Jumping into Self-Publishing

It is my pleasure to introduce a guest blogger today.

Drae Box

At the age of fourteen, Drae completed writing her first book, The Royal Gift, and didn’t stop. By the time she left college, she had gone on to complete six other books’ first drafts and was writing the scenes for another twenty-one books. This year she publishes for the first time, launching two books on 16th December: The Royal Gift and Kateti. Kateti is currently available for free download by subscribing to Drae’s email list, and a free preview of The Royal Gift is available at her website.

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Welcome, Drae. We look forward to reading about your journey into self-publishing.

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Back in 2003, I wrote a tale of a girl, slightly older than me, heading off on what appeared to be a hopeless mission. I didn’t realise it at the time, but The Royal Gift and it’s protagonists would continue to sit with me, on buses, in cafes, in boring theatre productions and terrifying dreams.

I was writing for fun. For my own pleasure. Nobody else was reading about Raneth and Aldora, I still write for my own pleasure, but it’s changed since 2003. Now, I also write to share my characters’ lives with others, and give others a small piece of entertainment that I hope, when they get to the end, only makes them want more.

In 2007, I was in college, and had written more books since The Royal Gift. I sent a few unsolicited manuscripts out to literary agents, following their requests of exactly what to put in those envelopes, but it wasn’t my focus. My focus was Raneth and Aldora, along with their friends and enemies, and characters from other books I was working on,
I didn’t get an agent, but I did get one possibly personalised rejection in 2009, with the at-the-time latest version of The Royal Gift.

Life struck after that, and the adventures of my characters slowed down as I sought jobs, moving home multiple times when I got them. My writing routine was broken. It wasn’t until 2012 that I kicked myself in the butt, reminding myself that Raneth and Aldora were waiting on me. That year I focused on writing again, hard.

2013 was the year I started seriously looking into self-publishing.

I read articles around the internet, watched live Hangouts and recorded Skype chats with self-publishing authors who shared their knowledge and experiences. I took a few notes. I bought ebooks on publishing and marketing, I watched more self-published authors talking about their experiences, listened to podcasts, watched more author interviews. I even bought a self-published author’s book to check the quality of a Createspace printed book.

Fast forward to June 2014 and I was fairly certain that I would be self-publishing The Royal Gift and the others of its series. I wanted to keep the rights and I wanted to pick the front covers. Just as importantly I wanted to have ultimate control over what happened to the characters I had created as a fourteen year old avoiding homework.

If I was going to do this, if I was going to launch The Common Kingdoms Series as a self-published series, I wanted to do it right. That meant an editor, and a decent book cover just for starters. I reread The Royal Gift from start to finish, then hesitated. Was it good enough? There had been scenes where even I went off to go and do something else. That wasn’t a good sign, was it?

What had I gotten myself into? Was I ready for this? Even if I wasn’t, I was committed, and soon the 2009 version of the story was in the hands of my editor and out of mine. She had it for a month, and I grew increasingly excited. What would she have to say about the story? How many things would we agree on?

When the month passed, I had a structural report, and I was chuffed. Yes, Raneth did go through too much, and less fighting would be a good idea, as would axing out a lot of scenes later in the book and even a few characters.

After a good deal of wondering how best to work with the structural edit suggestions, knowing my writing was different to what it had been in 2009, I decided one final rewrite from scratch would do the job. December came, and I was still writing.
I wanted to achieve a completed task related to The Royal Gift that year though, so off I went to 99Designs. It resulted in two covers I fell in love with. Several voters picked my second choice, and so I selected that one as the winner, and my book cover.

Things were picking up. I felt that I was making friends with other self-published authors, and a few hybrid authors (those that are both traditional and self-published – this is what I’m working towards). My fledgling author site was getting a good chunk of visitors every day, and I was finding that others around me were excited for me. I felt positive, energised, and excited. I was back in full writer mode, working not just on The Royal Gift’s final rewrite, but on some other books too.
Writing makes me happy. That everything was going well again was a good sign I was (am) on the right track.

I cut back on my hours at the office job, and did my best to keep on top of all the client commissions I was getting on the side for my web services. I installed LED lights around the flat so my energy bills would go down because I knew my income would be down for a while, maybe longer. I started hoarding free ebooks thanks to Bookbub, Booktastik and other reader lists that alert you to free or discounted ebooks. Cutting your wages is tough, but manageable with the right, “can do, will do” attitude that I learned not from myself, but Aldora. Who said you couldn’t learn something from your own characters?

I kept my editor and my little band of email subscribers appraised of The Royal Gift’s progress, and Kateti’s. Both books were to be launched on the same day. I’d decided to set a date they would share so they could help each other get more visibility, and work in unison to make more readers aware not only of my name (so my characters could piggyback off it), but also my website and email list, so the next books’ launches would go nicely with a bit of groundwork already laid.

My editor is amazing, and she soon handed me the line-edit suggestions. I looked over them, agreed with almost all of them (because I trust her experience and skills, but also because they made sense). Within two weeks, both books had their edits done, and I was loading them into Scrivener, ready for formatting and converting into epubs, mobis and any other formats I might later want or need. It took several tries to get each book looking right when I uploaded them to Kobo and Kindle.

My short story, Kateti (set in another world to that which Aldora and Raneth are in), is now available for free to my email subscribers. Sharing it with them was one of the most exciting moments yet in becoming self-published, though one emailed me back and said they refused to download it, because they wanted to buy it when it was released later, to support me. That was an unexpected but heartwarming email I didn’t expect.

My journey into self-publishing doesn’t end here. It may never end.

Both books are awaiting their release on the 16th December 2015, and will be followed by others in 2016.

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Always Nice to have a Visitor.

20140811_092437My guest today is Zenobia Southcombe, Zee to her friends, and she lives in Aukland, New Zealand, a bit far for her to travel just to pop in to sit round the fire and chat with me, but isn’t the internet wonderful? I can throw another log on the fire, cuddle up with my iPad and ‘chat’ to Zee on the other side of the world, perhaps even ask her to play a tune on her ukulele.

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Take it away, Zee….

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When Christine agreed to host a blog post by me, she asked me to write about marketing and a bit about my writing process. Marketing is such a massive area to tackle, and so I decided to look at one aspect that has been new for me – a blog tour.

Why a blog tour?
Well, I’m having a physical launch here in Auckland (New Zealand, or Middle Earth in case you’re not sure) but I want to push the eBook sales as well.
Quite frankly, eBooks are cheaper and far less hassle to produce, so on the financial side eBook sales are the way to go. In addition, there’s a global audience out there numbering more than New Zealand’s population, and I want to reach a larger audience.
A blog tour is a way to get publicity – to get my author name out there in the blogosphere to touch some of the people who might be interested in my work. Hopefully, it helps the blog hosts as well, by introducing some of my current readership to their blogs.

Finding blog hosts
Now, I know there are many services that do this for you, and I did look into them. There’s still a bit of work involved though (like, I would still have to actually write the posts!) and there are pretty strict timelines. I didn’t want to have to fork out money for something if I was still having to put considerable energy so I took it upon myself to do it independently. For a blog tour of 10-20 stops throughout the month, I was looking at between $70 to upwards of $125 (US dollars).
It was actually easier than I thought to find willing victims, uh, hosts for my tour. I put an open call for hosting a guest blog out in my main writer forums: the Coffeehouse on Google+ and a small NZ Indie Writers group on Facebook. I got back (at the time of writing) fifteen responses! And that’s just an open call – I didn’t ask any bloggers directly.
Once I’ve written up the fifteen that I have, I’ll reach out to blogs that offer author interviews and spotlights as a regular feature. There’s a great list on Chris the Story Reading Ape’s site, and I’m using this as my starting point.
http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/authors-resources-central/guest-author-friendly-blogs/

What to write?
Each was different. For some it was an interview, which is the most straightforward as I don’t have to come up with the content. If you have the option for an interview – take it!
Because the point of the tour is to publicise my launch, I’ve tried to ensure that the content links to my book somehow. For example, I’m writing about marketing for Christine’s blog, but I’m using The Caretaker of Imagination’s launch to do so.

Final Cover AIllustrator Edition A

So now, you know about my launch, and you’ve gotten a glimpse into one of my marketing strategies. How’s that for a win-win?
It is important to consider the blog host’s audience. A lot of my host blogs have a large writerly audience, and while they might be interested in my books (especially if they have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews) most are interested in reading about my marketing & promotions strategies, or my writing process.
It’s a good idea to have a few different photographs, as well as book covers, to send the host. Sometimes they will specify what they want.

Call to action
Generally, at the end of a blog post – especially a guest post – a call to action is advised. What do you want the reader to do when finished? Again, the blog host’s audience of utmost importance and so I have a few options (and I wrote them down in my planning for each post). If you’re a romance writer, chances are you won’t be interested in a slightly offbeat children’s fantasy book! But, you might be interested in my marketing strategies on my writerly blog.
The options include:
-sign up to author mailing list
-visit writerly blog
-visit author website
-participate in online launch (for posts published during launch week)
-buy my book(s)
-pre-order my book(s)

Would I do it all again?
I have a decent number of blog hosts for my ‘tour’ but not many of them are reviewers. This is something that blog tour companies would be great for, and the only thing that has me considering hiring one for my next launch in July. I have reached out to a few reviewers, and some people have agreed to give me a pre-release review in an exchange for an advance review copy (ARC).
What I will most likely do is a self-organised one like the I am doing now, and in addition do a small reviews-only blog tour with a tour company.

A bit about my writing process
And what about the actual writing? I’m onto my third book now, so I have a good idea of what works for me.
I’m a planner, and I plan my stories with a strong narrative plot – I use the three-act structure well-known by scriptwriters, and a general narrative structure to make sure my bases are covered.
From there, I do my drafting and revise it before sending to my editor for a manuscript assessment, or developmental edit, to tackle the big issues. I revise based on those notes and send it to my illustrator, who pretty much has free reign on the illustrations. We have decided that she’ll do the cover art first, so that I’m not putting pressure on my graphic designer to come up with a cover quickly.
At the same time, it goes to my beta readers and I revise after each of those are received. I send it to one or two final beta readers and then it goes off for proofreading and formatting (I have a formatter now, thank goodness!).
I write short books (about 12,000 words long) but even so the process takes a while. However, they overlap (e.g. I am working on Book 3 while my formatter has Book 1 and my illustrator has Book 2) so schedule-wise it works out wonderfully.

For more information and reflections about my writing process, author mindset and marketing strategies, visit my writer’s blog http://zeesouthcombe.com

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