(Almost) end of year updates

 I have been shockingly bad at updating this year. There’s no excuse, just a whole load of tiny justifications ranging from feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of starting out as an indie author, to getting my head down to write more, to personal stuff relating to home and family. All excuses, none of them really enough to warrant going so quiet that kind people took to emailing me to ask if everything was ok!

It’s been quite a year and although I knew what indie publishing entailed, the actuality of being the only person responsible for every aspect from writing to marketing is exhausting. The idea of it, never mind trying to do it all. Consequently, I’ve treated Death Will Find Me as a bit of an experiment. I’ve tried some different marketing approaches including wrestling with ads on Facebook and that was successful although I’m very aware that to be worth the investment of time and money, I need to have more books for readers to discover once they’ve read the first one.

Tessa Kilpatrick is quite a character and I like spending time with her, but I decided early this year to take a break – probably not ideal from a business point of view – and write the second early next year. My diary reminder for Monday 13th January 2020 says “Begin Tessa Kilpatrick Book 2”. I have some ideas…

In the meantime, I’ve been working on a new series about Kate Carpenter, an art crime investigator. The first is almost finished and I’m currently working on the final draft of the second. I’ve also written a novella, Vanishing Point, introducing Kate which will be available in a week or so as a free download to those on my mailing list. It’s taken time, not least because I wanted to get proper developmental editorial input on the series, but the books are far better than that and I’m looking forward to hearing what readers think in due course. They’re hard to describe although I’ll have to find a way. Not simply a heist thriller, though.

For now though, I’m off to wrestle with the formatting for Vanishing Point so that it’s ready to release next week.  In the meantime, if you’ve read Death Will Find Me, thank you very much. Do leave a review if you have time as it makes such a difference to writers and helps other readers to find books that they’ll enjoy.

See you soon x

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All systems go!

The launch of Death Will Find Me kicked off earlier in the week when Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group coordinated a cover reveal, filling social media with images of the book jacket. I love the cover – designed by the brilliant Mark Thomas at Coverness – and we already have ideas for how we’re going to carry that look on across the next few books.

So here we are – the end of January and bang on schedule, Death Will Find Me is available to pre-order and will be published on February 20th. At the moment, it’s only available in ebook, but in the next few days I’ll be adding options for print copies. And I’ve also ordered a short print run for anyone who’d like to order a signed copy directly.

I know that a novel by a debut author is a tough sell – I’ve been a bookseller long enough to know that while I can say to a shop customer ‘trust me, you’ll love this’, it’s harder to say that about a book mainly available online. Fortunately, reviews are stacking up and hopefully that will give readers confidence.

I hope you enjoy Death Will Find Me – Tessa Kilpatrick arrived in my life quite unexpectedly and I really enjoy writing about her. At the moment, as well as working on all the publishing aspects of Death Will Find Me, I’m writing the first draft of the second (as yet untitled) book. It’s coming on well and should be out in the autumn.

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Looking forward to 2019 – new opportunities

"For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice." TS Eliot At the turn of each year, I like to look at the previous year and think about what I want to achieve in the coming one. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men… Last January, I had a verbal offer for the book, I’d done the requested edits (heaven forbid that there be a hint of romance between my protagonist and the man she’ll be marrying in a later instalment – don’t worry, I’ve put that back!) and my then-agent was very positive. My goals for 2018 looked very different to how the year actually panned out…

By July, my agent had been unable to convert that verbal offer into an actual contract and he hated the new, contemporary, crime novel so much that after ghosting me for a while, he suggested we part company. It was a shock, but as a friend pointed out, I hadn’t been happy with him for a while and already had an exit strategy…

But after a summer of licking my wounds, I made a plan and now, as I work towards becoming an independent author, I’m feeling pretty positive. I’m in control rather than being at the mercy of fickle publishers and I’m not having to share an agent’s time with a couple of dozen other – possibly more profitable – clients.

And it means that I feel able to make actual plans this year that are dependent on me, not other people who have other agendas. 2019 is full of possibilities!

What matters is whether readers enjoy my books and so far the early feedback has been really positive. But I want to be able to justify spending my time telling stories and therefore I need to build a big enough audience of people who like those novels. So, on the writing front, my goals for 2019 are:

1. To publish Death Will Find Me in February and the second book in the series in the autumn. There’s a sales figure I’m aiming for but I feel hesitant about sharing that publicly right now.

2. To write two shorts about Tessa Kilpatrick for people who’ve joined my readers’ club.

3. To write the next draft of Don’t Blink (the contemporary art-world thriller) and then get some professional editorial feedback so that I can decide whether it has potential. If I want to bash on with it, then I’ll do that once the second Tessa Kilpatrick book is published.

4. To blog regularly. I’ve been blogging for well over a decade, but posting has become very intermittent of late, not least because I was waiting for publication news that didn’t materialise. But I enjoy blogging and talking to readers and it’s a good way to talk about some of the background to the books and the way that I write. Hopefully Tessa Kilpatrick’s readers will be interested in that.

Other than that, my goals centre on sorting out our garden so that it’s both beautiful and productive; take a couple of foreign trips (I’m off to Minsk in later this month); to finally get on top of our admin with everything neatly filed away and our tax returns completed well before the deadline rather than just making it under the wire, and the usual getting fitter and eating better that we all promise outselves we’ll do.

I hope that you have a brilliant 2019 and that it’s as exciting and challenging (in a good way) as I think mine might be.

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Being an indie author is just completing the circle

Anyone who read my last post has probably realised what I’m planning to do with Death Will Find Me, my 1920s-set crime novel.

I’m going to self-publish it.

It’s something I never thought I’d do, but I’ve run a publishing company, I’ve set up and run an award-winning independent bookshop, and becoming an indie author seems completely logical. I’m naturally entrepreneurial and now that I’ve made this decision I feel excited and positive about both the publishing side of it and my writing.

This wasn’t an easy decision as I’ve been pretty scathing about self-published books in the past, especially when we owned a bookshop. Not without reason, to be fair, as some of them were very poor; unedited, full of typos, horrible covers, dodgy formatting, and so on. They may have been good books beneath that but I couldn’t sell them and had to regularly disappoint writers who hoped that our shop would be able to support them. Then came the first rush of e-books when the Kindle was produced and my goodness, there was some poor quality work there that didn’t help the overall image of self-publishing.

But in the last few years, self-publishing has matured and there are some very professional writers coming through who are doing an excellent job and selling a lot of books. People like LJ Ross, JF Penn, Mark Edwards, Rachel Amphlett and so many more. And when I look at my manuscript, the one that has been praised so highly by industry editors but which they don’t think will contribute enough to their bottom line to be viable, I know that there is a readership out there and I know that I have the necessary skills to make a good job of publishing it.

And my bottom line is a lot lower than that of a traditional publisher – as a friend of mine who is very profitably self-publishing after years in the traditional arena, pointed out, his overheads are probably lower than a lot of trade publishers’ window cleaning bills. He also said that since he’s taken charge of things, he’s now financially better off and creatively, he’s never been in a better place.

That creative aspect is hugely important to me. In the year that I was signed to an agent and my book was out on submission, I felt completely stuck writing-wise, all the joy of story-telling sapped out of me. I couldn’t write the second book in the series because that felt like tempting fate and when I wrote something new, something different to Death Will Find Me because I kept being told that it wasn’t saleable, my agent dumped me.

There are new things I’ll have to learn – understanding how metadata operates for digital books and working out how to use Facebook and Amazon ads in cost-effective way, for starters. And there’s publicity and marketing. Instead of relying on a publisher to do it, I’m going to have to build my tribe myself. But then, I look at other traditionally published authors and many are having to do the heavy lifting of the publicity themselves.

I’ll also have to learn to cope with people who sneer at the idea of doing this and who tell me that I’ll spend so much time marketing that I won’t have time to write. Or that I should pursue a trade publisher at all costs despite the fact that I look at some of the tiny ones and wonder what value they’re really going to add. But you know what, it’s readers and their opinions that matter, not people who snipe from the sidelines.

Yes, I will have to invest money; good cover design isn’t cheap, qualified proof-readers aren’t cheap, and an experienced and knowledgeable editor isn’t cheap, but all are invaluable. And although I’ll be paying for it up-front rather than a publisher doing it for me, it’s worth remembering as someone pointed out to me last week, traditionally published authors are still paying for those things in the form of lower royalties.  Much lower, in some cases.

As for marketing, well, I don’t intend to be one of those people who endlessly spams their Twitter followers and Facebook friends with pleas to buy my book. I am in the process of setting up a blog tour so that I can talk about my book and the ideas around it with people who are likely to be interested, and I will use the aforementioned Facebook ads to a degree so that the people likely to be interested in Death Will Find Me know about it, but I plan to have fun with marketing the book, to do it in a way that entertains readers and makes me happy.

And yes, maybe a bit more shameless hustling would sell a few more books, but that’s not me. I’ll trade a few sales for retaining my sanity and my integrity. Steadily building up a solid readership interested in my writing and the characters I create? Much more me.

Over the next couple of months I’ll be blogging more about Death Will Find Me and why and how I wrote it, I’ll probably talk a little about the things I’m learning from the publishing process, I’ll share the cover design here first and in a few weeks I’ll also share the first few chapters of the book, hopefully to pique your interest in finding out more about Tessa Kilpatrick.

For now though, I’m back to fact-checking and copy-editing before Death Will Find Me goes to the proof-reader and I’m thinking about the ideas that prospective cover designers are coming up with to make my book look fabulous. And I’m enjoying it.

(Sorry this is long – I promise to begin writing shorter, snappier posts!)

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Decisions, decisions, decisions…

 It is striking that I’ve written only three blog posts so far this year – a vague one about the progress (or lack of it) that Death Will Find Me had made in terms of finding a publisher, a piece about the importance of libraries in my life and a post a couple of weeks ago about a short story I’m working on which I’ll using to launch my mailing list in the next few weeks. I’ve been waiting on having actual concrete news to share, something actually happening.

In some ways the last year or so feels like so much wasted time, writing-wise. Yes, I was signed by an agent but he turned out to be unable to sell the book despite lots of enthusiasm from editors who loved it but felt that it was a tricky sub-genre to sell. I wrote a different type of book but my agent felt it was too niche and that we should part company. A handful of other publishers have seen Death Will Find Me since then and the response has been the same. It’s come close but when it came to actually producing a contract, publishers have backed off.

To quote one: “You’re a fantastic writer – your storytelling is immediate, evocative and atmospheric, as well as gripping and intriguing. I felt like I was right there in 1920s Edinburgh. I was also very compelled by the mystery at the heart of your novel.” And then, as I’ve heard so many times, there’s the next bit: “However, my instinct is that this is a very tough area of the market, which is a real shame. It’s for this reason, sadly, I’m going to have to pass in this instance. But it’s with regret, as I think you’re a talent with lots of potential.”

That editor also expressed enthusiasm about working with me if I wrote something different, by which she means more commercial. In some ways, it’s depressing that publishers are so scared of taking a risk. I mean, Death Will Find Me is historical crime fiction; it’s not as though I’m writing serious, highly-stylised literary fiction.

But it is reassuring in some ways. As friends have pointed out, I’m a good writer and I’ve written a good book. I’ve been told that by people who know what they’re talking about and who have no obligation to be nice! I saw the emails they sent to ex-agent and they were very positive about my writing and the book itself. I asked him whether it was the convention that they said kind things and he assured me that was not the case and that usually he had to edit comments for his authors so that they weren’t upset or offended.

So, where I am now is that I’m a good writer with a good book that is the first in a series which people seem really excited about. But from a business point of view, major publishers don’t see it selling in big enough quantities to be financially viable. After all, riverside offices and parties at the National Gallery have to be paid for by the sales of their authors. And when I look at smaller publishers, many seem to be run by people who have less experience of the book trade than me and I wonder what value they’re going to add to the deal in exchange for their cut of the profits.

Next week, I’m going to outline what my plan is going forward. I’m really excited but I’m also reading this passage by Teddy Roosevelt to reassure me when my courage wavers:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The heroine of Death Will Find Me is not a cold and timid soul, and neither am I.

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