Free Indie Publishing tips

Lesson 15: How to pitch your book to a traditional publisher

By Jocelyn Watkin©, 10 October 2012

While I am a committed indie publisher, I accept that "there are different horses for different courses".  If you think you will get more money and satisfaction from being published by someone else, then that's two good reasons to consider a traditional publisher. 
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I am sometimes asked how to approach a publisher as, in the past, I've helped writers to craft what is known as their 'pitch' letter to a publisher.  

The word 'pitch' in this context means something that would pique a publisher's interest to hear more about a book.

Imagine if you were a friendly baseball or softball pitcher.  In a real game, the pitcher aims to throw (pitch) the ball so it is difficult for the batter to hit. However, in a friendly game or maybe one to encourage 'newbies' to take part, you would throw the ball (pitch it) so it is easy for the batter to hit it.  You need to do the same with a publisher, that is, you need to say all of the right things about your book (pitch it) so that the publisher can easily connect with it and want to power it right out of the ball park (i.e. want to publish, promote and distribute it to become a best seller).

A pitch letter should briefly explain your book (this means REALLY brief) and the many good reasons why a publisher should publish it.  Please note: good reasons to publish are not stated as 'everyone will like this' or 'my Mum thinks it's good'.

Here are 7 steps to perfect pitch:

1. Send your book to the right publisher for your genre 

There is no point sending your pictorial "Colourful Gardens" book to an academic publisher (unless your book also has a major academic focus). Do your research on what particular publishers want and select the one that best fits with the subject and themes of your book.
2.  Send EXACTLY what your selected publisher's guidelines require  
Once again, your research (using publishers' websites, etc) will tell you what you need to do - if a publisher requires a 200-word synopsis and a 3,000-word extract from the book, then that's exactly what you send.  Of course, there's some leeway like sending 2900 to 3100 words, but don't send 5,000 words. The inability to follow simple instructions may be an indicator to a publisher that you won't be able to do other simple tasks for them either. 

3. Send ONLY crafted, 'polished' writing and make sure it has been proof-read several times.
This point should be obvious.  Your manuscript or extract, including the words you use in your pitch letter, are strong indicators of your ability to write and to write well.  If you can't get this right, then a publisher is far less likely to consider you for publication.  If sending an extract, it doesn't have to be from the start of the book.  Always send your best writing, even if it is from the middle of your book.

Your book needs to be finished and have gone through several completed drafts, before sending an extract.  There are two reasons for this: A) A publisher might ask to see the rest of the book and, if it's not finished, you could take too long to complete it and therefore miss your chance; B) If it is not finished, your book might change in completion process and cause the extract to be less relevant, or worse, not fit with the final conclusion/ending of your book. 

4. Include a 'killer' pitch letter
This is not just 'any old' letter you knock off in 5 minutes.  It needs to be carefully crafted and designed to catch and keep a publisher's attention.  It needs to be short and snappy, but include all of the right information, such as:
  • Book title, genre and target readership
  • Extremely brief synopsis - this means no more than 2-3 lines (not sentences) on what the book is about.  Some publishers' guidelines allow you to send a separate synopsis of a few hundred words. All you need in your pitch letter is a succinct summary of that. Don't waste space and time by re-telling the plot in your pitch letter.
  • Why your book is unique/different/special.  You can't just say your book is special - you need to provide the reasons for this and back this up with facts. i.e. "My book, Novel Gardens, features well-known NZ writers [insert 2-3 key names here] and photos of their secret gardens where they grow their books."
  • Why you are qualified to write this book (credentials, awards, experience).  There is a fine line between being confident and just boastful, so let the facts speak for themselves. I.e. you are a member of the NZ Society of Authors and have a Bachelor in Botany and Plant Science.  Don't claim to be the next [insert name of famous writer] or declare that 'millions of people will love your book'.
  • Describe how you can help with promotion and marketing. List a few ideas about how you could speak and connect with the target audience to help sales (i.e. list your Twitter followers, fans of Facebook, how you like public speaking and have arranged a speaking spot at the next, for example, botanists' conference.)
  • Include testimonials (if possible) from people that add to your credibility. If you are writing about animals and natural history, then a supportive quote about your book from the likes of David Attenborough would certainly help with promotion.
  • If you are requested to submit by post (i.e. in hard copy) use your usual, writer's business letterhead or just plain, white A4 paper.  Do NOT use cutesy stationery or other gimmicks. Always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (of the right size to contain your manuscript) if you want your hard-copy manuscript returned.
  • Keep your pitch letter to ONE page if at all possible (a page and half at maximum).
  • Proof-read your letter and get someone else to proof-read it one last time before you send it. 
5. Be prepared to wait 
Publishers are often deluged with manuscripts. It can take weeks, even months, before you get a reply.  If you haven't heard anything in 6-weeks, then send a follow-up request (always be polite and courteous, of course). 

6. Always reply promptly if asked for more information
If a publisher asks you for more information or for more chapters of your book, then respond as quickly as possible, even if they have taken 'an age' to get back to you.  That's one of the reasons your book needs to be complete and 'polished' before sending any extract to a publisher.  The only exception to this is if you are pitching a concept for a book and want confirmation from a publisher on the particular focus you will take.  This is a completely different approach to a publisher and not further discussed here.

Even when responding quickly to a publisher, it could take months or even years before the final decision is made on whether they will proceed with your book. If it is a 'goer', you might have to accept decisions made by the publisher about the cover design and how the book is edited and presented.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, although it depends on whether you agree with the changes or not. 

7. Start considering whether you should indie publish (self-publish)
Once you've completed the steps above and started to build your following (potential readers) in preparation for eventually having your book accepted, you might consider why you are doing all of this work for a mere 10% royalty.  It may have been faster and easier to indie publish your book. You might make more money that way, too.

Many writers have indie-published first, built up a following and then been accepted by a traditional publisher. However, I can imagine the savvy indie-published writer would be in the position to negotiate a better contract with a trad publisher, and only if lots more sales were going to happen as a result of this partnership.

Whatever you decide on in terms of Indie publishing or traditional publishing, your book needs to be well-written, edited and designed.  There always has to be a marketing and sales plan. 

For more information:

  • The Story Bridge article on "Seven Good Reasons to Self-Publish": Please scroll down to Lesson 10.  
  • Indie Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Click here to find out the truth from one author who tested it.  
  • Article: The best way to traditional publishing is by indie publishing. Click on this link to find out how.
  • A literary agent's view on pitch letters: Click here to read it.  
By Jocelyn Watkin© 
10 October 2012
Lesson 14: Ten lies that website designers like to tell you

By Jocelyn Watkin©
6 March 2012

Many website designers lie to you. 

These lies are not often intentional but misconceptions parroted by those who don't know any better. However, their lack of understanding means you lose - sales, opportunities and importantly, credibility.

So, how do you get a website that really works and doesn't waste your money? How do you get up onto to the bridge to get out of the geek-infested swamp? 

Maybe you should you let your teenager/grandson/neighbour's kid whack up something for you to save money? (Absolutely not!)

Not all website designers 'get' marketing. Even fewer teenagers understand 'the real world' of business. These two groups may build a website for you in less than an hour but, if they lack the understanding about your audience and what drives your customers' buying decisions, then it will cost you big time.

To help you, I've identified the Top 10 'misconceptions' about the Internet and websites so you can cross the bridge to get out of the swamp:
  • The world will automatically beat a path to your door (your website).
  •  A link to your social media page is all you need to promote your website.
  •  SEO is essential for Google to find your site.
  •  Email is dead.
  •  Printed books are dead.
  •  Get your books/products listed on Amazon and you'll sell zillions.
  •  You must have a shopping cart to sell anything.
  •  Websites cost at least $1500.
  •  You can't build your own website because you have to have the 'bells and whistles'.
  •  You have to know HTML to upload fresh content and stories onto your website.
 Lie 1: The world will automatically beat a path to your door (your website).

Truth: If you have a website then like any other business opportunity you have to promote it, otherwise no one will visit your site (other than family and friends) and the world certainly won't beat a path to your door.

According to widely respected Netcraft Web Server survey there are over 612 billion websites in the world as at February 2012, which is an increase of 30 million from their January 2012 survey. While some of these sites might not be active and several won't be in English, there'll still be hundreds of millions of other websites that you have to compete with. So, while there is a chance that readers might stumble over your website, this is likely to be just a few.

There is little point in having a website if you don't promote yourself and your site to get people to buy from you.
Lie 2: A link from your social media page (such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc) is all you need to promote your website.

Truth: While links from your social media pages can help promote your website and we encourage you to do this, you need to do a lot more. 

If no one is following your social media site then you are in the same position as Point 1 above.  You need to build a number 'friends' and followers on your social media sites and your communication has to be so interesting that those followers enjoy reading it and will also forward your messages and website links onto their networks.

However, as not all of your buyers will be using social media, you will also have to promote your website in other ways. At the very least your website address should be included on everything you use and do: at the bottom of your emails, on your business cards, on the back cover of your books, in advertisements and any promotional materials you use. Give your business card to everyone you meet.

Lie 3: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is essential for Google to find your site.

Truth: SEO is only ONE marketing tool that you could use. There are others, such as content marketing (having fresh and useful information for your customers on your website), which could be much more effective for you.

SEO is promoted by website designers (and others) that you usually pay extra for. SEO is based on the idea that you can increase the chances of your website being found by search engines (such as Google). At its most basic level, SEO analyses the search words and terms typed into Google (and similar) and, on the basis of this analysis, recommends the most frequently used search words and phrases as the best key words you could use on your site.          
While SEO has been successful in the past at increasing both traffic to a website and subsequently the rankings of that site by search engines, its importance is waning.

Google and other search engines are increasingly using different searching and ranking techniques (based on complicated algorithms) and, as such, traditional SEO is not as successful as it has been in the past. Google is also developing techniques that will tailor search results to the type of requests made by individual users and this will further reduce the effectiveness of SEO (in its current form).

What is more important than SEO for a new website is links from other sites, especially sites that have credibility.  However, even if you score lots of links from trusted sources, if you have little of interest on your site, then viewers are not likely to hang around on your site for long or bother coming back. As such, content creation (fresh material, articles and stories on your website) and then promoting it (content marketing) will be critical for early success in driving traffic (readers and viewers) to your site.  Of course, it's vital for ongoing success, too.

SEO might still be useful for you but make sure you understand what you are getting for your money and what you are trying to achieve. If you are prepared to pay for help with SEO make sure they also know how to optimise the fast growing searches from users with mobile phones. Instead, maybe you should consider hiring the services of someone who can write fresh and relevant content for your site.

Lie 4: Email is dead as everybody uses texts or social media instead.

Truth: Email is alive, well and kicking!  Long live email!

Email and e-newsletters [sent via email] remain one of the cheapest and effective forms of promotion for any business. It's hard to beat in terms of customer satisfaction and in building credibility for you and what you have for sale - but only if used properly. Your business's list of contacts (called a data base) should receive regular e-newsletters and useful information from you (interesting content as well as things for sale). Ensure that those on your database have agreed to be on your list (this agreement is known as permission marketing).

While social media is useful in terms of networking and you should definitely make the most of it, not everyone uses it or will ever use it. Always use the forms of communication that your customers use and don't ever think there is only one way to keep in touch (unless you know 100% that ALL of your customers AND potential customers use this ONE way).

The same answer goes for the type of books you will sell. If you want to know whether you should sell just e-books instead of printed books, then read on.

Lie 5: Printed books are dead as everyone is reading e-books

Truth: There are still plenty of buyers for print books and there will be for some time. Many people are now reading e-books, but while there is a demand for print you shouldn't cut yourself off from those sales.

As with the communication debate (social media vs. email) there isn't just ONE way for people to read. It depends on your particular audience and what they prefer. Bear in mind, though, that this same audience will read books in different formats depending on their circumstances. They may want a PDF to read on their computer or lap top, but a different e-book format for their iPad, iPhone or Android phone, especially when they are travelling. They may be interested in a print book to place on their book shelves (yes, they still have those) or to keep on their bedside cabinet or to give to someone as a gift. They might be interested in an audio book, as well.

So, which book format should you choose? Don't pick just one. You should never restrict your sales by thinking there is only one option. The smart idea is to format your text once (and in a way that can be easily converted to other formats) and then provide a way to sell all formats of your book. Many of the e-book publishers provide cheap and easy-to-use options to do this.

As discussed, having a printed book as well as an e-book provides further sales opportunities. With modern Print-on-Demand (PoD) techniques, you can print books in very small numbers (less than 10, if you wish). This enables you to keep just a small number of books in stock to fulfil orders easily and quickly, but without the risk of having 100s languishing in boxes when the last buyer has switched to e-books.

Lie 6: Get your books/products listed on Amazon and you'll sell zillions.

Truth: We've already established that without promotion, sales do not automatically happen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying: "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Sadly, this is not the case in reality. You might have the best product in the world but make no sales.

The main reason why books and other products sell well is because they are promoted - by you or by someone else. It is a sad truth that books written by celebrities [who are not authors] are usually best sellers because those celebrities promote themselves all of the time. Read points 1 - 5 above again. Rinse and repeat. Second verse same as the first.

Lie 7: You must have a shopping cart to sell anything on your site.

Truth: A simple link to PayPal or an online retailer is all you need to list your books/e-books/DVDs and other products for sale.

Shopping carts can be useful, especially if you have lots of items for sale on your site, but the carts can cost a lot to install on your website. This can be a financial obstacle when you are first starting out with your website. In addition, some carts require off-putting passwords for your customers who may then be reluctant to proceed, especially in the early days when you are still unknown to them.

PayPal is one of the world's most trusted payment methods. While PayPal and online outlets will charge your something for this opportunity, these costs are minimal especially when compared with the cost of the shopping cart design.

Lie 8: Websites cost at least $1500 

Truth: You can actually build your own website for free if you do-it-yourself with (this is a free weblog publishing tool provided by Google) or using the free software provided by

However, you STILL need to understand your audience and what makes them want to buy from you. A good website will reflect what you need and will respond to the needs of your buyers and audience.

A fully, interactive e-commerce site would cost at least $1500 for someone else to build it (such as a website designer) and about the same again every year to host and service it. However, if you don't have that sort of money you can make a start for free (as mentioned above and bearing your audience in mind) or pay a designer to produce a basic design for around $300. (Note: many of these basic designs are made using Blogger or Word Press)

Lie 9: You can't build your own website because you have to have the 'bells and whistles'.

Truth: Both or offer easy-to-use designs, templates and colours (plus hundreds of 'bells and whistles') that can be customised to suit you and your business. You won't need to know HTML (a computer language) to use these sites. In time, you may need to bring in expert help to develop your site into a fully integrated, e-commerce site but you can pay for that as and when it is necessary.

Don't forget, many website designers use Word Press or Blogger templates as their starting point.

A word of warning: Fancy gadgets don't always make your website better or help you to make more sales via your website. Start with a site that meets the basic requirement to promote you and to sell your books (and/or other products). You can always incorporate more 'bells and whistles' as required.

Lie 10: You have to know HTML (a computer language) to upload fresh content and stories onto your website.

Truth: Whether you use Blogger or Word Press or have your website built by a designer, you don't have to know HTML or other 'computer coding language' to add new content.

Modern uploading tools for your website (sometimes referred to as CMS or Content Management Systems) are as simple as using Word, usually with very similar icons for adding bold type, coloured font, italics, etc.

There is no doubt that having regular and fresh content (i.e. stories, articles, news, blogs, etc) on your site will be critical to keep your readers interested. Uploading new content will be a key part of your promotion and sales plan (known as content marketing). As such, you need to be able to upload text, photos, YouTube clips, etc, easily and quickly yourself. 

Don't use a website design or a website designer that refuses allow you to upload your own content. Without CMS, you will have to pay your designer every time you want to upload new information (content), which can be expensive, and you may miss valuable sales opportunities if you have to wait until he/she 'gets around' to doing this for you.

Now that you have a working knowledge of websites and the Internet, make a start on getting one for yourself or improving the one you already have.  You can build a website yourself in a very short time (learn how with one of our courses) or hire a web designer. 

Don't be afraid to question your designer if you don't understand anything.

Once you've got your website, then promote, promote, promote.

Please hit the tweet button if you found something useful in this post.

Find out more:
  • Scroll down to Lesson 13 to learn about how to successfully blog on your website.
  • Click here to find out about The Story Bridge's workshops on how to build a website/blogsite, self-publish and sell online.
  • Listen to Jocelyn talking about what you'll learn in The Story Bridge's self-publishing and blogging workshops.
  •  Receive free writing and self-publishing tips from The Story Bridge team? Our free e-newsletter is distributed twice per month with ideas and inspiration for writers at all levels. Send an email to with "newsletter please" in the subject line.
By Jocelyn Watkin© 2012  
Lesson 13: How to successfully blog on your website

By Jocelyn Watkin© 2011

It's easy to be seduced by the potential of a website and the global 'pulling power' of the Internet. However, there are millions of websites and you can't expect customers and readers to automatically find yours. 

If someone did happen to stumble across your site, what would:

  • Pique their interest to stay longer on your site?
  • Persuade them to buy from you?
  • Come back to learn more and possibly buy more?
  • Tell their friends about your site?

You could spend a lot of time networking and drumming up interest in your website. But there's no point, if you don't have credibility or there's little of interest on your site and nothing new that will bring people back to your site (or tell their friends about). Instead, your first task should be to prepare and write content that people are interested in and will want to tell their friends about. Once you've got the content right you can work on how to get people to visit to your site (known as driving traffic).

Content is king

A website is like a magazine. There are a number of elements in common that make it a success, such as having the right:

  • Layout and structure
  • Text voice
  • Visual voice
  • Content
While the first three in the above list are important, it is content that is the most important. Layout and voice gets your attention first, but it's the content that makes or breaks the magazine.

It is the same with your website. You need to have interesting material (content) on your site and a way of 'talking' that people want to read and will come back for more of. In website terms, talking is called 'blogging'.

A blog can provide the vital and fresh content that your website needs, while also building visibility and credibility for you as the blog writer or owner of the website. A proper blog goes way beyond the simplistic "I did the dishes today".

The four C's of blogging success:
  • Content
  • Context
  • Community
  • Connectivity

The right content attracts interest and viewers will 'stick around' to read more.  So, what are people interested in? Something that solves problems for the reader, or makes people laugh, or makes them think, or builds up their interest in you as a writer, your books or your business. Whether your website is about children's toys or hot rods or Einstein's theory of relativity your content must match and be on that topic. You need to avoid going off topic. If people come to read about hot rods, then they are unlikely to want to hear about a children's book unless it is to do with hot rods.

A well as generating interest, the right content on your site is about marketing you and what you do. This is known as 'content marketing' and, because of its focus and freshness, it will become more effective than advertising.

Your content has to be in the right setting - known as context.  If you want to position yourself as an authority on a subject then the way you express yourself has to match this purpose. Voice, tone, colours and images on your site must work well together. It's the same with your blogs - both content and context have to be consistent.  

Bear in mind that you can still be an authority even if you have an irreverent style of delivering - however, you can't mix that style with something completely different, such as a professorial tone. The readers and customers that visit your site because they like your irreverence will probably be 'turned-off' if you become too serious. Stay in context with your content.

Matching content and context builds a community of like-minded readers, fans and customers. 

You need to talk to this community in their own language and use terms that they understand and relate to. Figure out how they talk, what they're interested in, how you can help them by solving a common problem they might have, interviewing someone relevant to the topic and who has something to say that is of interest to the community, or by telling a good story that fits with your community's situation.

You're now at the point where your website is looking good but the world may not be beating a path to your door. You've invested time and money and no doubt some blood, sweat and tears in writing good content and loading up products for sale, such as your books, but you discover that not many are viewing your site and there are no sales.

So, what's gone wrong?  Designing a site and then adding the right content is only the first part of telling the world you are there. You can't just hope that people will somehow notice your site and you have to tell more than your family or your friends about it.

You are now ready at the next stage - driving traffic to your site and getting more people to view it.

By Jocelyn Watkin© 2011

Lesson 12: The price of books and how to sell more
Posted by Jocelyn Watkin©

Sharon approached me with a curious question - should she spend $10,000 on getting her book published or should she spend it on flying to Sydney for a workshop with her marketing hero, Anthony Robbins?

She'd decided to self-publish her 90,000-word science fiction manuscript and she knew she'd need a marketing and business plan. She's discovered that Mr Robbins was making a rare visit 'down under'.

I concentrated on the book publishing part of her question and asked, "Do you have quotes to get your book printed?"

"No, I've just heard it will cost that much."

I advised her to disregard hearsay and get some real quotes from real book printers. As her book was text-only with no photos or images, I said that I would be very surprised if it would cost more than $6000 to get 90,000 words edited, formatted, and printed with 4-colour, laminated covers in a run of 75 books.

"But, I want to sell more than 75 books!"

"That's great, Sharon, but you don't have to print 1000 all at once. With modern, digital methods you can organise re-prints quickly and in small print runs. That's why it's called print-on-demand.  When you've sold almost the entire first run, you use the money you've made from sales to pay for the next print run."

I then asked Sharon if she'd thought about a retail price for her book. 

She hadn't but she could 'do the maths' in her head, "Well, if it costs $6000 to prepare and print 75 books, that would work out at $80 per book."

"Seen many paperbacks at that price in the shops?"

She frowned and shook her head. Then, she said, "That's why I want to hear Anthony Robbins.  I'd be able to develop a fantastic marketing plan."

"Can I ask you the question again? How many paperbacks sell for $80?"

Sharon sighed, "I don't know, but I'm sure Anthony has an answer."

Now, I'm not commenting on whether Mr Robbins has or hasn't all the answers. However, one thing is definite - there are very few things you can sell at a price that is higher than what people are used to paying. As any book store (whether in the High Street or online) has shelves full of books at set prices, most of us know that the price of a paperback will be around $30 - $40. Even if Sharon's book is exceptionally good, it will be almost impossible for her to sell it at $80.

However, there is a solution for Sharon.  She can print her books AND have a marketing plan for a lot less than what it would have cost her to 'cross the ditch' for a one-day workshop.

These are the key points for Sharon's solution:

  • Split the 90,000-word manuscript into 2 books or even a trilogy. The science fiction genre is particularly suited to multiple books in a series.
  • At 30,000 words per book, the cost to prepare and print (per book) would be lower and would therefore enable her to sell each book at around $30 and still make a profit.
  • If she staggers the timing for printing and selling of Book 1 and Book 2, say for at least 6 months (or up to a year), she can build her audience as she goes. If she is successful at promotion and building a database with Book 1 (and if her book is good, of course), there'll be more buyers for Book 2 than there were for Book 1. It will be the same again with Book 3.  At the launch of each book, she could also sell the earlier books to new readers.
  • Once Sharon has built her audience and database of followers, she has a ready-made group of buyers who will be keen on a sequel or her next book.
In summary:

  • Always get quotes and from a specialist book printer (not a general printer). Don't make assumptions or rely on hearsay. 
  • Always set the right selling price for a book. It is almost impossible to sell a book for more than standard market prices.
  • Always have a plan to sell your books.  
  • Sometimes you might need to 'think outside the square' with your selling plan, i.e. If you've got a manuscript of more than 75,000 words you might want to think about splitting it into 2 or more books.

Scroll further below to find out:

- How to organise a book launch
- How to sell more books


Posted by Jocelyn Watkin© 2011

The Story Bridge offers courses on how to self-publish and market your books and how to blog and sell online. Click here for more information.

Lesson 11: How to get help with your manuscript
Posted by Jocelyn Watkin©

I receive a number of emails and one this week caused a sigh.  Stephen asked me, "How do I find inexpensive help to get my manuscript edited before publishing?"

On one hand, I was pleased that Stephen recognised his writing needing editing. On the other hand, I was disturbed he placed so little value on that expertise that he was unwilling to pay much for it.

Perhaps Stephen thought that editors were failed writers. A lot of people think that's what T.S. Eliot said too, but Eliot's full quote reads: Most editors are failed writers - but so are most writers.

As such, a good editor is worth his or her weight in gold so don't stint on this service. Whether you intend to self-publish or work with a publisher, your writing will need editing. This happens with every writer, even the famous ones. Remember, once your words are published you can't take them back, so you want your writing to be the best you can make it.

There are ways to get top value from an editor. However, you need to accept at the start that you will have to invest something into the process, which will be a mixture of time and money.

Unless you're a masochist or an accountant, you are unlikely to charge yourself for your own work. So, if you want 'inexpensive help' this is a good starting place. You'll still need to pay for a good editor's time later but if you can craft your manuscript to high standard, you'll get better value from that editor.  This means you need to:

     1. Accept that your first draft is just that, a draft.
It's good to get the story out of your head and onto paper (or the computer screen).  At this stage it is probably little more than a 'mind dump'. That's quite OK for a first draft but for not a published book.

      2. Rewrite your draft several times.  Give yourself some space between each re-write, so you can approach your manuscript with fresh eyes.

      3. Read your work and seek feedback from a trusted personal writing critique group throughout the process. If you don't have a group like this then form one and organise regular (i.e. monthly) meetings. This group will work well if it is made up of 4-5 fellow-writers (not your mother or a close family member or anyone who is not a writer), that meet often to constructively review each other's writing and to provide help and support.

      4. Shoot your darlings.  I'm not talking about your own family or loved ones - I am referring to your words. There's no point asking for feedback from your critique group if you are going to ignore everything they say. Too many writers fall in love with their own writing and can't bear to change even one word. If you can't accept constructive criticism, then it is unlikely your writing will ever improve.

     5. Read other writing in a similar genre to yours - noting writing style, what you feel works well and what doesn't and also discuss this with your writing group. Every good writer does a lot of reading.

     6. More rewriting

     7. Did I mention still more re-writing?

There is no magic answer on when your writing will be ready for an editor.  However, when you feel you've taken it as far as you can, when you feel you can no longer view your work objectively, that is the time to seek an editor.

Even though you feel you can no longer improve your writing, you will be amazed how a good editor can transform your writing.

There are two main stages to this process:

      a) Manuscript appraisal or assessment: this involves careful reading of your manuscript as a whole and usually results in a report on whether the story fits together and whether there are any glaring holes or gaps. The report will cover such things as strengths, weaknesses of plot, characters, point-of-view and will also make suggestions on how to revise your text.

      b) Editing, this is the next stage after you've reworked your manuscript following the assessor's recommendations.  Editors do a line-by-line edit, correcting spelling and grammar and they fine tune your manuscript to get it ready for publishing.

Assessing and editing are distinctive yet separate skills. Some professionals are both assessors and editors, while others focus on just one of these skill-sets.

Never under-estimate the worth of a good assessor and/or editor and be prepared to pay for this valuable help. There is no point asking an editor or assessor "Can you just have a quick look at it and tell me what you think?" That's a bit like asking your doctor to do a full medical in five minutes. Accept that a good edit or assessment takes an appropriate amount of time and be prepared to pay accordingly. 

So, my answer to Stephen is the same for everyone. Spend your own time beforehand, as in the steps 1 - 7 above. Not only will you become a better writer, you will also present your assessor and editor with a better manuscript to work on.

Be prepared to pay for professional help with your manuscript.  However, while editors can (and do) correct the most basic errors and typos, you could avoid unnecessary expense by removing these from your manuscript first.  Then, when you pay for an editor's or assessor's time, you will get the best value from their expertise.


Posted by Jocelyn Watkin© 2011


Lesson 10: Seven good reasons to self publish

Posted by Jocelyn Watkin©

I often get asked why I chose to self-publish. This question is sometimes prompted by the belief that I didn't have a choice or that I was forced into this position because I couldn't get a publisher. The opposite is the truth - I made a conscious decision to self-publish because I would have MORE choice and control.

Here's my top 7 reasons for self-publishing:

      1. Speed - the self-publishing process is far quicker than traditional publishing. Once you have your edited manuscript ready for publishing, you can upload it that day as an electronic book (an e-book).  A print version (a p-book) will require around 3 - 4 weeks from Word document to finished book.  However, if you are published by a traditional publisher it may be a year or more before you see your book in print. You have to fit in with their timetable, budget and resources. 
     2. Flexible print-run sizes. With modern print-on-demand (POD) technology a self-publisher can print just one book or 10, 20, 50, 100 or more. As such, you can quickly respond to high demand and print more books within 3 weeks. You can print as many or as few as you need so there's no need to pay for large print runs and stockpile books while waiting for them to sell. POD also enables you to make changes to the text quickly and easily - you don't have to hang about waiting for 1000 books to be sold before you update your book or correct that typo that slipped past your editor's eye.  (Remember, books by traditional publishers have errors in them, too.  I don't think I've seen a book yet that didn't have a typo in it somewhere.)

     3. Total responsibility over the look and feel of the book and whether you will publish as a p-book and/or an e-book. Of course, total responsibility means that you need to ensure the book looks professional and as good as possible. Just because the POD process is now quick, cheap and easy, doesn't mean your book should look cheap.  If you don't have the skills, then don't attempt to do everything yourself. Hire the professionals as required - graphic designers, editors, assessors, page layout designers (used to be called typesetters) and marketing experts.

     4. Total responsibility on when and where to distribute the book, including the rights to certain markets and countries. I know authors who are at the mercy of their publishers on whether their books are published overseas and so gain access to those bigger and lucrative global markets. International marketing takes time, money and resources and, like you, publishers have limited resources.  However, as a self-publisher you will always put your own books and interests first, whereas a publisher has divided interests in terms of which authors and books they will push for international publication. While it is generally accepted that a traditional publisher will initially have access to more sales and distribution channels than you and you'll need to spend a lot of time and effort to develop your own, at least you have this choice of doing this. Electronic networking via Face Book and blogging provides opportunities to build and promote to a wide audience.

     5. Decision making role on whether to form alliances, sponsorships and partnerships in the way you promote yourself, your books and other related products/services. Like the decision on whether to publish internationally, you are also free to explore and establish the sorts of what relationships you need to help you with sales and promotion, rather than being dictated to by the publisher on when and how you can do this. Like your publisher, you'll need to choose your alliances wisely - but, at least you are in the position of making a choice.

     6. More money. With the right distribution system, you'll make more money from your books than with a traditional publisher paying you the standard 10% in royalties. The key phrase here is the right distribution system - that is, a method that will sell 500 or more books for at least $10 profit per book. On this basis, you will make more money than you'd receive from a publisher who sells 2,000 books and pays you 10% via the royalty system.  To do successfully do this, you'll need to be determined to build your own audience and sales, probably via electronic media and networking. While this sounds like a lot of work, and it is, bear in mind that traditional book publishers are selling less and less via their previously tried-and-true selling method of bookstores. Even their traditional promotional techniques such as book store windows, book reviews and advertising in the usual media not working as well for them as in the past. Publishing companies are considering going further down the route of electronic publishing and using social media in order to make the profits they used to and they will expect you to 'do your bit' to help them.  Therefore, if you are expected to travel this path, then you might as well blaze your own trail and take the profits for yourself. 

     7. Hollywood and other opportunities. While this hasn't yet happened, if Hollywood (or similar) comes calling, I am in the driving seat on whether to say "yes" or "no".

There's a lot of work in self-publishing and, as such, it shouldn't be considered as the 'easy' option. However, if you are prepared to do the work and get yourself out there, then self-publishing your own books will offer a great deal of satisfaction as well as profits.

Posted by Jocelyn Watkin© 2011

Lesson 9: How to organise a book launch
Posted by Jocelyn Watkin©

A book launch should be a celebration, a proud moment for family and friends and a pleasure for all who attend. However, it's not just a simple party and I've seen a few book launches fall flat when organisation didn't match the purpose.

You need to ask yourself what you want to achieve with your book launch. Generally, writers have a number of related goals:   
      a) celebrate this great achievement and acknowledge the hard work it took to get there 
         b) thank everyone who helped you along the way
      c) sell lots of books.

Here's a 10-point plan to ensure your book launch is the success it should be:

     1. A room full of people
Any event is more successful with the right number of people in attendance, rather than a half-empty room. All of the next points will help you to aim for a full-house.

     2. The right audience
Not only do you want a room full of people, you also want the right sort of people.  This starts with your family, friends and supporters. A published book is an accomplishment and, first and foremost, you'll want to share the moment with those closest to you. In addition, you'll also want people to come who are interested in your book, its genre and themes and, as such, may want to buy it. This second but equally important group is not as easy to find as your 'nearest and dearest'. Give some thought to the type of person you'd like to invite and how you could make it easy for them to attend. The next points are all about this.

     3. Time of day/day of the week
Pick a time of day that suits your target readers - your audience. If you are launching a children's book, then the timing of your event should be easy for that target group to attend - i.e. after school or on a Saturday afternoon. If you write business books, then an event held at the end of a business day (i.e. 6pm) can work well. The venue needs to also fit with your book and the time of day.

     4. Venue and location
Pick a venue that is easy to find and which also matches your book and its audience. A business book can be launched at a place of business in the CBD at 6pm, but that would be hopeless for a publication aimed at young children. Libraries are a good location for any book and, if you like this idea, then approach your local library first as they are likely to be supportive of a local writer. The venue should:
·         Be easy to get to, near public transport and with good parking. Bear in mind that rush-hour traffic can make it difficult for audience members to arrive at a venue at a certain time of day.
·         Be the right size for your expected audience. If you hope to attract 75 people then a small bookshop won't be big enough.
·         Have a theme that fits your book and would be of interest to your audience. i.e. in a workshop for a book about car mechanics.
·         Have a place to make tea/coffee and serve food. Of course, you don't have to serve a full meal or expensive food - nibbles are fine as long as they suit your audience. Children often like different food to adults. If serving alcohol you'll need a liquor licence, unless you are using licensed premises. 
·         Have chairs for those in the audience who like to sit down (this is very important if you have elderly or disabled guests).
·         Be quiet or have an area that can be closed off to create a quiet area when you are speaking about your book.

     5. Invitations
Having decided on your audience and the time of day/venue that suits them, then you have find a way to invite them. It doesn't matter if the invitation is dispatched by social media sites, post or email, as long as you observe a few basic rules:
·         Have all of the important details clearly viewable - what, when, where, time, who you are and what the book is about, price of the book and payment options. Don't forget to tell everyone what the refreshments are, as that could tempt them to attend.
·         Use an image of your book cover on the invitation and all promotional material.
·         Always have a RSVP date, phone number, email, etc and the name of a real person for people to contact if they want to know more information. It's also important that you record the RSVPs so you know how many people to expect and cater for. Answer any queries quickly and graciously.
·         Allow sufficient time for the word to get around and for people to reply - around 2 - 3 weeks is good, especially for an invitation via the post.
·         Don't send large attachments (bigger than 400 kb) by email. Not everyone has broadband.
·         Accept that not everyone can attend. Some will have other commitments and others just won't want to come. Apart from close family and friends, you can expect to have around a 30% acceptance rate from invitations and bear in mind there'll be a few 'no shows' on the night.

     6. Promotion and getting the word out
If you want a large number of people at the event you'll either need to have a big family and circle of friends, a good social media/networking/blog site, or you'll need to find additional ways to promote your event.  There are free ways to do this but you might have to spend some money to help with promotion.  Some ideas:
·         Convert your invitation into A3 posters and flyers. Print them out on your computer or get a commercial photocopying place to do this for you. Put up A3 posters ahead of time at your venue and have flyers available, including at other places where your audience gathers (e.g. at the library where your launch will be (or at the workshop where you car mechanics book will launch).
·         Ask family and friends to promote your event via their networks, including Facebook and other social media sites.
·         If your venue has a database or list of customers, ask how you can promote to that group of people.
·         If you discover someone or an organisation that has the same audience, find out how you can get the word out to their customers lists and database.  However, accept that these lists will be private information and don't expect people to give you this information or allow you access it for free.
·         If anyone helps you, particularly if they do so for free, then remember to thank them and invite them to your launch.
·         Approach your local community newspaper to see if they can do a profile piece about you. Most community newspapers love to feature "local woman/man made good" as long as you don't overdo the sales pitch. Consider also paying for an advertisement the runs at the same time as your news piece appears.

     7. Have a support team
As the writer, you need to be available to greet your guests.  People will want to talk to you and congratulate you, and you can't be distracted by all the tasks that need to be done on the day. Ask family and friends to help you by serving drinks and food, sorting out the sound system and doing lots of those little tasks that all have to be right.

     8. Plenty of books for sale and someone to take the money
This might sound obvious, but you can't have a book launch without books. Ensure you have plenty of books available for sale at the event and appoint someone (not you) to be in-charge of selling the books. Your books should be available for sale from the start of the event, and not held back to the end of the event. If you have previous books you've written, then also have a number of those for sale.

Ensure it is easy for your customers to buy from you. If you only accept cash or   cheques when selling books at your launch, then make sure you advertise this in advance and include these payment terms on any flyers. Of course, you will need to arrange the right mix of coins or notes in your cash float to provide the right change to your buyers. For example, most ATM's dispense $20 notes, so it will be common for your buyers to only have multiples of $20 in their wallets. If your book is $25, it is likely that you will need both $5 and $10 notes to give as change.

Have a supply of plastic or paper bags available, so your customers can put their purchased book(s) into a bag. That way, they will be easy to carry and keep clean while people are socialising with their drinks and nibbles. Don't forget to put your business card or information sheet in with the book, so readers can contact you in future if they want more books. They might also get in touch to say how much they liked your book!

Allocate time towards the end of your book launch (and after the formal part of the event) to sign your books for any buyers that want this. The person selling your book can advise people about this and so you won't be interrupted with requests to sign purchased books when you are still greeting your guests as they arrive.
     9. You are the star of the show
The writer needs to be the centre of attention at their own book launch. As well as not being distracted by the tasks in Points 7 and 8 above, you need to wow your guests. This includes making a speech at some point about your book and how you wrote it.

Consider asking someone who is good at public speaking to formally introduce you for 2 - 3 minutes and tell the audience a little about you. It is so much better for another to say extra good things about you and your book, as it will seem a little false if you do all of the 'rah rah' yourself.

Your speech needs to be 5 - 7 minutes to be worthwhile but no more than 12 minutes.  Your speech is also an important time to publicly thank those that have helped you and particularly your loved ones for their support.

     10.  Don't forget to enjoy yourself
You've worked really hard to write your book and to arrange its launch. Check every detail and reconfirm tasks with those on your support team before the launch. Arrive early at the event and check the details one last time. Then, enjoy the moment - you've earned it.

Posted by Jocelyn Watkin© 2011

Lesson 8: How to layout the copyright page of your book
Posted by Jocelyn Watkin©

Every book, whether in print or in an electronic format, should have copyright statements and details.

So, what should you include? The bare essentials for a print book and starting at the top of page are:
  • Publication date, either just the year or you can add the month as well
  • Name and address of the publisher, including a website address if you have one. Note: YOU are the publisher when self-publishing, NOT the book printer.
  • The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which is available free to New Zealand publishers of books and other print, electronic or multimedia publications from the New Zealand National Library
  • Copyright statement: Use the word copyright, followed by copyright symbol ©, the name of the author and the year the book was published. Also include the following statement: The moral rights of the author have been asserted.
  •  All rights reserved statement: This reinforces that your copyright extends to any reproduction/reprint in any format. It is recommended that you seek legal guidance on this. The following is an example only and not intended for use without seeking further advice: All rights reserved. No part of this publication maybe reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or digital, including photocopying, recording, storage in any information retrieval system, or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher.
  • Other details like the name of the printer and where printed, cover designer and photographer are placed at the bottom on the page and after all of the above points
     Electronic publications: You will need to include many of the above points in an electronic publication but probably not the name of the printer of your print book. You may need to include the name of any organisation that provided free help with the layout with electronic books if, for example, you are using Smashwords

Positioning of the copyright page and statements in your book:

a)    In a print book - on the back of the full title page. You can either justify the words to the left on the page or centre them (take a look at a few examples in the books on your shelves to check the layout).
b)    In an electronic book
- a PDF exact copy of the print book: the copyright page will be exactly as per the print book (i.e. no changes)
- an electronic book with the full text designed to free-flow into different formats (i.e. for an iPad, Palm, Sony, Kindle, Kobe, etc) the copyright information will be positioned at the start of the book, immediately under the title and author lines. The style/layout will need to be in the same free-flow style as the rest of the text.

Check out a few examples, get advice and then go for it.

Whatever you do, never forget to state on any document, report or book (print or e-format) you have written that you are the author. As the absolute minimum always use the copyright symbol, your name and date of publication. Better still, add in the information listed in the points above.

Posted by Jocelyn Watkin© 2011

How to sell more books

Posted by Jocelyn Watkin

You’ve published your book and launched it to your admiring family and friends. You now want to sell more.  Whether selling printed books or e-books you’ll need to promote both yourself and your book if you want greater sales.

Selling books is about:
  • reaching the target audience
  • telling them your book is available
  • persuading them to buy it.
You can make a start with traditional methods:
a)    book talks, speeches, presentations – such as at your local library and to groups affiliated to your book’s topic; this can be fun and great way to meet people.
b)    markets/stalls – often hard work with limited sales, but great if you want to meet people.
c)    advertisements – such as in the local newspaper, local radio, club notice board – and you must have a contact address/phone number/website
d)    book reviews – you need to provide a copy of the book to the reviewer (of course) and you need somewhere that readers of the review can contact you to buy books or a place to visit to buy the book such as a bookshop, online bookseller or your own website.
e)    bookshops – independent book shops can be more supportive of local writers, but they may only sell one or two. You need to understand that book shops are entitled to make a profit on selling your book and the usual wholesale discount to them is 40% off the retail price.  This could eat into your own profits and, if the book shop doesn’t sell your book the usual arrangement is that they can return them at no charge. (This is called sale or return)
f)     online bookstores such as  and These also need a discount to buy your book.
g)    You can arrange a free listing with Nielson Book Data.  Nielson’s prepares lists of books and the contact people for each book, which book retailers and libraries use when ordering books.
h)   If writing non-fiction or ‘how to’ books: host workshops using your own book as a text, build the cost of the text book into the price for attending the workshop and then everyone gets a copy as part of the workshop
i)     Sell the books as an extension to your own business – use the book as a marketing tool

To sell more you need more than a really good book that people want to buy.  You need to get noticed by a bigger audience and then have an efficient way to reach that audience.

A website is one way to sell more books. According to Unlimited Magazine (5 November 2010):

“Just 34% of Kiwi companies own a website and a meagre 20% sell products and services online despite compelling evidence that an online presence boosts revenue.

According to the latest New Zealand MYOB Business Monitor , 44% of businesses with a website have more sales or orders in the pipeline, compared to just 30% of businesses that don’t operate online. Over the past 12 months, 37% of businesses with a website reported an increase in revenue, while only 28% of businesses without a website saw revenues rise.”

MYOB general manager Julian Smith says, “We know businesses that have a website, and trade online, perform better – generating more revenue gains than businesses without a website.”

A blog site (a type of website) is one way to sell more books and all it takes is time and a bit of know how.  There are two FREE sites that will help you to access the world:

©Jocelyn Watkin, 2010  

Learn how to to set up a blog site and sell online with The Story Bridge. Click here for more information.

Listen to Jocelyn talking about what you'll learn in the self-publishing and blogging workshops.