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What’s Your Writing Road Map?
How do you go from wanting to be a writer, to being a published writer? First things first, welcome to a crazy world where you need to pay a lot of attention to a lot of detail, and the writing is only a part of it. To be successful in your writing you will need two things. The ability to write well and an audience. Please note, one does not always follow the other. You will need to fight to get your audience and then fight some more to retain them.
How one gets to be a writer is a question that pops up on social media sites with great frequency. It’s a question I asked myself many times, because when I first thought of writing a book, there was no such thing as a personal computer let alone the internet. Finding a path to follow in those days wasn’t easy. In fact, it wasn’t until the invention of the eReader that I discovered my road map to becoming a writer. But since the invention of the PC, the eReader, the internet, websites and social media, there is an ever more confusing array of things you need to either do, or have, to become a published writer.
So let’s explore a path, probably one of many, that the potential writer needs to take to actively pursue their goal to becoming a writer. Our fictional writer is Ms. Smith and she has an idea for a book. But Ms. Smith is unsure about not only writing the book, but also editing, publishing, marketing and selling her book. This is quite a journey Ms. Smith is about to embark on, so let’s see if we can make that journey a little easier for her. Before we start, there is one word that any new and old writer should make a note of, and that word is focus. Ms. Smith needs to focus on her goal of writing her book above all other issues. Not easy when you have a job and family, but, nonetheless, that is exactly what she is going to have to do. If she leads a busy life, then Ms. Smith will need to set aside certain times for her writing and focus on that and that alone. Focus is a word that will crop up throughout Ms. Smith’s writing journey.
What do you need for writing?
In the good old days all you needed was a typewriter and Tippex (correction fluid) for correcting any mistakes you make. I used to produce more of a concrete block of paper when I started, it was so plastered with correction fluid. These days any serious writer will use a computer.
It’s all a matter of personal choice as to which manufacturer you use and PCs are probably favourite because they’re pretty much more stable than a Mac and cost a lot less. The key issue here is software. What word processing software do you use to write your book? I have always used Microsoft Word, but did dabble with Scrivener and Atlantis. Scrivener I ditched, I just could not get on with it. So I stuck with Word and it’s so versatile and has so much more that can be achieved. Though even it has limitations. I sometimes need to create a review copy of a book or story and need to have a Mobi or epub file to email out. Word doesn’t create these files, so I use Atlantis exclusively to do this task for me, and it does it very well. Atlantis reads Word files and it’s an easy option from there to create your mobi or epub file. One oddity Word has is the ability for you to save your work as a pdf file. Why Microsoft haven’t added in a mobi and/or epub option is a little odd to me.
How do you get your writing ready to publish?
Once you’ve written your book, your are going to need it both proof read and edited.
Editing Your Writing
Editing is where you have someone looking at you book for writing issues such as sentence construction and how well it reads, to ensure it all makes sense. Here’s where that word focus comes in, but in a different context. You want your reader to focus on your words. In that way the reader pays attention to the story you are telling. The last thing you want is for your reader to lose that focus, because once their mind wanders off your story, you’ve lost them. If you don’t want to lose your reader, then your writing has to keep them focused on your story. I once saw on Twitter somebody ask if they could use the name Oliver Twist. I can guarantee if you use a name like that, the first thing your reader is going to do is think of Charles Dickens and all his books… so yes, go ahead if you want your reader to think of someone else’s books.
Proof reading is where you and others read a manuscript to discover if there are any silly mistakes in there. You can bet your last dollar there will be. Simple things where you have misspelled a word, but in doing so have actually spelled out another word correctly with completely the wrong meaning, like right and write. It’s surprisingly easily done. So proof reading is essential and you will need to proof it yourself, but, also use others. Because you wrote the book, you are not going to do a good job of proofing your own work.
Finding a good beta reader for your book isn’t going to be easy. And Ms. Smith will do well to steer clear of going down the obvious path of using a family member or friend. Friends and family will offer you a poor judgement based mainly on the fact they don’t want to upset you. Or, you will question their analysis because you feel they don’t want to upset you. Either way, the only way forward is to get somebody you don’t know or someone whose judgement will not be impaired because they know you.
You can try and do editing, proofing and beta reading on your own, but, you will come unstuck. There are some software offerings, like ProWritingAid that will assist, but there is nothing better than getting your work proof read, edited and beta read by people other than you. But there is a cost involved and no rule of thumb that dictates what the price will be. Just take your time and let others help, while you focus (that word again) on formatting and publishing your book.
Making sure your book looks good is as important as making sure it reads well. MS Word has Kindle Create, its own add-in or as a stand-alone piece of software. It’s pretty good but there are others out there like Sigil, Adobe InDesign and numerous others. Even Atlantis has a good track record at formatting for publication. You can of course use an outside agency, but that will likely cost quite a lot.
Where do you publish your writing?
It depends on what you want. A wide audience, a selective audience or no audience at all. The last may seem strange, but I did in fact publish a book for a friend who only wanted two copies for his grandchildren. Each to their own.
I’ve used Amazon since I published my first book in 2011. I’ve been an indie author for nigh on a decade and think Amazon offers the best options for getting your book sold. They are a bit twitchy sometimes, but they have a huge worldwide audience. You learn a lot about a subject if you spend enough time studying it. I’ve tried Kobo, Smashwords and a few other obscure platforms but always came back to Amazon, it really is the top place to get your work published and to get sales.
Indie or Traditional?
I, like many of my contemporaries, have been sending query letters, faxes and emails for years. Mostly to no avail, but sometimes with a glimmer of hope tantalisingly dangled before my very eyes… only to be dashed away once I sent a further example of my book. It’s true that a few, a very few, writers make it through the quagmire of queries and rejections that most of us seem to exist in. Writing is not for the faint of heart. To be a writer, you need skill but you also need nerves of steel as well as the ability to focus on your goal and not get sidetracked.
If you were to ask me outright which path I would choose it would be as an independent. I’ve sent so many queries out, in the bad old days before email and the internet, that I could literally have papered my bedroom walls with them. I don’t consider myself a bad writer, it really is down to good writing coupled with good luck to be accepted for the traditional route of publishing. And it’s an awful lot of good luck, which is something you, as a writer, cannot control.
For an indie author though, you are taking on the complete role from writer to publisher, and then further on than that because you are now going to have to get your head round marketing. And what is marketing? Let’s see what marketing Ms. Smith is facing.
How do you market your writing?
Here is the thing that stops the train at the buffers for most indie authors. Marketing their books. If you choose the path of Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo or any other sales platform then the selling part is sorted. These platforms will sell your book, particularly Amazon, if you get the marketing done well. But if nobody knows your book exists, you will get little or no sales. So our Ms. Smith needs to pay particular attention to this, to focus and stay focused.
You don’t have to do all of these things, but you will have to do many of them. For instance, I’ve never done a press release. A press release needs to go far and wide and with it a paperback of your book. It will work out expensive, so think long and hard Ms. Smith.
Author Interviews & Tours
Advertising on Amazon
Blogs – Content Marketing
The most critical thing in this list is the top two. Reviews, many of them and the bigger the number of stars the better is what will get you more sales and more reviews. That is a fact. Getting the reviews is not going to be easy. Amazon and other sales platforms look very dimly on those authors using friends and family to gain a review. They also look dimly on paid reviews. They also block authors from their platform they feel have broken their rules. Amazon has to show integrity and no bias, so bear that in mind Ms. Smith.
Over the last few years I’ve given away thousands of books and each of them has carried an advert and link to another paid for book. Here’s the problem with this sort of advertising. You have no idea if it actually works. If you sell on Amazon they don’t tell you where the purchaser originated, except for their country of origin. So you can never be sure. Unless of course it’s your only form of advertising and you are selling thousands of books, in which case it’s a moot point anyway.
Book Clubs, Book Signing and Book Tours
Again, this is, on the face of it, a good way of spreading the work via social media. But again, as with most forms of indie advertising, there is no guarantee it’s working.
Advertising on Amazon
Advertising on Amazon has it’s ups and downs. Amazon are very particular about what your book cover looks like. If it’s a bloody gruesome horror story and your book depicts that, then your advert may well get rejected. On the plus side though, if your advert is accepted for what they call Lockscreen Ads, then your advert will appear on Kindles in the country you have chosen to display them and readers are invited to click on the advert. Your cover needs to be enticing as does the blurb that goes with it. If you get this right, you have more than a fair chance of getting some sales.
I would say that book trailers are pretty much in the same category as book clubs, signings and tours. It will, to a degree, raise awareness but it’s only part of the solution.
Writing for Blogs & Content Marketing
Writing a blog can, if you do it well, give you a big following. Writing content on your blog exclusively about your book will likely turn your readers off after a while. You need to be able to make your blog interesting, and nobody is going to want to hear you continually banging on about one particular book. Subtlety is the key here. I usually drop an advert for my books at the end of my blog piece. Take a look below and you will see what I mean. Amazon kindly give you HTML code to embed in your blog to achieve what I have at the bottom of this page. Again, no proof it works, but, it is another string to your marketing bow, another way to get your book in front of an audience.
Where do you sell your book?
There are many markets for books. From selling your own books via friends and relatives to the biggest market which is Amazon. If you do the marketing well, then Amazon alone will sell your book.
Amazon is an out and out search engine, different only from Google in that the Amazon search engine wants to sell you something. Be it a book, a candle or a new water heater. Amazon is geared up to sell products. So let’s assume that Ms. Smith has done her marketing well and people are beginning to buy her book, and, critically, leaving reviews. Good reviews are great, but even a one star review is better than no stars in some ways. But for our purposes, Ms. Smith’s book is selling okay and getting reviews on a regular basis. Her snowball is starting to get bigger and bigger and it’s about to start rolling down the hill of its own volition. Ms. Smith, is on her way to a #1 spot and a best seller list.
Writing is as easy or hard as you make it. Some enjoy the process, others hate it. What is difficult is marketing your book and I’m afraid neither path to literary glory, traditional publishing or indie, are paved with gold except for a very few lucky ones. I say lucky because while you need to be talented, you also need a good degree of luck to get you ahead of the game, make a name for yourself and sell a lot of books. In many ways it is going to be a real turn-off for so many wannabe writers, the hard graft writing, proofing, editing, formatting and marketing are going to make some of you drop out. But I believe, and I hope our Ms. Smith also believes, that the effort put into this will be so rewarding that she and you, dear reader, will be wanting to carry on writing for many years to come.
Good luck, writer, you are going to need it.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2020
The Brittle Sea Reviews
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