When you’ve never done something before there is a high chance you’ll try things that just don’t work. Then again, perhaps you’ll eventually look back and have mixed feelings about what you did. I’ve found that I’m not at all sure that every mistake I made while publishing The Great Scottish Land Grab was quite as bad as I saw it at the time.
Here is a round up of some of my biggest (maybe) fails while publishing and marketing my first novel:
1. Paying for a libel read
In 2014, in the UK, if you wrote a book defaming a person or organisation you could find yourself being sued. The situation in the US is much safer for writers and it may have improved in England with recent law changes, but don’t quote me on that! Currently in Scotland an MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) is being sued for defamation for something published on his blog.
Defamation of character is a problem I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand I don’t think we have an absolute right to say whatever we like about other people. On the other, I think that defamation law is abused in the UK to protect the rich and powerful. I think the law in the US is too lax while the law in the UK is too extreme. There has to be a better way.
Regardless, when I set out in early 2014 to rewrite Land Grab, I knew I needed to be careful. The first draft lampooned various well known political figures and while politicians are one group of people who can be legitimately targeted with humour, there was a real undercurrent of nastiness as the Scottish independence referendum grew closer. One of the main campaigning groups – Better Together – had set itself up as a limited company, potentially allowing it to sue anyone who attempted to defame them.
I run my own company and had no desire to lose that, or my house if someone took offence at what I was planning to publish.
I contacted several solicitors for quotes and ended up selecting one. They read each of the three books as I wrote them and offered their legal opinion on whether I was at risk of being sued. It cost me £2,580.
Just to put that into perspective, I receive £1.67 per ebook novel sold through Amazon. I will need to sell 1,545 full ebooks novels before I break even on that cost.
As I wrote here, I’m nowhere close to that.
I have regretted that decision. Yet, as I wrote above, I have mixed feelings about it.
I was extremely nervous about publishing my first novel. The process of discussing the situation with the solicitor and applying his advice gave me a confidence that helped me overcome a real hurdle. In my writing now, I’m conscious of the threat of defamation and do research my characters to ensure I’m not inadvertently libelling real people.
I believe that far too few indie-authors give proper thought to the risk of defamation. Certainly if you’re writing fantasy or off world science-fiction you are unlikely to be at risk, but even in these genres, if you lazily base a character on a real person and that person can identify themselves – and is offended by how you’ve portrayed them – and they can show it in court, you may find that that catch-all declaration “Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locations, is entirely coincidental.” doesn’t save you from legal costs…
And that is the real killer in the UK. You can win your case, but still lose everything when the bill comes in.
2. Paying for indemnity insurance
Being aware of traditionally published authors who had found themselves in court defending themselves against defamation, I decided to take out indemnity insurance, insurance that covers legal costs and gives some protection against damages awarded.
Six months on and £265 lighter I cancelled the insurance. The fact was that I’d already paid more in insurance premiums than I’d earned on book sales. I’d sold nowhere near enough copies to think that I’d managed to find someone who would consider themselves defamed and since I’d followed the solicitor’s advice, it was extremely unlikely anyone would have a case against me.
Again, the act of taking out the insurance policy gave me confidence to write what I felt needed to be written, while also reminding me to take care with how I did it.
Still, that’s another bill that it’s going to take some time to pay back…
If you are writing a contemporary novel and there is a risk that you could defame someone, even inadvertently, it may be worth you considering.
3. Rush into marketing decisions
In the summer of 2014 I was commuting to Edinburgh from Cumbernauld on the train and I had this brain wave that I could get a T shirt printed up with the book cover on it and could become a walking advertisement for the book.
It was a disaster.
I still was in love with my first cover design and was filled with a sense that if I didn’t get the word out there about the book, no-one else was going to.
I turned up at a printer with a USB drive and the notion that since everyone was obsessed with voting Yes or No in the referendum, I should add some text above the book cover image saying:
It didn’t take long for me to decide that wearing that T shirt may actually do more harm than good.
Fortunately that mistake only cost me £12.95
4. Don’t tell anyone how to buy your book
I think I’ve mentioned this already, but it is worth repeating. I had thousands of leaflets and business cards printed up, none of which told people how to buy my books on Amazon. I still mentally kick myself over that mistake.
It meant that every time I gave out a leaflet or card, I had to tell people where they could buy the book. Yes, some of those people did then log onto Amazon and did buy it, but I’m sure I could have given more leaflets out and had more sales with just a few extra words telling where the book was on sale.
5. Tell people your book will make them scream
Unless your genre is horror, that just doesn’t work, trust me…
I was desperate for someone to review the first book in my trilogy and allow me to include their quote on my marketing material. Unfortunately, one of my earlier reviewers was extremely taken aback by my reveal and cliff hanger ending at the end of book one and wrote the following:
“Interesting ideas as one man searches for answers to the direction his life has taken, to the backdrop of the referendum. Knowing the author I can see where the story could be going, but I’m sure he will surprise me. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in current events in Scotland, though I know a fair few who would be shouting at the screen. Look forward to the next instalment if only to find out what he has done to Eck”
For some reason I thought referring to this reaction would be a good idea. I think that deep down, I want to avoid people having a negative reaction to what I’ve written and so want to warn them that it might be somewhat controversial…
I foolishly included the following statement on business cards I had printed up:
The Great Scottish Land Grab
Scotland’s future is in your hands”
It’s wrong on so many levels.
I’m advertising a book, why is it talking about a screen? I could see people reading it, confusion growing on their face as they asked me what I was selling them.
Then there was the statement about shouting (okay, not screaming.) How many readers actually want to sit down, relax and get comfortable with a book that might make them throw it across the room?
6. Don’t try and get reviews for your book
While there are clear benefits from splitting a book into a series and making the first part free, one downside is that you will draw reviews away from your main book.
With Land Grab I wasn’t very focused on reviews. I was delighted to get them as I published each book in the series, but was focusing far more on selling copies than trying to get reviews.
Then, when I published the full novel, I failed to ask people I’d known to go on to review the full novel. As a result, three years on, I still only have one review for The Great Scottish Land Grab – The Complete Trilogy. I need to rectify that!
For the last few months, almost a year now, I’ve been almost totally focussed on Fallen Warriors, but Land Grab is still a book of interest and at some point over the summer I need to get my begging cap on and start asking people for reviews because even just a few positive reviews make a huge difference to how people perceive your book.
7. Waste time by contacting people who are never going to review your book
I emailed every single MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) and offered them a free copy of Land Grab. All 129 of them.
It was such a waste of time. A couple did write back, but the vast majority either ignored the email or it went straight into spam. You would think a novel exploring issues around independence might appeal to a few politicians, but how many of them actually have time to read. Especially during the run up to a critical referendum.
I’ve started to discover this group of people called book-bloggers… They are the people I really need to get to know and spend time on…
8. Rush out and get thousands of leaflets and business cards printed
While getting thousands of leaflets printed is a cost effective way to go about it, the problem is with the rushing.
However much time you spend on your book cover, you probably should spend as much or more on your marketing material. You get it wrong and you’ve just invested in some very expensive fire lighting material…
I still have several thousand leaflets and cards that I really should just recycle. I confess that the whole situation is holding me back from getting better thought out material printed up. That’s something I need to overcome soon.
9. Expect bookshops to buy your Print On Demand books
Print On Demand is not the way to go if you intend to sell paper copies. The per unit cost is way too high and that’s before you factor in delivery costs and the discount the bookshop will need to make it worth their while stocking your book! Finally, you may have to accept returns to be stocked by many bookstores. Not all of them, but most.
Using CreateSpace is great for getting your book available online and ordering a few copies to sell yourself to friends and family, but it is a poor option for small print runs compared to contacting a book printer and ordering 50 or 100 copies.
I actually walked into bookstores asking them if they would like to stock my book when all I had was a couple of POD copies. Once I realised I would make no profit on the deal, I gave up. It seemed like too much effort for no reward.
I’m now working towards my first small print run for Fallen Warriors and will go back to organise one for Land Grab over the summer.
10. Give up.
At various times over the last few years I have given up. I stopped writing, I stopped trying to market my novel, I stopped trying to get it into bookstores.
Giving up is the easiest way to slide into oblivion. If you never write another book, people will forget about your first one. If you never try and sell your books, people won’t know to buy them.
Don’t give up!
If you have a good story, if you believe in your heart you are a writer, keep trying. Keep trying different methods until you find one that works. If you can learn from my mistakes above and avoid them, great! You probably will make your own mistakes and that’s okay. If we want to achieve anything great in life, we’re going to make mistakes.
To misquote Edison: “You might find 10,000 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book, but all you need to find is one right way…”
Are you willing to share some of your biggest mistakes below?