It’s been 100 days since the publication of Let in the Light and I just wanted to share 5 things I’ve learned in that time as a debut self-published author:

  1. Social Media – it’s pretty vital if you want to promote your book so I’d recommend establishing a decent social media presence as early as possible. I didn’t use social media at all until about a year ago so I feel I’m playing catch up. Using social media to network and promote your book is VERY time consuming, especially if you are using the three majors – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Allocate enough time to do some focused social networking – but not too much as that second book will never get written! There is a very supportive and welcoming reader and writer community out there so it’s worth getting to know them.

  2. Free ebooks – if you sign up exclusively for Amazon KDP Select then you have the opportunity to give your book away for free for 5 days during the first 3 months of publication. I wanted to because I felt it was a good opportunity to promote the book to people who otherwise would not have taken a chance on an unknown author and book. I split it into 2 promotions – one lasting 3 days, the other 2 days and both over weekends. On reflection, I would have just done one promotion lasting all 5 days because I think momentum plays an important part. The second promotion never really got going in terms of downloads. But the first promotion was surprisingly effective – with hundreds of downloads over the 3 days. By the end of the first promotion my book had risen to the number 1 free book in one category. But you do need to advertise on social media the fact that it’s available for free and ask people to share it.

  3. Negative Reviews – yes, they do happen! So, prepare for it! When the first few reviews come in, they are usually from family and friends and it’s nice to read some positive reviews. But sooner or later, especially when you make your book available widely through promotions, someone will read your book and won’t like it. And that’s perfectly fine – not everyone will like your book, nor should they. If it’s a constructive review, bear it in mind when you write your next book. If it’s not, then remember a negative review or two can give credence to the positive reviews you get. It provides that realistic balance.

  4. Advertising – in my experience it’s really worth investing the time (and a little money if you are able to) in Amazon Advertising. It takes a lot of time and trial and error building up a workable keywords list. There are plenty of tutorials online how to do this, but for me what worked was comparative titles and authors. Let the ad campaign run at least a week before making any decisions to cut or extend the list. I think it takes a while for your keywords to start kicking in. I managed to secure dozens of sales during the first three months purely by Amazon advertising. But obviously it costs and you need to know and stick to your budget. Some days, I made a clear profit. Some days, a loss. But overall, if you can break even or even take a small loss, consider this your marketing budget well spent. Marketing costs and what you hope is to spread the word about your book, pick up sales and reviews and build momentum. And on the days you make a profit from advertising, just celebrate!

  5. Blog Tour – my last tip and the one that takes up the most time and energy is to run a blog tour if you can. You need lots of time to prepare and patience. There is such a wonderful and generous blogger/reviewer community online and there will bloggers who will be keen to read and review your book. Again, I looked at my comparative titles and see what bloggers featured in those blog tours. I then contacted them to see if they were interested in reading and reviewing my book, obviously mentioning the comparative title and author to establish that link. There are no guidelines in terms of how many dates on a blog tour you should aim for – but my initial aim was 7 days. In the end I managed to sign up over twice that number of reviewers but I did contact probably twice that number again. The next challenge is to agree dates and a timetable, so be prepared for quite a lot of emailing back and forward to arrange all that. And you need to do all this at least 2-3 months ahead of the tour. (Bloggers are busy people and have lots of other books to read too!) But it’s worth it. My blog tour was great – the reviewers were so generous with their time and it was a really useful project to help build awareness and sales of the book. (See the Reviews page on the website for more details of the blog tour for Let in the Light.)

Hope you find some of those tips useful and if you are just about to embark on publishing your first book then I wish you every success for your first 100 days!

I’ve been asked a few times why I am donating the profits of my book to charity.

To be honest, with the majority of my sales coming from the ebook that will only ever sell for £2 or less, the money raised will not be earth shattering. But that wasn’t the point. To raise a bit of money is great but raising awareness is equally, if not more, important.

Health in Mind is a charity based in Edinburgh, Scotland and their work promotes mental health and wellbeing in communities. I grew up in Edinburgh and my book is based on a street community in Edinburgh. Although it is a feelgood story it does deal with some issues relating to mental health.

With the year we’ve all experienced - a year like no other that is testing all our mental healths like never before – I just wanted to try and do something positive to help. Even if it’s just to raise a few quid and some awareness.

There are amazing charities like Health in Mind all across the country, all across the world. Time to Talk Day was just last week - but any day can be a good day to talk, so it’s a gentle reminder that there is support out there if you ever need to reach out.

Health in Mind's website is here:

One of the most important aspects of a story is its location. You may have a great plot with interesting characters but setting them in a vivid location can sometimes be just as crucial.

I’ve recently finished Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson and what makes her story so compelling is that its set across three distinct locations – 70s Sheffield, modern day Adelaide in South Australia and Edinburgh. It really helped bring the characters to life and there was strong connection between the traits of the characters and where they lived.

And my story, too, is set in Edinburgh. Two reasons. First, its such a brilliant and varied location with stunning scenery and moody landscapes. And secondly, it’s my home city. Writing about what you know is a key element to easy and successful writing. So, placing my characters in the city where I grew up was an obvious thing to do and really helped me shape the story. Parts of the setting are fictional – there is a Hope Street in Edinburgh but its nothing like the street in Let in the Light. My Hope Street was an amalgamation of a couple of streets – one in Stockbridge and one in York. Hope Street is also the name of a Levellers song and, as the story revolves so much around music and that the Levellers are my favourite band, it seemed an apt choice of street name. I’d also like to think that the story is one of hope and the ability to overcome our troubles.

Edinburgh offers so much in terms of scene settings. Not only does it stretch down to the coast, it rises up majestically in the form of Arthur’s Seat. From an early point in the story, I knew I wanted to set a pivotal scene on top of Arthur’s Seat – the hill that overlooks all of the city, across the water and beyond to the distant mountains. The city also has hundreds of great pubs, cafes and restaurants so again it was easy to feature some of them (real and fictional) in the story - including Shakespeares (no apostrophe!). How might the story have changed had Richie stayed there that night?!

Another interesting aspect of the location in Let in the Light is the connection to New Zealand and in particular, Dunedin. In my twenties, I was lucky to spend a few months travelling around New Zealand. It was then I learned that Dunedin, the second biggest city on the South Island, had these connections to Edinburgh. Dunedin means Edinburgh in Gaelic and you will find many of its street names are the same as those in Edinburgh. This connection allowed me to have some fun with the background of one of the main characters. When I knew that one of the characters was not from Edinburgh in Scotland, I quickly knew her origin would be Dunedin, New Zealand. This one element alone of the location helped form part of the story.

In many ways, choosing the right location for your story can inspire a plot line all by itself.