ARC Reviews

When I launched my first book in the summer of 2016 I hoped for 20 reviews in the first month of release. I hit my target but I didn’t do that by sitting back and hoping for the best.

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I spent some time researching reputable book bloggers and identifying those people who read in the genre that I write in.

Then in the two months before the release date I approached the ones that I had identified as suitable and emailed them to ask if they would be interested in reviewing a copy, mindful that these bloggers are extremely busy people who often run their book blogs alongside having a day job and whose TBR piles are probably higher than yours and mine put together. I approached 27 bloggers in all aware that some bloggers might no longer be accepting new books and that I was an unknown with no track record. I expected to hear nothing at all from lots of them.

I didn’t want to send off a batch of bland emails so once I had picked the bloggers I wanted to approach I spent a bit more time checking out their blogs and reading the ‘Information for Authors’ section. Many of the bloggers had specific submission criteria and so I was careful to follow it. There is no point annoying a book blogger before you have even struck up a relationship with them because you ignored their submission criteria or you didn’t research the genres they were interested in before approach.

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My email was a few paragraphs long setting out who I was and gave the important information about my book – title, genre, release date plus whatever information individual bloggers had requested. I finished my email by including links to my website and social media pages in case the blogger wanted to check me out before replying. I also included a link to an excerpt of my book (that was available to all on my website) so they could get a flavour of the book they would (hopefully) be reviewing.

The genre of romantic fiction is a broad church and I did not want someone to accept my book for review expecting a certain type of read (chick lit for example) and then being disappointed.

From the 27 bloggers I approached, 13 did not reply, one said it wasn’t her thing, one said she might consider it if she had the time and space to do so (but I didn’t hear back) and 13 offered to read and review which I thought was a pretty good strike rate.

Because I didn’t have a large social media reach at that time I also engaged the services of a blog tour operator to book me a blog tour. [Although now that Amazon’s rules surrounding reviews have been updated I probably would not do this again which is a shame because the people I worked with were lovely but if the reviews are no longer eligible to appear on Amazon as a result (if I am interpreting the Amazon rules correctly) it doesn’t now make sense to engage their services]. See Anne Allen’s wonderful blog for more information on this http://annerallen.com/amazons-new-review-rules-should-authors-worry/

I made a diary note whenever a review appeared so I could check them off my list and I sent a couple of gentle reminders to people which helped me keep track of reviewers who were reviewing some weeks after the release date.

I should stress the fact that I offered the book in all instances in exchange for a fair and honest review. It’s the only way. I had a few stinkers as a result which is to be expected as the appreciation of books can be so subjective. One reviewer, in particular, hated the book, did not hold back in saying so and referred to me throughout her review either by my surname alone or simply as the author. Ouch! But in a way I was glad because it proved that my reviews were authentic.

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This was my first foray into sending out ARCs. It was an interesting and, on the whole, positive experience. I think I had reviews from everyone I sent a copy of the book out to all bar one who I have since discovered was having some health issues which makes her lack of review completely understandable.

In order to boost the launch of a book particularly at this early stage in my career I would certainly do it again but always mindful of Amazon’s review policy at the time of the book launch.

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You’ve got to have heart

I’m watching a thriller on TV at the moment. I won’t name the show because I’m not here to trash other people’s efforts but it has been such a disappointment. The set up to the story was intriguing. The cast is outstanding and the backdrop to the story is atmospheric and adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue with a hint of danger. It has even had a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming and yet even those were not enough to ignite a spark of excitement in me about the show.

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Why am I still watching it? Good question. I held on for a few weeks thinking it needed time to grow and it would get better. When it didn’t achieve that, it got relegated to what I call my ironing/cooking programmes i.e. it gets watched with less attention than a show I am really into because I’ll clear the ironing pile or batch cook whilst it’s on. Shows that get relegated to ironing/cooking programmes rarely make it back to the must be watched with full concentration list.

When I realised it wasn’t going to get any better I continued to watch it because one of the leads is hot and everyone loves a little eye candy and I was at episode 5 by then and figured it would put us all out of our misery with the final instalment at episode 6. Imagine my distaste when I realised they had dragged this poor show out for 8 episodes in all.

Anyway, you may be wondering why this treatise on my viewing habits is part of a Flower Seller Thursday writing blog. The answer is I wanted to be able to put my finger on why this particular show isn’t working and it was an interesting exercise. As I said at the start so many of the classic elements of a good story were there. When you add into the mix that the characters themselves are, for the most part, believable you should have TV gold and a happy viewing public. If this programme had been a book I would have wall-banged it and given up long ago.

So what went wrong?

In a word – heart. In another word – soul. In yet another word – likeability.

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The characters might be believable but they are also flat. None of the emotional set ups, and there are plenty, worked for me because I wasn’t moved by the characters’ plights. You have to be able to engage with a character to be able to invest in them and what happens to them and that is true whether we are talking about books or film or TV. If there’s no heart and soul, there’s no story, however good the rest of the set up is, however competent the twists and turns of a thriller. If you aren’t investing emotionally, it will leave you cold.

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I mentioned likeability. You don’t have to like every character but there needs to be something there that sparks your interest in all the main characters even if it’s a character you love to hate. For the heroes and heroines of a piece, however, likeability is essential. You have to care about them. If we present a character that the readers like they will follow that character across hundreds of pages of heartache, turmoil and trouble, just to see how the story ends and writers forget that simple rule at their peril.

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High Expectations

When you launch yourself off on a career as an indie author you need to have expectations of what you would like to achieve.

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It’s good to have dreams but a dash of reality wouldn’t go amiss.

Writing a book takes a long time. Marketing a book takes a long time. Building a career as an author is a marathon not a sprint and anyone who expects instant results is likely to wind up disillusioned and disappointed.

Houses that are built to last have strong foundations. Create your brand with the future in mind. I was given some sage advice when I started out. I was told to assume it would take three years and/or five books to reach a point where things were ticking over career wise. The smart money seemed to be on two full length novels and one set of three novellas to spread the reach as broadly as possible so that is what I am in the midst of aiming for with that three year target in mind. We may live in a world where instant gratification is the must have but as a writer you need to think long term.

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While it’s good to keep your feet on the ground you do need something to aim for so that you know where to direct your energies. Are sales the most important thing? Are reviews? Are you motivated by how many friends/likes/follows you have? Some of these things are more important than others and it is easy to be dazzled by social media and spend all your time in the places that won’t necessarily move your career on instead of doing the spadework on the things that will.

It is very hard for one writer to compare themselves with another writer as there are too many variables involved to make any comparison worthwhile. Don’t do it. Set your own targets – the ones that you think, with your business head on, are achievable and the ones that you dream about. It’s okay to have the latter as long as you also have the former. Then make them happen.

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Writing is a slog. So you need to be able to celebrate the little victories along the way. As you hit your targets give yourself a pat on the back and then set new targets, moving the goal on a little higher each time helps keep you motivated.

As a writer it is one of the best feelings in the world when you beat a target you have set yourself. It is an even better feeling when you achieve success in an area you had no target at all because it wasn’t even on your radar. I had no idea how The Flower Seller would perform on Goodreads and so I set no target for the book on there. This week I achieved 100 ratings on Goodreads for The Flower Seller, the majority of them positive. Here’s to 150 before The Flower Seller’s first anniversary.

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Setting a Schedule

When you take the plunge and become an indie author there are lots of things to plan for but having a publishing schedule can sometimes slip down the list.

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If you were with an agent or a traditional publisher one of the first questions they will ask you once they have expressed an interest in your work is what you are currently working on and what other manuscripts you have. Some careers are built on one book alone but most are not. The professionals want to be assured that there is plenty more coming down the track from you which will make you a viable entity from their point of view.

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For indies, there is no one to ask that question but us and so it can slip off the radar but it shouldn’t and here’s why. Caught up in the excitement and terror of indie publishing your first novel it can be difficult to look up from the myriad elements you are juggling to take a moment to look ahead but one of the most popular questions I was asked when I did my blog tour for The Flower Seller was ‘When is your next book coming out and what is it about?’. Trust me when I say you want to have the answers to those questions and the only way to do that is to plan ahead.

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In an ideal world we would have all the time we needed to write, the stories would fly from our minds to our fingertips and out to the big wide world. We would be multi published authors in next to no time. Back in the real world not many of us have that luxury. Writing is something that has to be fitted around family and friends, hobbies and often a day job that pays the bills.

It’s good to have high standards and expect a lot from yourself but you also need a reality check. Consider how many books you can write, edit, polish, publish and market in a year. Don’t skimp on the estimates. In fact over estimate to allow yourself time for the emergencies that crop up in all our lives.

Hopefully before you indie publish your first novel you will have a pretty good idea of the genre you want to write in and that will also help determine the probable length of your books. This will also help you decide on a realistic writing schedule to produce new material and a realistic publishing schedule to turn the raw manuscripts into a lovely, shiny new books. I would recommend you set a publishing schedule across a period of two years at a time – any longer and it starts to lose its relevancy.

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Conscious that the more books you have in the market place, the higher your visibility should become, I set a year one target of one full length novel (100,000 words) and a novella (50,000) which is the first in a three book set. I felt that was a doable target for year one. For year two I have my sights set on one full length novel and, if I can manage it, books two and three in the novella series. Thus reaching my two-year target of two full length novels and one set of novellas. Will I achieve it? I’m going to give it my best shot so watch this space!

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Time to Write – Part Two

The thing about writing is you have to sit down and get it done. There are no shortcuts. Just you and the keyboard in harmony or despair – sometimes both in the same half an hour.

I have discovered the key to finding time to write is not to go looking for it in the first place. Your life will already be filled or else your natural instinct to want to relax will kick in. There is no free time to write. That is why you have to carve it out of your everyday routine. It is the only sustainable way to achieve your long term goals and call yourself a writer unless you have invented the ability to stretch time in which case call me.

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Woodpecker by Andy courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

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I happen to be a morning person. I love mornings! I am an early riser, the earlier the better. I love the solitude the new day brings when it is just me, my dog and a cup of tea as the world wakes up around me. I find writing early in the morning easy. Mentally, I get out of the way and just let the words flow. I do keep one eye on the clock because I have a forty-five minute window to make the magic happen. The reason I have a wonderful forty-five minute window? I get up early just to write.

It’s no good asking an evening person to do what I do. It would be like asking me to write good stuff at ten o’clock at night. It’s not going to happen.

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Once you know what suits your natural rhythms you will know the best time of day (or night) to write. Then you will need something to aim for – a set period of time or a word count target. I have both. I try for 1,000 words in my forty-five minute window.

If I have had a break from my morning routine I know that the first few mornings back in the saddle will take some adjusting to. I did this a couple of weeks ago – the first day I managed no more than 300 words, the second day it was 750. By the third day I had hit my stride. I didn’t beat myself up about not reaching the target on the first two days. I was simply pleased with the quality of what I wrote and the fact that I had SHOWED UP.

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One Step at a Time by Kitt O’Malley courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

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Sometimes writing is all about demonstrating your commitment to the project and in yourself as a writer. Showing up for a writing session, day after day, is what gets a book written. We can all hit a rich seam of creativity for a few hours at a time but it is the sheer slog that pushes a writer over the finish line.

So my tips for getting the writing done are simple:-

  1. Find the time of day or night that suits the rhythms of your body best and carve out writing time from it.
  2. Set yourself a realistic limit on time and/or word count for your writing sessions.
  3. Show up, day after day, week after week.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall short of your word count target, just be pleased you still showed up.
  5. If you break the routine of showing up, get back to it as soon as you can.
  6. When you reach a milestone in your work in progress choose a little treat for yourself.
  7. Keep showing up until the book is finished.

Before you know where you are, you will be ticking milestones off your list and your writing sessions will be incorporated into your days as if they have always been there.

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Time to write?

One thing is guaranteed in life – there is never enough time.

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To find time for all the things we have to do in life is bad enough. For a lot of writers the situation is even worse. Writing often isn’t the day job. Writing is the job we do after/before/around the day job. It may once have been a hobby but has become, often to our delight, another career. If you are an indie or hybrid author, you also have to balance all the business demands that have to be met. If you are not careful that delight can turn to overload and then panic which usually results in you being less productive and extremely stressed. Not the position you want to be in when you are trying to make your dreams come true.

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Time by John Morgan courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

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The work of a writer is labour intensive. The business side of it equally so. Most of us don’t have the luxury of employing staff or even have willing family or friends to whom we could farm out some duties. In any event, most writers are control freaks who even if offered competent help would probably turn it down in fear of what might happen if they relinquish the reins of control.

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When your one time hobby becomes a job, especially a second job, how do you ever find time for a new hobby that takes you out of yourself and gives you a chance to relax?

We are not designed to be Duracell bunnies, happily banging cymbals together without any down time. It may be sustainable for a short stretch of time but you cannot live like that for long without the cracks starting to show either in your health, your relationships or the fact you start making mistakes.

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We are all familiar with the timeless plot of many stories. You know how it goes – our hero/heroine finds themselves downtrodden and put upon, then has to find a way to improve their lot and achieve a happy ending. A lot of writers are living that plot but without the happy ending.

Next week I will share some of the tips I have adopted to help me get the work done but not lose my sanity along the way.

All writers deserve a happy ending to the work/life balance conundrum and there isn’t a one size fits all answer so I am keen to hear how you manage your writing time and what strategies you adopt when you feel your work/life balance getting out of control.

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The Writer’s Waiting Game – Part Two

Waiting to discover the outcome of a submission to either an agent or a publisher is a nail biting time for all authors as I blogged about previously. This week my blog isn’t about the wait imposed upon you by others, it’s the wait you must impose upon yourself. This particularly applies to indie published authors and is by far the hardest wait of them all.

Too often writers succumb to a mad dash for publication. All that matters is getting the book out into the market place. It is as though the temptation becomes too much. But at what cost?

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Depending on how they are working indie authors have no one to tell them whether a manuscript is ready. If you don’t have a critique group to fall back on trusting your own judgment can be a difficult thing.

Once the drafting and polishing are finished, I can understand the urge to put your work out there but too many indie authors are slapdash about editing. They make the mistake of thinking they know enough themselves to be both writer and editor or that asking a well read friend to read the manuscript will suffice.

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Some don’t see the point in wasting time in organising a proofread much less a professional one. There is a cost to hiring professionals but in the long run it is worth it. I hired both an editor and a proofreader. I also read the manuscript through several times during the process. I was amazed that the proofreader found errors (fortunately only a few) which the editor and I had missed. She also picked up a couple of niggles that had crept in during formatting.

Taking the time to get the book edited and proofread was, for me, worth it. I wouldn’t consider publishing a novel any other way. It’s an author’s shop window. Would you really want a half baked story full of spelling or grammatical errors on sale with your name on it? To do so risks losing fans who, with a bit more patience, you may have wowed with your fabulous book.

Publishing can be a crazy carousel ride but rush to publication too soon and everything you hoped to achieve will be undone at the outset.

Ignore the voice saying ‘Publish me. Publish me now!’ The extra time and effort you put in at this stage will reap rewards.

Indie authors are in the envious position amongst writers of having so much choice but don’t make the mistake of rushing things when there is absolutely no need. Put the extra time in and play the waiting game. I promise you, you will be pleased you did.

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