A fading Scar

November 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

 

It’s a little over a year since I published Scar, and the promotional effort has finally run out of steam, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the whole process of bringing a book like this into the world.

This industry is a joke. I’ve worked in my life in a few different fields, but never have I encountered the lack of professionalism I’ve found among those who work in the publishing/media industry. In fairness, an alarming amount of bloggers, reviewers, radio hosts and writers are, in fact, amateurs, working at something they love in the off-hours they have outside of their regular, paying jobs and their lives, so they get a free pass. Likewise, some people I’ve worked with have been fantastic. However, I have been deeply disappointed by the blithe indifference of some ‘professionals’ I’ve dealt with.

By way of example; I was scheduled to be interviewed on a major national arts and culture program, the sort of coverage I barely dared dream of. For months, I was told I was going to be on the show – then suddenly, one day I wasn’t. Just like that, they decided not to do it. Likewise, I was told I would get coverage in a national newspaper; that didn’t happen either.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I almost wish I hadn’t got so close, because I never expected to get coverage like that. But to be promised it, and to have those promises broken, took a huge chunk out of my enthusiasm. This is not in any way unusual, but for me, it was unexpected, so be warned. In media, nothing is real until it actually happens. I had to stop announcing upcoming interviews or reviews because so many of them fell through at the last minute.

I can’t complain about the coverage I did get, though. For an unknown writer with a self-published novel, I got a good deal of media attention – way more than many people in a similar position to me. And what did that attention get me? Next to nothing.

Luckily, I went into publishing Scar with what I hoped were reasonable expectations. ‘If it sells 500 copies’, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll be happy with that.’ Well, I’m not happy. Scar is still for sale, and as a self-published book on Createspace, will never go out of print; it’s possible that someone will be buying a copy of Scar after I’m dead. So the final numbers are never in. But with thousands of books published each and every day, and Scar now a year old, and with me no longer attempting to get any kind of media coverage, it’s safe to say that Scar has reached its twilight years. Not only am I nowhere near my dream of supporting myself through writing, I haven’t even recouped the money I spent bringing Scar to print and promoting it. Far from being a career, writing for me has become a massively expensive hobby. To date, I’d estimate I’ve sold less than 100 copies of Scar, in all its formats, and that includes friends and family who have bought it.

Yeah, it’s depressing. To work this hard on something, pour your heart and soul into it, and find that nobody gives a shit is not what an aspiring writer dreams of. I would not have chosen this.

But a more fundamental question is, if I could have known what the reception would be like for my book, if I could have known how disappointing this whole process would be, would I still have published Scar? The answer, if there was any doubt, is yes.

This is why attitude is crucial if you want to be a writer. If you’re writing because you think you’ll get rich, you’re doing it wrong. Breaking even is a dream for most of us. I wrote Scar because I wanted to, because I had things I wanted to say and scenes I wanted to write. I wrote Scar to address certain aspects of my past and of myself, to express certain ideas I had, and, if it doesn’t sound too grand, to change who I was. And I did all of those things.

Of course, I could have just written the book and left it at that. I didn’t need to put myself through the heartache of publishing and marketing a difficult novel in an ADD world. My reasons for doing that are not all that clear to me, mainly because I don’t have the heart to examine them too closely. I suspect that I would find something small and unpleasant at the bottom of it all, some pathetic craving to win the admiration of strangers which I have worked hard to weed out of myself in every other facet of my life.

Either way, Scar’s out there, and I don’t regret it. I’m upset that I failed, but not that I tried. There are things I would do differently; if I knew I’d sell less than 100 copies, I wouldn’t have spent thousands of dollars on marketing. But I would still have published, still gotten reviews, still done interviews. Doing those things was its own reward; I had fun doing it, which I didn’t expect. Failure is a prerequisite of life; hiding from it is ultimately the surest guarantee against both success and happiness. So no, I don’t regret publishing Scar.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a show put on by someone I consider to be one of Canada’s best songwriters. When he started playing that night, there were three people in the audience, including myself. By the time the show finished, the audience had peaked at four or five. Last night, I was talking about it with some friends. One of them voiced the opinion that if he were that songwriter, he would have left without playing anything; what’s the point?

I disagree, though. An audience of one is still an audience. I always said that if one person was moved by my book, one complete stranger who has no reason to lie, who doesn’t know me but truly loves my work, it would all be worth it. Well, that theory was put to the test with Scar. Some people have really loved this book. People I don’t know and will never meet, who only know me through Scar, were touched by what I wrote. That’s worth a lot.

So my advice to the hypothetical wannabe writer I loosely address this blog to is to be sure in yourself why you’re doing this, and be prepared to fail miserably. If it’s money and fame you’re after, put out a sex tape. Writing is a compulsion; it has to be, like a caged animal obsessively rubbing its body bare against the bars of its cage. There’s nothing else on this world I’d put anything like this amount of work into. My story goes to prove that you can work your ass off, do everything right and still fail.

Writing’s the only thing I ever wanted. The other things people want – material possessions, relationships, careers – never really interested me, and I never made any great effort to acquire those things. Interestingly enough, though, all of those things happened while I was busy chasing other dreams. Maybe there’s another lesson in there somewhere.

Will I write again? Almost definitely. Will I self-publish again? Quite possibly. The publishing industry is still the giant mess it was when I started this blog; in some ways, it’s probably worse. Until publishers start trying to publish quality writing and support and nurture new talent, instead of endlessly chasing the Next Big Thing by mindlessly aping the Last Big Thing, self-publishing still holds out hope to dreamers like me. But I’ll approach it with less starry-eyed optimism, I know that. I’ll work just as hard at writing something new, but I don’t see myself going to the same efforts to promote it. It turns out that all the promotion in the world is not going to make people like my books. Not many people, anyway.

It’s not all bad. A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old niece was told to do a project on somebody she admires. We live on separate continents, but she picked me, because in her mind, I’m this famous published novelist. And at the risk of sentimentality, that was worth more to me than any amount of glowing reviews.

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Getting Publicity for your Novel

July 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Writing a novel is easy compared to selling one. And this is not some dash-it-off-in-three-months, Fifty-Shades-Of-Grey writer telling you this; I spent six years writing Scar. But for all the heartache and hard work that was, trying to get people to buy it is ten times worse.

How do you sell your book, once it’s written? There’s ten thousand articles and blogs out there, giving you helpful tips. But every novel’s unique; what works for one will not work for another.

Personally, I hired a publicist. Right around the time I was promoting Scar, I was also starting a business and moving to a new province, so I simply didn’t have the time to do everything myself. Also, I don’t know a thing about selling books. It’s still a fairly closed-off, insular world, to which I have zero access. I don’t even have friends who read, let alone friends in the book industry. So I decided to pay someone to do it for me.

I worked with Sarah Miniaci (www.sarahminiacipr.com), and I’m thoroughly glad I did. Sarah’s hard work and enthusiasm for the project are admirable, and she got me coverage that I thought would be impossible. Not everything panned out as we had hoped, but that’s a subject for a later post, and in any case, it wasn’t for lack of effort on Sarah’s part.

Should you hire a publicist to promote your book? Depends. If you have a background in sales and marketing, and/or genuinely enjoy chasing reviewers and bloggers to try and get them to cover your book, you may want to do it yourself. A large part of a publicist’s job seems to consist of emailing and phoning people and basically hassling them to get some coverage. It takes a tremendous amount of persistence, and also a fair amount of charm. I have a great deal of the former but next to none of the latter, so I contracted out. You may not have to.

It also depends on the book you’ve written. Some books tap so well into the zeitgeist, or else mysteriously appeal to such a huge number of people, that they don’t take much selling. These are basically lottery winners, though. Very few authors are anything like that lucky.

And of course, it also depends on your budget. I’m not going to tell you what Sarah charges – email her and find out – but I will say that good publicity doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay in the thousands for a six week campaign. And no legitimate publicist will promise you anything. They will try to get your book covered in various media outlets, but there are simply no guarantees. Anyone who promises you anything is not to be trusted.

How do you choose a publicist? It ain’t easy. When I went looking, I couldn’t find a hell of a lot of reviews of them. It’s a fairly big thing to give a complete stranger a few thousand dollars with no guarantees of them doing anything for you.

My advice would be to talk to a few; that’s what I did. Much as I hate talking on the phone, I phoned a handful of publicists I’d found online, talked to them about my novel and asked what they thought they could do for me. Be careful; a lot of so-called ‘publicists’ will do little more than create a press release that no one will ever read. A good publicist is well-connected in the industry, and will have a plan of how they will get coverage for your book. Don’t be afraid to ask them what their plan is.
And be realistic. Publicists try to get you coverage in the media, but there’s no guarantees that it will happen, or that if it does happen, the coverage will be favourable (more on that later). And even if you do get great interviews and glowing reviews, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll sell books. No one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists, and a publicist works to make sure people do know it exists. What the public do with that knowledge, though, is anyone’s guess.

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The Blogger’s Return

March 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

It’s pretty disgraceful that I’ve neglected this blog for three solid months. It’s not because I’ve given up, or because I had nothing to write about; quite the opposite.

I’ve moved from the ‘getting the book published’ part of Scar’s little life into the ‘getting people to actually read it’ part. I thought the publishing was difficult and time consuming, but this marketing game is something else. I’m still pretty early into it, with no major successes of which to speak, so I’m not really in a position yet to tell you what works (though I could tell you a few things that don’t).

But for now, I thought I’d share an article I wrote on the realities of being an artist in the modern age. It was picked up by Thought Catalogue, and I’m told was pretty well-received, judging by comments on twitter. I’ve never really understood twitter myself, so I’ll have to take other people’s word for that.

Anyway, you can read it here: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/being-an-artist-in-the-21st-century/

And while we’re at it, let’s make that my first marketing tip. Write an article. You’re a writer, aren’t you? So write something you can give away for free, and find someone who’ll publish it. Like Thought Catalogue. The internet is a ravenous beast, scouring the earth for fresh content to disseminate, every minute of every day. There are lots of sites like this that will let people write for them. And if people like your article, they’ll repost or retweet or whatever it is people do with articles these days, and suddenly people who have never heard of you, have now heard of you.

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Freebies #3: Boxing Day

December 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

As a gift to all those who got ereaders for christmas, I made my story, Hold On, available as a free ebook on smashwords.com.

This is the first story I ever had published, and it won the Federation of BC Writers Literary Writes competition. It’s not all that representative of my style these days, but it’s got one or two tricks that I still find interesting. Enjoy!

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/117675

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Freebies #2

December 17, 2011 at 11:38 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

Two more free ebooks available now on smashwords: “Of Flowers and Sunlight” and “Linares del Arroyo”. “Linares del Arroyo” received an Honourable Mention in The Fiddlehead magazine’s short story competetion, and was previously published in the Spring 2009 issue.

Go here to read them:

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/ryanfrawley

Merry Christmas!

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Creating a book cover: The Dostoevsky/Kardashian Method

December 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

It occurred to me recently that I’ve neglected to mention one very important aspect of publishing Scar: the cover. Part of what got me thinking about this was going through the self-published books on Smashwords, goodreads.com and other sites, and seeing some truly awful covers.

Forget the old cliche about not judging a book by its cover; that’s what the cover is there for. How do you make your book stand out when it’s surrounded by thousands of others, whether on a physical bookstore shelf or online? Your cover is your first chance to get people interested in your book, and if it doesn’t do that, it doesn’t matter if you wrote the best novel in human history; no one will ever know, because no one will ever get past that boring/hideous/offensive cover.

For the self-publisher, the cover of your book needs to do three things:

1)      Grab the (potential) reader’s attention and make them want to know more.

2)      Convey in an instant what kind of book this is, so that you know you’re engaging with the right kind of reader, ie. people who actually read the type of book you’ve written.

3)      Make your book look as professional and high quality as any other book out there.

The first two points are just as important for a major publisher as they are for anyone else, and big publishers will spend thousands on getting the covers of their books right. You don’t need to do that, but you do need to be aware of the tricks and techniques the big guys use, so you can steal borrow them.

Step 1: Grab the reader’s attention

Which of these looks more interesting?

I’ll admit that “Database Issues…” isn’t helped by its subject matter, but the cover for “The Sisters Brothers” draws your eye towards it. It has bright, bold, primary colours; red, in particular, always attracts attention. It has interesting fonts. It has both human figures and what looks like a face, two things we are evolutionarily conditioned to notice and look for, as anyone who doubts Jesus’ appearance in a piece of toast will tell you. One of these books makes you interested to know more, and the other doesn’t, unless you’re really curious about geographic information systems.

Step 2: Attracting the right kind of reader

A good cover should convey the essence of the book in the time it takes to glance at it. Sounds difficult, but fortunately, we humans are visual creatures, and we’ve been conveying information visually for a very long time now. Not only that, but publishers have developed a visual language of book covers that enables customers to make snap-second decisions on books they know nothing about.

Look at these two:

Both attract attention, but whose attention? One is an intense, harrowing exploration of morality and suffering; the other is by Dostoevsky (Ba-boom! Thank you, I’ll be here all week.) ‘The Idiot’ promises sophistication, abstraction, intensity; ‘Kardashian Konfidential’ offers glamour, celebrity and gossip. Both of these books might catch my eye in a bookstore, but I’d only consider buying one of them. The publishers are marketing to two very different demographics, and when they designed the cover on the Kardashian’s book, they weren’t thinking of me.

Look at books similar to yours; does your cover look like theirs? If you’ve written a story about a single girl in the city trying to choose between her sexy but caddish boss and her endearingly nerdy childhood sweetheart, a hot pink cover with a pair of shoes on the front is perfectly appropriate, but it might not work as well for a dystopian steampunk fantasy.

Step 3: Looking the part

If you take the time to learn the language of book covers, you’re already halfway to not looking like an amateur, because you’ll quickly learn how to target the right audience with your cover. But there are other pitfalls to avoid. One that self-published writers often make is having covers that are far too ‘busy’.  Just because your book has scenes set in Paris, Australia and outer space doesn’t mean you have to have the Eiffel Tower, Ayers rock and the moon on the cover. Don’t try and tell the story in an image; that’s not what the cover is for. You want to give a sense of the overall tone of the book, but that’s all. Is it a fun summer read? A rumination on the transience of all things? A political pot-boiler? A murder mystery? These are things a good cover makes clear.

Another common error by self-published writers is having too much writing on the cover. You know those taglines that movies have, like ‘Alien’s memorable “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream?” Leave those to the movies. Big publishing houses don’t put taglines on the front of their books, and neither should you. If you really want a tagline, you can put it on the back cover, where the blurb goes; not on the front.

The front cover of a novel really only needs two pieces of text; the author’s name and the title. Sometimes a pull-quote from a favourable review might find its way there too, but be sparing. Also, if the book is in a series, it’s fine to mention that on the front. Murder mysteries seem particularly prone to this, often listing the main recurring character by name: “A Sluethy McSolve Mystery”. (Sluethy McSolve is the hard-boiled private detective/concert pianist I just invented, in case you were wondering.) This falls under the category of conveying to the reader what kind of book this is.

Simplicity is key; less here is definitely more. Consider the fact that the world’s biggest bookseller has no physical stores, only a website which will shrink your cover down to the resolution of a three-year-old’s drawing and display it as a 1 inch jpeg. The simpler a cover is, the better it will look in those conditions. (Up to a point, of course. The simplest cover is no cover at all, but that won’t sell many books.)

Scar: The story behind the cover

Throughout the process of publishing Scar, I’ve had quite a few people comment favourably on the cover. Not just friends of mine, either; even the folks at Createspace complimented me on it.

I wanted to keep it simple and stark. The tree comes from the mythological themes of the book; the tree has always been an archetypal image in mythologies throughout the world. Also, Scar is a book about family and the past; I felt the tree with its spreading roots was a good representation of that. The red was my girlfriend’s idea; it makes the cover much more striking, and also hints at the theme of blood, of family. The roots in the black soil also hint at the underworld, a major theme in the book being the psychological/mythological descent into the underworld of one’s psyche. That the upper branches of the tree suggest the human brain was a happy coincidence lost on me until my brother pointed it out.

I can’t draw worth a damn. But happily for me, and unhappily for them, artists are abundant, and cheap. There are as many people trying to break out into art as there are trying to write books, and in the meantime, many of them are happy to take on small jobs. I put an ad on craigslist looking for an artist, and got dozens of replies.  You can also explore deviantart.com to find someone whose style suits your book.

My cover was drawn by a Seattle artist named Michael Yakutis; he also drew comics of a few scenes from Scar for my website and advertising material. He’s talented, a real pleasure to work with and ridiculously reasonable; you can see more of his work at http://www.artifolio.com/artist/michaelyakutis888/.

There’s a lot about Scar that I’m proud of, and the cover is definitely one of those things. Every time I look at it, I feel a small swell of pride; that’s what a good cover can do.

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Createspace screws up a second time

October 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

It’s been a while since my last post, and there’s a couple of reasons for that. Tectonic shifts in my private life have kept me on the back foot for much of the summer. Also, proof reading took far longer than expected. Every time I thought I had the book exactly right, I’d send it off to Createspace; they’d send me another proof, and I’d find more mistakes. I went through four different proofs in this way. (The last error I found was a discrepancy in the reported ages of the main character and his father. I must have read this book fifteen times by now. Five other people have read it, including a professional editor, and no one spotted this. A lesson for writers: you can never read closely enough!)

Normally, when you receive a proof and it isn’t right, you go to your Createspace account and reject the proof. They will then ask a couple of questions as to why you don’t like the proof, essentially to make sure it’s not a printing error on their part. Then you upload a revised PDF, they process it and send you another proof, and the process starts again.
However, last time I rejected a proof, something strange happened. I got this message:

Congratulations on making “Scar” ( 3575000 ) available! All Content Creation products have been fulfilled and we would like to thank you for using our services. If you have not already, please follow the steps below to enable your title through our distribution channels.

I quickly emailed them back, explaining that I hadn’t accepted the proof, and that it wasn’t ready for publication. I got this message back:

In viewing the history of this title, I see that it has never gone available and that it is now currently in “Incomplete” status. The message you received seems to have been an error on our end and I sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding it may have caused.

Upon further review of your account, I was able to see that you successfully uploaded revisions on August 29; however, these files have not been submitted for our review process. To do so, please log in to your account, navigate to the “Complete Setup” step in the “Setup” phase, and select “Submit files for Review” at the bottom of the screen. We’ll then review your files and send you an e-mail notification outlining the results of your submission within 24 to 48 hours.

Once your files pass review, you will have the option to either order another proof copy of your title or skip the physical proof step and make your title immediately available.

So I did what they said. I submitted my files for review, and got this message:

The text overlaps on the PDF page 126. Please adjust the text in the native program and recreate the PDF for publishing.

That was too much for me. After the months of work I put into getting the book right, after getting four different proofs which all had the unusual text effects I wanted, I was in no mood to be told a second time that what I had fought to get wasn’t possible. I fired off a slightly nasty email, telling them that I knew that what I was asking could be done, but if they were unwilling to do it I’d find someone else who would. I got this back:

Our Technical Services team has confirmed that your files will be accepted as they are submitted in your account. We have set your title back to “In Process” and you should expect to receive a new review shortly. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Obviously, this was all a frustrating waste of time, but all’s well that ends well, no? They fixed my problem, once I got firm with them.
What irks me, though, is that without my consent, they moved me one step further along in the publishing process. By accepting a proof I told them to reject, they advanced me to the next stage in the process, and once you reach that stage, additional proofs cost additional money. I had to pay $12.99 for the proof I’m currently waiting on.
I understand that they’re a business. I got four proofs for free, and I would have no problem if after that, they decided to charge me. If they had just sent me a message saying, ‘we can’t keep sending you books for free. From now on, we’ll charge you for additional proofs’, I would have been fine with that. But instead, they made a ‘mistake’ that I now have to pay for. Not cool.

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In the Beginning….

March 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

It’s not that I’m a complete dilettante. I’ve published before; a few short stories, here and there. I’ve won a couple of prizes for them. I even got paid for writing them, which is a big deal when you’re 22 and have been dreaming of being a writer as long as you can remember.

You’re 22 and piss-poor, but you’re happy, smiling away in your tiny basement apartment and drinking your shitty warehouse wages, because the future is yours. Everything you ever wanted is just around the next corner. All you have to do is grab it.

A few beers, a few jobs, a few stories later, and you’re 27.  Not old, for a writer; but not a kid anymore, either. Especially considering how early you started; you wrote your first novel at the age of 18. OK, so it wasn’t a good novel, but it was a novel all the same.

So it’s time to get serious. If there’s one thing your 27 years of life have taught you, it’s that nothing is ever handed to you. Nothing comes easy. Dreams are pointless unless you chase them, but they’ll never happen unless you make them.

You have another novel now, a better one. You’ve been moulding this in the dark for five years. It’s outlasted any job or relationship you’ve had. You’ve infused it with your own red life, filled its dark heart to the brim with cruelty and beauty, and now it sits brooding on your desk. At night you can almost hear it breathing, snarling.

Time to find a publisher. But before you can do that, you should probably get an agent. So you look around. You send out emails and manuscripts, first to the big guys, then to the smaller guys, then, finally, to anyone you think might take a chance on an unknown.

Mostly, you get ignored. Often, you get a formulaic response: thanks, but no thanks. Now and again, a spark of interest sends you swaggering for a while; but then the verdict comes. It’s good, it’s really good, but we just don’t see how we can sell it, especially in the current climate.

They couldn’t sell Kafka either. No one wanted to publish Lolita. Confederacy of Dunces was published too late for its unfortunate author. Most great books were rejected at least once; all great authors were rejected many times. You’re in good company.

But you have something the old masters never had. You live in a world far smaller than any they imagined, a world bounded in copper wire where you can talk to anyone, anywhere, without leaving your apartment. You live in a world where technology has robbed the old gatekeepers of their power, where anyone can be heard by everyone. You live in a world where a book you wrote in Vancouver can be ordered by someone in Australia, and printed right there. No shipping, no bulk quantities. Print on Demand. Another front in the ongoing democratisation of culture.

After rejections into the teens, I started to wonder what exactly I need a publisher for. How much did I expect them to invest in advertising a first-time novel with unconventional formatting and difficult-to-classify subject matter? What kind of changes would they ask me to make? What compromises would I be forced to suffer in order to put before the public a book I might no longer recognise as my own? And if I sold my novel’s soul to the corporations, what could I expect to get in return?

So I decided to do it for myself. All of it. This blog will follow my adventure in self-publishing, from choosing a printing service to marketing to sales and beyond. The (hopefully many) highs and the (hopefully few) lows. You’ll see me fail or succeed as it happens. Either way, it’ll be my own failures, and my own success.

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