Weekly writing prompt: Face

This week, to stretch your writing muscles, write 100 words about a face. Is it a cliff face? A human face? Does someone have to face up to something? Are people facing off? Interpret this however you wish.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Why you need to stop selling via a Facebook page right now

When I started my soapmaking business, one of the things I wanted to know was how could I sell my soap to customers without having to have long complicated interactions. I was part of a local crafting and makers’ group on Facebook, and I was very surprised that the majority of small business owners were using Facebook pages to sell products!

Basically, you set it up like this. You start a Facebook page for your business and put some information in the page. Then customers have to send you a Facebook message to order your product or service, before they head over to Paypal to send payment for the order.

It’s so detached and so time-consuming for everyone involved. After going through this purchasing process a handful of times I gave up. I managed to buy a grand total of one thing this way, and all the other attempts I made were unsuccessful. Here are the key points in the sales process where this setup isn’t working for customers or sellers:

  1. Customers have to send you a message to find out your product range, prices and shipping options.
  2. You have to see that message and respond to it before you lose the customer. In my experience, sellers ranged from replying within minutes (best case) to replying two days later, to never replying at all. On a normal sales website, the customer has all this information straight away without any interaction.
  3. When I did get replies from sellers about products I wanted to buy, I often received incomplete replies, or replies where the seller had misread what I wanted to know and gave me the wrong info. This takes more time to unpick. A straightforward website completely avoids all of this and is less stressful and time consuming.
  4. In one case, because of the way Facebook notifications (don’t) work, the seller was replying to my messages at a rate of 1 message every 8-20 hours. It shouldn’t take a customer several days to order a birthday cake with plain white icing and “happy birthday baby” written on in blue icing. I gave up on this order by the third day because I still hadn’t received answers to basic questions like what area they delivered to. This information should be on your website which should be prominently linked from your Facebook page.
  5. In one case, I didn’t get any reply from another handmade cake company. I don’t know if that seller is no longer in business, or if they missed my message, or if they are even aware they have a Facebook page inbox separate to their regular one.
  6. In another case, the seller of some handmade candles seemed profoundly lonely and was trying to have really long conversations with me via Facebook message and I’m sorry to say I wasn’t interested, I wanted to buy a product. I kept replying to be polite but eventually I had to just stop to end the deluge of messages. Developing a relationship with a seller could come over time once the buying experience had wowed me, and in this case, it didn’t.

Overall, Facebook pages have their place in the customer experience, but that role absolutely is NOT to be used as a substitute for a website with product listings that handles the payment process automatically. Customers don’t need to interact with you individually.

If a customer has searched in Google for a product, even if your Facebook page comes up (which isn’t likely, since Facebook pages have terrible SEO), a customer on their phone has to log into Facebook and that means they have to remember their Facebook password to even see your Facebook page, as search engine results don’t take customers to the Facebook phone app where they would already be logged in.

Add to this, if they’re using Maps to find a local business, your Facebook page is the last thing they should be taken to because then they’re using the browser in their Google Maps app, and you’ve also suddenly lost half your map searching customers (because they use Apple Maps or Bing Maps, neither of which work the same way as Google maps, especially on phones and tablets).

Facebook pages are not structured like an online store at all. They’re a place for microblogging with photos. Showcase new items and build buzz with them. Put website links to where people can buy your products. Facebook pages don’t display key information to customers, and navigating them isn’t intuitive, making the whole buying process over-complicated.

The buying process should be as easy and quick as possible for your customers.

Selling via Facebook messages is not a productive or scaleable method and I absolutely hate it as a buyer. I don’t like approaching total strangers to find out if they sell what I’m trying to buy then having to extricate myself from an awkward situation if their product is not right for me.

Some sellers might think that selling via a Facebook page means they can give a “personal touch” but there’s a huge difference between trying to socialize with your customers while they are trying to buy something, and building a strong customer relationship. And when the buying process has missing links because it hasn’t been designed efficiently, you are losing customers and money.

If you’re still not convinced, let’s look to marketing psychology. When customers are in a buying mindset, the very last thing you should do is derail them into a protracted transaction that takes hours or days.

Chances are, by the time you hit message three or four, they’ve lost interest in your product, forgotten what they were waiting for, or gotten bored with trying to buy your product and bought one elsewhere.

In the case of the birthday cake, I bought one from Tesco instead. I spent £4 instead of the price of a handmade cake. It was more important to me to have any cake at all for my child’s birthday than to waste hours getting any specific cake.

And because two different sellers had let me down so badly with their badly thought out setup, I was left feeling annoyed and very unlikely to try to buy a handmade cake in the future, even if I wanted to make an occasion feel very special.

Amazon patented “one-click” technology for a reason: Minimizing the amount of effort a customer needs to make to buy something means they’ll buy from you again and again. It also means you won’t lose them part-way through the transaction.

Since one-click is patented, most business advisors suggest the optimum number of clicks it should take for a customer to buy a product is two clicks. Two clicks from “Look at this product” to “Order confirmed.” Two clicks is not even close to two Facebook messages, especially when you factor in making your customers go to Paypal to pay you!

In the real world, three or four clicks is more likely, unless you have splashed out for a really high-tech site. Customers shouldn’t even have to fill in unnecessary fields in the “customer details” part of the order process, never mind typing reams and reams of messages to you to find out what you actually sell and where you deliver it to!

As for making people send money via Paypal then message you to tell you they’ve paid, you’re effectively sending people away from your shopping experience for several minutes while they wrestle with Paypal, type the right amount in, add your email address and choose “paying for an item”.

An integrated Paypal payment system (or other payment system such as Stripe) solves this by keeping them on your website through the payment process, and is the go-to system for all professional sellers.

If you are struggling to set up your own website, consider asking a family friend to help you, or paying a web designer. WordPress or Shopify are the easiest ways to make a custom website for ecommerce. Your website is the single most important asset you have when you’re selling craft products (next comes your mailing list). Your Facebook page is not your shopfront, nor is it the place for working with transactions.

Running a business this way makes customers think you’re unprofessional and like you’re not committed to your business. Of course, you’re committed to your business, so show them! Put the effort into getting a real website, or if you absolutely can’t handle the idea of that, open an Etsy store, Ebay shop or Amazon storefront, for the love of your customers!

Weekly writing prompt: Glitter

This week, write 100 words about glitter. As ever, how you choose to interpret the prompt is completely up to you. Fiction, non-fiction, description, character motivation… the possibilities are endless.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

What happens after a publisher accepts your work?

There are millions, if not zillions, of articles for unpublished writers, but what about for those people publishing their first novel, who don’t know what to expect? There are a lot less people whose work has been accepted by a publisher, so I guess less people can write about that with any degree of authority, not to mention the fact that less people want to know about it. I thought I’d start with talking about what happens after a publisher accepts your work for publication, giving people an insight into the publication process.

If you start by sending in a proposal, they will read over the proposal and they should either accept your proposal or decline it. If they’ve accepted it, they may suggest changes to make it more marketable. Mandatory changes should be made clear. After you have your proposal back, you can get on with writing (unless you’re really naughty like me, and start writing the bits you know will be fine while you’re waiting to hear back from them).

If you didn’t send in a proposal, you’ll either send in a sample first, or just a complete manuscript. If you did send in a proposal, the next thing you send them is the full manuscript. Make sure you’ve done as much editing as you can to the manuscript before you send it to them; I found this very, very difficult with my first book because I had no idea what needed doing to it. After they’ve got everything, it gets sent to a line editor. The line editor’s job is to go through your work and write notes on any improvements you need to make to your work; some improvements are optional, but some are mandatory. If you’re unsure about whether a change is mandatory or not, ask your editor and they will tell you one way or the other.

Once they’ve written those notes, they will send you back the annotated manuscript, or they’ll send you back the notes separately, and your job as the writer is to make the changes and improvements to your work. Some places give you deadlines for this, others don’t mind. After you’ve made your improvements, they will send your work to a copy editor.

The copy editor is the last person from the publishing house who will see your work; they go through it and format it to in-house style guidelines, and they generally use the Merriam Webster dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference for anything that’s questionable. They will also flag up typos and spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies (one minute she wears a red hat, the next minute she wears a blue bonnet), and factual errors. After they’ve done that, you should get your work back, at which point you either have to make the copy-editor’s changes or you have to have a damn good reason (“I don’t like that change” isn’t one) to reject their changes – the Big Five Publishers, and some of the smaller ones, will usually expect you to give references to support your reasons for not approving every change made by the copy editor, but check this before sending back reams of information, because some places don’t want that (my current publisher doesn’t). When the copy editor gets it wrong, you need to raise that with someone at your publisher (or get your agent to do this, if you have one).

Once you’ve approved or rejected (with references) the copy edits, you send the work back to the publishers and they start work on the cover. After you’ve seen the cover, it’s natural to get very excited about your forthcoming book. If you like the cover, let them know, and they will get the blurb written and the proofs made up, or if they’re an ebook publisher, this is when it will be prepared to be made available online.

At some point before the book is made available online, you should receive a contract (if you haven’t received one, let them know). The contract is the only thing that protects you from getting royally screwed over by your publisher, so read it carefully and get a lawyer (one who has seen other book contracts, not any old lawyer) to read it over if you’re unsure about anything. Sometimes publishers try it on with their contracts but you have to stand your ground, otherwise you’ll regret it when the book’s a bestseller and you’re not making any money. I got taken for a ride by one publisher, a few years ago, who published my unedited work, lied literally every step of the way, and never paid me the advance. Later, when I tried to get that sorted out, I discovered that I would have to go to somewhere on the East Coast of America to take them to arbitration to get my money back, and that I had to do this within a certain time period, which I’d missed, because they’d spent so long delaying in answering and I’d been too patient. If I’d understood this beforehand, I would have acted sooner to get it resolved, but it was my first book and I didn’t know what to expect from the publication process (hence this article).

If you’ve signed the contract AND RECEIVED THE ADVANCE (if you are in the habit of accepting advances – I am not) then you’re good to get excited about the release date. Many contracts have a clause stating the author must do their best to publicize the novel – there are a bunch of ways you can do this and I’ll talk about them in a future article.

Has your experience of the publication process been different? Let me know in the comments!

Weekly writing prompt: Party

This week, write 100 words about a party. This could be a celebration, a political party, a party wall, “I shall not be a party to it”… the choice is yours!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Weekly writing prompt: Bauble

This could be a Christmas bauble or a tacky item of jewellery, or something else entirely! This week, write 100 words on the topic of “bauble”.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Time management as a mummypreneur

This article is going to discuss how to manage time. A lot of articles I read about “time management for business owners” leave me rolling on the floor laughing. I wonder why people can’t get things done. They don’t have a curious toddler on their hands.

Then I think about all the time I wasted before I had a baby. I was definitely about three times as productive when I was working from home by myself, with no one else to think about, but I know I wasn’t getting as much done as I probably could have. I have ADHD, which is one complication, and it was only diagnosed earlier this year after a lifelong struggle with focusing, organizing and timekeeping.

A lot of the problem is the online working environment is designed to distract you as much as is possible. Each website you visit is designed to keep you coming back for more. More scrolling. More clicking. More time for them to make money showing you adverts.

It’s a pretty good moneymaker for the sites involved, but you don’t want to drink the Kool Aid and start thinking any of that nonsense actually matters. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t check Twitter for a few hours. The world isn’t going to change drastically if you don’t see what news stories all your friends are outraged about today. They’ll be different tales tomorrow. And that’s what it all is. A big narrative that keeps us trapped in an ineffective, time-wasting spiral.

We need to break away from it.

Those social media sites are not your friend. And you don’t need to be on them all the time. It often feels like everyone else is constantly on Facebook etc, but no one needs to be. Just go online to check your messages or notifications once a day, don’t respond to anything that comes in while you’re online, and do the same the next day.

It’s mind over matter — those who mind how much time you spend online don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

That’s the key to time management for anyone in our modern world.

For mums, the other time management issue is children. They demand attention at the most random moments and they don’t wait. They are too little to have any understanding of what you’re doing or how they’re affecting it.

However, it’s very easy for us to make excuses to ourselves about where our time has gone. Our brains are complicit in this, because a lot of the time, when you think really hard about it, you probably don’t remember exactly what you spent your time on, or you feel like you must have spent more time on your kids because you weren’t doing something productive or valuable for yourself. Right?

But what if you ditched social media or significantly cut back on it, moved away from all the gossip, politics and bitching of online groups, and focused on only what you and your immediate family needs? How would your timescape change? Would you have more time for your kids? For your work? Absolutely.

But let’s look at what you can do about your little ones.

You can’t control how much attention your child needs, any more than you can control how many nappies they use in a day or how much milk they drink. But you can control how you solve their problems.

Never do something for a child if they can do it themselves

Maria Montessori

For mommypreneurs, letting go of that sense that we alone are responsible for the happiness of our babies is hard to do. But we have to step back, while still being present for them in the moments when it matters, to help them grow into independent adults.

It takes time and repetition and persistence to teach children of any age to do things for themselves, especially if they’re not used to it, but they will reap the rewards for the rest of their lives.

Imagine you’re building a blueprint for them to follow when they grow up. Start small. My fifteen-month-old brings me nappies (diapers) for his changes. I say, “Could you bring me a nappy please?” He didn’t do it the first ten times. But the eleventh? Or the twentieth? He started going to the nappy table, and when I praised him for that consistently, eventually he started bringing me nappies for his nappy change.

That’s just one example. It takes a bit of time in the short run, but long term, they’ll do more for themselves which is more time you can spend doing the things you need to do.

What is your biggest challenge with time management? What are you doing to overcome it? Let me know in the comments!

Weekly writing prompt: Machine

This week, write 100 words about a machine. This could be a person who works hard, or a literal machine, a cyborg or a sewing machine! The interpretation is entirely yours.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Write a post, including your 100-word response to the challenge, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  2. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  3. That’s it! Super easy.
  4. If you don’t want to write a blog post, or you don’t have a blog, feel free to write your 100 words in the comments of this challenge!

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

The editor ruined my book! How to deal with a toxic publishing environment.

Ninety-nine percent of all copyeditors are professional, intelligent and work focused individuals who add to your book and help it shine before publication.

At publishing houses, the copyeditor is usually the last person who sees your book before it is published. This means they have a huge responsibility to ensure your work is top-notch. I’ve worked with some amazing editors and publishers in my career as a six-figure author across five pen names spanning four genres.

This is a story about a time when that didn’t happen.

It was my second published book through this specific publishing house, and I’d already had some issues because the publisher himself was an arrogant, woman-hating a-hole who sycophantically gave all the advantages and promotional opportunities to older women who (I guess) reminded him of mommy dearest, and sidelined all other books.

He was a white supremacist conservative Christian hypocrite who didn’t drink or have sex before marriage but ran a small-time erotica outfit. Go figure. He even whitewashed my books, transforming black characters into white ones and telling me what skin tone my characters had to be. He rejected any story idea with a strong female character or a plot that wasn’t a rewrite of the three most successful books that publisher had ever released. And he was a control freak.

Naive and desperate to succeed as I was, I thought I had to accept all of this. I also didn’t really know that I could send my books elsewhere, because I’d had a terrible experience with another publisher, too.

Hilariously, I know of at least two novels where he was portrayed as the main antagonist. I wrote neither of them. The working environment ticked every single box in this article. Basically, the only way to leave was to go non-contact with him and his brainwashed fan authors, all of whom are presumably either old, high, or pretending they adore his work to get better marketing for their books. Or scared of being eaten alive by each other.

Sadly, I also know of more than a handful of authors who stopped writing completely because of his attitude and behaviour, and that of the people around him. They simply lost confidence in their (profound) abilities and gave up.

Dealing with a toxic publisher is a lot harder than dealing with a toxic boss, because in the author world, your work is contracted for a fixed term, whether you like it or not. No matter what fallings-out you have, short of spending a lot of money finding a legal loophole in your contract, you are at the mercy of the publishing house and they will keep your work and screw with it if relations turn sour.

There is no way to prove how much your books are making across various sales channels, Amazon will not release those figures to authors, and publishers can basically report whatever they like, a practice that goes on much more than anyone knows, especially when currency exchange and Paypal are involved.

If your publisher doesn’t like you, depending on your publishing contract, they can decide your work goes out of print (so it’s no longer on sale) while they still retain the rights. Far easier for them is making your book look so unprofessional and boring that no one buys it. This is the preferred MO of most toxic publishers.

It’s not hard to publish a book when it’s your job and you release 10 or more in a week. It’s not hard to design a cover for a professional graphic designer. It’s not hard to write a blurb for anyone who didn’t write the book which the blurb is about.

But the easiest job of all for someone who can spell and owns a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style? Copyediting. If you’ve ever wondered why some genres of books (namely, romance and steamy romance) are so badly written, it’s not necessarily the fault of the author. Bad copyeditors introduce errors into books and they even rewrite passages to revert your writing to a clichéd, hackneyed load of rubbish.

But the very worst editors only skim your book, miss large parts, and somehow still see fit to comment to say your continuity doesn’t work when actually it’s all correct. And the hopeless ones don’t want to know they’re wrong. In fact, hopeless anyones don’t want to know they’re wrong.

At that point, you know it’s a waste of time bothering with them because you’re not going to inspire them to suddenly give half a hoot about their work. They don’t care, they’re making it obvious. They’re probably also high. It makes you wonder why they’re being paid to do anything. I still haven’t figured that out.

In the worst copyedit I ever received, “sit” was changed to “shit” (she was absolutely sitting, not using the bathroom). “Hare in the headlights” (semi-fresh) was changed to “deer in the headlights” (cliché) and two character names were arbitrarily swapped around for a whole scene. That was the tip of the iceberg.

The copyeditor had completely rewritten large parts my book after I’d last seen it (which was at the end of the line edit) and because this was a small press, they didn’t follow normal procedure and I never found out about any of this until 2 months after the book was published, when I opened it to check a scene for something I wanted to write in a subsequent book in the series.

In some places, the copyeditor had reverted things that the line editor had told me I had to change in order for the book to be published. She was a loose cannon, just doing her own thing, and no one stopped her.

I’ve read a few books from that publishing house and honestly, all of them have random big errors like character names changing for a chapter or sentences stopping half-way through then jumping to a new scene.

If you’re in that situation, you have two options. The first choice is to say nothing for an easy life with that publisher, then go indie or switch publishers as soon as you can. For some people this will be really straightforward. Others might struggle.

The second choice is to make a complaint to the publisher and inform them of every errata in your book, requesting it to be fixed. If the publisher is the sort that I was dealing with, they won’t want to know. The one I had this problem with actually did not know what the Chicago Manual of Style was. Nor did the copyeditor, apparently.

I genuinely regret trying to address this but I stupidly thought any publisher would care about the quality of work they were putting out. Since my experience, I’ve come across other publishers where similar things have happened. One cut down a 25,000 word story to a 10,000 word story and left in random scenes from a story arc that now no longer made any sense. Another simply published the books unedited, which is another common practice in steamy books.

It can be troublesome when you’re hiring an editor for an indie project, too. I had one editor who added “ossicones” (despite it being so far out of that character’s ken that it was ridiculous) but missed “jumper” instead of “sweater” and other Britishisms (wardrobe, trainers) in an American story set in America.

I worked with another who didn’t start editing until the day before my preorder locked on Amazon, despite having been given the manuscript and payment in full two months earlier. She thought actions needed dialog tags. I had to go back through and change them all back.

These people charged me money for these edits and I had to pay them because editors have a lot of power in the writing community. Their anonymity means they can write fake one-star reviews of every book you ever wrote if you annoy them. As can publishers, editors and their friends and relatives. Amazon doesn’t care when this happens, despite what they claim whenever fake Amazon reviews get news coverage.

Some people are completely reprehensible human beings.

But at least in the indie market, I’m not handing over half or more of my book money to a scammy “publishing” outfit whose sole purpose seems to be to write the same book over and over again with different titles and covers.

My advice to anyone trapped with a toxic editor or publisher is to smile, nod, and fulfill the bare minimum of your publishing contract then flee. If you haven’t signed a contract yet, withdraw the book and run for the hills as politely as possible. If they are a narcissist, let them think they have won. As hard as it is, let them have the last word in any exchange that can’t be resolved to your satisfaction. But give them nothing more.

And if you’re looking to become an editor, if you can spell correctly and know how to check the Chicago Manual of Style, you’re ahead of the crowd when applying for jobs with a small press.

Have you ever had a copyedit from hell or dealt with a scammy publishing house? I firmly believe it’s a rite of passage for all authors, as sad as that is. Let me know about your experiences in the comments!

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