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.

Highland Fling by Emma Baird versions

Highland Fling – out now #amwriting romcoms

cake and coffee

You get a cup of tea with your cake too!

If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake…

Hello and welcome to the launch party—yes, Highland Fling is out there in the Amazon world. I had put it on Kobo, Apple Books etc., way back in April/May and much as I’d love to make the bulk of my sales off the Amazon platform, only an idiot author doesn’t use mighty book behemoth. .

You can find the book at: https://books2read.com/Highland-Fling

Here’s the short ad I ran for the book:

Love Jill Mansell & Katie Fforde? Gaby flees to Scotland to escape a failed relationship. When fate puts the red-headed Jack in her way, sparks fly…

I had to make the book sound exciting in 150 characters (including spaces) which is not a lot at all. And hence the ampersand above. I’d also originally put Jill Mansell and Sophie Kinsella, but Katie Fforde’s name was shorter. As she has also written a book called Highland Fling, maybe she’s the better choice.

Anyway, here’s the cake I baked to launch the book. Sorry you can’t eat it in person. Perhaps that’s okay with you if you’re avoiding sugary stuff as this cake is loaded with it. I decorated it with fudge icing made from 500g icing sugar. Dental decay in one mouthful.

versions of Highland FlingWhy a chocolate cake? In Highland Fling, I featured a chocolate cake—one created for a special occasion. Mine is nowhere near as fancy as the one I’d described. The people in my books are much better cooks than I am. They also have the patience for sugar work so can create cakes that not only taste nice but look fabulous too. As you can see from picture two, I am a hopeless food stylist.

The Highland Fling cake had pink frosting and silver stars, and more tiers. Four women shared a slice of it and the taste silenced them—quite an achievement as one of the characters is the world’s nosiest woman who doesn’t usually let a full mouth stop her questions. Here’s what I wrote:

Ashley places two plates of the Chocolate Decadence dessert in front of us, cutting Mhari off. 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.

And that leads me to a question for you:

Take Our Survey

If you would like to make the cake (and I am sure your efforts will be prettier than mine), it’s a Mary Berry recipe and you can find it here.

And finally, I’ve posted rather more blogs than I like to do this last week or so (three in one week; an all-time record) so I’m sorry if I have tried your patience. I’m going to take a blog break for two weeks. See you later this month and thanks for sticking around.

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.

How to fail at book marketing

Sorry about the click bait title. Over the last few years, I’ve worked out selling books is—to use that old cliché—the hardest bit of the book journey.

Writing and publishing is the gentle 5k run bit. Selling is the marathon. Scrap that, it’s an ultra marathon. That horrible hard one people run in the African desert where most participants drop out long before the finish.

Anyway, here are the bits of branding and marketing I’ve made a spectacular mess of…

Self-promotion via social media

It’s free! You can reach thousands, no tens of thousands of people.

In theory, yes, if you’ve managed to add tonnes of folks to your platforms. And your skin is thick enough not to cringe when you upload yet another self-promotional post. You guys!!!! So EXCITED for you!!!! My book is out next week. Pre-order now. You guys are the BEST. XXXX

And seeing as millions of people are online trying to do the same thing, your voice drowns out in the all the noise anyway.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Concentrate on a few platforms, keep the messaging consistent and find a better way of engaging the people I think want to read women’s fiction.

A website

Cool. I’ve already got a blog. That will be the best place to promote my stuff, right? Do as I did. Start your blog on a different subject, change direction half-way through so now you have half your followers who signed up expecting one thing, and the other half expecting something else.

Try to craft blog posts that cater to both. Always a winning strategy, hmm?

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: When I decided the focus of my blog was to be books and writing, I’d have set up a new blog and started from the beginning. Then I could have targeted the audience I wanted more effectively.

The cover sells the book

Yes it does. Most of my books have beautiful covers (see left). If people spot them in the first place. Amazon’s too crowded for visibility these days unless you pay for adverts, the cost of which have risen to ridiculous levels in the last six months because, guess what, everyone else is advertising too.

Put yourself EVERYWHERE

I’m on every single online platform in the world (feels like). Proper authors have virtual assistants who do this kind of thing for them. They make sure all links work, keep newsfeeds up to date, check notifications, respond to queries etc., etc.

As I don’t have a VA, I wrestle with remembering passwords, if I’ve priced my book consistently across all channels and which promotion I’ve tried to implement on what book and when. The admin of social media accounts is what they will make people do in prisons for punishment in years to come.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Scale back my social media accounts to the ones I think work for books. (Pinterest? Instagram and an active, engaged Facebook group perhaps?) I’d also write out checklists for the books’ admin and schedule social media time so it was consistent but not a procrastination tool.

Hope a plea for reviews at the end of a book is enough

Most authors will agree with me–it stings like mad when people you know read your book and don’t review it… (That’s if they read it in the first place instead of just buying it out of obligation.) Anyone who doesn ‘t work in the freelance world, which is what anyone who writes a book does, might not know how crucial reviews are nowadays. Make allowances for them.

Think TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Yelp and Uber. Without reviews, you are invisible. Review begging is everywhere. From restaurants with signs on the door, to podcasts that end with a plea for the listener to review them on iTunes, it is common. Even if you would rather your dentist removed your wisdom teeth, remember everyone else is at it too.

It is also worth remembering that the proportion of readers who review a book is much, much smaller than the number who read it.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Focus on finding plenty of advance readers who are happy to read the book ahead of publication and review it as soon as the book comes out. This can’t be the condition they read the book, as that is unethical. However, if they do like it with any luck they won’t mind leaving you a review.

Flit from one thing to the next

See above. Ooh, this bright new shiny thing will work for sure! Tries new thing. Fails. Out there, services for authors have sprung up like weeds in the last five years.

From publishing services, aggregators who distribute your book to channels you’ve never heard of, to software that promises to analyse Amazon for you and reveal the mystery keywords that will help your book reach the heady heights of front page listings. Then, there are the gazillion (expensive) courses that focus on marketing and selling.

Throw plenty of money at your books and sure, they will sell. What is someone with limited disposable income to do? What’s worth paying for? My thoughts are covers, editing and proofreading and a small budget for ads. Other than that, I’m sure other things work. I just don’t know which ones.

Not knowing when to give up

You will never sell enough books to make an income. You’ll be lucky to break even. Say, someone said that to me six years ago. They guaranteed their promises. At the time, I would have given up.

Now? No, not at all. I love writing and creation. Last week, I spent a few hours wrestling with the plot of the latest book I’m writing to make it flow better. When I’d finished, the glow lasted the rest of the day and into the weekend.

If you make your goals teeny-tiny—sell enough of a book to pay for what I spend on covers, editing and proofing—achievement looks much more do-able.

Small things convince me to continue—the number of people who downloaded my freebie book. Strangers’ reviews. And some not so small either, such as last year when one of my books got long-listed in the Wattys (151,000+ entries).

Keep calm and carry on…

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.