Summer sale – Highland Fling

advert for Highland FlingNeed some light-hearted, fun reading for your holidays? Highland Fling is now on offer at £1.99/$1.99 in a e-book shop near you… Or it will be once they put my price changes in place. I’ll be running the price promotion until the end of July.

Here’s a little excerpt:

That’s Christina the Dating Guru. Haven’t you heard of her?” Katya says.

Well, no. But then I haven’t needed dating advice for a long time. Ryan and I got together while we were still at school and we were together ten years so I’m bound not to be familiar with a dating guru. And what does that even mean?

Have you used her advice, then?” I ask, “and if so, does it work?”

Nope. I’ve just heard of her. An influencer and all that, and you’re not going to believe the weird co-inci… Oh, never mind. Her website address is datemate dot com. Look it up.”

And with that she hangs up. I tap out the name on my keyboard. Wow. This woman is all over the internet. She’s got a blog, podcasts, YouTube tutorials and everything. Curiosity piqued, I read through some of them. They include guides to using dating apps, what to do the first time you go out with someone so that they ring you back (guaranteed), the best profile pics to use and what make-up you should wear for a first date.

I’m half-way through an article about what will make you a sparkling conversationalist capable of capturing his attention and keeping it when someone clears their throat behind me.

Ahem. Not interrupting anything am I?”

I whirl around on my chair so quickly, I fall off and land in an undignified heap at his feet. I had no time to minimise the screen either, and the site’s header—a riot of hearts and stars complete with the tag line, How to Go from Dating Loser to Loved Up, flashes there. I’m about to get up when another thought strikes me—he’s got the Dating Guru’s portrait upstairs, and he’s caught me looking at her website! I’ve just signalled loud and clear that I sneaked upstairs and had a good nosey. I might stay here, face down on the floor and praying the ground will swallow me until he goes away.

Do you want a hand up?”

No, no!” I straighten up slowly, keeping my eyes on that calming moss-green carpet until the last minute. Heavens, I’d forgotten just how… divine Jack is. Last week, his hair was army buzz cut, and now it’s grown in a little. Still short enough to show off those eyes and cheekbones but the extra millimetre of length emphasises its bright copper colour. The eyes regard me with amusement. Or perhaps it’s irritation. I’d better check with him that it’s okay for me to use his office.

Er… I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow. Doctor McLatchie said I could use your house as the broadband connection is much better here,” I say, dismayed when he rolls his eyes and says, “She would”. Oh heck, didn’t the blasted woman warn him? And what right does she have to offer strangers the use of someone else’s home? I should have asked her to find me somewhere else to work.

He heads for the kitchen, asking me if I want another coffee.

Yes please,” I follow him through. “Though I can make them, least I can do…” I trail off. He hasn’t actually confirmed I can use his house as my office.

In the kitchen, sunlight makes a brave attempt at cutting through the grey clouds to bounce off the redness of his hair. He leans against the kitchen counter, one foot up and his arms folded—one of those guys whose face gives nothing away. Does he ever crack a smile? I remember that photo Katya and I saw of him online when he’d worn this wide grin, the upturned mouth creating a dimple on one cheek, and how lush the smile made him seem.

Now though, those dark eyes remind me of the stand-offs I have with Little Ms Mena when she and I argue over how much smoked salmon she’s going to eat. Who will blink first? My wretched imagination peels clothes off him. He lifts his arms above his head and the tee shirt disappears. Before I know it he’s in front of me wearing only that white towel, neatly knotted over a perfect six-pack torso. I blink twice to dislodge the image.

The face in front of me cracks, a tiny upturn to the corners of the mouth signalling amusement. The change in expression is welcome but (ye gods) did he just read my mind?

Flippin’ heck, I hope not…

You buy Highland Fling on Amazon here.

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…

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…

Pink Glitter Publishing logo

Instagram for #writers

These days, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you need advanced design skills to promote your books effectively. A lot of the author folks I see on Instagram and Pinterest with followers in their thousands and tens of thousands regularly post beautiful, professional images of sleek iMacs, instead of ancient, battered laptops as this writer uses, accompanied by meaningful quotes.

I’m flummoxed. My design and photography skills are crap, my marketing budget negligible and I keep muttering to myself, writer NOT designer. Different skill set!

Anyway, I’m trying to make smarter use of Pinterest and Instagram as they are thought to be more useful to writers than Twitter. I’ve come up with some ideas. Feel free to borrow them:

Hashtags—for many of you, this is stating the obvious but you need the writer or book genre related hashtags, such as #amwriting, #writerscommunity, #bookstagram , #romcom etc., even though the writer in me loathes hashtags.

An extract from your book—this is my favourite one as it gives you the opportunity to share your writing. I find an extract, copy it from the book, expand the font size to 16 or 18 and then use the snipping tool to make a screen grab, share it in Dropbox and upload to Instagram from there.

Screen grabs are great in general because you can do things such as copy one of your reviews on Amazon (a positive one, obvs), the words THE END when you finish a book and your dashboard on Kindle Direct Publishing or Kobo if you hit an upwards-soaring run of sales.

Hand-written notes you then photograph—another goodie. In 2019, few of us see other people’s handwriting. Mine isn’t brilliant, but it’s readable. If you can ask a question or make a funny point, even better.

Shameless use of your pet—okay, so then you attract likes and comments from the cat lovers, but I reckon many of them are voracious readers too. My cat, handily, likes to park himself next to my laptop. Endless photo opportunities with the hashtag #catsandwriters

Book covers, obviously—and you can share versions you’re considering and ask people which one they think is the best. Again, you can post them on Instagram via Dropbox. (You need to upload the Dropbox app to your phone to do this, and be aware that on a free account there are limits to how many devices you can put the app on.) When you pay a designer to create a book cover for you, it is worth paying the extra for promotional images which can be used on all the social media platforms. This gives you a library of images to use for one book.

Home-made covers—because I post most of my writing on Wattpad, I create home-made covers on Canva. Canva is useful in general for creating images and you can use it for Instagram and Pinterest posts.

Infographics—I’ve done one so far, but a list of points about writing (and particularly if you’re offering advice) works brilliantly as an infographic. If you label it well and edit the metadata, this makes it more likely to show up in Pinterest searches.

Videos. You can create home-made ones on Lumen5.com and they’ll offer you the option to download file sizes good for Instagram or Pinterest. I created mine from the blurb for my book on this blog.

Pictures of what you imagine your main characters look like, which works well on Pinterest for visibility.

Here are some of the examples of pictures I’ve used on Instagram:

Extract from Ten Little Stars

This week I’m… #amwriting

This week I’m #amwriting

Selling books… sort of. To date, I’ve ‘sold’ 465 copies of my free book, Ten Little Stars. I ran a promotion for the book on Kobo* (£3 for a week) at the start of March and downloads have been consistent ever since, averaging 15 a day.

So far, it has translated into one sale of one of my other books, though I can’t prove the two are related, but no sign-ups to my mailing list yet (I advertise both in the free book). I think, however, this is a long-term process so I’m not discouraged. And it is gratifying that at least someone is reading my stuff.

The fab thing about publishing a book yourself is that you do get to change it easily. Seeing as Ten Little Stars is doing so well on Kobo (#361 in fiction and literature anthologies), I added the first chapter of my about to be published rom-com, Highland Fling, to the book in the hope that I can fix it in folks’ minds. and they will rush to buy it when it comes out…

The picture at the top of this post is an extract from Ten Little Stars. I’ve been experimenting with images for Pinterest and Instagram. I’m a words woman, rather than pictures so I took an extract from the book, blew up the font size, used the snipping tool to make a file in Paint and voila – a neat little extract in a picture.

#amwriting update

Finishing off the sequel to Highland Fling. Stand-alone books don’t work as well in the indie world as a series, so I took two of the support characters from Highland Fling and gave them a story of their own. It means I get to stay in Lochalshie, the Scottish village I made up which is based on the town of Arrochar in Argyll and Bute. If Highland Fling is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice as most romance novels are, Highland Heart is more along the lines of Persuasion, thank you Jane Austen.

Celebrating my mum’s birthday. Brenda B celebrated her birthday on Friday, so we gathered together at my sister’s house for a family celebration on Saturday. My sister outdid herself with the food – pulled pork, two different types of salad, sausage rolls, sausages (get the feeling we’re pig mad in my family?!), potato salad and a birthday cake made from individual chocolate brownies.

Sleeping with your cat is good for you. Fact.

Spending quality time with the cat.

Well, why wouldn’t you? He’s a lovely bundle of furry fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*May the universe rain down blessings on Kobo and the excellent tastes of Canadians in general, to date the biggest proportion of the Ten Little Stars down-loaders country-wise. 

Emma Baird

Shoes and women’s fiction #amwriting

Mary Janes with cat detail on front

My lucky shoes – sort of

Ever noticed how often shoes turn up in women’s fiction—and specifically on the front cover? I’ve treated you to a picture of my favourite pair of shoes (to look at, not to wear as they are murderously uncomfortable) that incorporate one of my other great loves.

So what is it with shoes and women’s fiction? Let’s start by blaming Cinderella, the only woman in the kingdom whose feet fit the delicate glass slipper and endear her to the prince. (And thus cementing femininity to the owners of small, slender feet.)

It isn’t women’s fiction, but the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy clicking together the heels of her shiny red shoes is another enduring image. Did you ever covet those red shoes if only for the promise they might magically transport you from one place to another. And that must be a metaphor shoe manufacturers all over the world seek to exploit. Wear our shoes and you too will be lifted instantly from your dull world and your mundane existence.

Carrie Bradshaw must take a bit of the blame too. Sex and the City famously featured an episode where the fictional heroine was robbed of her Manolo Blahniks* at gun point. And it is that theft, rather than the bag or the money that bothers her the most.

Chick lit tends to run with the assumption we are all shoe mad. It’s not a huge leap. I called this blog High Heels and Pink Glitter when I started it and I even mocked up a chick lit book cover using that too-common image of bare legs and sandals. I have plenty of acquaintances who love shoes, even just to look at if not to wear. In my many years of wearing high heels, the decorative value is hugely disproportionate to any wearability. The only heels you can walk in are block ones of not more than three inches and wedges. Even then, I don’t advise you to travel far by foot.

But yes, the assumption is often there that a heroine’s adoration of pretty, delicate, impractical foot wear is shared by us all. Here are two:

“Paris is a heaven for all woman’s obsessions: hot men, great chocolates, scrumptious pastries, sexy lingerie, cool clothes but, as any shoe-o-phile knows, this city is a hotbed of fabulous shoes.”

Kirsten Lobe, Paris Hangover

“Besides, I’d seen a really nice pair of shoes yesterday in the mall and I wanted them for my own. I can’t describe the feeling of immediate familiarity that rushed between us. The moment I clapped eyes on them I felt like I already owned them. I could only suppose that we were together in a former life. That they were my shoes when I was a serving maid in medieval Britain or when I was a princess in ancient Egypt. Or perhaps they were the princess and I was the shoes. Who’s to know? Either way I knew that we were meant to be together.”

Marian Keyes, Watermelon

It isn’t a trope that is going to vanish soon, but women’s fiction that veers toward the comedic or romcom often turns it on its head by featuring heroines who prefer sneakers, Birkenstocks or trainers—the comfy stuff most of us wear 99 percent of the time.

Here’s my own take on it from Highland Fling:

“I made a token protest and gave in. It was always better not to argue with my friend, who is the oldest of four sisters and well-versed in giving orders. Besides, the dress was fabulous—a mustard floral frill skater dress she’d matched with a deep purple and silver crochet cardigan. The belt was silver too, so as predicted it matched perfectly. I argued in favour of my Converse trainers to give my outfit a fierce edge and lost. No, she said. For such an occasion, high-heeled cork wedges were the only options.”

 

*By the way, two years ago Marks and Spencer’s created a lookie-likey version for a mere £35… You’re welcome.