Sunday, 30 November 2014

Getting Social

In my post, Steps to Self-Publishing, I set out a list of the key things I'd done prior to putting Inner Fire on the virtual book shelves.

This post covers the second item on that list: Social Media.

Writers seem to either love social media and embrace it wildly, or they run from it, only interacting when they have to.

Do you need to have a social media presence as a writer? No. Of course not.  Does it help you be a better writer? Probably not. Does it help you sell more books. Ah, well. Yes. Probably, it does. Note the probably.  This is because measuring Return on Investment (ROI) in social media is always an approximation.  Even large companies struggle with calculation of investment return. That's why it's really helpful to have a website with google analytics; you have a tool that allows you to see the outcome of any social media presence. (Funnily enough just as I type this I'm also listening to a pod-cast by Joanna Penn exactly on this point).

Most people know how to use twitter, Facebook and so on so I won't do a huge post on how to do posts, because I am so definitely not an expert on this. However, I thought I'd note a few things I've found that have worked well - unlike my kids I'm not in a native child of the internet, so social media is not a space I play in naturally.

Tips for Using (and Enjoying) Social Media

  1. Stop focusing on the 'likes'. I don't know why people get so obsessed by how many followers they have. I hate to say it, but most of your followers are probably not going to buy your books. Actually, probably a lot of your followers are not even real. You can usually tell the non-real ones; they offer you a 'good time', food that contains strawberries (for some reason instagram bots seem to have a thing for strawberries. Maybe the red shows up well or something), and generally, they are young women wearing bikinis.  
  2. Focus on engagement. I like social media because it allows me to talk to people. I like it because it helps other people to find out about me; it allows me to find out about other lives. I'm way more interested in how many people comment on a post (except my blog. I don't ask people to comment here, because I'm too lazy to reply).
  3. Cross-post and save time. If I post on instagram I can put the same image on twitter, tumblr and Facebook. I pin images from this blog onto pinterest; this allows other people to find this content. I tweet about my new blog post; I tweet about my old blog posts. One day I might turn this blog into a book. Who knows? 
  4. Content is king. Maybe I'm old, but I kind of hope that real content is way more useful and interesting to readers than cat memes. And personally, I feel more comfortable sharing things that are actually useful. So hence this series of blog posts on Things that I Have Learnt. Besides, if you provide good content it can re-purposed (thanks, Joanna Penn, for your podcast!).
  5. Social Media is not about advertising - it's about sharing. Social media is a very valuable tool. For example, I use pinterest a lot because it's a very easy way to provide content that readers, librarians and teachers love.  I have boards that I've pinned background research to. This includes videos or books, and readers seem to enjoy being able to watch sword fighting and stuff. I can add this link to my website, so students reading my book can easily access the research that sits behind it. As an example, here's the link to the pinterest board for Inner Fire
  6. Social media is exciting. The use of hashtags and the ability to comment allows really creative play on words, which as a writer I find fascinating. Social media is really innovative. At the moment, I'm very interested in instagram and how instagrammers see the world. The novel I'm currently planning has an instagram hashtag as a title.

The trick with social media is not to let it overwhelm your life, to spend a little bit of time on-line regularly and to content check with your (real-life) friends and relatives. It's always alarming when people I actually know comment on my blog or my Facebook page, but it's also a relief, because then I have confidence that what I'm saying is interesting! And quite often, people I've met through social media have become real-life friends. (Much to my teenagers' amusement - 'you are meeting someone you met online'?)

Through social media, the separation between virtual and physical is becoming increasingly blurred.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Writing: Creation of an Art

I just watched an amazing video: Ursula Le Guin's acceptance speech at the National Book Foundation. "We need writers who know the difference between the production of a commodity and the creation of an art."

So, as I embark on this next series of posts - the steps to bringing your book into the world, it seemed apposite to remember - writing is, first and foremost, an art. Words have power; words can change a world.

Neil Gaiman - Fragile Things

In an earlier post 'Steps to Self Publishing' I listed the things I did before Inner Fire hit the Amazon shelves. I'm going to cover them sequentially, in detail. The purpose of these posts, dear reader, is help you in the creation of your art.

Step One: Tax Number

Witholding tax is tax that is deducted from your earnings ('withheld') by the vendor you have listed your book with. If your book is on Smashwords, Smashwords have to deduct tax on behalf of the US government. Amazon does the same, as does Draft to Digital.  These witholding tax rates vary depending on your country of origin and the country of earnings, however it can be quite significant. (You can find a lot of information here.)

However, if your country has a tax treaty with the US you can be eligible for the standard US withholding tax rate, which is currently only about 5 percent. New Zealand has a tax treaty, and it's definitely worth the tax deduction it allows. To access these lower tax rates you need to have a number.  Amazon will now accept your domestic tax number - for New Zealanders this would be the IRD number - but other vendors are a little less flexible, and seem to still require a US tax number.

Therefore, if you want to sell on a number of platforms currently it's way simpler if you have a US tax number. Basically, there's two types of numbers - a number for an individual (ITIN) or a number for an entity (EIN). Writers are both: an entity (i.e. we write for generating profit so therefore we are a business) and an individual. Therefore, we have a choice of number types.

Well, dear reader, following my own long and bitter experience over the ITIN, I can tell you now - it's a lot lot easier to get the EIN. Here's a brilliant blog post which explains it much better than I can. Amazon also has useful information.

From Dilbert
I do recommend getting your tax number early in the process. As any interaction with the IRS is fraught with complexity, its a wise idea to get it out of the way soon as possible. Besides, the rest of the steps of getting your book to market are pretty much under your control. So, once you've got your tax number you can proceed with a fairly good idea of when your book will hit the virtual shelves.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Tangled in the World Wide Web

In the last post I set out a list of things I found I needed to do in the process of getting Inner Fire out to market. However, there's one thing I left out.

The major thing I'd left off my Get-your-book-to-market list is your website.

The reason for this brain fade is that Inner Fire is actually my second novel - my first to be self-published, though - so I had already organised a site at the time my first novel, A Necklace of Souls, was published. This post contains some of the many Things I Wish I'd Known about websites. This is pretty basic information and you can find out a lot more technical material on the web. If you're a designer or someone who works in IT you won't need all the information below. But since I'm neither of these things, I thought other folk as ignorant as I may find all this interesting.

Do I Need a Website?

Of course you don't. You're writing books, not selling furniture. Stories are art, not commodities, and  a website is not required to write a book. Time, persistence and talent maybe, but not a website.

But. Here's the thing. If you want to sell your books, well then, a website is a wise idea. Again, it's not mandatory; some writers I love do not have a web presence. Which is immensely frustrating, because I would really like to know what else they've written and what they're working on now. The hallmark of these writers is that they're pre-world wide web and/or they're all immensely famous so they don't really need the presence. Fair play to them.

But for me, a website has been a great investment. Why? Because a website isn't only about having your photo on the internet. A website offers you:
  • Discoverability
  • Analytics
  • Communication
  • Income
Set out below are my main learnings from my web building experience.

from Dilbert

What do I Need?

You need to have a thought about what you want in a site. Do you want one page or multiple page? Do you want a 'contact me' form? An FAQ section? Here's a link to a couple of sites with quite diverse looks and feels to give you ideas:
  1. Mary Winston Photography
  2. Rachael Craw 
  3. T K Roxburgh

Websites are not cheap. You can build one yourself, but if you're not a website person (and lots of writers aren't) chances are it will look and feel horrible. So personally, I suggest get a web designer to do it for you. Who? Look at websites of other creatives you like and see who their designer is. There will be a link somewhere in the footer of the page. Make contact with the designer and ask for a quote. You'll find they'll vary a lot and it will be dependant on what your requirements are. Here's the link to my web designer.

Don't forget that the website needs a domain name. is my domain name. Your domain name could be the title of your book, or your name or something totally random. Popular domain names trade hands for thousands; a domain name has a value. If you think you've got a best seller on your hands, register its title as a domain name before anyone else does!

Your website will need to be hosted. Hosting is where the software for your site sits.  Your designer can help you find hosting, or you can sort it yourself. Hosting isn't something we need to get too worried about as authors, but large companies do need to consider these hosting arrangements carefully, as they cannot afford for their hosting company to go out of business, or to be damaged in a fire or earthquake and take their data with them.

So the cost of your site will probably be development + hosting + domain name. I say 'probably' as the web world is always changing, so who knows what technology will bring. Currently, the usual process seems to be domain name and hosting is an annual fee; development is usually a one off cost, often a per hour charge. You may need additional development services if you want to modify your site.

Benefits of a Website


Search engine optimization (SEO) means how easily a site is found by search engines. Most people, if they're looking for me, will type 'Rachel Stedman' or 'A Necklace of Souls' or 'RLStedman' into their Google browser. Usually, my website is the first option on the list presented by Google. The idea of SEO means that people can find me easily. When you get your site, search yourself on Google, and check your site comes up. If it doesn't, the keywords may need to be changed.

Apart from SEO, your website needs to be kept current. Google can tell if the website's old, and if it's old it's not presented as a first choice to the searcher.  Therefore, to keep your website fresh, it's wise to tweak your content probably every 3 months. Some people have a blog attached to their site (I don't), which acts the same way.

If you're not particularly technical you can get your web designer to make regular tweaks to your site,  but then you'll probably have to pay them, so for me, I've learnt to do it myself. On a wordpress platform it's no harder than writing this blog. (Actually, it's easier, the blogspot software is very clunky).


Ask your designer to set you up with analytics to your site.  Analytics measure who is clicking on your site, where they're based and even, if they're linked up to google +, their demographics - age, sex and so on.  I can drill down into time periods, or country or referral patterns. This is useful because it helps me tell if say a campaign of Facebook ad has lead to any extra activity.

Analytics are the most valuable part of a website. They're the reason I wouldn't use a low cost alternative, like a tumblr page. I love knowing that readers in China and Russia and Brazil are interested in me. It's also encouraging; writing is a long term plan and I can tell, just from my analytics, that my presence and interest in my writing is slowly, slowly increasing. 

I find the analytics more useful than sales figures. Why? Because most people discover a book by reading it for free. Someone lends it to them, or they get it from the library, or they get a free download.  (Probably, this is why Scott Adams allows his awesome Dilbert cartoons to be used on blogs like mine).

Therefore, it's highly reasonable to assume that sales will lag significantly behind website analytics. It's the trend, though that interests me, and for me the trend is looking good. Not great, not amazing, but in the right direction.

Website Analytics: Number of hits per month


If I'm giving a talk about my book, often the convener will introduce me with the blurb from my website. 'Hello,' I think, 'I've heard that before.' Last year, when A Necklace of Souls was shortlisted in the New Zealand Post Book Awards, school children were looking at my site. Teachers also are interested. As are media outlets - if someone's doing an interview with you they'll definitely check out your site first. I have a page that's just for readers/media/teachers, and people can contact me through my site. You can add newsletter sign-ups to your site.


This is something I've only just realised - your blog or website can generate income for you. Not a lot, but still. You can put google adsense on your site (personally, i haven't because I think it looks tacky), but I have here on my blog. Look to the right, under the 'about me' section. You'll see an advert for something, probably self-publishing. Dear reader, if you click on that advertisement, I receive a small payment. Something like a dollar. Thus far, I have made TWO DOLLARS. So not retirement material. 

Also on my website is a link to a 'buy now' for Inner Fire. This will take you to the amazon entry for the book. This is an affiliate link - if someone clicks on this link and purchases something from amazon over the next several hours (I forget the timeframe), a receive a small renumeration. Thus far, I have made ZERO DOLLARS.  However, large book buying sites such as BookBub, can receive serious money from their affiliate links.  

And of course, you can attach a paypal to your site, and people can purchase your work online. Do put this in. True story: I heard a wonderful singer/songwriter on the radio, an audience of probably 50,000. When asked 'Where can people buy your music?' she said, 'Oh they can send me a letter.' A letter! Don't make it hard for people to find your work. I've only just added the paypal function and I haven't used it yet, but it seems crazy that I didn't have it up earlier. It isn't hard and doesn't cost you anything unless you make a sale.

From Dilbert


When A Necklace of Souls was published in 2013 I was nervous about having an online presence. I thought people would stalk me or something. I was so wrong. A website allows people who are interested in you to contact you (I love getting emails through my site) but also, and I really had not anticipated this, a website allows you to be creative. 

You can have a website page for a character, or a page for a story, or a page for the pictures you've drawn for your story. Some writers have whole websites devoted to their worlds (check out Ben Aaronvitch's site). In a very strange way your site reflects your personality; the colours, the layout, the images. A well designed website feels, rather weirdly, like an extension of yourself.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Steps to Self-Publishing

Steps to Self-Pub

In my last post I warned about driving while under the influence of writing. Now, I'm going to talk about the steps I followed in to getting a book onto book shelves.

A little disclaimer: these are the steps, and the order, I've used. It isn't necessarily the only correct sequence, and it's not necessarily what I would recommend. It's just how things have played out. And my book, while on virtual shelves is not yet on physical, so there may be learnings yet to come.

Because I'm also using bricks and mortar stores to distribute my book, I have encountered more complexity than other self-pub writers. However, I wanted to use real bookshops because:

  • I wanted to see how the process worked
  • I really like seeing my book for sale!

Set out below are the steps I took. I will go through these in more detail in the next series of blog posts, as some are quite involved.  But in the meantime if you're wanting more content, try Head or Heart by Nina Harrington. There is also a lot of information on the web - provided you have the time to search for it.  To make it easier for me (and for you) I have pinned a lot of self-pub resources to my pinterest board. Feel free to have a rummage.

from wikimedia commons

Pre Release

  1. Get a tax number - an EIN or ITIN
  2. Increase social media presence
  3. Source editor
  4. Purchase or design the cover art
  5. Complete the editing
  6. Plan marketing strategy
  7. Copy edit
  8. Proofing
  9. Format print proofs (if doing a print book)
  10. Source distributor and printer (if selling to bookstores)
  11. Source marketer/publicist
  12. Develop the Advance Information Sheet (AIS). An AIS is a summary of your book. Here is the AIS for Inner Fire and here is a brief summary of what it should contain.
  13. Formatting for e-book
  14. Finalise on pricing, distribution and platforms for e-books
  15. Build pre-release buzz. Finalise which platforms you'll use. Begin pre-release advertising.
  16. Release

Post Release

  1. Quality check your product
  2. Advertising
  3. Press release
  4. Interviews
  5. Enter competitions/blog tours
  6. Special offers or further advertising
  7. Prepare for next book
And that's it! So far, anyway. I might add more steps as I get further into the process.