The relevance of the title is that I have an issue with a certain marketing company who contacted me a few weeks ago, stating that they provided appointment cards for a neighbouring business and could they pop in for a chat to discuss the possibility of my shop's details being added to the brochure. It seemed almost as if the advertising would be free. Being a sole trader with no employees I do get a bit bored and so welcomed a visit to break the tedium of the day.
For those who don't know, I opened a shop last November and I sell wedding, Prom and party dresses.
The sales rep who visited me seemed to be a friendly looking man, possibly approaching retirement age with an easy going demeanour. The outcome of our meeting was this....
1. After half an hour or so of explaining the benefits of buying advertising space on his sales literature the sales rep asked for some ID of the shop.
Now I am both naive and very trusting and have been accustomed to asking shoppers for bank cards as ID when I worked at a department store.. So I handed him my bank card but with the assurance that it would not be used to withdraw funds.
Mr Sales rep assured me that of course funds would not be withdrawn from my account, I had a little over a week before their art department needed a decision from me.
"Ok", I said. I d like to think about what he d offered. The guy left with a promise to call later in the week This he did two days later and I told him their services were not for me. 10 minutes later he visited my shop again with a different brochure on offer. It was a very hard sell. This time he wanted to add my business details onto a neighbouring bridal shops's appointment cards with the promise that they handed out these cards widely at regular bridal shows. I told him I was sceptical as the shop is in the same building as mine and the bridal owner has expressed her anger that I too sell wedding dresses! The only way I could get him to leave was to promise to speak with shop owner first and I would call him. This was still a week before their art department needed my decision.
The sales rep left and I shut shop and ran around the corner to bridal shop.
"Hi," I called, "just me!"
I was greeted by blank faces. It transpires that Mr sales rep had literally just called in before visiting me again and had offered them free flyers and that is all. They had not requested for appointment cards and knew nothing about my business details being plastered all over them.
I didn't wait for a call from the rep. I rang his company and told them I would not be requiring their services only to be informed that my deposit had been already been paid and they would not be offering a refund.
Now despite numerous emails from myself stating that I did not authorise payment and that I was told I had over a week to make my decision I have only received replies of "business to business contracts" don't warrant a cooling off period, and that "The act of handing over my card details" is my granting my permission for them to extract money from my account.
I have contacted my bank, of course who are very sympathetic and have put a stop to any more funds being withdrawn from this company while I am raising a dispute with them. They have begun a chargeback system whereby they request a refund from Gimp-act's bank.
I have reported them to trading standards who knew the offender's address as soon as I said the name. I have registered my complaint with the police via their Action Fraud website and I am doing all I can to rally up other 'victims' though I refuse to consider myself a victim.
The company is based in Chorley and there are many message boards full of complaints so I feel a little better that I am not the only person in the country to have been conned by them. The problem is that officially they are not a scam company; they do produce sales literature, even if it is shoddily done. But here's what they do..
They find a business, say a doctor's surgery, 'Surgery X'. Then they look up fairly new businesses within the area that could be loosely related to health: holistic practitioners, gymnasiums...whatever. They ring up the newly opened Gym and tell them they produce appointment cards for Surgery X. They tell the gym that they, along with a few select other companies, have been singled out to be added to theses appointment cards. The next thing, the gym has signed up for 2 years to advertise on these cards.
But Surgery X is unaware of all this. They discover that a batch of flimsy looking appointment cards bearing the logo of the local gym has been dumped in reception and the only thing they can do with them is send them off to be recycled.
I ll tell you what else Gimp-act Public Toilets do, they tell you a 2 year contract will cost £230 per year, sign you up for 2 years and break their fees into 3 manageable payments. They then deduct these payment in 3 consecutive months. They also don't tell you that this initial 2 year contract is a rolling contract and that you can only break free by writing to them 6 months prior to the end of the initial 2 years. Others that have refused to pay for subsequent years have had received immediate threats from bailiffs.
I am furious and terrified. I'd love to get my hands on them. Mr sales rep rang me this morning, it being the deadline for the art department to print my logo. He had the cheek to ask if I d managed to secure a refund with my bank. I asked what business of it was his and that it was between me and the credit control department of his company. Then he said that my emails to his company were uncalled for. By the way, my emails are most eloquently written! I finished by telling him he tricked me, he was a liar, a disgrace and ought to be ashamed of himself for working for such a terrible company.
I hope really that this blog serves as a warning to other small businesses.. I doubt the company in question targets established traders as they will already be in the know.
Well now I am in the know and I m barely 6 months old.
I will blog further with updates.
"The title of this book was chosen not just because it described the hero and heroine and their backgrounds, but because this story was the phoenix to my career.
In the early 1990s, I sold six books in one year and then for four years, I couldn't give away Alpo to a dog kennel. Even though I'd made bestseller lists and won awards, my writing career tanked.
Part of the reason was that the paranormal/futuristic market of the early 1990s dried up, and we early pioneers lost our contracts and were left to find new paths.
Even though I tried numerous other genres and finished several books, no publisher would take them. In fact, it was while chasing that dream that I wrote what is called the ultimate "marketable" book that had all the elements of the hottest trends of the mid-1990s in it. There was no reason for it not to sell.
That book garnered me the worst rejection of my career. The infamous: "No one at this publishing house will ever be interested in developing this author. Do not submit her work to us again." Yes, this was a kick in the teeth, but to this day I am grateful to that editor because she forever changed my course as an author, and I know I wouldn't have the career that I have today had she not written those words to my agent.
And we definitely wouldn't have this book.
It was that rejection that made me decide that I didn't want to succeed by trying to play by other people's "rules". Being the good Southern Celt that I am, I lifted my chin and said out loud. "If I'm going to fail, then it will be on my terms, while writing the books I want to write and it will be by listening to no one but my characters."
That very afternoon, I sat down and started writing Born of Fire. I knew it would never sell. No one would touch a futuristic, and the paranormals were quickly going extinct. But I didn't care.
Syn and Shahara were burning inside me, and this was the only story I could tell. I wrote it, never expecting it to see the light of day.
Ironically, it ended up being the very first ebook that a New York published author sold. Dreams-unlimited was one of the original ebook publishers who didn't last long enough to see the ebook market take off. We sold next to no copies of this book, yet I will always be grateful to Silke and Bonnee for their enthusiasm for this book and these characters. You guys were great."
I found this in the paperback copy that my mum had taken out of her local library. It's been very well read and the stamps inside show where it's been moved from branch to branch as it's been requested by readers.
Since that character forming experience I have been giving some thought to marketability. I have a plan. But all plans are subject to refinement, are they not?
There is always sex.
I am a bloke and there is no doubt that I write like one. This is undeniably true. It is genetically and hormonally unavoidable in my case. Nevertheless as an engineer and a bit of a scientist, I accept that measurable evidence matters. Women read more books than men. Also, less obviously women influence men in what they read. Hang on to your gonads guys, this stuff is true!
Moving right along there is no denying that sex sells. Sex is absolutely a marketability factor. That said I have to aver that I would never lower myself to the level of Ms E.L. James. I have some self-respect remaining, even after my York experience. So please please please absolutely no discussion of fsog in this blog: Pretty please.
I have a question. Of course I have.
Two good friends, both ladies whose views I have good reason to note, have expressed views on blokey moments, in movies rather than books, that have raised their pulses and have had other effects I am too decorous to detail, even if they may have mentioned them. The speeches may not be exact:
Russell Crowe (Maximus) approaching the evil murdering emperor in the arena, where he has little power:-“ My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North. General of the Felix Legions. Loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next. “
Daniel Day Lewis (Hawkeye) when hope is almost lost and he must abandon the women to save them later if he can:- “No! You submit. Do you hear me? You be strong, you survive... You stay alive, no matter what occurs! You survive. I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far it may be, I will find you..”
There are other “sex symbols” of literature of course. Mr D’Arcy I understand
has much more to him than a wet shirt and Colin Firth. But I wonder what it is.
And here we have the question, which may have an obvious answer or it may not. I have learned enough to ask and not anticipate the answer. What is it in manly literature that still appeals to the inner urges of the ladies who govern the future of fledgling, yet aging, novelists such as I?
Come on girls, help me with this.
This might mean, at the most basic level, liking each others' Facebook pages, or including links to each others' websites on our own. It could also mean sharing tips and ideas - I had no idea anyone made video trailers for books until Daisy mentioned it, for example - or even, if geography allows, organising joint readings. I'm building a list of contacts who have shown some interest in Mouseman, and would be willing to circulate links to other writers' promotional material in exchange for the same. Maybe these and other ideas could be discussed and organised through a cloud group? If even half a dozen of us take part, we'll each get six times the exposure for very little extra effort. Let me know what you think!
I didn't...but what I did notice was a rather dreadful trend in book cover design.
The shelves for younger readers are awash with colour - riotous even. The 8-12's still had a good mix of colour, with the odd darker cover thrown in when the subject was a little edgier. Mind you, even they were highlighted with splashes of brightness...
And then I looked at the teenage fiction shelf. If anyone ever wondered why teenagers get all emo on you - it's no wonder. I would estimate that 90% of the covers were plain black with deep coloured font for the titles.
I understand that the book cover has to reflect the story somewhat - you probably wouldn't find a pink, glittery cover on a horror story for example. The look of the book gives you an idea of what to expect. A lot of what was available for teenagers was supernatural or horror, so I can understand the darkness of the story being reflected in its packaging.
But I just found it intensely depressing to be faced with a black shelf!
(scroll down a bit for the relevent bit) another big-selling author is accused of using fake IDs to give his own work 5* reviews, and (perhaps more seriously) to give 1* reviews to authors it appears he regards as competitors:
I have an agent.
(Excuse me, I just want to type those words again).
I have an agent. A real, living person, whom I have met (so I know that she really exists), who believes in my novel, and wants to help it reach its audience.
My agent’s name is Anna Power, and she works at Johnson and Alcock. They are a small agency located in Clerkenwell, and she specialises in their YA and children’s list. She’s also very nice, very professional, and most importantly, she loves my book and believes that she can find it a home.
My book is a non-fantasy YA novel called ‘Broken Strings’. It is the story of an unlikely friendship between a young violinist and a homeless man with a secret. I’ll be writing more about the book in a future post.
Now, I’ll tell you about the meeting, and then we’ll analyse what this all means.
We met for coffee near her offices in Clerkenwell. I was nervous, as I’m a little rusty with these interview type thingies. However, it became clear early on that she was going to take me on, so I was able to relax, answer her questions about my writing and the book, and I was able to listen to what she said the process would be, and ask the list of questions that I had prepared in advance. If you are interested in what questions I asked, and where I did my research on what I needed to ask, please email me.
The process will be roughly as follows:
· She’s sent me a draft contract. I will review, and hopefully we will sign ASAP.
· She’ll send me some comments on the draft (supposedly minor points on the voice and language, non-structural). I will consider the comments and implement some revisions.
· She will then approach an initial batch of 6-8 publishers to see if any of them bite, or if not, what feedback they have.
· Taking on board any feedback from publishers, another round of marketing.
· Then – we’ll see. Although she didn’t say, it seems obvious that if it doesn’t get taken up, then we will need to reassess what happens with this book.
The above is the barebones of what happens next. In the meantime, I will be shifting the focus of my ‘platform-building’ to position myself more as a YA writer. For me, focus is a big issue as I have many complete(ish) draft novels in many different genres gathering dust on the shelf and bugs in the harddrive. She has emphasised (and this sounds right) that a publisher will want to make sure that I am committed not only to the book, but to the genre and to future books in the genre. This is not to preclude future work in another genre, perhaps under another name, but as a first-time novelist, showing such a commitment is key. How to actually implement this will require some thought on my part. But again, I can’t get ahead of myself. I need to focus on getting THIS book up and out the door.
So what does this all mean?
Well, it’s early days, but it means that I’m no longer going it alone. I’ve got someone on side – an ‘agent’ whose interests are (for the most part) aligned with mine. It’s a bit like being on Dragon’s Den – you give up a percentage of your business (15% standard in the industry for domestic market) to get a professional who can help open doors, and navigate you through the process of a very tough industry. This route may well not be for everyone. Self-publishing has many advantages for those who want to go it alone – potential financial upside and most importantly, complete control over the creative process. One lets go of that somewhat in the ‘traditional’ publishing route. But for me, that’s okay. I am more of a writer and less of an entrepreneur. Also, with 2 kids and a demanding day job, I don’t have time to do everything. I am more than happy to have help with the pitching and marketing side, and pay for it accordingly. This is my choice, and others may make a equally valid different choice.
The other thing this means is that as a writer, I need to start thinking ahead to producing and/or polishing other work in the genre. In other words, actually WRITING! Yeah! Because ultimately, I want to be writing. I love to write, and I need to tell my stories, even if it’s just to a back-lit screen. I hope that you will all follow me through the process. Hopefully the process will have a happy outcome. But there are no guarantees.
Now, I must go. I’ve got some characters that I really want you to meet...
To establish oneself in the world, one does all one can to seem established there already. ~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld
The public vote in the Novelicious Undiscovered 2012 Competition closes in two days. For me, it marks the end of a frenetic , yet exciting time – it’s the first time I’ve ever had even 15 seconds of fame as a writer.
And you know what? Right now I’m feeling sick with nerves.
Since the day I got the email about the shortlist, my writing universe has turned on its head. It wasn’t a complacent feeling – though it was some small validation that the last seven years hadn’t been a total waste. It was more the realisation that all along, I’d been missing the point. The writing was the first step, but only the first step. I’d completely glossed over the difficult and important next steps of finding an audience, connecting with that audience, getting my work out to that audience.
I lack the marketing gene.
I’m the kind of person that wants to work hard, do good work, and be rewarded for the quality of that work. For many years, that worked: at least in school and in my law career.
But it didn’t work in the world of writing. I did good work, sent it out to agents, got rejected, and instantly thought: ‘I need to do better.’ So I wrote something else that was better. The cycle then repeated itself through countless drafts of many different novels. Something wasn’t working.
I’m a long way from cracking that ‘something’ and becoming a success, but I’m now on a mission to mend my ways. In the past, I let my lack of the marketing gene dictate my failure. Instead of working harder and smarter, I gave up too easily. The race was lost because I never even made it to the starting blocks.
Since sending in my entry to the Novelicious contest on a whim, I’ve done more in a few short weeks than in my entire writing non-career so far. For one thing, I joined Twitter. For another, I started a website. Most importantly, I came to realise that I have a right and an obligation to market my work.
Anyone who follows even a handful of successful writers or bloggers on Twitter will immediately be bombarded by marketing messages of all descriptions (luckily, size is limited to 140 characters). ‘See my blog post’ ‘My novel is now on amazon!’ ‘Free today on Kindle...’ ‘#amwriting #amblogging #amBlowingMyOwnHornBecauseIfI Don’tNoOne ElseWillDoItForMe.
It’s daunting, it’s humbling... and it’s more than a little annoying. Maybe most of these writers will never hit the big time. Maybe most of them will never be heard. But the point is, they are out there trying. They have a voice. If the audience is out there, they have a chance of finding it.
Don't tell my mother I work in an advertising agency - she thinks I play piano in a whorehouse. ~Jacques Seguela
I’ve become one of them now. I’ve swallowed the shame of self-promotion, stamped out the feelings of low self-worth, silenced the voice shouting in my head that my writing is rubbish. I’ve acted like I have something to say, and found that I in fact do have something to say. I’ve now got some followers, learned about hashtags and scheduling tweets. I’ve now had some retweets by famous writers. I’ve shamelessly plugged and promoted the Novelicious vote and my own work.
Win or lose, I gave it my best shot.
And contrary to my initial belief, it hasn’t been all that bad. I may lack the marketing gene, but I’m learning to compensate. I actually like tweeting pithy little insights about my kids and my writing. I am finding a huge amount of amusing and insightful information that I would never have found outside of Twitter.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
I still cringe every time I sign in and find that I’ve lost a few followers. I still feel fed up that some of my best one-liners are lost in the sheer volume of the live Twitter feed. But all these things are part of the game. The world is constantly changing, and it’s dragging me along kicking and screaming.
Come the 26th when the Novelicious results are announced, I’ll either be ‘over-the-moon’ or ‘sick-as-a-parrot’. Sitting here not-so-calmly awaiting the end of the vote, I haven’t yet experienced the full blown pit-of-the-stomach disappointment, or the ‘oh-my-god-I-love-everyone-and-their-dog’ euphoria. But the day will come when the results are announced. Time marches on.
Win or lose, I am a different writer now, and
a different person. Win or lose, there’s no going
Please vote Many Mansions! http://www.novelicious.com/voting2012undiscovered.html
Some of you have acknowledged that I cleaned up a nice bit of writing that’s been around on the internet for a while and posted it here in the blog section. There was reasoning behind it, flawed or otherwise: it made a nice introductory lead in to this, which otherwise may not have held its own in the intriguing stakes. Frankly, it probably won’t anyway.
Health and Diet Versus Price and Cost
66 years have passed since the end of the Second World War. Many advances have been made in technology, medicine and health during that time, but in some ways we have regressed.
During World War II, it has been clearly demonstrated that people in general actually lived healthier lifestyles. This is contrary to what one might initially think, but rationing meant that luxury products (particularly fattier and sweeter food stuffs) were in short supply, so most people ate rather less of them. For that matter, most people ate considerably less food overall and obesity was not so... er... widespread. In relation, however, more fresh vegetables, fruit and wholemeal produce were consumed.
The availability of white bread was scarce because it required more processing, ingredient extraction, time and expense. Therefore most people rarely had alternative bread-based options to full wholemeal brown bread, which was cheaper and easier to produce.
Somewhere between back in them days and now, marketers shifted the value perception of healthier food and we generally pay more for wholemeal or brown bread than the previously more expensive to make white loaves. Right now, I don't know the cost breakdowns of brown versus white because they are more related to factors such as long-term economies of scale, overall unit sales and popularity. One thing is for certain, though: pricing strategies have caused a mindset shift in the population to such a degree that we now expect to pay more for healthier food, regardless of whether it actually costs more to get it on to store shelves and sell it.
What really gets me worked up is the wider picture of profiteering from healthy or environmentally friendly products and practices. In general terms in the UK, the more educated section of the population are more likely to want to be healthy and/or green. Or at least be seen to be. Education also correlates with wealth. Wealth correlates with an ability to pay more for things. So, for the most part, marketers set pricing strategies to deliberately take advantage of this, and their companies make tidy profit margins out of selling a healthy lifestyle.
It means that we pay a premium if we want to be healthy or green. And it means that the less well off are priced out of the market, whatever their intention. Frankly, I find it immoral. And in a time of imposed austerity, that goes double.
Over the next two months, up until my new YA book, TOR Assassin Hunter, is in the shops, I will be writing a blog describing how I transform my 45,000 words into a hardback book. This is my seventh independently published book so I pretty much know the hoops I must jump through. I’m hoping this blog will help authors contemplating the self-publishing route to know what they must face if they wish their book to be a success.
Today, I thought I’d discuss blurbs a bit. You know, the bit on the back of the book. I’m also the organiser of The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards so I spent a lot of my time reading self published author’s blurbs, and, frankly, I think this is where many authors destroy any chance of a potential reader buying their book.
When I write a blurb, I think it helps to keep two things in mind. Firstly, who do I think will want to read my book? And secondly, how do I persuade that person to buy my book? Many self-publshers make the simple mistake of thinking a blurb is there just to tell the reader what the book is about. Wrong! Well, sort of wrong. Yes, it can do that, but, most importantly, it is a marketing tool.
Take the blurb for my book, Felicity Brady and the Wizard’s Bookshop. Initially, the blurb was simply a summary of the plot. It did not sell well! Then I thought, who do I want to read my book? Young adults. And how can I persuade them to read it? A little intrigue; a blurb which just tickles the taste buds. The result was this:
‘The Wishing Shelf is not just a magic bookhop, it is not just the doorway to hundreds of magical lands, it is, most importantly, the prison to the most powerful and dangerous book ever penned.’
Galibrath Falafel, Wizard.
As a result, the sales of this book rocketed!
Another clever way of marketing your book is to put an extract from the story on the back cover. I don’t know about you, but when I pick a book of a shelf, I thumb through it and perhaps read a paragraph or two. I will then decide if I wish to buy it or not. Now, if you put an extract from your book on the back cover, you can direct your ‘would be’ reader to a part of the book you think is particularly exciting and well-written.
With Tor Assassin Hunter, as the book is a hardbac k and subsequently has a dustjacket, I can put an extract on the back and a blurb on the inner front flap, and, here it is:
The year is 1870. Major Tor, a mercenary and deadly sniper, is called from battle and ordered to stop Locust, a SWARM assassin who is planning to murder the King of Sweden.
From the rubble and watery craters of France to the shadowy corridors and tunnels of Stockholm’s old castle, Tor must discover who the assassin is and stop his, or her plan to throw a country into a barbaric and bloody war.
Accompany him if you dare into a world of bayonets and bullets, where the enemy’s sword is forever chasing his shadow.
But remember this, when you hunt assassins…
Billy Bob Buttons spine a chilling tale of betrayal and trickery.
‘So many twists, I felt dizzy.’ Bookworm
I guess the most important part of writing a blurb is this. Don’t rush it. You spent months, years, writing your baby. Why throw it away with a crap blurb. Spend a week on it, two weeks. Then put it away and go back to it later. Ask you family what they think and ask for feedback from anybody who you think may enjoy your book.
Anyway, I hope this helps. Next week I will be looking at cover design, a part of self publshing I particularly enjoy.
Billy Bob Buttons is the author of the much-loved ‘Felicity Brady and the Wizard’s Bookshop’ and ‘The Gullfoss Legends’. His new YA book, TOR Assassin Hunter, will be in the shops this February. The ebook of TOR Assassin Hunter wil be on Amazon on 20th February at the introductory price of only 0.99 cents.