MA Marketing series #2 The Five-Year Plan

Book Marketing Series #2 – Five-Year Plan

MA Marketing series #2 The Five-Year Plan

Part #2 in this Book Marketing series covers, for most new authors the uncomfortable truth, that your books aren’t going to go viral, and that you need a solid marketing plan to reach the kind of sales to be a financially self-sustaining author. In this article, I’ll tell you why. The rest of the series falls into this plan, so don’t skip, you’ll want to read this next.

(If you’ve come in at this article first – here’s the start of the series)

Book Marketing Series
#2 – The Five-Year Plan

It’s pretty sucky I know, that you can’t make a living from your first book, but as we’ve already covered in the previous segment; in seven years, the internet, Amazon and eBooks have rocketed newly-published books from effectively 200,000 a year in the UK market, to 231,000 a month, and growing at 120,000 a year. There’s just no way to be found in such a flooded market without a strong enough and long enough book marketing programme.

Most Authors Plan to Fail

Book Marketing - Most Authors fail to Plan

For most new authors, the idea is set in your head that your book will (or at least, might) simply take off without any more than telling friends and family. Word of mouth will do the rest, or some process within Amazon. You publish, have a small blip at launch, as friends and family buy your book, and perhaps you shift 20 to 50 copies. But that’s it for month one. You’re disappointed. Hey, but month two, things will pick up, right? My friends and family need time to finish the book, of course, and tell others how great it is!

Month two comes…and goes. You’ve met a few more people and sold a half-dozen more copies. You start to worry.

Month three you try news things. You set up a Facebook page and tell everyone on there about your book, and provide a link to the book page on Amazon. You might set up a website and dabble in the mystic arts of google SEO.

No sales…

You try yet more things, and maybe sell a handful more books, becoming despondent. Why didn’t it sell? I can’t be good enough a writer.

You still have a stack of books in cupboards, under the bed and in the boot of the car.

Around six months later – you give away as many books as you can, and discard thoughts of being an author…

MA Book Marketing Five-Year Plan - Year One

Five-Year Plan – Year One

Becoming a successful author isn’t about writing one good book – even a great book! It’s about writing a good book, and marketing the hell out of it. You should be executing your book marketing campaign six months before your book is published. Your plan should reflect this, to set up a book marketing process – let’s call it your Author Platform, including some online payment system to take pre-orders. You might do this through a website dedicated to the book or you as an author, or maybe through Amazon (they allow pre-sales). So Year One of your plan should look something like the third illustration (let’s assume it takes you twelve months per book).

So, at the end of your first year, when your book is ready, you publish, and depending on how comprehensive your platform, how slick your marketing patter and the size of your fanbase, you make sales accordingly. If you do well, you might make enough money to pay for the Self-Publishing, printing and other costs, and have a few pennies left over. But don’t count on it, you need to budget for a loss – for now. You then carry on, spending the first three months of year two, marketing book one and writing book two.

Year TwoBook Marketing - Five-Year Plan - Year Two

Months five and six of Year Two, you go quiet. It adds a little tension for your fans (Don’t be rude though. If you’re asked a question, answer it. Nothing puts off fans more than being ignored). In the second half of the year, begin building interest in the new book. Your fans will be keen to know more, and you’ll soon see pre-sales coming in – and more than for book one.

At the end of the year, publish the new book. You’ll see a nice increase in the spike in sales compared to book one, as you’re now selling both books one and two. You will also see a greater number of ongoing sales before things die down.

Happy days,  but don’t get carried away – it’s still not enough to sustain you.

 Years Three, Four, Five…and on…

Book Marketing - Five-Year Plan - all years

Now you rinse and repeat the year two strategy. If your books are good enough, and there’s a large enough market for them, you’ll experience exponentially increasing sales for the same marketing effort. Around book four you’ll have enough money coming in to call yourself a self-sustaining author. And hopefully, you’ll carry on to publish book five through twenty+ and go on to be a successful career author.


No no quite. There’s still the HOW to discuss… And we start with one BIG caveat in the previous section. I said – If your books are good enough.

And so we come to part 3…


NEXT INSTALMENT #3 Are My Books Good Enough to Sell 1000’s?

MA Marketing series #3 - Are My Books Good Enough to Sell in the 1000's?  Out Soon!

Click button below to sign up and be informed when next instalment is available


OR JOIN THE FREE NAGS Facebook Community page

Back to the first article

Miles Allen Author picture

About Miles Allen

Miles changed careers in 2008 from Senior Systems Designer in Aviation to become a fantasy author. His first book hit No1 on Amazon for Epic Fantasy and knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones. In 2010 he started a self-publishing business, and began creative writing meet-ups in Kent called NAGwhich have been running bi-weekly for four years.

He now writes, runs NAGS, and teaches a range of frank and honest courses for new authors on creative writing, self-publishing and book marketing across the Southeast (including at the Canterbury Christchurch University and North Kent College).


“It was great having Miles teaching to us today.
It’s given me some fantastic things to
think about – a very inspiring speaker,
thank you for a brilliant session.”

Emily Dorsett Beard

 SIGN UP NOW for Miles’ FREE Newsletter

For best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing sent straight to your inbox.

Join his FREE NAGS (New Author Group) Facebook Community page

MA Book Marketing Series #1 – The Five Fierce Facts

MA Book Marketing series #1 The Five Fierce Facts to Selling 1000's of Books

This is the true, unshackled reality of Book Marketing – and what to do about it. If you can stomach the facts and implement the advice, you can make a career as an author.


So you’ve completed your first book – congratulations! It’s no easy task, you are to be commended, and that’s sincere – I’ve done it, I know what you’ve been through.

It’s probably in Word, or Scrivener, or maybe some other word processor. Perhaps you’ve done battle with Amazon’s comprehensive instructions, and uploaded it, it’s been processed and viola! –  your book’s for sale as a Kindle download, or maybe a paperback using their CreateSpace offering.

You’ve sat and waited for the sales counter to tick up.

Nothing (or maybe a few to friends and family).

A week later, no more sales. Many people who said they’d buy the book, haven’t, and don’t.

A month passes – more nothing…

How to sell 1000’s of Books – Mindset

In this series, I’ll be covering what Book Marketing really works for authors who want to sell books in the 1000’s to make a full or part-time living.

Some of it is painful reading, as I bring your mindset into tune with reality – which I must. If you can accept what I proffer, then the rest will transform your book sales – if you’re ready to do some hard work – which you must.

So let’s do some groundwork and set the scene. Then, throughout the series, I’ll attack each issue with detailed help to overcome each one. Some of you at this point will be tempted to skip to specific lessons, to get to the nitty-gritty. I get that – I tend to do it myself – we’re busy people, and there’s a lot of other advice out there you’ve possibly read. You just want anything that might supplement what you’ve already found. All I can tell you is: I don’t do packing or page filling. I only write what’s required. If you skip, you’ll miss something, and at some point later, misunderstand the importance, or misinterpret an application of information. Everything before builds on everything after. I ask you to trust me – and read it all – in order…

The Five Fierce Facts
(to selling 1000’s of books)


If you told NO ONE about your book, did no Book Marketing, and uploaded it to Amazon. After a year you will have sold zero copies.

It’s not a reflection of your skill as a writer. It’s because, in the last 30 days,  231,000 new books were added to Amazon (figure at time of writing, and it’s growing by 10,000 a month).

Not all are in your genre, of course, but for a popular genre, such as Crime, Thrillers and Mystery the hard reality is: the day you publish your book, you’ll be competing with 228 other authors publishing that day in your genre. By tomorrow there will be another 228 competing books published! By the end of the week, you’re just one of nearly 1,600 new books in your genre. You’re old news.

Most authors fiddle around with a bit of Book Marketing, selling less than 50 books. Many sell only 10-20 to friends and family.

FACT #2 – You need to put in a lot of effort over a long period of time

For authors that come to me, this is the single largest factor that convinces them not to write a book for an income. “I’ll just try one first. See how it goes,” they say. I tell them the reality of their plan. A few choose to go ahead anyway, without strong Book Marketing, believing their book is going to be different. It always ends in disappointment.

So, how long?

Three to five years. Yes, I know, that’s disappointing, and some of you will leave now and not read on. The reason for the length of time is two-fold. First, it takes time for people to learn you exist and like your writing, and build your fan base. And second, is FACT #3.

FACT #3 – You have to publish a lot of books

Sure, you can sell thousands of your first book, maybe even financially break even if you work really, really hard. But you’re not going make a living from it to fund you while writing book two. One book isn’t going to cut it. Two books, won’t either. Three, and especially as a series, you will see some traction, and maybe pay for itself with a little left over, but not enough to live off. Book four is normally the breakpoint. If your Book Marketing is appropriate, you’ll have a good number of followers by then, and you can use them as meat into the grinder that is Amazon’s chart algorithm (more on this later). After that, things will take off, and residual sales, plus sales of your new books, will sustain you.

FACT #4 – The Product has to be good

As much as you don’t want to hear it, your book is nothing more than a product, like in any other business. Clients (readers) have to know it exists, they have to be wooed into trying it out, and they have to like it if they’re to buy from The Company (you) again. And there’s a LOT of competition, as we’ve said.

What does this mean, exactly? It means your writing has to be sharp, your stories intriguing, your book well produced: a great cover, quality materials, professional formatting, well edited, and proof checked. Weakness in any of these areas and your books will not compete. There are plenty of good authors throughout history who disappeared due to one bad apple in the book cart. As a society, we place our heroes on pedestals. We expect them to be perfect. One slip can have a catastrophic affect on their popularity, causing eventual demise. And getting followers as authors is hard enough as it is.

FACT #5 – The 90% Amazon factor

Like it or not, if you want to sell 1000’s of books and have a career, Amazon is going to be 90% of your book sales. You will need to understand how their secret algorithms work and keep pace with the constant tweaks. You’ll need tools to do this – and they’re out there. Keep it up, and at some point, your book sales will start to take care of themselves – mostly. This is the happy ending to your long, dedicated, slog. This is the gravy train. You’re now a successful career author.


If you’re still with me – good for you! That wasn’t an easy pill to swallow, but you’re still here and not put off. So let’s get into the details of how you go about taking the Five Fierce Facts head on and breaking out the other side.


NEXT INSTALLMENT #2 The Five-Year Plan

Book Marketing - Author 5-year plan - thumbnail

Click button below to sign up and be informed when new instalments are available



JOIN THE FREE NAGS Facebook Community page

Back to the first article

Miles Allen Author picture

About Miles Allen

Miles changed careers in 2008 from Senior Systems Designer in Aviation to become a fantasy author. His first book hit No1 on Amazon for Epic Fantasy and knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones. In 2010 he started a self-publishing business, and began creative writing meet-ups in Kent called NAGwhich have been running bi-weekly for four years.

He now writes, runs NAGS, and teaches a range of frank and honest courses for new authors on creative writing, self-publishing and book marketing across the Southeast (including at the Canterbury Christchurch University and North Kent College).


“It was great having Miles teaching to us today.
It’s given me some fantastic things to
think about – a very inspiring speaker,
thank you for a brilliant session.”

Emily Dorsett Beard


 SIGN UP NOW for Miles’ FREE Newsletter
For best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing sent straight to your inbox.

Join his FREE NAGS (New Author Group) Facebook Community page
Miles Allen - Book Marketing series cover article

Why are my books not selling?

Miles Allen - Book Marketing series cover article

Book Marketing is the single greatest killer problem for new authors. You spend all that time on your book and believe the hard part’s done.

Plenty of online sources will claim quick fixes and miracle Book Marketing tricks, but in the end they’re either fake solutions, or you need to put a great deal of effort to make them work anyway, on top of paying somebody for their approach.

Painful Learning Curve

Seven years ago my first book shifted 75 copies in the first month to friends and family. The feedback was good.

This is it,‘ I thought. ‘Now it will take off!

Month two, sales were seven.

Sound familiar?

I bit the bitter bullet – books don’t go viral on places like Amazon, Smashwords, or get snapped up by bookstore chains, even if you’re on facebook, twitter, google+, linkedin, goodreads, and have a personal and comprehensive book website.

A year later, I’d learnt a lot. Thousands of copies were uploaded from Amazon, or sold direct as paperbacks at book signings, fairs, coffee shops, shopping malls, business networking – anywhere I could think I could get face-to-face.

What works…

I’ve put together a series, providing you with solid ways to market and sell your book. It involves no miracles, quick fixes, or silver bullets. The fact is, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, it will guide you to a successful campaign, avoiding costly mistakes.

I wish you all the best with your book, and remember:

The harder you work
informed and smart
the luckier you get…


MA Marketing series #1 The Five Fierce Facts to Selling 1000's of Books

PART #1 – THE FIVE FIERCE FACTS (to selling 1000’s of books)


Miles Allen Author picture

About Miles Allen

Miles changed careers in 2008 from Senior Systems Designer in Aviation to become a fantasy author. His first book hit No1 on Amazon for Epic Fantasy and knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones. In 2010 he started a self-publishing business, and began creative writing meet-ups in Kent called NAGwhich have been running bi-weekly for four years.

He now writes, runs NAGS, and teaches a range of frank and honest courses for new authors on creative writing, self-publishing and book marketing across the Southeast (including at the Canterbury Christchurch University and North Kent College).


“It was great having Miles teaching to us today.
It’s given me some fantastic things to
think about – a very inspiring speaker,
thank you for a brilliant session.”

Emily Dorsett Beard


 SIGN UP NOW for Miles’ FREE Newsletter
For best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing sent straight to your inbox.

Join his FREE NAGS (New Author Group) Facebook Community page
Red light zone for writers - what do you do.

Red Light Zone for Writers

Red light zone for writers - what do you do.

The Struggle to Find Somewhere to Write

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family to bits, but writers have to go to a creative place inside their heads requiring isolation from distractions. And no matter how many times I try to explain why I turn into a deranged psycho when interrupted, they still have a hard time of it and think I’m being mean. Is this ringing any bells?

Now I’ve tried all sorts of remedies, most of which involve writing when they’re either asleep or out. But even then I only need the sound of a key in the door or the upstairs floorboards creaking, to make me cringe and break out of the zone. In fact, sometimes just the thought of them maybe waking up or coming home any minute keeps me on edge.


And I hear you say, ‘Just go out, Miles, and switch off the phone.’ And of course you’re right, there’s always that. But then you have to spend time travelling, finding a place just right, perhaps a park, or pub, or cafe. Living in England though, we have that pesky weather thing spoiling the outdoors. And using inside venues, you have to pay for the privilege of spending a day in a pub consuming at least polite amounts of coffee and probably a lunch. This, done daily, literally eats away your future royalties. And there’s only so much the tax man will swallow as expenses, and it’s a lot less than you do.


At home I’ve tried those ear defenders workman use on building sites, they’re pretty good, and also tell the family ‘not now!’ which sometimes works; and other times I play music using in-ear earphones, which cut out the world nicely. On rare occasions, I’ve even put up with the discomfort of both together, but it makes my ears ache from the pressure of squeezing the plugs in under the defenders. Even then there’s always that little tap on the shoulder creating a cast to the sky with my eyes. And doesn’t it always happen right at the bit where you’re holding a dozen facts over four threads, and projecting into future books in the series the consequences of the actions taking place? And trust me, doing things like raising your hand in polite gesture to say, ‘I acknowledge you’re there, but this is a really bad time, please go away unless the cat’s in the dog’s jaws, or one of you is bleeding (and I mean profusely), doesn’t cut it.

Press to Kill

So my next idea to venture into distraction-free writing is the use of a red light – you know, like in recording studios. I’ll put it on view near my desk, visible to the rest of the downstairs (My first scheme of hooking up some eye-self-targeting laser pens was a no-go as such affordable technology isn’t quite here yet. Maybe a red button on my desk, one with a satisfying ‘click’ and the words ‘KILL’ written on it, would complete the ensemble when available).

I can already tell though, knowing that the other three occupants are my wife and two girls, that none of these will work, and will be seen as some draconian gender control device.

I think I’ll go reread The Leadership Secrets of Genghis Khan and the Venus and Mars book one more time in hope of inspiration.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

If you have a solution that works for you, please put me out of my misery.

Miles Allen
Traditional vs Self-Publishing

The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Traditional vs Self-Publishing

The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Running a self-publishing company since the dawn of the modern self-publishing era in 2010, I see much evolving so fast. It’s difficult to predict what changes will happen even over the next twelve months.

The number of books published a month is rocketing on Amazon (now 204,000 in the last 30 days). And Amazon, being 90% of books sales, is changing the landscape beyond reliable prediction. The increase is predominantly down to self-published authors.

But is it worth becoming one – or going the traditional route?

It’s one of the most common questions I get asked, and the answer isn’t straight forward. So in an attempt to clear the muddy waters, here’s what you need to know. Of course, in twelve months, some of these may change. I’ll try to keep the list updated.

PRO – Having 100% Control of your work

If you’re with a publisher, they have the ultimate say over the content of your book. They have editors and proof-checkers directing you to make changes, potentially compromising your voice and creativity.

CON – You will pay for everything

This is editing, proofing, formatting, printing, jacket design (and some marketing). This can cost thousands of pounds. It’s the reason many self-published authors skimp, or not get them done at all. This effects the quality of the writing and book design, hitherto, sales and chances of success. Publishers foot this bill.

PRO – You don’t have a contract to worry about

You will sign a contract with a publisher, usually for more than one book, within a certain time frame. Failing to do so could render you liable to financial penalties.

CON – You have no protection from a publisher

Publishers provide a certain level of protection in the event of a lawsuit or copyright challenge (although this isn’t guaranteed for everything). If you’re self-published, look into the legal side of publishing for your own protection. You also need public liability and professional indemnity insurances.

PRO – You get 100% royalties with self-publishing

Publishers return around 15% royalties for books sold, and you receive a cheque twice a year. If self-published, you receive it all. Although don’t forget to factor in storage and p&p.

CON – No marketing contacts and distribution

Good publishers have a list of contacts and distribution channels they call on for a given genre. When you self-publish, you’re unlikely to have any of these, and so must rely on creating them yourselves. This is likely to be hard work for little return. Having said that, even with a publisher, don’t expect your books to appear on the shelves in Waterstones, or get reviews in the Sunday Times. There are a lot of authors you’re competing with, and the lion’s share of a publisher’s marketing time and budget go to established authors.

PRO – 100% return for your marketing efforts

Whether you’re with a publisher or self-published, you’ll be doing the SAME LEVEL OF MARKETING. Many publishers, before signing you up, assess your online presence and estimated popularity. They factor this alongside the quality and marketability of your writing. The days of mysterious, closet writers are long gone. To put it another way, sales from your marketing time spent, adds 85% to the publisher’s bottom line, and 15% (your royalty) to yours. Whereas if you self-publish, you get it all.

CON – Not getting an advance

This is often the most attractive feature of being with a publisher. They may give you an upfront advance, which may be substantial, although these are getting rarer. An advance is a loan the publisher forwards to you for writing your book. For each sale they make, they reduce the amount advanced by your royalty. When the advance reduces to zero, you then get paid your royalty share per sale. Unlike a loan though, if not enough sales happen to reduce the advance to zero, you don’t have to pay the rest back.

PRO – It’s to your timescale

You have the choice WHEN your book is published. If you want to take a break for a month (or a year!) then you can. A publisher will give you a deadline and you better meet it unless you want to suffer penalties on your royalties, or be dropped altogether and have to return the advance. Deadlines can be tighter than you’d like, and create considerable stress.

CON – You’ll make fewer sales

Books one, two and likely three, will sell in 10’s then 100’s, depending on your marketing skills and time spent. Publishers will move more (remember you’ll only get a small royalty per sale, though).

PRO – You don’t have to ‘get accepted’

It will take months, and often years before you’re accepted by a publisher (although, to be honest, most writers give up trying long before that). It takes a LOT of time and effort to land a publisher – and most authors don’t manage it.

PRO – Self-Publishing is faster

From start to finish, it can take up to 18 months before your book sees the market with a publisher. You will still be pushed for your deadline, but generating your book is queued, and you have to wait. It may even be deferred. If you self-publish, your book is in print from first draft in six months. Less if the editing goes well.

PRO/CON? – You can publish a terrible book

“Well, even if it’s bad, it’s out there with your name on it, and you can call yourself an author!”
I’ll let you decide if that’s a positive.


If you’re serious about being an author, you’ll master and work as hard at marketing as writing.

It’s a job, a career, and it takes effort to be a success. You’ll need to produce your highest quality of work and product.

If you self-publish, you ‘re unlikely to make a living from publishing one, two or three books, but with the right marketing platform and hard work – perhaps four. Be prepared to financially and mentally survive that period.

With a publisher or self-published, your chances are slim of making it a success. But probably more with a publisher. Self-publishing will return you more income, if you can survive the early years.

But either way, if you’re a born writer, that won’t stop you. And if you’re successful – well – you’re going to be someone who loves doing their wonderful job.

And that’s why people take the risk and put in the hard work…

Good luck with your choice.

And by all means, feedback how this resonates with your experience.


Miles Allen

Publisher at REDBAK Publishing

opening lines

Creating Skilful Opening Lines

opening lines“Come on in, the water’s tepid”

Oblivious to new authors and a source of much anguish for experienced writers, opening lines are not only key to hooking readers, publishers and agents, but they create for the writer the substrate from which they sculpt their story.

Few are done well…

When writing my first book, it wasn’t until some chapters in that I created a new first chapter. The fresh opening lines defined the fantasy world in a way that changed the story from an easy-going single quest to a deep and gritty series. (On advisement from my editor, I later changed the first chapter again and the beloved lines moved to a couple of pages in. Something I still regret.)

Great first lines echo in your mind throughout the book as you measure everything that’s happening against them. For example, David Copperfield:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show”.

You cannot help but read the book with that test in mind.

What are the top three goals for your first lines?

  1. They MUST trigger curiosity in the reader to know more, preferably about the LEAD or a relationship.
  2. Introduce the writing style and tone of the book.
  3. Create the setting: where, when, who (usually the LEAD or antag).

You could use mystery, something unusual, or the old favourite – something shocking. But be careful to avoid first lines for their own sake, just to hook the reader. They must be authentic to the characters, plot and style of the book, otherwise you’re using a cheap trick to entice readers – something they will not appreciate later on.

Here are some of my favourite opening lines from both amateur and established authors:

I wanted to strangle mother, but I’d have to touch her to do it.
A student on a Sol Stein writing course.

It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced the archbishop had come to see me.
       Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgessearthly-powers

Harry Masterson would be dead in thirteen minutes. If he had known this, he would’ve smoked his last cigarette down to the filter.
       Sandstorm, James Rollins  sandstorm

And the original lines I regret moving in my book?

Estatoulie leant over the charred remains of the former Emperor. A grin spread across his face, taking over all his features. ‘Hail me,’ he said contented, and drained the content of his fifth glass.

The smell of burst flesh intruded upon his perfect moment. Picking up the wine decanter, he poured the remaining two-hundred-year-old content over the fading embers.

‘There you see, I’m not completely heartless.’

He looked to the decanter, appreciating its exquisite quality – it was unique and priceless. He shrugged and dropped it onto the spine of the corpse. Both shattered.


Now he would be emperor…

I’ll let you decide if I was wrong to wish it had stayed…

And you?

Do you have any favourite first lines from books?

And how do your books start?

Miles Allen

For best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing sent straight to your inbox:
SIGN UP for Miles’ Newsletter or join his New-Author Facebook Community page


Writing Themes

What’s a Story Theme?

 What’s a Story Theme?

Story Theme
Edmond Blackadder once said to the Queen of England (Queenie) in Blackadder II, “Without you Ma’am, life is like a broken pencil – pointless.”

I can’t think of a better way to sum up the need for a theme in a story. Without one the story suffers from meandering, both for the writer and reader. Without a clear Theme in the head of the author before they start, they often get lost shortly in, or make as far as the middle before scratching their head thinking: where is this going? It’s the single greatest reason so many people give up on a story and halt a promising writing career, or miss out on an enriching and satisfying hobby.

So what does Theme mean for an author, and why does it have such an impact?

For an untrained writer, a story appears easy. It’s a sequence of things that happen around characters. So they set off with an idea and start writing. They choose someone (often based on someone they know), and think up some scenes. If they’re clued up, they would know to create a ‘bad guy’ too.

But somehow the writing soon feels flat, unsatisfying, being just a bunch of stuff that happens.

The reason is almost certainly going to come down to lack of feeling. We live our lives talking and communicating facts. Even when relating stories verbally down the pub, or writing home, we focus on things that happened, and not how it felt. Successful stories are about invoking an emotional experience. If it makes you laugh, cry, angry, sad, or even curious or thoughtful, then the story was a success.

Creating an emotional response is best served through choosing a Theme for your story. Consider it the delivery angle.

Choosing and Applying a Story Theme

The seven most popular themes in traditional storytelling are:

  1. Fate
  2. Ambition
  3. Sacrifice
  4. Transformation
  5. Love
  6. Vengeance
  7. Resurrection

The Rocky films, for instance, were number 7. When viewers see a familiar story theme, even though they’re aren’t told what it is, they’re more likely to home in on the message you’re trying to send and have an emotional response.


  1. You decide to write a story about a child being beaten up at school because he’s undersized. Straight away you can see some scenes in classes, the playground, or the toilets away from prying eyes. Maybe you think, well the Theme is obviously bullying. Let me stop you right there. The Theme isn’t the story, it’s the underlying message, so what if I said instead the theme was going to be:
  • Isolation. Now we have a new view to it. The scenes are going to depict the child being bullied, then perhaps going home to a drunken father who doesn’t care, a mum who’s always out at work and says ‘it’s just kids, they’ll grow out of it’, and teachers who are in fear of the bully’s parents. Perhaps an older sister who bullies him too. The ending for such a book might not be pleasant, with a powerful emotional impact and a strong message.
  • Vengeance. Now we see a whole new story arc. The boy, against all odds, plans to turn the tables and get his own back. And perhaps this has a nice ending where he wins, or a bad one where he fails and things get worse. In the latter, perhaps the theme would be expanded to the futility of vengeance.
  1. Let’s take a second example, a story about a husband who finds his wife has been cheating on him. Our immediate thoughts turn to obvious scenes of the discovery, fighting, tears being shed. But if we now add a theme:
  • Forgiveness. Here we have a story that perhaps has the couple getting back together, we explore the power of love and friendship over temptation and desire, and that mistakes happen.
  • If, however, we borrow from the first example and say Vengeance again, we can see a completely different story line. Maybe now we have a murder story, first exploring the pain of the husband, then turning an ordinary man, through hatred and jealously to plotting to kill one or both of the culprits. Again, the ending could be either way.
  • But what if I said the theme was Weakness. This is something very different, even uncomfortable. The husband perhaps is the one who is weak, and can’t do anything about it. The writer explores cowardice, with scenes of the husband being put down by the wife, the lover, or even worse, he is mocked by both. How would such a story end?

Whenever you write a story, it doesn’t matter how small, fiction or non-fiction, even for business, without a theme you’re creating difficulty for yourself, and robbing the reader of a rich experience with a story that has staying power, impact and the strongest ending.

What’s your experience with writing themes?




Miles has run a self-publishing company since 2008, specialising in first-time authors, as well as being a successful self-published fantasy author, coach and trainer.

SIGN UP NOW for Miles’ Newsletter
For best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing sent straight to your inbox (I don’t share your details).

This is Who I Am

Why Your Business Biography is Killing Sales

This is Who I AmPersonal profiles have never been more crucial, and yet some parts we neglect so badly we’re not just losing out, were damaging our reputation and sales. This especially applies to creatives, but also very much to business people. Your short and punchy business biography is key to generating credibility, trust and therefore sales.

Why We Buy

Most of us are driven to make a purchase through either necessity (paying our electricity bills), or desire (a nice designer pair of shoes, or paying for the Sports channel). The first one is a logical choice – pay the bill or get cut off. The second is an emotional decision – we WANT it.

Selling a product or service by dangling a carrot using flat reasoning, mere facts to entice a sale, is weak motivationally. Engaging your prospective new clients with desire is 85% more likely to land a purchase, and that means using emotional stimulation over cold logical reasoning.

Now take a look at your online bio. Does it say something along the lines of:

I was born there…
I went to this university…
My qualifications are…
I’ve worked n years here, there…
I’m now this…

Most bio’s are like it; dry, and frankly aren’t they boring?

Do you think this makes you stand out when everyone else has the same list, just with different places and names? The best you can hope for is the reader came from your area, or went to your University.

Others are too clever and end up sounding self-centred, about why they’re so great and should be engaged. Many are a hard sell. Some even come across desperate.

The Great Bio

The secret to a great bio lies in all good novels: interesting characters, tension, a story ending in a flourish. Without a great character to love and read about, we lose interest. It’s been the basis of best-sellers since the dawn of writing. And guess what, you’re a character in you’re own life story.

Now I’m sure you’re first response to this is, “That’s no good for me, my life’s been boring”.

I hear it all the time. It’s all about digging up the right moments and applying good story-telling techniques to create a journey around you that brought you to where you are now, relevant to the attributes about you that prospective clients want to hear.

Few people are born story writers, so here are tips to writing your bio:

  • The story comes first – you second, yet has impact.
  • It’s interesting, engaging, immersive and memorable.
  • It conveys your core beliefs, opinions and principals.
  • It should chronicle a selected history thread, with a strong finish inspiring your prospect into action.

The Story Structure

There are many story structures that can be used, here’s a favourite. Use only one or two sentences for each of the following; it will create just enough overall copy to lure them to your product or services page (400-600 words).

  • Start with a setting of your early life, find something unusual if possible – just a sentence (I was born left-handed but forced to use my right – it profoundly changed the course of my life).
  • Follow with a trigger that puts you on the long road to where you’ve ended up. Perhaps you emigrated, or met someone. Even better if it’s something small that appears trivial, say, you lost your dog. (For me it was falling out of a tree!).
  • Now relate to a high point in your life that gets across you’re a skilled professional to be trusted, and someone who gets things done (I used to design software systems for fighter aircraft).
  • Next, try to find a low point; it’s surprisingly common. Tell us how you felt, so we can relate that you’re human. You’re not after sympathy here, merely trying to convey you have strength through adversity. (I lost everything, suffering from a debilitating depression).
  • If you did have a low point, tell us the trigger that launched your recovery. (I started writing a fantasy short story).
  • Now tell of your relevant successes, accolades, household names for clients if you have them, famous people you’ve worked with. And drop in how you’re currently feeling about it. (My first book knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones).
  • Finally, tell of your future vision, so clients know they will fit (and subliminally be inspired to be part of your story).

Top Tips

It’s really going to help if you know what who your typical client is going to be. If you can produce a clear picture of who they are, you’ll be better able to use topics and language that appeals to them, and narrow your marketing just for them.

Lastly, and crucially, be genuine, both with your facts and when expressing your opinions. People have an uncanny ability to sniff out if you’re pushing the truth to impress. If you have them doubt their trust in you, you’ll have to work hard to get it back, if you even get a second chance.


Good luck and feel free to post your new bio below for me to read. I promise I’ll get through as many as I can and comment.


My next Bio for Artists Workshop is 24th Feb 2016 Faversham, Kent, UK. (The next one for business people will be in April).

(Or contact me directly if you want to discuss having me interview you and write yours for you).


Miles has run a self-publishing company since 2008, specialising in first-time authors, as well as being a successful self-published fantasy author, coach and trainer.

SIGN UP NOW for Miles’ Newsletter
For best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing

International Creatives Unite in Tribute to Her Majesty

When the Queen’s own Deputy Lord Leftenant, Maidstone & The Weald MP Helen Grant, and Maidstone’s Deputy Mayor turn up to an event in Maidstone, you know something important is going down. And that’s what happened yesterday evening at the private viewing of Maidstone’s newest gallery Xross-PolyNation. Indian-born owner and Curator Ravinder Kalsi and her team put on a fine show launching the galleries’ Thank You Ma’am exhibition celebrating the Queen’s sixty-three years of reign.

20151127_200032The Deputy Lord Leftenant paid tribute to the project on behalf of Her Majesty, not only in celebration of the Queen, but also the powerful concept behind Xross-PolyNation to cut through the artificial barriers of social, geographic and cultural divides to bring together nations and communities through the creative arts.

There was also a stirring and poignant speech from Kent artist Sue Pritchard rejecting the planned dropping of creative subjects in schools through government cuts and the critical importance for young people to develop their creative potential, and the ill-effect it will have on our future society. “Without it,” she says, “we lose our cultural distinctiveness and become plain.”

Ravinder, now in her seventies, a vibrant force in the creative community and a celebrated artist herself, knows only too well the early struggles artists and other creatives have getting noticed in the UK and especially in the county’s capital town, and so she self-funded the new gallery. On two large floors, it provides ample space for the 300-hundred works of art professionally displayed, and is a relaxing delight to wander around.

The evening had a strong Nigerian presence, from highly celebrated Nigerian artists, and is part of Ravinder’s passionate goal to forge stronger links between our two countries. Nigeria is a wealthy nation and their attitude towards art is far less conservative to that of the UK, making it much easier for artists of that country to make a living and thrive on their art. Popularity in Nigerian art is in ascension and seen as a strong investment, globally.

20151127_19251220151127_180255A tour of the gallery by a popular Nigerian artist whose work sells for thousands, was a highlight of the evening, and gave a strong insight into the works on display, including a feature room filled with selected pieces from top Nigerian artists.

A toast to Her Majesty led by the Deputy Lord Leftenant completed the evening’s formalities and the evening continued for hours with informal chatting between the multicultural attendees.

The exhibition is now open to the public and is well worth a visit to see a wide range of styles. The gallery also has its regular features of international, national, Kent and Maidstone’s artists who Ravinder is especially keen to support, which surprising to most, are many and talented.

If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit. And if you’re looking for investment art it’s especially so. There are a couple of free parking spaces outside, and general town parking nearby if they’re occupied.

The gallery’s address is:

3-4 Starnes Court
Kent ME14 1EB

Opening hours are: daily, 10am-5pm (closed Sundays)

And you can get more information on their website at:


How much to Self-Publish

How much will it cost to self-publish?

How much to Self-Publish

So you have a book in mind, or perhaps you have a book that’s completed its first draft and you think it’s ready for production. At this point your main options are three:

  1. Getting an agent or publisher to take up your work. This is similar to winning the lottery with your first ticket – not impossible but realistically it’s unlikely. They will pay for and do all the work from here on in: edit – proof-check – format – jacket – print – channel to distributors and buyers etc, and maybe a little marketing. You then get royalty payments, and if you’re very lucky – an advance.
  1. A vanity publisher. All vanity publishers tell you your book is great and will ask for a substantial fee to produce it. Some offer marketing options too.
  1. Self-Publish. Only a few years ago self-publishing was seen as a dirty word “oh, you couldn’t get a publisher then?” Nowadays that’s all changed, and even top authors are trying it out on new books.

The two main advantages of self-publishing are that you have control over your work, and you can get some very nice royalty percentages. The downside is you have to do all the work yourself, and unless you’re multi-talented with an array of differing skills in I.T., writing and publishing, you’re going to fall short of producing a quality book. And there’s the rub; self-published books are receiving a reputation for being poor quality in materials, formatting, story cohesion, jacket design and even basic grammar. The reason is that most of these require years of experience and training to do well.

So self-publishing your book needs a helping hand and you should be engaging others to bring your work to a professional standard. But what should you be subbing out and how much should you be paying?



The experience that comes with a good copy-editing is invaluable to any story or piece, and essential for a new author. No serious writer or publisher would dream of putting out a book without the scrutiny of a trained independent eye. The odd thing is, very few new authors believe in the value of this. They feel they have written it, checked it, modified it, and now it’s as good as it needs to be. Some may even have engaged the services of a friend or spouse/partner to read it and feedback comments. Some of those may have English degrees or be English school teachers. The fact is, unless they are specifically trained and experienced as copy-editors, there is little chance of them doing the job well.

Typical copy-editors, based on around 100,000 words (that’s to make it easy, just apply percentages to the number of words in your book and it should be close), you should be looking at £600-£1000. The variance will depend on the track record of the editor, and the state of the writing submitted.


The number one gripe of readers is when they come across errors in your book. It always amazes me that the industry standard for errors is 99.99%; that’s one word in every ten-thousand. There are few sectors of manufacturing with such high standards, and yet, with a typical novel of 100,000 words, the standard allows ten errors! If you came across ten errors in a book, would you be happy? No, because it takes you ‘out of the moment’ and too many times it can really spoil a book. This skill is especially sought after as our brains love to fill in mistakes for us. Without proper proof-checking, even after you’ve carefully checked it yourself, your 100,000-word novel will have as many as 50+ mistakes.

Proof-checking comes in at around £400-650 for 100,000 words, and you can expect around six mistakes to remain, even then. That’s why main publishing houses know to use two or more. Having said that, most readers will miss several too, so eight mistakes will reduce to three or four in their eyes, so is perhaps liveable. I always recommend two independent proof-checks (yes, doubling the cost), which takes the overall error count down to two to four (but after two proof-checkers have gone through it, the errors remaining are likely to be ones most readers wouldn’t catch either).

Jacket design

You may be tempted into thinking you can do this yourself by taking a picture and placing some PowerPoint text over the top. This is always a terrible idea, as the jacket is one of the most important marketing tools you have. After all, if nobody knows you, a good jacket is what people will be clicking on or pulling from a shelf. And home-made jackets have a certain look, subconsciously implanting in the potential buyer the quality to be expected inside.

Top bespoke jacket designers are expensive and worth it. Expect to pay £400-800. They provide a uniqueness to your book that smacks of quality to the potential reader from the get-go. You can try pre-made stock from the web, and some of these are included in printing packages. Some are quite good and a lot cheaper, but I recommend getting the best bespoke design you can afford if possible.


Yes, this is under the YES DO IT category. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your book will fly off the shelves or be downloaded in the hundreds. It’s not going to happen, there are too many competitors out there and the market is currently saturated with choice (another reason why your jacket and writing quality has to be top-notch). Marketing is ‘as long as a piece of string’ and budgets vary from little to whatever. However, as a minimum you should have an online author platform consisting of website, blog, Facebook, twitter (and Instagram if it’s a picture book). Also ensure you’re on Goodreads, and fill out the Author Central page for you on Amazon (both for your country and the US sites). The website you can try yourself through such platforms as WordPress, which also includes a blog. They are very affordable although can be little tricky to get up and running for the less I.T. literate among us. If you can afford it, pay hundreds at least for a bespoke one by a proven designer, who will also ensure it’s Google-search friendly, and advise you on such things as landing pages so you can direct people there from your other online platform items and make sales. Again, it’s expensive, but worth it when designed well.

Other than that, spend money on Facebook ads (they’re reasonably priced at the moment), but learn how to do it well first, otherwise you’ll waste your money. There are plenty of free videos online to show you how.



With your text now nicely edited and errors to an acceptable level, the next job is formatting. This is where the words and images, currently in Word or another system, are organised to fit the target page size. It’s also where font styles and sizes are chosen, along with headers, footers, copyright pages etc. This is one of the areas you could have a stab yourself. It is getting easier nowadays to do this yourself, with a reasonable amount of searching on-line. However, it’s not normally that expensive, and the results a professional produces is worth the expenditure, especially for picture books and children’s books that often benefit from some experienced flair.

Formatting will typically cost you £150 for 100,000 words in standard b5-size paperbacks, although picture books you will have to work on individual estimates as the final product can vary so much.

Note: At the time of posting this article, Amazon’s upload system for Kindle (Word documents and some other formats) works very well. It’s free to do, and you’ll even get back a spell check report. There is an excellent preview tool too which you should always use, so you can see what it looks like. Make sure you follow their guidelines otherwise you’ll get unflattering formatting of some pages).

Development Editor

 They’ll be plenty of debate whether this should be in the YES, DO IT section. It’s always worth it if you can find an editor in your genre that gels with you. These guys and gals will deal with story issues, weak characters, poor starts and finishes, and a host of other subtle and not-so-subtle phenomenon. Always use the best you can afford as their feedback strengthens your storytelling immensely.

Developmental Editor charges vary greatly depending on whether you chose a single report, or require the editor to work with you throughout the story. For a single report, you can expect to pay £400-£800 for 100,000 words. For working throughout the story – double that figure.


Having paper versions of your book is not only nice to have, but can open up a whole arena of marketing opportunities. Book-signings, talks, special appearances (yes, you’re an author now. It maybe only local, but people will love you and signed copies of your book. These are especially useful for well-written business books, as they act as great alternatives to business cards and establish you as an authority in your field).

Printing varies, depending on the quantities you want. Typically you can get a 100,000-word novel (no colour images inside) printed in paperback for as little as £3 a book if you order 150 at a time. Make sure you get a proof copy first, and rigorously check every page to ensure it’s formatted correctly, as well as checking the cover.

There is an alternative form of printing called lithographic that prints for around £1-£1.50 a book, but you have to run off 1000-2000 copies minimum.

In both cases it gets cheaper the more you print in one go.

So there it is…

Self-publishing has costs, and it’s not cheap for most of us. Writing is a long haul profession and you have to keep at it to get your returns.

So why do people do it?

Try it and see – then you’ll know…


Miles has run a self-publishing company since 2008, specialising in first-time authors, as well as being a successful self-published fantasy author.

SIGN UP NOW for Miles’ Newsletter

For best practice, useful tips, interviews and news about writing and self-publishing