Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Positioning, Polarising and Publishing

Positioning is all about creating an identity for what you’re offering people. It ties in with branding, and also combines lots of other aspects of the marketing mix that I’ve been covering over the last few blogs. Covers and pricing, for example, are central to positioning.

Since I wrote my last blog entry, there have been some major challenges for me regarding the positioning of The Syndrome Diaries.

I read out an extract at my writing group, expecting the usual suggestions of developing some dialogue, making a character’s motives a little clearer, and so on. But half an hour after I’d finished reading, the room was still engaged in a heated debate regarding the behaviour of one of my main characters. This is perfectly justified: what he’s doing is very polarising and different people are bound to respond to it in different ways. But I wasn’t expecting such a strong reaction, and I was worried that I’d upset people by what I’d written (which is something I have to learn to deal with, as a lot of my writing involves controversial subjects).

Although going to writing groups has improved my writing, the difficulty is that I’m only reading out relatively short extracts, so the way that the whole plot hangs together can’t be immediately clear. Some of the feedback was quite tough to deal with because if I were to implement it, the whole novel would fall apart. I was left wondering whether I’d written something that, ultimately, wasn’t worth putting out there without a complete rewrite.

But after a chat with a couple of the group’s members, the issue is more to do with positioning. While another group had labelled the novel as women’s fiction, it isn’t. It’s too edgy. Much as I love Maeve Binchy’s wonderful story-telling, I’m not writing Maeve Binchy feel-good, happy-ending fiction. The character causing the problem is entitled to do just that (and I don’t think there’s any stopping him), but the book cannot be put in a pink, fluffy category. And I don’t think it ever really was; I was quite surprised that the first group thought that was where it fitted, and so much feedback since then has suggested that it doesn’t.

My parents have now read the completed beta version of the novel: this is the version which is as polished as I can make it without other people reading the entire manuscript. They came up with some ideas for improvements which I agree with, but I was quite surprised at how much they thought should stay as it is – including the ending, which I was considering changing. Although they’re my parents and one might expect a bit of daughter-directed bias, my Dad in particular can be very critical although he’s constructive with it. The beta version is going to another two readers who are acquaintances rather than close friends/family; I trust them to come back with quality feedback, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they think the ending is convincing.

The blogs I’ll be writing over the next couple of months will be about the beta feedback and revisions, and then it’s time to self-publish. I’ll also be documenting the steps to get the book on Amazon, as it’ll be the first time I’ve gone through the process. And then I’ll be covering what happens next (i.e. real sales figures, not those headline-generating, exception-to-the-rule numbers).

If you’d like to follow the novel’s progress you can:

  • sign up to receive alerts when I publish a blog here (there’s a button in the column to the right)
  • join my emailing list
  • see more information on my website

It’s a bit early for speeches, but…

While slaving away over Scrivener may seem an isolated affair, getting my novel to publication stage certainly isn’t something I’m doing on my own. The research grant may not stretch to employing editors and cover designers, but I’m hoping the proceeds from novel sales will stretch to a few beers/curries for the people who’ve had some input. The sixth ‘P’ of the marketing mix is people. These are mine:

Dad: proof-reader extraordinaire. Now and again, I get a phone call which begins in a tone of voice that makes me anticipate news of a tragic death. “Rae,” it says. “That blog you’ve just posted? There’s a typo on the fifth line.”

Nivette: encouraging friend. I told my friend Nivette about my work-in-progress about a year ago. “That sounds amazing,” she said. “You are amazing.” I heart Nivette.

Writers Connect Manchester: writers’ group. I was pretty apprehensive about joining a group, but this lot are great, providing constructive criticism not only on what I’ve written but sharing their ideas about its potential market. I haven’t managed to get there for a while (it’s a bit of a trek, and tends to clash with running activities), but they are lovely.

Renegade Writers, Stoke-on-Trent/Newcastle-under-Lyme: writers’ group. Fortunately, this is only a couple of miles down the road, so most Wednesday evenings you’ll find me in The Red Lion with my fellow Renegades. The writers here are generally more experienced and have more publications under their collective belts than the people I’ve met at Manchester, but they’ve never been anything other than encouraging, and have given some fantastic feedback on my writing which I think has improved it considerably.

My Beta Readers: I have several people lined up to read through the almost-ready Beta version of the novel. I know they’re busy people, and I also know they’ll give me some excellent advice for the final polishing before the book gets uploaded. This is going to be the most scary bit of the process. I’ve been working on the novel for nearly two years, but I’m the only one at the moment who knows the whole plot and the way it fits together. I’m just hoping it makes sense.

Someone who will remain anonymous: I’m not going to spill the beans on who this was. I was in a bookshop with this person, flicking through books on the art of novelling, wondering out loud whether to make a purchase. “I don’t know why you’d want that,” said Anon. “You’re never going to finish that novel anyway.” The determination to prove Anon wrong has helped drive the novelling since then!

Who inspires your writing? And does Anon deserve beer and curry in return for providing motivation?

This is the seventh Blog from a series on marketing. The eighth, and final instalment – on positioning – will follow soon!

Judging a Book by its Cover

We’re onto the fifth P of marketing: packaging. For a book, this of course means the cover. In a previous blog on pricing, my sales forecast made it clear that the costs of a professional cover designer would not be recouped. So, it’s up to me.

The important points to remember with my cover design are:

  • What works in a bookshop doesn’t necessarily work online, and I have to design with Amazon in mind
  • The cover that comes up on someone’s screen when browsing Amazon might be tiny
  • If the potential reader is on their Kindle, the photo will be black and white
  • My name is not important because few people have heard of me, and this is my first novel
  • The style I choose will give some indication of genre

When I worked in music publishing, we distributed a self-published book of songs for children by a very popular composer of music for junior schools. The songs were suitable for older junior school children, but the cover art was the composer’s pre-schooler daughter’s work, giving the impression that the content was aimed at very young children. Teachers of older children would ignore it, while teachers of younger children would open it up only to find it was unsuitable for their needs. This shows how important the cover of a book is to convey its content.

Here are some examples of other authors’ covers:

It’s clearly going to be a romcom. This cover also stands out from the other books in a similar genre. It would probably have more appeal to women than men (it’s rather pink), but avoids the teeny-skinny-people-cartoon-and-curly-writing cliché that is the badge of chicklit. I’ve just started reading this: it’s very, very funny, though explicit. The cover has a hint of saucy British postcard about it, and that’s perhaps a clue to what’s inside.

This screams chicklit: pink, girly silhouette. It’s a fabulous book, tackling serious issues in the context of a love story, and it’s both funny and very sad. The cover, to me, makes it look more frivolous than it is. Online, it doesn’t work well: there’s not enough contrast between some of the text and the background, so when I went on Amazon, all I could read was ‘Before’ and the author’s name. My Dad loved it too and thought it was extremely well-written, but he read it because I mentioned it in an earlier blog. I doubt the cover would have caught his attention.

Almost perfect for the web, although some of the text is too small (‘Twenty years, two people’ in particular). This has strong images and has been mentioned by quite a few commentators for its step away from traditional design. I bought this in bookshop quite soon after it was published, having not heard of it. The cover attracted me to the book, and inside the concept and opening scene (University in the 80s, which I caught the back end of) hooked me in. Online, the cover would have grabbed my attention and the sample would have led to me buying the book.

Well, it’s chicklit, I presume. It has a cartoon girl on the front and lots of pink. But I can’t read the title. This is a HarperCollins book – a publisher who can surely afford a decent graphic designer.

Again, a cover marred by illegible text, and it doesn’t appear to be available other than as a download, so the cover needs to be particularly web-friendly. All that catches my eye is the huge bunch of roses. To me, that indicates Englishness, a female protagonist and there’s something melancholic abut the photo, suggesting tragedy. It actually states on the cover that it’s a love story, set in the US, but I couldn’t read that until I went into the product details on Amazon. The tiny writing at the bottom is in an illegible curly font – it’s actually quoting a review, and covers will normally use a very clear font for quotes.

So there are some examples of what works for me and what doesn’t. Translating that into my own cover is a little more challenging; I can see what’s good and not so good in other peoples’ designs, but pulling something together that attracts the kind of readers who would enjoy my book has proved difficult.

I wanted to produce something early on to go on my website and started off with this:

The main problem is the title font. It’s not clear. I wanted it to have a hand-written feel and tried to make it clearer by highlighting it, but it just looks messy. I’m not entirely sure about the photo. I suspect the story has more appeal to women than men; that’s what one of the writers’ groups I took it to thought too. In the other writers’ group, the men seem to be getting into it perhaps more than the women. I’m not sure how much appeal the cover has to women. My husband says he’d pick the book up because as a hot-blooded male he’d be drawn towards an image of the female form, but inside it’s not really his kind of thing (which would be Tom Clancy).

The story hinges around a successful female rock musician (Syndrome is the name of her band) who’s written some diaries, and the cover depicts her. There are some quite dark themes in the book, although there’s also a romance central to the story. It’s written in the style of mainstream fiction – not frivolous, but not heavy-going either. I wanted a female image with a guitar; it’s actually a bass. I found the original image on clipart, and cropped it quite a lot (partly to get rid of the four tuning pegs as a regular guitar would have six). So with a cover budget of zero, there is some compromise!

I’ve subsequently redone the cover, with clearer text.

I’m not entirely convinced by the red, as it looks a bit ‘thriller,’ but having tried different colours, this is what stands out without going monochrome (although I think my name might work better in black and white, as in the previous version). The ‘Kindle image’ is below, and small: the text isn’t as clear as I’d like.

There’s still some time to play with the cover. The best-I-can-make-it version will shortly be going to my beta readers, freeing me up to work on other aspects of the book.

  • What covers have you seen that you thought were particularly good (or bad!)?
  • How would you improve my cover?

This is the 6th blog in a series on marketing.

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