Monday 22 April 2013

Reaching Your Readers

Lessons in Marketing from London Book Fair 2013

First published on the Triskele Books Blog

I think most of us here at Triskele would agree the toughest thing we have had to take on for ourselves since going Indie is the dreaded marketing. And these days, it’s not just Indie authors that have to deal with it. Unless you are one of the tip-of-the-iceberg authors that the big publishers reserve nearly all of their marketing budget for, chances are, at some point, you are going to have to come out of your garret and do some self promotion.

Not all authors fit the stereotype of the shy, retiring type who would rather deal with characters on paper than readers in person. But even for those who relish a chance get out there and perform, it can be tough to switch from those familiar, introspective creative/editing modes into something a whole lot louder. So believe me, anything help we can get is more than welcome. And in these last couple of weeks we’ve found some diamonds.

First of all, there was the Booksellers’ webinar Metadata: Get It Right First Time.

Then, two of the highlights of the London Book Fair 2013, and the two events from which we brought home copious notes and a headful of ideas to try, were:

Joanna Penn – The Creative Penn – Advanced Online Marketing for Authors, and

Patrick Brown, Director of Community, Goodreads: Helping Readers Discover Your Books

All three of these have kindly made their presentation available on the web, and we have no intention of trying to duplicate them. But we thought we would share a few of the ideas that made us think, “we really have to do that!” And those basically split into two main areas – talking to your readers and (gulp!) metadata.

Talking to Your Readers

Let there be no misunderstanding, building the sort of author platform that has hundreds, or even thousands, of fans clamouring for your next book is a long, slow process. It’s not going to happen overnight. But you have to start somewhere, and there are ways to make the foundations for that platform more secure and longer lasting.

One of Joanna Penn’s key tips is not to let your potential readers slip from your grasp for lack of preparation. Make sure you have an email sign-up on your website / blog etc so that you have a way of contacting readers who have, say, shown an interest in your first book when you are about to release your second. (And if you write two different types of books, make sure that you keep two separate email lists, so that you are not telling the readers of your book on the banking industry all about your latest erotic novel!)

Goodreads has been – and I hope will remain, even after its controversial takeover by Amazon – one of the best ways of connecting with a community of potential readers.

One of the first things you should do is to set up an author profile page on Goodreads – and make that page as engaging as possible. Put a picture on there. Include a bio. Link to your website, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Include an RSS feed to your blog, so readers can see you latest posts.

And then get out there and talk! Talk about the books that matter to you. If star ratings make you uncomfortable, just leave a review. Engage in conversations with other readers – but not about your own books. The aim is to be the guest at a cocktail party that people want to talk to - not the double-glazing salesman that they slam the phone down on.

The right place to let people know about things like book launches, giveaways, book signings, etc, is the status update on your own page.

Goodreads Giveaways are a well-known marketing tool. Most people hope that they will lead to a spike in sales, or at least in reviews. In truth, it is probably more realistic to expect a spike in people putting your book on their ‘to read’ shelves, and to treat anything else as a bonus.

Currently, you can only give away physical books on Goodreads, not ebooks. You’ll need to decide on how many books to give away, and which territories you are prepared to ship to (so you don’t suddenly find yourself with a massive bill for postage and packing). You can, however, give away books from your backlist – say, as a way of drumming up interest for a new release – simply by leaving the publication date blank when you are setting up the giveaway.

Patrick Brown, in his talk at the London Book Fair, suggested that a month was the ideal time for a giveaway. Other indie authors have said this is much too long and that you only get people participating in the last few days, so I guess this is a matter of trial and error.

Listopia is the area of Goodreads that has ‘public’ list (as opposed to private lists set up by individual readers). Bear in mind that it’s okay to add your book to a list of ‘Historical Novels set in Revolutionary France’ – but not to a list of ‘The Fifty Best Fantasy Novels of 2013’.

And of course, you can always ‘talk’ to your readers directly. Technology these days makes it very easy to record podcasts and upload them to your website. These could be audio-samples from your book, or they could be you interviewing other writers. If this is your thing, then the potential is endless.


Say the word ‘metadata’ and watch a roomful of people screw up their faces as if you’d asked them to make sense of the General Theory of Relativity. But really it’s something most of us make use of every day of our lives.

You may all be writers, but first you were readers. Chances are you buy, or at least search for books online.  If you go into a library or a bookshop and ask for a specific book, the librarian or bookseller searches for it in a catalogue. So what ensures that you find the book you are looking for?


Whatever catalogue you are searching, you need the title to be accurate and the author’s name to be consistently given (not J.K. Rowling in one place, Joanna Rowling in another and Jo Rowling in yet another). And that’s if you know specifically the book you are looking for.

Suppose you have written a crime novel about a female serial killer going on the rampage through the Norfolk Broads. What you would like to happen is that your novel comes up as a suggestion when a reader searches for, say:

Crime novels with female serial killers

Crime novels set in Norfolk

And maybe also, crime novels set in rural England, or crime novels set around boats or... Well, it’s up to you, really.

So this is where two things become very important.

First of all, there is the ‘short description’ of your book. This is NOT the place to put your blurb, but rather to put all information that will allow people to categorise your book.

Secondly, there are the key words. There will be various places to put this information, depending on where you are uploading to, be it Amazon, Nielsen or wherever. The important thing is to make sure that it is

Relevant to the way that a reader might search for your book

Accurate (you’re not pretending that the book is something it’s not), and

Consistent across all the places you are entering it

There are basically two types of keywords – the ordinary sort, which are one or two words in length (e.g. novella, crime fiction, young adult etc) and long-tail keywords, which are whole phrases like the ones I used above (crime novels with a female serial killer).

Joanna Penn has some great tips for finding the most effective keywords for your book.

Her first step is simply to brainstorm all the keywords / long-tail keywords that could possibly relate to your book. Next you use those keywords in two places to find out what people have actually been searching for - Google Ads and Amazon itself. Google Ads will tell you specifically about numbers of recent searches. Amazon doesn’t – but you can deduce the highest frequency searches by what appears via the ‘automatic fill-in’ when you start typing in their search field.

Once you have done that, you compare the results from the two sources and pick the TOP FIVE long-tail key words to include in your metadata. Joanna has plenty of evidence from authors who have followed her advice that this can have a direct and immediate effect on your sales.

Okay, that was probably the easy bit. There is another side to metadata that is slightly more arcane, because here you have to stop thinking like a reader and think instead about the publishing industry and how they have been classifying books over many many years. Like any big industry, they have standards and codes that can make it sound as if they are part of a secret society. But it’s really not that difficult, and all the information is publically available.

First of all there is the BIC Basic Required Information. This is simply the list of basic information about a book that a traditional publisher would be expected to supply. If you’ve filled in the form to obtain ISBNs from Nielsen, a lot of it will look familiar. The more of this information you can supply, and the earlier you can supply it, the easier it will be for all forms of search mechanism to find your books.

Secondly, and I suspect that this is something that a lot of Indie Authors may be missing out on, there are the BIC standard subject categories. These are simple codes which computers can recognise and that will identify whether a book is say,

Crime and Mystery [FF], or Erotic Fiction [FP]

Beyond these two letter codes, there may be further subdivisions. (Under thriller and suspense [FH], for example, there are spy thrillers [FHD] and legal/political thrillers [FHP]). You can identify short stories, or fiction in translation. You can indicate if your books is of gay/lesbian interest. You can add geographical codes to show that your book is set in a particular region or country, or a code to show what time period your historical novel is set in.

None of this mandatory, but using the codes wisely and well could increase your book’s visibility, which is what this is all about. I would suggest you take a look at the User Guidelines before you plunge into anything, but for fiction in particular, it is really not that complicated.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

The Authors are Taking Over the Asylum: London Book Fair 2013

First Published on the Triskele Books Blog 

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, at the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors, we sat high up in a room overlooking the exhibition halls at Earl’s Court and heard Orna Ross declare:

“Hello. We’re here. We’re at the London Book Fair and we’re here to stay!”

One year later, no longer a collection of individual authors, but a growing and supportive community, we were down on the main exhibition floor, overflowing the ‘compact and bijou’ space of the Author Lounge, and making our voices heard loud and clear.

No doubt about it, the publishing industry is being shown it can no longer treat writers as a commodity to be read and not heard. Book deals can’t just be concluded between agents and editors in the veiled secrecy of the International Rights Centre. Writers want to take control of their own body of work – and they are learning how from the likes of Orna Ross, Joanna Penn, Ben Galley, David Gaughran and other the other powerhouses behind the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Orna Ross

ALLi’s presence at the London Book Fair 2013 kicked off with a seminar from Orna Ross on Going Indie, which I callously forewent in order to see Kamila Shamsie in conversation with Oya Baydar. And there was a lot of other ALLi activity that I couldn’t cover. Mark Coker and Steena Holmes were at The Digital Minds Conference over the weekend. Orna Ross and Joanna Penn gave seminars in the Love Learning conference. And in the Author Lounge, audiences repeatedly filled and overflowed the available space for the scheduled panel talks, advice and workshops.

In fact, space became a major issue all round. On Monday, the audience for the talks was spilling out into the aisles outside, with people craning to hear and waiting in line in the hopes of getting a better spot for the next session as some people moved on. By Tuesday, the organisers had got twitchy about this. Those acting as gatekeepers, with their little clickers scanning our badges, were limiting the numbers coming into the lounge, and the security folk were moving people on if they even stopped outside to grab a quick photo. Many people missed talks they would have loved to attend, and it all led to an inevitable conclusion:


(Wait till next year, guys. Orna has plans. And we all know what happens when Orna has plans ...)

That is not to detract from what we did achieve over the three days. ALLi launched its new book, Choosing a Self-Publishing Service – free to members and available to buy from Amazon as an ebook and (shortly) print version too. ALLi members were able to network one another, attaching faces, voices and the beginnings of real friendships to those we had previously known only by their Facebook handles. On Monday night, we celebrated ALLi’s first birthday in style, with food and drink provided by Amazon. (Now how’s that for recognition?) We turned out in force to hear the redoubtable Joanna Penn fire our enthusiasm for proper grown-up marketing strategies (about which more on this blog next week). And we had the opportunity, on Wednesday, to showcase our own work and to talk to new and aspiring self-publishers about what we do and why we do it.

I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to be able to tell so many people about Triskele Books and about why we think the author collective is the way to go. Setting out as a self-publisher on your own is scary, as the seven of us all know. Having a team behind you, giving you support, sharing the burden of editing and (oh, lord!) marketing makes a world of difference. And by the way people’s eyes lit up as I talked, a lot of others are starting to think the same way.



And, hey, seeing our six published book displayed on a shelf on the New Title Showcase stand, their gorgeous covers from JD Smith Design standing out proudly and looking as professional as any at the Fair, was a pretty damn fine affirmation too.

Monday 15 April 2013

Gained in Translation

“It is often said that something is lost in translation, but it is also true that something may be gained in translation.”
Elif Shafak, member of judging panel, The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is unique in that the award is shared equally between the writer and their English translator, in recognition of their symbiotic relationship.

The translation of fiction into other languages can be very much a one way street. In many countries around the world, a high proportion of the books published have been translated from English, yet in the English speaking world, the proportion of books translated from other languages remains tiny. To make matters worse, translation into English is often an essential bridge to translation into other languages – so for a book in Finnish to be available in Farsi, it must first pass through the impossibly narrow gateway of translation into English.

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize attempts to redress this balance by celebrating the very best of translation into English. This year’s shortlist includes writers from Africa, Spain, The Netherlands, Argentina, Croatia and Albania. (You can see the full shortlist and read the judge’s comments on each title here.)

Three of that judging panel for the award – Elif Shafak, Gabriel Josipovici and Boyd Tonkin were at the London Book Fair to discuss the short list and were asked about the general state of health for translation of fiction into English.

All spoke very highly of the standard of translation they had seen. “There is a kind of harmony, a dance between writer and translator,” Shafak said. “Reading these books made me aware of how much we owe our translators.”

Josipovici regretted that more truly courageous and experimental voices were not getting translated. Literature in translation should not be reduced to the literature of identity – a sort of fictional travelogue. (And indeed the shortlist bucks this trend by including a novel by a Dutch author set in Snowdonia and another by a Spanish author set in Ireland.)

“In terms of geographical spread there are still many areas that are still very sketchily filled in,” Tonkin said. He was particularly disappointed to see very few works translated from languages of the Indian subcontinent, despite the fact many such books are available in English in India.

Shafak commented on the gender imbalance of the shortlist, which is once again dominated by male. (Women translators, on the other hand, are well represented.) “Many women write fiction, and most readers of fiction are women. But when it comes to getting reviewed, when it comes to getting translated, what we see are male writers.”

One member of the audience noted that there were no writers in Arabic on the list and wondered how the Arab Spring was being reflected in fiction.

Tonkin quoted Doris Lessing – literature is analysis after the event. “To create fiction, you need time to acquire perspective. In the short run, it is perhaps better to turn to non-fiction. It could be a decade before we see the great novel of the Arab Spring.”

Another audience member asked whether the judging panel should be looking at the best of books in other languages – those that deserve to be translated.

“What an interesting suggestion,” Tonkin said. “In an ideal world, it would be great to be able to tell publishers, ‘here’s a list of what you’re missing.’ But I think it might be beyond our time and resources.”

Market Focus: Turkey

Another way in which the London Book Fair fosters an awareness of literature from other countries is through its Market Focus programme – or to use the term Kamila Shamsie would prefer, ‘Literature Focus’.  LBF aims to raise awareness of writing from one selected country through a programme of events and author interviews. In previous years, India, China and Russia, among others, have been guest of honour at the Fair, and this year it was the turn of Turkey.

Elif Shafak, the Turkish author who was on the judging panel for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, was author of the day at the LBF on Tuesday, when I couldn’t be there. But I did catch another Turkish novelist, Oya Baydar, in conversation with Kamila Shamsie. Only one of Baydar’s novels, The Lost Word, has been translated into English, and the conversation is conducted through a translator.
After publishing her first novel, God Forgot His Children, when she was still in high school, Baydar was drawn into politics. “It was unavoidable to be involved in left wing politics in the 1960s. We saw ourselves as revolutionaries and you could not be a part-time revolutionary.”

In 1980, she was arrested for using the expression ‘the Turkish peoples’ rather than ‘the Turkish people’ and left Turkey with a seven year jail term hanging over her. For twelve years, she lived in Germany and while there, she began writing short stories about Turkish people in exile.

“Living in exile made me realise that your country is your language and your language is your country. Not being able to speak my own language affected my thought patterns. It affected my ability to think.

“Many people in Turkey – the Kurdish, the Armenians – feel like foreigners in their own country. My experience has given me great sympathy with them. Since my return, I have worked in support of the Kurds.”

Even though the situation in Turkey much more relaxed, serious issues of freedom of expression remain. Baydar noted that, while it is easier to discuss the Kurdish issue, there are still heavy restrictions around any mention of the Armenian genocide.

“Saying anything slightly outside the ideological lines can lead to trouble. You may not go to prison any more, but you may lose your job as a journalist.”

Indeed, as the LBF opened, news came that the Turkish composer, Fazal Say, had been given a 10 month suspended sentence for ‘insulting religion’ on Twitter.

Baydar is optimistic about the future, but also fearful. “We do not know if the democratisation of Turkey will continue, or whether our dreams will be broken.”

Catriona Troth was tweeting from the London Book Fair on behalf of @TriskeleBooks.  You can also read more of her adventures on the Words with Jam blog.