I’ve been writing fiction seriously for about three years, and when I first started I kept hearing people talk about ‘Call Stories’ but I had no idea what they were. I soon discovered that The Call is when a publisher offers you a contract for your manuscript, even if it happens to be via email. By the time I’d finished my first manuscript I was hooked on writing and hoped that one day I’d be writing about my own Call Story.
Three manuscripts later that day arrived!
But let me backtrack a little…
Late in 2011 I started getting ideas for a new book which would be my third. I came up with the premise (an image-conscious young woman wakes on her birthday to find she’s a middle-aged housewife married to the also middle-aged high school nerd), and let it simmer for a while. Gradually, the character developed in my mind and I came up with the title, Fast Forward. I was also playing around with another couple of book ideas at the time and getting started on some major revisions for my first manuscript.
At the start of 2012 (New Years Day to be exact), I was staying with family and planning on taking a few days off to relax and read a few books, but my muse had other ideas.
Over breakfast, I flipped through one of my mother’s many home and lifestyle magazines and an advertisement caught my eye. It was for an interior design course and showed pictures of beautiful furniture and homewares. Before that day, I had decided that my main character would be involved in designing homewares, so on a whim I cut out the ad for inspiration. I still hadn’t decided yet which book idea I would pursue and was pondering my options as I flipped through the magazine. I asked myself, ‘Which book should I start next?’ (and by next I meant in another few weeks or so), and on the very next page in the magazine was an article titled: Fast Forward.
I had my answer.
And I cut out that title too. (I’m sure my mother didn’t mind me getting all scissor-happy with her magazines ;))
I took this as a sign, or more accurately; a direct kick-in-the-pants to get started on this story, so instead of curling up with a book I opened my laptop and began writing. The first few chapters flew from my fingers to the keyboard over the next three days.
For the rest of the month I worked on editing a different manuscript and put Fast Forward aside until February, at around the same time as I found myself a fantastic critique partner. She read my chapters and enjoyed them and spurred me on to write more. I didn’t work on it every day, but rarely a week went by when I didn’t add more to the story. I couldn’t believe how fun and fast this story was to write. Sometimes I’d stay up till 2 or 3am because I was enjoying myself so much (although I suffered the next day). Don’t get me wrong, parts of it were plain hard work – especially figuring out how to make a 300-ish page story take place over just one day in the character’s life (I constructed a timeline in fifteen-minute increments!).
By the time June came around I only had another 20,000 words to go, so I signed up for RWA’s 50k in 30 days challenge and vowed to finish it by the end of the month.
Half way through June I typed ‘The End’. Overall it took me about four months to write.
I sent the rest off to my critique partner who gave me some very helpful suggestions and I went straight to work editing it. I didn’t want to put it aside for a while like many authors (rightfully) recommend. My heart was still in this story and I wanted to work on it while it felt fresh.
I edited the first three chapters many more times until I was happy with the beginning, and did a final read through. I then entered online pitch contests and began the time-consuming process of researching agents, publishers, and sending out queries. All in all I got about twenty agent rejections and two editor rejections, but received feedback and took (most of it) on board, tweaking some parts of the manuscript.
Then I pitched it at the RWA conference on the Gold Coast in August, and while I was there, learned of Harlequin Australia’s new digital-first imprint, Escape. At first I didn’t think my story would be suitable (for starters, my hero was a nerd!) and I went home and sent off my other submissions. After seeing Escape’s tweets on twitter, I decided I should check out their submission guidelines anyway and they seemed fairly open-minded about different genres and mixed genres as long as it had a significant romance and happy ending. Mine was a combination of women’s fiction, chick lit, hen lit, comedy, romance, futuristic, and paranormal (what was I thinking?!). In the end I decided on romantic comedy and sent off a partial submission, knowing I’d find out in two weeks if it wasn’t suitable.
Much to my surprise I got a full manuscript request less than two weeks later, and three weeks after that I got an offer of publication.
On that wonderful day I remembered I’d actually had a dream about Harlequin Escape the night before – talk about prophetic! I checked my email as usual first thing in the morning, but there was nothing interesting. I decided to sit outside in the sun for a while to soak up some vitamin D and brought my iPhone with me. My email made that sound telling me I had new email and I glanced at the screen expecting it to be yet another ‘20% off all dresses, today only!’ or a very tempting ‘Booktopia Clearance Sale!’. But it was from Escape.
I mentally prepared myself for another rejection. All I could see was a couple of lines of a message preview:
‘Thank you for submitting Fast Forward to Harlequin Escape. I am delig…’
Delig? Was that part of the word I thought it was? …Delighted?
Then I thought it might say: “I am delighted that you wrote this story but unfortunately it is not right for us.’
But I knew it wouldn’t. I knew what it was going to say and my hand shook as I pressed the screen to open the message.
‘I am delighted to accept it for publication.’
The shaking intensified and lots of ‘Ohmygod’s’ spewed repeatedly from my mouth. I’m sure my neighbours thought I was having a heart attack. It was a really humid day and my palms were so sweaty from heat and excitement I could barely scroll the screen down to read the rest of the message!
I had to keep the news fairly quiet at first so I just rang my parents (who sent me a huge bunch of flowers later that day), and then my critique partner (90% of our conversation was the word ‘exciting’), and spent the rest of the day with a permanent grin on my face and completely unable to do anything productive.
It still amazes me that it was only less than a year ago I started writing this story and now it’s about to be released. I love how fast digital publishing works and I’m looking forward to getting this story out into the big wide world of the internet! I’m also excited to be involved with Harlequin, a company who has such a strong foundation and worldwide brand.
To all the writers out there – keep writing, editing, polishing, and submitting, and embrace the digital age.
To all the readers – keep reading, reviewing, and telling your friends about great books.
Thanks for reading my call story!
…To celebrate this milestone I feel like being generous and giving away stuff! To win some goodies, keep an eye on the blog (or subscribe if you like) for a giveaway coming very soon…
A gourmet dinner at the hotel buffet after the recent RWA conference led to more than just a full stomach. It led to the birth of a new writers club for me and my fellow dining companions. We decided we were committed to being up on the conference stage to collect our First Sale Ribbons as soon as possible, and created a club to help each other achieve that goal – the goal of our first publishing contract.
Our desired outcome comes down to several factors of course, some of which are outside our direct control, but we believe that through commitment to our craft, consistency in action, support of each other, and confidence in our work we can achieve that outcome. And when the time is right for us, we believe we will be on that stage celebrating our first sale.
The club is now in its third week, and already I have achieved more than I would have without the club. Each Monday we state our weekly goals to the group, and share what we achieved from the week before. Doing this makes us focus on the little steps needed to lead towards our bigger goals, and helps us to be more productive.
For writers, life often gets in the way of being consistent with writing, especially when you’re not yet contracted and you feel like you should be doing something else. But having a few like-minded people around you who share your goals is a huge help, and helps you to prioritise your writing and take action towards your dreams.
There is something exciting about writing down your goals and ticking them off as they are completed, even more so when you share these goals with others. Having a writing buddy or a small writing group gives you the power of accountability. No one wants to check in with the group and say they didn’t achieve their goals, so knowing you have to share your progress with the group acts as a strong motivator to get things done, and to stay on the path you have chosen.
If you don’t have a writing buddy or group, I strongly recommend joining or starting one. First of all, join RWA (The Romance Writers of Australia), as they are such a supportive organisation for writers and I have learned so much through them and made great new friends. You don’t even have to be a romance writer to join, we have writers of many different genres in RWA. Then, hook up with a suitable critique partner so you can provide feedback on each other’s work. RWA has a critique partner match-up scheme, or you can find one by asking around online and sharing a few samples of work to see who you click with. I found mine rather organically… we began a conversation on facebook earlier this year and never stopped, and after sharing a sample of work we decided we would like to work together and have been critiquing happily ever since (and our facebook chat is still continuing to this day!). Now through my new writers club I have an additional CP, as it can be good to get two different opinions on your work (plus, I have found the processing of critiquing another writer’s work helps me with my own writing).
So if you find yourself getting to the end of the week and wishing you had written more, learned more, or read more, then consider starting an ‘accountability group’; a group that doesn’t necessarily have to read each other’s work, but exists for the main purpose of helping each other achieve weekly or monthly goals. It makes a huge difference!
Instead of writing another blog post about writing, I thought I’d share some marketing pearls of wisdom for a change, as I know many authors struggle in this area or simply don’t enjoy it, or they’re not sure what to do. In fact, at the RWA conference in Melbourne earlier this year, I think I was the only person in the room out of hundreds who raised their hand when Bob Mayer asked “Who enjoys self-promotion?”!
I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to marketing novels, but writing is a business. I have eight years experience in running a business and several years combined training in both online and offline marketing, selling skills, copywriting, and public speaking. I also won a marketing award in my industry in 2008 (health industry), and have self-published a non-fiction paperback book and several ebooks. Many marketing strategies are transferable across different industries, so I hope by sharing what I’ve learned in business you’ll pick up some useful tips on how to market yourself and your books.
Before I start, I want to address the issue of ‘self-promotion’. Many authors I’ve spoken to would prefer to hide under a blanket than tell the world how great their books are! They don’t want to come across as egotistical or feel like they are ‘selling’ something, and some hold a lot of self-doubt and are afraid of getting rejected or ridiculed. Without going into a long speech about how having false beliefs about yourself can limit your success and hold you back in all areas of your life, I’ll just say one thing: If you’ve written and published (self or traditionally) a book and hope that readers will buy it and enjoy it – then you are essentially a sales person as well as a writer, so get used to it! You are not selling your writing skills, you are selling entertainment and enjoyment, an escape from real life, and an experience that the reader will (hopefully) remember and recommend to others. Readers WANT to read, so by marketing your books in appropriate ways, you are providing a valuable service to readers by linking them to a book that will meet what they’re looking for. You’re not forcing them to open their wallets and hand over money, whether they do that or not is their choice, but how you market can influence their decision to buy or not to buy.
A big mistake I see a lot of business owners (including writers) make, is making it all about THEM. I this and I that…blah, blah, blah. When it comes to selling anything, you need to tune your radio to the station that customers, or in this case, readers, are listening to: WII FM. This stands for What’s In It For Me. If a person is considering buying something, they want to know what’s in it for them. What benefit will they get? How will this add value to their lives? In the case of novels, focus on the benefit or experience the reader will get out of reading your book. Will it make them laugh till their belly hurts? Will it give them chills and make them jump with fear or excitement? Will it take them on an emotional journey and leave them with a smile on their face at the end? Or maybe it will help them discover new and exciting places and cultures. So don’t say “I’ve written this book about this and that and you might like to read it”, say something along the lines of “This book will have you laughing out loud and… (insert other benefits here).” Of course, everyone reacts to a book differently so you can’t always ‘tell’ a person what they will feel, but hopefully you get my drift.
Another thing to think about is: ‘WHO are you marketing to?’ You could have an excellent website, compelling copy, and a fantastic book, but if your target market is not seeing it then it doesn’t matter. Take a piece of paper, or open a word document and write at the top of the page: ‘My ideal reader:’, and then make a list of all the qualities that your ideal reader may have. If you’ve written a book in a fairly clear-cut genre then this will be easier. You could list their age range, gender, what occupations/industries they might work in, whether they are parents, what area they live in, what hobbies they have, where they go for fun, what they do in their spare time, what magazines they might read…anything really. Now you might be thinking “How the heck am I supposed to know all these details?”, but you don’t have to know them exactly, you are just getting ideas that will help you in your marketing efforts. It is better than not knowing at all who your readers are or should be, and getting clear on your ideal reader can actually help you ‘attract’ those readers, as we tend to attract what we focus our attention on in life. Another thing you can do is send a survey to your current readers, and then see if there are any common traits among them. For example, if you find that many attend gyms or fitness centres quite regularly, you might think of arranging an author talk at some fitness centres. This is just an idea of course, a lot of people who aren’t your readers will also attend gyms, but again, I hope you get my drift!
When it comes to marketing your books, you are also marketing yourself. In business, this is all about positioning yourself as a trusted authority in your field, but as an author, it is more about connecting with readers and letting people learn more about you as a writer and a person. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal, but not too personal. Don’t go and tell them everything that’s going on in your life, or say things you might regret later. Keep professional, but be true to yourself and be authentic.
Once you know WHO you’re marketing to, WHAT they’re going to get out of your product, and you’re CONNECTING authentically with potential readers, you can start to implement some specific tips. I won’t go into detail about everything, because this topic could be a book in itself (hey, there’s an idea!), but here are ten tips and strategies to help you maximise your marketing efforts:
1. When tweeting, posting facebook updates, or emailing your followers, think in terms of one ‘promotional message’ for every two ‘content messages’ as a general rule. This means, don’t just tweet and post messages that try to sell or link to your book. Space these types of messages out with ‘non-selling’ messages that talk about you, what’s going on in your day, valuable info, helpful or interesting links that your followers might like, jokes, or ask questions to your followers…etc. If you just sell sell sell, your follower count will probably start to drop drop drop, along with your sales. Don’t appear desperate (see above picture), it is a turn-off. Check your tweet history or status updates and see how often you’re promoting compared to how often you’re providing value.
2. You MUST have a way to capture email addresses on your website and/or blog. Followers and fans are not enough, because not all your followers will see ALL of your updates, but they will always check their emails. They might not open every email, but at least your email subject will be seen, and then you can use copywriting skills that will make it more likely for them to open your email. When someone has given you their email address, you are legally allowed to keep emailing them until they unsubscribe. I see so many author websites that don’t have an ‘opt-in’ or subscription form, or it’s not easily visible, and they are probably missing out on HEAPS of potential readers/buyers. Often when I am looking at an author’s website, I might not be ready at that moment to buy one of their books, but if they have a subscription form I’ll fill in my details so that I don’t forget about them, and then when I’m ready, I might buy their book later on. When I first started online marketing in the health industry, I focused on building up a list of potential buyers in the niche I had chosen, and by the time I had created a saleable product, I had a list of hungry people to market to. This is now a five-figure list that continues to grow. I say this not to impress you, but to impress upon you how many future sales you could be missing out on by not setting up an email subscription form.
3. Offer an incentive for people who sign up to your mailing list. This is not essential as an author, but helps a lot. Think of something you can easily give away for free, and preferably something that the subscriber can receive automatically, like a download link inserted into an autoresponder/autoreply email, for an ebook or pdf copy of a short story, or an anthology, or even a non-fiction e-guide that relates to what you write about. For example, as one of my novels is called ‘The Life Makeover Club’, I will be giving ‘life makeover tips’. You could also record yourself reading an excerpt from your book and offer this as a free mp3 download.
4. Have the ‘Top 4’ when it comes to online presence: a website, a blog, a facebook page, and a twitter account. An additional option is a YouTube account, and there are of course other sites like Linked In and MySpace and the new Google one, but I’ll focus on the ones I have experience with.
Website: this means having your own domain name (website address) and hosting. Dot com’s are best. Yes you can get a free blog-type website but you do not own these sites, and sometimes technical things go wrong and you have no control over them. By getting a proper paid-for website hosting you are ensuring more stability, freedom, and control, and have tech people working behind the scenes to help if problems arise.
As mentioned before, have an opt-in form, an author bio, details of your books and links for where to buy them, what book is coming next, and contact details. It helps to have a photo so people can see the real person behind the books.
Blog: Use free blog sites like wordpress or blogger to quickly and easily set up a blog, where you can post your thoughts, articles, links, and competitions to interact with readers. Blogs are more ‘search-engine-friendly’, so it is easier to get visitors to a blog than a website. The more you blog, the more the search engines like you. I prefer wordpress as it makes it easy for people to comment, without needing certain online accounts and going through irritating procedures in order to leave a comment. Just a note, WordPress.com is for free blogs hosted by wordpress. WordPress.org is also free but you need your own hosting.
Facebook: Set up a personal account and also a ‘fan page’. Whether you just use a personal (friend) account or a page to reach people is up to you, but keep in mind that you can only have up to 5000 friends on a personal page, but can have unlimited fans on a ‘page’. Having a page relies on getting ‘likes’ from people though, and can take longer to build up than sending friend requests on a personal page. If you have a page, realise that everything you write is public, whereas if you post on a personal account, you can choose to share your status publically, or only among friends. It is also a good idea to have a fan page for each of your books.
Twitter: Set up a twitter username that is memorable, and use it to post tweets/messages that are 140 characters or less. Again, remember the 1 to 2 rule; one promo message for every two general messages, or even less in the case of twitter. Use hashtags (# followed by a keyword) to attract new followers interested in your topic. Eg: #romancenovels to attract readers and writers and bloggers of romance fiction, or if you’ve written a story based on the Titanic, add #titanic to your tweet. Be sure to reply to other’s tweets, and support other people by ‘retweeting’ their tweets. [Update! Read my post about Twitter Basics for Authors here.]
YouTube: Worth a mention, because YouTube gets a HUGE amount of visitors each day. Don’t think you have to have fancy videos of your own to use YouTube, you don’t even need videos! You can use an account to comment on other videos and book trailers, ‘friend’ other users, and subscribe to channels. You can also mark videos as favourites. If you do want to have videos on your channel, it is fairly easy for non-techy’s to learn how to make a simple video. My son showed me how to make one in only a few minutes using windows movie maker. However, when it comes to promoting a book in this way, quality is more important than say, if you were giving how-to advice for making a bookcase. With most non-fiction, people are looking for ‘solutions’ or ‘tips’, whereas with fiction, people are looking for entertainment, so quality counts in this case. Another idea is to use your webcam or get someone to shoot a video of you reading an excerpt from your novel. Or, you could film an interesting tour of where your book is set, if it is based on a real place.
5. Have a new book coming out? Don’t wait till it’s out before you start promoting, create a marketing frenzy in the weeks leading up to the release date! A six-week time frame is a good amount of time. If you have an email database, email them once every week until the book is released, saying how many weeks to go. Eg: 6 weeks to go, 5 weeks to go…etc. And with each email, have some kind of value to provide to your subscribers. It may be an excerpt, a useful tip, a journal-style letter, or a weekly competition. Be creative and generate some excitement around your release. I have used this in business with great results. When the book is released, you might want to offer something as a bonus for everyone who buys the book from Amazon in a specific 24-hour period. That way you can be in with a chance of rising up the Amazon top sellers list. Simply get the reader to email you their receipt so you can forward them the bonus.
6. Increase traffic to your site or blog by having guest posts by other authors. This is a win-win situation, because not only are you getting more visitors to your site, the guest is getting more publicity for themselves.
7. List signed copies of your books on eBay. eBay is often underused, as people think you use it mostly to sell household items, but you can sell pretty much ANYTHING on eBay! I have seen listing for things such as ‘spells’ for sale… yes, witchcraft spells! If you’re traditionally published you probably sell most of your books through bookstores rather than directly from yourself, but make sure you always have some signed copies available to give away or sell yourself. And if you list your book on eBay, try including some other bonus with it, such as a promotional item, a small gift, another book, or even a ten minute phone conversation for the reader to ask you questions! You can also sell gift vouchers so that the recipient can choose which of your books they would like.
8. When linking to online bookstores to sell your book, use an affiliate link. Many online stores have affiliate programs, whereby you can earn a percentage of each sale that comes through your unique affiliate link. Rather than just getting your royalty payment, you can increase the amount earned for each book through an affiliate commission. It may not be much, but it all adds up! Amazon and The Book Depository are two such websites that offer affiliate programs.
9. Create a live webinar to invite potential readers to. This one is getting on the techy-side, but might be worth considering. A webinar is basically a seminar, presentation, or talk that is done via the internet using special software. We all know that author talks and signings are a popular form of marketing, but what about all those people who live too far away to attend? A webinar is a leveraged way to reach a lot of people by replicating what you would do at a live talk, only online instead. Of course you can’t meet them face to face or sign their book, but you can still present a talk, and even use your webcam, or just use your voice with various pictures and photos on the screen as you talk. Webinars also offer the option for live attendees to type in questions, which you can then answer. If exploring the use of webinars seems too tricky or expensive (as you need to pay for a subscription), consider approaching business owners who use webinars and ask to be a featured guest.
10. Think beyond the book. It can be tricky to earn large amounts of money just from books. Many authors do of course, but many still need a day job. Think about what else you could offer readers apart from the book. Maybe there’s some other product or service that is related to the book or to your specific skills that you can offer, or maybe there’s a ‘club’ you could create for a select group of people that certain fans would be willing to pay for in exchange for the value you provide them. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a way to ‘rip anyone off’, this is just about thinking outside the box and seeing if there’s an untapped market or idea you could explore. When in doubt, ask your readers what they want!
Whoaa… that’s the longest blog post I’ve ever written, you’d think I was a writer or something! I hope you’ve found some gems among the waffle, and if you’d like more detail on any tips in particular, feel free to comment and I may just do a separate blog post.
And… if you like this post, make sure you share it with others, and subscribe to my blog by filling in your email address on the right side of the page so you don’t miss out on other blog posts! (another little tip there!)
I was one of the lucky 350 attendees of the Romance Writers of Australia’s conference, held in Melbourne on 12th-14th August. The organisers did a fantastic job, and everything ran smoothly and professionally, allowing us writers to sit back and enjoy the event.
This was my first writer’s conference, yet I felt like part of a family, and was never without an interesting person to talk to. It was great to meet many of my online writing friends face to face, and I’m sure they were surprised to see that I am in fact a real person and not the cartoon avatar they’ve seen online!
I’m incredibly grateful to have met many wonderful authors, and the support and encouragement they gave me was amazing. There was no ‘us and them’, or ‘published and unpublished’, we were all united as writers, no matter what stage of the journey we’re at.
The venue (Hilton on the park, Melbourne) was lovely, and simply being child-free for four days without having to think about housework or real life in general was absolute bliss! I always love the feeling of arriving home, but I also love being able to think solely about writing and publishing for a few days without the distractions of daily life. Is it too early to book for next year’s conference??
I took as many notes as possible. Some information was new to me, some reinforced things I’d already learned but needed to be reminded of. Most importantly, I left feeling inspired, empowered, and dedicated to this path I’ve chosen.
The speakers were all fantastic, and I enjoyed listening and learning from Bob Mayer, Susan Wiggs, Lisa Heidke, Nikki Logan, Jane Porter, Christine Stinson, and all the authors, agents, and editors who enlightened, informed, and entertained.
Here are some of the key learnings I got from various speakers at the conference:
- Writing is an entertainment business – emotion & numbers
- Always stay one book ahead of your contract
- Have SOP’s – standard operating procedures, for organising your writing time, social media, emails…etc
- Write about what scares you most – the emotion will show through
- Write what you WANT to know
- Get ideas by thinking, ‘What if?’, ‘What if something is not what it appears to be?’
- Dissect plots in movies by looking at ‘scene selection’ and scene titles on DVD’s
- Show a character’s true nature through crisis
- Find time for writing by tracking how you spend your time over one week – where can you cut back on time wasters and devote that time to writing?
- Use twitter hashtags to attract target market, eg: ‘If you like #nameofsimilarbookormovie, you’ll like #nameofyourbook
- Characterisation: Consciously communicate subconscious behaviour that the reader will subconsciously get
- A book series can be unified by concept, theme, characters, setting
- Sell a few .99c ebooks as ‘hooks’ to introduce readers to your other books
- Women’s fiction for the 40+ age group is a hot market
- Self help books can be useful for researching character issues and how they overcome them
- Children in books – must bring something out in the characters
- Technique for endings – try mirroring the opening of the book, unites beginning to end
- Don’t wait until publication to think about a ‘brand’, do it now
- A brand is a promise, a symbol, and triggers an emotional response and recognition
- Can brand yourself as an author, or your books, or a character
- When stuck with the writing process, do something else within the story – research setting, visual prompts, write a letter from your character to an old friend in first person
- Content is king, promotion is queen
- And much more!
Apart from the conference sessions, the social part was memorable too. The 1920’s themed cocktail party was a lot of fun, as was the awards dinner (congratulations to all the award winners!), and I was happy to do my bit for the fundraising for the Otis Foundation, a charity I hadn’t heard of until now, who plays an extremely valuable role in providing retreats for women and men going through breast cancer.
Thanks to the RWA team, my fellow writers, the speakers, agents, editors, sponsors, and hotel staff for making it a conference to remember.
I’m looking forward to a successful lifelong writing career – from here… to eternity.