Indie authors – 5 ways you can help them

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Since e-publishing and print on demand have become available, indie authors and boutique publishing houses have blossomed. There’s a wealth of choice and diversity that simply wouldn’t be possible with traditional publishing. But how can independent authors and publishers ever hope to compete with the big five publishers? They need your help. Yes, reader, you.
Perhaps the author is a friend or family member. Perhaps they write books with that resonate with your interests or identity. Perhaps you just really like their book. Well here’s five simple things you can do to help them succeed.

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5) Buy books from indie authors

Obvious, I know. But each time someone buys a book (whether physical or e-book) not only does the author get paid, but the book gets pushed slowly up the rankings. On Amazon in some categories the difference between the front page of the bestsellers list and not being in the top 100 can be a handful of sales. Most people only browse the bestsellers so anything that helps your favourite author get up there is a help.

4) Be social

Most authors (including me) now have a Facebook page and twitter. Follow them and share or retweet their updates. Chat to them. Comment on their blog. Not only will this cheer the up (it’s nice to know people are listening), but it will help others to find them.

3) Leave reviews

If you enjoyed a book, review it on Amazon and Goodreads. You don’t have to enter into serious literary analysis, just put a few words about what the book is about and what you liked about it. People are far more likely to buy books with several reviews than with none.

2) Request the book from your library

Although the amount an author gets when a book is borrowed from the library is tiny, it gives thousands of people access to that book. And using your local library helps to keep your local library open. Win-win! As the Manic Street Preachers say: Libraries gave us Power!

1) Tell your friends!

If you’ve read something you think a friend will enjoy, tell them! Post about it on Facebook and Twitter! Indie authors don’t have a big advertising budget but a sincere recommendation from a reader is worth much more than a Facebook ad campaign.

Kindle Romance Books – too much choice?

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Publishing on Kindle is easy. Getting people to find your kindle romance books is hard. With almost 375,000 titles on Amazon.co.uk most people never look beyond the top 100 bestsellers highlighted by Amazon.

Amazon are the top e-book seller because they make it so easy to publish, but also to buy. Books are sorted into categories and themes. This can make interesting reading in itself – amnesia and gambling are romantic themes; pirates and firefighters are romantic heroes (I suspect this doesn’t tell us what women want, just what they want to read about.)

Best sellers in romance

You can check out the top 100 best selling books on Amazon. There are separate lists for free and for paid for books. For many people (myself included) this is where they will browse for books. Here’s how I pick a book: I shamelessly judge by cover, then click on something that looks good. If the description sounds appealing I’ll buy it. I do use the categories (I like historical romance books) but I don’t spend enough time looking for things that might not make it onto the top 100. I intend to change that!

kindle romance books cover example - Mighty Like a Rose

Finding kindle romance books you want to read

Goodreads has a recommend feature which recommends based on what you have already read and rated. Twitter and Facebook are good places to reach out. If there’s a book you especially enjoyed you could ask for something similar. Many authors will tweet about rival books, especially if they have a theme or target a demographic similar to that author’s work. Tumblr has many blogs that promote books with positive representations of marginalised groups.

Helping others (including me) find kindle romance books they want to read!

If you have read something you enjoyed, tell people! I have found many great books through the recommendations of friends, tweeps, internet acquaintances and colleagues. Sharing a link of Facebook or Twitter means a lot – people pay much more attention to a personal recommendation than to an ad. Writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads helps others to find books. Don’t feel you have to write your own masterpiece, a brief description of the plot and what you liked about it is plenty.

Too much choice?

Of course not! It’s wonderful to live in a world with so many books, available with a click. It just means we have to work a little harder to find the perfect book for right now.

Please, share your recommendations in the comments.

Notebooks

I’ve been quiet of late as I’ve been moving house. We’d been in the old place for 14 years so as you can imagine, we’d amassed a huge amount of stuff. Pint glasses, CDs, a huge stash of Manic Street Preachers posters that I’m saving for when I have my own study, and notebooks. So many notebooks. There is a packing crate filled with nothing but blank notebooks. It is embarassing.
I wish I could say that I’d been bought them by well meaning relatives who know I’m a writer and thought that they might be useful. I can’t though. I bought the vast majority of them myself. Bit by bit I have filled a whole box of notebooks that I don’t write in. Even knowing I have possibly literally a lifetime’s supply, I am still tempted when I walk past Paperchase.
I like the idea of writing in notebooks. It sounds like the kind of thing that a writer should do. When I was still at school I went to see the poet Simon Armitage speak (he’s a very good speaker, by the way). He said he always wrote on paper, never on computer, because otherwise he wouldn’t have piles of first drafts to sell to American universities.
Poetry is a different beast to writing a novel though. It’s one thing to re-write twenty lines in longhand, quite another when you are tipping 100,000 words. Many writers do write longhand to begin with a treat the typing up as a first edit. I can’t. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m terribly disorganised. I have a tendancy to be working on several things at once, and without a system of tagging I can never remember where I’ve put something. I plotted something out in a notebook once, then spent half a day looking high and low for the book. When I found it it was less of a plot and more of a series of disjointed phrases – school, argument, ferry incident? – I realised I had no idea what the hell I’d “plotted”. The second is I have really awful handwriting. It’s terrible. While this means I don’t have to worry about anyone reading over my shoulder and nicking my ideas, it means that there are frequent occasions where I genuinely cannot decipher what I’ve written. Even my neatest handwriting is a mystery to others, when I’m in full flow it’s just a page full of squiggles.
What do I write on then? For short bursts I use my tablet – an Asus Transformer with a built in keyboard. I’ve even managed to write blog posts and short stories on my phone although I have to be careful of autocorrect. The huge majority of Mighty Like a Rose was written on an elderly laptop running Ubuntu, on the dining table. The laptop is soon to be replaced but I still don’t have my own desk at home, I write where there is space for me. I keep a small notepad in my handbag for noting things down: overheard conversations, sudden flashes of inspiration, shopping lists.
How am I going to fill the box of notebooks then? I really don’t know. I have been dabbling in poetry, but not to the point of filling pagess and pages. I’ve done a few zentangles which was calming, but each only fills one page!
At some point I’m going to have to bite the bullet and give them away, in the hope that others will be inspired to write in them. And try and get myself banned from Paperchase.

From life or from imagination

I had a lovely present from my mum over the weekend, a card and mug from the Bronte Parsonage gift shop. The Brontes have always been part of my life. I was named after Catherine Earnshaw, wilful and stubborn heroine of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. As a child visits to Howarth were a regular family trip, as well as the Parsonage museum we would go on the steam trains on the Worth Valley railway and walk on the moors.

I don’t know how old I was when I first read Wuthering Heights. I had a child’s version of the book (which simplified the story and cut the framing device of Mr Lockwood listening to Ellen Dean. At some point I graduated to the full version and then worked my way through Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette… everything. The poetry and even the juvenilia. The three sisters, and their ill-fated brother Branwell, produced a huge body of work, written in tiny handwriting in tiny, hand-made notebooks. What began as playing games with their toy soldiers evolved into complex sagas of imagined lands.

Emily Bronte only wrote one novel. She would die soon after her brother. Part of the enduring appeal of the Brontes is that the family story itself is so compelling and tragic. Like many female novelists there are continuous background rumblings that she could not have written Wuthering Heights herself. Most rumours suggest Branwell wrote it. One piece of “evidence” that keeps coming up is that Wuthering Heights is a dark, passionate story – how could a sheltered parson’s daughter write something so emotionally intense and darkly passionate? Well let me explain how fiction works. You make stuff up then write it down! It’s not autobiography. The Brontes were very well read, and their life was less sheltered than many imagine (Emily and Charlotte went to school for a time in Brussels, where Charlotte fell in love (unrequited) with the married professor of the school). While Charlotte did use experiences from her own life (Lowood school in Jane Eyre, her obsession with her married teacher in Villette and The Professor) in her books, as did Anne (her time as a governess inspired Agnes Grey and Branwell’s drinking influenced The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), where is no reason to think that Wuthering Heights is grounded in reality any more than Emily’s imagined kingdom of Gondal, the setting for her early work.

It seems to me that it is women writers who are assumed to write from life, whether it’s prose, poetry or songwriting. There are a lot of women (and men) writers who do write from their life, but many (including me) who don’t. People seem a bit disappointed when I tell them Mighty Like a Rose is from imagination, as if they’d prefer it if I’d gone through some of the traumas Mary has. I should take this as a compliment – something must be ringing true with people. But for the record – none of it is autobiographical.