Thursday, 20 June 2019

Making it as an author: diversify your strategies

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Making it as an author (however you define "making it") can be a twisting, steep path, and if you ask established authors to tell their success stories, their breakthroughs, you'll likely hear very different tales as to what finally got the snowball rolling for each of them. One thing all the stories are almost guaranteed to have in common, however, is persistence - nobody has succeeded by quitting yet, as far as I know!

This doesn't mean, however, that you should just keep going on doing the same old thing, the same old way. That would be like banging into the wall again and again, insisting that there MUST be a door. That's probably true - but the door might be a few steps away, and you need to make those steps to find it!

Stepping back and taking a break for a while might be necessary for your mental health. I had once reached a point when my fingers would shake and my heart would race whenever I sat down to check my email, and when I attempted to write, my eyes would just roll back in my head and I'd doze off (even if it was midmorning). I had been running on an empty battery for too long and I was exhausted. It took some good sober reassessment (and plenty of paperbacks and yarn) to help me recover.

Next, ask yourself some questions:

1. Have I chosen the right genre? Of course, when it comes to book genres, there is no right or wrong, but some genres are more niche than others. I don't suggest that you write something which does not inspire you, because that won't work, but maybe you have a way to tweak your writing to match a more popular genre.

For example, when I began promoting my Viking era novel, The Greenlanders, I discovered that had I included more romance in the plot, I could have gotten into the historical romance category, which has more voracious readers than just historical fiction.

2. Have I delivered the best product I possibly can? I realize this is a tricky one, because the perfect is the enemy of the good. There's literally no end to the amount of money you can pour into a book, including editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing. So set a reasonable budget and work within it.

You can also publish on no budget at all, despite what some literary snobs would have you believe. It will just take more time because you'll likely have to swap services with other people and/or do a lot yourself. I know of an author who doesn't even read their first draft - it just goes straight to the editor, but that's an exception. Most of us don't have enough money to pay an editor for taking care of a messy early draft.

3. Have I chosen the right publishing strategy? If you have been querying, consider the responses you got so far. If you only get form rejections, it might be time to tweak your query letter. If you get feedback along the lines of "I like it, but this will never sell" consider that traditional publishing is a conservative world, and also that many rejected authors have gone on to succeed as indies.

If you are an indie, consider whether you are locked onto ways and means that don't work, or don't work as well as you'd like. Do you try and try to get a BookBub ad, and get frustrated when you fail? Do you expend a lot of energy on blog tours that don't really help you get sales? Do you leave your books in KDP Select by default because exploring the possibilities of wide distribution seems daunting, or because it's easier than logging in and opting to check out of the program?

4. Am I still enjoying this? Writers are very often introverted people, which doesn't work to our advantage when it comes to marketing and PR, but there must still be some solid kernel of enjoyment left in this whole thing, or you won't be able to go on.

It must still be, at the core, about the writing, telling your story, creating your world. So make mental space for that. Read some really good books, put on some inspiring music. Exercise your creativity in other ways - plant a garden, cook, do crafts. Take walks. Connect with nature. Throw expectations out of the window - if someone is telling you it's no use if you don't manage to bang out two full-length novels each year, tell them to get lost. Guard that inner core of joy and creativity in your writing, because that's your biggest long-term asset.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Reaching new readers in the Asian market

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Have you ever asked yourself, "How on earth will I reach readers with so many indie authors out there?"

It's true that the indie book market is so vast that trying to stand out seems almost impossible, with literally millions of titles being published each year. You might find yourself getting desperate, envying those folks who had jumped on the bandwagon earlier, when competition was less aggressive and Amazon's algorithms were easier to game.

Here's the good news, though: there might be a lot more authors to compete with these days, but there are also more readers - and not all of them on Amazon.

At the beginning of the indie author boom, it was obvious that the target audience is English speaking and Western, primarily in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Europe.

These days, however, many countries in Asia and the Far East are going through a rapid process of globalization, technological advancement, and economical development. They are avid consumers of online content, primarily on mobile, and many of them speak and read English fluently. This means the pie is growing apace - there's a whole new market of potential readers for us. Hurray!

There are now over 800 million Internet users in China and over 500 million in India. You can bet some of these people, like everywhere in the world, can appreciate a good story. Can you imagine how fantastic it would be to reach even a fraction of them and have your books before such a huge fresh audience?

A popular reading medium is book serialization through platforms on which users pay a small fee to unlock subsequent chapters or the whole novel. The system is made sustainable thanks to sheer numbers of users, and popular authors can find a very nice income stream there. If this reminds you of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, it's because there's definitely some similarity - but the beauty of it is that this is an audience largely unreached by Amazon.

I first became aware of this market through my collaboration with Nyoibo Studio, an imprint of Jianlai Global - an international digital publisher based in China and, more recently, the US. They have started out by bringing translated Chinese novels (usually extra long ones) to an English-speaking audience, which I thought was pretty exciting.

So when I heard of their new project of signing up novels originally written in English, I decided to enroll at once. I had a few books which I had sitting in Kindle Unlimited for a couple of years, without any significant benefit. I had decided to pull them out of KDP Select and go wide. And what could be wider than a whole new market?

Here's what made this a very easy decision for me:

1. There is zero risk. That's the most important thing for me - there is literally nothing to lose and everything to gain. The authors do not pay any fees to enroll and are not required to give up any book rights. You remain free to publish your work elsewhere, and your only limitation is the inability to partake in the KDP Select program (but, as I said, I had already decided to go wide anyway).

2. The absolute straightforwardness and transparency of the process. Authors who choose to enroll sign a clear, no-nonsense contract that covers their share of the royalties, payment thresholds, any legal liabilities, copyright issues, etc. The company takes book rights very seriously and will never distribute any content without the author's permission.

3. My inner knowledge of how the company works - I knew that it is honest, legitimate, and makes money off readers, not authors (so you won't have to dodge all sorts of offers of author services, promotion packages, etc).

4. The possibility of being translated into Chinese if your book is especially popular. For me, this is really the cherry on top. I'd love to reach such an enormous audience in its native language.

The English language novel project is launching now, and I am sharing this knowledge with you because I genuinely want to see my fellow indie authors succeed. Nothing will make me happier than getting a message from some of you a little down the road, saying "Hey, I signed up for that project you mentioned and have tapped into a new crowd of overseas fans."

To read more about the project and find out if your work is eligible for participation, visit Jianlai Global's website here, or contact me directly. I would be happy to chat and answer any questions you might have.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Of Mad Queens, plot arcs, and audience expectations

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Disclaimer: this post is less about writing and more about pandering to my obsession with Game of Thrones.

This week, after eight heart-rending, nail-biting, roller-coasting seasons, we saw the ugliest barbed iron chair in the world go the way of scrap metal by one dragon's wrath - not before Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name, The Unburned, etc, was stabbed to death by her lover right in front of the throne she had always fought for but never got to sit on.

A lot of people expressed their disappointment with the way the show handled Daenerys's arc, but to me it made perfect sense. Daenerys wanted that throne so badly, and was ready to do so much to occupy it, that it kind of seemed to me it would never happen (because it's George Martin, you know). She was probably the most epic character in the series; moreover, she was a Targaryen, and that line isn't known for their mental stability. It is only fitting that her end should be tragic, culminating in the loss of friends, sanity, goals and, ultimately, life.

It is also very fitting, in my opinion, that the one who thwarted the madness of the Dragon Queen should be no other than Jon Snow, a.k.a Aegon Targaryen, the ultimate embodiment of A Song of Ice (Lyanna) and Fire (Rhaegar). 

Was Dany's descent into madness rushed? Uncharacteristic? Crudely handled? In my opinion, the seed had been planted a long time ago. The lovely queen was never averse to spilling a few gallons of blood for the supposed greater good, and again, she is a volatile Targaryen. A few provocations, the hint of disloyalty from those close to her, a threat to her claim to the throne, and things naturally go downhill really fast. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, this plot twist follows the principle of Killing Your Darlings. Everyone loved Daenerys (except those people who hated her). Everyone admired her (even those who hated her). Her death leaves us shocked, indignant, bereaved. That's the genius of both the books and the show. There are no promises. No guarantees. No character is safe. 

I'm off, my friends. I'm going with Jon Snow and Tormund into the vast wilderness beyond the Wall (which apparently had been rebuilt in record time). I hope Tyrion joins us soon. If you ask me, he has paid his debts to humanity ten times over.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Blood Heir again: the victory of sanity

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the insane blow-up of PC culture around the soon-to-be released fantasy novel Blood Heir, in which some precious snowflake allegedly found some gross insensitivity to offend their delicate feelings. This resulted in an online shaming and bullying campaign which ultimately caused the poor overwhelmed author, Amelie Zhao, to pull the book and write an apology letter.

In the past few days, I have found out, to my delight, that the book is going to be published after all, and is due to be released in November of this year. I can't express how immensely pleased I am. I don't know the author and haven't read the book, but no one deserves to be ganged upon that way because of some stupid hyped-up charge.

"When the controversy over “Blood Heir” erupted, battle lines were quickly drawn within the close-knit children’s publishing community. A small but influential group of authors argued that the novel dealt insensitively with race and the legacy of slavery, and was an affront to nonwhite communities."

Is it only me, or does it sound like someone was looking for a reason to be offended?

I only hope that the author and editing team did not decide to make any major changes in the text, pandering to the violent righteousness of our Thought Police.

So let's just take a moment to celebrate the victory of sanity, creativity, and artistic freedom, over a PC crazy, hypersensitive cultural movement obsessed with #ownvoices, 'representation', cultural appropriation, and trying to shut people up because #notyourstory.

I hate racism, oppression, and bigotry with a passion, and I firmly believe that so do 99% of the thinking, feeling, writing human beings the author community consists of. One would be hard pressed to find a single expression of real racism, sexism, fascism, or any other infamous 'ism' in mainstream modern fiction. It appears that this is no longer enough, though. Nope, these days one can be punished for not expressing enough loyalty to a certain agenda.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Working from home: can you pull it off?

D.C. McNaughton offers some solid no-nonsense advice on time management and productivity when working from home, and you should definitely read it if you're straddling the fence between an office job and switching to working remotely - or if you've been working from home for a while and feel like somehow, you just aren't getting anything done.

Writing is no different from any other freelancing in that sense, except perhaps in having even less interaction with people and upfront payments.

There are many different reasons for wanting a flexible remote position, and mine pretty much guarantee that I will be interrupted often and in very challenging ways.

As the readers of my blog know, I am a homeschooling mother of four young children, and I have no hired childcare or household help. I have to be extremely disciplined in order to accomplish anything at all, and when I compare myself to other writers, I remind myself that I shouldn't measure my productivity up against anyone who doesn't have little people tugging at their leg and whining "mom.... MOM... Momomomom" all day long.

But anyhow, there are those people. Those who think that if you don't commute to work, it means you don't work. Those who disrespect your time because you don't have anyone but you dictating your work hours, and who feel that they can drop in on you at all hours because you're always home. Those who get offended when you get off a lengthy phone call because you actually have stuff to do.

Things get more challenging when you live with "those people". You can shout yourself hoarse saying you're working, but it's unlikely to make much difference in someone else's attitude.

You had better just make sure you have the right one - keep going on with a balance of flexibility and self-discipline - you got this!

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Writer's block vs. burnout, and how to get over it

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You know I'm big on writing discipline and scoff at writer's block, usually wishing I had the luxury to complain about it (rather than do the impossible feat of trying to cram a few hundred words while the kids are messing up the living room).

However, even though writer's block per se can be overcome, if its source is actually burnout, there's only so long you can keep yourself going on a mix of determination, coffee, and chocolate. 

So how do you tell between writer's block and burnout? With block, you're often avoiding a difficult plot twist or the saggy (but necessary) middle section of a book. Or maybe you are trying to force yourself to write something that doesn't really inspire you anymore. You still find creative joy and energy in writing other things, maybe nonfiction, poetry or short fiction completely unrelated to your big WIP. 

With burnout, you feel like your brain has turned into banana mush, and you start wishing you would never need to write a single damn thing again, including emails, holiday greetings, and shopping lists. 

Sounds familiar? 

Whether it's block or burnout, it's useful to step back and recharge your creative batteries. This isn't laziness or procrastination - as writers, we don't create in a vacuum. We need the right ambiance to fuel our imagination.

Inspiration sources include:

Books - in your genre or not, classic or contemporary, choose really good books you love (and not those in your TBR pile you have promised to beta read or review six months ago).

Movies - sometimes reading takes more energy than you currently have. Movies in your genre can really help you visualize similar settings in your own book (plus, if you write historical fiction or epic fantasy, it's a great excuse to watch Game of Thrones). 

Music - I used to write to epic playlists of Lord of the Rings or ambient Saami music. At some point I stopped, figuring it's more productive to write offline without the distraction of YouTube. It turned out to be a mistake, because music really helps me to get into that deep concentration zone that's like oxygen for really inspired writing. 

Scenery - a nature walk is always great on so many levels, but if it's out of reach, it may be helpful to look at albums or slideshows of beautiful nature scenery, gorgeous mansions, epic castles, and anything that might help you get into your book's atmosphere. With my Frozen World series, nowadays it's usually documentaries about Antarctica for me. 

Recharging activities and digital detox - get away from social media, set your phone aside, and you'll see that the world doesn't tumble down. Roll up your sleeves and work in the garden, exercise, knit, bake, or play with your children. 

Longhand - for many years, I would be intoxicated by that delightful feeling of holding a brand new notebook, feeling its weight, and envisioning the words that would fill it. Sadly, it is no longer sustainable for me to write whole novels in longhand and then type them down, but it's still a great way to get back to that mindful and passionate space in writing. 

Above all, don't let writing become a chore you just want to leave behind as soon as you can. My wake-up call (literally) was the realization that I slump and nod off after writing a paragraph or two of my WIP. If my book has this soporific effect on me, what would it do to my readers? So I'm extra careful to keep writing what it has always been for me - a creative outlet and something I can't imagine my life without. 

Friday, 5 April 2019

Image layering in Canva: a basic tutorial

You all know I'm a big fan of Canva, a great online tool that allows those authors who are not Photoshop pros to create decent-looking book covers for free.

Disclaimer: if you have any budget at all for a book cover, buy or commission the best you can afford. After actually having a decent book, a good cover may make the difference between succeeding and failing. It is one of the best investments you can make. If, however, you do need to design your own covers, Canva can be a lifesaver. I don't believe you need to wait until you make enough money to publish a book. You can publish with a decent cover, make some sales, and then funnel your earnings into a re-launch with an awesome cover that will take your marketing to a whole new level.

So let's begin. For me, it usually starts with Pixabay, the safest and least confusing image source. You can freely use any image there for commercial purposes. Of course, someone else might have used it in a book cover already, but that's the case with all stock photography, even if you pay for it.

Let's say I'm making a cover for a historical fiction novel titled "Lady of the Fire". I find this image, which is fantastic:

... But I also want a fiery theme, with a background such as this:

It appears that my best option in this case is to make the woman's image semi-transparent and layer it over the fiery background. To do that, I go to Canva, choose the book cover design option, and upload both images. As I adjust the sizes and placing, I select the lady's image, press "Position" and choose "Forward". This means that the fire remains in the background.

Then there is the fading checkers image. These are the transparency settings. I play around with them until I'm satisfied and adjust both images over each other until they merge perfectly. 

Add the title and pronto:

The semi-transparency of the front image adds a touch I really like. I could play with the fonts some more, but this will do for now.

I hope you found this tutorial useful! Please feel free to share.