Monday, 30 September 2013

Mailing list, part two: I did it!

Last week, I wrote about the importance of having a mailing list, and my attempts to set one. If you read the post, you learned that it didn’t exactly go smoothly. I have better news this week: I have a brand new mailing list and newsletter. How did I do it? Well, let me tell you. After the celebratory fireworks.

I changed the provider. That’s how. I wasn’t intelligent enough to figure out MailChimp’s system so I gave up. I chose YMLP, Your Mail List Provider, instead. Their instructions were easier to understand and they had the feature I couldn’t find with the other provider, a possibility to set an automatic newsletter that is sent to every new subscriber. Since I want to reward my subscribers with a short story when they sign in, it’s an invaluable feature.

YMLP’s subscription forms were more basic and they didn’t require as much tweaking. Their templates were more flexible too. However, the autoresponder e-mail had a different editor than the other templates; it wasn’t as easy to use and had fewer formatting options. For example, it didn’t have options for setting hyperlink styles. I had to tamper directly with the HTML code and even then some style commands didn’t take. Therefore, the resulting e-mail has a couple of eyesores in it.

But that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that the task is done and I have a mailing list. You can subscribe to it with this link or the form on the side column. Every subscriber gets a free short story with the welcome newsletter. Subsequent letters will have previews from my books and other news. If you subscribe, please let me know if there are any technical problems, so that I can improve the newsletter. Thank you for subscribing!

Monday, 23 September 2013

The importance of having a mailing list – and how not to go about it

A piece of marketing advice for self-publishing authors I’ve come across often is that they – we – need a mailing list. The logic is simple. People who will subscribe to your mailing list are those who are willing to receive news about your work and – hopefully – buy your books too.

I’ve ignored the advice so far. Mostly, I admit, out of laziness. It has seemed like a lot of work in addition to everything else I’ve had to set up during the past year. But I have time for it now, and a need for it too. I have a new book coming up this autumn I’d like my existing readers to learn about as easily as possible. Of course, if I had set one up last year, I would have many more subscribers by now.

A couple of timely blog posts have reminded me of the necessity too. The Writer’s Guide to Building an Email List by Your Writer Platform summarises all the benefits a mailing list offers:
  • Blogs, websites and RSS readers can disappear. Once you have an email list, you can always stay connected with your audience and keep them informed of what you are doing.
  • The conversation via email is personal, direct and private. It provides an excellent medium for staying in touch with your readers. 
  • It’s cheap, cost effective and everyone online has an email address.
There’s a lot more important information on that post. Check it out.

Lindsay Buroker’s post Authors, Why You Should Start a Newsletter makes good points too:
  • Think of your newsletter subscribers as your inner circle. What cool things can you do to reward them for being fans? At the very least, you can let them be among the first to know when you have a new book coming out.
  • Sending newsletters out to your fans is also a way to keep your name in their minds, something that can be especially useful if you’re not the most prolific writer.
It’s a great post too. She also has a follow up post where she tells how to add a newsletter to your website.

So, excited and with a deadline, I decided to set up my own mailing list. I got inspired even, and wrote a short story to give to all who subscribe to my list. I think it’s a sweet little piece that readers of my Two-Natured London series would like, and my editor didn’t disagree. (I should probably mention that paranormal romances, even in short form, aren’t really his cup of tea.)

With the offering ready, all I needed was to select the service provider. I made a short work of it. MailChimp has been recommended a few times as both good and cheap service, so I decided to try it out.

Unfortunately, the experience hasn’t been entirely happy so far.

I’m not sure, if it was me or them, but after a day I didn’t have my mailing list ready. Ok, the first setback was definitely me. I typed my e-mail address wrong when I registered and didn’t get the confirmation e-mail. However, I have to add, too, that the confirmation page lacked the usual “didn’t get the e-mail, click here” link. Well, I figured that one out myself – after a while.

That was the easiest part. I’m not saying that MailChimp is difficult to use. The site looks nice, the service offers many options for making your newsletter look exactly like you want it to, and it comes with all sorts of forms that make it easy for people to both subscribe your newsletter and – should they so choose – unsubscribe too.

What it didn’t have, however, is an easy to follow path that would have guided me step by step through the process of setting a mailing list. I ended up spending a day tweaking forms and newsletters, with no idea what to do with any of them. If the site had guides, I didn’t find them. I’ve seldom felt so stupid, staring at the screen, unable to comprehend what I was supposed to do next, or how to make use of the stuff I had already done.

So, no mailing list for me yet.

I haven’t given up. I understand the reason for why I need a mailing list. And I’m fairly sure I can tackle MailChimp too – though if you have handy first-hand experiences to offer, please share them on comments. Anything to prevent me from tearing my hair out in frustration.

In the meanwhile, if you want to set up your own mailing list, check the posts I mention above. Don’t be discouraged by my experience. Maybe I just had a stupid day. And stay tuned: I will have the mailing list soon.

Monday, 16 September 2013

L. S. Burton: This Land – review

I promised ages ago to regularly review books on my blog, but I’ve been somewhat remiss of that. I’ll remedy that this week with a review of This Land: That Ribbon of Highway. It’s the new book by my editor Lee Burton, the first book in his sci-fi series of four books.

I reviewed Lee’s book Ella on this blog earlier. It’s a short story of a young girl growing up and losing her childhood imagination; a wistful, beautiful book. Lee’s strengths are his ability to create believable, real characters and his beautiful language, both of which make This Land special too.

This Land is listed as science fiction, but perhaps more correct definition would be speculative fiction. The concept is intriguing; a planet that is terraformed with humans on it, unable to fight back. How will they react, what will they do to survive?

I gave This Land five stars on Amazon and Goodreads. It is a great book, and I warmly recommed it to everyone. Take a look.


What if your planet were being terraformed by an outside entity, and there was nothing you could do?  

On the surface, This Land is a simple story. A remote fishing community is faced with an alien threat so deadly that the inhabitants have no other option than to shelter inside the thick walls of an ancient monastery with no contact with the outside world. 

The story begins with the characters already in the middle of action, reacting to the destruction of their village. No backstory is given, no introductions are made. The reader is only gradually given more information about the community and, indeed, the whole world. We don’t know anything more than the characters do. The tagline is the only clue a reader has for what is happening, but the origin and purpose of the annihilation of humans remain a mystery. 

This Land is a sci-fi novel, but that isn’t immediately obvious, nor is it terribly important. The community is very earth-like and only little details like multiple moons, strange religion, and fauna that don’t exist on earth give a reader to understand the novel is set on another planet. Why the place is so earth-like – more specifically like earth in about 1930s – isn’t explained. Perhaps that mystery will be solved in later books. The strange star in the sky and monsters bent on annihilating humans remain, therefore, the main sci-fi elements. 

This Land is, first and foremost, a study in human character. Burton has enviable ability to create flesh and blood characters with a seeming ease. He brings together a bunch of very ordinary, simple people that are bound by a common threat, and proceeds to show how they’ll react in such a situation. His characters aren’t heroes or villains, just humans with their weaknesses and a very few strengths. No one leader rises among them, nor do they automatically turn into a coherent group working towards a common goal. To the end of the first book, they remain scared and confused, reacting only when they absolutely must.

The main character, Stephen, through whose eyes most of the story is told, is an especially wonderful character. He is a cowardly, indecisive, and selfish man who is difficult to like at first – mostly, I presume, because he reacts exactly like most of us would when faced with such an overwhelming situation. As the story evolves, he finds some backbone and becomes, if not likeable, at least vindicated in the eyes of the reader. It’s rare to find such a human character in a genre novel. 

This Land is, in the end, a small novel. Nothing much happens in it. People are afraid, they react stupidly, and they die. If there is one thing to criticise, it is that some of them die too fast before a reader has grown attached to them enough to mourn for them. The story is very universal, however, and larger than it seems.

I recommend This Land to anyone interested in character-led novels, whether they like sci-fi or not. The concept is unique, the world intriguing, and Burton’s beautiful language alone is a good reason to read it. Moreover, despite the destruction, the end is hopeful, giving readers a cause to return for the next book too.


 You can find the book on Amazon if you would like to read more. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Don’t ask writers where they get their ideas

The above quote, by author Saladin Ahmed, passed through my Twitter timeline today. I found it great and very apt.

I’ve never had any shortage of book ideas. My mind constantly comes up with ideas. Ideas are a dime in a dozen. I have ideas for contemporary romances; ideas for urban fantasy and paranormal romances – for the series I already write and for completely new worlds; ideas for historical romances and books with no romance in them whatsoever.

It’s actualising those ideas where it gets tricky.

Not every book idea I have leads to a book. Often it’s because I don’t have enough time to write it. I’ve tried to write two books at the same time, but both books suffer because of it and it takes longer to finish them than it would if I wrote them back to back. I’ve found that the best practise for me is to write the idea down, maybe write the first chapter, too, if it absolutely begs to be written, and then leave it be. If I still find the idea great when I have time for it, I’ll use it.

Occasionally, it’s the work in progress I have difficulties finishing. Even if the idea is great, the plot may be slow to come together. Or life intervenes. My house needs cleaning up, or Twitter proves irresistible. There are days when those other things take precedence and the book doesn’t get written as fast as it should. There are days that I simply don’t feel like writing. The first is a matter of organising and prioritising, the latter a matter of resting my mind or refreshing it by working on different projects for a while.

More important reason, however, why all ideas don’t become books is that that’s all they are: ideas. There isn’t enough story in them for a full book; sometimes not even for a novella. It’s not always evident so I’ve started books only to run out of plot midway through. Sometimes I don’t get even that far. Writing them isn’t the waste of my time, though. These ideas often find a new life as part of some other book.

You might think it’s a wonder that I get books written at all. Even if I don’t get distracted by life – real or imaginary – and the social media, writing can be slow work. Plot needs planning, sets require researching and just when I think I have everything covered, I get it into my head to start improving my writing.

So, don’t ask where writers get their ideas. They get them everywhere. How they get the books written, that’s the true wonder. But if I were you, I wouldn’t go around asking writers about that either. If the progress has been particularly slow, you may get a snarky answer. At the very least, proceed at your own risk.

Or, you never know, the writer might be glad for the chance to chat with you and not think of their book for a moment. Sometimes any reason is a good reason for not writing. So the book will be finished later rather than sooner; so what. At least it will be finished. Maybe.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Aches and pains

Today’s post is necessarily short. The reason: my shoulder is killing me.

Not the keyboard in question; with a gratuituous cat.
I got a new computer and keyboard last week. While both are great and much needed, there is a drawback. With a new keyboard comes a new work position for my hands. The old one was an ergonomic keyboard curved in one way; the new one is an ergonomic keyboard curved in another way. And my body disapproves.

A writer’s life is full of ergonomic pitfalls. We spend much too much time sitting down in static positions. It causes all sorts of physiological problems. Poor circulation to lower limbs, back pains, achy shoulders and a stiff neck. This time round, my entire left arm from neck to fingertips is on fire. Stretching and resting offer only a temporary respite.

My right arm, on the other … hand ... is doing fine. I’m therefore confident that the left arm will follow the programme and adjust. Until then, I have to write in shorter intervals and rest my arm more often. Which isn’t that bad, come to think of it.

Here’s a link to a post by Jane Friedman where she lists exercises and other helpful things to get over back pains. Hopefully my arm recovers soon, because I have a book to finish. If you have good advice to share, exercises that have worked for you, please do so in the comments.