This week I have been thinking about words and images and meanings. Sometimes we can’t quite find one single word that expresses the multitude of meaning, or the shades of meaning our imagination conjures up for us. I like to define things: people, words, stories, because I’m not very good at reading between the lines, to use a cliche, and I sometimes don’t understand what a person means if they are not really explicit. I am good at recognising images of shades of grey, not so much with spoken ones.
Someone (Emma Baird!) said that she thinks I am a visual person. And I think she’s right. If I can’t picture it, I can’t write it. But I am always compelled to try to picture ‘it’ – be it a story idea or a cover design or a garden feature, a home makeover.
So when I came up with the absolute vaguest idea for a title and story for book 10 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries, (let’s just remind ourselves, I’ve only recently started writing book 5, so I’m talking a possible publication between 2020 and 2022… I like to look ahead.) I wasn’t able to relax about it because I couldn’t picture a book cover, or a title, and this bothered me.
I was mulling over cold heart, the coldest heart, your cold, my cold, everybody’s cold, colder or coldest heart. It was a nebulous idea that stuck in my head but refused to blossom. A browse through Pixabay’s images usually sets me off in the right direction, but not this time. I was offered images of hearts, literal and metaphoric, and ice cubes. This was not helping.
A thesaurus is often a big help too, so I had a quick look and found suggestions of dead, unfeeling, (yes these were kind of what I was getting at), blue, uncooked (!?) and impassive (again, yes, kind of…). It just wasn’t the kind of thing you could find an image for on the image sites. A dead blackbird, a brick wall, a funeral. Just not quite what I wanted.
Words have so many possibilities, don’t they? Even though a dictionary may define a word, we often use words in a very personal sense, with our own definition overlaying the ‘official’ one. Let’s not forget, no dictionary was beamed down from Planet X with a set-in-stone array of words and their meanings. The meaning of every word in use today – and those we will use tomorrow – has been developed, changed and somehow agreed upon over thousands of years of speech, social interaction, education and writing. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it.
So I was overwhelmed by the possibility of choice and variation of shadow. I set it aside. Uneasily, as it irks me to leave something unsettled.
Then on Saturday I was reading Dead before Death, a sonnet by Christina Rossetti. I love that gal’s poems. And what was the opening line? I’m glad you asked. It was:
Ah! changed and cold, how changed and very cold
With stiffened smiling lips and cold calm eyes
And so, like a tiny bolt of lightning, inspiration dropped on me. The story, and its title, fell into my mind. So, book 10 is to be: Changed and Cold: a Dottie Manderson mystery. Phew. I’m still no nearer to a cover image, (suggestions on a post-card, please) but at least I’ve got something concrete to work on. Now all I need to do is write the next 5 books…
First of all, many apologies for the delay of this post – life, eh, what can you do? Never enough hours…
We’ve been talking about self-publishing, what it is, what it entails. This week I shall try to briefly touch on Keywords, Promo, and the thorny issue of ‘Do I need a website/blog?’ Please bear in mind there isn’t room in one (or indeed, four) blog posts to tell you everything you need to know, I’m trying to give an overview, not a definitive guide. But there are LOADS of eBooks, paper books, blogs and chat-rooms to help with these issues, and all the publishing platforms have their own FAQ/How-to/Help etc pages to guide you through the process. Or you could ask an Indie author specific questions and get specific answers.
So after weeks and months (possibly even years) of agonising, slaving and panicking, you’re finally ready to press ‘Upload’. It doesn’t take long for the cogs to whirr and for the publishing platform of your choice to announce Ta-da! Manuscript successfully uploaded! or words to that effect. Your next reaction, after the euphoria has died down, is likely to be Help!!!
Because now, you need to put in your keywords.
What are keywords? There are different types of keywords – words you use to categorise your book to slot it neatly into your genre or type of work on the publishing platform/shop (the BISAC category); words you use in your blurb to help with SEO and make your book more discoverable; or words you use in your advertising campaigns.
Put simply, they are the words potential readers type in to the Internet (all of it) or a specific site such as Amazon, to find a book. As simple as that. So they might type in, Caron Allan, author extraordinaire, or, far more likely they will type in: Murder Mystery or Chick-Lit or Western Romance or something of that sort. A keyword is a kind of catch-all mini-phrase to help them find their book, because as we all now know, online book retailers are in many ways a sophisticated search engine.
Or to put it another way, all the books that are available have been filed away, but you need to find a way to recognise and retrieve them. Now someone could type in ‘Once Upon A Time’ by Timothy R Author, but if Timothy R Author is a newbie who has self-published his exciting new work just this week, it isn’t very likely any reader would know of his book. So how will he reach his market?
If you are writing in a genre category, you probably already know your category. If you are writing something that doesn’t fit snugly into one category, then you will need to use multiple keywords. For example, say you’re writing a murder mystery but your detective is actually a vampire… then you might choose one category as:
Fiction – Paranormal – Vampires
and another as:
Fiction – Mystery & Detective – Police Procedural
Fortunately you have the option to use a number of categories, usually two or three, when you are setting up your book on your chosen publishing platform.
When writing your blurb, don’t just give a brief plot outline but mention your categories/genres, and descriptive terms such as ‘traditional’ or ‘cosy/cozy’ or ‘action-packed’ or maybe mention it if there is a big twist at the end, that kind of thing. This will be picked up by search engines. Books very often have subtitles these days, such as ‘a gripping thriller that will leave your breathless’ – it’s all to do with discoverability.
Advertising campaigns are too large a ‘thing’ for me to mention here other than to say, when setting keywords, I find the names of other authors of my genre more effective in generating sales than ‘amateur sleuth’, ‘female protagonist’, etc. Try to keep up-to-date with your genre.
Do I need a website?
New authors often ask, ‘But do I really need a website or a blog?’ The answer, you might be surprised to discover, is ‘No!’. No, you do not need a blog.
You only need a blog if:
you want to connect with other authors,
you want to connect with readers
or you want to sell books.
So yes, sorry Hon, you DO absolutely need a blog. Otherwise how will readers, authors etc, find out about you? How will you keep everyone in the universe up-to-date with your news? One of the first things you need as an author, is a blog. And yes, you will need to update it regularly – at least a couple of times a month, if not weekly. A lot of people post new material daily. I don’t have that kind of time, but I’ve got a suspicion that if I did, I would increase my following really quickly. I’m not the greatest at posting new stuff, life just gets in the way for me all too often at the moment, but I try to add a blog post at least every fortnight, and preferably weekly. It can be hard to think of things to say, but don’t sweat it, get hints and tips from everyone, ask yourself what you would want to know about an author, then put that on your own site. You can schedule posts in advance, say if you know you’re going to be busy or away on your hols or something fun like that.
And yes, you ALWAYS need a picture for your blog posts!!!! Get royalty free images from Pixabay or other similar sites. Some sites require payment to download an image. Pixabay ‘suggests’ a payment in the form of a ‘buy coffee’ button, but you don’t have to. However, to my mind, if you are using an image, for example on a book cover, where you could potentially make money, possibly quite a lot of money, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the source of the image and send some ‘coffee money’ to the wonderful person who enabled you to create your book cover. It’s a business for them as well as for you, respect their time and effort.
‘But I don’t know anything about blogging!’ you cry. Welcome to the Indie World, where you can learn to do anything for next to nothing. Your go-to site should be Indies Unlimited, those wonderful guys and gals tell you how to do everything. You should also sign up to Alli – the Alliance of Independent Authors – they have a lot of very helpful material too, and are working to raise the profile and professional standing – and quality – of Indie Authors and their works.
‘But I don’t know html or how to ‘do’ websites,’ you wail. No. Neither did any of us, and now look. Seriously, if I can do it, you can do it. It takes a wee bit of patience and a bit of perseverance, but you’ve got those, right, because you are, after all, an Indie author, those are the main commodities we all have in abundance.
The good news is, there are loads of books out there, loads of sites out there and loads of lovely Indie authors out there who will help you. And you absolutely can do it all for nothing, or next to nothing. You can get a WordPress blog for nothing – they have loads of free templates. (see here: https://wordpress.com/themes/free )
And there are other blog providers out there (of whom I know nothing, because I’ve had and loved my WordPress blog for five years or so). WordPress have a massive amount of info and how-to guides and even do mini online courses.
Ooh tricky. Yes, you see, you need to promote yourself. Don’t be coy, be realistic. If you want to sell your books, you need to tell people about them, That’s what promotion is. It’s not boasting. It’s not lying. It’s not ‘cashing in’ or being materialistic. It’s being smart and helping readers to find a book they will love. There are millions of readers around the globe. And there are (I’m sure) millions of books. How are readers going to hear about your book if YOU don’t tell them about it? Yes I know you’d rather stay at home and write peacefully; I know that you’re an introvert and get shy, embarrassed, tongue-tied and stammery when you have to tell someone that you have written a book, and possibly, if they’re not too busy, and they don’t think it’s too expensive, could they please buy a copy. I’m the same! Yes, really, I’m very uncomfortable telling people about my books and asking them to buy one. I feel like I’m busking in a shopping mall or begging on a street corner. BUT. How else can we do it? Mr Amazon might do a wee bit of advertising on your behalf – but it’s up to you to do it.
So use social media to tell everyone about your books. Make some snazzy little graphics on Canva (I’ve told you before about the wonderful Canva – they do templates the perfect size for Instagram or a Facebook post or a Twitter post etc) and post them from time to time – don’t bombard the social media world with promos and ads mornign noon and night – mix them with other types of subtle promo – pics of your cat, hints, tips, news, likes and retweets/reshares of others’ output. Pay for a few Facebook ads (you need a Facebook Page to do this…a profile/timeline doesn’t work quite as well.) And maybe do paid ads on Twitter or Google too if finances allow. You can set a daily or project budget limit to avoid nasty surprises. You could put leaflets through doors, give away a few freebies at fetes, fairs, galas, book-type events, jumble sales, craft fairs, car boot sales… Ask your loved ones to big you up to everyone they know. Phone or write to your local newspaper, library, book group, community centre, school (if writing for kids…), radio station and so on. Contact everyone you can think of, tell them about your book. you may need to supply a few sample copies, but it’s all good, right?
A quick word about the promo people you see advertising on Twitter especially – some of them have now discontinued. I’ve tried a few, and can honestly say they didn’t work for me. But they may work for you, especially if they don’t charge very much to advertise your books. They may boast that they have 100K+ members or followers or whatever. The thing to bear in mind is, most of these followers are other authors trying to sell their books. Take a look and see how many retweets these ads get on average. Usually the only people who see them are people trying to sell their own book, and you will be lucky to get more than a handful of retweets or comments. If the fee is low, do it, otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.
There are some promo sites who charge a lot and offer big results. I haven;t tried any of them. Some of them have entry requirements such as a level of sales or reviews/ratings. What I say is, go in with your eyes open, and try everything you can afford, see what works and what doesn’t.
It takes time to build a following. And it takes time to build your author platform. You need patience, and you need to keep on keeping on. Meanwhile, play nice with the other authors you ‘meet’, don’t compare yourself to others and don’t ever, ever give up. Go for it.