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Are Amazon *Really* Paying Authors Per Page Read? No. No, They’re Not. [Pause] Well…

[Originally this post wasn’t very clear on the differences in lending programmes, and it was pointed out to me that Irish Amazon customers can avail of Kindle Unlimited through the Amazon.co.uk site. I’ve updated the text to improve/reflect this, and thank Kate and Caoimhe in the comments for pointing this out.]

I understand how the internet works. I know what click bait is. If I click on a headline like She Used a Pen To Open an Envelope. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next… or His Dog Pooped In His Shoe and the Shoe’s Reaction was PERFECT, I agree that I’ve no one to blame but myself. But headlines about Amazon paying self-published authors per page read has my blood pressure spiking.

They’re inaccurate because they’re out of context. The truth is buried in the posts themselves no sooner than five or six paragraphs down, but people don’t seem to be reading that far based on the tweets I’ve seen in my stream. And as for people outside the self-publishing world – well, they seem to be missing the whole point of it altogether.

Now, it’s been a while since I wrote a nuts-and-bolts post about a self-publishing thing but [rolls up shirtsleeves, takes a swig of espresso] here goes:

Amazon KDP 101

Let’s recap the basics first.

You publish your book to Amazon KDP because you want it to be for sale in the world’s various Kindle stores. A boatload of tees and cees aside, you get paid either 35% or 70% of the retail price depending on how much you decide to charge for your book. If it’s $2.99 or $9.99 or somewhere in between, you get 70%. If it’s not, you get 35%.

So if someone buys your book, you get paid. Got that?

Good. Now…

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Kindle Book Lending Programme

When you publish your book to Amazon KDP, you check a box that says you agree to make your book available for lending. You will check this box, because you won’t be able to click the “Publish” button if you don’t – if you want to publish to KDP, you have to make your book available for lending. Makes you wonder why they even ask, right? Well, maybe they’re just being mannerly. Either way, if you publish to KDP, your book is available for lending in the Kindle Book Lending Programme.

This is the system whereby a Kindle user can loan another Kindle user one book at a time for a lending period of up to two weeks. Authors get paid diddly squat for this but, hey, there’s little difference between that and me lending a paperback I bought to a friend, and you might get a new reader out of it. If you’re really lucky, you might even get a new review.

The Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL)

If you are a Prime customer, you can avail of the Kindle Owners Lending Library, or KOLL. This is where Amazon customers who use Kindle and subscribe to Prime get to borrow one book per calendar month from Amazon, for freesies, but it’s free like the hot chocolate and cookies they hand out at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, i.e. included in the ticket price.

Remember: this is for Amazon customers. And just the ones who pay for Prime.

Authors are compensated for this, which we’ll get to in a second.

Kindle Unlimited

Right. [takes another swig of espresso] This is where things start to get complicated, so stay with me.

In addition the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Amazon customers can avail of something called Kindle Unlimited. It’s basically a subscription service. For a flat fee ($9.99 a month in the U.S.), Amazon customers can download all the Kindle books they want.

Remember: this is for Amazon customers too.

KDP Select

KDP Select is when you and your Kindle book sidle up to Amazon and seductively whisper “There’s no one else. It’s only you.”

It’s when you, an Amazon author, make your Kindle book exclusive to Amazon and pinky-swear you won’t publish it in digital format anywhere else in the known universe.

In exchange you get some promotional stuff and higher royalties in some scenarios, but most importantly you get:

  • listed/made available to customers in the Kindle Owners Lending Library
  • listed/made available to customers of Kindle Unlimited
  • compensated for any borrows or downloads that may then occur.

This last bit? It was all about Amazon authors.

The Pot of Gold At The End of the Rainbow

How are you compensated?

When an Amazon customer borrows your Kindle book through the Lending Library or chooses it via Kindle Unlimited, they are not paying for it per se. No money exchanges virtual hands; the customer downloads it at no cost to them. But technically Amazon does get paid for it, because the KOLL is a benefit of being an Amazon Prime customer ($99 a year in the U.S.) and KU is $9.99 a month.

So just like Mickey’s hot chocolate in Magic Kingdom (again), it’s a perk you get for “free” that in reality is included in the ticket price.

But what about you, the author? Well, this is where the infamous pot o’gold comes in. Amazon compensates its self-published authors for these KOLL and KU borrows by giving them a share of a finite fund, which changes monthly. As I type this on Tuesday 23rd June 2015 at 9.21pm, the fund for this month stands at $3 million. If you’re a self-published Amazon author, you’ll always know how much the current month’s fund is, because you’ll get an e-mail about it.

How is your share determined? First, Amazon counts all the times that KDP Select books were borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded through KU in a calendar month. Let’s say that in May that was 1,000,000 times and that the fund was $3,000,000. DIVIDE! That means that every time a KDP Select book was borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded through KU – don’t you lurve acronyms? – the action was worth $3 to the book’s author.

So, if you have three titles enrolled in KDP Select (i.e. exclusive to Amazon) and those three titles were borrowed from the KOLL/downloaded through KU 8, 42 and 103 times respectively, you make $459, because you were borrowed/downloaded a total of 153 times and 153 x $3 = $459 if my iPhone hasn’t had a stroke.

Authors have been complaining about there being a “cap on earnings” which some might take to mean that there is a limit to how much you can earn through selling your books on Amazon’s Kindle store because the money comes out of a shared, finite pot. But that’s not what’s happening. What they mean is that there is a cap on how much they can earn from having their books borrowed via the Kindle Owners Lending Library or downloaded via Kindle Unlimited, which is, of course, a different thing.

Because – presumably – more and more books will be added to the KOLL and KU list, and Prime and using KOLL will grow in popularity (it certainly will if they roll it out in more countries – hey! Hey! *WAVES FROM IRELAND*), customers will have more books to choose from and there’ll be more (times) borrowed/downloaded, but the fund might not grow at all. So you might still be borrowed/downloaded 153 times, but because there were 3,000,000 borrows/downloads overall, now your share is down to $1 per borrow/download – and because of all the increased competition, you had to work a hell of a lot harder to earn it than you did your $3 two paragraphs ago.

Or, to put it more simply: in the future, this situation may suck.

Please note: I’m not using the words compensated or downloads to make a political statement. I’m just using it to differentiate from getting paid for actual sales.

PAYING PER PAGE READ? REALLY? IS THAT A THING NOW?

Okay. [drains cup of now cold espresso] After all that, are Amazon really paying authors per page read?

No. If you self-publish to Amazon KDP and someone buys your book, you get paid for that book regardless of whether or not they even glance at it on their device.

But

Remember those “times borrowed/downloaded” we were talking about above? Well, they only qualified as a time borrowed/downloaded if the borrower – the Amazon Prime or KU customer – read past 10%.

In other words, KOLL users and KU customers could do what we all do, which is download book after book to our Kindle and then never read past what amounts to the free sample that we should’ve really just read first, and Amazon – cleverly – didn’t think the authors of those books should get paid for that. (Personally, I agree. We don’t get paid when they download samples. Less than 10% of a book is a sample by another name.) But Amazon have decided to change this.

Now, authors will be compensated for the times their books are borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded via KU based on how many pages the customer then reads of their book. 

Instead of the “read past 10%” thing.

(And yes, before you ask, they’ve come up with a way to “normalize” the length of books to compensate for personal font size choices, etc.)

It will still be out of the aforementioned pot o’gold, or shared fund.

So I ask again: are Amazon really paying authors per page read?

If we are talking about self-published Kindle books that have been enrolled in KDP Select/have been made exclusive to Amazon’s Kindle store and are then either borrowed from the Kindle Owners Lending Library which is only open to Prime customers and/or Kindle books that are downloaded via the Kindle Unlimited subscription service that costs just under ten dollars a month then, yes, Amazon are paying authors by per page read.

But who’s going to click on that?

To reiterate: if I go onto the Kindle store now and buy your book and then never even download it, you will still get your 35 or 70% share of the retail price that I paid for it.

Therefore while “Amazon pays authors by page read” is technically an accurate statement, it is a fragment of a much longer statement that’s been taken out of context to make a prime cut of click bait.

Just Tell Me Why I Should Care – Or If I Should at all

Personally, I don’t really care. I see KOLL and KU compensation as an add-on to my royalties, not my bread and butter. (To be honest, I got more upset about misleading, click-baity headlines than I did about the changes to  KDP Select.) I don’t think it’s a bad thing, being compensated per page read. I’m essentially neutral about it.

The problem, I think, is the shared fund and its ever-decreasing share for you. But I’ve always had the same approach to problems with Amazon: like it or lump it, those are your options. You don’t have to self-publish through Amazon and fudge knows they don’t need us to self-publish through them. So you either play by their rules, or you don’t play at all. Or you play elsewhere. But I really don’t see the point in being annoyed about the terms of a thing that is entirely optional.

But anyway…

If all of this has any bearing on us self-published authors at all, it’s that we should be making every effort to make every single page as good as we can possibly make it, so that anyone who picks up – or clicks open – one of our books doesn’t even think about stopping before they reach THE END. 

But isn’t that what we should’ve been doing anyway?

What do you think of all this?

I know what I’m doing: getting back to Orange is the New Black… 

(Want more self-publishing talk? In Dublin this Saturday? I’ve got just the thing for you.)

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5 Ways To Get a Book Deal: Guest Post by Sheena Lambert

This morning we have a guest post from Sheena Lambert, whose novel The Lake comes out today. (Woo-hoo!) Sheena self-published her first novel, A Gathering Storm (previously published as Alberta Clipper) and now this, her second, is one of the first six to be released by KillerReads, an imprint of Harper Collins. Before she started on the champagne for breakfast, Sheena shared her tips on how to get a book deal… 

“So you want a book deal? No problem! The following is a vaguely scientific way of achieving your goal. For the purposes of this post, I am going to assume that you have written a book worthy of publication; a rather weighty assumption, granted, but we have to start somewhere. This is not a how-to on writing a book; this is a how-to getting it onto bookshelves.

So, let’s get started. There are a number of ways of getting a book deal.

  1. Be famous. Yes, famous people get book deals all the time. It’s understandable – it’s a lot easier to market a famous person, and most of us want to read what famous people have to write. So, go and rob a bank, or have an affair with a politician, or become a politician (just for a while – you don’t have to stay that way), and I can almost guarantee that you will be offered a publishing deal for your book.
  2. Be a journalist first. It’s a lot easier to get noticed by the relevant people in publishing if you have a track-record in being paid for writing, and it’s a lot easier to get paid work in journalism than in books. Have you counted the number of debut authors who have day jobs with the Times newspapers? Exactly.
  3. Have a wild past, or make one up. No one is interested in reading a debut novel by Mary Smith who was born and has lived all her life in the same small town in the country. But MJ Smyth, an ex-nun and recovered heroin addict who spent his/her (no one is sure) thirties travelling through Siberia in atonement for past life indiscretions? I’d read me some of that.
  4. A good head of swishy hair. I don’t know why, just believe me that it will increase your chances of publication significantly.
  5. Self-publish first. Yes, fine, it might sound a little pedestrian when compared with options 1-4 above, but it’s a truth that is becoming increasingly apparent – successful self-publishing helps you noticed by the big boys.

The Lake - 3D

This is how I got my book deal. (Did I mention my novel The Lake has just been published by HarperCollins? Finish reading this, and I’ll show you where you can buy your very own copy.) I am neither famous, nor do I have a particularly notable past. My hair is unremarkable to say the least. I have written the odd journalistic piece in my time, but I would certainly not refer to myself as a journalist.

I did, however, self-publish my first novel. Not without a lot of help from Catherine Ryan Howard and her Self-Printed books [ed. note: Oh, stop! *blushes*], I self-published A Gathering Storm in 2012, both as an ebook and in paperback. The book got itself noticed by a major wholesaler in my home country of Ireland, which led to it being stocked and sold alongside traditionally published books in real, live bookshops. So when my second novel The Lake was ready to send out to agents and publishers, I had some credentials: I had a track record of selling and marketing books successfully, I had a following who were keen to read my next book, I had form.

Interestingly, the traditional publishing deal I got for The Lake was not so traditional – rather it came in the form of HarperCollins’s new digital first crime/thriller imprint KillerReads. Instead of arguing against the ebook revolution, HarperCollins have embraced this phenomenal phenomenon with their digital first imprints which publish the ebook, a little like the hardback of yore, as a forerunner to the paperback (my paperback is out on 4th June. Just saying). With a digital first imprint, the ebook is given all the pomp and circumstance it deserves, rather than being treated like the less-loved, problem child that has to be endured.

As a self-published author, the idea of putting emphasis on the ebook felt very comfortable for me, and I’m guessing HarperCollins KillerReads liked the fact that I had experience of digital publishing. No one successfully self-publishes without learning the social media ropes, and that experience was very useful when it came to working with the HarperCollins team in the run up to The Lake’s publication date.

So in the proverbial shell of the nut, self-publishing my first book helped me get an agent for my second, and a publishing deal followed. And I’m not the only writer this has happened to. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about a self-published author landing a significant book deal with a publishing house. Rather than putting publishers off, having experience of self-publishing can make you and your book a very attractive gamble these days.

So what are you waiting for? Not a six figure deal from one of the Big Six (or is it Five these days?) I hope? Well, of course, that would be nice, but while you are waiting for that, invest in a copy of Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed [ed. note: I see what you did there…] and get yourself a head start in self-publishing.

Unless, of course, you have swishy hair, in which case sit tight. Those six figures will come to you.”

The Lake is available on Amazon.co.uk for less than the price of the venti wet latte, extra hot please, that I’ll be having in a minute. It is also a great read. The first two chapters are available to read for free here, and you can follow Sheena on Twitter at @shewithonee.

I’m off to buy some volumizing shampoo. Thanks Sheena and congrats! x

Sheena Lambert, The Lake

More about The Lake:

September 1975.

A body is discovered in the receding waters of a manmade lake, and for Peggy Casey, 23-year-old landlady of The Angler’s Rest, nothing will ever be the same.

Detective Sergeant Frank Ryan is dispatched from Dublin, and his arrival casts an uneasy spotlight on the damaged history of the valley, and on the difficult relationships that bind Peggy and her three older siblings. Over the course of the weekend, Detective Ryan’s investigation will not only uncover the terrible truth behind the dead woman’s fate, but will also expose the Casey family’s deepest secrets.

Secrets never meant to be revealed.

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Scenes from The Rewrite

As you may know, I’ve been rewriting my novel.

I started on the 11th January and I finished the main* part of the book at 1:17am this morning, after a thirteen hour writing stint that surely put me at risk for curvature of the spine, RSI and deep vein thrombosis.

This isn’t because my agent is some kind of task-master, but because this gap – from the first day I returned to university after Christmas and had handed in my Michaelmas term essays, to this coming Friday when my next two essays are assigned – was the only time I had. If the rewrite ran over, it would clash with my essay-writing. If it ran over again, it would clash with studying for and then taking my exams in May. The summer is reserved for (a) being horizontal, preferably in a sunny place with a view of a pool, a stack of the all the books I haven’t read since last summer within easy reach and (b) writing the first draft of another book. (Sweet baby Jesus.) So I had to put a lifetime’s habit of procrastination and deadline-avoiding to one side and just get on with it.

I’m writing a post for another website on how exactly I managed to do that, but since this blog is but a stretch of hot, black tarmac for some tumbleweeds to run across, I thought I’d share some scenes from The Rewrite this morning, just so you know moi’s little pink blog is still alive.

The Rewrite wasn’t supposed to be too structural, as in none of the major plot points needed fixing. This was more a case of deepening characterization (I LOVE plotting but sometimes I, ahem, forget to flesh out the people the stuff is happening to), ironing out a few rough edges and just making everything stronger and clearer and more convincing.

But you change one thing…

I wasn’t at the end of the second chapter and things were already getting twistier than a Curly-Wurly. So I turned to my forever friends, Post-Its. And then because I needed somewhere to stick them, I printed out charts, one for each act. And then I had to get a calendar so I could keep track of my progress, and then I had to make a calendar for the book so I could keep track of what happened when, and then I had to make a scene list because I wasn’t sure where the B story chapters were going to go and then I keeled over and wondered why my dream wasn’t just to see the Grand Canyon or something, you know, doable.

(Although that was one of my other dreams. And I did get to see the Grand Canyon.)

In the end though, I did it. I have to say that when you have a twisty, complicated plot, writing fast is a huge advantage. Whenever I was forced to take a couple of days’ break, it took me a while to get back up to speed with who was where and why and what was supposed to happen next and what thread I was supposed to be picking back up, but when I wrote everyday, all that stuff just stayed in my head. (Mostly. When it didn’t: Post-Its.)

Now I’m going to leave it for a few days before I do a typo-hunt and consistency check and also, because this book is a logistical nightmare, a list of who knows what when, so I can check I haven’t made any plotting decisions that could only be explained by coincidence, psychic abilities or Oceanic Flight 815.

Then I’m going to put on my PJs, order in and binge-watch the shite out of something.

THE END.

(Until next week.)

*My book has a main, A story that takes up 80% of it. Two other characters have chapters that are interspersed throughout the main plot, which isn’t really a B story technically speaking but that’s just what I call it for ease. 

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I wish you everything you wish for in 2015.

Today Writing.ie have posted a blog of mine, Finish Your Damn Book. It’s what I needed to read this time last year, so I’m sharing it with you now.

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Are you writing a book? Been meaning to start? Been “finishing” a novel, whatever that means, for longer that you’re comfortable admitting? Maybe you’re like Badger in Breaking Bad, well able to lead anyone who cares to listen through every plot point of your tale – a Star Trek spec script, in his case – only to end with “I gotta write it down, is all…” If so, then read on.

One afternoon in August 2008 a much anticipated e-mail landed in my inbox. I’d sold my laptop back in Orlando to fund my subsequent adventure in Central America, so I had to check it on the family PC, in full view of half of the family. It was from an assistant at a literary agency in London – let’s call her Helen – who had loved a travel memoir I’d sent her, Mousetrapped, and had pitched it enthusiastically to her boss. I double-clicked. I’m writing with some good and some bad news. Unfortunately we don’t feel there is enough of a market for us to be able to represent Mousetrapped … However we love your writing. What are you working on now? We would be really interested in reading it. Do you write fiction?

Fiction was all I really wanted to write – Mousetrapped has just been an accidental detour – and now here was an agent saying she wanted to read it! Fantastic! Now there was just the little matter of actually writing some…”

Click here to read the full post.

See you next year!

 

The Surprising Thing About Rejection (Or What I Learned in 2014)

This will likely be my last blog post in 2014 and you might want to make a cup of coffee, because it’s gonna be a long one…

In past Decembers I’ve compiled gift guides, and last year I shared my first Christmas in a place I lived all by myself (and so could decorate as I pleased, safe in the knowledge that no one could touch anything or suddenly appear with a strand of the most offensive substance known to man, tinsel). But this year I’m coming to the end of my first term in Trinity College Dublin, barely three months in to a four-year degree in English Studies that I started at the ripe age of 32, and assignments are due. This necessitated a move to Dublin, one of the most expensive cities in the world; the shoebox I now live in, while comfortable and suitably Catherine-fied, couldn’t fit as much as a bauble. (I have no books here. That’s how small it is.) And once college breaks up at the end of the next week, I have to use my month off to—

Well, let me back up a little.

This has been a very exciting year. There was always something about 2014; I knew it would be a big one. During it I did three things I’ve been dreaming about for ages, for years in some cases: I moved to Dublin, I started studying English at Trinity and I signed with an agent. The agent, rather. The one who is at the very top of your wish list if you’re a woman who writes crime, the one who represents such awe-inspiring writers that you nearly didn’t even bother submitting to her because you assumed there was absolutely no chance, and when—

Well, let me back up a little again.

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2014 Highlights: Trinity College Dublin as it looked on my first day as a student. 

I want to tell you about the two very important lessons I’ve learned this year.

The first is that when it comes to making big changes, pursuing your dreams or just doing anything that will yank you out of your comfort zone, making the decision to do it is the hardest part.

Honestly, it is. Strolling around Trinity’s historical campus one sunny day in September – having previously only ever strolled around it as a tourist – I couldn’t quite believe that I was there. I go here now, I kept whispering to myself. How had it happened? [For those of you who don’t live in Ireland, Trinity is like Ireland’s Harvard. It’s for the top scorers. Mature students aren’t considered on their years-old exam results – thankfully! – but places are incredibly restricted and competition is fierce. But I filled my application form with all my book and publishing antics over the last five years, and I’m convinced that’s what got me in.] I’d had to apply; interview; come up with the fees; find a place to live in Dublin in what was described as the worst year for rental accommodation in three decades; move out; move up; and show up for the first day of Orientation.

But they were all easy compared to sitting in front of my computer at 11.30pm on January 31st last, half an hour before the CAO [Central Applications Office; how we apply to third-level education in Ireland) deadline closed for the year. I drummed my fingers on the desktop. Was I really going to do this? Could I do this? How could I leave the apartment I loved so much? Could I really move to Dublin in just a few months? Live there by myself? Afford to? Was there any real possibility that I would even get in? I’d been thinking about it for months but when it came to down to it, I wasn’t sure. It would be easier not to do anything. With minutes to spare, I finalized my application.

And that was by far the hardest part. Making the initial decision was the most difficult thing I’d had to do. After that, all I was doing was following through.

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Highlights of 2014: Champagne and Starbucks. What more does a girl want? (Thanks for the bubbly, Denise!)

Lesson number two was that rejection doesn’t mean no.

Quick recap, if you’re not familiar: I love self-publishing, and I can’t even imagine where I’d be now without it. (Not here, anyway!) But my goal has always been to get published. I don’t feel the need to justify it but if you’re wondering why, it can be summed up like this: because that’s what I want, okay? This little girl didn’t ask Santa for a typewriter because she was dreaming of seeing her book on the Kindle store after she put it there herself:

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Around about the time I self-published Mousetrapped in 2010, I finished a novel, Results Not Typical. Chick-lit meets corporate satire, I called it, or The Devil Wears Prada meets WeightWatchers. It got me a meeting with the editorial director of a major publishing house, who didn’t like that book but liked me and hoped I might write something else. We met every few months for two years, but after various outlines, sample chapters and synopses, I just wasn’t coming up with the goods. With hindsight I can see that my heart just wasn’t in it. I was trying to write a book that I wouldn’t choose to read, which of course is completely and utterly insane, and insulting to books and stories and publication dreams in general.

Meanwhile I’d had an idea for a crime/thriller novel. I am OBSESSED with crime/thriller novels. They are by far and away what I predominantly read. My favorite author of all time is Michael Connelly. If I color-coordinated my bookshelves, half of them would be black. I just love, love, love a good mystery, a chilling serial killer, a twist that comes like a sudden slap in the face. As for writing them, it’s something I thought I would do when I was older, when I had more experience both in life and as a writer. But one day in the summer of 2012, fed up with my failed attempts to write women’s commercial fiction, I caught myself thinking, When this outline is done, I’m going to try and write that thriller just for fun.

*ALARM BELL ALARM BELL ALARM BELL*

Shouldn’t everything I write be for fun? Why was I doing it otherwise? I ditched all notions of writing anything except the book I wanted to read, the book I really wanted to write.

I’d love to tell you now that I banged it out in a caffeine-fueled week or something, but what followed was eighteen months of mostly procrastination. Still, the idea was percolating away in my brain, so all was not lost. By January of this year I had a long synopsis – or, ahem, an outline; tip: if your synopsis is too long, just call it an outline instead! – and the first third of the book, written and re-written to what I thought was a high standard.

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Highlights of 2014: At the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards with Hazel and Elizabeth. (Photo credit: Derek Flynn.)

I have a lot of writer friends, many of them published, and two of them in particular (shout out, Sheena and Hazel!) urged me to start submitting to agents. I said no, not yet, I want to wait until I feel like it’s perfect or, at the very least, finished. Don’t be daft, they said. Are you happy with the first third? Yes? Send it out then. You’re not a novice, you have all this self-publishing stuff behind you, great contacts and you do freelance work for one of the world’s biggest publishing houses. No, no, I said. I’m not ready. I can’t do it. But they kept at me, Dr Phil-style, and finally I said, Okay, okay. I’ll start submitting.

And then anxiety started pushing its way out of my skin in the form of sweat. My heart began to race. I was genuinely scared of the idea of submitting to an agent.

Why?

Because getting published had been my dream since I realized that people actually wrote the books I loved to read. With 30,000 double-spaced words under my arm and a cover letter I’d been perfecting for months, this dream was still intact. But what if I sent it out and got nothing back but a form rejection letter? That would be devastating, a sharpened scalpel tip right into the balloon of my publication dreams. So of course, it was easier to stay in the limbo in between, where my dreams could still happen.

Making the initial decision to take action was the hardest part.

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Highlight of 2014: finalizing the plot of The Novel.

But I did send it out. And it did get rejected. And I was devastated.

It was rejected by three agents. The first gave me detailed feedback, and some of it caught in my gut. I knew she was right so I rewrote it. The second one just said no (or a disinterested “Nah…” in my head). The third one said no too, in the worst possible way: I really enjoyed it, but I just don’t feel passionate enough about it to represent you. As I feel all authors deserve an agent who is passionate about their work… etc

I have a writer friend whose book launches I’ve been going to every summer for the past four years (shout out, Maria!) and who, not that long ago, went to London to meet with two agents, both of whom were desperate to represent her. They both pitched to her and then she got to pick. We first met at a writers’ workshop back in April 2009, when both of us were just dreamers. It had happened for her; I wanted it to happen – and happen that way – for me. But when the rejections started coming in, I stopped believing that it ever would.

I started thinking, Well, the best I can hope for now is an agent who’ll reluctantly take me on because, well, he’ll give it a go, and a deal with a small publisher with no distribution potential and no advance. I was downsizing. Because here’s the thing: if it was a good book, I thought, wouldn’t its goodness be universally recognized?

I finished my book over the summer and decided that my careful, one-agent-at-a-time strategy wasn’t getting me anywhere. I might never get anywhere, so what did I have to lose? I submitted it to two more agents, the agents, the agents I really wanted but had been holding back on submitting to because (a) if the agents on my next-best-thing list all said the book was a stinking pile of crap, it would need a re-write, and I didn’t want to ruin my one chance with my Dream Agents by sending them the first version (although I should say the agents I had sent it to were still brilliant, amazing, well-known agents that I would’ve been delirious to have been represented by) and (b) I thought there was no point, because they got thousands of submissions a year and took on hardly any new clients.

One of the agents was so selective that she only accepted the first ten pages of your book. Fifty is the norm. I’d no chance. I actually remember being on her website and thinking, There’s no point. It was a repeat of January 31st, drumming my fingers on the desk, thinking there was no point in applying to Trinity.

photo-14

Not a highlight, but what I’m stuck with reading as my essay deadline looms. Ugh!

But I’d got into Trinity, and now I was living and studying in Dublin. Making the decision was the hardest part, remember? So I took a deep breath, submitted my ten pages and hoped for the best.

Actually, I just hoped for a response.

Both agents requested the full manuscript. And then they both offered representation, one of them even before she’d finished reading the book. I shook and squealed as I read their e-mails. And just like my friend Maria, I had a day (during my first Reading Week!) where I flew to London and met with two amazing agents and listened, slightly dumbfounded, while they pitched for me and my work.

The day before I’d got an invite to the Irish Book Awards and the day after the new Michael Connelly book came out, so that was quite the giddy week, let me tell you.

A few weeks before my London trip I was watching an episode of ITV’s Crime Thriller Club where crime writing queen Lynda La Plante was being interviewed. She said if she could give advice to aspiring writers it would be that “rejection doesn’t mean no.”

I rolled my eyes. Um, that’s EXACTLY what it means? Come on, Lynda. Aren’t you supposed to be a writer? But after my London day, I realized what she meant.

Publishing is an incredibly subjective operation. Whether or not someone likes your book depends on their personal tastes, their professional experience and even what mood they’re in when they sit down to read it. Whether or not an agent will take you on depends on all this and the level of belief they have in you, what they see in the possibility of what the book can become. Timing factors in too, of course. Maybe they just took on a similar author, or they know that a publishing house just paid five-figures for a similar book. That’s why we have these stories of Ms Author getting rejected all over town for years, and then getting an agent and going on to hit the bestseller lists.

Just because your book got rejected doesn’t mean that your publishing dreams are dead. It doesn’t even mean that you have to modify them. Rejection, as Lynda said, doesn’t mean no.

Last week I signed with Jane Gregory of Gregory & Company. Next week I’ve to hand in my first lot of university assignments. Then I start on a re-write of my novel and after that, who knows what the new year will bring? It might bring everything I want, or it might bring disappointment. I’m ready either way. I’ll keep you updated.

In the meantime, remember that making the decision to take action is by far the hardest part and that rejection doesn’t mean no. Consider this when you sit down to think about your writing goals in 2015.

In the meantime, thanks for reading in 2014, especially as life has got in the way and I’ve become so sporadic with my blogging. I hope to improve a bit in the New Year!

Wishing you and yours a fabulous Christmas and a New Year that brings everything you want.

Catherine x

(Fun fact: this blog post is the exact length each of my four essays has to be. Procrastinating much?)

[Insert Annoying Self-Promoting Message Here]

I’ve decided to change the way I blog.

From now on, day in and day out, all I’m going to post are blogs that consist of an image of my book’s cover, a link to where it’s for sale online and an excerpt from “another 5* review!” (the word another and the exclamation mark being the most important elements of that phrase).

Will you stick around?

I’m guessing not, and I wouldn’t expect you to. Were you to change your blog to consist exclusively of such blatant, repetitive, smug and utterly pointless – more on the pointless bit in a minute – content, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect anyone to hang around either.

And yet this is exactly how an alarming number of writers are treating Twitter every minute of every day.

I thought we all understood. I thought we had this thing down. I thought we’d all realized that people follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and “like” our Facebook pages not to be sold something but to find things that either:

  1. Entertain them
  2. Inform them
  3. Make them feel like they connect with someone else, i.e. like they can relate to you because you have a shared problem/experience

or a combination of the above. I thought incessantly tweeting updates about how many five star reviews your book has now, or asking us to vote for you in some internet-votes-decided competition, or posting nothing but advertisements for your book that promise us “fans of Dan Brown will think this is even better!” had all gone the way of thinking Cover Creator can create professional-looking covers or that editing is optional.

But it’s getting worse. Actually, I think it got much better and then got worse than ever before. I’ve noticed it myself lately and then today my Twitter friend Mariam tweeted this (see below), and I realized the increase in this activity wasn’t in my imagination, and I decided to blog about it.

So, here goes:

stopsignIT.

What is “it”?

It’s silly to say that any kind of activity should be subject to a blanket ban. We’re all trying to sell books, engage with new readers and increase our Twitter following, so of course there will always be an element of self-promotion to our online presence. Please feel free to tell us about five star reviews, and encourage us to vote for you in some competition or other, or let us know when your book is free or you have a little launch party going on (as I did recently).

But FOR THE LOVE OF FUDGE people: stop doing it all the damn time.

Permission marketing is a term coined by Seth Godin that essentially means promoting only to people who have opted-in to be promoted to. (Like when you buy something on Gap.com in September, check the box marked “Subscribe to newsletter” and then get at least two e-mails about layers every day for three months.) But I like to use the term and the idea to convey a simple instruction about your promotional activity: you must earn the right to sell me something.

If 99% of the time – or even, say, 75% of the time – you tweet hilarious observations, share links to fascinating blog posts and stroke my ego by retweeting my hilarious observations and links to fascinating blog posts, how am I going to feel when you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review for The Best Novel Ever!”?

Not that bothered. I might even go check it out. But if every other tweet before it has said the same thing, and all your tweets yesterday said the same thing, and all the tweets the day before said the same thing and so on, how am I going to feel?

It’d be more like this:

trex

Or on a good day:

wince

We’re not talking about occasional self-promotion here. We’re talking about a tweet stream infested with it. I think if it’s taking up more than 3 out of every 10 tweets – and that’s not including stuff you retweet; I mean your original tweets – then you’re in trouble, and all your followers are already pissed off.

Perfectly Pointless

The thing that really gets my goat about this kind of promotion is that it is COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY POINTLESS. It doesn’t work. It never has. It can’t work, because you can’t sell to people who are annoyed with you. So it’s not going to win you any sales and it’s going to cost you (virtual) friends. Why do it then?

I think people do it for two reasons:

  1. They don’t know any better OR
  2. They think they’re getting away with it.

What I mean by “they don’t know any better” is this: maybe Twitter doesn’t look to them the way it looks to you and me. Remember that Twitter is what you make of it. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish to each and every user. For example to me, it’s a fantastically interesting and friendly place packed full of people with a deep love of books, with some Irish and celebrity news thrown in. (Don’t judge me…) But for the person who just signed up yesterday, it may just be a place to keep up with traffic alerts and giveaways by their favorite brands. Twitter may look to them like a billboard, just because of who they’ve chosen to follow. Therefore, they may not know that it’s wrong – or pointless – to treat it as such. There’s not much we can do about them.

However if you’re in the second group, brace yourself: you’re not getting away with it. You may have a healthy follower count, but what’s your engagement level like? When you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review!” do you instantly get a string of retweets and a stream of congratulatory messages? I very much doubt it. And just because your follower count doesn’t go down doesn’t mean you’re not losing followers. You know we can “mute” you now, right? Unfollow you, for all intents and purposes, except you won’t know it. We’ll never see you in our stream and yet if you check, we’ll still be in your follower list. Except we won’t be really, because you’ve annoyed us so much we’ve put you on mute.

Check Your Content’s Value

I outlined above the three reasons people are spending their time online. I’ve blogged about it before and I cover it at length in Self-Printed, but here’s a quick recap again:

When you put something promotional online, be it a blog post, tweet or Facebook update, your goal should be to improve the internet above all else. Make it a better place – or a more interesting place, or a funnier place, or a more helpful place – than it was five minutes ago. Don’t just add to the white noise, because your content will disappear like a fleck of white in a screen full of static. (So it will be, say it with me: POINTLESS!)

Make sure your promotional content is doing one or more of the following things: entertaining (e.g. a funny book trailer), informing (e.g. sharing details of a writing competition on Facebook) or connecting (e.g. writing a blog post about how you’re feeling about NaNoWriMo this year or your struggle to get an agent).

Then, here’s the kicker: does it still do one or more of those three things when you take the advertising bit out of it?

Take these examples:

They are advertising:

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (a novel)
  • Self-Printed 3.0 (my book)
  • Transworld titles (i.e. corporate account)

But pretending for a second that none of the things in that list really exist, that none of those products are really available to buy, would the items above still have a value? Yes, they would: the video is entertaining, my blog post is helpful and when we see the picture Transworld shared, I’m sure most of us think, I love that – that’s so me!

Looking at your promotional content, if your book didn’t exist, could the content still stand alone? Does it have a value of its own?

What if we took away the advertising from a tweet that read:

tweet

What would we be left with? Could it stand by itself if the book didn’t exist? If the answer is no, then forget it.

The Real Life Test

Here’s another, even easier test you can do: would you say this to me in real life? Is your tweet (or blog post or Facebook update) a reflection of how you behave in the real, 3-D world?

Last week I launched the third edition of Self-Printed, and I had a fantastic prize from eBookPartnership to give away. I confined the whole thing to two days and have not mentioned it since, as you may have noticed. And this is what I did in real life too – I e-mailed my writer friends, just the once, to say the new edition was out now and that I had a fab prize going on my blog if they knew any self-publishers who might be interested. But when I meet them for coffee, do we all sit at the table saying “I just got ANOTHER 5* star review for my book!”? I can assure you we don’t, because we wouldn’t be invited back again. But because I almost never promote my stuff to my friends, they weren’t annoyed when I did it the once – in fact, they were all congratulatory  and were happy to pass the message on. I’d earned it.

So try the Real Life test before you tweet your next “Fabulous stuff ANOTHER person said about my book!” tweet.

Twitter isn’t a billboard. Stop treating it like one . It doesn’t work and we’re all going to end up muting you.

#SelfPrintedSplash: The Qs and As (and the Winners!)

Thank you to everyone who participated in the #selfprintedsplash on Friday! Below are links to all the questions asked and the answers I supplied (some of them very late Thursday night/early Friday morning…)

I promised there’d be prizes for the Random Participant Wins This and Best Question Asked awards, and here’s what those prizes are going to be: you can either have a paperback copy of Self-Printed 3.0 OR any book that appears in Self-Printed’s Further Reading section. (And if you can’t pick one, I’ll decide for you and you can wait to find out when the postman arrives with it. Oooh, the suspense!) So, drum roll please..

Best Question Asked goes to…

Jaime Adams! (If you lose your enthusiasm for self-publishing, how do you get it back?)

Random Participant Wins This goes to…

Caoimhe McCabe!

Jaime and Caoimhe, please e-mail me re: your prize choice. Congratulations!

ebookpartnershipprize

If you’re upset you didn’t win a prize, remember you have until midnight GMT tonight (27th October) to win this amazing one: an e-book conversion and distribution package from eBookPartnership valued at $299/£225. It’ll take all the stress out of publishing an e-book, leave you all the profits and it’s valid until December 2016. Click here to enter. [THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED]

You can also check out Mel Sherratt’s fantabulous guest post from Saturday.

A reminder: Self-Printed (3rd edition) is now available in paperback and e-book on all the Amazons, with additional e-book formats coming on stream soon.

Self-Printed Splash participants: if you e-mailed me your link, you should have your free copy of Self-Printed by now. If you haven’t e-mailed me, do it now. If you e-mailed me but didn’t get your book, let me know and remind me what you want (Kindle, ePub or PDF) – and, since I sent blank e-mails with large attachments, maybe check your spam folder for it first.

Now, after all that rabid self-promotion, I shall leave you in peace for a while. Tootles!

selfprintedsplashbadge

The #SelfPrintedSplash Questions and Answers

Q: Should I put my new release through KDP Select?

http://ameliasmith.net/2014/10/self-printed-splash/

Q: What’s a good freebie for a history blog?

http://heathervoight.com/2014/10/24/catherine-ryan-howard-answers-my-self-publishing-question/

Q: What do you think is a reasonable length for a £2.99 novel? And at what point do you think it becomes a rip off?

http://www.frannyfearnby.com/self-printed-splash/#sthash.HTS6ISGA.dpbs

Q: Is it best to put all my energy into self-publishing, or continue to fantasise about following the traditional route of finding a mainstream publisher/agent as well?

http://avrilsilk.livejournal.com/7586.html

Q: How should I go about selling the book to the local market (Singapore)?

http://yqtravelling.com/2014/10/25/publishing-locally/

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 10.15.21

Q: Contests for fiction authors. Worthwhile or a waste of time?

http://www.laurenclarkbooks.com/2014/10/24/the-self-printed-3-0-splash-with-prizes/

Q: I’ve been invited to an author event – you know where they stick a bunch of writer folk in a room and fans come flocking to have their paperbacks signed? TBH, I’m mostly going for vanity reasons, but are you aware of these being actually good for marketing/sales/promotion?

http://carolinebatten.co.uk/2014/10/24/my-self-publishing-bible-is-updated/

As Caroline said on her blog, that was actually the second question she’d asked me…

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 10.21.05

 

Q: What are the essential WordPress plug-ins for self-published authors?

http://www.russellphillipsbooks.co.uk/self-printed-3-0-splash-essential-wordpress-plugins/

Q: What are the top 3 things you would do to boost a book suffering a lull in sales?

http://www.patfitzpatrick.ie/end-your-sales-lull-a-3-step-guide/

Q: What’s your number one tip for a new author?

http://changemakingrockstars.com/easiest-way-monetize-write-book/

Q: Do you think book trailers are worth it?

http://www.downunderonline.org/think-book-trailers-worth-pursuing/

Q: What’s the advantage for a self-published author to work with an Amazon imprint like Montlake?

http://rhodabaxter.com/2014/10/24/self-printed-3-0-blog-splash/

Q: What are your thoughts and recommendations on managing time as a new author dealing with revising, editing and formatting your self-published book while trying to spend some creative time composing your current or next work?

http://1718neworleans2018.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/self-printed-3-0-by-catherine-ryan-howard/

Q: If you wrote a trilogy, would you release all three parts on the same day or spread them out?

http://caoimhemccabe.com/2014/10/24/catherine-ryan-howard-answers-my-self-publishing-questions-selfprintedsplash/

Q: What is the biggest benefit of having your book edited by a professional?

http://playle-editorial-services.com/catherine-ryan-howard-biggest-benefit-novel-edited/

Q: Kindle pre-ordering. Yay or nay?

http://www.sarahnegovetich.com/2014/10/self-printed-questions-with-catherine.html

Q: If you lose your enthusiasm for self-publishing, do you have any tips on how to get it back?

http://jaimieadmans.com/2014/10/24/self-printed-3-0-splash-selfprintedsplash/

Q: What can we expect to read re: social media (e.g. the value of Facebook) in the new edition?

http://kellielarsenmurphy.com/2014/10/24/self-printed-splash-with-prizes/

Q: As a new author who is completely inept with social networking, and didn’t think about how to market myself until AFTER my book came out, what is the ONE thing you think I could do that would help people find my book?

http://leedunning.com/2014/10/24/self-printed-the-sane-persons-guide-to-self-publishing-3rd-edition/

Q: As a self-published author, what do you consider the most important measure of success?

http://pillsandpillowtalk.com/2014/10/24/the-self-printed-3-0-splash/

Q: Is there any specific data on the return on investment for freebies? I’m curious about data like “100 copies given away results in 13 reviews and 3 copies sold” or some such nonsense. Separated by fiction and nonfiction. Also, what’s your opinion on whether such data would have any practical value?

http://somedaybox.com/catherine-caffeinated-self-printed-3-0/

Q: Should I be sending out press releases to promote my book?

http://www.karenbanes.com/blog/self-printed-new-edition-is-out-now

Q: What is your advice for making a mainstream self-published novel visible (as opposed to romance, science-fiction, etc.)?

https://thehungryboson.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/self-publishing-a-mainstream-novel-qa-with-catherine-ryan-howard/

Q: How do you do all the formatting required for all the different distributors without wanting to smash your head off a wall?

http://www.donnaonthebeach.com/blog/2014/10/out-today-self-printed-the-sane-persons-guide-to-self-publishing-by-catherine-ryan-howard/

Q: You’ve said that you’ve changed your mind about some things since writing Self-Printed 2. Pick one and say what it is and what made you take a different view of it.

http://franpickering.com/2014/10/24/catherine-ryan-howards-self-printed-splash/

Q: How do I choose a font for my author brand?

http://katetilton.com/choose-font-author-brand/

Q: What’s your (self) editing process? 

http://awriterinspired.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/self-printed-a-qa-with-catherine-ryan-howard/

Q: Getting your book edited seems to be simultaneously incredibly important and prohibitively expensive. Do you have any tips for either mitigating the cost or bypassing the need for an editor?

http://www.tonikakubooks.com/blog/?p=34

Q: Two years ago, when the second edition of Self-Printed came out, Facebook was easily the top social network for authors looking to reach new fans. Does that still hold true today? How about two years from now – do you foresee any other social networks taking Facebook’s place?

http://1000daysbetween.com/2014/10/future-facebook

Q: For fiction (specifically romance), where do you think you get the most bang for your marketing buck: ads or public relations (e.g., reviews, interviews, etc.)?

http://writtenbydeb.blogspot.ie/2014/10/the-self-printed-30-splash.html

Q: Do you address the topic of Advanced Reader Copies and how to use giveaways on Goodreads in Self-Printed 3.0?

http://melissastacy.com/2014/10/24/self-printed-the-sane-persons-guide-to-self-publishing-3rd-edition/

Q: What advice do you have for an introvert who has a short story series (six books so far)on KDP and is ready (and scared to death) to do some marketing and get more interest in these stories?

http://jennifervandenberg.com/advice-for-self-published-authors-by-a-self-published-author/

Q: I’m extremely new to Pinterest and mainly use it to search for crafts and recipe ideas, but I’ve heard people say it can be used for pretty much anything. Have you ever used it to promote your books? How might you go about doing so?

http://skyehegyes.com/2014/10/24/2144/

 

Participated in the #selfprintedsplash but don’t see your question? You have to e-mail it to me, folks – Twitter ain’t enough; I can’t keep track.