OK, so I hope you had a chance to take a look at the trailer for the Dreaming Demon. As usual, I'll concentrate my posts on the ins and outs of the publishing process and the planning. So, we've decided to self-publish this one, partly because it's a great story, but at an awkward length to get published in a magazine. It's also a slightly unusual genre for the mainstream fantasy magazines, which seem to concentrate on alternative world "high" fantasy stories primarily. Getting them to take a chance on a long story from a previously unpublished author in a genre that is a departure from their usual material would be a big ask. Our strategy is to publish on Amazon, and also use Smashwords, which is one of the biggest distributors of independently published e.books. Amazon goes without saying, as the largest publisher of e.books in the world. Smashwords allows you to upload a single file for conversion into multiple e.book formats, and distributes them to all of the other major e publishers (Barnes and Noble/Nook, Kobo, Apple, Sony etc.) This seems to be the easiest and most efficient option for the first dip of the toe in the e-publishing waters. The first task was to get the manuscript formatted in the correct way for the Smashwords "meatgrinder" program to accept it. Smashwords publish an extensive free guide on how to do this, which takes a while to wade through, but having followed all the instructions as closely as possible, the upload to Smashwords has gone smoothly so far. No dreaded "Autovetter" error messages, which seem to be the bane of many an author's life. Having passed the autovetter first time it should now be in the expedited queue for manual review, which should take around seven days - fingers crossed. The story now has its own Smashwords page (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/450369), with the first 25% is now available as a free sample on the Smashwords website, but I have already noticed one or two issues with the "Read online" and pdf versions which we'll need to try and iron out. We've pencilled in a release date of Weds 2nd July, but this may depend on how smoothly the manual vetting process goes. Next steps are to try the Amazon upload process, and to publicise the release on as many different platforms as possible. Of course you can help by placing a pre-order, encouraging anyone else you know to place a pre-order, putting links to the website, trailer, or Smashwords page on any websites, blogs you may have. If you have any other marketing advice, we'd love to hear it - either by comments to this blog, or by direct mail to email@example.com.
After a hiatus of several weeks through an amazing trip to Peru, followed by a week of intense back pain, I'm now starting to be able to walk again, and to start planning our exciting next step - publishing Alex's 14000 word novella, the Dreaming Demon. This is an excellent story harking back to the classic adventure tales of H.Rider Haggard (KIng Solomon's Mines, Alan Quartermain adventures), Robert E. Howard (Conan stories), and H.P.Lovecraft (Cthulu Mythos). To whet your appetite, I've put together a short trailer using www.animoto.com. Please take a look on the Dreaming Demon page, or here on Youtube. More details about the release of this novella will follow shortly.
I've always been a keen reader, but since I've become actively involved in this project, I've noticed I'm starting to analyse what I'm reading a bit more. I used to just say "I liked that book, but I didn't like that one" without really knowing what it was that made me decide. Obviously, the first thing is whether the subject matter and plot of the book appeal, but I've realised how important the writing style is. The good books, and often the ones at the top of the best-seller charts, are usually the ones where you don't really notice the writing style (OK, I'm not including the literary ones, where people are "playing" with the form of a narrative - I notice the style there, but often it gets in the way of the plot and they generally don't appeal to me!)
When I say you don't notice the writing style, what do I mean. The narrative flows, with no unnecessary words, and the reader is given just enough information to be able to pull the story, atmosphere, and undercurrents of the plot together in their imagination. Too much information, and it just slows the pace, and you feel like you're being spoon fed and treated like an idiot. But too little information, and the reader is just confused and lost. Those of us who commonly read books by big name authors often take this for granted, but its actually a subtle art to get it right.
As part of my research into the self-publishing market I've down-loaded some free e-books from authors who are getting towards the top of the charts in their genres. Most of these have been professionally edited. In my first foray into reading one of these its noticeable that the flow of narrative, and particularly the subtlety of the narrative, is often a little off. So often I find myself screaming (in my head - it'd be a little embarrassing on the bus!) "I got it already! I don't need you to beat me round the head with a mallet for me to get it." (or a mullet, as Alex likes to say). "There's also regular 'clunky' dialogue, with characters saying things which, if you read them out loud, just don't sound natural.
Now, don't get me wrong. The author has done a great job in pulling together a story into a full length, coherent novel, which has an interesting, well-paced plot. There's no spelling mistakes, and the grammar's good. But unfortunately that's not quite enough to make it a great book, and to make me want to come back and read more from this author.
Its highlighted to me what a tough job it is to create a great book, and how I take for granted the skill and art of my favourite authors. It also helps me to understand the level that we need to aspire to, and hopefully starting to understand that will help me when I'm giving my feedback to Alex on the first drafts of her novel.
For less than the price of a cup of coffee we take you to the furthest shores. We knock on your door and take you on an amazing journey. Are you the burglar we’re looking for to help with a troublesome dragon that has stolen our treasure? We will take you on epic journeys in enchanted forests. You will meet elves, fairies, the wild hunt. We will take you to mountains and run from mountain trolls and storm giants. We will fight against tyrants and evil kings. We will be the companions of peasant boys and girls with big dreams and even greater destinies. We will fight for justice and seek blades magical and named.
We will take you with us while we walk the night with velvet paws. We shall meet pale strangers who dance with beautiful ladies until sunrise, and handsome dark men who dislike the full moon. They roam New Orleans and their pasts are mysterious and dark, studded with tragedies and lost loves. Their cousins are much more unsavoury. They hide under our bed and steal our breaths as we sleep. They creep at night and consort with ghouls and witches. Some are good and some are bad. Some dance to the beat of exotic drums, worshiping dark gods which show themselves only when the stars are right.
We take you to the furthest corners of the galaxy. To dystopian futures here on earth where humans fight for the last scrap food or fight in huge arenas for the gratification of a placid population, or the edges of the universe where colonists have forgotten about earth. Where wars are waged in places so far away the troops take decades to get there, to wars with evil arachnoids and to desert planets where water is rare and precious and exotic spices are mined.
We take you to the deepest darkest jungles to rediscover lost cities filled with secrets that would shake mankind, ocean floors with shipwrecks carrying mysterious cargoes, and locked vaults that shady organizations want to keep hidden.
We take you to peaceful villages where grisly crimes of vengeance have taken place, and unlikely detectives uncover the suspect’s motives like the layers of a cake. Where serial killers place their unfortunate victims and clever agents never rest until they catch them.
We take you with us in our worlds and we leave you there to be lost for days or even weeks. To meet the heroes and heroines and perhaps fall a little bit in love with them. To meet the dastardly villains and cheer at their demise. To be sad at the hero’s losses and nervously await to find out their fate. Will our heroes triumph? Will they perish? Turn the pages and find out. And if we do it right you will be thinking about the characters and places you have been for days after you have finished the book. Sometimes the heroes become your friend and never quite leave you.
And all this we do for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Next time you are wondering if you want to download a book for 2.99 ask yourself: Isn’t worth it?
A coffee or a book? - Duncan
As folks new to the publishing game, we need to start to understand our potential customers, and the lie of the land in the writing market, and I'm currently subscribing to several blog RSS feeds to try to learn from people who have traversed this path before. From the first dip of my toe into this water, I came across an animated discussion at the passive voice blog about whether new self-published authors should give away their works for free, charge a nominal amount, or charge close to the price charged by established authors.
The case for giving away a first novel for free is that people may give you a try on impulse if there's no outlay for them, and free books get many more downloads than pay books. By building your author "brand", accumulating fans, and drawing them into your work and your world, they're more likely to be prepared to pay for future novels.
The counter arguments are many. First, if you're a first time author, you don't yet have the follow-up novels available that would benefit from this strategy. Depending on the writer, a novel can take from a couple of months to years to complete, so that approach needs the long term thinking to be built into your plan from the start. Its also clear that there are a lot of free books of dubious quality out there, with poor grammar and spelling. If you price your offering in amongst these, it may get lost in the noise and low expectations. There is also the question of how many of the free e-books that are downloaded actually get read. If you've invested money in purchasing a book, you're less likely to just let it languish unread on your e-reader, and you're therefore more likely to become a fan who will buy subsequent titles.
As a scientist, I liked this interesting analysis on how differently priced e-books perform, with e-books in the $2.99 to $3.99 range appearing to give optimal returns. To me this feels about right for a novel by an unknown author. That equates to around £2 - £2.50, which is less than we spend on a coffee at Starbucks or Costa. A coffee takes the Barista around a minute to prepare and gives only 20 minutes of enjoyment. A book can represent a year of hard graft by the author, and keep you entertained for days or weeks.
However, the arguments seem to have been well worn in the writing blogs as to why people (myself included) are much happier to invest their money on an impulse to buy a coffee than to buy a book. We'll pop in to grab a coffee (and maybe a slice of cake) at the slightest opportunity, without giving it a second thought, but we tend to put a lot more thought into whether we're going to press the "buy" button for an e-book. Why do we have this different perception of the value of these two items? That might get a bit philosophical, but here's my thoughts.
I know I'm going to enjoy my coffee, especially if its from a coffee shop I've been to before. With a book, each one is unique, so I am taking a chance on whether I'm going to enjoy it. This is why people often stick with authors they already know and love.
If a coffee's bad its only ruined 20 minutes of my life - if I invest time in a book that's bad, I feel cheated out of a couple of weeks reading time (although I'm finally starting to learn to actually leave books I don't like unfinished, and start a new, better one).
Of course, even better is to buy a book and a coffee, and read one while drinking the other.
Alex has some strong opinions on why we should value books more highly which she will be adding to the blog shortly, but in the meantime I'd be interested to hear other opinions from folks out there.
The Dinosaur-Mouse Hybrid - Duncan
So, here I am in my first few days after agreeing to take on the task of managing my wife! Some might say that's a bad idea, but maybe that's a discussion for another time. So, in my spare time I'll be taking on some of the administrative tasks involved with getting her work noticed, and hopefully to the point where it sells. Having started to look into all the tasks that this will involve, I'm beginning to think this is going to be a lot of work.
My first investigations have been into the whole process of how an author goes about getting published.
I'm thinking of it along the lines of a start-up business, where we'll have to invest some time, energy, and most likely some money at the outset, but hopefully we'll get that breakthrough at some time down the road.
How long will that be? Will that day come? Who knows, but I've read lots of Alex's work, and I have confidence that she is a great story teller, who in my opinion writes things that are better than a lot of published books that I've read recently, so I'm happy to back her in this quest.
Do I think her work is great just because I'm her husband? Its possible that I could fall into that trap, but I know I can be objective, as I'm quite happy to tell her when I think something she's written doesn't work for me. It happens, but not too often.
Anyway, back to the main event, and it seems the first decision to be made is, do we go the traditional route, to try and find and agent to represent us, and then hope that they can pitch and sell our novel to a publisher, or do we go for the 21st century route, and join the self-publishing revolution? Up until a few years ago self-publshing was more often than not vanity publishing, and had a really bad press. However, now with the rise of the e-book, many self-published authors have made it onto the New York Times Best Sellers list. While these are still the outliers, and many self-published authors struggle to get more than a slow trickle of sales, it is definitely an avenue that we'll be actively investigating.
There seem to be pros and cons for each route.
The traditional route:
So, plenty to muse on there. I'm thinking that the way the timing is likely to go we might be able to hedge our bets. Alex has the first half of the first draft of her book written, and agents and publishers generally want the first three chapters plus a synopsis. Some expect a complete novel, but many don't.
So, maybe the best plan is to polish the early chapters and synopsis, and start sending to agents and publishers to see if we get a bite. With this fishing exercise underway, Alex can finish the first draft of the rest of the book, and the subsequent polishing, proofreading and editing.
In the meantime we can build awareness of the project through various marketing approaches, initially mainly internet based, and try to get a few of Alex's short stories published/entered into competitions/posted as free/low cost samples online.
If we've had no interest from publishers by the time all this is complete, we'll be well positioned to enter the self-publishing fray, but if an agent and publisher has picked us up by then, we'll try the traditional route. Having read a few other writing blogs, I believe this hedging the bets approach is quite common, and often called the "hybrid" approach.
If you have any thoughts on the pros and cons of these two routes, or any alternative routes that we've not considered, please add comments of e.mail us directly. We're certainly keen to get as much advice as possible.
The Beginning - Alex
My contributions to this blog will be to discuss my life as a writer. Or trying to be one. If you are looking about advice on how to write, techniques, characterization and such, there are plenty of other excellent blogs out there that might advise you far better. You might find a few bits here and there about these things but this is mostly about the life, trials, and tribulations of someone who is trying to make it as a writer. If this is something that appeals to you dear reader, then read on.
You may find that you are not the only person in the world facing these same problems. When the story refuses to speak to you, when your characters do things that were not in the script, when you have ideas and no time, or time and no ideas, or no time and no ideas…you get the picture. I leave out the perfect situation of having time and ideas. If you are like most authors you will open your pc, or notebook if you prefer longhand, and then remember that you have to do the washing, ironing, tidy the house, pick up the kids, or wash the dog. It’s called avoidance and we’ll talk about it in the future.
But for now, this is just me trying to get people to read the blog, and to chronicle the life of an author, how I write, the problems, the small triumphs (few and far between, but none the less…), writing a story from the beginning, hopefully to the end. The submission, when you send it out to seek its fortune and hope for the best. If you’re lucky you might get an acceptance letter. At the moment I’m getting the other kind of e-mails. The ones that start with “Thank you for your submission.” But, I’d like to think that we are in good company. J.K. Rowling got lots of rejection letters. So did James Paterson, George- Game of Thrones-Martin and Stephen-the legend-King. I just like to think that we are in good company.
A few things about me. I have recently finished a PhD in business, and after that experience I have decided that now is the time to pursue my dream of being a writer. It was now or never really, so I have given myself a specific length of time to try and make it. By making it I mean completing and publishing a novel. But I do also write short stories, so there will be discussions and anecdotes about them as well.
So, dear reader, would you like to join me on this journey? If yes climb aboard, we are about to sail. We are about to set off to a far away land. A strange land, but one full of mysteries and wonders. And thank you for reading this and joining me on the journey. If not, thank you for reading anyway.
The Journey Begins - Duncan
This blog will catalogue the highs and lows of the journey we'll be embarking on in the attempt to write, publish, and hopefully sell short stories and novels, as Alex Avrio attempts to establish herself as a professional author.
You'll hear two different voices in this blog. The first, and most important, is the voice of Alex Avrio, the author herself, who will talk about all aspects of her writing from what she's currently writing, how she goes about writing, and the challenges she experiences in trying to bring stories out of her head, and onto the screen in front of you. Along the way she'll share hints and tips that she learns from the whole process of constructing her first novel.
The second voice you'll hear is me, Duncan, Alex's husband, who will be attempting to come to terms with all the other things that are involved with trying to get yourself noticed as an author. I'll be taking on topics around choosing between traditional or self-publishing routes, building awareness and marketing the books, formatting, and all the other less glamorous nitty gritty things that are required. The first thing to get started in this day ad age is, of course, this website, and now this blog.
The third voice I'd love to hear is that of you, the reader of this blog. As we're new to this game, I'm keen to tap the wisdom of the crowd, so any thoughts, hints, tips, or ideas that arise as you read my posts, please post as comments. At this stage, no idea's a silly idea, so all thoughts are welcome, whether you come from a writing/publishing background and have some experience to share, or if you come from a non-writing/publishing background, and may have a fresh perspective to add to the discussion
So, please follow us to join with us on this journey, as we attempt to navigate our way to our final destination - best seller author status - without a map! I'm sure we'll take many wrong turns along, the way, and end up in places we'd never dreamed of, but hopefully it'll be fun finding out what we're doing as we go along.
Alex Avrio is an author of Fantasy Adventure stories.