Friday, 31 August 2012

Yes, we are all independent

We're all independent, we authors. Whether we are self-publishing, or publishing with trade presses, or a mixture. Some people use the word "indie" for self-publishing, which reveals a misunderstanding of what being a "published" author is. And, for those of you who are looking for a publisher for your work, it's important to know.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: question about covering letters

As this blog winds down, I have a final question for Dear Crabbit:
Dear Crabbit
I've just finished reading Dear Agent, and I wish there had been such a straight forward, helpful book around when I first started submitting my writing to publishers and agents!

I hope you don't mind but I have a query about the 'cook paragraph'. I don't have many writing credits - 2 e-published short stories (via [name redacted]). One is erotic horror and therefore relevant in regard to my supernatural suspense novel. The other is gay fiction - again it's supernatural suspense, so relevant - but there is a stronger erotic element (however, it is not erotic romance). I am simply not sure whether to include this information in my covering letter... or how to include it, exactly.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A new blog baby: Caroline Young

Just as this blog approaches retirement, I'm delighted to introduce to you a new blog baby. (A blog baby is a blog-reader who gets a trade publishing deal and says that the advice on this blog helped her/him to that.)

Friday, 24 August 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: what if I can't afford professional editing?

From a blog comment:
Dear Crabbit,
It would be great if you did a post on the best things we can do if we can't afford a full-editing service, Nicola. I'm on a strict family income and spending on my writing just can't take centre stage. I can save and build some money to use, and would love to know the best way to spend it to get the best advice for my work. I can see how important outside proof reading and editing can be, so I want to get it right with my limited resources!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Dear Agent: Extract 5 - What not to say

As well as containing step-by-step advice about how to write every part of the letter that you hope will catch you an agent and/or publisher, Dear Agent highlights many of the things not to do, the often-invisible pitfalls that so many writers fall into.

To coincide with the workshop I'm giving about pitching, today at Edbookfest, here are some of them, in the fifth of my free extracts from the book (before proof-reading):

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Will the real Nicola Morgan please stand up?

Dear readers and new visitors,
Since I'm aware that many people are being sent over to this blog to see what I do - thanks to the upcoming Edinburgh World Writers' Conference - I may as well tell you something.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: please help with my 25-word pitch!

Since I'm doing a workshop on pitch paragraphs at #edbookfest next week, I'm happy to offer you this question for Dear Crabbit:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"Social media only sells social media"? Really?

There's been a great deal of talk on t'interweb about the articles by Ewan Morrison, such as this recent one, on various aspects of modern writing and publishing. (I'll be meeting Ewan soon, as we are two of the 50 international authors picked to take part in the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference from Friday to Tuesday, as part of #edbookfest. I'm sure we'll be talking about ebooks and self-publishing...)

Oh, and there's an excellent article here - Social Media Scamsters, by Laura Miller - which picks out aspects of Morrison's argument which I very much do agree with. It's an excellent article, I think.

Anyway, apropos of this, I received a question for Dear Crabbit. (My bold.)
Dear Crabbit,
Do you feel that it's necessary for unpublished/newly published writers to have an online presence? 
People scold me for not having a twitter feed or blog dedicated to my work, and that I'm missing out on people who could potentially be interested in it. But then on the other hand I hear advice from writers such as Ewan Morrison [same link as above] telling me that 'all social media sells is social media'. 
So Crabbit, I am torn. In 2012, is having a twitter feed a prerequisite for having a healthy career in publishing? I don't have any problems personally with social media, but just feel that it probably should be a genuine endeavour (such as your own).
Ewan Morrison may be right about many things, and he's asking very good questions, but he is wrong when he says: 'all social media sells is social media'.

One other thing that social media sells is, self-evidently, Ewan Morrison. (And any other author, including, I have to hope, myself.) His articles have been discussed on social media; I only came across them because they were tweeted; discussion has taken place on Facebook, Twitter and blogs, and, I suspect, Google+ and anywhere else where people congregate online. More people know about him, and therefore his books, because of social media and it's likely that, for example, next time the people who've heard about him see one of his books they are more likely to look at it more closely, taking them a significant step closer to buying it. Same applies, I'd argue, for any writer who is behaving well with social media.

I agree with his unpicking of how social media are less good at directly selling books than many believe - the figures he quotes tally with my own experience (not always a good measure, I know) and most are figures I've seen often before (also not a good measure, but still!) But social media also provide very good ways of revealing people - in this case, authors - and nowadays many readers like to read books by authors they feel they "know". If nothing else, the names of authors using social media are likely to be better known than their peers who aren't on social media. Brand recognition. (Let me say, as I've often said in the past, that this is not why I spend time on Twitter: I do that because I have fun there, learn things and make friends. It's my water-cooler. But I can't deny the benefits I've found there, in terms not just of enjoyment and learning but also of increasing readership.)

Remember that outliers - whether Amanda Hocking, EL James or JK Rowling - should always be seen for what they are: exceptions, and their success is usually unpredicted or unpredictable, and unrepeatable. Try to emulate them if you wish, but don't expect it to work out the same way even if you do exactly the same as they did. You need magic fairy dust, too.

But, leaving that aside, let me unpick the email I received, which is the point of this post:

1. Is it "necessary for unpublished/newly published writers to have an online presence"? Depends what you mean by "presence" and "necessary". It's very hard to seem as though you have something to offer before you have a book; but, being online also (and, in my view, more importantly) means learning, and making friends and contacts. So, I believe it's not essential to life as we know it, but it's pretty useful for life as we live it. If by a "presence", you mean an online place where people can find something about you, then yes, absolutely. But it does not have to be a complicated, extensive, or sophisticated presence: a simple web page would be sufficient as a start, with succinct information about you and, ideally, a way to contact you. Something dynamic, such as Twitter or Facebook, is useful but only if it is dynamic. A static, under-used Twitter or FB presence is worse than none at all.

2. "I'm missing out on people who could potentially be interested in it"?  No, you're missing out on people in whom you could potentially be interested. You can gain a lot, learn a lot.

3. "all social media sells is social media" - not only is this, as I said, patently untrue; it's also missing the point. Social media is not an end in itself, though I'm sure Facebook would love to think it is; it's about what you can do with it. It's a vehicle for connecting. Some of the companies behind it may be big and bad and selfish and may indeed be selling themselves (of course they are!) and there are unattractive aspects to that, but in terms of its use, it's very useful.

4. "having a twitter feed a prerequisite for having a healthy career in publishing"? Not before you're published, no, in the sense that it's not the case that you won't get a publishing deal without one. However, you know I'm a big fan of Twitter, because it's fun, and I learn things and I like to chat and listen, so, at some point in your career I believe you will find it very useful. But if you don't want to, you DO NOT HAVE TO DO IT. (I'm only shouting because I want publishers to hear.)

5. "a genuine endeavour (such as your own)"? I'm not quite sure what this means, though it sounds complimentary! But I think all good Twitter activity is "genuine". I don't think it works when people fake it or get others to do it for them. And if it does work like that, I don't like the idea.

If you're writing non-fiction, you definitely do need a platform (eg and blog plus Twitter) but for fiction, far less so. [Edited to add: I'm talking specifically about the need for a platform when attracting an agent or publisher.]

Don't do anything you don't want to do. Write first, think about the rest secondarily. But you might have a lot of fun and learn a lot if you engage in whichever bits you feel might work for you.

It's also worth noting that Ewan uses Twitter very actively, so I don't think he's meaning to suggest you shouldn't do it...  I'll ask him on Friday.

He's also written a fascinating Guardian piece today about fanfic. How did I hear about it? Twitter. I'm another step closer to buying one of his books.


Monday, 13 August 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: my book is too quiet and midlist

This raises some iteresting questions about debut novels and mid-list novels.
Dear Crabbit
I received a rejection from a literary agent. I would like your thoughts. That my novel is "too quiet" and "midlist" makes me wonder why all books have to be "in your face" to sell well, although I appreciate she was probably being kind and meant it was actually as dull as ditch-water. 
This was what she said: “I thoroughly enjoyed [redacted] which is an entirely compelling and enjoyable romance with excellent setting and characterisation. I have no criticisms of the novel itself but believe that prospective publishers will see it as being slightly too quiet, or mid list as they call it, to really be able to compete effectively, and at a high sales level, in a competitive market. For this reason I can’t offer to take things further. I’m really sorry."
I'm afraid I understand what the agent probably means. I've blogged on a similar topic here. That time, I was talking about how a debut novel needs to be a bit shouty, a bit "HELLO! LOOK AT ME!" because a debut author needs to be launched with a bit of a splash in order to be seen at all. (Actually, sometimes published authors need to be relaunched, to make a bigger splash, but this is another matter.)

The rejection doesn't necessarily mean the book is "as dull as ditch-water", by any means. It means that there is something about the book which makes it too hard for the sales and marketing people to find a hook on which to hang it. It will disappear before being read. Now, most books do that, but publishers can't afford to launch books that look like sure disappearers right from the start. Books that end up disappearing once had publishers who fully believed they could sell them; they were wrong, but they can't make too many mistakes like that.

The only way that publishing a no-hook, unshouty book can work is if it fits perfectly into an existing series or formula. But I guess this author's book doesn't. 

No, not all books or even all debuts need to be shouty, but they do have to have some clear power to create a reaction of "Oooh, that sounds interesting - I'd like to buy that." They need not to be obvious disappearers.

Yours could nevertheless be the sort of book that will do well as a self-published book, because you yourself will put enormous effort into the marketing, effort which the publisher simply can't/won't provide, because it looks too difficult to succeed. And if the book does do well self-published, that doesn't mean that the agent was wrong. It means you were able to do what a publisher probably couldn't have, given that the publisher as other books and finite resources. It's a fact that selling a large number of books as a self-publisher normally requires hours and effort that simply don't make commercial sense for a publisher who has to pay staff to do such work.

Given a well-written book that looks easy to sell and a well-written book that looks hard to sell, which would you choose if you were a publisher? And therefore an agent...

It's one of those sad-but-true reality checks. Sorry. :(

I also have to say that, even though Dear Agent has had terrific endorsement from literary agents, and even if you follow all the detailed advice in it and pitch your book as well as it can be pitched, once the agent has read your book and decided that it isn't what he is looking for, I'm afraid his answer will still not be the one you want. unless, of course, the true reason for rejection wasn't the book but something you said or didn't say in your covering letter. In which case, Dear Agent could save the day!

Friday, 10 August 2012

DEAR AGENT: send Crabbit champagne

Happy Publication Day to my ebook, Dear Agent!

To celebrate, a bit of fun - well, I can but dream:

Dear Agent,
I know my book is the most important thing. So I have made it all sparkly and wonderful. But now I have to write you a letter which will make you see how sparkly and wonderful it is, so that you will be desperate to read it. I would have done something really cute and original, such as sending you some toffees or filling the envelope with confetti or turning up on your doorstep on a Saturday evening to hand deliver it while singing “Oh, what a wonderful day!” and dressed as Gollum. But then I read Dear Agent, the frabjous new ebook by Nicola Morgan, and she showed me that while my book must be sparkly and wonderful, the letter only needs to be sensible and clear and get right to the core of my book. 

Frankly, dear agent, I think you owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Nicola Morgan because if I hadn’t read her book I’d have made at least a dozen eye-bleeding errors and you and all your agent friends would be (rightly) laughing at my silliness. She really is a complete marvel and I feel it's only right that you should send her a case of champagne and some chocolates from Coco of Bruntsfield. Or, if you can't manage the champagne, Sainsbury's do a lovely pink Cava which I happen to know she's partial to. Very partial. In fact, tbh, we're talking flagons here.

Or, if you can't even manage that, dear lovely agent, just tell everyone to buy her sodding books. All of them. But especially this one. Because it will save you from a complete dollop of eel vomit stickying up your letter-box or email inbox. 

And now, back to writing that letter to show you how sparkly and wonderful my book is. I'm going to do it now. Really. And I promise not to send it while drunk. 

Deepest respect,

A Spiring Author


(* Actually, presumably because of exchange rate fluctuations, 77p is currently the cheapest I can make it.)

Readers, I need you. I really do. Pleeease help me shoot it up the charts with a resounding thwack. Amazon UK / / Lulu later. Please consider buying it and if you like it, please consider giving it an Amazon review. I will be more grateful than you can know. American readers, too - this book and Write a Great Synopsis are for you, as well!

[Edited to add: doing phenomenally well - No1 in both its categories and before I'd started talking about it today it had already easily outsold Tweet Right for the whole month. Thank you, readers and writers!]

At the party, we will be playing #DearAgentFail, in which you will be able to suggest all the things NOT to do or say in your submission. More details nearer the time. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

DEAR AGENT - Extract 4

Here is your 4th free extract from Dear Agent, to be published on August 10th. By the way, any agent or any commissioning editor in a trade publishing house can ask for a free copy.

Also, you're all invited to the launch party on Twitter on Friday evening! Yes, one of those Crabbit party event thangs where you either need to kick your shoes off and join in, or batten down the hatches and steer well clear. But I have a game for you so please come... More details here on Friday morning - PUBLICATION DAY!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What I won't do to sell more books

I'm at least moderately at ease with how things are for me as a writer, even though I earn far less than I believe I deserve, mainly because I am not selling many books. (In fact, I plan to reveal everything about my modest self-publishing sales quite soon...)

I know there are things I could do which would make me sell more books.
  1. Stop writing so many different sorts; focus on one genre and write lots within it. (There'd be nothing wrong with that but I happen to want to write lots of different things.)
  2. Or cut back on being a writer and bust a gut to do more marketing. (Because as far as I know there are only 24 hours in a day and I can't stay awake for all of them.)
  3. Be strictly market-focused, deliberately tailoring the books I write to have a far greater mass appeal, even though those are not the books I really want to write. (Nothing wrong with them but they don't beat my heart.)
  4. Ask all my friends, family, blog-readers and Twitter followers to write fantastic reviews on Amazon, even if they haven't read my books. (Ugh.)
  5. Do many more events, and really push my books at them, instead of my usual pathetic, "I've *cough* got some cards here with info about my books, if *cough* *mumble mumble*". (Sigh.)
  6. Spatter Twitter with BUY MY BOOK messages instead of spending 99% of my time there talking about other things and making friends. (Ugh.)
  7. Care much less about what people think of me. (Impossible.)
But if I did any of those things, I wouldn't be the writer or the person I want to be. That's why I'm and have to be at least passably at ease with the way things are for me. Yes, I think I'm worth much more money than I earn; no, I wouldn't say no to selling more books; yes, I already do more than I'd like to in terms of marketing; yes, I think I work as hard and as well as most people on substantial salaries. But I chose to be a writer and anyone who goes into writing with a direct intention of becoming rich is not my sort of writer, or my sort of person. I never did think I'd be rich, though I couldn't have predicted the shocking fall in author income that has happened in the last few years.

There is something else that might have been on that list but I could not bring myself even to suggest it in case you thought I would actually consider it even in the same breath as those other things. And that is the idea - much spoken of recently and I won't put the links here because you either know about it or you are better not knowing - of setting up fake accounts, "sock-puppet" accounts on Amazon, for example, to give yourself deceitful 5* reviews or your rivals 1* star reviews. The idea sickens me. It's mendacious and greedy and wrong. 

But even apart from that, there are lines I personally don't want to cross, things I don't want to do in the quest for sales, fame and fortune. I don't want to lose sight of the fact that writing is about the books and the readers. It's not about how many copies I sell but about how much my readers get out of my books. It's not about marketing and money but about a passion for words. It's not all about me. (I read the fascinating interview with Will Self - he says almost the opposite and I slightly envied him and certainly don't disparage his view. It's probably why he might win the Booker and I won't!)

Anyway. Back to the point. I get a massive buzz out of writing, and out of someone reading and liking one of my books. Of course, I also get a massive buzz when someone likes it enough to bother to write an Amazon review (or anything at all) and when that review encourages others to buy. I hope the buzz I get while writing makes my writing better and the buzz I get from good feedback keeps me writing more.

But without an ethical stance and an adequate measure of integrity, that buzz would feel more like a whine. A nasty wasp instead of a gentle bumble bee. I need to be at ease with the writer and person I am. At this point I was horribly tempted to say, "The only way is ethics", but actually I don't exactly think it's about ethics, although faking reviews is. There's nothing unethical about doing many other things to generate more sales.

So, not ethics, but what gives you heartsong. I've written about heartsong before. The lack of it made me ill. Being published gave it back to me. So, perhaps you'll say, "So, it is all about you, then?" If I look deep inside, then yes, I think it was all about me. But it's not now. Now it's about books and readers and it's about quality, not quantity. I've come to that conclusion, that resting point. Yes, if a commercial publisher took me on and planned to push my books hard, I'd enter into that energetically, but my self-published books? No, I just can't bring myself to shout any louder. I wouldn't enjoy it.

And that's why I'm fairly at ease with how things are.

Having said that, I wouldn't say no to any of you buying my books and generating some more sales for me! I'm not entirely stupid...

Monday, 6 August 2012

DEAR AGENT - Extract 3

The third free extract from Dear Agent - to be published on Amazon on August 10th - cheaper-than-chips for the first weekend only. (NB I have been saying it will be 50p but I just discovered that's actually not possible: Amazon doesn't allow me to make it less than 75p, so 75p it will be. Sorry. *cross face*)

Here's yer extract. It's pre-proof-reading, btw.

A few less reassuring but equally important points
Although the agent wants your work to be wonderful, she does not expect it to be. That’s because most submissions are awful. Yours won’t be awful, because you’re going to listen to what I tell you.

Friday, 3 August 2012

DEAR AGENT - Extract 2

The second free extract from Dear Agent, to whet your appetite for publication on August 10th. But first, a wonderful piece of feedback from a very important personage who has consistently supported my advice for writers. He's Merric Davidson, former high-powered and highly respected agent and now publisher and editor of The New Writer Magazine. He said:
Worth reading for the author’s “Twenty Tips To Get You Started” alone – but that’s just for starters. These nuggets should be plastered to the wall in front of everyone who’s reached the “lets try it out on an agent” stage. But don’t stop there, for if you do you will miss the wisdom of one who knows.
This is a tightly written, easy to follow, essential volume which cuts through all the nonsense and mystique about what you should/should not do when approaching agencies. In fact, this book explains that, hey, agents are really just people, not godheads!

And always remember Morgan’s Hierarchy of Obedience which "puts the agent at least a three-inch heel above you, until you’ve got a six-book deal, at which point you get to wield the heels." So true.
Merric Davidson, Publisher, The New Writer magazine
I know, you've never heard of Morgan's Hierarchy, have you? Well, read the extract that follows:

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Synopsis Spotlight: As If I Were A River

A blog-reader has offered this synopsis of her book for us (you and me) to advise and comment on. Many of you will remember that I often have a "Synopsis Spotlight" - I'm still doing this every now and then. I can't use every one that is sent to me, for various reasons, but I try to include those that I think offer some useful teaching points. I do not include those that I think are so far from the mark that they'll attract lots of negative comments.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

DEAR AGENT - Extract 1

I'm delighted to announce the 10-day countdown to publication of Dear Agent - Write the Letter That Sells Your Book! Dear Agent is my nifty, comprehensive ebook about that tricksy thing: the letter pitching your book and yourself to agent or publisher. Dear Agent will make a matching pair with Write a Great Synopsis - An Expert Guide, and once you've read them both, there will be no excuse for anything less than a splendiferous, stressfree, stylish submission.

Dear Agent will be published on August 10th and will be stupid cheap for that weekend only, so don't delay. I've had terrific feedback already. *dances*

Leading up to that, and up until August 17th, I'm giving you free extracts on this blog, and offering lots of giveaways here, on my Facebook page and on Twitter up till August 10th. Keep your eyes open! In fact, if you read to the end of this post, there's a PICK ME opportunity - two chances (and three more on my FB page) of winning a free copy of Dear Agent. Hurry, before I change my mind.

NB The extracts are all taken before final proof-reading.