I need a new bum and other mysteries

Click bait title, hmm? I’m running an ad campaign for Highland Fling, attempting to educate myself in the mysterious world of keywords.

I plugged my romcom book’s details in the Google Adwords keyword planner and one of the suggestions it threw back was ‘I need a new bum’. Low competition for that one apparently, but between 1k to 10k searches a month and a bid range of between 14-17 pence.

I get it—sort of. The Algorithm Gods who now rule our lives have waded their way through the tonnes of data we willingly hand over and decided a fair proportion of people who buy romantic comedies also worry about the gluteus maximus bit of themselves. Therefore, as they type the words (or ask Alexa) ‘I need a new bum’, a link to a romantic comedy book appears and they decide to buy that instead.

At least I hope they do. I’d much rather the women of the world were distracted from their gluteal quest and decided to buy a book instead* of chasing snake oil or dangerous surgery. Last year, an article in a newspaper highlighted one woman’s horrific experiences when she underwent a filler operation designed to give her a curvier backside. And another story told of a doctor who went on the run after one of his patients died following filler injections.

Body dissatisfaction

Tempting as it is to snigger at those stories, it is part of an overall trend towards body dissatisfaction fuelled by social media. As a teenager I only had magazines, TV and film to worry about and that was bad enough. Imagine living with a constant stream of too perfect images you hold in your hand…

Talking of which… Instagram announced this week that it might phase out visible ‘likes’ for posts on the platform—i.e. the likes for posts will be private so there is less competition between people to get reactions. This doesn’t bother me. As someone who has a following of less than 80 people, I never get that many likes anyway. So if only one or two people like my self-congratulatory posts about my books and there is no display of it, who cares?

Instagram, like other social media platforms before it, gave rise to influencers—i.e. people with huge followings who were then courted by companies to promote their products. The most famous example are the Kardashians whose social media accounts are reckoned to bring them in millions of dollars.

Kylie Jenner

Kylie Jenner’s make-up company leveraged that popularity, helping to turn her into a ‘self-made’ billionaire by the age of 21. (Like many other people, I dispute the Forbes’ classification of Kylie Jenner as ‘self-made’.)

If the likes for a picture of a fashion influencer wearing a pair of trainers or new duds courtesy of Top Shop or the likes do not show up, how do those influencers ‘prove’ their worth? Will they still get the freebies and the bungs if others cannot see how popular a post was?

Anyway, back to keywords. Will ‘I need a new bum’ get me sales and am I cynical enough to try it? Here’s hoping and yes.

*Not least because it puts money in my pocket…

Top 10 Procrastination Tips for Writers

HIGHLAND FLING – NOW ON AMAZON

So there I am, firing up the laptop and full of enthusiasm. I’ve a chapter to update or a blog post on the joys of cleaning (I write a lot of these). Whoop, whoop. Can’t wait to begin…

But first there are endless procrastination activities I can employ to delay the writing bit.

Here are some of my favourites:Highland Heart by Emma Baird

  1. Looking at the cover of Highland Heart (the book I’m writing at the moment) and phwoar-ing at the vector Dexter (dark hair and sunglasses) on the front cover. Tragically, I do this a lot.
  2. Checking my sales of Highland Fling on the Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard twice a day. And that’s me exerting gigantic amounts of willpower; otherwise I’d look every few hours.
  3. Watching cat videos on YouTube. No need to explain that one, eh? Here’s a fab one. No, no, no need to thank me.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjRs_WT8VzM
  4. Checking my viewing figures for my stories on Wattpad. See number two for other examples of pathetic cravings for external validation.
  5. Wandering the house looking for the cat so I can interrupt his busy sleeping schedule and tell him he is the loveliest diddly-dumpkins in the whole wide world.

    For the love of all things holy let me SLEEP

  6. Doing housework. No, really. If you are under the illusion that I’m a clean freak (see the reference to cleaning blogs above), I’m not but if housework delays that moment of putting pen to paper, I embrace it.
  7. Updating my writer chums with long, detailed emails about my progress on the Work In Progress and exchanging moans about book sales.
  8. Researching stuff. Does anyone else get this—where a random question strikes you and you think to yourself, ‘Aha! That’s the first thing I’ll do when I go online. Find out the history of the Medicis.’* And then you vanish down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia, emerging hours later with more knowledge than you’ll ever need about Renaissance Florence.
  9. Checking your social media accounts. “I need to do this,” you tell yourself, “for professional reasons and not because I’ll get sucked into whatever is trending on Twitter and get caught up in conversation threads for hours on end.”
  10. Pacing the floor because steps. If I stay in front of my laptop for too long, my entire body will seize up and I’ll be rushed to A&E where the doctors will need to perform emergency surgery to unbend my limbs. Better walk about a LOT then.

*Triggered because I’m watching Medici: Masters of Florence on Netflix at the moment.

paperback version of Highland Fling

The happy day when your print book arrives…

paperback version of Highland FlingAs most authors would agree, a print copy of our book has far more emotional pull on my heart than the electronic version. Even if all you ever do is order one copy for yourself, do it anyway. It cements that feeling that yes, you ARE a proper author—you’ve got the paperback to prove it.

Nowadays, you can even create hardbacks through IngramSparks. At some point, my ego might run rampant and demand such but for the meantime, the paperback suffices.

And, oh it’s a thing of beauty. Enni at yummybookcovers designed my cover for it. (My terrible photography ‘skills’ do not do the cover justice.) She really knows what she is doing when it comes to chick lit book cover design. I’ve written a chick lit book and if you hadn’t already guessed from the title, it’s set in Scotland…

Attracting rom-com fans

My tagline adds that the book’s a rom-com and the design, the font and the positioning convey the genre clearly. As an author, you want the people who typically love your genre to see your book and know at once it’s what they enjoy reading.

Note that you can’t see my heroine’s face? Enni can explain that—romance readers like to project onto a main character and it’s easier to do the less you know what they look like. She’s also used vectors, another common practice in this genre’s book cover design practice.

Because the title of my book isn’t unusual, there are plenty of other Highland Flings—my cover makes mine look like the traditionally published versions (Katie Fforde’s one, for example) rather than screaming “self-published”. While traditional publishing doesn’t guarantee quality, readability and enjoyment there’s enough of a sense that a trad-pubbed book offers some of those things to make a book look like a better bet.

KDP printing

I set up print on demand copies of my book through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). How did I find the experience? KDP replaced CreateSpace, the print book service Amazon bought some years ago. Some authors have reported issues with KDP, but I’ve used it three times and haven’t experienced any problems.

You supply KDP with an interior file and a cover file. This differs from the front cover you supply for an e-book because it has a spine and back, although KDP can create the spine and back from your e-book cover. I’d rather not. My design skills are negligible and if you’re going to go to the effort of creating a print book, why not it properly?

Five days to deliver

I uploaded the files, filled in the details bit and ordered a review copy on the Thursday night. The book arrived on Tuesday morning, ahead of the date Amazon told me. This is a common Amazon practice—managing the expectation of buyers so you are pleasantly surprised but I wouldn’t recommend relying on them to deliver early.

It did look beautiful. This time, I’d opted for a smaller size. The last book I ordered was 5½ by 8½, and I think the 5×8 version feels more ‘standard’. For the last book, I used IngramSparks for books bought outwith Amazon—I sold very few of them. In theory, I agree with IngramSparks. You will get much wider distribution of your books if you offer them via IngramSparks, but there is a set-up cost (refundable if you order 50 books) and it also requires the cover to be set up in a different way.

On the other hand, I did one version of that book through KDP too, and without a doubt the colours and design were much sharper. It’s worth noting KDP dominates the US and UK markets and therefore the service works best in these territories. I suspect it takes longer outside of the US, UK and certain European countries.

I will do the books via IngramSparks at one point, but only when I can afford it. This book needs to work harder for its money…

I’m incredibly pleased with my book cover and cannot recommend Enni’s services highly enough.

Highland Fling by Emma Baird versions

Highland Fling – what’s in a name?

Book titles aren’t copyrighted (except in Germany), which means if you choose a generic title such as Highland Fling for a Scottish romance, chances are other authors will have gotten there before you.

I thought I’d explore the others and see what authors have done with the concept. Call me biased, but I think the Highland Fling cover Enni Tuomisalo of yummybookcovers.com created for me is far and away the best one.

Katie Fforde

Katie Fforde’s Highland Fling is the one that comes up first in most searches. She’s a well established chick lit author so that is to be expected.

Here’s the blurb:

When virtual assistant Jenny Porter’s boyfriend accuses her of being impulsive, soft-hearted and un-businesslike, dashing off to Scotland to sort out a failing mill for one of her clients may not be the best way of proving him wrong.

And promising to help run a mobile burger bar before she’s even found her feet doesn’t help matters. When she finds herself determined to save the mill—whatever her client’s wishes—it seems that Henry’s accusations may have contained more than a grain of truth.

So when Jenny’s awkward encounters with the abrasive but disconcertingly attractive Ross Grant develop into something more complicated—just as Henry arrives in Scotland to reclaim her—it’s time for Jenny to make some decisions. Should she do the sensible thing and follow Henry back to London? Or is her Highland adventure more than just a fling…?

Emma Kareno

I had to feature this one, as it’s also by an ‘Emma’ (though I’ve not seen an author neglect to put their name on a cover before…)

Jo thought she had her career all mapped out, after finishing her degree in archaeology she was going to work in Italy. Then she met Miles, a wealthy London businessman, and everything changed.

When Miles’s betrayal shatters her heart, in one wild and tear-stained moment of despair Jo throws her belongings into a suitcase and takes refuge with her cousin Heather in Edinburgh.

In the Scottish capital the annual festival is in full swing and the whole city is a vast playground of theatre, music and art. Without Jo realizing it, her sudden arrival soon stirs up trouble. As Jo slowly drags herself out of the doldrums of broken-hearted misery amidst the whirlwind of the world-famous festival, emotions reach boiling point around her.

There is Jerry, the fun-loving friend who cannot help pursuing Jo. There is Duncan, Heather’s boyfriend, a Scotsman whose rugged charm and impressive physique Jo just cannot ignore.

And then there is Duncan’s best friend, the drop-dead gorgeous Craig, as beautiful as a Greek statue and definitely beyond Jo’s reach. It is enough for him to walk into the room to set women’s hearts on fire with desire. Of course Jo falls head over heels in love. It is just like Jo to long for the impossible.

Jane Justine

The second one that comes up in the searches is an erotica book… (the backbone of the ebook industry?!) by Jane Justine.

Writer Charlotte Harvey is researching the mysterious legend of the Highland Ruby pendant for an antiques magazine.

Her quest leads her to a remote Scottish island where the pendant’s owner—the dark and charismatic Andrew Alexander—is keen to test its powers on his guest.

Alexander has a reputation for wild, and some say perverse behaviour. In this rugged environment Charlotte discovers the truth—the hard way!

Derek Adams

Finally, my favourite one is this book by Derek Adams…

Frank cancels a trip to the beach to help his buddy Randy check out the Scottish castle he has unexpectedly inherited. The castle is a wreck, Randy is a mess and Frank is furious—until he encounters the real Laird of the Manor and indulges in a ghostly highland fling.

(I’m definitely buying that one.)

My own Highland Fling, a romcom, is now available on Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play et al, and is available for pre-order on Amazon here.

pink glitter publishing Emma Baird

The Kobo Experiment part one #amwriting

""My books are on Amazon, of course they are, but what if I stopped focussing on making Amazon the bee all and end all, and took a punt on life outside the mighty behemoth?

In the UK as in many other countries Amazon is blamed for destroying the high street and the old model of business. It’s a Darwinism type principle (only the fittest survive), but you could argue that too many regulators have moved too slowly to put the requisite checks and balances in place.

I use the site so moral objections come with that all-encompassing qualifier, “yes, but…” I buy from it, I sell books there and I read the reviews before I purchase things. A qualifier for the first part of that sentence—I try to sell books on Amazon.

It’s almost impossible these days without splashing out on Amazon ads, thanks to the algorithm changes they have made. Bear in mind this charge is on top of the commission Amazon takes on each sale.

Still, it is worth remembering that it’s easier to be a big fish in a smaller pond. Almost everyone agrees that if you want to sell books on Amazon, we’re now in pay to play territory. Advertise, or die; your book thrust into the seventh, eighth, ninth page of rankings. They’re the pages so few people bother with. (And dear reader, it is worth checking them out— the ranking is more to do with advertising spend than anything else).

One huge irony is that even if you make a book free (the first in a series so you can persuade people to then buy the rest of the books in that series) is you still need to advertise that book, as ‘free’ doesn’t give you the same visibility it used to.

Downloads of my books world-wide.

What if you hang out in the little ponds? My first e-reader was a Kobo. My husband, he of the intense research before you buy fame, reckoned a Kobo was a better bet than a Kindle. You could use it to get library books. I agreed. It’s lack of advertising (well, apart from books), the long battery life, the eye/head/mental health type screen are additional bonuses.

And, shock horror, Kindle and Amazon aren’t as widespread as you might think. Look beyond the US and the UK and you see a healthy e-book market that doesn’t just want the mobi. docs (Amazon only) but screams for epub files (what every other e-book reader uses).

To be clear, I don’t intend to take my books off Amazon–just to concentrate any marketing efforts elsewhere.  So far, a £3 promotion I ran on Kobo has resulted in more than 625 downloads of my free book in more than 40 countries. In the digital world, this is nothing but we small folks save the website address in our favourite buttons and update every day just so we can watch the number increase. The next step is to work out what can you get from a free promotion:

  • One, make sure there are links to all your other paid books in there
  • Ditto, a sign-up for a mailing list
  • Third, a teaser for the next book.

You can still use social media for a bit of ‘advertising’. But as a writer, I identify (as most of us will) as an introvert. Self-promotion on social media platforms—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al—makes me feel as if I need three weeks in a solitary retreat. One where I beg the universe to reveal my higher calling and release me from the grubby modern-day world of non-stop self-promotion.

So far, she has come up with—make white chocolate raspberry cake! The people want to eat cake! Closely followed by, still not cleaned that silver platter you inherited? Pity, your sister would have done it by now had she been given it. Be the best owner of a cat there has ever been.

cat sleeping on laptop

The best owners let their cats do this.

Apart from the latter the inner voice hasn’t been one hundred percent helpful.

My mission for the rest of 2019 is—not to bother with Amazon Advertising, work out what I can do on Kobo and share the results with you.

Food in fiction #amwriting

When you love food as much as I do, it’s not surprising it turns up a lot in my writing. As a freelance copywriter, I pounce on jobs that have a food element to them—I’m currently writing a lot of copy about mushrooms for one client, and I’ve written and edited a few books about diet and lifestyle.

In my other blogging life (I’m sorry to say I two-time you, dear reader, with another blog), I create a lot of low-carb recipes for those who want to follow that way of eating. But where I get the most pleasure writing about food is in my fiction. There, I create the best versions of chocolate cake, cheese-topped pizzas, crisp, triple-friend chips, risottos and more. Call it food porn if you will, especially as I often write about the dishes I don’t eat that often what with the type 1 diabetes getting in the way.

Anyway, here are a few examples of the dishes I have featured. If I’ve done this properly, once you’ve finished reading, you’ll find yourself desperate for cake/pizza/risotto or whatever. Two of my favourite food writers are Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, whose descriptions of often very simple dishes are mouth-watering. If I can write about food half as well as they do, I’ll be delighted.

Pizza and chips

From Highland Fling: When the pizza arrives, I’m not sure what to do. Should I eat it with my fingers or a knife and fork, or do we just dig in and rip it apart with our fingers? Ryan was funny about sharing food. He hated me taking chips from his plate and if I ever asked for a taste of anything he was eating, he would sigh, spear up a tiny bit of it with his fork and dump it on my plate. The pizza comes with chips wrapped in fake newspaper and a garlic dip.

You go first, Gaby,” Jack says, and I pretend lady-likeness. My mum once told me that when she was a teenager, girls weren’t meant to eat very much and especially not in front of men. Jack watches me spear a chip with my fork. He shakes his head and tips half of them onto my plate, dolloping spoonfuls of garlic dip on top and handing me the slice of pizza that is most generously covered in melted cheese. Oh heck. This is doing nothing for the campaign I wage where I persuade him Kirsty’s his one true love. I count up the chips he tipped on my plate and realise it’s not half the portion, more like two thirds.

He gave me two thirds of his chips, Katya. My best friend gets it straight away. Jeez, Gaby. He’s a keeper.

From Highland Fling: I grin at Ryan. Chips are our nemesis. He ordered them. I didn’t, therefore the chips are solely, exclusively Ryan’s. Last time I nicked chips off a man, he gave in with good grace. I move the bowl towards me and he yanks it back before remembering himself. It is pushed, begrudgingly, back. I adopt the same beaming smile and dig in, ignoring the tic in his jaw as I bite into and swallow chips number four, five, eight, ten, the last used as a stick to swirl through garlic mayonnaise, scoop up the biggest blob of it and plank it in my mouth.

Cake and chicken wings

From Highland Fling: Pink icing, the exact colour of the Blissful Beauty branding, holds together five layers of dark sponge, the lot covered in a ganache that sparkles with edible silver glitter. The chef has studded the top of the cake with stars made from white chocolate and piped a perfect BB in whipped cream on the top. We pick up the cake forks in unison, waiting for someone to fire the starter pistol.

Katya breaks the cake stand-off, using her tiny fork to scrape off a ginormous helping of cream and chocolate ganache. Mhari and I follow her example, and the three of us are silenced as smooth, rich cocoa flavoured with hazelnut, vanilla and what might be brandy hits the backs of our throats.

From High Heels and Pink Glitter:

Still sniggering to himself, Ryan headed back to the kitchen. There was a packet of coated chicken wings in the fridge that only needed heating up in the oven. He tipped the lot out onto a roasting tin and then decided one was not enough. He added the second packet to the tin and shoved them in the oven. He’d once been at the flat when Matt and Jamie embarked on a drunken discussion about the amazingness of chicken wings, and whether the ones you got from the supermarket could ever match those from KFC or Wetherspoon’s. Conclusion? No. The discussion had lasted roughly 15 minutes.

Seafood and fish

From Artists Town: I’m gonnae try out a new dish of the day today,” Mick said. “Would you two taste it for me?”

The dish he presented to them looked beautiful, reminding Daisy of the food you got in French restaurants. When she told him this, the grin he gave her split his face in two. The dish was seafood crepes, thin pancakes folded over a creamy sauce with prawns and scallops and garnished with watercress in a balsamic dressing.

Daisy took a generous forkful. It was as delicious as it looked, and she didn’t need any encouragement to take another mouthful.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Daniel blushed faintly and then shrugged. He grabbed two thick slices of the bread that had been made in the shop that very afternoon and buttered them thickly. He added in the cheese savoury filling (a blend of grated cheese and home-made coleslaw with chopped onion) and added in an extra spoonful of mayonnaise and some sliced tomatoes. The poor girl |looked so thin after all.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Years ago, when Cate lived in London fish and chips had been a weekly treat on a Friday night. Her cabbie father would pick them up for the family at the end of his shift, if he wasn’t working too late.

She recalled those happy Fridays. “Catey gal I got fish and chips!” he would chirp as he came in. By that time, the minutes they had sat in a cab added up to ten or 15, and they were soggy. Cate never minded. She and her mother received those newspaper bags of sodden fish and chips gratefully. As an only child, Cate had been a daddy’s girl and that smell – fried fish and potatoes – reminded her strongly of her father and Friday nights.

She remembered vinegar-saturated batter and chips. Warm and steaming in the newspaper, she loved the starchiness of the batter and the taste of potatoes off set with tongue-tingling acidity. Even the mushy peas were a welcome addition to post-war rations lack of variety. With a liberal helping of salt and malt vinegar they made the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips.