I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…

One book does not a million make. Nor does it make you an instant, overnight, successful best-selling author. It means you’ve published a book; a fact that I’m only too willing to accept. Of course I’d like to be a best-seller, and I’m looking forward to Four Letter Words being released in early 2014. I am happy to give advice to all those who ask – and have done so in the past. But, I’m not going to let it go to my head or start write about how to write, sell, and market books!

Clearly not everyone thinks like this though.

Go on – head to Google or Amazon, or any other search engine / bookseller site. Type in “How to write a best selling novel” or similar and see if you recognise any of the authors. No, neither do I.

I accept the helpful guides on how to publish (particularly self-publishing, these may be very helpful if they’ve been written by a SP author, editor, publisher, or someone else within the industry).  I accept the guides on how to write a cover letter, or how to find an agent. Again – most of these have been written by someone in the know. But how to write a best-seller? Nah – you can’t do that. Nobody can guarantee that your book will hit the NY Times or Sunday Times lists. Nobody can predict which books will sell like the cliched hot cakes, and which will sink like stones.

And yet somehow, these people seem to think they have the right to tell us how to write and get published AND sell millions of books.

My advice? Don’t waste your money, join a writer’s group, hire a Beta reader and professional editor, and get some criticism from someone other than a family member, or worse, a jumped-up wannabe.

What does it take to open a bookshop?

I have been self-employed for nearly 5 years as a freelance writer. Unfortunately it doesn’t bring in enough to support a family, and while my husband does work full-time, he would like to pursue a career as a self-employed photographer. Our son is due to start school in September, and so the subject of me going back to work has cropped up a number of times. But, I don’t like the idea of going to work for someone else so have been looking at other options. One of these options includes opening my own bookshop.

Now this is where all my Indie friends decide they hate me. You know that person who only buys books from Amazon, WH Smiths, Waterstones or eBay, charity shops and carboot sales? Yeah… That’s me… Sorry!! However, I do know that Indie bookshops in my area are few and far between, and most of those that are around only sell second-hand, antique, or Christian related books. So getting my brand new contemporary romance in there, well… It ain’t happening. There are a few nearby, but you’re talking 5 miles and a drive to find them. (I know 5 miles doesn’t sound all that far, but when you live in the back end of beyond…) All of this is why I ask the question: “What does it take to open a bookshop in the UK?”

I know the basics of self-employment and running your own business thanks to a college course in business management, and having spent the past 5 years filling in self-employment forms, sorting out tax, and dealing with HMRC. But what about the cost of running a bookshop? That’s where I come unstuck. I have no funds that I am able to risk, which is a big part of starting a new business. Risk. Will it work? Won’t it? And that’s where the next list of questions come from.

I am hopeless at sales. I couldn’t sell toffee to children. There is a reason I only lasted a few days in a sales office before being moved to customer services. I am crap. When it comes to retail sales, I’m fine, but selling myself to the public, or a business idea to a bank manager… Nah. Thankfully I have a husband who is good at sales so I suppose I could use him… I digress.

Time. Do I have time? Yes and no. I’m a busy Mum, with children who do afterschool clubs, and I volunteer for the local Rainbows group as part of the Girl Guiding Association. But during the day I’m free. Almost. Plus, if I was in a bookshop with access to a laptop then at least I can write during the quiet periods. That’s the theory anyway.

Looks like I already know the basics of what is required. So I guess the true question is: “Where do I find the funds from?!”

 

Why I’m Pulling Down My Self-Published Works

This week is the last time that Murder at Meadowview and Untamed: A Collection of Poetry will be available for the foreseeable future.  I’ve had several people ask me: “Why?”  Here is where I would like to emphasise that it is not because they are self-published.  Okay, so maybe it is.  But, I have absolutely nothing against SP works, and I know several authors who choose SP over traditional print.  But, I chose SP for all the wrong reasons, particularly in the case of Murder at Meadowview.

When I wrote MaM, it was the first full-length piece that I had ever completed.  I had a file filled with short stories and flash fiction, but my aim was to write a novel.  I wrote it, loved it, and sent it off to agents and publishers across the UK.  I had that arrogance many new writers have, thinking it was perfect the way I’d finished it.  But I was naive and new to the world of published literature.

Lack of Editing

As I said, I was arrogant and thought it was perfect.  Now I know that before you even consider writing that synopsis and cover letter, you need to edit.  And edit with a harsh mind.  What I should have done is found a few non-biased people to read through it and point out plotholes, typos, etc. What I shouldn’t have done is only allow my two best-friends to see it.  I’m lucky, my best-friends are honest with me and will tell me when crap is crap.  But still, I should have sought out an independent person to beta-read it for me first.  Of course, this is not always necessary.  If you are able to look at your work with an open-mind, then you may want to rely on editors provided by the publisher.  If you know that you can’t dissect your new masterpiece and rip it to shreds, then I would suggest you hire your own editor or beta-reader, before sending it to someone who will be even more critical.

I did none of this.  I email my friends, ignored everything they said, and left it as it was.  The first draft was the finished draft.  That was my first mistake.

Length

48,000 words is not considered a full-length novel.  That was the first thing I found out.  For some publishers, it needed an extra 2,000.  For most publishers and agents, it needed to be a minimum of 75,000 words before they would even consider it.  The fact that I’d put the approximate word count in my cover letter probably meant that the sample chapters and synopsis didn’t even make it past the bin.

So, second mistake – not researching what constitutes a full-length piece of fiction.

Cover Letter

Yes.  The cover letter.  You know?  That letter written to agents and publishers asking them to please, please, please, publish your work?  The letter that addresses them as an individual, and is personal?  Yeah… That…  My cover letter was copied from a template on a website with my details hacked into it, beginning “Dear Sir,” (big mistake if you’re addressing a woman!) and fired off to several agents and publishers.  There was nothing personal about my cover letter.  Publishers and agents like that you have sought them out, especially if they are small houses or new businesses.  They like the fact that out of all the possibilities, you chose them to represent your work.  They are special.  And nothing says that more than an email with hundreds of over addresses in the CC bar…  I was intelligent here, I BCC’d emails and printed off most letters to send by snail-mail, but even so – they are publishers and agents.  They’re not stupid and know a standard form letter when they see one.  Hey – they send them out enough!!

There was my third mistake.  Always make the cover letter addressed to the person you are writing to.

Self-Publishing

With all this, it is probably no surprise that MaM was rejected by every agent and publisher I sent it to.  Most of them didn’t bother replying at all. But my arrogance is still up there!  I still think I’ve written the best thing since the Bible!  Well, those letters that did come back had said that it wasn’t for them and they wished me luck in the future.  They didn’t say it was badly edited, needed padding out, or needed to be re-written!

I searched vanity publishers, but did not like the fact that I was looking at £1000s to get my name on the spine of a book.  Then I found – KDP.Amazon!!  Woooooo!!  I can self-publish FOR FREE!!  And I did.  I made an attempt at Createspace, so printed copies were available, but when the first copy came back after costing me $10 to have it shipped over to the UK, I really couldn’t be bothered with re-formatting, so meh.  It stays as is.

Now nobody has mentioned any glaring mistakes in MaM.  But that is probably because the one I fixed on Kindle (thanks Mum for pointing out that in the middle of the book, the end of a paragraph was missing), I couldn’t be bothered to fix in the print version (did I mention it cost me $10 to have books shipped to me to proof-read?!) and nobody has bought a paperback copy.

Sales

Yeah it’s made me a few  bucks here and there.  Technically it’s sold in excess of 3,000 copies (since 2010).  But it’s enrolled on KDP, so I have no clue how many of those were freebies I’d given away.  Probably close to 2,999.  Why?  Because I suck at marketing and sales.  I worked a sales job once.  And was moved into the returns and customer service department because I actually convinced a customer that he didn’t need to buy those new sales products if he already had a perfectly good one at home…  That’s how much I suck at sales.

I didn’t go into writing because I want to be rich and famous (rich would be a bonus, really not fussed about famous), but at the end of the day, if authors didn’t want to make money they would give away their books.  Oh, that’s what I did…  Either way, sales would be nice.  A cheque to prove my hard-work (or lack of it) had paid off would be nice.  Yeah… none of that’s happening.

So, are we really surprised I have decided to take it down from sale now?  SEVEN DIRTY WORDS is doing so much better.  It has been professionally edited, beta-read by several people, (yes there may be one or two typos, but I’ve noticed them in books by BIG writers too – Stephen King, James Herbert, Jilly Cooper, Tami Hoag – all names on my bookshelves where I’ve gone “that’s spelt wrong.  It’s expected every now and then.  Editors are humans too.)  It has also been marketed by people who know what they’re doing.  I’ve been a face and voice for interviews, and I did write my own responses for blogs etc. But most of it has been organised by my publisher.  She has been fantastic at sending out press releases, copies of the book to reviewers, organising interviews, sending me marketing material for my area…  And it shows when I get that lovely sales report and see my author ranking shooting up into the top 1% on Amazon UK and 8% on Amazon US.

I’m not saying this is an end to me self-publishing.  Untamed is fine as is, but I have written more poetry and a few pieces of flash fiction, that I would like to include.  So for now, Untamed will be coming down until I have ‘bulked it out’.  Murder at Meadowview will be put to bed though.  It’s been suggested that I edit it and re-write it, but I think that would be unfair to the people who have spent money on it.  You never know – one day, a publisher may pick it up.  The long lost piece of work by that famous author, Charlotte Howard.  Never seen before!!  And worth hundreds and thousands and millions!!  (Hey, a girl can dream.)

Until then though, I have learned my lessons, and realised that self-publishing is not as easy as simply uploading a file, and I have the utmost respect for authors who choose SP over traditional print.