C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Guest Post: Mistakes Made

Reading Weep, I became impressed with Eoin Brady’s writing. It’s a compelling zombie novel set in Ireland powered by well-drawn characters. Recently, I reached out to him to share a bit of his author journey. Today, Eoin generously shares his missteps and how he’s correcting them. Thanks for sharing, Eoin! ~ RCC

Getting It Right Beyond the Writing

I can’t speak about success with much credibility. However, I’ve a good bit to say on the topic of failure, the prelude to success.

I’m Eoin Brady and I have published three books. One is a contemporary romance and the other two are in the post-apocalyptic, science fiction genre. There’s a fantasy series in the works, too. You can probably spot the mistake. Romance and horror under the same pen name. I’ll grant you there is neck biting in both, but there’s a little more ‘will they, or won’t they?’ with romance. 

My first book I’m Not Saying It was published in June of 2018. It bombed. You couldn’t hear crickets chirping on the sales dashboard because not even they knew to show up. To date, it has still not made back the cost of its cover and editing. It was a premade cover too, not all that expensive.

It was the first book I published, but not the first that I’d written. I shelved a nearly 300,000 word fantasy novel because it would have cost a fortune to have it professionally edited. If I was going to slip up, which was inevitable, I didn’t want it to be on something that I’d put so much time and effort into. I ended up putting a lot of time and effort into a different project and messed that up instead.

The story for the romance was set on Inis Meain, the middle and least visited of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway. In 2017, I got a job on the island and moved there. I soon discovered that I get seasick, not great when you have to cross a stretch of the Atlantic to do your weekly shopping. On days off and after work, I wandered the roads and paths, filling them with my characters and their stories. I focused all my efforts on the writing and ignored what came after ‘The End.’ The result of that was clear. Nobody read it. If nobody could find my book then what did it matter that I lived in the location to make the story feel alive on the page?

What Went Wrong:

I’m Not Saying It is a contemporary romance, but you’d never guess that from the regency style cover. I wasn’t a big reader of the genre before writing it and that was a massive mistake. How could I hope to market a book to readers when I had no idea what their expectations were? You’re not reinventing the wheel. You’re trying to entertain people and hopefully make a living doing so. Who would I direct the advertisements to? Who were my contemporaries? What covers were working? I did not have the bare minimum information so I was set to fail before I started.

The Cover:

I bought a pre-made cover that was red and had a couple on it. That’ll do the job and save me a bit of money, I thought. Nope. There’s nothing contemporary about it. Might as well slap a chemistry text book cover on it. I had a product that was flawed because I didn’t understand the market. What authors could I target in my ads? Readers of Cecelia Ahern or Maeve Binchy? To me, they were romance authors, but their readership could be completely different. Would somebody fond of second-chance romance give my story a go? You’d get more steam from a cold kettle than you would from INSI, so was I pushing a sweet romance to a readership hungry for a bit of divilment?

The cover for my second novel, Weep, is a little closer to its genre expectations, but it does require a second glance and even then it does not perfectly convey the content within. You want your cover to let the reader know their expectations will be met. With so many new books being added to Amazon every day, people don’t have to spare you a second thought.

The quality of your story does not matter if you lose readers at first glance. I made it difficult to the point of impossible for people to find my story. If the process of buying a book from an unknown author is not as seamless as possible, you’ve lost. Even if everything was perfect, from your sales copy, cover and blurb, you’re still going to have difficulty enticing people to give you their finite money and time.

The Content: 

The main character, Shade, is a fully fledged travel blogger when we meet her. She has a fairly full bank account and is confident in her position as a seasoned blogger. Where’s the intrigue? It’s only now that I realise that the interesting part of her story happened before this book. I want to read about her failures. I want to feel anxious as the ticking clock starts and we watch as the dregs of her savings dwindle. Will she make it and be able to follow her dreams for a living? Or will she have to return to a 9-5 that she’s desperate to escape? As a reader I’m interested in characters facing adversity and watching them struggle, fail and hoping they’ll eventually overcome that failure. I’m not invested in a character that has made it without first seeing them struggle, but I’ll not stop turning the pages for one that might never achieve their dreams, yet still strives to.

***

My biggest failure was a complete lack of preparation outside of writing. When I first discovered that people wrote books for a living, that being an author was something that you could be, I swapped the fantasy section of my local bookstore, for the much smaller, writing craft shelves. I read as much as I could, but I realised that I wasn’t going to find a magic solution to becoming a writer. The fundamental thing was lacking; writing. Now in the modern age of self-publishing, it has taken longer for it to dawn on me that I should have been spending just as much time in the marketing section of the store.

It can be a little overwhelming when starting out. You are the writer, marketer,  copywriter, administrator and financier. Basically everything. I was riddled with doubt, but I then had to put that aside and try to sell a product with mock confidence when all I wanted to do was write. I suppose you can just write, but you won’t sell much.

So where to start? You can lose yourself in the many courses, seminars, classes, videos, books and newsletters available. I don’t know where I heard it to leave credit, but the self-publishing boom was compared to the gold-rush. Prospectors weren’t the wealthy ones. It was the people supplying them with the means to root around in the dirt who struck gold.

To deal with a sense of being overwhelmed, I overwhelmed myself by reading book after book on self-publishing. Initially, I had a broad focus and tried to stretch my limited time to do everything at once. I’ve started narrowing the focus of my efforts. Build up the basics and implement them before moving on. I dove straight into everything. Trying to do too much all at once just meant I did many things poorly.

Current Failings: Marketing

Marketing is vital if you want to be read. It is the voice of your story. Without it, you’re invisible. I’ve had a very slapdash approach to marketing so far. My daily spend is quite low. At the moment I’m running an ad for Weep and one for the free Weep novella to build my mailing list. 

Not long after the release of Weep, I set up a few newsletter promotions. It was free for a week and thousands of people downloaded it. Quite an experience seeing those towering columns on the sales dashboard. I’ve nothing to show for those numbers though. I never set up a means of holding on to those readers. If they reached the end of the book, there was no cookie to attract them to a mailing list. I had neither a cookie nor a list. Rectifying that has taken up a good portion of my writing time this year. 

Now I have a reader magnet, A Ring of Oak & Apple. That novella has nearly tripled the number of subscribers on my list. I wouldn’t consider it a success as I’ve not really engaged those new subscribers. I’m slow to message them, taking on lessons from previously jumping in without forethought. I’m quite happy to give that novella away for free as I feel it’s the best representation of my writing. If people enjoy it, then they might go on and read the rest of my work. It removes the apprehension around spending money on an unknown product. The newsletter is a long-term investment into your career. Progression is slow; words become chapters become books. Just as strangers become readers become fans. It seems like the best way of doing that is with a mailing list.

Marketing still seems daunting, but the monster you don’t know is a lot scarier than the one you do. By defining boundaries on what can be done, the task becomes manageable. 

My goal is to make a living by entertaining readers. I cannot simply achieve that by telling stories, I have to learn how to sell them, too. 

What Helps Me Write More

With a workload increase since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve had a lot less time to write. The only way I’ve been able to get words down with any consistency is with writing sprints. I set an alarm for twenty minutes and try to write as much as I can during that time. Twenty distraction-free minutes. When the alarm goes off, I’ll make a cup of coffee for the next sprint. I can usually get between 600-700 words each time. They’re by no means pretty, but nobody else will see the first draft. I’ve found sprinting coupled with planning has significantly reduced instances of writer’s block.

Planning

What good is sprinting if you’re going in the wrong direction? When it comes to what side of the fence I fall with regards to planning and discovery writing, I do both. I’ll try to work out the barebones of a story and create a scaffolding to build upon. I don’t know the characters all that well, but the first draft is where I discover them. Some people find planning stifles creativity. If that sounds familiar, then work with what suits you. Planning has saved me time and words. I’d be lost without it. Not planning has cost me an entire novel. 

Miscellaneous Mistakes:

I may have found the title of the autobiography that I’ll never write. Getting a cover wrong is a costly mistake. Over the last few years, I’ve bought covers before the books were even started. I ordered two covers for books that existed as little more than titles at the time. Take the Weep novella A Ring of Oak & Apple, for example. What has the  moon got to do with Irish zombies? Sweet feck all. It was commissioned for a romance novel. I had to retcon the moon and a ringfort of oak and apple trees into the novella.

The checklist for publishing a book can seem quite short, but the steps involved can take years. Getting the cover done felt like finally ticking off something from the list. It was creating an anchor point in reality for something that existed purely in my imagination. This could have worked if I had a solid plan in place. With a good enough plan, you could nearly write the acknowledgements for the last book of a series you’ve yet to start.

Solutions & Resources: 

Enrolling in Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula courses has been one of the best investments I’ve made for my writing. It’s an expanding library of content on most self-publishing topics. I reference it as and when I need. For my recent novella, A Ring of Oak & Apple, I went back over videos on blurbs, front and back matter and now I’m going into the marketing side of things. I’m an avid listener of the SPF podcast and that made me feel confident in what they were offering. For me, it was a way of reducing that sense of being overwhelmed by finding a place where most of what I needed to know was condensed into video lessons. Their Facebook group, The SPF Community, is a great place to find information on what is working for other writers.

Right now building up an email list is my main focus, outside of writing more books. I’m giving the Weep novella away to entice readers to join. Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque is an illuminating book on the topic.

David Gaughran pretty much covers everything on his website. https://davidgaughran.com. I also found his books insightful.

Tools I Use:

Canva: (Free). I use this to design all of my ad images.

Writing: Google Docs. I might give Scrivener a go on the next book. Right now though Google docs does the job.

Formatting: Vellum – professional formatting, easy to use, no qualms about this purchase.

Kindle Rocket – Keywords for ads and categories.

Mailerlite: Email newsletter.

Bookfunnel: Distributing reader magnet novella.

Website: Squarespace. My site is barebones, but it does the job for now.

Learning From Failure:

The experience of writing, editing and publishing INSI was invaluable and the lessons from those mistakes have been a great base to grow from. I plan to take that book down, rewrite parts of it and position it as number two in a new romance trilogy with genre-specific covers and published under a separate romance pen name. It was by no means a wasted effort. Mistakes make great fertilizer.

~ Eoin Brady is the author of apocalyptic horror, epic fantasy, and contemporary romance novels, most of which are set in Ireland, where he lives and writes. Weep, his most recent story, begins on the west coast of Ireland as a mysterious disease ravages the country. Find out more at www.eoinbradybooks.com

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