Wattpad – the algorithm kicks in (and why I’m bitter-sweet about it)

Oh readers, where art thou? I finally got to experience a bit of the ol’ algorithm magic (does anyone else always get that word wrong when they attempt to spell it?) on Wattpad. I’ve been on the story-telling and reading platform for four years, drifting along mainly unnoticed.

This week, reads of my book Highland Fling leapt from 3.5k to 11k* in six days and every time I open the app, I have 50-90 notifications awaiting me and my phone beeps all the time. (This is why, I guess, many people who experience online popularity burn out. It’s overwhelming. Either that or they hire a virtual assistant…)

The success is bitter-sweet. If only I was getting that many reads on Amazon, I would be raking money in! But it is gratifying to the ego.

Writing failures

As I’m British, I’m now duty bound to tell you about my many writing failures to make up for the above boastfulness. Social media often creates an unrealistic portrait of people’s lives—their successes and triumphs held up there; failings hidden from sight.

Highland Fling by Emma Baird

Here are mine:

A) My first book sold less than 70 copies, with about half of them coming from sales to my mum. Boxes of that ruddy book still sit clutter up my house. Always, always opt for print on demand as a self-publisher and concentrate on the e-book.

B) I have spent so much on advertising Highland Fling, my profits on the book are titchy. It feels like running to stand still. (Unfortunately, it is now almost impossible to sell on Amazon unless you advertise.)

C) The stand-alone books I wrote get very few sales. Mainly, this is due to a lack of advertising but stand-alone books are notoriously hard for unknown authors to sell.

D) I keep trying to carry out all the steps ‘proper’ self-publishers do—setting up a mailing list (mine, 11 subscribers, killing it), being active on social media, hashtagging left, right and centre, having a professional-looking website, etc., and am useless at them all.

E) I have been rejected by numerous agents.

F) I have entered a good few writing competitions and got nowhere.

G) Whenever one of my manuscripts comes back from an editor/proofreader, I am horrified by how often I repeat myself and my ignorance of correct comma use.

Why it’s worth it

So why continue? I love writing and have harboured the desire to be one ever since I won a national poetry** competition when I was seven years old. As I got older, writing books seemed like an impossible dream. I chose jobs I thought would be about writing—journalism, contract publishing and press and PR management, the latter absolutely not, and bumbled along. My 40th birthday came and went and I took stock. Emma, you can work in unsatisfying jobs for the rest of your life or you can take a chance…

I quit and started writing on a freelance copywriting basis, scribbling my first novel in between times.

Full disclosure. I’m married and I have a husband who is happy to shoulder the bulk of the bills. And I inherited money when my beloved dad died, so the path I’ve chosen isn’t available to everyone. I recognise that privilege and I am thankful every day.

I do not make a lot of money and it is supplemented these days by a part-time job at a university. The odds of writing success are stacked against me as it’s such a competitive industry. Finding your readers is difficult and exhausting. I’ve netted myself a fan club on Wattpad, who send me lovely messages. Will that translate to sales? Most likely, it won’t.

On the other hand, I grew up with optimists. My parents were/are sunny-natured folks who tended/tend to look on the bright side. A lot of that happiness rubbed off. And realising a childhood dream is… amazing, fulfilling, exciting, glorious… I plan to write for the rest of my life successful or not.

Thank you for reading.

 

*In Wattpad terms, 11k is nothing. The popular books on there have hundreds of thousands even millions of reads. I’ve a long way to go before I reach Wattpad star status.

**I went through a period of writing turgid poetry in my early 20s. Luckily for the world, the internet was in its infancy then so they can’t be found anywhere online.

 

 

 

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.

Finishing books and making cakes

This week I’ve…

a golf-themed birthday cake made by Emma BairdMade cakes! The man in my life turned 50 this week, so I made him a golf themed cake—mainly because the decoration didn’t seem too complicated. Green icing*, a golf figurine and some golf ball wafers equals job done.

I’m not a talented baker. It requires precision whereas my first instinct when I look at any recipe is to wonder what would happen if I switch one ingredient for another and double up the cheese quantity specified.

Cake tins

Then there’s that whole cake tin thing, where every single recipe for cake appears to use a different-sized tin. True. Do proper bakers have room in their kitchens for a dedicated cake tin cupboard stacked from top to bottom with tins of varying sizes? Luckily, I found this handy conversion calculator on CakeBaker which gives you ingredient quantities for your size of tin.

I made a Madeira cake as that’s one recommendation for celebration cakes—sturdy and minimal crumble, apparently. The filling inside is home-made lemon curd (see this super easy microwave recipe here) and the cake’s iced with lemon butter cream and topped with green fondant paste.

Taking to the hills

Did my first trail run. Pounding the pavements can get awfy boring after a while, so I ventured up into the hills behind my house this week. It’s seriously hilly, but the deal was I could walk in places just like proper trail runners do. Another added bonus is that you don’t take in lungfuls of exhaust fumes.

Trail running is supposed to benefit your training regime as you use different muscles and it gives your brain more of a challenge as you tackle varying terrain.

Moved out of my comfort zone. On my list of ‘to do’s’ this year was to do a book event. As an introvert, I prefer hiding behind my laptop when book promoting. The arguments in favour include the ability to reach far more people and it’s much less time consuming/a better return on investment. Nevertheless, you don’t grow as a human unless you venture out of the places you find safe, so I approached my local library and asked if they’d be willing to run a Q&A event where I and another writer talk about our books, our writing processes and self-publishing.

And they said… YES.

Times and dates are still to be confirmed, but the event will take place during Scottish Book Week, 19-25th November. Yike-sy. More details to follow.

Beautiful biters

beautiful biters Finished a book—or the first draft of it, anyway. I’ve finally written ‘THE END’ (among the world’s most satisfying sentences to write) of Beautiful Biters. It started life as Beauty and the Vampires and then got a name change half-way through. It’s a story about a 16-year-old living side by side with vampires and doing make-up tutorials for them on YouTube as I wanted to give it a modern feel.

Now my least favourite part of writing begins; the rewriting bit. Ker-ist. I’d rather pluck my own eyeballs out. Or start another story so Beautiful Biters can meet the fate of all my other books—rusting away, forgotten and neglected, in the back of my hard drive.

Ate delicious Indian food. Sandy and I went out with his family to celebrate his half-century. The Dining Room is a local restaurant you’d be within your rights to describe as a “wee gem”. It’s tiny, so we were the biggest party in there and everyone joined in when we sang Happy Birthday. My go-to with Indian restaurants is saag paneer and Tarka dhal. Indian and Pakistani cuisines do amazing things to vegetables, and make the prospect of full-time vegetarianism do-able.

Tomorrow, to continue the birthday celebrations, we’re off to Edinburgh to see Brexit and eat in Sylvester’s. As it’s August, the place will be heaving. Unfortunately, I booked this excursion before realising the Scottish Premiership season starts this weekend and Rangers FC is to play Aberdeen on Sunday. I married a fervent footie fan and I fear my wee surprise won’t be greeted enthusiastically…

Ah well!

What highlights has your week brought? And what’s your favourite dish in an Indian restaurant?

*I say ‘not complicated’ but the air around me turned blue as I tried to fit that f*****g fondant paste on the cake.

Advertising on Amazon

Katie and the DeelansHave you advertised your book on Amazon? Last night, I listened to an Amazon ads for authors webinar and decided to put the advice into practice for my book, Katie and the Deelans.

The webinar was run by Mark Dawson and Joanna Penn, both self-published success stories and users of Amazon’s Marketing Services.

Amazon Marketing Services are relatively cheap. It uses a cost-per-click, auction-based pricing model. You set the maximum cost per click. I chose the sponsored keywords option, and I chose 13 keywords:

  • Adventure fiction
  • Divergent
  • Harry Potter
  • JK Rowling
  • Juvenile fiction
  • Rick Riordan
  • Stephanie Meyer
  • Suzanne Collins
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lightning Thief
  • Twilight
  • Veronica Roth
  • Young adult

What then happens is your book appears on the related options when Amazon customers search for a particular product – in this case, JK Rowling, Twilight et al.

One of my more ‘out there’ keyword choices was cat food. As my book features people who can change into cats, I thought those searching for cat food are cat lovers. Maybe they want to read cat-related tales too?!

The maximum I’m willing to spend per day is $10, but you can go lower than that. And you only spend money if people click on your ad and never more than your budget.

The custom text for an ad should not be the same as your blurb. It can’t be anyway, as the custom text is a Twitter-like 150 characters. I went for – We all want magic powers, right? What would you do with yours? Teenager Katie Harper is about to find out in this fun-filled action adventure.

Amazon advertising is all about experimentation. My campaign will run for the next week or so. If it works and I make enough money to recoup the cost of my investment, great. If I don’t sell books, the lessons could be that I need to look at a better cover for my book. The keywords could be too competitive or perhaps the custom text needs re-doing.

I’ll report back…

 

Writing Resolutions 2017

RockyWriting-wise, 2016 was a productive year for me. I finished three books, re-wrote one and started two more.

When I finished my first book three years ago, I vowed I’d never write another one. It had been a long, drawn-out process. The second one was easier and the third easier than that. I hit upon a formula. You might argue it’s not good to be formulaic, but if it helps you write who cares?

It would be nice to sell books… I accepted a long time ago that writing books was never going to make me money, but supplementing my income would be terrific. There are plenty of self-published authors out there who give out free advice on how to make money from writing – Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn and the likes. Perhaps 2017 should be the year when I start taking and following their advice?

Another resolution is to stop abandoning books when I’ve finished them. When I eventually got round to revising book number three, I ended up enjoying the exercise. I got plenty of feedback from people and it proved very useful. It improved my writing too. I got rid of the long sentences, the too-frequent use of parentheses and I cut down on modifiers. Another basic I was getting wrong was repetition. Once that’s been pointed out, however, you become almost paranoid about it. I use the online thesaurus more too.

I’d like to finish those two books I started last year. I’m a third of the way through one, but the other one needs more thought. I know what happens at the beginning and the end. The middle’s a bit tricky. Most writers probably recognise that issue. You know where you’re going – getting there is the tricky bit.

Anyway, Happy New Year! Here’s to your health and happiness in 2017.