Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Goodreads For Authors

by Liza Perrat

Goodreads is undoubtedly one of the best ways of connecting with a community of potential readers. I’ve found that the key to using Goodreads successfully as an author is to engage with the site as a reader. Do not come to it as a place to promote your books.

I have had a lot of fun on the site participating as a reader in different groups, and have discovered a very supportive groups of friends. Goodreads’ readers and reviewers are tough and pedantic, and I’ve learned so much more about writing through conversations with members in different groups.

I rarely talk about my books, aside from the very occasional mention where appropriate. Most groups have special folders where you can announce your giveaways, new releases, and other information about your books, and it’s best to stick to these places. However, over time, I’ve found that readers who are interested in the types of books I write have discovered my novels on their own. Word-of-mouth promotion takes its course within Goodreads, without you having to spend time promoting yourself, which, in most cases, bores and turns people right off.

However, as an author, it is definitely worthwhile setting up a Goodreads author profile page, and to make that page as engaging as possible. Post a photo, bio and links to your website, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Include an RSS feed to your blog, so readers can see your latest posts. 

Promoting Your Books...

Despite saying that Goodreads is primarily a site for readers, there are a few ways to promote your books on the site:
  • Paid adverts
  • Participate in discussion groups relevant to the genre of your books. I’d suggest joining no more than three groups, which is already quite time-consuming. I was fortunate to have my novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, chosen as the Featured Author Read for the Historical Fictionistas group in June this year, which generated a lot of discussion and interest around my book. Not to mention a few more sales.
  • Lead a Q&A discussion group for readers
  • List a book giveaway to generate buzz

Let’s talk about Goodreads giveaways, that well-known marketing tool. Most people hope that giveaways will lead to a spike in sales, or at least in reviews. However, giveaways are more likely to lead to a spike in people putting your book on their ‘to read’ shelves, rather than anything else. But the cost of giveaways (compared with paid advertising) is low, and familiarity in having your book show up in as many different places as possible over time should be part of your long-haul marketing commitment. Exposure is what makes readers pick your book out of the crowd.

Currently, you can only give away physical books on Goodreads. You’ll need to decide on how many books to give away, and which territories you are prepared to ship to. You can, however, give away books from your backlist to incite interest for your new release – just leave the publication date blank when you are setting up the giveaway.

In his presentation at the 2013 London Book Fair, Patrick Brown from Goodreads suggested that a month was the ideal time for a giveaway. Other indie authors have said this is too long and that you only get people participating in the last few days, so I guess this is a matter of trial and error.

Giveaways are very simple, very popular, and very powerful if planned correctly. Here’s how they work:

  • Authors fill out and submit a form describing their book and the giveaway dates
  • Authors agree to supply the indicated number of books on the date the giveaway ends
  • Goodreads lists the book on its giveaways page
  • Goodreads members enter to win the giveaway. Many will add the book to their “to-read” shelf. Though some authors argue these shelves are loaded with books that will never be read, as I said above, it’s one way to make sure your book is more familiar to potential readers
  • Goodreads collects interest in the book then selects winners. Their algorithm (yes, they use them too!) ingeniously uses member data to match interested members with each book
  • Goodreads chooses the winner(s) randomly and notifies you with their address. It is your responsibility to ship the books to the winners promptly

Tips to help make your giveaway more successful...

Allow enough time for interest to accrue but not so much time that people forget about it. Goodreads generally recommends two weeks to a month. This allows enough time for lots of people to enter, but not so much time for them to forget they entered. Ideally, those who don't win the giveaway will be intrigued enough to seek out your book elsewhere on the site and possibly add it to their “to-read” shelves. They might not remember to do this if the giveaway lasts for too long.

Post the Goodreads Giveaway Widget on your blog, website, and Facebook page. The Giveaway Widget works by helping you reach the people most likely to enjoy your book!

More countries = more exposure. Offer your giveaways for all the countries listed and not just the US. There aren’t nearly as many giveaways for international users, and, from living in France, I know that us "foreigners" appreciate having a chance too!

Make your giveaway description compelling. It would be easy to copy-paste your back cover blurb into the giveaway description box, but review blurbs seem to work better. Also note any awards or kudos, Indie Book of the Day, Awesome Indies Approved, etc…

As an example, this is the description I used for my giveaway of  Spirit of Lost Angels, which generated almost 2,000 entries:

I am giving away 5 signed copies of my historical fiction debut, Spirit of Lost Angels. Best of luck!
An incredible page turner … Spirit of Lost Angels is an exciting novel to read with its many plot twists and high degree of conflict and emotion. Mirella Patzer, http://www.historyandwomen.com/

Eighteenth century France is brought vividly to life in this dramatic recreation of Paris in the lead up to the storming of the Bastille. The writing is superb, the sights, sounds and smells of a city in turmoil is brought vividly to life …. Fabulous. I loved it!
Josie Barton, http://jaffareadstoo.blogspot.fr/

... Perrat avoids the trap of allowing her protagonist to miraculously find her way. There are no miracles in Spirit of Lost Angels, but small blessings along the journey. I am impressed with Perrat’s knowledgeable treatment of the role of women during one of France’s most tumultuous times, as well as the complexities of insular village life. Darlene Elizabeth Williams http://darleneelizabethwilliamsauthor...

Spirit of Lost Angels is a tale to lose oneself in …  Andrea Connell, http://thequeensquillreview.com/

Liza Perrat brings to life the sights and sounds of 18th century France. Her extensive research shines through in her writing, from the superstitions of the villagers to the lives of the more sophisticated Parisians.
Anne Cater (Top 500 Amazon reviewer)http://randomthingsthroughmyletterbox...

Schedule your giveaway to start in the future. Don’t set-up the giveaway to start immediately, as the Goodreads approval process can take a few days. It’s a good idea to schedule your giveaway to start 3 business days later, so that you know it will be ready. Also, Goodreads does not work on weekends, so avoid listing your giveaway on Thursday or Friday.

Create an Author Q&A group timed to coincide with the end of your giveaway and link to the group. An Author Q&A group can be a great way to maintain contact with members who entered your giveaway. But schedule it for some time in the future, as people will need time to read your book.

Send books promptly: When winners are picked, be sure to send out the book in a timely manner. If it arrives late, or worse, not at all, an angry winner might leave a nasty review!

Give away signed cop(y)ies: Many readers regard signed copies as something special, so why not sign your book before sending it off? It’s best not to personalise the book though, with Dear “X”, as the winner may want it for a friend, or to give as a present.

Requesting a review: You may, or may not, want to include a handwritten note inside the book asking for a review.  Many people advise that this is acceptable, whilst some say it is not. Up to you.

In the Huffington Post, author marketing expert Penny C Sansevieri has some excellent advice on the power of the Goodreads giveaway.

Goodreads Tips from the experts…

  • Patrick Brown also spoke at the LBF about the opportunities for engaging with readers on Goodreads: “the best way, of course, is to be an active member of the Goodreads community, posting and reviewing books in the genre you love and write in, so you can connect as a reader.” If you want to learn more, Patrick has also openly shared his slide pack.
  • Author of contemporary fiction, Christine Nolfi, has some great advice here, on Goodreads strategies to increase sales.
  • Author Marketing Club Video Goodreads Tutorial
  • In the Huffington Post, author marketing expert Penny C Sansevieri tells us how to become a Goodreads power user.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Polly Courtney, author of Feral Youth, in conversation with Catriona Troth

This month’s guest on BookClub is Polly Courtney, author of the remarkable novel, Feral Youth, written in response to the riots that broke out across Britain's cities in the summer of 2011.  

Feral Youth is the story of Alesha – a fifteen year old from Peckham in South London, living under the radar, dodging social services, gang violence and her alcoholic mother. It's the story of why so many young British kids took the streets, of why they were so angry.

Here she talks to Catriona Troth about the origins of the book, the young people who helped to inspire her, and how the book has been received.

Polly, where were you when the riots broke out in August 2011?  Did you have direct experience of them or like most of us, were you watching them unfold on your television screens?
I was at home in west London, glued to my Twitter feed, smelling the burning police cars in Ealing. I wanted to head into town and see it first-hand but things seemed to be moving quite quickly and I knew I’d be too late to catch the action, so I headed into town the next day. It was devastating; charity shops and family stores had been reduced to burnt-out shells.

When did you first start to think, there is a side to this story that no one is thinking about?
I watched and read the news, avidly, in the days and weeks that followed the riots. Everyone was talking about harsh punishments and blame, with many people focusing on the story of Mark Duggan, whose death at the hands of the police had initiated the protest that sparked the riots… but it felt as though nobody was asking why. WHY did so many young people take to the streets across the country? I don’t mean the looters, who inevitably took advantage of the mayhem in order to get their hands on free stuff; I mean the people who stood in the street, brazenly facing a line of police, chucking things, burning things, yelling obscenities. Why were they so angry? And even if many of them were just after a new pair of trainers, why were they willing to break the law and go to such lengths to get it? It felt as though there was something deeply wrong with society and nobody was talking about the real problems.

Tell us about the research you did before you began writing the novel.  Did you already have any contact with groups like Kids’ Company, or was this an entirely new world for you?
When the riots broke out, I was already looking into becoming a mentor for a young person at Kids Company. I had heard a lot about the support they give vulnerable children and I’d read Camila Batmanghelidjh’s heart-breaking book, Shattered Lives (recommended reading for anyone working with or bringing up children), but the training and matching process takes time, so it was only later when I actually started mentoring. One of the key pieces of research I undertook was going into schools and youth groups and small charities, talking and workshopping with young people about the way they lived their lives, their frustrations and their attitudes. I learned so much more than I’d bargained for – not just about the kids but about myself too. I was horrified to realise that I’d gone in with some preconceptions of my own, presumably borne out of media stereotypes and spin. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to the teenagers who helped me to shape Alesha’s view of the world.

What you found about the lives of these young people is profoundly shocking. To me, Alesha seemed closer to some of Dickens’ characters (like Tom the crossing sweeper in Bleak House) than anything I would expect to encounter in 21st Century London.  But this is all grounded in reality, isn’t it? What was your reaction to what you discovered?
I was horrified at what I discovered. Politicians talk as though we are ‘one big community’, an empowered nation with a highly functioning society, but we’re not. There are people who fall through the gaps and some of them have no safety net – or if they do, they often don’t know where to find it. Homelessness is a massive problem, but not in the way most people think. It’s not all about ex-military servicemen on the streets around Waterloo (although that is a huge problem too); it’s about kids who sofa-surf, existing below the radar, living one day to the next with nothing more than the £2 in their pocket and nobody looking out for them. Some sleep on night buses to keep warm. I couldn’t believe the problem was so profound and so widespread.

You originally came into writing from the world of investment banking – which is about as far from the Alesha’s world as you can get.  What do you think now of a city that can spawn two such very different modes of existence? And what do you think we need to do to change things for Alesha?
I lived a grotesquely lavish life in the City. I got cabs everywhere, I ate expensive meals and I enjoyed all sorts of ‘perks’ from my employer. We lived in a ‘bubble’; the square mile was insulated from the rest of the world by money and we really didn’t have a clue how ordinary people lived – let alone those living in poverty. I’ve only realised the extent of the problem at the other end of the wealth spectrum in the last few years, so I can’t tell whether the wealth divide has widened, but it certainly feels as though most policies being put through by the coalition favour the already-wealthy and make life very hard for those at the bottom. I don’t think it’s a party-political issue, either. It’s just that the wealthy can speak up for themselves and therefore tend to control the agenda. The poor and vulnerable typically don’t have a voice in the mainstream media or society, so they are natural victims. Something I wanted to do with Feral Youth was to give the Aleshas of the world a voice.

I believe your agent didn’t take very kindly to your idea for a new novel.  Can you tell us about how [he/she] reacted when you first suggested it?
I believe my agent’s words were: “I don’t think it’s got commercial potential. I wouldn’t be able to sell it [to a publisher]. But I have a feeling you’re going to write it anyway.”
She was right; I wrote it regardless. I’m so pleased I did.

Were you still with Harper Collins at this stage, or had you already left your publisher?
I’d walked out a few months before, but I was already a long way into planning the novel that would become Feral Youth. The riots happened around the time I left HarperCollins, so I guess you could say I was feeling reckless… or maybe I was just desperate to do things on my own terms
Alesha’s voice in Feral Youth is incredibly strong, and it feels utterly authentic.  But it’s quite unlike yours and quite unlike the voice in any of your previous novels.  How did you achieve that and how difficult was it to sustain?
For real, blud! Yes, it took a while to get into Alesha’s head and learn her voice and I couldn’t have done it without a bunch of south London teenagers, who had a good laugh at my expense. It wasn’t just her language I wanted to get right though; it was her attitude and all the little things: where she hung out, what she thought of politicians, teachers, social workers… what made her smile, occasionally.

How big a risk do you think it was to take on a character so far from your own experience? And what would you say now to a novelist contemplating taking a similar leap?
They say you should ‘write what you know’. Well, I guess I broke that rule, but as soon as I knew there were real-life Aleshas out there, I was desperate to share her story with the world. I wanted people to care. I’m not sure I’m qualified to advise other writers, but I would say that the most important thing you can do is to write what you care about, even if it requires some research to get it right. Authenticity is critical.

How has Feral Youth been received so far?  Are you pleased with how things have gone?
I’ve been humbled. I was truly expecting a backlash, or rather, multiple backlashes: people telling me I had no right to write Alesha’s story, people saying I’d got it wrong, people disagreeing with the political implications. In fact, I’ve seen very little of that. The most emotional I’ve felt in a long time was a week ago, when I received a message (via a charity) from a 15-year-old girl from a not dissimilar situation from Alesha, telling me that the book had left her in tears and that it was the first book she’d read cover-to-cover.

And no regrets at your decision to go indie?
Not one. I’m back in control and it has never felt better. The audiobook has just come out and my next little project is Feral Youth the movie…

Feral Youth Review

Review by JJ Marsh

 Few books I’ve read can carry such weighty themes with such a unique voice and distinctive accent. Ben Myers’s Pig Iron or Irving Welsh’s Trainspotting, for the use of dialect/patios/literally rendered speech come close. And for me, that’s what sets this remarkable book apart. Courtney attacks the enormous social issues of contemporary Britain by giving the voiceless a voice. A real voice.

Her depiction of South London gangs and the daily struggle to exist is believable and precise. The depth of feeling for so many opposing characters reminded me of The Wire. The reader’s loyalty and respect waver along with the protagonist. Alesha, who’s on the receiving end of some pretty shitty luck, has to make some decisions. And it’s not her choice of GCSEs.

Feral Youth puts a different slant on Britain’s 2011 ‘BlackBerry Riots’, by looking at the causes, lacerating the media and using the most beautiful tool of all. Language. Alesha knows, understands, thinks and articulates – in her head. Externally, she seems sullen, rebellious, foul-mouthed and irrecoverable. To almost everyone.

This is the story of how a fifteen-year-old can slip through the cracks, failed by education, failed by Social Services, left to fend for herself and seek the dubious protection of a gang. For me, the most heartbreaking element of the story is Alesha’s hopefulness. She believes she can get out, escape her hand-to-mouth existence, change her wretched circumstances. And I was rooting for her, willing her to succeed while sharing her simmering anger at daily injustices.

Knowing the governmental cutbacks, rising poverty, widening gap between haves and have nots, and demonisation of young people in certain tabloids is bound to create more Aleshas makes me wonder how we can call ourselves a first world country.

This book made me cry, grit my teeth in frustration and realise that up till now, I only had one side of the story.

You can also read Polly Courtney in conversation with Catriona Troth here.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Triskele at Chorleywood LitFest

“The greatest little litfest you’d never heard of – until now”

Chorleywood LitFest  

6 - 21 November

Featuring Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bill Bryson, Terry Wogan, David Suchet, Douglas Hurd, Kate Adie, Hadley Freeman and ...

Triskele Books! 

Saturday November 16 sees three firsts: 


The Human Library

Participants can borrow one of the Triskele authors to discuss any aspect of indie publishing

The Rise of the Author Collective

The panel discuss lessons learned on the self-publishing journey and the benefits of working together

The Launch

And the launch of the next three new releases from the Triskele Books collective:

· Wolfsangel - Liza Perrat

· Overlord - JD Smith

· Ghost Town - Catriona Troth

All events are free but to book your place: here's more information
And for maps, directions and the right Tube line: Where's Chorleywood?