Monday, 16 November 2015

Guest Post: Author Samantha Tonge on Writing

This week I am thrilled to welcome popular author Samantha Tonge to 52 Ways To Write A Novel.

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart. 

Samantha, why do you write?

Sounds cheesy, but I always knew that one day I would write. This perhaps comes from being a voracious reader as a child. I finally got the opportunity when my youngest started school, and haven’t been able to stop since.
Why do I love it? Because nothing satisfies me more than crafting words together. And whilst no one may ever read my work  once I’m dead and buried, I feel as if I am leaving behind some sort of legacy... some sort of mark that I existed.

I am sure that nagging desire to leave something behind is what drives many writers. So what is your preferred field as a writer? And is there anything you'd like to write that's outside your comfort zone?

I adore writing romantic comedies, the words just seem to flow onto the page, I think it is my natural voice. But yes, at some point I might want to challenge myself to try something different. I have got an idea for a YA thriller.
YA is a very challenging genre, I've found, not least in terms of finding the right readership for your books. But it can also be one of the most rewarding areas to work in as a writer, perhaps because fans are more likely to reach out to you on social media or really engage with your work among themselves. I wish you luck with that.

Now, back to the interrogation!

Could you describe a typical writing day for us? Any routines/techniques you habitually prefer or tricks for getting yourself in the zone?
I am lucky to write full-time from home, so usually I am behind my desk, after my cycle ride, at about 7.30 am. At about ten I realize I need to bath and breakfast, and then domestic duties allowing (!) I can more or less continue for the rest of the day.

I do need quiet to get into the zone – and the power to resist social media. I adore Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and tell myself far too often that I am on there “for work”!
Well, we all need to network and promote our books on social media. What do you fear most in terms of writing or being a writer, Samantha?

Not selling. The most important thing to me as a writer, above improving my craft or making money or earning a reputation, has been to reach an audience, reach readers – if you aren’t doing that, what is the point?

So I am very broad-minded about taking my editors’ viewpoint on board when they suggest what might need doing to suit a particular market. I’ve never been interested in just writing for myself.
So what would go in your Room 101 where books, writing or writers are concerned?

They certainly aren’t my pet hate, but I wish there were no writers who are overly apologetic about promoting their books. I understand and sympathize, but there is nothing more off-putting as a reader, in my opinion, if a status or tweet starts off with, “Sorry to do this but...” 

Especially if you are a digital-first author like me, you need to promote your work to gain visibility, to gain readers as you aren’t in  shops, on bookshelves. I am lucky in that I love social media, and I know how hard it is for some authors who really don’t. It’s an on-going battle, I feel, for the modern author, to embrace promoting and creating a brand. There is nothing sadder than a book bombing because it just hasn’t been advertised enough.

Not that promotion is everything – obviously the story, the writing, has to be good and connect with readers, But at least promoting your work gives it the chance to be read.

Do you think all writers are basically anarchist, disruptive types or harmonizing influences? Please show working-out.

Ha ha! No comment. Okay, one comment. I think we are all bonkers.

And in my case, you would be right. Talking of writer insanity, are you Nanowrimo-ing this year?

No, I am too busy promoting my Christmas book – but best of luck to everyone who is!
Thank you, it's proving hard for me to concentrate on Nanowrimo, what with all the promotion I've been doing for Girl Number One lately. But one does one's meagre best ... 

Now to promote your work. Which book or books of yours should we be reading, and why?

My Big Fat Christmas Wedding is currently only 99p and bound to add a bit of sparkle to your festive season! Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson.
My debut Doubting Abbey is also at a great price and might blow those blues away if you are missing Downton after the finale!

Also Mistletoe Mansion is currently available as a paperback (as is Doubting Abbey) in The Works stores, only £1.99!
They all sound fabulous and astonishingly good value! Thanks so much for agreeing to be on 52 Ways, Sam.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Week Twenty-Seven: How To Make Your Novel A Bestseller

Yes, this blog is about How To Write A Novel, and we have been straying quite deep into How To Sell A Novel territory recently, but bear with me. Normal service will be resumed next week with a post by the lovely and talented author Samantha Tonge on books and writing.

Some weeks ago, the more attentive among you may recall me blogging about how I wrote a thriller last year, but it was rejected umpteen times, so I gave up trying to place it traditionally and self-published instead. The whole story of that decision is here: Writing My First Thriller.

That was GIRL NUMBER ONE, which I self-published September 21st.

Seven weeks ago.

I tweeted about the book, shared it repeatedly on Facebook - which I bet was annoying to some of my long-suffering friends, but what you can do? - and organised a Thunderclap (see this post) to push it up a notch.

Last night I checked the book's UK ranking and was over the moon to see how far it had risen.

As you can see, after only 49 days on Amazon, GIRL NUMBER ONE had broken the Top 50 barrier in the UK Kindle store and was, spookily, at No. 49. One place for every day! (Though it changes hourly.)

UPDATE (December 10th 2015)
GIRL NUMBER ONE reached the #1 spot in UK Kindle store, following 40 days in the Top 100

Basic Promo
This achievement is something I never believed could be possible for any self-published book of mine. Especially given my rather haphazard approach to promo. I don't blog very often, and mostly just tweet my book links or chat about my writing on Facebook. I don't keep an email list - which I should, and probably will have to in the future - and although I initially paid a few quid for two ad campaigns on Facebook and Amazon, they were both of only a few days' duration and didn't make any marked difference to my sales. I currently have a Goodreads Giveaway in hand, but that's only after the book reached the Top 50!

So how on earth did I manage this? How did a disorganized mother of five who homeschools and writes her books in odd, snatched moments possibly manage to sell quite so many books?  Here are some thoughts on what has happened ...

Key Ingredients For An Indie Bestseller
The first thing that got my book into the Top 50 10 on Amazon UK is LUCK.

I know that sounds horribly random. But it is true. No one really knows what makes one book sell and another equally good book struggle. Most experienced book trade professionals will admit this. Without good luck, you might as well pack up now and go home. So one of the key elements of big book sales, whether traditional or self-published, is totally out of your hands. I hope that's a comfort. It is to me, because I know that if I fail to sell well in the future I can blame my lack of success on bad luck.

So make sure you get lucky. But okay, let's assume you can make your own luck, or at least facilitate it. How might you do that as a self-published writer?

Have a good title. By which I mean a title that works extremely well within its genre. A title that lets a reader know what kind of book it is, and therefore indicates if they might like it. But it should be a title that does all this without - if possible - being too derivative or unoriginal. In some cases, an eccentric, standout title could make sales explode. In other cases, a title like that could kill an otherwise good book. So be careful.

Have a great cover. Again, this is often about genre. The cover must reinforce the title and be genre-appropriate. At the browsing stage on Amazon, it's all about visuals. If the main font isn't readable in a thumbnail, or the cover itself looks indistinct, confusing, or just plain dull, then you could be in trouble. This doesn't demand great skills. I can only draw stick people, I am no talented artist. Yet I made my own cover for GIRL NUMBER ONE by buying a spooky-looking woods photo online, then fiddling with it on Pic Monkey. During this process, I kept in mind the colours and fonts and design features commonly used in other psychological thrillers so that readers could see at a glance what kind of book it is. And it seems to have worked.


Write a strong, succinct, genre-appropriate blurb. This is not the place to get creative and show off your purple prose. Be clear and tempting at the same time. Suggest something intriguing where you can. If your genre is popular fiction, do not be afraid to be a bit crass with your book description if it works. Present your book confidently, as you hope a publicity team would do if you were traditionally published. (Not all traditional publishers make an effort to help writers with promo, by the way. Just in case you are dreaming that they do.) In other words, it should look and sound exactly like something on the back of the kind of books you are in competition with in your genre.

Get your Amazon categories and keywords working for you. These are very important. When you self-publish, you can choose two categories where your books should be listed, and seven keywords for other elements of your story. Some keywords will get you into bestseller lists once your book begins to sell, and this can help readers 'discover' your book. Discoverability is absolutely fundamental to selling books on Amazon, which has gazillions of books on sale. Your book is left to drift on that vast ocean,and you need to find ways to draw attention to it. Not just in the first weeks or months of publication, but sometimes up to a year after publication. After that, your best bet for making sales is to publish another book.

Start to build a backlist. You need to build a readership and a brand identity as a writer, because branding your books will appeal strongly to readers. Readers like to know what to expect from a writer, just like you want to know what flavour crisps you're about to eat, in case it's Worcester Sauce and not good ol' Cheese 'n' Onion. That's always been a problem for me because I write so many different books under different names. And this being my debut thriller as Jane Holland meant I had no reassuring 'brand' to offer any would-be readers. Looking at my other books would show them only poetry. They had to take everything on trust.

So I polished up two other thrillerish books I had in the bottom drawer, and published them alongside GIRL NUMBER ONE. Hey presto, I had created an instant portfolio!

Now when people buy either of those other books, they see GIRL NUMBER ONE in the Also Bought strip, and vice versa. And that gives my debut title, I like to feel, more validity. Borrowed pedigree. Because it's no longer alone but part of a 'list'.

Keep belting them out to build your portfolio.

Get your price right. Unfortunately, the craze for free books has led to readers expecting something for nothing, or at least for as little as possible. While big names can still attract healthy sales with large price tags, most writers need to be modest with their expectations of wealth. So price your book appropriately for its genre, length and general market fit if you want to make strong sales. I had to drop my price from £1.99 to 99p to crack the Top 100, and while that was a large drop for me (only 35% royalty instead of 70%) the increase in sales volume has been worth it.

Finally, write a page-turning book that fits the market as well as bringing something new to it. To succeed in a mass market arena, a book that is not being championed by some external factor, like a book prize or the fact that its author is a celebrity, needs to be gripping above all else. I don't mean in a thriller sense, but simply in the sense that once you have started reading this book, you simply must finish it. That's what you need for lasting success. So write clear, consistent prose that will appeal to a broad swathe of readers and keep those cliffhangers coming. Otherwise you will not attract a mass readership who will buy all your books and - most importantly - trumpet your books to other people. If you're a more literary writer, that's fine but you can't expect to sell heavily unless you can win a prize or attract attention some other way; the readership for literary fiction is not broad enough.

Because the final element in selling books is to get other people to sell it for you. Past a certain sales point, the author ceases to perform a practical function in actual day-to-day sales, and that is when high visibility and readers take her/his place. The kind of readers every author wants, the lovely ones who connect on social media and say spontaneously to their friends, 'Listen, you MUST read this book!'

And if you think that sounds like a tall order, you're right. Which is why I'm already working on my next novel, suspicious that I'm going to wake up soon and discover it was all a dream ...

QUESTION: What makes you buy a book on Amazon? What makes you choose to pass on it? How can you apply your findings to your own promotional efforts?