Sunday, 17 March 2019

Tips for writers - how to build a platform, get noticed and (maybe) get published

This is a post that I have thought about writing for a long time. Every now and again someone will contact me and ask for advice on the publishing process. Usually this is along the lines of how to get reviews and sales as a self-published author, but in fact most of the advice I have is equally valid for traditionally published authors.

Basically, what these writers who contact me are asking is, "How did you do it?" They've written a book and have seen that I have managed to write a few novels, initially self-publish them (later getting traditionally published) and obtain mostly positive reviews, and they would like to replicate my experience themselves. My initial, less than charitable thought, is something like, "I had to learn this stuff the hard way, why don't you?" But then I think about all the people who have taken the time to explain all manner of aspects of publishing and writing and then posted their thoughts online. And this gets me thinking that I should give back a bit to the writing community.

So, hopefully this post will help out other writers, aspiring or otherwise, with some of the things I've learnt that got me thousands of sales of my debut novel and, ultimately, a publishing deal.

Of course, there are countless factors that impact a book’s success and, as many have pointed out, visibility is one of the hardest things to achieve in the saturated marketplace of the internet (and the shelves of a bookshop!).

I didn't do anything magic. I merely followed the advice I could find online, which I gleaned over many months and years of scouring Google. There is no shortcut to spending time on this stuff, but perhaps some of my thoughts will be helpful.

Building your author platform

Perhaps the most important thing for a new writer is to start to build your "author platform" - Facebook page, website, mailing list, Twitter, blog. You need to do this as soon as possible. I started nearly three years before releasing my first book! You cannot build up a group of like-minded people, readers and writers overnight, but it is never too late to start.

Interact with people and be the best person you can be online. Share interesting info, help authors to promote their books, and eventually, with a bit of luck, they will help you when the time comes. I think having a defined genre here is important and helpful. It makes it easier to find writers and readers who are already into that genre.

One good e-book I read (I got it for free when it was on offer) is Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher by Heather Day Gilbert.



The book didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but it did help me to realise that what I'd been doing was on the whole right (or at least Heather Day Gilbert agreed with me!). For anything in the book that you find of interest, you'll find tons more info doing a Google search.

Getting noticed

The second thing I did to get my writing noticed was to get established authors to read and endorse The Serpent Sword. Many writers have expressed amazement that I did this (getting some seriously well-known authors to take the time to do this) but it is as a result of building that online interaction with those authors via Facebook and Twitter over a couple of years that I was able to ask in the first place. Also, you'd be amazed what asking nicely can get you! I really think that having quotes from respected authors such as Manda Scott and Angus Donald on the book cover and info page on Amazon, made a difference.

I really think this helped a lot, but it is hard to know exactly how much, as with all the things I've done. Again, this is where a defined genre helps. You want writers whose work is closely related to your book, so that readers take notice of their comments. These writers helped by retweeting and sharing mentions of the book. It gives them some extra exposure through my platform and, of course, helps me by getting my work in front of their fans.

A promo I put together for the original release of The Serpent Sword with lots of great quotes from wonderful authors 

Reviews

Reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Kobo, and any other online place where you can leave reviews, are the lifeblood of all authors. As a writer, you want to get as many (hopefully positive) reviews as possible, as they help people to pick your book over all the others that are available to them.

The main thing about getting reviews is that if someone contacts you and tells you they like the book, ask them for a review online. I do that whenever anyone says they've read it. Many respond with a review. After all, if they like it enough to tell me, surely they are happy to let others know.

In the acknowledgements of each book I ask for reviews and thank the readers for taking the time.

Getting positive reviews always feels great. But more importantly, it helps to sell books!

I have also mentioned to people directly on Twitter and Facebook that you can leave a review on multiple Amazon sites using the same log in. That is useful at the beginning to get some real reviews on the US and UK sites. Fellow historical fiction author, Martin Lake, has left some glowing reviews of my books on Amazon.de, .com, .au, .uk and .ca! I've started doing the same when I review others. At least .com and .co.uk, as the .com reviews get seen worldwide.

As to review sites, I contacted reviewers and bloggers who were reviewing books that were similar to mine. I probably get five or six reviews that way each release.

Leave reviews for other writers in the same genre. If you don't like a book, don't leave a review - it does no good to piss off other writers. I can't stress this enough. It comes across as petty and will do you no favours. It is OK to mention weaknesses in others' writing, but not just to slag them off. All writers like truthful reviews of their work (as long as they are on the whole positive and constructive!). There will always be plenty of negative reviews from readers, without other writers criticising each others' work publicly.

Remember, other writers are your colleagues, not your competitors!

When it comes time to publish, send out free copies to as many book reviewers as you can. The earlier you can do this, the better. Try to find book bloggers who review your genre and contact them. You want some reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as soon as possible after release. Reviews are what sell books online in the end. I got all my beta readers to leave reviews. There were about ten of them. This helped to kickstart the reviews.

Don't ask for reviews from people who haven't read the book. And don't pay for reviews. That is important. Not only is is bad form to pay for reviews, it is also against the reviews policy of Amazon, so if they catch you doing it, they will remove your reviews.

Giveaways, promos and competitions

I'm not sure if this is still a viable option, because I think Goodreads has changed their policies, but with my first books I did a giveaway on Goodreads and offered my book worldwide, this got a lot of interest and let people actually know my book existed.

What I do more now, is offer giveaways on Facebook and Twitter, asking for retweets and shares and even paying to boost the posts to get the word out there. What you want to do is to get the book title and cover and links to where it can be bought in front of as many potential readers as possible.

Run reductions on the books for a limited period to get more readers and pay for a BookBub promo email shot. BookBub promos are expensive, but they really work, delivering huge numbers of sales.

Provide a professional product

Get the most professional cover you can - covers sell books too! (I did the original covers for The Serpent Sword and The Cross and The Curse myself - there a couple of behind the scenes pictures from the photoshoot I organised, but if you don't have the expertise, you should pay for a professional cover.)

The original cover of The Serpent Sword (done using GIMP)

The original cover of The Cross and the Curse (done using Adobe Photoshop)

And of course it should go without saying that the book should be edited and be typo free.

Readers don't care who publishes the book they are reading, but they do care about quality.

Online presence


Be present online a lot, retweeting and interacting with readers and people interested in the same genres (find groups of similar people on Facebook and communicate). It does take a lot of time (well, it can do), but don't kid yourself, even if you get a traditional publishing deal, you'll need to do most, if not all, of the marketing yourself, so all the above will still be relevant.


Twitter seems to be quite useful for spreading the word, but who knows how effective it is...?Facebook allows you to be more targeted, setting up a writer page and also joining groups of potential readers, who have already shown in interest in the subject matter in some way. For example, the Bernicia Chronicles take place in Anglo-Saxon Britain, so, for me, joining groups of people interested in early medieval history makes sense.

What else and what next?

I hope some of this is helpful. I am sure there is a lot more that I could say about publishing, but I have to actually write some books too! If you have specific questions, or things you would like me to tackle in a future post, leave a comment below.

All the best to anyone who writes a novel. It takes commitment and drive and it can be a very soul-destroying experience, especially when faced with rejections (I have had my share, by the way, hence taking the route of self-publishing).

So, if you are reading this because you have written a novel or are in the process of writing one, and looking for tips and tricks, onwards and upwards, and good luck!

Thursday, 14 March 2019

REVIEW: The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: From the 5th to 7th Century edited by Paul Mortimer and Matt Bunker

The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: From the 5th to 7th CenturyThe Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: From the 5th to 7th Century by Paul Mortimer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England from the 5th to 7th century, edited by Paul Mortimer and Matt Bunker, is an astounding achievement and a wonderful addition to the corpus on the subject. It is both scholarly in its depth and approach and at the same time accessible to the more casual reader with an interest in early Anglo-Saxon England, or swords in general. It covers just about everything you could think of about swords from this period, from how they were used, their place in the military culture, their symbolism, how they were fashioned and decorated, in-depth analyses of the distribution of archaeological finds, the different forging processes, the ideology of swords and several case studies of reconstructions of famous historical swords, such as the Sutton Hoo sword from mound 1 and the Bamburgh Blade.

This is a hefty tome, weighing in at 450 pages. The contributions are varied and for anyone with even a vague interest in the subject matter there will be some chapters that will make compelling reading. There are several highlights in the book, but for me the detailed descriptions of the pattern-welding process and the step-by-step accounts of forging replicas of pattern-welded swords, with numerous enlightening colour photographs, really stand out and elevate this above other works by adding in-depth practical knowledge from expert blade smiths.

If you wish to know more about swords, particularly those from the early Anglo-Saxon period, this encyclopaedic book is a must-buy.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 14 February 2019

What Matt Whiteside learnt when he started writing


I recently did an interview on the YouTube channel of an enthusiastic and witty indie writer called Matt Whiteside. We had a lot of fun doing the interview and Matt's enthusiasm for writing and communicating with others is infectious and disarming. I knew he was busy trying to get his name out there, so I offered Matt a guest post slot on my humble blog. What he sent me was not the usual kind of post I get from writers. This is not just about selling his books (though I am sure he would love you to buy them). What Matt sent me is a lot more powerful and inspiring than a sales pitch. I hope you agree.


What I learnt the day I died

by Matt Whiteside

The darkness in the room was filled with the glow of a small light coming from my phone. It was the only thing that had kept me company in my prison of hell and misery.

I had only taken the time to get out of bed twice in the last couple of weeks to go to the liquor store to replenish my supply of vodka. I was consuming the stuff at a click of half a gallon per day.

The smell in the room would make any visitor jump back in disgust as the putrid sweat that poured from me was filled with poison. My body was failing me, and my mind had long since left.

I was closer to death than I had ever been. The type of death that no one really wants to talk about. The kind that sits in your mind and slowly pokes you. Whispering for your attention, for your money, your family, your motivation and hopes.  The kind that finally whispers for your life.

I was dying from alcoholism, and I saw no way out. I had come to the conclusion that the best I could hope for was to drink enough to not wake up. I tried, every night for months, but still, I woke.

That was eight months ago.

I start with this for a reason. I start my story here for a purpose.

I wanted to die, and so I did. The “ME” that hated himself for a lifetime of regret had finally died. In fire and flame, the version of me that could no longer be a part of this world passed on.

And so this is where my story begins, at the beginning of my new life.

Eight months later I am sober and the proud publisher of two books. Dead Heart: An Origin Story and Trent Foster and The Council of 10.  Dead Heart hit number one on an Amazon bestsellers list the first week it was out.


I wrote the two stories in three months. After getting sober and working a program, I realized it wasn't just the way I looked at life that needed to change, I needed to completely change the way I lived. My entire approach to living had to become something new.

So, I took an honest look at what I loved doing. I asked myself the question, "if you could do anything for the rest of your life and money wasn't an issue what would you do?"  The answer was clear to me: Writing.

I made a decision five months ago to trust that although I could not see a path to where I was making money as a writer, I had to follow the things that lit me up.  I could no longer live a life full of lies chasing after the material things, hoping that somehow they would fulfill me.

Instead, I decided to trust that as long as I was taking action on a path that lit me up, I would be OK. I mean, I survived the Hell of alcoholism, why couldn't I survive doing something I loved? The journey thus far has not been easy.  It is not easy being broke and without a real sustainable income, but it is worth it to me.

So, what does any of this have to do with what I learned from writing these books?  Well, I am glad you asked.  Because it has everything to do with it.

Starting with my first book, Dead Heart. I set out to write a story of inspiration about a man that lost his legs. What ended up coming out was a story of finding yourself after dying and becoming the person you were meant to be.

You see, Dead Heart is a story about a knight that gets killed in battle and is turned into a zombie.  But, he has to overcome his apparent shortcomings, such as not having legs - they were literally cut off - and being freaking dead!

I realized while writing that whether I write literally or metaphorically the truth will come out as long as I am open to writing what comes to me.  See, I didn't mean for the story to be a metaphor for dying from alcohol and rising as an alcoholic to go out in the world and try and prove my worth and become the man I was supposed to be, even with my obvious shortfalls.

But it happened.

My second book, Trent Foster and The Council of 10, was a lot the same.  I set out to write a Sci-Fi story about a man who finds out he has powers and is wanted by other alien species to use his abilities for their ends.

The story ended up changing my life, Trent Foster goes from being a man at the end of his rope, ready to throw in the towel on his life, to realizing he has unlimited potential; that he is seemingly capable of anything and everything, if only he could bury his past and let the things die that have previously held him back.

Again, it was not meant to be a metaphor for me realizing that by working a program of recovery and setting free the demons of my past I had an unknown ability to be and do anything.

Coming to peace with the horrible stories I told myself was a result of writing a children's fantasy novella and a Sci-Fi thriller. I was astounded by what came out when I just began to write the stories that I love. My story could not help but come out, it was being processed in my writing.

I learned that the most significant thing I can do for myself and others is to tell my story. It is my story and whether it comes out as a fantasy, a thriller, historical fiction or memoir. It is my story, and only I can tell it in the way I was meant to tell it.

Without judgment, without hate or disgust. I had to be willing to get honest in my fiction and learn to write as authentically as was humanly possible. Because whether you write fiction or non-fiction the stuff that grips us is authentic. It is visceral and real, sometimes it hits you square between the eyes and makes you want to call your loved ones, and maybe rethink some parts of your life.

But, I learned that this is what makes great storytelling. As unreal as the scenarios may be, the truth will speak through your writing if you let it.

Think of it as an anchor to keep your ship from being tossed around during a storm The story is the storm, the truth and authenticity is the anchor.

The revelation that came from writing these books propelled me to write a third, I am currently 60,000 words into my next novel, and my life has transformed.

I mentioned how it is tough being broke, well, that is true. You know they say money: can't buy happiness. I believe this to be true, but it can make being happy more fun!

I now get to spend every day doing what I love, and I can see a path forming on which I walk each day. I can see that the sun is shining a beautiful array of colors directly in front of me, inviting me forward.

I know with 100% certainty now for the first time in my life I am on the right path. And it is because of my program of recovery, but also writing that led me to that realization.

I must be willing to die each day, shedding the old Matt, and be reborn each morning anew with all the possibilities and opportunities I could ever imagine staring me directly in the face.

So what do I do now?

Well, I write a spiritual, motivational blog every morning. I record funny and inspirational podcasts with my girlfriend almost every day. I write every day, working on my third book, The Incredible Rhett Smiley.  I interview authors such as the gracious Matthew Harffy for my YouTube channel UniWeb Productions. I lead meetings and sponsor other alcoholics. I review video games on my channel, Suck On Hard Gaming, a channel for people who suck at video games.

I spend time with my children, my girlfriend, my mom and my friends almost every day. My life is fuller and happier than it has ever been because….

I learned that the greatest gift I can give to the world is my story. So, I will allow the magic of the story to flow through me however it must to clear the channel for whatever gifts lie in the words I write.

Writing is a gift that everyone can learn. I know all I need to do to be a writer is to write. If I want to be a good writer, I must write a lot and get better every day. However, we can all write and when we become willing to tell our stories, the world becomes a better place where every person has a voice and inherent value.

Check out all the ridiculous crap I get into at the links included here. Thanks and have an awesome day.

I made a video as well so that you can watch me and try and work out what the hell I was trying to say in writing.  Enjoy.



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UniWeb Productions: We do entertaining author interviews, live book readings, and reviews and have one hell of a time.

Suck On Hard Gaming:  A channel dedicated to throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. I also play a lot of games on here. Meaning I spend a lot of time getting cussed out by 9-year-olds.  Enjoy watching my failure.

Matt Whiteside's Blog:  Every morning I write motivational, inspirational, and recovery based articles about better living and finding your purpose.

Matt's Podcast, This Won’t Work:  A radio show looking for purpose and speaking the truth that I uncover every day in a fun and silly way with my girlfriend. I record video and audio to go along with this writing, so you could hear me, see me and read me. I don’t like giving people an excuse not to hear my story!

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattWhiteside3

Video Interview with writer Matt Whiteside

A few days ago, I did an interview on a new YouTube channel run by indie writer, Matt Whiteside. It was a fun interview and we talked about lots of things including writing, getting published, history, castles and swords. And I even read a few lines from my very latest work in progress, Dark Frontier.

Check it out and subscribe to Matt's UniWeb Channel for more author interviews.


Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow

Yesterday I went on a road trip with Blue, my puppy. We travelled into deepest Wessex to visit one of the sites that inspired part of my most recently written novel.

Watch the video to see how we got along.


Here is the image of the information board that I mention in the video, so you can read the history of the place.


Friday, 21 December 2018

Dark Ages Heroes - Who's yours?

To coincide with the hardback release of KILLER OF KINGS, I recently wrote an article on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog about heroes of the so-called Dark Ages.



Who do you think I wrote about and who would your hero (or heroine) be?

If I were to ask a group of people to name a hero from the Early Medieval period, the era more commonly known as the Dark Ages, who do you think they might mention? Alfred the Great perhaps? After all, he is the only king to be known as “Great” that Britain has ever produced.


Read the full article here: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2018/12/heroes-of-dark-ages-whos-yours.html








Christmas in the seventh century

Ever wondered how people would celebrated Christmas in the time of the Bernicia Chronicles?

Well, wonder no longer. Fellow historical fiction author Mary Anne Yarde asked me to write something about Christmas on her blog.

Here is the result:

"Come, remove your sodden cloak and take a place on the bench. The fire is warm and there is food and drink a-plenty." The bearded man looks at you askance. "Even one who has travelled so far to be here tonight."

He ushers you towards the long bench where others are seated around the central hearth. The feast is already well underway and the men raise their cups and drinking horns to you as they slide along, making way for you to sit. 

"I see from your apparel that you have come a long way to be here in our Lord King Edwin's hall at Gefrin," says the steward as you settle onto the wooden bench. "I note you have no eating knife. I will fetch you one." And with that he is gone, bustling away through the servants and thralls who attend the revellers.

Read on here:
https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-in-early-seventh-century.html