Guest post: E. Rachael Hardcastle (Author of Finding Pandora)

6016f2_1e64bbd333624e3da9900739929e2dbc-mv2_d_1280_1214_s_2.pngToday we’re delighted to welcome supernatural fantasy novelist and West Yorkshire lass E. Rachael Hardcastle to the ideas4writers blog. Her box set Finding Pandora – The Complete Collection (Books 1 – 4) is out this week.

Naturally, we wanted to know all about her, her ideas, and her writing and publishing experiences, and to see if she had any useful tips to share. Here’s what she had to say:

How do you find and evaluate ideas for characters, plots, dialogue, etc?

It’s an overused response but ideas just come to me. Sometimes after watching TV or reading a book I wonder what new swing I could put on that premise, so I’ll write it down and explore it later on. I never base characters on real people – I like to let the characters develop into who they need to be and usually fill in a profile sheet (as seen on my blog) to make sure I cover everything.

How did you get your latest idea? What made it good enough to write about?

My latest idea came to me after watching Jurassic Park and reading a book called The Great Zoo of China. I wanted to explore the theme park idea further, where the guests have to escape for some reason. I know the idea is popular because the movies do well, and to the best of my knowledge the books have done well too, so I thought I’d note it down and brainstorm some ideas. I haven’t started writing yet, but I know it’s a golden nugget because it crosses my mind every day.

How did you expand the idea?

  • Use brainstorming and mind mapping ideas

  • Use story beats to note everything down and build a story/characters

  • Note down the cliches I wanted to avoid and why

  • Watched the movies, read the books etc for research and to see how I can make my story unique

How do you do your research?

I prefer to use reference books rather than the internet, though I do often mix the two. I write fantasy, so some of my research is on myth, legends, signs and symbols, etc, which is fun, so I don’t actually mind this part of the process. I then keep notes in a ‘story beats’ outline document in OpenOffice, which I refer to whenever it is needed. I tried Scrivener but haven’t yet made friends with it.

Would you be willing to share with us some of the ideas you’ve rejected?

I very rarely reject ideas, I just note them down for use in a future project. I think my advice would be not to reject anything because even if it has been used before, there’s always a new way to approach it. They say there are no new ideas and I believe this is true to some extent – it’s what you do with them that counts.

Which book marketing ideas would you recommend?

I offer free content to prove I am trustworthy and helpful. I think marketing can be creepy when you’re posting ‘buy my book’ on social media. Your posts will be ignored and you might lose followers by doing this. Post free content on your blog, helpful notes and resources, and then offer your book at the end. For example, you could advertise your book at the end of a YouTube video that is free and offers the viewer a solution to a problem.

How did you get published?

I self-published my work after coming close to traditional publishing and turning down two offers. I decided I wanted to be in control and give it a shot myself. That way, I could learn the ins and outs and possibly turn hybrid later.

Have you had any really bad/bizarre rejections or reviews?

I once received a postal rejection (with my manuscript enclosed) and on the title page was the comment ‘We don’t publish poetry’. I had submitted my 50,000+ word high fantasy novel…

How do you find the time to write?

I think I steal the time to write after work and between chores at home. If you want to be a writer, you should write, and those who are serious will make the time.

Where do you write?

I have a home office. I keep all my reference books, tools and notes in that room so I can access anything I need quickly and easily.

Can you recommend any software or apps that help with your writing?

And finally, where can we find out more about you and your books?

My website is at www.erachaelhardcastle.com

Thank you! Good luck with the box set and for your future writing success.

Thank you!

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Reviewers and bloggers wanted!

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If you’d be willing to review it, and your blog or website is aimed at this sort of audience, please contact us by email (mail@ideas4writers.co.uk) giving the address of your blog or website. We’ll send you a free PDF copy by return.

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Your own website – the (very) easy way

People are always asking me how to create their own website when they have no technical skills, can’t afford to pay a web designer thousands, and want to be able to update their site themselves whenever they like.

My recommended solution: Weebly

Technical knowledge required: none

Cost: nothing

Click on the banner below and watch the 2-min demo video and you’ll see for yourself just how easy it is.

The basic features cost absolutely nothing, and for most people that will be all that they need. Your new website could be online in just a few minutes from now – and it’ll look pretty impressive too!

But if you need them, additional ‘Pro’ features are available for a very reasonable cost, including your own domain name rather than a weebly.com one, a shopping cart, video and audio players, password-protected pages, and so on.

If you can’t even manage to drag a few boxes around the screen and fill them in, Weebly’s staff can create your site for you, for a fraction of what you’d pay a professional web designer.

I run a number of other websites as well as ideas4writers – and I always use Weebly these days. It’s just so easy and so cheap – it’s a total no-brainer.

So set up your new website, send me the address, and I’ll give it a mention here on the ideas4writers blog!

Disclaimers:
(1) The ideas4writers website was not created using Weebly – it didn’t exist in those days. Also the writing engines wouldn’t work. Everything else would though.
(2) If you upgrade to a Pro account, Weebly will pay me a commission, which I’ll use to help improve ideas4writers.

A quick book marketing tip

After the closure of the Borders bookshop chain in Britain, we heard last week that Waterstones is also going through a sticky patch, with sales down 8.5% and their managing director booted out.

One of our members, Brian, commented in our forum: I suppose we shall have to set up stalls in the High Street

I don’t think he was being serious, but it’s actually not such a bad idea. Most people don’t go into bookshops anyway. You’ll probably do a lot better out in the street where all the shoppers are. It’s well worth a try in my opinion.

Try a different town each week, on market day or a Saturday. 52 weeks, 52 towns, then go back round the same towns again a year later with your next book.

You could call it a book tour and have posters printed, so everyone knows when you’ll be coming to their town.

Try the beach too, on a nice hot day – preferably somewhere that has a single entrance that everyone has to pass by. Or set up a stall in the car park.

Those are definitely some of the things I’ll be doing once I get round to writing some novels – hopefully next year.

If you’ve tried doing any of these things already, tell me know how you got on.

Dave Haslett, www.ideas4writers.co.uk

Why Nielsen’s book sales figures don’t add up

There was an article in the Daily Mail newspaper last week that talked about the 77 million books that were pulped in the UK in 2009. [You can read the article here]

The books that were pulped were mostly “celeb” ones, and I’ll talk about that next time, but today I want to focus on something else that was mentioned in the same article. It stated that around 59,000 books published in the UK in 2009 sold an average of just 18 copies each.

But this is something that I have an issue with. Where exactly is Nielsen Bookdata getting these figures from? I would imagine they are only able to track sales through bookshops – those which order their books through wholesalers such as Gardners and Bertrams.

But take one of my own books as an example. Since only about 1% of people order The Fastest Way to Write Your Book from bookshops, the number of sales Nielsen has recorded for that book in 2009 will be pretty low. If those were the only sales then I’d be extremely embarrassed (and looking for another job). But they’re not.

Because Nielsen is ignoring the 95% of sales that came through the ideas4writers website. I know they’re ignoring them because I’m the only person who knows how many we sold, and Nielsen hasn’t asked me.

They’re probably also ignoring the 4% that Amazon shifted (since Amazon orders them direct from me, not through a wholesaler). And they’re also ignoring the copies I sold myself when I was out and about, though admittedly that was only a handful this year.

If those authors who (according to Nielsen) only sold 18 copies are actually selling them through other routes – online, schools, talks, fairs, conventions, conferences, magazine ads, etc – then their true sales figures are much (much) higher than Nielsen says they are. And therefore book sales (particularly self-published ones) are much healthier than Nielsen is reporting.

It’s the bookshops that are dying, not book sales (apart from “celeb” books). Authors and self-publishers are simply finding other places to sell them. Quite right too – that’s exactly what they should be doing. But those sales aren’t being counted by Nielsen.

Those authors who did only sell 18 copies (or fewer, or anything less than several hundred in fact) should give themselves a stern talking to (and that’s very much the polite version). They either need to learn how to do marketing properly (which really is enormous fun) or write better books that people actually want to read.

Half a day spent doing a bit of market research (which involves nothing more complicated than asking a few people) would save them months of work followed by crushing disappointment when it turns out that nobody wants to read their book.

Dave Haslett, www.ideas4writers.co.uk

Promoting your book online – the easy way

If you’ve done the book launch, press releases, newspaper interviews, library talks, book signings, school visits, etc, and you’re wondering what to do next, how about promoting your book online?

There will be hundreds (perhaps thousands) of websites and blogs that cater for each of the subjects and issues covered in your book. And there are thousands more that are aimed at book readers, writers, teachers, children, teenagers, and so on.

You can think of each of these websites and blogs as a “virtual venue” where you can promote your book.

There are two main ways of doing this:

1. Interview: the owner of the website or blog (or one of their staff) emails you a set of questions and you send back your responses. Their questions and your answers are then posted on their website in the form of an interview. They might also include it, or promote it, in their ezine or newsletter if they have one, or invite people to submit questions for you.

2. Articles: you arrange to write one or more short articles about your subject, or about writing and publishing your book. These are then published on their website, or in their newsletter or ezine.

You shouldn’t expect any payment for the interview or article – you’re doing it for the publicity not the money. But you can mention your book (and where to buy it) at the end. That’s your payback.

Start by making a list of all the things your book covers – the main subject, sub-topics, locations, issues, angles, and so on. Also list the things you researched while writing it, even if they didn’t make it into book. And there will be several other topics that you now have some inside knowledge of – writing books, finding an agent or publisher, perhaps self-publishing, finding and working with a cover artist, giving talks, book signings, and so on. You’ll probably be surprised at just how big your final list is.

There will be a staggering number of websites and blogs that cover each of these topics. And many of them are constantly looking for new material – even if they don’t say they are. So use your favorite search engine to search for each topic on your list.

You’ll probably end up with millions of results for each topic. Look at the first page or two of results and choose a few websites that seem the most relevant. Then approach the site owners by email to see if they’d like to interview you or have you write an article for them on a topic that’s relevant to their site.

Keep a record of each site you approach and their response (if any). If some of the bigger sites don’t respond, and you’d really like to be featured on them, try again a week or two later, and maybe again a week or two after that. You might even consider contacting them by phone or post. Don’t give up until they give you a definite “Yes” or “No”, because they probably get thousands of visitors. Imagine a book signing event in the real world where thousands of people turned up! You don’t want to lose out on an opportunity like that just because the site owner was too busy to answer an email, or didn’t receive it.

There are several big advantages to promoting your book online, rather than doing it in the real world:

1. There’s no travelling – this will save you huge amounts of time and money.

2. You’ll never run out of venues – just move on to the next page of search results or try the next topic on your list.

3. You can cover multiple venues in one day.

4. You can cover a much wider area – the whole world in fact.

5. Even the smallest online venue will usually have a much larger audience than a single book signing event in the real world.

6. Your article or interview will usually remain online for years afterwards.

7. You don’t have to have a great speaking voice or be able to come up with instant responses.

Just as no two talks or interviews in the real world are ever exactly the same, you should aim to make every online event slightly different too. You can save a lot of time by recycling the same material over and over again. But try to tailor what you say to suit each site’s individual style and readership. If you aren’t sure what makes one site different from another, ask the owner. It will take a little time to do each event properly – rather than just cutting and pasting – but think about how much time you’d spend on an event in the real world – preparing for it, travelling to it, and attending it. You’ll be able to do each online event in a fraction of the time – and probably achieve much better results – without even leaving your desk.


About the author:

Dave Haslett is the founder of ideas4writers – the ideas and inspiration website for all writers. Stop staring at a blank screen and come to www.ideas4writers.co.uk for thousands of ready-made ideas, story-generating software, friendly forums, and a whole lot more.

Dave is also the author of The Fastest Way to Write Your Book and The Fastest Way to Get Ideas, and co-author of the Date-A-Base Book series which lists hundreds of forthcoming historic anniversaries for you to write about. For further details please visit www.ideas4writers.co.uk

Marketing Jargon Explained: Joint Ventures (JV)

You can boost your sales, newsletter sign-ups, etc, by joining forces with someone else who’s targeting the same market.

For example, lets say you’ve written a book about the care and breeding of horses, and you send out a monthly newsletter. You search around and find another writer who’s written a book on another horse-related subject, such as what to look for when buying one, or how to train them to win races. Having assured yourself that their book and/or newsletter is something that you’d like to recommend to your readers, you can then contact that person to see if they’d be interested in a joint venture. You’re both in the same market, but you aren’t competing directly with each other, so why not?!

You have a mailing list, they have a mailing list. Both lists target the same market. Wouldn’t it be great to have access to both lists rather than just one? Of course!

When someone signs up for your newsletter, on the “thank you” page you could put a sign-up box for your friend’s newsletter. And they can do the same for you. It’s a good idea to include a personal recommendation as well, saying why you think your subscribers should sign up for this other newsletter as well as your own.

When someone buys your book, again on the “thank you” page, suggest that they might also like to buy your friend’s book. (And he’ll do the same for you.) Perhaps your friend will make his book available to your buyers at a specially discounted price. Or perhaps he’ll pay you a referral fee for sending him extra customers. You’ll do the same for him in return.

It doesn’t have to be books of course. You might have a joint venture with a supplier of equestrian equipment. You recommend that your readers get their supplies from this particular company, and the company sells and recommends your book (or whatever products you sell) to its customers.

And you might even consider a joint venture with a direct competitor – if you write about a subject where people tend to buy every book on the market, for example.

You can probably think of many more joint venture possibilities. They can be extremely productive and lucrative for both parties.

Dave Haslett, ideas4writers, www.ideas4writers.co.uk