LESSONS FROM THE LAUNCH OF PAINTED: A THRILLING NEW HORROR NOVEL

Yes, I can now shout it from the rooftops!

PAINTED has been published! 

Available at all online retailers.

It is entirely true when I say that PAINTED wouldn't be the book it is without a barrow full of help from some amazing friends and family, and from strangers. From people who chose to join the Launch Team over on Facebook, and acted as Beta readers and ARC readers. They really are amazing people. Thank you.

I tried following all the launch plans littering the internet. Launch plans written by authors and experts with a lot more experience than I have. And here are my key learning points:

  1. You need a plan. You cannot wing a proper launch.
  2. You need to write that plan down. Do not rely on remembering everything. You will forget something. Trust me.
  3. You may have only just started your Man Booker Prize winning novel, but start prepping  your launch now. Don't laugh, this bit is true. Start nurturing the bloggers, the media contacts, your launch team, now. Massage them, wine and dine them, tempt them with tantalising snippets from your work. You can't turn up begging on their doorstep three days before the launch and hope for some media. That's not the way it works.
  4. Pay for help. "Oh but I've got no money." Yes well, that may be true. But put some aside for all the things you're going to need - a great cover, an editor, formatting software, Amazon advertising, inclusion in catalogues, membership to various society groups - Alliance of Independent Authors, Society of Authors, Society of Horror Authors etc etc.
  5. Are you still following that plan? Step-by-step?
  6. Newsletter swaps - these need to be organised weeks in advance. Start working on those now. Yes, even if you don't have a firm date for your launch. Make contact. Write those contacts down in a master list somewhere. Same goes for blog sites, review sites. You cannot wing this part. Be like the Avon Lady, and know the best doors to knock on.
  7. If you are doing paperbacks, get them into your hands before the launch. It makes marketing so much easier if you can take photos of those bound beauties. It also makes it easier to tempt people to review your book by offering them copies. Media sites like to give away copies if they're going to put in the effort to interview you. This is a marketing cost. Be prepared to shoulder this cost.
  8. Don't try to do everything, all at once. You need to space out your energies, or you will burn yourself out. Trust me.
  9. Your launch team is your best asset. Don't ask them to do too much. Reward them. And be grateful for the effort they put in on your behalf. They didn't have to do it. Don't underestimate how important they are to your success.
  10. And as Rachel Hunter said, "it won't happen overnight, but it will happen".
Rachel Hunter

You can buy PAINTED from all online retailers now

CLICK ON THE BOOK COVER BELOW

COUNTING DOWN TO THE LAUNCH OF MY HORROR NOVEL

 

Eighteen days remain before my horror PAINTED hits Amazon. Eighteen long angst filled days left to do the hundreds of things on my to do list. It could be more. It feels like more! 

What I have been doing every morning, is taking myself out for a long walk around the park, listening to Mark Dawson's SPF Podcasts, which are incredibly insightful. If you are an author, I recommend you listen to them. Although, when I get home from my walk, after listening to Mark's podcasts, I'll invariably add another dozen things to my already heaving to do list! At least I feel fitter, and am sleeping better.

At the beginning of June I created an official PAINTED Launch Team over on Facebook, for people interested in helping with the online launch of PAINTED. Thirty three people are now part of my team, and their assistance has been invaluable. It's a place where I ask the team members to share posts, or tweets, or to add PAINTED to their own Goodreads lists, etc. You are welcome to join (there is no obligation to read the book if horror isn't your cup of tea!).

A week ago, a Goodreads giveaway for three signed copies of PAINTED went live, as a way to increase the profile of the book, to create a little bit of buzz, and to get it onto readers To Be Read lists (TBR). So far 442 people have entered the competition for one of three signed paperbacks. The competition ends on June 30th. Have you entered yet?

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Painted by Kirsten  McKenzie

Painted

by Kirsten McKenzie

Giveaway ends June 30, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

I've approached a small number of horror book reviewers, pitching PAINTED to them for review. Some have replied positively, which is fantastic news. This week I'll be approaching more. If you have any great blogging contacts, or book reviewer contacts, and are happy to introduce me to them, I would be eternally grateful! Please drop me a line through the contact page and we can go from there.

ARC Copy Meme

The members of the official PAINTED Launch Team have all been sent ARC copies of PAINTED for their reading pleasure. They've picked up some minor errors, which is fabulous! Better that they pick them up than readers on June 30th. Their feedback has been invaluable.

PAINTED was formatted using Vellum, which is the most amazing tool every designed. I love it. I have it open on my desktop now and can add, amend, delete, rewrite at any stage, and those changes are shown live on the kindle view to the side of the manuscript. VELLUM IS AMAZING. I can't shout that loud enough, not even using my old Air Training Corps Warrant Officer voice. It was a breeze generating all the different files formats I need for the different platforms.

On a completely unrelated note, I've started work on my next novel, and have managed 4,548 words already, in between editing, formatting, marketing, walking and mothering. Oh, and having my daughter in hospital as her appendix was whipped out! She's all recovered now, but that was certainly a speed bump in the month of May!
 

Don't forget to join my mailing list for updates about the launch of PAINTED, and where you can get your copies, and the official IRL launch party later this year.

THANK YOU EVERYONE xxx

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THE FEELING OF HAPPINESS AFTER FINISHING A BOOK

The feeling of happiness after you've finished writing a book!

Today I typed the words "The End". They were words number 77,070 and 77,071 respectively. And whilst those words are there, at the end of my manuscript, this is not the end of the road.

Wine Tasting in Argentina

I will toast the completion of PAINTED, with a glass of Pinot Noir, and the smug satisfaction that it all came together nicely in the end, over seven months. Before 11.30pm last night, I had no idea how it was going to end, not properly. I'd mulled over some ideas in the shower, like always. Some ideas had come half formed as I drifted off to sleep. Walking round Cornwall Park listening to podcasts delivered others. But the end, the last few paragraphs, were as elusive as the winning lottery numbers.

But at 11.30pm last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, with my rescue cat sleeping awkwardly on my shoulder (I know, she shouldn't be on the bed, but she doesn't know that), the ending came to me as clear as my newly installed double glazing. I turfed the cat off, turned on the lights, and wrote a page of notes. Today, the paragraphs appeared on my laptop as though someone else were writing them.

And so now I'm done. But not really. Not by a long shot.

Today the final chapters were emailed off to Beta Reader #1 - an English friend living in Australia. Three of the earlier chapters were emailed off to Beta Reader #2 - my American friend residing in Washington D.C. Between them, they make sure I don't fill the book with adverbs or colloquialisms only Kiwi's understand.

PAINTED Cover

Also, the first 5,000 words were sent off to a proof reader, with a request for her to quote on proofreading the whole 77,071 words.

Tomorrow I will read PAINTED through, from start to finish, to pick up any inconsistencies, or loose ends.

And then there's the formatting to do, the book to load, and the launch to prepare for.

I think I'm going to need more than one glass of wine.

So, if you would like to be part of the launch team, please message me, and we'll arrange some arc copies to come out to you for review, and as a thank you for your assistance in spreading the word. Looking forward to hearing from you and thanks for all your support so far. x

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Which level of support are you comfortable with? *

SHARING THE LOVE, OR SUCCESS BY ASSOCIATION

Last week Fifteen Postcards hit #2 on Amazon. Not just in one category, but in two.

Before that happened, I woke up to Fifteen Postcards being #36. And boy was I happy! Next time I looked it was #10. Then, when I was at the supermarket, it hit #4. By the next morning, it had hit #2. 

For someone who was happy with her book bubbling consistently around 300, what did that do to me?

As a starter, I broke out the champagne. Then we broke out the really, really good wine. The wine we'd been cellaring for years. The sort of wine you want to drink before you die, and before it goes off, but the occasion normally never presents itself. 

Moet
SAS Wine

We know someone who died before they could drink all the good wine in their cellar, so we invited friends over, and celebrated the hell out of that #2 ranking!

How did I get there - to the dizzying heights of #2? To start with I was perplexed, but then a number of ducks came home to roost. My publisher had changed my Amazon categories. They'd also asked me to give some love to my blurb. Remember, Fifteen Postcards was published in May 2015, and it hasn't had much love since then. So the blurb was updated, and I updated all the Amazon Author Central platforms, and there are many. Why Amazon doesn't extrapolate that out automatically is a mystery to me.

But my publisher did one other thing. They promoted me to readers of Jodi Taylor's books. 

Jodi is with the same publisher as I am, Accent Press in the United Kingdom. I haven't met Jodie yet, but I know her fans are incredibly loyal, and it was through their love and support, that my books almost hit #1. And what a ride. And I am grateful. If it wasn't for Jodi's incredible writing, and her loyal fans, I wouldn't have hit the highs I hit. Sure, changing the categories, and giving my blurb some love helped, but Jodi helped more.

So, if your books are languishing, have you thought about your relationships with other authors? Maybe not someone with the clout of Jodi Taylor, but maybe link up with someone else, cross pollinate, share the love, and the workload, and that may just be the key.

Be Atlas and shoulder the load. Go out to bat for one of your author friends. Help each other.

And thank you Jodi, and Accent Press. Last week was a wild ride. xxx

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Fifteen-Postcards-T...

BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE READER

Choosing a book cover is akin to choosing the name for a baby. You mull it over. You sound it out. You might share it with a few trusted friends. But in the end the decision is yours. And that decision can make or break the 80,000 words you've toiled over for the past year, two years, ten years.

This week I commenced the scary but exciting task of choosing a cover for my next book, for my horror novel PAINTED. I put the pitch out to DesignCrowd, and waited for the designs to roll in.

And they are. And some of them are amazing! I want to launch PAINTED now, today. Right this very second. I want to show you all the designs, I'm that excited. Designs have come in from Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Azerbaijan, UK, Bulgaria, Spain, India and Romania. And there is still a week to go in the design period. 

I keep refreshing the DesignCrowd page, looking for new designs. I already have my favourites, I've popped my top five down below. But I'll run a proper poll over on my Facebook page once the design period ends, and you can all vote for your favourite then - go here to be involved - FACEBOOK

I'd still love to have your feedback now though! Comments below are welcome.

Looking at the original book covers Stephen King used, there wasn't a lot of blood and gore on those. In fact, if you look at the current top 100 books on the Amazon horror list, very few of them feature blood, guts or gore in any form (although some of the new Stephen King covers do...).

So tell me, what do you like to see on the cover of a horror novel? Minimalist? Blood? Black and white imagery? Skull and crossbones? Comment on this post, and I'll put your name in the draw to win a signed copy of PAINTED when it is published in June 2017.

My Top Five Cover Designs, so far!

 

 

BEING PART OF THE AMAZING AUCKLAND ARTS FESTIVAL

Just typing those words is pretty amazing in itself!

Kirsten McKenzie and Andrene Low

On the 18th March I teamed up with the hilarious Hawkes Bay author Andrene Low, and we spent the evening sitting in the window of a shop... Not that sort of shop! We were perched in the window of Antique Alley on Dominion Road as part of the Auckland Arts Festival White Night.

Between the two of us we did live readings from our books, and ran Q&A sessions about writing, publishing and the inspiration behind our books.

People came and people went, and at one stage we had a full house.

Faux Sherry

The tables were prepped during the day with darling silver trays from Antique Alley, and decanters filled with Lipton's Iced Tea. An abundance of antique sherry glasses were washed, dried, and lined up next to the decanters. Up on the stage we had the real stuff in our decanter to moisten our throats for the four hours we were performing. I think if you were one of the attendees who turned up much later in the evening, you may have seen some evidence of that!

And what a buzz it was. Next year though we might add in a couple of other authors, because four hours is a long time for two authors to bounce off each other. 

We also had crystal bowls of popcorn for the punters, newsletter sign up sheets, and piles of postcards and bookmarks showcasing all our books. Huge signs in the window too, as well as numerous copies of our books, on the off chance someone wanted to buy any, which they did. And for their benefit, we had EFTPOS available. Perfect.

There was a real buzz along Dominion Road that night. We had a couple of performance artists outside the shop as well, which really helped. We can only expect the White Night event to get bigger and bigger in the coming years.

Thanks to the Dominion Road Business Association for all their assistance, and to the Eden Albert Board, and of course thanks to the Auckland Arts Festival for putting on such a spectacular event for all of Auckland to enjoy.

Kirsten McKenzie in the window of Antique Alley for the Auckland Arts Festival White Night

Kirsten McKenzie in the window of Antique Alley for the Auckland Arts Festival White Night

IN AN IDEAL WORLD, ALL REVIEWS ARE EQUAL

Or, not all reviews are created equally...

Reviews are the lifeblood of an author. We clamour for them. We beg for them. Amazon tells us we need them. Bookstores ask for them. Magazines print them. Newspapers rank them. Bloggers give them, sometimes begrudgingly, and hopefully honestly.

But not all reviews are created equally. And just having Amazon reviews is not enough for some bookstores or libraries to agree to stock your baby.

Authors tend to pounce upon any review as mana from heaven. The crumbs the reading Hansel's and Gretel's of the world have left us. Stumbling across a fresh review on Amazon sends an author's endorphins through the roof.

Goodreads, another treasure trove of reviews and ratings. Even ratings are gratefully gathered around an author, lovingly coveted and caressed.

Of course the Everest of reviews are by those illustrious literary journals which pepper the world. Or decades old newspapers, whose opinion's are eagerly read by their adoring subscribers and discussed over long meals and expensive bottles of pinot noir. Those reviews are considered the gold class of reviews. 

Reviews in women's magazines. Sniffed at by highbrow literary journals, but read religiously every week by the biggest regular consumers of books, women. I don't sniff at those reviews. They are gold.

Reviews by celebrities. Even Kim Kardashian has started asking for book recommendations via her Instagram feed. Reece Witherspoon has a book club. Emma Watson is about as much of book vigilante as you'd expect from her decade of playing bookwork Hermione. She has her own book club too. Oprah started it all. The Richard and Judy Book Club. I'd donate a kidney to be reviewed or profiled by any of these bookish celebrities.

But some of the best reviews, the most considerate and considered, are by the associations and societies within which we operate. The various organisations who exist to support authors writing within their particular genre - Romance; Historical; Horror; Crime; Thriller etc. Reviews which are done by reviewers who understand the genre you are writing in. From the genre you are trying to market to the world. They get you. They understand you. They are gatekeepers though. They want the genre to be full of great works worthy of the title "Romance" or "Historical" or even "Erotica"...

The Historical Novels Society is one such gatekeeper. And in their February issue, Issue #79, they published a review of 'Fifteen Postcards'. You can imagine my response. I opened the link hesitantly...heart in my mouth, palms sweating...and here's the review:

"Kirsten McKenzie has written a very unusual novel: part time travel, part historical, and part antique review. Sarah’s adventures in other times and other continents, linked together by the postcards and the antiques, are well researched and entertainingly written. The twists and turns are a little frenetic, and the reader can sometimes feel as if they are running to keep up. At times the plot is somewhat convoluted and a little unbelievable, but Sarah is an engaging heroine, and the need to know what happens next overrides these minor inconsistencies.

This is a very striking debut novel with an ending that is unexpected and implies a sequel. I await that sequel with interest."

OVER THE MOON. Thank you Historical Novels Society. And yes, I've since asked them if they would be interested in reviewing The Last Letter. I now await patiently for them to respond. They don't always say yes to reviews.

So far Fifteen Postcards has done pretty well on the number of Amazon reviews front. Somewhat annoyingly, they don't collate all reviews across all platforms, so I have to traipse around the various country sites checking for new ones... Here's a snapshot:

You can see from the pictures above which platform most people use. Or maybe that's where most of my readers are. It's a tricky thing Amazon. If you haven't yet reviewed Fifteen Postcards or The Last Letter, please, please do.

You're welcome to pop a review over on Goodreads if you think Amazon is the zenith of all evil overlords...

Goodreads - Fifteen Postcards

 

So next time you read a book, take a moment to write a review. Just a few words, no spoilers. I'll give you a quick guide on what you could say:

  1. Did you like it? YES/NO
  2. What did you like most about it? PLOT/RESEARCH/CHARACTERS/THE END
  3. Who else would enjoy it? HISTORY BUFFS/SPORTY TYPES/NEW MUMS
  4. Do you want to read a sequel? YES PLEASE/THANK GOD IT ENDED
  5. Was there anything the author could improve on? EDITING/LENGTH/KILL MORE PEOPLE
  6. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera 

HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCH A BOOK IN WELLINGTON

KiwiBookFeast

Dear Wellington...

Your taxi drivers are very polite.

Your streets are bustling.

You love books.

Thanks for having me.

Kind regards,

Kirsten McKenzie, Author


On the 18th February, I flew down to Wellington for the inaugural Kiwi Book Feast with six other New Zealand authors. The concept being that sharing the costs involved with a launch, and sharing the publicity, and the work load, would make all the more impact. And it did.

Having seven diverse authors all marketing the Kiwi Book Feast to their own networks was far more effective that slathering the city with posters and tweeting into the ether...

For an inaugural event, it was a learning curve, deciding on the run sheet, the catering, the venue, the date, the time, the authors, the layout. A hundred different decisions. For an event we hope to repeat around the country - with future books, some new authors possibly, who knows, it's a fluid thing.

Potentially a library or a bookstore may have been a better location, although holding it in a bar ensured fantastic food, a flow of beverages, and a dedicated sound guy, and a stage. So there were plenty of pluses! 

We had a lovely bookish Wellington crowd, and plenty of Twitter personalities turned up to support us, which was fabulous. And I was blessed by two friends flying down from Auckland to surprise me. I should have worn waterproof mascara...

We were also all very grateful to the support given to us by the New Zealand Book Council. They've just launched their beautiful new website. You should go and have a look at it - NZ Book Council Website

Ten things you need to know for a book launch, anywhere in the world:

  1. Sensible shoes. I sat down once, for about 10 minutes, over the four hours of the event.

  2. Cash - have a float. $10 notes, $5 notes. Just enough to provide change if everyone only pays with $20 notes.

  3. Have a display which is sympathetic with the content of your books. Historical? Have a couple of vintage props. Western themed? Horsey type props. Science Fiction? Not sure where you'd get your hands on some space junk, but maybe cobble something together!

  4. Extension cord... I have battery powered lights which I tuck in the side of my suitcases, but I did note that one of our authors came prepared with a multi plug and an extension cord. Pack it.

  5. Mailing List Sign Up Sheet. I've put that in bold, because I didn't have one. I must pack this into my book display suit case. That's this weeks job. Pack some pens too. Practice signing your book. 

  6. Price List - People don't like to ask the price of your books. They like to see clear signage showing the price of one book, two books, or the complete set. Make it easy for them.

  7. Books. Self explanatory. But also book type things that can be slipped into your books, or into handbags. Nothing bulky. A bookmark, a postcard, all with your book and contact information printed on them.

  8. Don't sit behind your table. I know lots of people feel more comfortable doing this, but I'm more a stand to the side, or stand to the side in front of the display. Its easier to engage. Easier to pass the book to a prospective customer. And on the topic of your table. Buy a table cloth. If you can't afford a table cloth, use your top sheet and iron it first.

  9. Dress to impress: You're trying to portray that you are a professional, that you're serious about your writing. You don't have to go all Annie Hall, but maybe think beyond your usual old jeans and t-shirt. At the first two NZ Book Festivals I went with a long skirt and a velvet jacket. At the Kiwi Book Feast I wore smart jeans and a white cotton shirt, with a brooch. I felt smart and comfortable. The brooch was a nod towards the vintage theme of my books. Something to think about.

  10. Smile. Smile and engage. Ask the people at your table about the weather outside. Ask if it's improved, or if the rain has finally arrived. Weather is a very safe topic. It's an easy opener. Even if you're shy you can say "Has it stopped raining today?" or "Isn't it a lovely day for being out and about". Give it a go. Relax and have confidence in your work. That'll flow through to your own personal confidence. Good luck.

BRAVING THE CURIOUS ROLLERCOASTER OF AMAZON RANKINGS

Eat your heart out Disneyland and Universal Studios, you have nothing on the stomach churning rollercoaster of Amazon rankings...

Rollercoaster Postcard

Every author does it. Everyone tells us not to do it but we still do. We can't help it. It's like a drug. A legal high. It's either an adrenaline rush or a crushing debilitating blow, but we go back the next day, and the next and the next. We hit the refresh button with the same frenzy a gambling addict pulls the arm on a slot machine in Vegas. We check our rankings on Amazon.

Yes. We hit that refresh button so often that we wear the feet off our poor little mice.

Sometimes our rankings are up. And sometimes they're down. And sometimes there's such a tiny change that we'd rather see a noticeable drop than no change at all.

Queen of Hearts

And the worst of it is that most of the time, we have no idea why our rankings change. That's right. We, the authors, have almost no idea why they change. Sometimes we can pinpoint an upswing because we spent $28 on Facebook marketing (yes, Facebook marketing really worked for me!) or sometimes it's because a well connected book blogger raved about our book. Sometimes it's just because it's sunny, or the moon is in Jupiter, or the History channel is running its tenth repeat of a documentary about the gold rush and suddenly people are interested in everything that glitters.

I'm not going to go into the mechanics of how the Amazon algorithms work, many minds greater than mine have done that all over the internet, and you can read some fascinating pieces of research without having to search too far. I just know that over the last couple of months I've seen a lovely upwards trend in the sales rankings for Fifteen Postcards and The Last Letter, and I am eternally grateful to the people who have bought and read my books. What an honour it is you've placed your trust in me to write something which will entertain you.

Last year I set a goal of making the Top 100 for Historical Fiction on Amazon. It was part of a longer list I had laminated and had stuck to the wall of my shower so I could read it everyday. I can categorically confirm that writing your goals down and keeping them visible is as effective as everyone says it is. First I hit #91 on the Historical Fiction list, and I thought all my dreams had come true. THEN I HIT #56. WHAT AN ACHIEVEMENT. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I'm not too concerned about the why's and how's of the Amazon algorithms, I'm purely in the camp of "selling more equals a higher ranking". Simple really. I'm sure I could be a lot more pedantic about tracking my social media activity against the subtle changes in my sales ranking, but I'm not that sort of person. I've got a family I need to interact meaningfully with, and more books I should be writing, and reading, so I'm happy just celebrating these milestones when I notice them.

Thank you for reading my books. Here's to slowly creeping up the rankings as the new year kicks into gear.

BLAME THE PARENTS - MY RESPONSE TO BEING SUCCESSFUL

I've just returned from exhibiting at the 3rd Annual New Zealand Book Festival, which was held in Auckland on the 5th November. It is a showcase for independently published authors (formerly known as self published authors). They graciously let me join them because my publisher is based in the United Kingdom, and I'm all on my own down here in New Zealand.

While my goal at the festival was to interact with potential readers, and sell signed copies of my books, I also had an opportunity to look around, to see what everyone else was selling, and how they were doing it. And it was clear that not all authors have the same level of expertise of selling direct to their potential readers.

Some of my clearest childhood memories revolve around being carted around the North Island of New Zealand while my parents exhibited at numerous small town antique fairs - Taupo, Cambridge, Tauranga, Rotorua, and at the big fairs in Auckland. I've carted so many boxes and pieces of furniture, and valuable antiques, that it's second nature. As is setting up an attractive stand, and selling to the public. My father would set it all up, while Mum, my brother, and I would unpack all the crates. Dad would go outside for a cigarette, and Mum would rearrange everything until it looked perfect. As I got older, I was allowed to help serve. Setting me up with valuable life skills.

It was with that background that I planned my stand for the New Zealand Book Festival. I marked out the dimensions of my stand in the garage, gathered together my props, paid for professional signage, and fiddled with it until it looked right.

The photos above show the mock up in the garage. The signage was from last year's festival - I still had to pick up the new signage from the printing company, and the "table" is the old gas heater, standing in for the larger card table I was picking up the next day from Antique Alley. I was fortunate to be allocated a corner stand.

The photographs below are from the 2016 New Zealand Book Festival. This is my finalised stand in all its glory. The only downside being that copies of 'The Last Letter' didn't arrive in time for the festival... Antique rug, bowl of flowers, clear signage, props, books on display, postcards to hand out, professionally presented author with smiling face.

Note the complete absence of a chair. Last year I had a chair behind my little card table, a nice chair mind you, but I sat on it, behind my table, seemingly unapproachable to potential readers. This year I ditched the chair, wore flat (gold) brogues, and had a far more successful festival. I engaged with people walking in the door, I handed them postcards for my two books (designed by my publisher, and printed in Auckland). I also sold books. Lots more than I did last year.

And I blame that success on my parents. They showed me the benefits of having a beautifully presented stand. They demonstrated how it made a difference if you dressed nicely, instead of wearing grubby jeans and a polo shirt. They taught me invaluable customer service skills - smile, and don't play on your cellphone. You're there to work, to interact, to make connections. 

The NZ Book Festival committee worked hard to make the festival a success, and for those of us who put in the effort at our end, it was a success. For those stall holders with hand written signs, and big scary trestle tables at the front of their stands, and half a dozen chairs behind it, filled with authors reading the newspaper or playing on their cellphones, it wasn't a success. There are learning points in all things, and hopefully those authors will learn for next time. I didn't have the right point of sale signage. It sent mixed signals. So after half a day I took it down. Sales took off. I won't make that mistake again. Another author, Andrene Low, had very clear point of sale signage showing the deals she was offering on her books at the book festival. I'm stealing her ideas for next year!

We all learn, and independent authors need to learn faster - if they want to shake off the yoke of their work being considered less than professional. If you look unprofessional or your stand looks unprofessional, sadly people will judge your book to be unprofessional too. I'm sure their work is excellent, but as much as we all say 'don't judge a book by its cover' (about books and people), humans invariably do. Especially in a cavernous hall with eighty other authors competing for the finite amount of money in the pockets of the attendees.

On the plus side, not only did I sell books at the festival, but I bought one as well - 'The Psychology Workbook For Writers' by Darian Smith. He had great signage, was standing up, and was engaged with the attendees. I've started reading it. The chapter which starts on page four is titled: Blame The Parents... #fate 

I'm excited about next years New Zealand Book Festival. I think it will go from strength to strength, and I'm honoured to be part of it.

THE ENTIRELY TRICKY TASK OF CHOOSING A BOOK COVER

NEVER EVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER...

ALWAYS JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER...

IT'S WHATS BETWEEN THE COVER WHICH COUNTS...

With the publication date of my second book, 'The Last Letter', looming, now comes the trickiest part of publishing. The cover design.

Writing the book was easy. Editing the book was fairly easy. Choosing a cover for the book? Not at all easy.

So far, we are up to draft #3, and I'm hopeful draft #4 will be the final version.

Before signing a contract with Accent Press, I'd paid for a cover design through the website Design Crowd. To this day, I still love their version.

       The winning Design Crowd cover

       The winning Design Crowd cover

Accent Press advised that this image wouldn't work when its shrunk down to Amazon icon size. So, after signing my first publishing contract with them, they proposed this cover:

It was a little more gruesome than I'd anticipated...

It was a little more gruesome than I'd anticipated...

After some discussion, revolving around a cover with less blood, we agreed on the fantastic cover which now appears in your bookcases.

And now we move onto the process of choosing a cover for my second book, 'The Last Letter'.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the story takes you back to New Zealand, India and England. With a splash of Roman antiquities, Maori carvings, and a hint of Spitfire pilots in WWII.

My publisher is based overseas, so understandably their knowledge of the appropriate use of Maori imagery wasn't as up with the play as mine. Especially when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of stock images of Maori carvings and taonga (treasure) available on the Internet. And while I did adore the first cover they designed, after taking advice from two trusted Maori colleagues, I had to veto the use of the Maori carving, which in essence, is the depiction of someone's ancestor, a high ranking chieftain by the looks of it.

So then we toyed around with the idea of a greenstone necklace, a Roman statue, pocket watches. I've now realised that pocket watches are synonymous with time slip novels, and adorn almost every cover out there. The designers at Accent Press then came up with an image of a hei tiki (tiki), which I loved.

After much discussion on Facebook and Twitter, it was roundly agreed that the balance of the two images was out. Do you agree?

Draft #2 of the cover for 'The Last Letter'. We all agreed that the balance was out.

Draft #2 of the cover for 'The Last Letter'. We all agreed that the balance was out.

So it was sent back to the designer, who tweaked the colour balance, removed an errant watermark off the tiki's hand, and deleted a random full stop at the end of the tagline. This was the version that came back:

Draft cover #3 for 'The Last Letter'

Draft cover #3 for 'The Last Letter'

Almost there. Almost, but not quite.

I compared a printout of the draft cover, with the cover of 'Fifteen Postcards', and was struck with the fact that my author name wasn't in the same position. Which, to me, looked peculiar. What do you think? Is this just my OCD, or do you agree that the author name needs to be in the same place on both books, and on the future third book in the series? So it was sent back for more tweaking!

Comparison of draft cover #3 and the final cover of Fifteen Postcards. Note the placement of the author name.

Comparison of draft cover #3 and the final cover of Fifteen Postcards. Note the placement of the author name.

My publisher is in the business of selling books, and they know which covers work, and which covers don't. I'm hoping to have the finalised cover back this coming week, ready for 'The Last Letter' to be released on the 1st of November, my birthday...

So there you have it. Choosing a cover is by far the hardest part of this whole process. So if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to writing another book in the meantime!

WHEN YOUR INTERVIEW INCLUDES QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR UNDERWEAR...

Here's the transcript of an interview I did with the New Zealand based bookshop 'Writer's Plot Reader's Read', an incredible independent bookshop which only stocks work by New Zealand authors. 

What’s your favourite type of takeaway? 

Indian. Butter Chicken. The bastardised NZ version, with a plain naan bread and rice.

Describe your current mental status.

Grieving. This year I’ve lost one girlfriend to Singapore, one to Tauranga, and now one to Perth. All due to job availability. I’m in need of more friends…

I know how I do what I do … but how do you do what you do?

Through the life giving strength of coffee and wine, although not at the same time.

Could you tell us a little bit about your latest work?

The one I’ve just finished, or the one I’m half way through? The one I’ve just finished is the sequel to my first historical fiction novel, ‘Fifteen Postcards’. Titled ‘The Last Letter’, it’s due for publication on the 1st November, which is also my birthday. So I thought everyone could buy a copy in honour of my birthday…

Do you have a favourite coffee or tea?

Just a little bit of wine...

Just a little bit of wine...

There are different coffees? Seriously, I’ll drink almost any version of coffee presented to me. When it comes to tea, I am a little more picky - English Breakfast first, usually Twining's. Followed by Earl Grey (but only if nothing else is available). I’ll drink peppermint tea, which is okay, but I don’t seek it out.

Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, perhaps you prefer commando? While we’re discussing your underpants, boxers, briefs, or budgie smugglers. Inquiring minds want to know. Yes, that includes my Admins… we don’t piss off the Admins.)

Underpants must match your bra (or at least that was the case before I had children. Now I’m lucky if my bra is clean…).

A typical day is wake up, drink coffee, make breakfasts, make lunches, tell everyone to hurry up, walk them to school, walk home, drink more coffee, think about writing, faff about on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, read the NZHerald online, faff about on social media some more, kid myself that I’m making connections, make another coffee, make lunch, see that its 2pm, start writing, get into a great writing groove, bash out 500 or so words, then pick up the children from school, forget what my train of thought was, feed children, take them to their after school activities, come home, drink wine, make dinner, put children to bed, faff about on social media, at about 10pm find the motivation to start writing, write about 300 great words, then realise I have to get up in seven hours, so go to bed, and lose train of thought again…rinse and repeat.

Tell us about your main character

I first met Sarah Lester when I was at work in the family antique shop. Oddly, she’s a little bit like me. Although one reviewer described her as a ‘bubble-head’. I was hurt at first, but actually I’ve embraced that side of her in my writing, and I think the reviewer did me a favour by calling me out on that. I like that she misses her Dad so much. I miss mine desperately, and have everyday since he died suddenly ten years ago of heart failure. Through her pleas to her father, I’m really releasing my own dreams for my father to come back.

Who are your favourite writers?

Edward Rutherfurd, he of the massive multigenerational tomes such as London, Paris, Russka, Sarum.

George R.R. Martin - for his utterly amazing character development, and his descriptive passages.

Deborah Harkness. It was reading her Old Souls trilogy which encouraged me to write.

Who inspires you to do better? 

My brother, who in the beginning said I never finish anything, when I told him I was going to write a book…well I’ve finished two books now, signed two publishing contracts, and I am half way through my third one! My husband was all good with my quitting my job, and my children (mostly) leave me to do my writing after I’ve begged time to write “just two hundred more words”.

Do you ever put pants on your dog, cat, or budgie?

We have a fancy Santa suit which we try to dress the cat up in every year. She hates Christmas…

Describe your perfect day

Late sleep in. Breakfast in bed. Move from bed to outside in the summer’s sunshine, with a book, a guava juice, then a dip in the pool, cocktails by the pool, a dinner cooked by someone other than me. Did I mention the wine with dinner?

Who is your favourite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?

I like the cunning of Moriarty. The droll delivery of Professor Snape. And the creepy evilness of Hannibal Lector - where you can’t help but actually like the guy…

Do you have any quirks?

I am an eye roller…got me in plenty of trouble at work. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Stupid people deserve a gratuitous eye roll…I must work harder at controlling this.

All-time favourite movie and why?

Midnight in Paris. 1/ It’s Paris. 2/ It has the best actors playing some of the best authors and artists history ever gave us. 3/ The soundtrack - I’m listening to it now as I type this.  

Do you enjoy the editing process?

Actually yes. I find it easier than the writing of the initial story. 

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

New Zealand seems pretty safe to be honest. And progressive. And clean. And I have travelled a lot. I’d prefer to live by the beach than in central Auckland, but that’ll come in the future. 

Lake Tarawera, New Zealand

Lake Tarawera, New Zealand

Favorite Pizza topping?

Pepperoni. But we have started buying the three cheese pizza, which is fast becoming my favourite. 

What were you before you became a writer?

Writing is my third career. I was a Customs Officer for fourteen years, before my father died. After that, my brother and I both quit our jobs to run the family antique business, which we did for ten years. Now he owns it. And I write full time.

What is the most random thing you have ever done?

Went on an archaeological dig at Vindolanda in Northumberland in England for two weeks. Two of the best weeks of my life. I loved every shovel full of dirt I moved. And I’ll be putting my name down for another go next year.

If you’re not working, what are you most likely doing?

Volunteering on the PTA. For my sins, I am the chairperson. The PTA is not for the faint of heart I can assure you. I have made some wonderful wonderful friends, but it is a lot of work. 

Who is your ultimate character?

Arya Stark in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books. She just gets on with it, and doesn’t wither away in the dark. 

Whiskey or Bourbon? Red or white wine? Tequila? Beer?

A whiskey liqueur - Glayva. Any wine…usually I’d prefer a Pinot Gris or a Riesling for a white wine, and then an Otago Pinot Noir for my red. Never tequila, nor beer.

What’s in your pockets? (Or handbag, whatever you carry your stuff in. Are you apocalypse prepared?)

I have a small country in my handbag. I have two children…

Laptop, PC, Mac, tablet?

MacBook Air

Ebook or tree book?

Any book. I have a Kindle. But I also have a stack of library books, and books from friends, old favourites. 

Favorite apocalyptic scenario?

The Hunger Games scenario seems to be the most likely scenario to descend upon earth sadly…

Where do you do most of your writing?

At the dining room table. I have an office, but theres a better view from the dining room. Which is also closer to the kettle.

What’s the hardest thing for you when it comes to being an author?

Singing my own praises. We have a saying in our house, “be more American”. American’s don’t seem to have any problem singing their own praises. In New Zealand we are all far too scared to being tall poppies and being cut down by our peers.

 

Note: This interview was first published on the Writer's Plot Reader's Read website on 13th October 2016.

 

THE EXCITEMENT OF BEING PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN

On the 15th March this year, I opened my email and found this:

Penguin Thanks

Is there anything more exciting than the iconic image of the penguin from Penguin Random House? Well yes, a publishing contract with them would be more exciting, but I digress! 

Now I'm not being greedy, I have a publisher, Accent Press, a fine publisher based in the United Kingdom, who I have just signed a second publishing contract with, but when you've grown up reading Penguin books, that little logo brings back so many happy memories.

A stack of penguins

I had written a short poem celebrating my beautiful mother, and Penguin had selected it for inclusion in their Mother's Day anthology, 'Thanks Mum', and I was so proud, and I couldn't tell anyone about it!

I'm not known for my secret keeping ability, I'd make an appalling spy, but I didn't want to tell anyone as I wanted to give Mum a copy of the anthology for Mother's Day, so this was a secret I kept. And it ate away at me. I told my husband, swearing him to secrecy. I told my hairdresser, and swore him to secrecy too. And that's it!

Finally Mother's Day brunch rolled around, and I presented Mum with her own copy. There were tears. So now I can share it all with you. And now I can also legitimately say that I have been published by Penguin...although they didn't use my surname...

Thanks Mum
Mums Poem

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE?

THE SEQUEL TO FIFTEEN POSTCARDS IS COMING.

Contract.jpg

In late May I signed my second publishing contract with Accent Press, a publisher in the United Kingdom. The contract was for the sequel to Fifteen Postcards, titled The Last Letter. And now the work begins...

Now my manuscript is in the very capable hands of my editor, David Powell, and he'll massage it into something far better than what I sent him.

When I say he'll massage it, he'll make a few thousand notations down the sides of the pages, correcting grammatical errors, and querying a myriad of issues he'll no doubt discover in the 131,000 words I wrote.

Then we'll spend several weeks sending the document backwards and forwards across the Tasman Sea, via email, until we are both happy, and then the final product gets sent to the UK for my publisher to typeset, and massage into book form.

In the meantime, I'll also be sent a draft of the cover for approval, or comment. That may go back and forwards a couple of times. I suggested some concepts this time, and now I wait to see if those meet with favour on the other side of the world.

It's a scary thing putting your creative efforts into the hands of others, who then have the power, and the signed contract, to do with as they please! But this is the way of authors who have chosen not to self publish. There are pros and cons with both sides of the coin. I've chosen this side.

It's not a free ride, either way. Even authors with one of the big five publishers have to do their fair share of the marketing. Blog posts, guest posts, book signings, media articles, radio interviews, library visits, book club attendances, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, yes, even Google+. Don't forget LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram. I've drawn the line at Snapchat - there is only so much time in the day, and my family would like me to speak to them at times. 

There's all this, and...you still need to write the next one!

Workspace.jpg

WHY WOULD YOU GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE?

There are thousands of blog posts on the subject. Q&As on Goodreads and Facebook, and on every other site purporting to help authors with their marketing. Long streams about the pros and cons of giving your books away for free on LinkedIn. Even Google+ has its share of posts relating to giving away eBooks on Amazon, and on the hundreds of other sites out there.

Book Stack

Each post talks up the benefits of giving away eBooks as a method of getting your name out there, of attracting a following, for marketing purposes, to generate reviews, to be the next Andy Weir. But does it work? Or are there millions of free unread eBooks mouldering away on Kindles, discarded and forgotten?

An Amazon search brings up 93,488 eBooks currently available for free. A plethora of erotic novellas, Game of Thrones-esque length fantasy books, fan-fiction, and self-help books feature heavily. The result of those 93,488 free eBooks? Readers expect more books to be free, and balk at paying less than the price of an average coffee for your average book.

There was a post recently detailing the circumstances where a reader, who’d enjoyed the eBooks they’d purchased on Amazon, had returned them, because, although they’d enjoyed them, they only wanted free books, and asked the author to list their books for free from here on in. They didn’t want to have to pay for them

Many people would be surprised to know you can return eBooks, or that such a facility exists on Amazon. Have you ever tried returning a book you’ve read to a bricks and mortar bookstore, and asking for your money back? There wouldn’t be many instances where they’d refund you after you’d read and returned a book you’d purchased. So why does Amazon allow it? The internet is littered with petitions asking Amazon to fix this, but nothing ever changes.

A book can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to write. Then, traditionally, authors have to find an agent, a publisher, followed by editing, cover design, marketing. Even self-published books need editing, formatting, a cover. It all takes time, and money.

I haven’t listed my book on Amazon for free. The eBook remains at the same price it was when it launched – $2.34. That’s about the price of half a cup of coffee but it’s still something. I put too much work into it to give it away for free. My book is in libraries. It’s in bookstores. I’ve done readings. I’m on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and yes, even Google+. I work hard, and damn it, I want to reap the rewards of that, in the form of quarterly and annual royalties from my publisher. You don’t get royalties from free eBooks.

In all the posts about the pros and cons of giving your work away for free, an overwhelming number of authors point out that giving their work away for free has not resulted in reviews, or increased exposure, or a stratospheric rise up the Amazon Best Selling Lists.

So my advice is: don’t do it. Put the effort in and do some old-fashioned leg-work. Make personal approaches to well-regarded book reviewers. Take a table at a local fair and talk to your potential audience. Approach your library.

Keep writing. Value the work you do. Because if you don’t value it, no one else will either.

Note: This post first appeared on The Spinoff : thespinoff.co.nz

6 July 2016

Setting Your Scene - How Much Research is Enough?

Today I welcome Historical Fiction author Tom Williams to my blog where he talks about how much research is too much, and goes into a nice little aside about how to forge bank notes...

Kirsten's background in the antiques business means that she is very aware of the historical artefacts that appear in her books. In fact, Fifteen Postcards is based around things that she might have found in her antique shop.

In writing historical novels, authors will be continually concerned about the items that their characters see, talk about, or use in their day-to-day activities. Getting them right is crucial, but continually shoehorning them into the plot to prove that you have "done your research" can lead to appallingly turgid writing.

Different novels, for different audiences, will emphasise different aspects of the past. Historical romances tend to dwell on clothing, often described in loving detail. I struggle with descriptions of clothes. I'm not generally that interested in what my characters are wearing, although I do usually check some images of people at the time so I have some idea of what they would have looked like. Of course, in my James Burke books, set in the Napoleonic wars, there are a lot of characters in military uniforms and these provide obvious descriptive opportunities. Still, I do try to avoid the trap that many specialists in military history seem to fall into when every uniform is described right down to the decoration stamped onto the buttons. I suppose, though, that this is again a case of who you are writing for – there are clearly people out there who love this sort of military minutiae and probably resent my failure to go into quite so much detail.

In many of my books there are some items that seem crucial to characters or plot or both. For me, getting these right can be central to the writing process. In Back Home the idea for the book came from accounts of 19th-century coiners and I decided that I wanted to be as accurate as possible in my depiction of their activities. I read a lot about coining in Mayhew, whose account of criminal life in London (in London Labour and the London Poor) gives a great deal of detail. I was lucky that while I was writing there was an exhibition on crime at the Museum of London and this included items that the police had confiscated from forgers, letting us see the actual tools they used in producing fake money. I read some modern accounts of electroplating, which was used to put the finish on the coins, and studied these until I was reasonably confident that I could make my own coinage using items I could readily have obtained in 1859. Most (but not all) of this information did make its way into the finished book, but, more importantly, it let me imagine the practical realities of turning out significant quantities of coinage in a basement workshop. With the core of my story firmly established in my mind, I was able to relax more with the tale built around it.

Writing about 19th-century London was relatively easy, because, living in London and with ready access to 19th-century prints and novels – let alone a plethora of television dramas – I, like many people, have a reasonable "feel" for the place and period. Even so, it's easy to find yourself completely lost. If somebody walks in to the lodgings of a poor person in 1859, what would they expect to see? Again, I often fell back on Mayhew. He provides masses of descriptive passages with street scenes, interiors and the characters who inhabit them. My loiterers in Seven Dials are unashamedly stolen from him and the back story of some minor characters is also taken from his book. I used contemporary maps to plot the paths of my characters’ walks around town and visited some of the locations myself so that I could imagine, from what they look like today, what they must have been like then. Imagining “then” was helped by descriptions in Dickens’ novels.

Most of my historical novels have included significant references to real people, but only one of the characters in Back Home is an actual historical figure – Karl Marx. As with other people I have included in my books, I read his letters to get a feel, not only for the facts of his life, but for the way that he talked about them. He is only a minor character in Back Home, but his dialogue reflects the way that he wrote. Of course, we can't know how he actually spoke, but I suspect it was like that.

Overall, then, I try to give my imagination a lot of space to move around a few fixed points, some of them defined by the objects in my characters’ lives, some of them by pictures and documents referencing them, some of them by place and, whenever possible, some of them in their own words.

There's a lot of real history in many historical novels, including mine. Part of the trick, though, is that this shouldn't be immediately obvious to the reader. A novel has to work firstly as a story – the items in the lives of our characters are the set dressing. It is our words that are the script.

BOOK LINKS

The White Rajah

Cawnpore

Back Home

The James Burke Series

Burke in the Land of Silver

Burke and the Bedouin

Burke at Waterloo

Bio:

Tom Williams used to write about boring things for money. If you wanted an analysis of complaints volumes in legal services or attitudes to diversity at the BBC, then he was your man. Now he writes much more interesting books about historical characters and earns in a year about what he could make in a day back then. (This, unfortunately, is absolutely true.) He also writes a blog (http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/) which is widely read all over the world and generates no income at all.

Besides making no money from writing, Tom makes no money out of occasionally teaching people to tango and then spends all the money he hasn’t made on going to dance in Argentina. 

Tom has a wife who, fortunately, has a well-paid job, and a grown-up son who has resolved that he is never, ever, going to write anything.

Tom's blog

Tom's Facebook

Tom on Twitter

What Should My Next Novel Be About?

A tricky question indeed!

Having written two books in the Old Curiosity Shop Series, I could just as easily work on Book #3...which will come as a surprise to those of you who thought I was only going to write two books in the series. I changed my mind. There will be three.  A trilogy. 

But should my next book be the third (and final) book in the trilogy, or should it be something else? I think it should be something else. My mind needs a break from Sarah Lester and Warden Price, and the poor Raja.

Last week I stumbled upon a snippet of information while researching our family trip to Italy later this year, and it stuck with me. I wrote it down, and today I visited my local library. Have I mentioned how much I love my local library? I do. I love it. I love my librarians. I love the building. I love its contents, and I love how welcoming they are. Anyway, I found a couple of books which will help with the background for my next book. My children checked out their books - Geronimo Stilton for my youngest daughter, Jacqueline Wilson for my eldest, and off we went.

The TBR (to be read) pile next to my bed is heaving with books set in Italy, through the ages. That should give you a hint... I'm excited. And tomorrow I'll start putting some words down, but only after going to see Antony & Cleopatra at the Pop-Up Globe in Auckland. Nothing could be more stimulating than seeing the work of Shakespeare on stage. 

TBR Pile