Hazel Buchanan

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It's arrived!

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 7 April, 2016 at 4:00 Comments comments (0)

The paperback of Surviving Anna is finally here!



When you can't see the wood for the trees

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 21 March, 2016 at 9:05 Comments comments (0)

You have to have a brand.


That's the gist of all marketing advice, these days, for anything, it would seem. Apparently, if you want to be successful as an author, you need to have an 'author brand'. But what does that mean? And how can you 'write to your brand', if you've already written the book before you discover the need?


If you pare back the advertising jargon, you get down to words like 'image' and 'identity', which (am I showing my age?) make a little more sense to me. Except that the rebel in me is screaming "I'm not into image!" and "Identity surely just means 'me'!" So that's pretty much how I've ended up interpreting 'brand'. I have to market me. And that's really the crux of the problem. It's the book I want to sell, not Hazel Buchanan.


Then I get to thinking about our current world-renowned authors. I bring up names like JK Rowling, of course, and John Le Carré and Isabel Allende. And I see not so much a 'brand' as a theme running through their work. It's that theme that becomes their writing persona. So much so, in JK Rowling's case, that she had to invent a new persona (brand) to write her private detective stories that have nothing to do with children or magic. While Le Carré, who has spent a lifetime hiding from the media, openly acknowledges his anger that his writing persona, 'British spy turned writer', was entirely based on his books and created quite independently not only of himself but of the truth.


So, reluctantly, I get to work on putting into words what, instinctively, I know to be important to me. I list character traits and qualities, values and aspirations. Essentially, I write my own philosophy. And, suddenly, I'm seeing the point - not from a marketer's perspective but purely from my own. I have actually gained some greater knowledge of myself and my own beliefs from the process of writing the important bits down. Perhaps there's something in this…


(I still can't bring myself to like the word 'brand'.)


The next step, I'm told by the gurus on Google, is to come up with a marketing plan. Well, sure, I can see that makes sense. It's just that the words 'marketing plan' have always triggered a physical reaction in me which causes my brain to shut down. It isn't just that I haven't known how to make one, it's more that I've never wanted to know. And there's an infinite list of things that I'd rather be doing. Until a couple of months ago. Then, I needed a marketing plan. So I started checking out how to make one. Gradually, I came up with a list of tasks, some of which I had already completed or begun.


1.  Write a great book. (Not just any book, the professionals advise. It has to be a great one!) Edit, re-edit, proofread; offer it up for others to tear down (haha!); reduce and edit again.


I've lost count of the number of drafts Surviving Anna and I have been through. The manuscript, which was once 160,000 words has been systematically eroded to 91,000. It's been read, re-read, edited, reduced and proofed so many times, I can honestly say this box has been ticked as well as it's ever going to be.


2.   Prepare the manuscript for ebook and print format. This includes, of course, designing a cover. It also involves purchasing ISBNs for print and ebook versions; decision-making about pricing & royalties; uploading tax & bank info; writing a cover description; deciding on categories and keywords and whether to enroll in KDP Select.


Tick. (See my earlier blogs for the low-down on all of this). Huge amount of work. Huge.

Thanks to my graphic designer seventeen-year-old son, I have a unique and stunning cover. (Yay!)


3.  Set an advertising budget, strategies and goals.


Enrolling the ebook in KDP Select gives me access to a couple of Amazon promotions: pay-per-click advertising (which has so far yielded me nothing) and KDP Countdown Deals (which I don't want to utilize until I have amassed a lot more reviews.) Once the print version is available, there are many other avenues to explore, including sites such as Goodreads and BookBubs, as well as giveaway promotions. I will also be able to use selling platforms other than Amazon.


4.  Create a website and start a blog. Include an excerpt from Surviving Anna, and links to purchase the book.


Tick. Ongoing, of course, but essentially underway. An enjoyable exercise in many ways, but also very time-consuming.


5.  Create a dedicated Facebook page.


Tick. Ongoing, again, because all of these things require maintenance and updating.


6.  Compile a mailing list of everyone I know.


Tick.


7.  Publish the ebook through KDP on Amazon.


Tick. This was the good bit. It took a bit of nerve - because now Surviving Anna is out there for anyone to judge. But, by this stage, I had gone so far, I couldn't really pull back!


8.  Email everyone on my mailing list to tell them about the ebook launch.


Tick. This has probably been the most disappointing part of the process so far. I did have a few very prompt and positive replies, and a handful of people have definitely gone out of their way to help me. I'm extremely grateful for their support. It's a pretty small handful, though.


9.  Seek out book reviews. Without a publishing house to draw in editorial reviews, I'm relying on multiple other sources: book review websites; Amazon top reviewers; book bloggers; friends of friends.


Very definitely ongoing. And seriously hardgoing. In fact, without a doubt, the hardest part of all.


10.  Publish the print-on-demand version with CreateSpace.


This box is very nearly ticked. I'm expecting the proof in the post any day now. Hopefully, all of my formatting efforts will have paid off and I'll be able to make Surviving Anna available to purchase as a 'real' book online. I'm certainly looking forward to holding it and turning the pages!



In a nutshell, this marketing challenge I have taken on is an enormous and hugely time-consuming task. I am convinced the key to success lies mainly in getting reviews. So that is where my energies are currently directed. Any offers of help will be most gratefully received!

Welcome to the marketing forest maze

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 19 March, 2016 at 7:35 Comments comments (0)

From the formatting jungle to the marketing forest maze. (And, believe me, I'd happily go back.)


The good news is that, having finally finished formatting my ebook for KDP (with quite a bit of help at the end from Calibre), it's actually out there. From 1 March, Surviving Anna has been available to purchase in digital form. And a few people have kindly downloaded it - 29 to be precise, at the last count. So, no, it hasn't exactly gone viral. But, as everyone I speak to consistently points out, I've got to be patient. (The 'p' word again. It's really not my favourite.)


Since 1 March, I've been torn between two competing tasks: continuing to prepare Surviving Anna for its print form, and marketing the ebook. (There is a reason why publishers exist.) Over the last few years, I've read quite a number of articles about self-publishing and marketing. In fact, until the beginning of this year, I had read enough to convince myself not to venture down that path. The knowledge isn't buried way down deep in my heart of hearts - I'm fully aware, and always have been, that I'm a writer not a marketer. I'm certainly not given to self-promotion. But there are some, no doubt well-meaning and positive-thinking, people out there who insist on voicing the view on the intimate worldly-wise-web that writers, simply because they are writers, ought to be able to brag about themselves and their work in such a way as to attract an audience of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands.


Curiously, if you listen to most book sellers and publishers, not even the experts are reliably able to do that.


So, marketing my ebook… Where do I start? My Amazon-retailing son made a few helpful suggestions, one of which was to investigate pay-per-click, an Amazon advertising promotion which involves authors bidding against each other in an automatic auction situation, which to be honest I don't entirely understand. I have signed up to it nonetheless, since it seems to be one of the few benefits available to me after enrolling my ebook in KDP Select. So far, it has yielded me 958 impressions - which I believe means my advert has appeared on potential customers' browsers 958 times. From that, I have achieved 3 clicks - so 3 people have investigated my advert further - and zero sales. Not a great outcome so far, but it has only cost me $0.06, so I'm not really complaining.


One of the keys to successful selling on Amazon is attracting positive reviews. Once I've amassed a handful of these, I can start more actively promoting the book to people I don't know rather than simply to family, friends and acquaintances. Amazon hinders that process to some degree by imposing some quite restrictive rules on who can upload a review. Close family is definitely excluded, which, I guess is fair enough. Potential purchasers could be forgiven for thinking that my own mother's review of my book may not be totally unbiased. But in a, perhaps understandable, overreaction to the fake paid review scandal of 2015, Amazon seems to have adopted a draconian approach to book reviews that particularly impacts indie authors and self-publishers, who obviously do not have access to the same resources as large publishing houses. Essentially, any customer who reviews a book on Amazon is likely to have their opinion removed if Amazon can link them in any way at all with the author. Not only that, but if multiple reviews are put up using the same IP address (eg same home wifi), they will all be taken down.


Taking the advice of other self-publishers faced with a similar problem, I set myself the task of soliciting at least half-a-dozen reviews from total strangers. Having trawled through various lists of bloggers and Amazon top reviewers who are willing to provide an honest opinion in exchange for a copy of a book, I sent out the first ten requests to reviewers I thought might be interested. Only one deigned to reply. And she was too busy.


Another day, another directory of book reviewing bloggers. Wading through the list, it dawns on me that 85% of them will only read fantasy, romance, YA or sci-fi, and of the remainder at least 50% are not currently accepting submissions. After several hours of reading the assessment policies of self-annointed reviewers - who cover the whole gamut from highly experienced and co-ordinated groups with easy-to-navigate websites right down to the fantasy devourer who can neither spell nor construct a grammatically correct sentence - I end up with a list of 5 or 6 who might be worth contacting. The experience leaves me so cold, I have to leave submitting my request for another day. At this stage, if I manage to gain one review from the hours I have spent searching for prospects, I reckon I'll be doing well.


A further frustration is that even though I am using the Amazon platform to sell in the USA (amazon.com), the UK (amazon.co.uk) and Australia (amazon.com.au), I need to get multiple reviews in all three locations, as reviews written in one country do not show up in another. So far, 5 kind souls have come up with the goods. A few others have promised, and several say they are waiting for a print copy because they don't get on with Kindle. A couple have even told me they would like to review the book with their book club later in the year… Later will be great. I appreciate everybody's interest. I understand their reasons. And I know just how busy many people are.


But I want reviews now!!!


And sales! Sales would actually be awesome. Sales would make it all worthwhile.


Which brings me back to marketing…

With thanks to those who have gone before

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 1 February, 2016 at 3:20 Comments comments (0)

It turns out that the problem I was experiencing with inoperative links in my eBook Table of Contents occurred simply because I'm using Microsoft Word on a Mac. Not through choice, I hasten to add. Personally I love Pages, the Mac word processing software. I find it intuitive, user-friendly, accessible - all those wonderful, useful things that so many other word processing apps aren't. But since Word is the popularized, universal platform, I regularly find myself exporting my Pages documents into the docx format that everyone else seems to want.


Apparently, in the PC world of Word, when a Table of Contents is being created, there is a checkbox option for page numbers and another for hyperlinks. The same does not apply to the Mac version; which means, as I had already suspected, that for eBook purposes the hyperlinks have to be inserted manually. Fortunately, other Mac users had discovered this before me. Searching for tips in the KDP Support "Ask the Community" forum, I came across a highly relevant thread. Gratefully murmuring my thanks to 'rfwknights', whose detailed instructions on creating manual hyperlinks in Word made perfect sense, I was able seamlessly to weave said missing links into my Word document and reconnect my chapters to their headings in the Table of Contents. Problem solved at last!


It's nice to have a win once in a while; but especially when the paragraphs you thought you had managed to subjugate are refusing to be indented. I really thought I had got this one licked. Indenting paragraphs even in the Mac version of Word is pretty easy. Option-Command-M brings up a paragraph formatting window which enables the selection of various indenting options. I had chosen to indent the first line of every paragraph except at the beginning of a chapter or new section. Having made the overall first line indent selection for the whole document, I had religiously gone through and changed each first paragraph in a chapter or section so that its first line would not be indented. It worked beautifully. So long as I didn't view it in the KDP Preview for iPad or iPhone. There, regardless of my careful formatting, every single paragraph indented. More frowning and hair-pulling ensued.


Oh Google, what would we do without you? I found the solution of course - eventually. In fact, I found a variety of different suggestions for overcoming the indenting/not indenting problem. For me, the answer was Calibre. Downloading this nifty piece of software enabled me quickly to convert and upload my document to KDP as a mobi file rather than a docx. And, so far, it appears that the paragraph formatting I intended has actually remained across multiple devices. At this point, that simple statement seems almost too good to be true. I have my fingers well and truly crossed.


My escape from the formatting jungle was definitely accompanied by a hop and a skip, even a little heel click of victory. I wasn't gloating exactly. I wasn't! But I did feel relieved and perhaps just a tiny bit self-satisfied. Lurking at the back of my mind was an innocuous sounding 'm' word. But the great thing about the jungle was how absorbing and all-consuming it had been - the 'm' word hadn't really got a look in. It wasn't until I was leaving the jungle behind that the forest in front of me began to take shape. And boy what a shape! If the jungle had seemed impenetrable…

 

Welcome to the marketing forest maze!

In the formatting jungle, on the path to despair..

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 23 January, 2016 at 2:30 Comments comments (0)

I quite like formatting. I know many authors don't, but I guess it appeals to a particular facet of my personality. ('Anal', I hear a close friend of mine suggest.) I'm going to go with 'analytical'. Either way, I've always been prepared to put in the hours to achieve the end result. And it has to be a good one. I don't stop until it is. I wouldn't call the process creative, but it brings its own reward.


Surviving Anna was already formatted when I made the decision to self-publish. Or, so I thought. The manuscript over which I had sweated and cried for a number of years was formatted to present to an agent or trade publishing house. I had carefully gone through and replaced all my instinctive italics with word underline. Tabs marked the beginning of every paragraph, except each chapter's first. Double line spacing and left justification in 12 pt Times New Roman was consistent throughout.


And then I discovered KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and their e-book specifications.


I'd have to say, to start with, I took it on the chin. I know a bit about formatting for websites and different browsers, so I understood the need to make my file available for multiple online platforms. Still, the process took me a surprising number of hours. I think removing the paragraph tabs was the part I found most frustrating, until I discovered an online post by a smart and helpful soul. It's easy, once you know how. The paragraph indents, to replace the missing tabs, took quite a while. Creating a copyright page, redoing the headers, working out fonts, re-centring the little stars I have in a few places where I want to break up the text without creating a new chapter - it all takes time.


And that's quite aside from working out whether or not I need an ISBN for an e-book, and whether I want to risk taking part in KDP Select. Or risk staying out. Royalties and pricing all need to be considered and added to the growing list of 'tasks for another day'.


And then there's the cover. Why hadn't I thought about the cover? I guess that was something I had always assumed my publisher would take care of. But, of course, that person is me. So, now I have to decide if I'm willing to pay $500-$600 to a graphic designer, or if I'm happy to get a cheap and cheerful stock design for under $200. Frankly, neither of those options seems like a good one. Instead, I talk to my son. Not the oldest boy, who is busily learning accounting to sort out his tax. I go to the youngest, who has just won a $500 prize for his artwork in a local competition. I describe roughly what I'm after and offer to pay for the result. He wants a percentage. (Smart lad - something's rubbing off from his big brother.) I refuse and offer a flat rate, which subsequently seems to have been going up by the day. He probably senses he's got me over a barrel. I want his artwork. I want it NOW. And I'd rather part with my hard-earned cash to him than to anybody else. Frustratingly, he's in the middle of an English assessment which is very nearly due.


Patience! Not one of my virtues.


In the meantime, I've uploaded my reformatted file to the KDP website, published it cover-less by mistake and had to depublish it. Not a big deal, and actually a worthwhile error to make, as it turns out. Looking at it on a Kindle app on my laptop, it's not a bad result. I can't say I like it, but everything's in the right place. In iPad view, it's quite a different story. My chapter headings and the little stars are independently off-centre. And on neither platform does my wretched Table of Contents actually work. I had my suspicions about that when I was making it. KDP insists you remove the page numbers and leave the chapter headings, because e-books resize and number their pages according to the viewer's choice of font and size. But the hyperlinks are surely embedded in the page numbers, and, unsurprisingly, disappear when deleted. I'm going to have to Google that one and figure out exactly where my Table of Contents went wrong.


So KDP's on hold, while I'm waiting for my artist son to draw up a cover. I've got some reformatting and a Table of Contents to work on. But I feel like the e-book is kind of in-hand. My next step is to check out Print on Demand with CreateSpace and see what the requirements are there.


Naturally, they're totally different. This time, I need to right justify. I get to choose the fonts and, so long as they're embedded, I can apparently go to town. But only when I'm finally uploading do I discover that the old Word for Mac version I'm using doesn't do embedded fonts. Then I actually have to find out what they are. Fortunately, converting the file to a PDF solves the problem.


Choosing the fonts really ought to be fun. I look around on Google or a while and end up deciding on Garamond 11 pt, because there doesn't seem a good reason not to and I want to move on. My tabs could go back in, but in the end I stick with paragraph indents. If only margins could be that straightforward!


I spend hours reading about typesetting, trim sizes, inside and outside margins, the 'golden ratio', line width, white space, leading (pronounced ledding), gutters and drainpipes. (Okay, I made up the drainpipes.) At the end of the day, I realize the book I want to design is going to have a zillion pages and cost a fortune to print. I sleep on it, and the next morning enlist my husband in picking which of the paperbacks we own are most pleasing to the eye. We fairly quickly agree on a trim size. Margins take longer. By this time, I've abandoned the separate gutter idea, so we're focusing on a decent outside margin and a larger inside one.


Although when writing, it is normal to centre the text on the page, typesetting for print requires something different. For a black-and-white fiction book, the most critical margin is the inside one (left on a right-hand page and vice versa). This margin needs to be big enough to accommodate the binding and allow words on the inside edge to be clearly visible despite the inevitable curve of the page. We look, we study, we criticize - other people's books, that is. We get out a ruler. We measure the covers and outside margins of the books we like the look of, and subtract the second from the first. At last, we have our inside margin measurements. Except that no two are the same. With mounting desperation, we measure the width of the visible text. I want it to be wide enough that the block of text on each page looks chunky and inviting, not skinny, tall and mean. I'm very taken with the 'golden ratio' and the aspiration of 65-70 characters on a line, but I'm also mindful of the cost per page and the difference between printing 340 pages and nearly 400. It's all a compromise. Together we come to a decision, and I resolve then and there not to give margins any more of my head space.

And so the journey begins...

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 20 January, 2016 at 1:45 Comments comments (0)

As I've already explained elsewhere, I am one of the 'unworthy' ones: one of - possibly a dying breed - of writers who dares to dream of the (nearly) unattainable.


I want to be published.


I am not a former journalist, editor or publisher, my degree was neither in Literature nor in Creative Writing, I haven't even done a prohibitively expensive, six-month, industry-based writing course. In short, I have no 'writing qualifications'. Persona non grata - that's me. Apparently, I am not a good risk.


But why 'a dying breed'? For two good reasons.


Casting a jaundiced eye around the web, I am left with the unassailable impression that, despite a few protestations to the contrary from an ever-decreasing number of agents and publishers, almost no-one, in Australia at least, will seriously consider a submission from an author with no writing credentials or publishing history. Getting a novel into print has never been easy, I know. But just as the current climate decrees that nary a youngster without a degree can lay claim to a career in any white collar business, so the publishing industry seems to require proof that a writer can write. Do they no longer trust their own evaluation?


'Sour grapes?' I hear you ask. Not a bit of it! Well, alright, perhaps a little. I made my submissions…


My second reason is far less emotive and contentious. It is, of course, that, for those of us who have been soundly rejected, getting published is no longer unachievable. Thanks to a burgeoning range of companies and publishing platforms, all made possible by our great Saviour, the Wonderfully Welcoming Web, we can find ourselves in print at the press of a button, in the blink of an eye. Well, perhaps not quite. Which brings me to the purpose of this blog…

 

I've made the leap. Or, to be more exact, I am in the act of making it. I have made the decision to join the ranks of the great unwashed. I am going to self-publish. And for my own interest, if for nobody else's, I'm going to document some small part of the experience.

 

So, where exactly am I at?

 

My eldest son has recently started selling fitness products on Amazon. In Japan, as it happens. And with some success. I have to say, he has earned my admiration. The hurdles he has overcome would undoubtedly have daunted, if not flattened, most adventurers. But Jack and his business partner simply power on, forging their way through the jungle of commerce that is patents, agents, customs brokers, financiers, factories, freighters, designers, intermediaries, translators and so on and so forth. Until the product makes its way to the warehouse of the retailing giant. And then they have to make a sale. And so they do. It seems to work.

 

So, Jack says to me, "Why not publish your book yourself and sell it on Amazon?" And, of course, it's not the first time that the idea has passed through my head. But it is the first time my son, the entrepreneur, has suggested it. And somehow that gives it more credibility. Quite how I am going to market it, is a whole new story. But, as Jack says, you've got to have a product first. Then you can work out how to sell it.


And that's what I'm doing. The book is well and truly written. It's been edited and proof-read to within an inch of its life. But up until this week, it had been formatted as a manuscript to present to a trade publisher. Only when I signed up with KDP and CreateSpace did I realize the significance of that…