Fiction Notes blog has provided writes with tips, strategies and inspiration since 2007. Writing teacher and author Darcy Pattison blogs about the writing process, with tips on how to write stronger novels and picture books.
The Wayfinder was my first published novel, 2000 Greenwillow/Harpercollins. I remember where I was when I heard the news that someone wanted to publish this manuscript. I was with my oldest daughter, Sara, at a local mall. I had to use a pay phone to call the editor back, Standing there in the hallway, near the mall office, the pay phone was noisy.
The Heartland series: middle grade fantasy novels. Kirkus Reviews says, “…a charismatic YA fantasy…”
Why a Wayfinder? A Pleasant Mountain Hike
It started when we got lost in the mountains of New Mexico at 10,000 feet elevation. The day began as a simple hike in the mountains for about eight members of my family, about 4-5 adults and 4-5 kids. We planned to walk to a snow-fed lake, eat a picnic lunch and hike over the mountains to another parking lot.
It was a beautiful day, clear with puffy clouds. The walk to the lake was easy, even if it climbed. The lake was cold, the picnic lunch great. When we left the lake, we expected 30 minutes to an hour walk to the parking lot on the opposite side of the mountain.
At that elevation, on June 17, there was till snow under the trees. As we walked, bits of snow fell into my boots making my socks wet. We came upon beautiful alpine meadows with wildflowers in full bloom. We scared a porcupine.
One valley had a narrow ditch running through it that was full of ice-cold water. You could easily jump over it. Yet when we thrust a stick in it to discover how deep it was, we couldn’t touch the bottom. It must have been over ten feet deep. I kept thinking of how dangerous that would be at night. You’d be walking along and suddenly boom, you’d be over your head in water.
We came to a post in the ground. At it’s feet lay several trail signs. Apparently, the snow had knocked the signs off and they hadn’t been replaced. We tried positioning the signs on the post, but we had no idea which way they should point.
We were lost.
Not only that, but the sky had darkened, clouds blocking out the sun. We couldn’t tell our direction from the sun at all. At this point, two things would’ve helped. A compass or a map.
My brother, the smartest man I know, had a map. It was in his car, back at the original parking lot. I had a compass, but it was back home in a drawer. We were truly lost.
From Bad to Worse
Could things get worse? Oh, yes.
It started to hail. Not small hailstones, but marble sized bits of ice. My husband pulled out his one rain poncho and stretched it out for the eight of us to huddle beneath. The hail stopped, and we hurried along the trail that we “thought” was right.
At one point, my husband ran (at 10,000 feet elevation) back to the signpost, in hopes of better clues, and ran back to us. He learned nothing new and we still didn’t know if we were on the right trail.
It hailed on us again.
We came to another valley where the ground was spongy from snowmelt. I bounced up and down, looking at a line of posts. It was hopeful that there were signs of people—someone had set those posts in a straight line. We continued on and finally came to the edge of the mountain where we could look out and see the path below us. Within 15-20 minutes we were safe at our car.
Lost? How do We FIND Our Way?
The mountain hike and getting lost made we wonder about how we find our way around. How do we navigate? It turns out that this varies widely. For example, people who live on an island only need two directions: toward the sea or away from the sea. Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest only had two directions: upriver or downriver.
If navigating or finding our way is negotiable, then it’s up for grabs as a fantastical element. I created a special skill of FINDING. Those with the skill could Find anything: a lost ring, the best fruit in a market, a buried treasure, or someone in a deep fog.
Relaunch and a New Heartland Fantasy
I’m thrilled that THE WAYFINDER is relaunching tomorrow! But I’m also thrilled that in July, a new Heartland story will launch.
Creating the Heartland, the landscape, political climate, traditions, and so on is part of the fun of writing fantasy. But it takes a long time! That’s why there are so many trilogies and series in fantastical worlds. After spending time creating a special world, it’s hard to abandon it for other stories.
THE FALCONER skips a generation and focuses on Winchal Eldras’s granddaugher, Brittney Eldras. She has trained a gyrfalcon, the largest and most noble of the hawks, and comes striding out of the north just in time to save the Heartland from the vicious Zendi invaders from the south.
Audiobook sales are on the rise, which means indie or self-published authors need to pay attention.
Goodereader reports that audiobooks are the fastest growing digital segment of book publishing in 2017. 26% of the US population has listened to an audiobook in the last year, creating a $2.5 billion market. PW reports that audiobook sales jumped 22.7% in 2017. Other reports say that the children’s book market is about 10% of the overall market:
“#11. Young adult and children’s audiobooks account for over 10% of industry sales on the average year. In total, about 18% of youth in the United States will listen to an audiobook at least once over the course of a year. (Statista)”
It’s clear that audiobooks are on the rise. But how do you get YOUR audio to readers?
Narrators for Audiobooks
The first hurdle is to get the audio recording. I’ve done it three different ways.
First, ACX.com is Amazon’s audiobook portal for self-publishers. There, you can set a book for audition and listen to narrators read a sample. You have two choices on contracts with ACX. Option 1 is a 40% royalty, but you must give ACX a 7-year exclusive. Option 2 is 25% royalty for a non-exclusive contract, which means you can take the audio anywhere. See all the details here.
A second way I’ve obtained audio is a private contract with a narrator. One was a local personality, and another I found by listening to audiobooks and then contacting the narrator.
Finally, I’ve hired a company to do the audio. I’m not free to share that info, but look for companies who deal with lots of audiobooks.
There’s a new way to commission audio these days, and that’s Findaway Voices, either going there straight or through your relationship with the ebook distributor Draft2Digital. Findaway is similar to ACX in that you can listen to narrators auditioning for your story. Read more about Findaway’s process here.
Distribution of Audiobooks
Since we’re discussing Findaway, let’s start with them as a distributor of your audiobooks. One interesting option from Findaway is their Authors Direct app which allows you to sell or giveaway audio directly to the consumer. They must listen through this app, and can’t just download files. It’s currently by invitation but you can email to ask for an invitation. It opens many options for advertising and selling audio.
Another nice thing about Findaway is their reach. ACX only reaches Audible, Amazon and Apple. With Findaway, you have the freedom to choose any, all, or none of the following distribution options:
Penny C. Sansevieri from Author Marketing Experts is known for savvy marketing tips to the indy community. I’ve read blog posts and listened to podcasts where she explains marketing in simple terms.
This book is a how-to book that inspires and explains how to get ready for the Christmas season. And it’s almost too late! As the title says, there are 50 tips, plus a handy checklist. If you’re actually marketing your books, many of these are obvious things: get your website ready, freshen up your cover, and make sure you have social media accounts in order. Some tips, however, are definitely on my to-do list: create a Pinterest board for book-centric gift buying ideas, create more videos, and plug your holiday connection via author central.
In other words, she covers the basics, but also stretches for the unusual strategies. I went into this book with some skepticism, but came out with some solid ideas.
That have to get done.
Because if you wait until November, you’re sunk.
This is a book to buy today! But it won’t work unless you get to work on some strategies immediately, she says to herself!
BOOK REVIEW: How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book
Karen Inglis, British children’s book author, does a solid job of explaining self-publishing to beginners. She makes the world of self-publishing simple and easy to understand. This isn’t a how-to book, with in-depth instructions on how to create files, upload them, or create a marketing plan. Instead, it provides an overview of her process, which is quite valuable. Karen is UK based, so many of her recommendations tie into the UK indy community, but she also extends it to the international community.
As usual, what I liked best was her transparency in revealing sales numbers, the growing pains, and the successes. It’s a successful intimate look at a successful children’s book author and her process. (She writes children’s books under the name Karen Inglis, but non-fiction under Karen P Inglis.)
SOFTWARE REVIEW: Pro Writing Aid Software
Do you ever wish you had a copy editor in your pocket? I’ve tried several software programs lately, searching for something that will help me create cleaner first drafts. Pro Writing Aid (Affiliate Link) has a nice variety of ways to analyze text and that finally pulled me in. I’m great at spelling, avoiding passive voice, and most style issues. But I recently analyzed a section of text that was about 500 words long and found that I had repeated “would” 30 times. Pro Writing Aid suggested that I reduce that to 11 times.
It’s a computer text analysis, so it’s merely telling you what is in your text. You decide if and when to revise. Maybe all 30 instances of “would” were appropriate, it doesn’t know. It’s just programmed to notice words that are used too frequently. You can download their free ebook that explains the various text items that the program flags: style, grammar, overused words, readability, cliches, sticky (too many common words in a sentence), diction, repeats, echoes, sentence variety, dialogue, consistency, pacing, pronouns and alliteration.
I loved the echoes, repeats, and overused words because it’s often hard to see these in your work. You know they creep in, but you can’t see it. I was surprised by the alliteration results because it’s not something I’m conscious of at all. It found things like “live a life,” “we wanted,” and “when we.” (Again, it’s a computer program that is merely reporting what it finds in certain categories; I might change zero items, but at least I can see what I’ve done.) Pacing was fascinating when it highlighted slowly paced passages, and then listed the word phrases that slowed it down.
If you’re an indy author, it’s not a replacement for a copy editor. But I want to deliver a clean manuscript to a copy editor, so they can find the things that really matter instead of the silly errors. This is a fascinating (if somewhat nerdy) program! Happy editing!
NOTE: The software analyzed this write-up about the software and identified these areas of concern:
Author newsletters are crucial, whether you’re an indie author or not. But for Indies, your newsletter could make or break your business.
This blog, Fiction Notes, has been going since 2008 (Yes! 10 years of archives! So search for topics!) My approach to author newsletters has been to sign up folks to get new blog posts by email. My author newsletter, in effect, has been an RSS feed, or the blog posts delivered to your email inbox. That’s worked well. But I think I need to consider some other options. This post won’t have answers. Instead, it’s me, thinking out loud about what I should do differently, and how to do it. Come back in a couple months or a year, if you want a structured How-To. This post is about options and thinking through those options.
Author Newsletters v RSS Blog Feed
Really? Do I have to write twice as much? That’s my first complaint about the idea of doing both an author newsletter and a blog post each week. I love y’all! I love that you read my blog. But I also want to spend time on my fiction. The indie author’s life is always one of balancing different needs and desires.
The blog-feed-as-author-newsletters has the advantage of killing two birds with one stone. I write once, and it goes out to readers, but also provides information to the internet at large, bringing in traffic and building readers one at a time. It’s simple to set this up through any email provider, from Mail Chimp to Convert Kit to Drip to Active Campaign. It’s a basic service for all providers. Why? Because it’s so simple and meets the needs of so many.
Crucial Question: Audience
But there’s a crucial question. Who are the audiences for author newsletters and blog feeds? I see the advantage of a separate newsletter because I’d write it for a different person. If you’ve bought, for example, Novel Metamorphosis: An Uncommon Way to Revise, you’d be more familiar with my work. Or if you’ve bought one of my children’s books, for example, The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story, then you’d be familiar with my work in a different way.
How would I write differently to fans of my work? Would I tell you about different events? For example, in private author newsletters, I might write about recently negotiating Korean rights for The Nantucket Sea Monster. I regularly hire international illustrators, so it was interesting to see how different the Korean negotiations were. They definitely wanted paper contracts, and didn’t want to sign via a digital platform. Would that sort of personal story interest you?
And how many different author newsletters would I need to write? Too many.
So, here’s one of my particular problems: I write on very different topics.
Is there a way to write for both the nonfiction how-to-write fans and the children’s novels fans? Could one newsletter interest both audiences?
Right now, I have two websites: Fiction Notes at DarcyPattison.com and MimsHouse.com. That’s two blogs that need to be fed. If I try to add an author newsletters for fans on top of that, well, that’s a lot of writing.
So, can I do without a blog? Cut out one or both of the blogs?
That seems unthinkable. Fiction Notes is a way of life.
Mims House is a place to talk about my writing for kids.
I’m writing in a circle here, because it comes back to writing blogs and letting the newsletter be the blog-feed-as-author-newsletters. That still seems like a great option. After all, I have about 3000 people on my list. Not bad. I keep it clean and healthy, which means I regularly delete subscribers who don’t open emails.
Here’s why I hesitate to accept that answer.
A Tale of Two Marketing Systems: My Response
David Gaughran wrote a set of crucial essays on his blog last year about the difference in Going Wide v Going Exclusive to KU. There aren’t right or wrong answers to this question. Instead, it’s a complicated moving-parts kind of decision. I’ve tried KU this year by going exclusive with a sci-fi trilogy, The Blue Planets World series. My page reads were growing nicely, until Amazon suddenly clamped down on some scam or other. If you had a sudden growth in page reads, they suspected that you were click farming. The weekend that happened is the weekend that I had scheduled some advertising efforts.
Instead of page reads climbing, they tanked. No one accused me personally of click farming or anything. They just erased the increase in page reads. I know the ads I had scheduled should’ve worked because I’d used them about four months earlier to nice effects. The day the ads went into effect, page reads tanked.
In other words, for me, I don’t want to ever again give Amazon control over my business.
Instead, I’ll go wide.
Going back to Gaughran’s post, then, what should I do to be successful?
Email marketing! Author newsletters, reader magnets, author newsletters swaps, competitions, Bookfunnel promos, Instafreebie promos, group promos. Without Amazon’s recommendation engine, I must find ways to bring an audience to my books. I also need to advertise on an ongoing low level all the time.
I’ve spent 15 months now faithfully working AMS ads with success. Scaling up is hard, but I think the low-level ads are fine. Gaughran says Wide Authors will have a slow burn, with slow growth, rather than the ups & downs, highs & lows of a KU Author. I’ve experimented with Bookbub CPC ads and need to return with a passion for optimizing. Maybe, I should try Facebook ads again, with a passion for optimizing. As Gaughran says, with permafree books, you have time to optimize ads.
So, I’m revisiting my options for email marketing, and especially the author newsletters which focuses on building a relationship with readers.
I’ll focus my efforts for the next six months to a year on doing some of these things:
Automation Sequence. About 18 months ago, I moved from MailChimp to ConvertKit because I wanted multiple signup forms and the ability to tag readers. Automation sequences start with a sign up form.
The multiple signup forms are great – except they get messy after time. You put up a sign up form here or there – and you don’t write down which page it’s on. So, when your business goals change or the signup is no longer timely, it’s still lingering there on that blog post. I still get signups on a writing course that’s no longer active because somewhere on my blog, there’s a post with that signup form.
I need to go through everything and clean up the signup forms!
Then, there’s the automation sequence. This is usually 3-10 emails that are scheduled to go out after a certain event, such as a person signing up for your author newsletters. The purpose is to introduces you and your work to the new newsletter recipient. Essentially, you get them up to speed so they’ll get what you’re writing about.
I have several of those written. But are they effective.
And gee, how many of these things do I have to write? Could I write multiple email #1, and then feed the readers into the same Emails 2-10? In other words, customize the first email that a reader receives, depending on the sign-up form, but then, they go into the general sequence? I need to figure out how to streamline and optimize these automated sequences.
Segmentation. The idea here is to meet the needs of the readers by inferring their interests from the information you have. What info do you have? Where they signed up, what books they signed up for, and anything else you ask them. Of course, you usually ask for very little because if you ask for a lot, they won’t sign up. That leaves the signup forms as crucial, as are links that they click on. Most email software can track clicks, and some can tag a reader. For example, if you clicked on a link to my book to the Apple store, The Nantucket Sea Monster, I could set up the software to tag you with any or all of these: picture book, children’s nonfiction, Nantucket, Apple.
Later, when I have a new picture book nonfiction book come out, I can send that person a link to the Apple store and reasonable expect that they’ll be interested.
This type of capability is going to be crucial. But. Wow! It’s overwhelming. How do you get a handle on all the options. Do I need tags for each of the possible ebook stores: Apple, Kobo, Kindle, GooglePlay, MimsHouse website?
Where does segmentation end? How granular do you get?
Gaining Readers. The other ongoing, never-ending question is where do you find readers? I’ve done a variety of things on a casual basis. I need to look again at advertising, promotions, newsletter swaps, and so on. What has worked on a casual basis and what has potential to scale up?
There are no right and wrong answers on these questions. There’s no business book to pick up that says, “Do this and you’ll succeed!” Even if there was, I wouldn’t trust it because each author is different and the answers will vary. There are only interesting articles like Gaughran’s A Tale of Two Marketing Systems that provoke thought. I think slowly about things. I do small experiments. I hedge my bets.
But sometime this year, I’ll start making decisions about where I want to head on email marketing. It’s a crucial question and it’s not easy to figure out. But I’m close to making decisions that I hope will 10x my business and sales of books this year! Close. Still a couple more small experiments to watch and evaluate. But close.
Book distribution, where your books are connecting with people, is a crucial decision for selling books. If a reader hears about your book and they try to buy it in their favorite format from their favorite store/vendor, it must be available. That means you should know where your customer shops. Children’s librarians use educational distributors. Parents might use Amazon, BN, Kobo, or a local bookstore.
Adding book distribution is an ongoing effort and changes frequently. Someone recently asked where I currently distribute. So, this is it for right now, mid-2018.
I use print-on-demand services that also include distribution. They don’t advertise the book, have salesmen who pitch the book to bookstores, or in any way promote the titles. They simply list the book in their catalog, which puts it on Amazon.com.
Createspace or KDPPrint – Upload here to reliably ensure that you’ll be available on Amazon. Rumors abound that CS will be closed, but there’s nothing official. It’s all rumors.
Ingram Spark – Upload here for print distribution everywhere else. This includes internationally, local bookstores, education distributors, and more. The books are included in the Ingram Wholesale catalog which makes them available to the general market.
Find discount codes to avoid setup pricing.
The same interior file works for CS/IS.
Use Ingram templates for covers, they include bar codes. Do NOT embed a price in the barcode, or you’ll have to change covers any time you change pricing.
Set your discount to 55% (standard) or 53% (standard with a bit of fudging but still allowed). Anything less is considered a “short discount” which means poorer distribution.
To reliably be available to bookstores, you must choose to allow returns. With the just-in-time ordering of modern bookstores, returns are fewer. Bu you must still budget for returns. Or set it to No Returns and accept that bookstores will not stock the book.
ON THE OTHER HAND, read Aaron Shepard’s book AIMING AT AMAZON (lots outdated but the basic idea is solid) and use the short discount to your advantage. He sells at 20% discount and has for years. Basically, you only plan to sell on Amazon and don’t care about any other market.
If you get a large order, call IS and ask for bulk discounts. Or do a small offset print run.
eBooks – I directly upload to KDP, BN, Apple, Kobo, Overdrive and use PublishDrive to reach GooglePlus (and a lot of other places that rarely make sales). You can reach many of those through D2D and/or Smashwords. You need a spreadsheet to keep track of who distributes where so you don’t duplicate distribution when you choose to enable/disable distribution on a certain platform.
I also sell direct on my website (not much) using WordPress/Woocommerce and use Bookfunnel to deliver the correct format to customers. (see mimshouse.com).
I also direct upload to education distributors: Follett, Mackin, Permabound, EPIC!.
AudioBooks – ACX, some exclusive and some non-exclusive. Findaway for non-exclusive.
GET A LIST OF EDUCATIONAL DISTRIBUTORS, INCLUDING FULL CONTACT INFORMATION
Indie Kids Book News
Subscribe to Receive the Indie Kids Books Resources Sheet – Includes contact information for 4 education distributors
Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription. As soon as that's done, you'll receive your free copy of the Indie Kids Books Resource Sheet.
There was an error submitting your subscription. Please try again.
A professional attitude is crucial to successful self-publishing.
What if I wanted to sell you a dress and I said something like this?
“I grew the cotton myself, spun the yarn and wove it. So, it’s going to have a rough feel to the cloth. Sorry about that but I don’t really know what I’m doing. I designed the dress myself, too, so, you know, it won’t QUITE be up to the standards of Paris or anything. But you’ll love the dress. I really poured my heart into it and it represents who I really am. It may not fit and may not exactly be the right color for you. It’s kinda expensive, too. BUT you’ll love it! Really, you will!!!!!!!”
Unprofessional. That’s all you can say. And yet, I hear a version of that about children’s picture books all the time.
Professional Attitude: Produce Quality and Stop Apologizing
Step One, produce a quality book. Writing, editing, illustrations, marketing–do it with quality and integrity. Sure, opinions vary. People have different aesthetics. But opinions and aesthetics don’t excuse poor quality books. Be totally convinced that on your terms, your book is quality.
Step Two, stop apologizing for it. Act like a professional instead, who is confident of their product, and eager to share it with the world.
Don’t apologize for the story, the illustrations, the printing, the price, or anything else. An editor once told me that in this crazy business you live or die by your opinion. Proudly stick to your opinion. Own it. (You are SURE it’s quality, right?)
Don’t hesitate to submit your book for any purpose: reviews, awards, consideration for a store, teacher review, and so on. If you hesitate, STOP! Ask yourself, “Why am I hesitating?” Is it because you instinctively know on some level that the quality isn’t there. Then, go back to Step 1: Produce a quality book.
Don’t apologize that your budget wouldn’t allow ________ (fill in the blank). There’s nothing wrong with doing everything yourself, unless you fail at Step One. Then, do what’s necessary to produce quality, even if that’s hiring someone to help with a task. I will never do my own illustrations because they don’t measure up to my standard of quality. If you can’t afford it, then this isn’t the right business for you. There are production costs and you can’t shortcut them or you’ll fail at Step One. Don’t jump into this business if you can’t afford to do it with quality, or if you can’t do it with a professional attitude.
– Voice is a way of telling that can “make events reverberate. (Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall, Finding Your Writer’s Voice)
Voice is the key element in fiction, the one which, in effect, contains and shapes all the other.
Voice is elements of the story. (Johnny Payne, Voice and Style)
Voice is the effect of style. (Dona Hickey, Developing a Written Voice)
Voice is the magical heard quality in writing. Voice is what allows the reader’s eyes to move
over the silent print and hear the writer speaking. . . Voice is the music in language.
(Donald M. Murray, The Craft of Revision)
To ‘find’ voice, find the hidden story. (Frank & Wall)
The longer you stay a writer, the more voices you find in your own voice and the more voices
you find in the world. (Allan Gurganus, quoted in Murray, The Craft of Revision)
Each work of fiction has its own distinctive voice and the challenge for the writer – at times a
challenge that evokes intense anxiety – is to discover and to refine the voice that is unique to that
work. (Joyce Carol Oates, A Study of Short Fiction)
“The first line sets the tone, the melody. If I hear the tone, the melody, then I have the book.” (Elie Wiesel, Against Silence: The voice and vision of Elie Wiesel)
A Year of Voice
For the next year or so, I’ll be studying voice. Each week, I’ll write about what I’m learning about voice and how to control the voice of your writing. I taught a retreat this spring on the topic and I want to explore it further. This won’t be a theoretical discussion; instead, I want to be practical. What can a writer do to affect voice?
Why tackle this question? A friend once got a rejection on a story with an editorial letter that said something to this effect: The story is great, but the voice just isn’t there. And you can’t edit for voice. You can’t teach it. It’s either the right voice or not.
I was astounded. As a writing teacher, I definitely think writing can be taught, including voice. I’ve hesitated to write and teach about this for a long time, though, because it’s such a nebulous concept. But this is the year. How can we consciously change the voice of a piece of writing? Let’s find out.
How do you define voice? What makes the voice of a piece stand out and how do you create the right voice for your story? Let’s talk.