than a page; sometimes the very first sentence screams “yes” or “no”. Perhaps, when you’re self-publishing, people take more convincing.

Copyright is dependent on the law about intellectual property. A few months back I consulted a patents lawyer and was told that there is no copyright on ideas. No matter how original the idea, until it has been patented or transformed into some kind of “property” by the addition of skill, time or effort, there is nothing to protect the person who thought it up in the first place. Whatever Oscar posted on his blog would have belonged to Oscar, no matter where he heard it first.

Okay, I’m not making money from this blog, but does that entitle me to display other people’s pictures, artwork, writing, whatever, to public view? I’ve not done that, and I’m not pointing fingers; I’m just wondering. Does blogging work like a non-profit organization? Do we have free use of other people’s ideas just because we are not making money out of them? (That’s assuming no one’s blogging for Oracle or Google.)

Law, like high finance or war, will never make sense to me. Take a haiku, for instance — a single brilliant idea, expressed with a sparse sprinkle of words. Or a cartoon that combines humour, wisdom, you-name-it, in a few pencil strokes. Are these things less precious because they are … well, minimalist? Is protection limited to works of art over a certain size, or a specific number of words?

It seems to me, however you look at it, that the “little” man usually gets screwed. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, any of the “big” names always took credit for what their team of engineers invented. Look at the story of that bloke who invented the intermittent windscreen wiper. He spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of his patent and lost. In the process he lost his wife and family too.

If copyright is mainly to do with the outward show of effort that goes into changing an insubstantial idea into some kind of intellectual property, then we’re saying it’s quantity, not quality that counts. So, no matter how great our compulsion to share, we should actually keep our little treasures pressed between the pages of the book on the bedside table, or in a box under the desk. It’s not safe out here.

Or is it plain selfish to keep things to ourselves? If other people aren’t spreading their own ideas around, maybe we have a duty do it for them. Just imagine the blogs Oscar Wilde would have written. Although certainly most of his comments would not have survived moderation.

Balanced Blogging – How do you do it?

  Today I’m going riding. I haven’t sat on a horse in weeks. My daughter has given up asking. “You’re a blogger” she accuses, like a magistrate pronouncing sentence. I wonder… what would be the penalty for too much blogging? Certainly not imprisonment – that would miss the point. Perhaps a few days’ brisk jogging.

My family don’t understand what an accomplishment blogging is for me. Having studiously avoiding all forms of cybernetworking over the years (as the result of an encounter with a cyberstalker), it was not easy for me to follow my publisher’s advice and begin blogging. In fact, this new venture was reluctant as a trudge through thick mud.

Then, thanks to Freshly Pressed, brilliant shafts of light suddenly penetrated the Cloud. Fear fizzled out. A whole new world was illuminated, ripe for exploration. Eagerly I clicked on one Follow tab after another…  and waited … bubbling with excited anticipation.

But nothing happened.  I mean NOTHING.  My click was the kiss of death.  Whoever I “followed” instantly shut up house and left the planet. For goodness sake, I muttered to myself, can’t they tell I’m only a lost puppy, not the hound of the Baskervilles. Then I just happened to click the Reader button and WHOOOSH, an overwhelming tsunami of blogs that had been building up over the weeks came tumbling across my screen.

 For me, the best by far are the comments on comments – when  a fellow-blogger gives you a  little bloggette all to yourself, whether a referral to another source or videoclip,  or some useful snippet of info. Blundering blindly through my massive backlog of unread blogs, I only stumble on these “comments on comments” by accident, long after the event, which makes them even more special.

For me, time management amounts to fire-fighting.  I’ve always flown by the seat of my pants and it’s too late to change.  I prioritise things by their urgency.  How do you bloggers manage to get through all your comments, write fresh posts and read new stuff? You are amazing! You can’t possibly have day jobs, unless you are those lucky people who don’t need sleep. Someone should do a study of the “average” blogger. He/she or it (there must be some “machines” among you) must be a pretty amazing creature.  I don’t know how you do it!

 Since I now know I’ll never, EVER measure up, today I’m going out to get some “roses in my cheeks” instead.  “You better not chicken out” says my daughter as she leaves the house. If she only knew.