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How to be organised

I like tea and I need reading glasses.

I mention this only because both activities require some basic accessories: a china cup in one case and a pair of glasses in the other.

But those accessories aren’t actually glued to me and I often put them down. Because I’m absent-minded, I often forget where I put them or, indeed, that I had them with me at all.

The result? I leave a trail of tea mugs and reading glasses wherever I go. When I’m on the phone, I’ll often walk into the garden or down the road outside the house. (Walking is good for brain activity and conversations, in my opinion, happen better outdoors.) Trouble is, I’ll often have a cup of tea in my hand, put it down when it’s finished, then forget that I’ve done so. It’s perfectly common for me to find a mug of tea in our vegetable patch, a pair of glasses on a box hedge, or any empty cup, with a pair of glasses in, on the verge outside our gate.

This sounds like a mildly chaotic (if agreeably bucolic) way of life, and I suppose it is. While more organised people buy designer glasses for eighty pounds the pair, I buy my glasses from Amazon, ten pounds for three. So when the kids sit on a pair, or I leave them in a café, or a hedge somewhere just grows over their carcass, I don’t really mind. Just chalk the cost up to me being me.

Now, I mention this because earlier in the week I talked to Rachel Abbott about her career in self-publishing.

(Short recap if you missed the webinar: she built a tech company, sold it and retired. But when she retired she wrote a book that became the #1 bestseller on Amazon for eleven weeks. That book launched a whole new career and Rachel has been a huge-selling author ever since.)


Rachel is organised and productive.

She has self-pub books, books with Amazon Publishing, and books with a Big 5 firm. She sells overseas in multiple languages. She has an agent and multiple editors and a virtual assistant in Serbia.

She divides her marketing efforts up by type of reader. (Red-hot: her passionate fans. Warm: people who have read a book or so, but aren’t yet addicts. Cold: people who haven’t yet read her stuff.)

She thinks about ad platforms and her Facebook page and her Facebook group and email lists.

She manages multiple series. And has to write the damn books. And deal with edits. And do all that while (in theory) retired and enjoying the gentler life.

All this is kind of intimidating to the rest of humankind.

What if you’re not quite so superhuman? What if – just to pick an example – your kids are quite likely to come in from the garden having found your glasses in the strawberry bed? Or rescued from the roof of a car before it drove away?


A few thoughts.

First, this isn’t just about self-pub

Certainly, self-pubbers have more on their plates than trad-authors do, but any really high-profile author is juggling a lot. I know of one reasonably successful literary author, who has mastered the art of being a literary author. Hanging out at the right parties, knowing the right people, popping up on the right talk shows, and all that. Her books aren’t actually all that good, but she’s parlayed a middling level talent into quite a successful career by just working her own specific channels as hard as she can.

The short message is that flourishing careers involve complexity, whether you’re trad-published & literary or self-published and genre. You can reduce the challenges by going trad, but you certainly don’t eliminate them.

Second, write well

Being a good writer always, always helps. Marketing bad books is a pretty much impossible exercise. (Not quite, but almost.) Marketing good ones ought to be, and is, a much simpler exercise. The heart of any writer’s job lies exactly where you want it to: putting the right words in the right order.

Third, focus on what works for you

What works for you? What things are you good at? What do you enjoy?

If you love the chatter and hubbub of Facebook, then go for it. Use it strategically, and with a clear plan in mind, but you can certainly make that the centre of your marketing work.

If you like the mix of creativity (ad creation) and geekiness (ad dashboards) involved in advertising, then ride that tiger.

If you like direct communication with your reader – which you should; you’re a writer – then a mailing list should certainly be at the centre of things for you.

And so on.

You can’t be good at everything and you don’t need to be good at everything. You need roughly three reliable traffic sources to succeed. In self-pub, those sources might be your mailing list, promo sites (like Bookbub) and one paid advertising platform.

In trad-land, you need decent supermarket uptake, plus a good presence on Amazon, plus some additional means of driving interest in your books. (A successful publicity campaign can work, but don’t just assume that what your publisher does will be sufficient. It usually isn’t.)

Fourth, get the basics right

Any marketing, whether trad or indie, will basically fail unless you have the basics right. I started to write a checklist and why it matters so much, then realised the topic was big enough – and important enough – for a whole separate email.

I’ll write that email another time but, for now, just know that getting the basics right is critical. Do you love your blurb? Is your cover stunning, and appealing to the exact right audience? Is your pricing right? Do you have authentic book reviews (or a plan for getting them)?

You don’t have to have a Rachel Abbott level of organisation to achieve those things. You just need to realise that they matter and you need to go on worrying at them until they’re right.

Cheer for the disorganised

So yes, if you are a Monarch of the Spreadsheet, an Empress of the List, you’re lucky. I’m not.

If you are capable of hanging onto a cup of tea or a pair of glasses for an entire day without losing them, then you’re lucky. I’m not.

But writing well, focusing on what matters, and finding a small handful of things that you can do well? That’s enough. Trad or indie, that’s enough.

And the heart of it all? The bit that matters most? It’s the ability to put sentences together in a way that pleases readers. Nothing else.

Now I’m off to go and find tea mugs amidst the bindweed. It’s sunny here and the tulips are out.

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Comments (13)
  • Hmm. Well, the mad genius in me (at least one of those is right), suggests getting rid of the glasses and stop drinking tea and similar beverages. Failing that, purchasing some string for the glasses, and one of those novelty hats that they put beer tins on/in, may be the way to go? 

    OK on a serious note, and to paraphrase a certain phrase made popular in the ABC TV series of the same name, which ran from 1967-1971, it seems best to 'never mind the quantity, feel the quality!' Everyone works at their own rate and has their own skillset and writing problems and talents. I try to do this myself, and always feel everyone should be allowed to do their own personal best irrespective of output. And if they need help to do other things, like advertising, blogging etc., but can't, then get help in. A nice letter this week Harry, thank you.

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    • 'Everyone works at their own rate and has their own skillset and writing problems and talents.' I agree Erin. That fits me to a T.

      The series was Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width 😉 Not sure it will have stood the test of time but any inspiration gained from it is a good thing.

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      • Indeed it was, and I wondered if anyone knew it from behind the disguise I gave it. It is one of my fav's to paraphrase. The old jokes, they say, are the best ones, and such patter is always an inspiration for me when doing dialogue between my two protagonists, especially when there's misunderstanding to be had. The formula has worked well for most (successful) comedy duos through the ages.  

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      • I've noticed creative minds are naturally disorganised, and I think that explains their creativity: as they don't fill their attention with trivial things, they can devote more of it to new ideas & possibilities.

        I love to imagine all sorts of things and I live in a constant daydream (but my bedroom is in a permanent state of chaos and I only notice it when I need something and can't find it).

        In my mind I've created an interesting marketing campaign for my novel, simple & fun & clever and doesn't cost a big amont of money. I'll just need a dozen or so good photos and a slogan that changes in each photo, but essential message remains the same. But because I don't have any followers on social media, I may have to pay people who do have thousands of followers, to put it out there. Does anyone know who / where best to advertise quality women's fiction?

        And what about email lists? How do we even start one, when we haven't published a thing yet? I've been collecting emails from potential readers as well as ifluential people (no, I won't tell how I got those) but all this may result in less than 3% readers...

        Is anyone here making an email list? How do you do it? (Ok, I'll tell you my secrets if you tell me yours. And that's a deal.) 

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        • I don't think that you need to prepare 6 months of material before you even start. Is there some trepidation, maybe? The very act of putting your foot in the water (cliché) is a kind of commitment -- "I am going to do this" (content, material) + "I know I can do this" (confidence). They reinforce each other and one thing leads to something else.

          You are probably a bit of a pantser, no? So why do a Plan because Google said to? If it fits you, fine. But if it doesn't, you can work the way you work. Look at Harry. He improvises, he lets you know it ("I was going to write a post about ____, but...") and that's spontaeous and one of his charms.

          You can start by posting on social media at spaced intervals. I'm not finding it hard work. I was posting something connected with the subject of my novel once a month, and it got to be FUN. By the time the thing is published, it may be hard work. But a) I expect to be more used to it and even better at it then I am now and b) I'll be damned motivated, so it will be much less onerous than if I just think about how onerous it wil be.

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          • Humm... I think spontaneity is very often "carefully curated spontaneity", but we just don't notice that. Although half of me is a pantser, the other half will always feel more confident to start with a plan and a goal.

            Starting out with the knowledge that I had enough material for a few weeks at least, would make me feel at ease. Then I could add to it along the way and create further new content. The thing is... does social media need any more prattle? Nobody is missing my voice, are they?


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            • My sister is always doing something and often talks about not wasting time, or... frets about having wasted time. She often asks me, when I'm doing nothing, "Aren't you going to do something?"

              I give my usual reply "I'm writing."

              Then she says "No, you are not. You are doing nothing."

              "Well, that's me writing." Because I write in my head first, and only when I've got my ideas together do I put pen to paper. Jane Austen also used this method as paper was expensive in her days and she had to be careful with expenses. I can afford to be a bit wasteful, but by working out my scenes in my head first, I can weed out a lot of clutter from the page. 

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            • I'm a bit behind the times when it comes to blogging and tweeting  although I do have friends on Facebook.  My granddaughter put me on Tick Tock  last year doing a funny little dance and it collected one and a half million likes or view or whatever.  I did have a small thought of how that would have been useful for selling my book of short stories, but as I was know as Nanny Meg, didn't feel emboldened enough to follow that thought through.  Advertising yourself is hard.  I have no idea who I really am, how can I sell a product I don't understand?

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              • It just shows how many people social media can reach. If you are good at little dances you may be in with a good chance. Make a plan, but start by planning The Plan.

                All the best!

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              • There is hope for me yet. I wear (and lose) reading glasses and drink endless cups of tea so I must be at least part way to being a best selling author!

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