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‘If content is king, stories are YASSS QWEEN’: 3 things I learnt from BrightonSEO

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Before I worked in content, I was just a writer. I didn’t realise there was a difference. You write words for different reasons – to entertain, inform, sell, encourage, or a hundred others. But there’s a moment where text changes to content.

Content is there to fill a space. It is there to tell search engines that you exist, as well as provide your audience with something of use. As an author, content is usually promotional, or helpful. I write content on my blog to let you know how I write my books, what my process is and how you can replicate it.

BrightonSEO is a digital marketing conference. It covers search engine optimisation, PPC, link building, digital growth and content. Which is why I was there.

Content is super relevant for both bloggers and authors. Often we’re told to have a blog, or write blog posts, and we’re not really sure why or what they’re meant to achieve. It’s just sending out content into the world to try and get links back. I have a few tips about content marketing you can check out if you want to know more.

But for now, here’s 5 things I learnt from Brighton SEO that might be useful for authors and bloggers:

  1. Content is king, but stories are YASSS QWEEN!

In the digital marketing world, there’s a saying: content is king. It’s almost become a cliche. It means that when you produce great content, you can achieve a huge amount. But it also means that you can’t trick the system any more. Years ago, Google would rank you highly if you stuffed enough keywords into an article. Now, Google focuses on value – you need to be writing something that is in-depth enough, interesting enough and offers something new to your readers. If your content isn’t good enough, the internet won’t reward you with attention.

I heard from a few different speakers at the conference and they all backed up exactly how I feel: content is important, but it’s nothing in comparison to story.

Content is writing with purpose, and it has it’s use, but it’s stories that I care about, and I’m willing to bet it’s what you care about too. We like to know the interesting tidbits behind the brand, we want to know where an author works, or what led someone to their career. We want adventures – we want to follow a character down a rabbit hole. It’s why influencers sell us stuff. We care about them, and when they do something, we’re invested.

When you’re writing a blog post, even if you’re just sharing information – look for the story, because that’s what your readers are looking for too.

2. Nobody cares…until they do

You can’t expect people to care about your projects. Which is an unpleasant thought for a lot of creators, a bit like the realisation that no one else really finds your kids as fascinating as you do. You are invested in your stories, your creations. So how do you make other people care?

Stop trying to make them. The more you attempt to force someone to care, the more you try to sell someone, the more they retreat. What makes them lean in?

Say it with me – stories.

Don’t tell someone what you’ve done, tell them why you’ve done it, what problem you’re solving, what’s driven you to make it happen. Tell them about the process, the passion, and what you’re achieving. When someone asks me about my books, I don’t tell them ‘it’s about a girl who goes to this place and does X, Y, and Z.’ I tell them it’s a story about loneliness, or grief, and the experience of walking through it, and emerging on the other side. I tell them about the spark of the moment when the idea came into being, or the hilarity of a naughty misspelling at 2am. Find your audience and tell them the story they’ll care about.

3. Ingenuity over budget

It’s easy to think that you need a big budget to get anyone to notice you, but what you really need is to think outside the box. That phrase is incredibly annoying and cliched, but it’s true. Take a few steps away from your focus and see where it takes you – you might stumble onto something excellent! It’s hard to find a niche, and as an author it’s hard to carve out your space in the arena – often it’s difficult to imagine there’s more to you than your story. I definitely feel this way. I write interesting stories because I’m not very interesting myself!

But there’s no reason that a cause or a passion that’s part of you can’t influence your promotion. Your projects can sit alongside each other – don’t be afraid to let who you are move beyond your creations.

It’s easy to think the only way to be seen is to spend money on promotion, adverts or anything else. But consider how publishing is moving on – seeing bloggers talk about books online can be more useful in getting sales than a big advert on the tube. One is more expensive and seems more impressive, but is it really doing the job? Pick what your aims are and work backwards. Budget is a consideration, but buzz is worth more than bucks.

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Separating money from art is not only class privilege, it’s a mistake

‘So…is that lucrative, writing?’‘Do you make a lot of money doing that?’

‘Why do you have a day job, if you’re so good then?’

These are just a few of the questions I’ve fielded when I’ve said I write books. Originally, due to my pride, I used to say that I made good money (hey, I survived as a freelancer on my book money for a few years, despite the fear and workaholism almost destroying me – that’s good money). Then I started saying no, but the industry had changed, and that self published authors did well. I referenced Mark Dawson, and Joanna Penn, and the autonomy and possibility of kindle.

Then I just started saying ‘no’.

As much as my university professors are likely to disagree when it comes to literature, money matters. And we authors can pretend we don’t care, that the value of our books is in writing them, and enjoying the journey, and seeing the cover, and celebrating publication day with a glass of bubbly (and all those things are wonderful, don’t get me wrong) – but we do care.

We care, because if we’re not selling, we’re not being read. I’m not here to argue about value and ebooks and 99p and what value is a book, because it’s been done, and I still don’t really know where I stand.

What I do know is that I consider my books a business. A creative business, but a business nonetheless. Why wouldn’t I? These are not days past where the arts were reserved for the upper classes who could depend on their trust funds or wealthy patrons. There is no shame in wanting your creative endeavours to pay well. We pay for movies, we pay to watch plays and operas and go to gigs. Art has value because people enjoy it – creating is to entertain others.

So when I see my royalty cheques and deflate, or see my sales, or Amazon rank, sometimes that does send you spiralling. Perhaps your little book is worthless. Perhaps, regardless of wonderful reviews, and 5 star ratings and people sending you emotional messages about how this book made them feel, the real proof is in the money. Because if it’s not selling, no one’s reading it. And I don’t care what anyone says – if you’ve gone to the trouble of writing a book and getting it published, you want people to read it.

I was taught at university that writing was this powerful, holy thing. It was reserved for genius, and anything less was worthless. And you know the one way to ruin genius? It’s to consider the baseness of money. Because you should write because the spirit tells you to, not considering saleability, or style, or genre or audience. To bring money into literature was to lower it.

I’ll reserve another blog post for those professor-authors who were guaranteed thousands of paperback copies bought by their students studying them on the syllabus each year, but I will say this – money matters. Money that allows you to eat and pay rent so you can stop your stomach growling long enough to write, matters. Money that tells you that one day perhaps you will do this full time, you are valued and this thing your writing mattered enough to a reader to spare a couple of quid to read more from you…these things matter.

It’s a completely different argument when it comes to whether to write to market or not. I fall on a spectrum, and I’m sure authors who get down off their high horse and write to market do a lot better than I do. Similarly, authors who write their authentic story and are found at the right time can do brilliantly. I’m just saying that somewhere in there, your audience needs to exist. Don’t think of them always as you’re writing, visualising them wrinkling their nose and critiquing your work, but remember your old next door neighbour, who loved her thrillers, and your best friend who turned to the same book when she was sad. Markets matter, readers matter, and yes, I’m sorry, but money matters.

Authors who say it doesn’t either have such high paying jobs that they enjoy, that it doesn’t matter (and even that seems ridiculous to me – how can not selling not matter? Isn’t it the point?) or their partners have high paying jobs and they can write without worrying. Which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. Well jel, and all that.

But surely, even if the money is just a bonus…it’s about the sales? It’s about each click on the ‘buy’ button, each finger grasping a book at the checkout – the first choice before devouring a story? It’s about being chosen. That is where the value lies. Once you have them, you can impress, or disappoint, but the reader has to choose you.

We are forever the sad one-eyed bear sitting on the shelf. We are Woody when Buzz comes along. And so we keep writing. Keep hoping this one will be the one where it all explodes, and finally the value in the words is matched by the value in the numbers.

In a profession where people cannot help but judge you if you’re not a full time author, where they can’t stop themselves from asking what money you’re making, where they seem to mistakenly believe that if you’re not making money you’re crap, and if you are making money you’re over-rated, I’m here to tell you:

Often it seems like selling and success in the book industry is a complete fucking mystery.

And that’s okay!

We’ll still be here, writing either way.

We’ll be broken down, and sad, and working away like that cliche actress waiting for her big break, but we’ll be here.

As long as we can afford to be.

I do wonder how many authors are lost to the poverty of writing. I don’t mean just the inability to afford to write as an income stream, I mean that broken feeling of unworthiness. Bad sales, bad money, these can lead to losing publishers, losing agents, losing hope. People who were once so certain that one day their ship would come in, the ones who have had to rebrand themselves with new author names over and over, just to stay fresh and interesting, just to pique curiosity. It’s a special kind of poverty when the thing you’re best at isn’t good enough. When eventually you have to give up, because you may be 10 people’s favourite writer, but the numbers don’t add up, and seeing the latest thing you put your heart and soul into sinking is a painful place to be.

But don’t worry – we’ll still be here. We can’t stop writing. We love it. How does supply and demand work when you can’t stop supplying?

I don’t have any answers. I’ll still be here, writing my behind off, telling my stories. I’ll still have my account just for my royalties, and when they come in I’ll still buy myself something nice. At the beginning it was a new computer, a weekend away. Now it’s more a glass of wine and a bag of veggie Percy Pigs, but I still celebrate sales. Because they’re not the only thing of value, but this is a business, right? So as in every business, you have to assess what’s working and what not.

What can you do? Well, you can buy books! If you got a free copy, but you see it’s only 99p and you loved it, buy it! Or recommend it to someone else! Or leave a review!

Or maybe let the author know that the book meant something to you, because in my eyes, that’s the only thing worth more than money.

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Being an author doesn’t always look how you think it does – but that’s okay

I have been doing this author thing now for 7 years, which is kind of insane. I’ve learnt a huge amount in that time, about all manner of things. Submissions, and promotion, using social media, pricing strategies and the emotional curveballs that can crop up at any point during any book.

I’ve also learnt that no matter how many books I’ve written, how many have had great reviews, or bestseller status or are published by a great publisher, people will always doubt me when I say I’m an author. They will second guess my opinion, they’ll ask for advice and then ignore it.

Because I don’t look like what a ‘successful author’ looks like in their mind.

So what does a successful author look like to someone outside the publishing world?

  • They don’t have a day job because they make enough money from their books
  • They have print books as well as ebooks
  • These print books are ALWAYS available everywhere in every bookshop as well as supermarkets
  • They don’t have to bother with social media because their books talk for them
  • Their book win awards, are ‘critically acclaimed’ or in some sort of famous book club
  • Their publisher/agent are a big name with lots of big writers attached
  • They get movie/TV deals and foreign rights

Am I a 'real' author_

So, now that most successful working authors I know feel sufficiently terrible about themselves, let’s unpack that, shall we?

A huge number of authors who get to stay at home to write full time are able to do so because they already had a very well paying job before they quit to write, or their partner earns a good wage. That’s not to say you can’t make excellent money writing, but those who do are few and far between. Self publishing is opening up more opportunities for that, but a huge amount of work still has to go into it. Society of authors said a little while ago the average wage for an author is around £11,000 a year, so you know what, yes a lot of us still have day jobs, or part time work to support the writing. Perhaps some of us are dreaming of the day we’ll get there, but until we do, we’re still real writers.

There are more mid level authors than huge name authors or unknown authors. What’s midlevel? People who sell books! They have their own followings, they have decent sales. They may get foreign rights and audio, they may have an agent, they may have dear readers asking every week when their new book is out. They write novels and they continue to grow their readership. It’s likely they have another job too. Mid level authors are a huge part of the author world – just because you haven’t heard of an author doesn’t mean they’re not doing well, they’re just working their little corner of the readerverse.

When people outside publishing think of authors, they think of the huge names who become self-fulfilling prophecies. The ones who have a brand, determining that fans will buy their books. We all have those authors who we won’t hesitate to buy their latest work as soon as it comes out. But for every author you’ve heard of, there are a few hundred more who are unknown to you but are still doing pretty damn well. There’s probably some really excellent bands out there you haven’t heard of too – doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t creating great music to a fan base who loves them. Politely, the internet may make us think that we’re the centre of the universe, but we’re not.

If you want to hear me blather on about ebooks and print again, you can do that by reading my last blog post. ‘Nuff said.

Assuming you must be writing drivel just because it’s not award winning or literary is super annoying and something I come across regularly. I write romantic comedies. Sure. I want people to laugh. But don’t tell me I don’t spends weeks and months and years plotting out stories and characters that share a message, one of positivity and hope and healing. Every book I write has a point, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t sell. I’m tired of hearing crap about literary fiction because honestly, I was trained to write that and for every excellent book that’s proclaimed a ‘masterpiece’ there’s another 500 books that are narcissistic navel-gazing twaddle. We write to be read, not to feed our own egos. There is nothing shameful about writing books that people enjoy.

The idea that your agent or publisher have to be famous and ‘heard of’ is ridiculous. Please see previous point about being the centre of the universe. Readers aren’t involved in publishing – I’d be surprised if most (non-blogger) readers could name the company that published their favourite books. Just because you haven’t heard of something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

There is no other profession I’ve experienced where, when you tell someone what you do, they immediately pick holes and try to make you feel small, or like you’re doing something wrong. I’m not ‘waiting for my big break’ (also, if you’ve met me you know I don’t wait for anything, I’m out there busting my arse to make it work) – this is what the working profession is. We write books, and we submit them, and sometimes they’re published. Sometimes they do well, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the definition of ‘well’ changes. Sometimes the book you put your soul into has great reviews but few sales. Sometimes the book you didn’t feel pleased with sells a huge number of copies but the reviews stink.

This is the life of an author – one of constant balance and struggle and growth. One of deadlines and plot holes and revisions and edits – these are things that happen whatever ‘level’ of author you are. There has always been snobbery in the literary world, whether for romantic fiction, or ebooks, or self-published books. It’s time that people stopped questioning this job. Firstly, because it’s rude, and secondly, because you’re not really listening to the answer.

What other profession would have responses like:

‘Well, how much do you earn?’

‘But are you like, a real author, or just ebooks?’

‘What, so you print them yourself and sell them places?’

‘But I’ve never heard of you.’

‘Well I’ve always thought I could write a book, so I guess I can call myself an author.’

‘Well that’s very nice for you, isn’t it?’

‘If you were a real author you wouldn’t be working full time would you?’

‘Oh so you’re going to be the next [insert absurdly famous author that is usually JK Rowling] here.’

Stop. Just stop. When Sandra tells me she’s a marketing manager do I ask her if she’s really a marketing manager, in line with the little I know about marketing managers from watching movies? When I meet Dave the accountant, do I ask him how good he actually is at his job, because I’ve previously used numbers in life so therefore I’m an expert?

Clue: no.

Please stop defining writers by incredibly harsh standards – there’s a whole bunch of mechanics going on back here that you don’t see. There’s daily deals and Bookbubs and promotions and excellent editor feedback and audio deals and agents and all this amazing stuff that feels like we’re getting promoted, or getting a pay rise, if this job were in the real world.

Mid level authors exist. Some aspire to be huge household names. Some want that space on the shelf in Waterstones, or the movie adaptation (hey, who doesn’t?) and it won’t happen for all of us.

But this is still our job. And we’re here, doing it. So let us do that without shame or questions or doubt.

If you’re writing a novel, you’re an author. That’s it. Go forth and take over the world. Or don’t. It’s cool. Share your stories and make yourself proud. You’ve got this.

Digital has changed what it means to be an author

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Dear readers, please stop telling us our books aren’t real

What makes a book?

Not even a great book, necessarily, but a book in general. Is it, as we are taught as children, that it has a cover and a spine and a blurb and some pictures and a story that ends in happily ever after?

Maybe it’s that huge hardback that has all the pictures of different animals in the zoo, or the tellings of the church, or the one that gives you other words for the words you know?

Is it, as we’re taught at GCSE or A Level or at university, a conduit to the writer, a symbol of their life, a collection of images that mean something else, a hidden language to be discovered by the critic?

Nope…there’s actually only one thing that makes a book…

Words.

The words can be any way they wish, really. They can be piled up together as a huge manuscript, typed or handwritten, stapled or tied with string. They can be documents typed out over and over again, telling a story in perfect placement of word after word after word.

The words can be arranged in patterns like in poetry books, where white space tells it’s own story. They can be told in chapters weekly, sent straight to your inbox or collected from a comic book shop like a golden treasure.

All a book really needs to be a book is words.

Words on a page.

Or on a screen.

Real_Real Sassy

I am a digital first author. And we are tired of being told we’re not writing real books. Ebooks are real books. The medium you consume a book through does not define it.

Yes, sometimes it’s gorgeous to hold something in your hands, and we are oh-so glad when you say you would love to cherish this thing we wrote by putting it on a shelf, flicking the pages with your thumbs and dog earring the pages (well, I would, I know some people are against that sort of chicanery).

But publishing is a strange world. Believe me, I’ve had a physical book and it’s hard to sell. The world does not make us J K Rowlings. It does not make us Stephen Kings. Not every author you know is going to be a big time traditional author. Some of us are out here in the middle, just doing our thing and telling our tales.

Ebooks are truly extraordinary things. They have opened up a sphere for everyone to have accessible reading material – audio for those who struggle to see, or to read. Ebook readers help with bigger fonts and brighter screens. They especially help those of us who used to pack ten books for a seven day holiday and had to pay over the baggage allowance (Kindle, I shall be forever grateful).

I know we’re in a time of ‘reality’ and ‘alternate reality’, ‘online’ and ‘offline’, and for some people, things you can’t hold in your hand aren’t real to them. But much like other things you can’t hold in your hand (peace, love, wellbeing, the sound of waves, laughter, memories) they are in existence and bring us joy.  There are books I know only by the voice of the person who read them to me, there are books I remember in my heart as stories that will stay with me, even though I don’t physically hold the book.

A book comes alive when it’s being read – it doesn’t need a dust jacket for that magic to happen.

This generation is less about ownership, and more about sharing and borrowing – we don’t buy albums, we stream them. We don’t buy movies, we stream them. And we have that with books too. As creators and consumers, we’re moving into a new era, and it’s gorgeous, it really is. It means so many more people can enjoy stories and access them. It means they’re affordable and shareable. Ebooks make shouting about that story you loved so much easier.

My books are real. They have words and characters and dialogue and punctuation and a whole heap of heart and soul in there. But even if they didn’t have half of that, even if they were just some words, in some sort of order, telling some sort of story, they would still make a book. Ebooks are not the sad little shadow behind the hardback Peter Pans. They’re out there flying too, zipping through the internet to that person who clicked because they just had to have it right now.

In the older days of publishing, being an author was about hardback and paperback, drinking warm wine in a bookshop for your launch, and squirrelling away in poverty for the sake of your art. Perhaps, if you were lucky, it was the Richard and Judy book club, or a huge advert on the tube that you could pose in front of.

Did any of that change the story? Did any of that change the fact that it was a book and people read it, and they liked it or they didn’t?

I am incredibly proud to be a digital first author, to create stories that are accessible and immediate and alive. Those stories exist in a screen that you can take anywhere with you – you can conjure my books at the touch of a button, whenever you like. You can find that line you loved send it to a friend a million miles away. You can sink deep into that story and find the author and tell them that it made you feel something.

And there’s nothing more real than that.

 

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Q and A with Terri Nixon

Today I’m excited to welcome Terri Nixon to the blog. I was absolutely blown away by her book Penhaligon’s Attic, a historical drama set in Cornwall, and I gobbled it up in a couple of days. When I realised it was part of a series, I immediately pre-ordered book two, Penhaligon’s Pride, and now I’ve finished that, I’m desperate for book three!

Welcome to Terri!

Penhaligons Pride

 

How did you get into writing?

At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I’ve just always done it. At school I used to write stories for my friends, hooking them up with the boys they fancied; accepting challenges from my colleagues, I used to make up silly (and often quite rude!) rhyming ditties at work; I wrote my first novella in the mid-80s – a sort of chick-lit offering, inspired by Jilly Cooper’s series; I then moved on to horror stories which I had published in several anthologies; and then, in the early noughties, I began writing what would eventually become The Dust of Ancients, the first book in my Mythic Fiction series. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, to be honest!

What is Penhaligon’s Pride about?

Penhaligon’s Pride is the second book in a Cornish drama series set in the early 1900s. There are breaches of trust; the dangers of working in the tin mines; secrets hundreds of years old that won’t stay hidden; and the ferocity of the Cornish coast that brings out the best – and the worst – in the people who live with it. The central family, the Penhaligons, are neither the richest nor the poorest in the community, but they have their own struggles and joys, bitter-sweet tastes of first love, and brushes with danger and death. It’s very community-driven, with a full supporting cast! The central story is of how a careless slip of the tongue results in a deadly blackmail attempt, and all that stems from that.

Penhaligon’s Pride is a sequel – did you always know there would be more than one book?

I actually thought Penhaligon’s Attic (the first book in the series) would be a standalone; it was supposed to be a traditional Edwardian ghost story, all wrapped up and solved. But after I’d put it away for couple of years and written two other series, the premise changed, the ghosts disappeared, and I’d already discovered the joy to be found in creating characters I could visit again and again. So when I re-started it, I knew it would be a more complex story than I could contain in one book, and that I wanted to follow the characters through several storylines. I have deliberately not called it a trilogy, as it could conceivably continue long beyond three books.

Who is your favourite character in the book and why?

I think Anna Penhaligon (formerly Garvey) has to be my favourite. She’s come from a privileged background, and she’s had to flee her home, with her daughter, to start afresh in a close-knit town where she knows no-one. But she’s come through her various trials with a wry sense of humour intact, and with a strength she never knew she possessed. She’s become the heart of a community that initially mistrusted her, and running a pub frequented by working men whose tempers often flare, she’s shown she suffers no fools. Anna is in her mid-thirties, and she’s strong but fallible; she’s a warm, compassionate woman, and her love for her family is what drives her. Sometimes down entirely the wrong road…


What are you working on at the moment?

With the third Penhaligon book finished, and under contract, I’ve been able to turn my attention to the Mythic Fiction series that sprang from The Dust of Ancients. The one I’m writing now is a prequel, set in the English Civil War era, and anyone who’s reading The Penhaligon Saga, will recognise the main story as one that’s coming to light in that series, through the discovery of some old journals. The book is called The Unquiet Dawn, and I hope to release it in the first quarter of this year. I’m also gearing up for the launch of my scribbling alter-ego, Polly Duncan, who keeps nagging me to give her a fair crack of the WIP. (see what I did there?!)

***

 

Terri was born in Plymouth, UK. At the age of 9 she moved with her family to Cornwall, to the village featured in Jamaica Inn — North Hill — where she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since. She also discovered apple-scrumping, and how to jump out of a hayloft without breaking any bones, but no-one’s ever offered to pay her for doing those.

Penhaligon’s Pride is her eighth novel to be published.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Terri-Nixon/e/B00DI8R8K6
Website: http://www.terrinixon.com
Twitter: @terriNixon
Blog: http://www.terrinixon.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/terri.nixon.page

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Cover reveal!

In case you missed it, the cover for Prosecco and Promises is up! It’s also available for pre-order on Amazon, or on Netgalley if you’re a blogger.

As many of you might have guessed, it’s time for Mia’s story (though you’ll still see a bit of Savvy here and there too!):

Since her mother died when Mia was a child, her dad has been her best friend and her idol. Now, the cancer he survived years before is back, and this time there’s no fighting it. To make matters worse her dad’s last request is for Mia to leave him and visit her mother’s family on the Italian island of Ischia so she doesn’t have to be there at the end.
Arriving at the sun-soaked island, Mia is embraced by the warm, crazy family she doesn’t know. While she waits for the phone to ring with the dreaded news, Mia desperately looks for a connection to the mother she never knew. Stumbling upon an antique shop run by the charming Antonio and his grouchy but handsome grandson Salvatore, she throws herself into helping with the shop restoration. As Mia and Salvatore’s bickering soon turns to chemistry, will she risk having her heart broken when she knows what’s waiting for her at home?
p and p