Why every author should fully review a proof copy of their book

Gah! That moment where you realise you forgot to do something really simple…

I’ve been reading through my first novel again – The Great Scottish Land Grab. I’m having a small print run done to finally allow me to sell to Scottish book shops and took the opportunity to make a few changes, the main one being updating my contact details.

When I published Land Grab, back in 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to buy the domain www.cafepolitics.net as Cafe Politics played such a huge role in the story and www.markandersonsmith.co.uk (and all variants) were taken, and www.thegreatscottishlandgrab.co.uk would have just been silly.

I’ve since decided on www.dragonlake.co.uk as my permanent web presence and wanted to update the new edition of Land Grab to use this website and my current email address. The Copyright page was done fine. I added in an author note asking people to sign up to my mailing list – all fine. Even the Call to Action at the end of the book was updated okay.

Everything bar the acknowledgements page which I foolishly didn’t even read before sending off the manuscript to the printer… Turns out the acknowledgements page contained a request to email me if the reader found any mistakes using the old email address… Gah!

I’m in two minds whether to just let it slide as I still own that domain, except, it just doesn’t sit right.

Maybe I’ll call the printer tomorrow and ask about just sending through a new manuscript and forgoing a new proof.

What would you do in this situation?

10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book

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.

For the last few days I’ve been carrying out an analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab. You can find my first post here and Thursday’s here. (Friday is my flash fiction day…)

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:

Vote Yes?
Vote No?
Vote For…

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:

“Described by some as an easy read, by others as making you want to shout at your screen
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?

Analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab Part Three

Continuing a short series analysing sales of my first novel: The Great Scottish Land Grab. You can find yesterday’s post here and the first post here.

Every author’s story will be slightly different. I’ve benefitted from reading and hearing about the lessons other authors have gained from their experiences selling their books so it makes sense to offer what advice I can from my own experience.

What worked

1. Don’t discard rubbish first drafts
The first draft of Land Grab was not great, but it contained large sections that contained the core of the story I wanted to tell and on re-reading a couple of years later, still thrilled me.

I was extremely fortunate to have a relevant first draft waiting when I realised the level of interest in the Scottish independence referendum. If only I’d realised it sooner, but in reality, much of the plot of the finished book came out of my own journey exploring the issues. I doubt I could have written the novel, especially my first, at any other time. I was told from an early age to write and save what I wrote as it may become useful later. It’s good advice.

2. Be aware of what people are interested in
My decision to try and publish Land Grab in 2014 was definitely the right one. I made sales I might not have made at any other time. The original idea for Land Grab was for someone to try and steal a General Election to gain power and use it to reverse the Highland Clearances. As my interest in the referendum grew, I realised it offered a ready made situation that could be exploited in my plot and I began to rework the story to fit a topic all of Scotland was interested in.

Yet trends can easily vanish, as happened in October 2014. The No vote won and my sales began their quick slide towards zero.

Still, almost three years later and interest in Scottish independence has had a resurgence following Brexit… I’m still selling this book three years on…

3. There is no substitute for advertising
If you want to see zero sales, don’t market your book. If you want to sell one copy, tell someone you’ve written a book. Then tell someone else. Repeat until one of them buys it! If you want to sell hundreds or thousands of copies… You have to tell thousands or even millions of people.

How you advertise is possibly less important than the fact you are doing it. As long as you are reaching out to people who might be interested in your book, you may see some sales.

I’ve managed to sell dozens of copies by approaching strangers and talking to them about my novel. I found out this year that I could also sell copies by paying for Facebook advertising and I’m now also experimenting with Amazon Ads.

Time or money, you have to pay at least one of them and probably both and if you do it right, with a good product, you’ll find that you will sell.

4. A good cover will help, but a poor one won’t stop people if the concept is right
My first book cover was poor:

Yet, if you look at yesterday’s post, I still managed to sell a hundred copies. I knew it wasn’t the best I could do and kept trying different ideas, using this one when I released book two:

By the time book three was almost ready, I’d convinced myself I needed to show another side to Scotland and settled on this:

The last chapter written, the third book in the trilogy published, I listened to reason and hired a graphic artist: David MacKenzie who took a new concept I’d wanted and produced what became the final cover for The Great Scottish Land Grab:

David was kind enough to produce related covers for each separate book in the trilogy as well which you can view here.

5. Telling people how to buy the book
When I’ve told people they can buy copies on Kindle or physical copies through Amazon, they have. When I’ve told them there is a book, but failed to include that vitally important where to buy, I suspect they haven’t… It’s rather embarrassing to admit that on my leaflets and business cards I forgot to include that vitally important piece of information!

6. Split your book and make the first part free
Or write a short story or novella or prequel and give that away.

While giving the first part free is no guarantee that anyone will read it, let alone go on to buy the rest of the novel, I am seeing results where I’ve advertised the novel and let people know they can try the first book for free. If they are interested enough to act on your request and download the book, I think people will be more inclined to read it. Then, they may enjoy it and go on to buy the rest…

Want to start reading book one of The Great Scottish Land Grab for free? Click here…

7. Don’t give up!
If you have written a good story, then believe in yourself. Publishing is a long game and as many more experienced writers than myself have said, ebooks will be there long after printed copies are removed from the shelves.

My intention is to keep writing, keep selling and keep learning.

If you have any advice to share on your experiences of selling your books, why not comment below.