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