Packing the bags

Packing the bags

When I was a lad, and the sun shone hot, and water was bluer and the grass was greener, I used to do a fair bit of hiking and mountaineering. My slightly random claim to fame? I once climbed the highest mountain in Africa not to have been previously climbed. It wasn’t much of a mountaineering challenge, but there was a lot of very jungly jungle to get through first. 

One of the biggest issues in planning those expeditions was always: what to pack? What food, what camping gear, what clothes, what climbing kit? 

All those decisions, of course, operated under a hard constraint of weight and volume. The question wasn’t “would an X be nice?” but “can I justify an X, given its weight and given all the other things that are also needed?” 

Same thing with authoring, of course. 

You need to write a book. You need to edit it good and well. Then – publishing. 

Here the path divides quite sharply. Trad publishing calls for a fairly light day-pack. The self-publishing path is more demanding, more arduous. The cliffs are higher, the gear needed is more significant. You can’t load too much – weight isn’t a constraint, of course, but time certainly is. Either way, you need to pack with care. 

Now, last week I asked y’all about topics you’d like to see covered in these emails. I got back a lot of really useful thoughts and comments. The rough summary: 

  • A lot of you liked the somewhat random nature of these emails, and I’ll keep that going. 
  • But we will do more to cluster our Feedback Friday material by theme. 
  • Specifically, we’ll be running 2 or 3 mini courses through the year. (A starter-type one on how to write. A more advanced one on getting your manuscript from good to excellent. Maybe something on getting published too.) 
  • But we’ll also tend to cluster things into topic groups. We might have a season on character, for example. Or plotting. Or marketing things. 
  • As far as possible, we’ll link these topics to Masterclasses and the like (available to Premium Members.) So there’ll be high quality tutorial material AND an assignment AND feedback by the forum each week – and those things will be grouped up into mini-seasons with rough thematic coherence. 

I got a lot of thoughts from you about specific topics you’d like to see covered, and I’ll get to as much of that as I sensibly can.  

This week – and for the rest of this month – I’m going to be talking about Tools. How to stow your backpack. 

That’ll be the themes for both the Friday emails and for the FF topics too. 

This week, let’s just list out what you need for your backpack. 

Trad Publishing 

What do you need? As in need-need? Well, arguably not much, as plenty of authors climb that mountain with only the skimpiest little bivvi bag for protection. I don’t recommend that though, much as I love a good bivvi bag. 

I think any serious 21st century trad-published author needs: 

  1. An author website 
  1. An Amazon author profile 
  1. A mailing list, probably MailerLite 
  1. A Bookfunnel account 
  1. A free gift to entice users to sign-up 
  1. A bit of messing around with tax forms. If you live in the UK, you don’t want to be paying US taxes on US sales, and vice versa. What you need to do depends on where you and what your situation is, but unless you live somewhere quite exotic, you should be able to receive overseas income without significant tax. (You’ll pay the tax in your home country on that income, of course; you don’t win – you just don’t double-lose.) 
  1. Social media accounts, if you happen to like that kind of thing. I have em and I never use em. 

It’ll surprise a lot of you to see my scepticism about social media, but SM doesn’t really sell books, or not directly. If you like interacting with bookish people – I mean, booksellers, critics, reviewers, agents, etc – then good. Do it. It’ll only be helpful. But yelling “please buy my book” on Twitter doesn’t work. Never has, never will. 

Digital first publishing 

Digital first is trad publishing, really – it’s still selective; entry is still controlled by gatekeepers – but it belongs in a different category because the kit-list is different. I do think that if you’re publishing digital first you need to add: 

  1. Social media accounts – the ones you think you’ll actually use. There’s zero point having five inactive accounts. One good one easily beats five bad ones. For most authors, Twitter and Facebook will be the places to start. (And yes, I know it’s not Twitter, but I’m not going to use stupid names for things, just because a billionaire wants me to.) 
  1. Maybe Booksweeps as well – but talk to your publisher about ways and means to build that email list. 


Here, you need the full works. As well as all of the above, you need: 

  1. A KDP account (that is: the Amazon platform from which you upload and sell your books) 
  1. A Draft2Digital account, if you want to sell your books beyond Amazon. (It’s not a given that you do, by the way. Tastes and experiences differ.) 
  1. To make use of Amazon ads – probably. 
  1. To make use of Facebook ads, almost certainly. This will mean that you do need a “Jon/Jan Jones Author” page as well as your own personal account. 
  1. To be knocking regularly on Bookbub’s door (though access to that profitable beast has been harder for indie authors than it used to be.) 
  1. To use promo sites in support of major activity, for example during launch. 
  1. To use Booksweeps (probably) as a way to get your mailing list charged up to start with. 

That’s not an exhaustive list – plenty of indie authors will do more. At the same time, you could argue that this list goes beyond real essentials. The only things that you have to have as an indie are: (i) a book, (ii) an Amazon account, (iii) a mailing list and everything which goes with that, and (iv) one other source of traffic, probably Facebook ads. 


And that’s it. It all looks a bit daunting written down in this way – but expedition packing always does. The fact is that the tools have got so much better and slicker over time, and they’re built by people who know that their audience is not naturally techie. It’s all built to be simple. 

Do please take a look at the Feedback Friday stuff this week. Whether you’re a Premium Member or not, this stuff matters. 

Once, when climbing a different mountain, my climbing buddy used a dodgy petrol stove and set his head on fire. Luckily, we managed to put him out and there was a glacier not too far away, so we even had ice. Lesson of that story? Equipment matters. And, OK, glaciers. 


All good email lists are seeded by a free gift. The offer to readers is “you give me your email address; I give you something you want.” That something is a free gift. For novel writers, it’s almost always a short story. For non-fictioneers, it could be an anything – a checklist, a case study, a questionnaire, whatever else. 

The actual setup of your mailing list is a relatively drab, technical affair. The design of your short story is anything but. It’s joyous, or should be. The normal specs for a free story is that: 

  • The story is set in the world of your novel / character 
  • It’s a decent length. I think that less than 6 or 7,000 words feels a tad lightweight. Anything over 15,000 words is more than you need to do for free. 
  • The story should enrich your novel in some way. Add a dimension, not just content. I have two freebies available. One is a Fiona Griffiths prequel, and give us a glimpse of the younger, rawer Fiona. The other one is told from the viewpoint of an important secondary character and both enriches him and gives a third-person view of Fiona too. 
  • And, critically, some welcome text. That’s the letter to the reader that goes right at the front of this free gift, which will say, in effect, “Welcome to my reader’s club. I’m your author and I thank you for joining and I really appreciate it, and I’m going to look after you.” 

So your challenge this week is simple: 

What’s your freebie? 

I want: 

  • The title of your full-length novel and 2-3 sentences about it, so we know what the freebie relates to. 
  • The title of your freebie. 
  • 2-3 sentences about what that freebie will offer. 
  • Your welcome text. That’s probably only 150 words or so, but be warm and welcoming and personal. You’re not selling anything and you shouldn’t talk like some AI marketing robot. Talk like yourself and be warm and welcoming. For some reason, people freeze at this part of the brief, but they shouldn’t. It’s easy and it matters. 

That’s it. 

Til soon. 


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  2. Title -White Lies Green Envy

    From their teenage years in the 1970s to the early years of the Millennium, two Irish women pursue opposite lives that are likely to tear them apart. Liz wants to become a teacher, settle in her native Cork City and have her best friend Kate by her side. Kate rebels against the restrictions of patriarchal society and longs to become a journalist, specialising in travel and highlighting injustice in the world.

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