The Debut Novel | Q&A Tag

This is my very first, but hopefully not my last, author tag post. Suggested by the lovely Niamh Murphy, author of Escape to Pirate Island, I’m starting with a question and answer session on the subject of my debut novel.

If you’re an author and you’d like to get involved, check out the end of the article for instructions on how to participate!

What is the title and genre of your debut novel?

My debut novel was strangely enough called Flight SQA016. It’s a story about a rich businesswoman who meets a flight attendant during her weekly commute from New York to London.

The book title refers to the number of the fictional flight they travel on, at least during the outbound leg of their trip. It’s an ex-fanfiction piece and so the number contains a reference to that fandom, as well as a reference to my own honeymoon flight.

What gave you the idea to start writing it?

As with most of my favourite stories, Flight just came to me one day with no explanation as to why or where it came from. I know that’s not very helpful for budding authors but sometimes an idea just pops into your head. I’m a bit of a day-dreamer so I come up with different scenarios in my mind and let them sit and see what happens.

The heart of the matter was that I pictured a professional business woman in a first class seat, looking across the aisle and wondering why a five year old boy was staring back at her. From there, Flight was born.

How long did it take you to finish?

Not long! As I said above, I originally write Flight as a fanfiction piece. I was updating the story almost every day and it easily got over 100,000 words within a couple of months. The real pain came later when I had to professionally edit it. But more about that later.

What was the biggest challenge you had when writing it?

I felt that I couldn’t write quickly enough! I had the idea in my head but I had little time to get it out. The first online version was published very quickly and was full of mistakes. The majority of Flight was, somewhat ironically, written on a train. I used to commute two hours each way to London, three times a week. I would be on the 6 am train and quickly opening my laptop and hammering out the next chapter before I got to my stop, or worse, the train became busy with commuters who wanted to look over my shoulder at what I was typing.

How did you get it published, Indie or Trad?

I was contacted by the Managing Director of Ylva Publishing and asked if I would like to have Flight published. At first, I thought it was a joke or some kind of vanity press deal. But I looked up Ylva Publishing and saw they were a real publishing house. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, I had a busy day job and I’d never had a desire to be a published author. But I spoke with Ylva and decided to go ahead, if I didn’t enjoy the process then I wouldn’t have to do it again – and at the end of the day, it was an adventure!

What was the most important thing you learnt from the process?

It’s hard to pick one single thing that I learnt from the process because I learnt so much. Firstly, I learnt how to be a better writer. I also learnt a lot about the editing process. But I suppose the main thing I learnt is that I enjoyed publishing and I wanted to be a hybrid author, someone who partly publishes through traditional publishing presses and partly as an Indie. Each has its place in the publishing world and I’m loving how much I learn about craft and business by being a hybrid author.

What are you working on right now?

Flight 3! Flight SQA016 was so long that it had to be chopped into two books. And doing this gave me the opportunity to give something back to the fans who had enjoyed the fanfiction version of the story. I turned the second book, Grounded, into a mostly original story, I took the skills I had lernt from publishing the first book to make the second book better than what happened in the fanfiction version.

I had intended to stop at those two books. I even published two other books after Grounded, a cozy mystery called Huntress and an office-romance called Mergers and Acquisitions. But people wanted more and an idea came to me and I had to write Flight 3, which as you can tell is still unnamed.

So, there you have it! My first author tag Q&A. If you have any other questions about my writing, or publishing, then ask me in the comments and I’ll try to answer. 

If you’re an author, why not play tag?

Cut and paste these questions into your own blog with a link back to me, and provide your own answers to the questions. Then drop me a comment below with the link to your own blog.

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The necessary patience of a writer

Patience.

If someone asked me what I thought was the main thing a writer needs, I’d firstly ask what sort of writer. If they’re using writing as a hobby or as a secondary income, I’d say discipline or determination. For those of us who crazily try to make it our main source of income, however – I’d say patience. That and believing that you have a chance even though everyone tells you it is an impossible dream. Even when the bills pile up and that income seems far away – you must have faith and you have to be patient.

Writing is a long, dragged out process. Let me paint you a picture of what it could look like. (It all depends on if you have an agent, you’re publishing with a big house publisher, a small publisher or if you self-publish. So this is just an example.)

You write a first draft. Say you write 1000 words a day (I tend to write 2000 but 1000 is easier to calculate with.) In that case, it will take you about two months to have a first draft of 60.000 words (the smallest amount people tend to expect of a general novel. If you are talking genres like Sci-Fi or Fantasy, I’d say you’re looking at a minimum of 90.000)

Then you re-write that first draft into the second draft. Depending on how much work you have to do on that, you might have another couple of months ticking by. Do you then need a third draft? If so, add additional weeks or months. Then comes the developmental edits (assuming you have already found an editor and they have time right away.) That can take anywhere from weeks to a month. Then it comes back and you re-write again. That could take a sturdy chunk of time. Then it’s back to an editor for copy editing/line editing. And after that, you get it back and must accept or reject any changes your editor has made. Do you need to re-write something at this late stage? Boy, I hope not! Then it’s time to send it off for proofreading. Aaaand then you have to accept or reject those changes.

Throughout all of this, you have a cover to be made, layout to be planned and marketing to set up. Not to mention if you write a book that needs a map or a glossary. Do you want arc reviewers? What platforms will you publish on? Will there be a book launch? Can you reach your audience? What is your audience anyway? Will the book even be profitable or is your audience too small? Did you remember to eat and sleep at all? Where’s the cat?

I won’t bore you with more details. Or line up all the ways the process above can differ and actually take a lot longer. You get my point. Patience. You write a story and then you wait for a painfully long time until it is in the hands of the readers. And people, naturally, don’t realise this. My friends and family know I write my as… um… behind… off. But they also know that I only have one book out to show for it. So, I tell people I’m a writer and then have to explain that I have a new book out this autumn and two others ones out this winter and another one I’m writing now for next year. Telling people to go check out my Facebook author profile or website would be a lot more meaningful if I didn’t have to add “I have written books and they are coming soon. Honest!”

All this while waiting to see if I can make a living off this or if I have to go back into full-time employment. So yes, heaps of patience. And believing in myself and my writing, something I could never do on a good day, never mind on scary days like these.

You know what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it isn’t patience that new full-time writers need. Maybe it’s a hefty dose of madness?

Oh well, time to go write the next 2000 words. You’ll see them in print next year sometime.

 

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Kindle Unlimited and the fast moving train of subscription-based media, what it means for Authors

When I first became an author, I asked what Kindle Unlimited was. The question was met by a lot of huffs and sighs and, eventually, proclamations that it was no good for authors. It was even referred to as the devil once or twice. The general consensus was that no author is lesbific ever made money in KU. In fact, I was more than once quoted that authors made “pennies” in the Amazon subscription system.

As a marketer, I wanted to check this out for myself so I’ve spent the last month talking to a lot of people and conducting a lot of research on the matter.

But, what is Kindle Unlimited?

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription based service offered by Amazon which offers access to over a million eBooks and thousands of audio books.

In short, readers pay a subscription of around £7.99/$9.99 a month and in return, they get access to a vast library of reading material and audio books with the option to cancel the monthly fee whenever they choose.

KU also offers members access to a number of newspapers and magazines.

How do authors make any money?

While a lot of people will use the phrase “read x book for free on KU” the books aren’t actually free.

Authors get paid by Amazon based upon the number of pages read. Every month KDP, Amazon’s publishing company, will announce the KDP Select (KDP’s name of KU) Global Fund. They will also announce how many pages have been read by the membership that month. Through the magic of mathematics, a price per page is announced, or KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages). In case you hadn’t noticed, Amazon loves to name things in the most complicated manner possible.

KENP is quite low at the moment and currently (June ’17) stands at $0.0038 per KENP read. But, and it’s critical to remember that KENP is not the same as print pages or even eBook pages. A print book with 312 pages could come in at 440 KENP pages.

$0.0038 per page, isn’t that kinda terrible?

Yes and no. Because authors are paid per page read, they are paid for books that aren’t finished. And books cannot be returned so authors don’t have to worry about readers returning books.

But the absolute best thing about KU is the ability reach new readers. While a reader may not be willing to pay $5-10 for an author they don’t know, they are more than happy to pick them up at no additional cost on KU.

This means that KU books receive vastly more traffic than non-KU books and almost always dominate the top charts. Because of this visibility in the charts, books are “bought” more often and authors can make more money through KU than they do through normal sales.

When I put Huntress into Kindle Unlimited last month, I expected a drop in sales. I was pleasantly surprised to see that profit made remained broadly the same. In the chart below you will see an example of this with the red area of the chart representing usual sales and the blue part representing KU pages read. The chart shows overall profit made and, as you can, there’s not a lot of difference between before KU and after KU.

Obviously this is a small test and I would recommend you conduct your own tests in order to establish if things are the same for you and your auidence before making any major decisions regarding KU.

Kindle Unlimited, some things to know

Enrolling a book into Kindle Unlimited requires selling that book exclusively through Amazon. This means that you are not allowed to sell your book through any other distributor while your book is enrolled in KU. When you enrol in KU you are signing up for a minimum of three months.

Although in KU, your book is still available to buy as a normal eBook through Amazon, and as a paperback.
You will not know what money your book has made until the KDP Select Global Fund has been announced. This happens on the 15th of the month. For example, the June amount was announced on the 15th July.

KU is an unknown quantity but can provide huge rewards. I’ve spoken to many lesfic authors who claim that they make more money since putting their books into KU than ever before. Other lesfic authors say that KU has given the access to new audiences who they wouldn’t have reached before. And KU books dominate charts, to get your book into the Top 10 of any lesfic category for a prolonged period without being in KU is a very tall ask.

The change in media consumption and the subscription model

For every one person who says that KU is devaluing books, there are twenty people signing up and enjoying cheaper access to books. I’m not going to debate the devaluing of books and whether that is right or wrong, I am going to talk about the subscription business model.

Subscription is the in thing right now. Take Netflix, pay under $10 a month and you can have access to all the movies and box sets you like. Do you have a dog? Sign up to a dogbox service for $10 a month and every month they will mail you a box filled with treats and toys. Do you or your children identify as geeks? Then sign up to Loot Crate and have crates of unknown, often exclusive merch sent to you.

Society is getting used to paying a small monthly fee to have wider access to products. It’s becoming the way we shop, or, in many cases, don’t shop, for things. People enjoy gifts being sent to them. A Loot Crate appearing in the mail with all kinds of goodies feels like a present, one you bought yourself without even realising it. Signing up to KU means you get notifications about all kinds of books and audio books just waiting for you to download.

There’s a psychological satisfaction in having paid up front and feeling that you are getting products for free… even if you know you’re not really getting it for free.

KU membership is growing and it’s a model that is going to be pushed and incentivised, by Amazon. As more, younger, shoppers start to sign up it will start to become the norm.

Soon authors who aren’t in KU will start to suffer. Especially those charging a premium for their books. If readers have a choice between accessing books in their “free” library or paying $5-10 for a book outside of their library, which do you think they will choose?
As a genre, we need to catch up to this trend and be aware that it is happening. We can’t sit on the fence and complain that KU is devaluing our books, well, you can… but I wouldn’t recommend it.

It wasn’t long ago when publishers could say that no big author is in KU and it’s only real benefit was to unknown authors. Not anymore. J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter and Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games are both now in KU, though, presumably, they have different deals regarding exclusivity. Mainstream publishers are catching onto the subscriber trend and they don’t want to be left behind. They are having to re-work their royalty structure to encompass the confusing world of KU and exclusive deals, but it’s worth it because… like it or loathe it… subscription based models are the future of book buying.

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Should authors bother with creating paperbacks?

I recently asked what questions people had about writing, publishing, and marketing. One that came up a lot was about paperbacks.

Mainly, writers wanted to know if paperbacks are profitable and worthwhile.

To answer this questions, we need to explore the process of creating a paperback.

So, how do you make a paperback?

Creating a paperback and creating an eBook are two very different things.

There are some pages that are relevant in an eBook that you wouldn’t want in a paperback, for example, any pages that have links in them.

Some authors organise pages in different orders depending on eBook or paperback format.

But, the biggest difference is in the formatting. The margins, headers, footers and, page numbers needed for paperbacks can make the creation process quite long and complicated.

Paperback creation tools

Many people start out using Microsoft Word, it’s a tool that many of us are familiar with and, despite its clunkiness, it is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s also the tool that many authors write and/or edit with, so it’s already paying for itself. While it’s a great tool, it can be time-consuming and buggy.

Other tools like Reedsy’s online editor, Scrivener, and Vellum are also available. In the case of Vellum, a paperback can be created in a handful of clicks. This means that hours of work in Word can be condensed into minutes of work with Vellum.

But that convenience comes at a price, $250 to be exact. Although for that money you can create unlimited eBooks and paperbacks with some state of the art software that substantially reduces your formatting time.

Know your markets

While it’s impossible to predict sales of an upcoming novel, there are reasonable assumptions that you can make regarding your market.

It’s common knowledge that paperbacks in Australia are very expensive, prohibitively so. If you know that the majority of your market are Australian then you might want to think twice about creating paperbacks if there is an associated cost of you doing so.

On the other hand, readers of books that originate from fandom worlds are more likely to want to hold the product in their hand. A book with a fandom audience should always have a paperback option available.

Some genres are more likely to encourage paperback purchase, science fiction, and fantasy being prime examples. The increase in artistically beautiful covers in the fantasy genre is encouraging readers to want to own a hard copy. Romance is considered more of a “disposable” genre, with large volumes of work being produced and prices being driven increasingly lower. Many romance readers expect a cheap, steady stream of new fiction to be available to them and often won’t want to pay extra for a paperback version.

It’s important to take a reading on your books subject matter, genre, and any information you have about your audience.

The importance of POD

If you are wondering if paperbacks are worthwhile then it’s absolutely essential that you use POD (Print-on-Demand). Never pay for a print run of books unless you know they will sell.

POD is the system that Amazon uses, via CreateSpace. It means that authors upload cover art and an interior PDF of their manuscript and the book is only printed when a customer buys a copy.

While this is more expensive than a large print run, it means that books are only created when necessary and there is no initial outlay of costs. The only cost is the creation of the artwork and the interior PDF file.

Don’t forget the cover costs!

Something that often gets overlooked in the paperback discussion is the extra costs involved with cover creation. An eBook doesn’t need a spine or a back and therefore the costs of just creating an eBook cover are slightly lower.

Once you venture into the world of paperbacks, you need to create the extra artwork.

Whether this is something you do yourself or something you ask someone else to do, there is probably an associated cost to take into consideration.

Putting it all together

Now it’s time to put it all together. And this is where the maths comes in.

You need to calculate how much it costs you to produce a paperback. And by that I mean the cost of creating the files, not the cost of printing a book.

If you pay a formatter, what is that cost? Do you own software like Vellum? How much did you pay for it? Even if you use Word and do it yourself, how much time are you spending on creating a paperback and how much is your time worth?

Once you have a cost of creation then you need to look at profit margins.

Let’s say that you treated yourself to a copy of Vellum at the cost of $250. Amazon/CreateSpace/Lightning will provide you with your profit margin per book sold, let’s assume that it is $3 per book sold. You would need to sell 84 copies in order to start turning a profit. It’s worth considering if you will use the Vellum software again, let’s say you have another book out in the next six months. With two books out, both making $3 per book, you’d need to sell 42 copies of each book to make a profit.

If you pay a formatter $50 to create the print interior, then you’d need to sell 17 books in order for it to be profitable.

If you use Microsoft Word and you take on the formatting yourself, then technically the first book you sell will make you a profit. Unless you put an hourly rate on your time and know that you could have made more money if you had spent that time marketing or writing. It’s always important to cost up your own time.

And don’t forget to add in any extra costs with regards to the cover. Work out the difference between an eBook cover cost and a paperback cover cost and add that figure into your calculations.

The bigger picture

But it’s not all about pounds and pence or dollars and cents. It’s also about the kind of author you want to be.

If you want to do public readings, book signings, or publicity events, then you’ll need paperbacks.

And, even though some of the stigma of indie publishing is starting to wane, there is still a feeling that a paperback solidifies the “realness” of a book. Family members will often want a paperback copy of your book, digital copies are sometimes considered nothing but a series of 1’s and 0’s and not a real product. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears went into it.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to convert to paperbacks. But I think the most important thing is, don’t take what other people tell you on face value, test it for yourself. Every book is different, every audience demographic is different. Most authors are grateful for any sale at all, don’t lose yourself a sale because you didn’t test your own market.

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eBook piracy vs clickbait

I’ve recently seen quite a few authors discussing that their book has been found on various piracy sites. I wanted to write a blog explaining a little bit about the difference between piracy and clickbait, as often, these piracy sites are not entirely what they seem.

If you go to Google and type the word “free” as well as a book title and an author name, you’ll be presented with pages of websites, claiming they have a link to a free copy of the eBook. Naturally, many authors see this and take it at face value and assume that their book is being pirated.

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Writer’s envy

“Man, I wish I wrote that!”

What writer hasn’t thought that. In fact, what reader hasn’t thought that at some point?

Be it a fanfic, a book, a play, movie or the lyrics of a song – we all have experienced that feeling of finding something that felt so brilliant to us that we desperately wished our brains could have created it. In short, we are hit by writer’s envy. (Or writer’s jealousy or writer’s admiration as the case may be.)

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IGrounded, The Sequel to Flight SQA016‘m very happy to be able to finally show off the cover for Grounded, the sequel to the best-selling lesbian romance novel Flight SQA016. As per Flight SQA016, the cover was hand drawn by the fantastically talented Esther Koster and I’m sure you will agree that it is just as adorable as the first cover.

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The Novel Journey: The process

Today I (finally) started to work on my new novel; The Hunt.

As I previously mentioned, work has been very busy lately and so writing had to take a backseat. However, I now have a much clearer schedule ahead of me and  I’m looking forward to this new project.

I’ve had a few people ask me what my process is when I write so I thought I would go ahead and explain how I go about it. It’s important to note that all writers are very different. This is just what I have found that works for me. I know there are a lot of articles out there that explain how each and every step of the writing process works. I’ve largely ignored all of these. Personally, I think it’s all too easy to get lost in the “how” and to never actually get into the “doing”.

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The Novel Journey: The start

It’s been a while since I lasted posted about my novel journey and that had mainly been down to time. There have been periods in my writing life where I have managed to squeeze in huge amounts of writing. Tens of thousands of words into a few weeks. I wrote a million words of free fan fiction in just over a year. But lately there has been a lot going on. New businesses to launch, new clients to work with, a new house to decorate and lots of business travel.

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A Novel Journey: The churn

As part of my novel writing journey, I’ve spent the last few weeks doing some market research into the world of lesfic and I’ve come to a, possibly unpopular, conclusion. And that is that the churn in the lesfic world is frighteningly huge.

When I say churn I mean the investment kind and not the butter kind. But, what do I mean by this? I mean that it seems to be very common for some lesfic authors to mass-produce books with little care as to the quality of the final product. This can range from issues with editing, presentation or just the storyline being a repeat of their previous novels.

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