Indies Today – Five-Stars

I love reading reviews. Especially when a reader seems to have really connected with my writing, but even when they didn’t. I’ve been fortunate that the vast majority of the reviews I’ve read so far have been positive, or, where more constructive in nature, they have at least reflected some of the comments that I had expected to read. I don’t think that any review has shocked me too much, but it is great to see people with honest feedback.

I got a quicker-than-expected review from Indies Today – and my book is currently on their front page!

https://indiestoday.com/on-swift-wings-by-brett-m-wiens/

This is one of my favourite reviews as the reader really seemed to have connected with the style, the humour, and the overall narrative. This is the kind of fuel that helps push me to keep going, and I appreciate the review from Nicky Flowers at Indies Today. I’m so thankful for everybody who has read, is reading, or will read my book, and even more so those who leave reviews!

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Thank you all so much. I’m making progress on my next, related project, and with Audacity, I hope that within a couple weeks here I’ll be able to draw back the veil of secrecy and share it with the world.

BW

Readers’ Favorite Book Award Winner

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A little bonus announcement today as I’m in the middle of editing another project right now. On Swift Wings was announced a finalist in the largest ever Readers’ Favorite Book Award contest. This amounts to a fifth-place finish in the very competitive Literary Fiction category!

Readers’ Favorite 2020 Award Contest Winner – On Swift Wings

I’ve got a couple extra ribbons to add to the cover now, with the 4/4 from OnlineBookClub and this one ready to be appended. Thanks again to everybody for supporting my book. The average review on Amazon.ca is 4.6/5.0 with 11 reviews posted. I really appreciate the support and feedback thus far. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, it isn’t too late! While I’m busy working on a related project, the book can still be ordered in hardcover, paperback, or kindle/ebook versions.

If you’re still on the fence, try giving the preview I’ve posted here a shot. You can read the first five chapters absolutely free!

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BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 9: Contests and Awards

PART 9 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Contests and Awards

Apologies for the delay in publishing this blog entry. I have been at the beach for a couple weeks flexing some 3D artistic muscles while planning the next literary endeavour.

Fun in the sand aside, I had intended to write one last entry in this launch series about contests and awards. I’ve talked at length about how first-time authors need something to separate themselves from the pack. It is still crucial to get good reviews on all the major sites like Amazon and GoodReads, and some paid promotion is pretty important as well, but I’ve also put On Swift Wings into a number of contests.

Why Contests?

Contests are another way to identify and guarantee the legitimacy of your book. If you can get a reputable organization to award it some note of merit, your book immediately edges up a few notches in the to-read list of not-yet fans. I’ve come across a number of these, and I evaluated them based on what I could find online. Ultimately I entered a few of them and I’ve received some pretty good feedback (and a couple wins.)

Wins and Placements

The biggest win for On Swift Wings came in the ReaderViews Literary Awards. On Swift Wings won the best Western Canadian Fiction category as well as second place in the Humour/Satire category. That was a pretty cool win. It also reached the finals in the IndieReader discovery awards. In a couple weeks, I have one more contest drawing to a conclusion on September 1, but it would be pretty cool to pull another credit down to stick on the cover.

To that end, you’ll note that the updated cover has the awards and some 5-star seals affixed now. This is to help it be recognized and to stand out once more. I’m quite pleased with the new cover, as an aside, it is more representative of the book in general. And it is really cool to put a few commendations and awards on the cover to show off a bit.

Thick Skin

Not all contests will be winners. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you write, not everybody is going to love it. In my case, not everybody can even understand it. On Swift Wings was written in the unique style of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Swift is a very talented and well-known satirist, essayist, and novelist. I got feedback from the judge of one contest who absolutely hated the book. They didn’t understand the genre (essay), they didn’t understand the words, they hated the style, and they weren’t even familiar with Jonathan Swift or Gulliver’s Travels. That’s totally ok, if you’re putting anything artistic out there, it can be assured that not everybody will be your fan. It takes a thick skin to read some of the negative feedback to be sure, and contests are no different.

I’m really proud of the good words I’ve read about the book. Most of the negative stuff has either been things that I intentionally put into the book knowing that they wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, or the feedback has been unhelpful trolling, which doesn’t bother me except for the diminished average rating.

Launch Summary

I feel like every day I learn something new about the entire process. It has been, and continues to be a pretty incredible ride. I hope that the blog posts I’ve written will prove valuable to you, whether as an author or as a reader interested in knowing more about the adventure.

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If you haven’t yet, please give On Swift Wings a try. I’m very proud of it on a number of levels, and would love to hear what more people think. I’m working on a couple projects related to the book right now. I’ve still got “The Immortals” on the go, but it has taken a backseat while I’ve been working on a (not-so) secret project that I hope to be able to unveil and release in a few weeks. More to do, more to learn, more fun.

Thank you for reading my launch learnings, may your world always grow!

BW

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 8: Reviews

PART 8 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Reviews

While the last blog I posted about marketing might have been the most informative and useful. This post is about something that is probably the most important for a first-time unknown author. Reviews. This post will be split between some thoughts bout reviews and a bit about the reviews that have so far been received about On Swift Wings.

I’ve talked about my naivete when it comes to launching my first book. I didn’t really take into account the importance of reviews until far into the process. I’ve said that I figured people would read the book, tell friends, and it would just take off on its own. Once I launched, I realized that people need to be encouraged to write reviews, even their friends. There are rules about close family posting reviews on sites like Amazon, so I didn’t want to risk their accounts and review abilities, but anybody else is free to post honest reviews. Also, though it is very tempting, I’m not going to risk everything to buy fake reviews. I’m not even sure where to go to get them, and I’m not looking.

On Swift Wings is still starving for reviews, any reviews. I have received a couple dozen in various places, several on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, a few here and there on Goodreads, and a number of professional/semi-professional reviews from several legitimate sources. (I really need reviews! If you’ve read the book, please help me by posting a review to Amazon and/or GoodReads. The more people who comment (especially with 5-stars) the more people are likely to give it a try. A friend once told me that she wouldn’t buy a book without 100 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4-stars. I have 10, with an average of 4.6. So… just 90 more of you and I’m there! – this is an exceptionally high bar to achieve on Amazon. First-time authors almost never legitimately achieve that kind of review number, so she can only read mainstream published books.

Friends/Family/Advanced Reader Group

The first place to go for reviews should be your advance reader group. The only ARCs (advance reader copies) that I sent out were to my immediate family, who are ineligible to post reviews on Amazon… oops. Relax, sacrifice a little control, and give out copies to friends that can provide feedback and early reviews. It would also help to get involved in shared-interest groups. Find people with similar interests and connect with them. These are also more likely to provide reviews. These early reviews are crucial to achieving early traction.

Giveaways

Another way I tried to drum up reviews was through giveaways. I gave away 100 copies of On Swift Wings through a goodreads giveaway. I was hoping to get at least 10 reviews that way, I got 1 review and 2 ratings. There is a side-benefit of the goodreads giveaway, everybody who applies automatically has the book added to their ‘to-read’, so there are 303 people out there who have the book in their ‘to-read’ folder on goodreads. My guess is that a lot of people enter these giveaways pretty blindly and amass large quantities of free books they’ll never read. I’ll talk a little about giveaways and contests in my final blog post of this series.

Paid Reviews *** NOT PAID FOR RATING ***

The next place that I went for reviews was a number of paid reviewers. Note: These are paid for the time, placement and quality of the review, not for a positive review. You can pay hundreds of dollars for a professional reviewer to read your book and say its horrible. Fortunately, all my reviews came back with 75% or better stars. I approached a few organizations to find me some reviewers, either professional, or just people looking for new books:

OnlineBookClub.org – Arite Seki – 4/4 Stars
OnlineBookClub.org – Snowflake – 3/4 Stars

Reader Views – Paige Lovitt – 5/5 Stars

Readers’ Favorite – Romuald Dzemo – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Liz Konkel – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – K.C. Finn – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Ruffina Oserio – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Lesley Jones – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Rabia Tanveer – 4/5 Stars

There are a number of other options that I haven’t explored deeply including Author to Author, where you review a book from a pool of curated works and authors from that pool review yours. It is all blind, so you aren’t reviewing the person who reviewed you, but it is a way to gather more reviews.

Something I hadn’t thought about, but will also do in the future, is to include a note at the end of the book asking for a review. It felt tacky the first time I heard about it, but now I recognize that many people don’t do things like review a book without being asked. Whether they don’t think about it, or they forget. You get a lot more of what you want in life by asking for it, so next time, I’ll ask for it. Also…

Please review On Swift Wings!

(You might notice that the more stars you give, the prettier your review. πŸ˜‰ )

Coles North Hill – Sadly Closed
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Anyway, thank you for reading my blog. I hope that some of the things I have written will be of some value to you. If you feel inclined, I would be thrilled if you gave On Swift Wings a try. It is available all over the place, if you are a fan of your local bookstore, they are able to order it from IngramSpark, it is stocked at a few Coles/Chapters locations, although sadly my local outlet has closed permanently due to the pandemic. Of course the book can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, and many other sources. A kindle and eBook version are also available.

As always, I’d love to hear back from you. Tell me what you think.

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 7: Marketing

PART 7 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – MArketing

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Marketing. If you’re a reader, a supporter, or you’re thinking of publishing something yourself, read this one thoroughly. To anybody reading this, I would really love feedback. Marketing is an area where I started with no knowledge, like, basically zero, and now feel I know a solid 0.1%, and that might be wrong, so I’m a solid 0.1% plus or minus a full 1%. I’ve learned a lot, and it still isn’t working. I’d love to know if you know what I haven’t learned yet.

Launch

I’ve already spoken about my launch experience in my previous blog posts, so I’m not going to dwell on it here. Suffice to say, a good launch, with a launch team of friends to help spread the word is a great first step into book marketing.

“Good” Idea

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When I launched the book, I included one “good” idea. I put that in quotes because I don’t know that my good idea actually contributed to sales, but it makes me feel good nevertheless. I pledged 20% of all the revenue that I earn would be donated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. I was inspired by the story of Peter Pan, the royalties from which are even today a major source of funding for the Greater Ormond Street Hospital. Whether a good marketing idea or not, I’m not sure, but it makes me feel better to give something back to the community and the ACH is a most worthy cause.

Facebook Page

Another smart idea was to set up and promote my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/BW.Literature/
This page helped me get the word out in a more formal way, and it is a landing page for posts like this one. I was able to get 100 likes on the page from my friends and family, which was certainly helpful, and set up the platform for my first paid advertisements.

Advertising

I did try to advertise pretty quickly on Facebook. Clever company suggested that many people would see my post about the donation if I paid a few bucks. They did, but I don’t think it amounted to any sales. It got a lot of likes and a few shares. Also, I donated a dollar for every share of that first post. I was braced for my maximum of $500. I figured, if all you had to do was share one post from a friend to donate a dollar to the Children’s Hospital, most of my 500+ Facebook friends, and however-many LinkedIn contacts, and twelve Twitter followers would easily push it past that mark, and as a result, spread the word.

What I discovered was that even with an incentive, I was unable to spur a significant social media churn. I only got 79 shares, even with a Facebook ad running and showing the post to 3600 people around the world interested in Gulliver’s Travels and Jonathan Swift. There was some good feedback on the post that with 407 likes. At the point, I didn’t have a good mechanism for tracking sales and success, but it didn’t likely generate many readers. I certainly didn’t have 400 sales during that period. I also got my first troll through that post, something I had braced for, and honestly didn’t bother me, but I certainly remember his posts. (Thanks to Mike Brown for knocking him down a peg with a Taylor Swift meme.)

Homepage

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As I mentioned above, I didn’t really have a way to track the success or failure of my advertising, and beyond Facebook who proactively sought me out, I didn’t know what other ways to advertise. I paid IngramSpark to include me in their flyer, but I can’t even say for sure that my ad was ever published, me not being a bookstore/library who receives that flyer. I decided to set up a webpage (which is where you’re most certainly reading this.) This lets me see how many people are coming to check it out and from where they are coming. My original ads had the goal of directing people to my Facebook page, and the only metric that they were engaged was if they liked or shared a post.

Facebook is also limiting in that I really can only reach my friends and family that like the page. It is not particularly searchable, and advertising it doesn’t do much beyond itself. Furthermore, you can’t track sales, you can’t see how many people are viewing things, and you have very limited control on layout. This led me to explore setting up my own page. It costs a bit for the webspace, but it is a far more flexible design platform (on WordPress.)

I try to post here when I have some time. Keep things active and provide some engagement.

The blog

Somebody once said that the more I promote the book, the more confident people are that it is good quality. The blog is a way that I can share my thoughts on things publicly in a way that hopefully shows my confidence in the book. I’m reading it to my son right now and each time I read it I find myself surprised at how good it is. (In the gaps between when I read it, I question whether I did too much of something, or too little of something else, but then I read it again and feel a good sense of accomplishment. Anyway, the blog is a way for me to share thoughts and ideas, and hopefully get some feedback.

Goodreads

This will reveal how little I knew going in, but I didn’t know anything about GoodReads when I got started. Another good way to reach a lot of people. I did a giveaway of 100 eBooks several months ago. Originally I was hoping that I’d get at least 100 people that wanted it, and by the end I got 369 requests, which was cool. The real aim here was to get a bunch of reviews, unfortunately I only got a few. It cost $119US to run the giveaway, and I was, perhaps naively, hoping to get a dozen or more quality reviews. I think that of the 100 people who received a free copy of the book, I got 1 five-star, 1 four-star, and 1 three-star (who was also the only one to write actual comments.)

Facebook Posts and social media

I continue to try to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to share the book, to post blog entries etc. If there is one thing I learned on here, it is how valuable it is to have a circle of friends and family who are active and who like, comment, and share regularly. You can be pretty sure that the people who are closest to you will see all of your posts and they will likely read some or most of them, but if they don’t like/comment/share, it ends with them.

I’ll go into this a little deeper, because it may help to understand how these things work. If I post a blog entry, photo, etc. then maybe a dozen people will see it in their feed. I can pretty much identify them based on how often we comment/like each other’s posts. I don’t know the relative values, but if they share the post, their top 12 will see it as well. If all 12 of them like it, it will probably get served out to a wider audience of my friends. If all 12 of them comment on it, it will certainly be served and prioritized to a larger proportion of my friends. If a large number of those people like/comment, and share, then it will be served out to ever-increasing circles of people (see viral.)

People who aren’t trying to market something like a book or song may not realize just how important their support really is. Likes and comments are more than just about ego, they are huge algorithmic supports. Whether you like/comment on my stuff, if you have other friends that are trying to promote their business, this is a key way to do it.

If you just want to support them, despite not really being interested in their products, like their posts. If you’re willing, even better to comment, because then some of your friends may see that you commented on something, but definitely friends-in-common will see it. For maximum support, share the post as well. Social media thrives when posts are seen and commented, so those that gain the most engagement get priority.

Amazon advertising

I fiddled with some Amazon ads early as well. I poked a few keywords (like 5) and did some automatic targeting but didn’t see any serious benefits. What changed on this front was when I stumbled across Bryan Cohen. Early this year (and again as I’m writing these) Bryan set up a course on Amazon Advertising. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to watch even a fraction of the content, but what I learned has changed the way I approach Amazon ads. This year my ads have been served out to almost 750,000 people. I really ought to watch the entire series of his course, because I haven’t generated many sales yet, but I believe that had to do with a cover that wasn’t fit for purpose and fairly amateur salesmanship on my part.

I also stumbled into a good bit of feedback from my friend Lin He from a toastmasters event. She fed me an opportunity to speak about my book and I went into a spiel about Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift and then a little about my book. Her feedback was that I sold her on reading Gulliver’s Travels, but not necessarily On Swift Wings. When I reevaluated my advertising, I realized just how true that feedback really was. I started every sales pitch with a description of an entirely different book, and spent 80% of my time describing what I liked about it and why I wrote my re-imagination thereof. I should have been focusing on my book and its contents, and perhaps casually tossing out a reference to the original source material. Now I describe my book and ultimately reference Mr. Swift’s work in more of a passing style.

Google Advertising

I didn’t try google advertising for a long time. Dumb. When it finally dawned on me to give it a shot, I directed readers to my webpage who were interested in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, Online Books, Fantasy/Adventure, etc. I was able to drive a lot of traffic to my webpage and a few sales came out of that which was good. I didn’t yet have any decent metrics on my page, but I assumed that I was seeing positive response even if costs were outweighing sales for now.

Unfortunately, when I did get the metrics up several weeks later, it became apparent that a number of people (or bots) were clicking on the links, but they were generally spending less than two seconds on the webpage and almost never (0.05%) were clicking on any other links on the page.

I tried redesigning the page and focusing the ads, but nothing has worked well there so I’ve shut down my Google ads for now. I’d love some feedback from people who have tried to view my page, if somebody knows why people are bouncing so quick, I’d love to hear it.

Preview

Another idea I had was to make the preview of the book more widely available during the pandemic. Amazon allows readers to read a sample, I figured I could put a few chapters out there so that potential readers could see what they are in for if they buy the book. I haven’t had a lot of uptake on this. I can see who has read what chapter, and only in the past couple weeks have I seen anybody click past the first chapter, but I am seeing several, and a few sales from those people, which is great to see.

I have said before that the goal is to get as many people to read the book as possible. Making money would be a nice side benefit, but if a million people read the book and I earned a total of $10, that would be incredible. If you haven’t yet, read the preview and see what you think. Write some comments, start a conversation. Hopefully it gets you interested in the book. I know the style is a bit of an antique and the vocabulary is challenging, but if you can push through it, you’ll learn something, probably lots of things.

Another thing that one of my reader’s said was that they appreciated the dictionary feature on the kindle. Give it a try, I really think that a broad audience would enjoy the various parts of the book.

Unfortunately, I have to charge something for the book. If I make it free, there is no way for me to offset any advertising or marketing costs. Furthermore, if I chose to charge basically nothing, people would assume it was worth basically nothing, and they still wouldn’t read it. Please read it, please review it, please talk to me, please like/comment/share it!

Contests and reviews

One of the more successful avenues that I’ve taken is contests and reviews. I’ve submitted my book to several professional and paid review services as well as a few different contests. Many of these reviews are not able to post the review directly to Amazon, but I’m able to quote the reviews there. I’ve been quite pleased with the number of four and five star reviews. I have yet to have a professional reviewer deduct more than one star, and the reasons for that deduction have been remedied. Most reviewers have been very favourable towards the book. In addition to the ego stroke that positive reviews provide, it also grants some level of authority to the book, and connects with the reviewer’s readers. I’ve had reviews from Readers’ Favorite, Reader Views, OnlineBookClub, and a verdict from IndieReader.

I’ve also put the book into a few contests. I won the Reader Views Canada West region, placed second in the Reader Views “Humor/Satire” category, was a finalist in the IndieReader 2020 Discovery Awards, and I am waiting to see the results of the Readers’ Favorite on September 1. Similar to reviews, these lend a note of legitimacy and authority to the book, helping it to stand out from the literally hundreds of thousands of new books published each year independently.

For a while my book was leading on the OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year (popular vote), but a suspicious entry has blown past me (and everybody else) with 699 votes in the past two weeks (versus 280 for me in second place I’ve been amassing for six months. Last year’s winner had 325 votes, which was my target.) To be fair though, the book, “Wisdom” has the benefit of a 2/4 star official review driving it forward with a summary that reads: “boring, unoriginal, and unprofessionally edited.”

I’d love to get a few more votes on there, even if it seems first place is out of reach, I can still win the best Fiction. To vote, click here:

Vote for On Swift Wings – OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year

I really hope that this post was of value. I wonder how many of you will read right to the bottom of this long meandering post and like it, comment on it, and/or share it, having now a greater understanding of the relative importance. I would love it if you would read my book or even just give the preview a chance.

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Stay well and may your world always grow! (You know, once the end of the world is over.)

BW

Book Launch Learnings 6: Launching

PART 6 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Launching

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This post is likely going to be more about what I should have done as opposed to what I did. I really dropped the ball on my launch. I did a lot of research, but didn’t really know to whom I should speak about doing a launch. While I recognize now the achievement that is writing an entire novel, at the time it didn’t feel so terribly grand. Furthermore, hosting a party in my honour didn’t seem very, well, me. It felt like a frivolous expense to play to my own vanity. I’m a bit of an introvert, though not fully, and putting together a launch party wasn’t my fortΓ©.

The mistake

The biggest mistake that I made, and it is a pretty common one among first-time authors, was that I figured if a book is good enough, it’ll sell itself. My friends and family (most of whom have no literary connections – like me) would read the book, be amazed, feel compelled to share it with their friends who would be equally interested and it would catch fire and go viral, selling quickly and widely. I know that this sounds foolish… and it is. Unfortunately, this was my general mindset. To this end, why would I spend money and time promoting the book when I was confident that it would do it by itself?

Pre-launch Reviews and Pre-Orders

There is a bit of a golden period at launch. This is the time where a first-time author really can collect the stats to push the book. I did alright considering my own foolishness. At one point, three days after launch, I reached a high of #20 on the Satire charts on Amazon. Pretty cool, but I probably could have done better.

What I didn’t understand is how important a launch really is beforehand. I could have given out several ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to friends, family, and a few assorted websites, with the hope and suggestion that I could really use honest reviews in return, or perhaps their assistance in spreading the word upon release. The whole review thing didn’t occur to me until far too late.

Mistake #2

A second mistake I made was I protected my book too much. I had some content in the book that I felt was timely and ludicrously thought that if I let anybody see the book, somebody would steal it, publish it before me and I’d be left in the dark. This is dumb. I only realize it now, but somebody would have to take a pretty crazy shot to do this. Stealing my IP would open them up to litigation, and it is crazy difficult to get a book off the ground, especially if you don’t have the passion that comes from creating it. Be a little free with your book. Trust that your friends and trusted online outlets aren’t looking for a way to screw you. Besides, your first book isn’t very likely to take the world by storm anyway, as previously mentioned.

Related to this was that I had some material, as was the case with Jonathan Swift, that was contemporary. I’ve hestitated to reveal this, but when I wrote the book, a certain neighbouring country was in the process of electing a buffoon to their highest office. I weaved in a fair bit of satire about politics, and a little about that particular cartoon character. One thing that is holding me back from writing my current book is I don’t want it to be heavily influenced by contemporary political oafs (especially one who will be gone by the time the book is published… please?)

Launch Party

I’ve read a lot about launch parties and street teams. I did sell copies to many of my friends. I have great friends and family and I truly appreciate their support. I should have given them time before the launch to read the book, to comment on it, discuss it, and help me push pre-orders. I should have done this, and I should have thrown a party, not for me, but for them and the help that they would give me right away. I guess that is where I lost the plot, I didn’t realize that the launch party wasn’t for me, but for them. Sorry.

Reviews

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I keep alluding to this, and I’ll write an entire piece about reviews soon, but man are they ever important. At launch, you should have a bunch of reviews ready to fire. They may be your friends who are writing them (be aware of the terms of service that penalize close family from reviewing), but strangers aren’t very likely to respond well to a first-time novelist they’ve never heard of and a book nobody has read.

(Hey, please review my book.)

Advertising

Alright, this one is more about just not knowing anything about this stuff. I’ve since taken a bunch of courses in advertising on Amazon, Facebook (which I’m currently not doing), and Google. It would have been a good idea to advertise before launch to get pre-orders lined up and build excitement. I didn’t even know how to start with advertising. Since last year I’ve learned enough about advertising to know how little I actually know.

Summary

Put your launch a little later, collect your launch team, plan a party to reward them. Research advertising and marketing. Line up reviews before the book goes public. Be less guarded about your achievement. And shoot your shot, don’t let it fizzle. I let my launch be a day on the calendar with a Facebook/Twitter announcement and a bunch of author copies for sale at my office. You only really get one full launch of your first book. It is an amazing achievement to sling together 100,000+ words in a meaningful way. Understand the way the market works. Talk to somebody who has been through it and glean whatever you can from them.

I hope this helps prospective writers out there. If it does, let me know! (and hey, my book is available, give it a read – and please review it!)

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Click Here for Preview

Perfect Review (4/4) from onlinebookclub.org

Official Review: On Swift Wings by Brett M. Wiens

4-star - Stars In A Line - Free Transparent PNG Download - PNGkey

I’ve noted the importance of good reviews to a book and I’m happy to report a great review came through today! Arite Seki of OnlineBookClub.org has given On Swift Wings a 4/4 as well as a beautiful review.

A few highlights:

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My favourite aspect of this novel was the use of humour and satire to draw attention to important social issues.

Arite Seki – OnlineBookClub.org
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Each chapter has a lesson that would resonate with any reader.

Arite Seki – OnlineBookClub.org
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The thoughts raised question our ideas of freedom, morality, accuracy in history and even equality through political policy.

Arite Seki – OnlineBookClub.org
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I also particularly enjoyed the use of vivid imagery.

– There was no part of this novel that I disliked as I found it to be an exceptional read.

Arite Seki – OnlineBookClub.org
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I found the novel to be particularly impactful as the universality of the subjects seen in the novel suggest that it can be enjoyed by anyone.

Arite Seki – OnlineBookClub.org
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I would recommend this book to audiences looking for a fantasy book with meaning.

Arite Seki – OnlineBookClub.org
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If you haven’t yet, give the book a try, you can buy a copy today in Hardcover, paperback, or kindle from Amazon.ca, try an official Amazon preview of the book or read the first 5 chapters on my website here.

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 5 – Publishing

PART 5 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Publishing

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I’ve been dreading writing this one, and it is likely going to take a few days to write, but I think there is a lot that can be learned here. I hope that I do it justice.

Any questions or thoughts, I’d love to hear more from you all. I’ve been energized by a great 4/4 review from OnlineBookClub this week!

Big Five – Traditional publishers

As I’ve repeated frequently, I really knew very little about the book business when I started. My picture of publishing was pretty skewed and very limited. I pictured a number of large publishers (the big five) and a number of small or independent presses. Beyond that, I really knew nothing.

Once I got to the point that I felt On Swift Wings was going to be something worth sharing with the world, I immediately shifted from just writing to myself to assuming that I would send an email to the big publishers, they would love it and publish it, then it would sell a billion copies, be a best seller, and be everywhere. Sometimes I temper my expectations, or pretend to, but inside, I’m always thinking of the best case scenario.

Anyway, I started researching publishers around the halfway mark, and quickly became discouraged by what I was learning. Basically, classic publishers aren’t going to talk to you unless you get an agent. Only a small number of agents are even accepting clients, and it really depends on your genre and style. Even then, an author might send out a hundred query letters to agents before one picks them up, if at all.

The next thing I learned about the big publishers is the creative control that a first-time author (particularly) cedes to them. First time authors are a dime-a-million it seems, so one can hardly walk into a big publisher and claim leverage. In the end, this discouraged me from even trying to go that route. For those of you who have read my book, there is a lot of political, economic, and social commentary in the book, and that was very important to me. Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels to “vex the world.”

Boutique/Vanity Publishers

While I had been looking up traditional publishers, I had stumbled across a type of publisher that I didn’t previously know about. If you Google “Book Publishers” they show up right at the top of your list. This is a sort of all-inclusive publishing. The benefits of these are that they provide all the services needed to push a book to market. They have editors, cover designers, formatting, as well as all sorts of advice about marketing and other aspects. This could have been an option, but somewhere along the line I read a bunch of stuff about how these are ‘vanity’ or ’boutique’ publishers, and once you sign up with them, the book becomes part of their property and you really can’t get much from it. You have to pay them to print it and distribute it yourself, not to mention taking all the financial risk. It sounded like a part of the business with which I wasn’t interested in getting mixed up.

I’m not sure that this is a fair analysis. I didn’t follow through with them, but I was getting a bad feeling. I did talk to one, and the man with whom I spoke was professional, helpful, but definitely sales-y.

Print on demand – POD

While I read more webpages than you can shake a stick at, I started seeing more and more about on demand. Amazon has an on-demand printing service called KDP, which absolutely dominates the market (like 90%) and you can have paperbacks or kindle versions available on Amazon very easily. That certainly sounded great, but I also really wanted to be able to get my books in bookstores, and bookstores see Amazon as a competitor. The alternative PoD (print on demand) service that I found is the biggest global distributor, IngramSpark. Incidentally, while I was researching, it became clear that it wasn’t necessarily an either-or proposition. As long as you own your own ISBN – which is free in Canada, expensive in the US – you can do both. I didn’t really catch the drawbacks to this, but more on that later.

As with all, there are pros and cons about PoD. First, the pros: You retain complete control. You can publish any d*mn thing that you want. It can be total crap or an absolute masterpiece. You can set the prices, you can determine the trim, the cover, the formatting, everything is in your hands. Also, you don’t have to pay costs up-front. Somebody orders your book and you get the difference between the cost they pay and printing+publisher royalty. You can publish eBook, paperback, hardcover, whatever you like. Definitely has some attractive.

The cons: You have to learn how to do everything. You need to commission the editor, book cover, formatting, marketing (AH!), descriptions, advertising… everything. It is an enormous learning curve. Hopefully some of this blog can help you. I don’t pretend to know everything, but this is my experience. There is a much bigger world here than I ever imagined, just in book publishing.

IngramSpark

IngramSpark POD royalties are now compatible with PD Abacus!

I wanted to be able to get my book on actual bookstore and library shelves. To do this, it has to be available to retailers at a discount (55% – not kidding.) IngramSpark is the avenue for this. Amazon and KDP are considered competition, and don’t offer the necessary discount for brick-and-mortar bookstores, so they aren’t going to order from them. IngramSpark prints around the world, on demand, and ships wherever. It costs a little up-front to get the book into IngramSpark though – $50 for eBook, paperback and hardcover. Actually, Amazon uses IngramSpark when the dollars or demand necessitates it. You have probably received IngramSpark books without even realizing it.

KDP

Kindle Direct Publishing is the second option. Actually, in a lot of ways it is the first option. Amazon is the dominant market force in bookselling. Something like 80% of books are sold through Amazon, so obviously you want your book listed on Amazon. KDP offers the most attractive author royalties, costs nothing up-front, and has enormous lists of tools available to authors. Advertising, Kindle Select, Dashboards and a huge user community make KDP very attractive.

Both

Here comes the trick. To get hardcover and bookstore available, you need IngramSpark, to get on Kindles, you need KDP. You can do both, but it comes at a cost, one that I didn’t think significant at first. Amazon has a moat called Kindle Select. If you make your digital version exclusive to KDP you can enroll in the Kindle Select Program which lets readers read it for free if they pay their monthly Kindle Unlimited subscription fee. You get a commensurate proportion of the total to the amount of pages that people read your book as compared to the total pages read everywhere. My book was not eligible because I “went wide” with Ingram. This has probably had a very negative impact on my total sales unfortunately, but I didn’t know any better and regaining exclusivity has proven difficult. Once the book is out there, it is difficult to make it unavailable.

Summary

Take this as on summary. I’m sure that there are people happy with all of the above options. It really depends on your aims and abilities. I’ve learned so much, and I’m really glad that I’ve been able to learn all about this stuff. I’ve joked (in all seriousness) that part of my brand of crazy is a desire to know everything. Obviously it is impossible, but the more data available to me the better.

Any thoughts or questions? Let me know in the comments or get in touch with me. If you want to see the results of my research and learning, check out the book!

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Book Launch Learnings 4 – Cover and Interior Design

Part 4 – Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series – Cover and interior Design

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I’m going to move from editing to a couple other contracted roles: Cover Design and Formatting.

I’ll start sounding a bit like a broken record here, but when I started thinking about this, I figured that I can draw my own cover pretty well, and formatting, well, honestly, how hard can it be to pick a font for the book…

This was typically foolish of me, as I have learned pretty quickly. I can make a cover that looks really amateur, and an interior format that looks like I wrote a high school report, perhaps a little better than average, but not professional.

Formatting

My editor, Bobbi, suggested that I get the interior formatted. I have grown to trust her judgment now, and not knowing any better, and the costs not being too rough, I decided to take her advice. This was a good decision. She is affiliated with Indie Publishing Group and she was up-front about that, but strongly encouraged me to get it formatted by somebody professional. I talked with Chrissy, the head formatter, and felt good about it so I took the leap. It really made a huge difference. It didn’t cost a lot, it didn’t take a lot of time, but what she sent back was significantly better looking than what I had sent. Better font, took care of necessary margins, consistent titling and accents, and a bunch of little touches I don’t even recognize to name. As a bonus, they also posted my first interview as an author!

As a result, I would also recommend any would-be self-publisher get their book formatted as well!

Cover Design

Similarly, but more easy to demonstrate, I’ll show off the same kind of feedback about cover pages. I expect I’ll take some ribbing for this, but here was my original cover draft:

Not really meant to be a finished product… just a working title page… Knowing more, I bet I could do better, but I still wouldn’t.

This wasn’t actually meant to be the finished product, more of a proof of concept idea. Still, looking back on it, it isn’t very good.

I searched a bunch of places for cover designers and for a while I considered putting a competition out there for graphic designers to submit an entry. It sounded like a great idea, for not a lot of money, get a bunch of different designers to submit their entries and get a great cover. When I thought about it a little more, and thought of some of my friends who do that kind of work, it occurred to me how horribly unfair that would be. Dozens of people do a bunch of work, submit an entry and only one of them gets paid anywhere near what their work was worth. Writing a book wasn’t about getting rich, but that would have been a nice perk… Writing On Swift Wings was about sharing ideas and hopefully having some great experiences, conversations, and to grow as a person. I didn’t think screwing a bunch of poorly remunerated artists would help me achieve any of those objectives.

A second idea was to contract an artist friend to paint something for me. I approached a friend of mine, but she turned me down as she wasn’t able to find sufficient time to do it. Pity, that might have been something pretty special. I thought it would be cool to have the cover be a piece of art that people might be as happy to have sitting on their shelf as it was to read.

Ultimately I conducted a long web search for professional designers and found one a couple that I quite liked. One of them turned me down saying they don’t do illustration… which wasn’t what I asked for, but the other, JD&J design stepped up.

I gave them a little guidance… I gave them too much guidance. I wanted to let them be artistic, and use their skills, but I steered them too much. I got the cover that I thought I wanted, I was happy with it, and it is the original copy that I used for the first year of publication.

I certainly have no complaints about them, but a key lesson I learned was that giving an artist too many instructions and not enough rope results in less-than-optimal results. I got what I asked for.

After a year, I approached JD&J again and said, I’d like to revisit the cover. I don’t think that this tells the reader much about the story. It doesn’t really tell them that it is a fantasy-adventure novel at first glance, and a strong lesson to take away is that you have to give the readers what they are expecting in a cover unless you’re already a huge recognized name.

I phoned JD&J and we discussed it, and after a full revision they returned with a series of great ideas and we settled on the current cover.

Beautiful Cover by JD&J Design

Much better. Wish I had let them do their thing completely from the start…

Beyond making it look great and professional, the benefit of hiring a professional cover designer, much like the interior designer is that submitting the book to the various services I used to publish (IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing) was a breeze. It just worked the first time… I can’t imagine how much pain it would have been for me to try to pull that off myself.

Next: Publishing (Oh, did I learn a lot here.)

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Book Launch Learnings 3 – Editing

Part 3 – Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series – Editing

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Editing is where I really started learning about producing a quality and professional book. When I was writing the book, when I was finishing the book, I thought that I would read it over a dozen times myself, make corrections and carefully edit the book. I had no intention of spending any money. I would write the book and do a careful job myself and that would be that.

Basic Editing

The first edit was just a couple rounds of spelling and grammar. I used Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check to weed out some of the most obvious and egregious errors.

Next, I installed grammarly and ran it though once. Grammarly has an interesting bonus-feature in that it counts how many words you’ve written in a particular week. The week I installed it I had over 120,000 words written, which put me in the very highest writing group. Obviously I had written those words over years but they were new to Grammarly, so I enjoyed that.

Self-Editing

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I had a plan for self-editing and I executed it. First, upon finishing the book, I was going to read the book for obvious errors. I read it out loud for the first time to my daughter (who was too small to understand) and by virtue of reading it out loud, I was able to flag a number of areas where the book simply didn’t make any sense or was impossible to read through. Reading out loud is a great way to catch a lot of mistakes.

The next level was when I noted that I was saying the same thing too much. I started a lot of sentences with words like, “However, so, thus…” and I hated how it sounded so I read the entire book again focusing just on the start of each sentence.

Each time I read the book I tried to be conscious of my own stylistic issues and clean them up. I also noted sections that I didn’t enjoy reading. Some felt clumsy, some just didn’t have the right feeling, and others needed an injection of description. I also had my wife read it and she told me when she couldn’t picture what I was describing. One example was when I described the seat-cushion boat at the start of the book, I didn’t describe it effectively and had to re-write it a couple times to get it right.

Eventually, I got the book to a place where I thought it was about as polished as I could get it.

Hiring an Editor

I did a lot of research online about self-publishing and it became clear that a professional editor was worth the money. I decided to put out some feelers to see if anybody in my network knew someone who might be interested, and I did some research online and found a few potential editors.

I wanted to find somebody local, and I found a few that felt like good fits. I got a few from www.editors.ca who were interested in my genre. It is important that your editor be somebody who actually is interested in your genre and style. I sent out some queries to the top three and got back a surprising diversity of responses. I truly appreciated what they said.

The first one said that the style in which I had written the book would not jive with her own. Readers will recognize that I use a distinctive voice similar to Jonathan Swift, this is not a typical style or voice for today’s writings and she didn’t feel she would be the best editor.

The other two provided quotes and sample of editing and the one I chose, Bobbi Beatty, responded with just excellent comments. I signed up with her and let her read my book, the first person not in my family to read it through.

It took about a month, but it came back with thousands of edits. I highlight this not to make myself look bad, but just to emphasize the value of a good editor. Some edits are more important and others were stylistic notes. I think that I accepted all but about three changes or notes. She also did a final reading to make sure that nothing got missed the first time.

A note on how important hiring an editor is. If you go to OnlineBookClub.org and look at recent reviews you’ll see that the reviews usually penalize errors quite harshly. You can lose a star just by having ten mistakes. That is ten spelling/grammar mistakes out of perhaps 100,000 words, an error rate of 0.01% is unacceptably high and can cost you a full 1/4 stars.

Hiring attitude

I loved communicating with Bobbi. She was friendly and helpful and provided great notes for me. I told her up-front that I wasn’t working towards a deadline and didn’t need her to rush… I actually told this to each contractor I hired along the way. Nevertheless, she came in on budget and before the deadline she set for herself.

If you hire an editor, and I strongly recommend it. Hire somebody who ticks these boxes:

  • Is interested in your genre
  • Is responsive to your messages
  • Provides a sample edit of your work that aligns with your expectations
  • Gets good reviews
  • Is a professional
  • Actually wants to work with you

Don’t just jump for the cheapest edit. You are going to get what you pay for, and if you want your book to be something of which you can be proud, and that gets quality reviews, spending the money up-front is worth it.

Recommendations

You need to hire an editor. Every minute of time you spend editing, and ever dollar you spend on a professional editor will save you a great deal down the line. It isn’t even a question for me now, while I thought I would just do it myself at first, On Swift Wings wouldn’t be anything like it is now without my editor. I appreciate Bobbi’s work so much. (Thanks Bobbi)

Tomorrow: Cover Design

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