They’re inevitable. Every writer gets them. Even rich and famous authors get bad reviews.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever read, on how to handle the trolls, comes from Julia Whelan at Writer Unboxed. I excerpted some of her comments to give ’em the Canva treatment. But every writer will do well to read her entire post.
Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator of more than 500 titles. Her performance of her own debut novel, the internationally best-selling My Oxford Year, garnered a Society of Voice Arts award. She is also a Grammy-nominated audiobook director, a former writing tutor, a half-decent amateur baker, and a certified tea sommelier. Her new book, Thank You for Listening—about a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator who has lost sight of her dreams and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel—released in August 2022.
What a relief to have all of this frantic effort behind me! Now I can focus on making pretty promotional graphics at Canva to post on social media. I can try to remember to upload new videos to my somewhat neglected YouTube channel. Most importantly, I can start planning a new book.
Too Much, Too Fast?
At this natural pausing point, it behooves me to pause and consider whether releasing three new books or editions in less than six months might have been rushing things a little. If this frantic schedule has left my head spinning, I fear it has also confused my readers.
Barely had I begun begging for reviews for Waterspell Book 4: The Witch before I was begging equally earnestly for reviews for The Complete Series boxed set. Some readers, I suspect, got muddled: They didn’t fully grasp that Book 4 is a separate publication from The Complete Series. And thus, they didn’t realize that each publication needs to be reviewed separately. Although Amazon correctly shows The Complete Series (the boxed set) as being one part of the Waterspell series, reviews for each individual book in that series are not immediately visible to shoppers who are looking at any single title in the collection. That is to say: Amazon treats each book (and edition) individually, which creates (in me) a need for readers to take the time to post individual reviews for every book and every edition. A big ask.
Indeed, that’s a lot to ask of even the most ardent fan. All of my asking—first for the individual Book 4: The Witch, then for the boxed ebook set, and now for the culminating audiobook—has befuddled even me. I’ve no doubt that I’ve raised confusion in the minds of many readers. They (and I) would have benefited from a slower pace of new releases in 2022.
Nevertheless, rushed though it was, I’m delighted to have all of the publishing frenzy done and dusted. The new titles and new editions are out there, readers are finding them, and new reviews are appearing. The six-month sprint is over. Now I settle into the marathon of ongoing, nearly continuous book promotion.
Book Promo Overview
In May, I ranked the promotions I’d used, according to their effectiveness. With another month of experience behind me now, I’m revising two of my earlier estimations. Both of my giveaways—Goodreads and Reader Views—have improved their grades from C to B-minus.
Goodreads was a giveaway of 100 Kindle ebooks of The Complete Series. That giveaway has now netted me five-star ratings from two of the winners, along with a very nice review from one of those satisfied readers: “Loved it. Couldn’t put it down. 5 star box set. I may actually reread this because I enjoyed it so much.”
Reader Views was a giveaway of physical copies. I’d been disappointed that no recipient of those rather pricey, high-quality paperbacks had responded by word or deed. But on May 28, a winner of a print book posted on Goodreads: “Thank you, Deborah. I loved this novel and can’t wait to start Waterspell 2.” Those few words made everything worthwhile, all the expense and effort of mailing out physical copies.
I hope this doesn’t sound whiny. I’m truly grateful for every review and every star. Readers are busy. I get that. Writing reviews can be hard. I get that, too: I suck at writing reviews. Some of the reviews my books have received have filled me with awe, they’re so insightful and so beautifully written. Me? About all I can ever think to write about a book is: “I liked it.” Too many mandatory book reports in my school days ruined me for writing book reviews, I fear. But every author will value a simple “I liked it” as much as they value a detailed, four-paragraph analysis.
All reviews count. Every review matters.
To sum up: Marketing is hard, it’s expensive, and it’s time-consuming. To ensure that I’m spending my promotional dollars effectively and using my time wisely, I must pause occasionally and analyze how I’m meeting, or not meeting, my goals. At this point in my writing life, my goals are to get more reviews. At present, reviews are more important than sales. Without reviews, books (and audiobooks) won’t sell. First comes the writing/publishing, then the reviews, and THEN the sales.
Quick Links to Post Reviews
If you’re a reader who is inclined to help me out with a new review (or two, or five), I’ll be eternally grateful. 💙 Here are the direct links to post reviews at Amazon:
Releasing June 1, 2022 WATERSPELL: The Complete Series Audiobook
Am I excited!? Just a little. Well, a lot actually.
This new audiobook is the culmination of decades of work. I started writing Book 1 of Waterspell so long ago, the story seems to have always been in my life. In a sense, I suppose it has been in my life since I learned to read in my childhood. Everything I’ve ever read has probably found its way into this series, in some fashion or other.
But that’s true for all writers, I imagine. We are products of the life we’ve lived, the people we’ve known, the education we’ve received, the work experiences we’ve had, and perhaps most of all the books we’ve read. We write what we know.
Waterspell is deeply personal for me, however. I remember my doubts and my uncertainty as I began the switch from nonfiction to fantasy. As a trained journalist and an award-winning author of history and biography, I wasn’t even sure I could write fiction. Did I know how? I had much to learn, and attentive readers can follow my learning curve through the series. Wordiness, for instance, was my painfully clear weakness in Books 1 and 2. That fault is less apparent in Books 3 and 4.
Our house in Mexico on Lake Chapala
During my years of work on this story, I not only grew as a writer, I gained a deeper sense of my place in the universe. A huge amount of the writing was done while my husband and I lived in Mexico, in a house that I loved, prettily situated on the south side of Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara. Our time in Mexico was a highlight of my life, an intensely creative eight years. Amid the tropical flowers and greenery that surrounded our house, I gave myself to my writing, tapping my deep subconscious during those quiet nights by the lake, disturbed by nothing, visited by only owls and inspiration.
My beloved husband holding a fuchsia for me to photograph in our Mexican garden
After we left Mexico, another seven years would pass before Books 1–3 of Waterspell were published. And then, to my horror, my husband died quite suddenly and unexpectedly, only two months after Book 3 was released. I have written elsewhere about the effects of my grief on my writing; I will not elaborate here, except to say that my husband’s death is, for me, inextricably woven into the very fabric of this series. It is chief among the reasons for my deep personal investment in this story.
The Gift That Started Things Off …
All of this history will perhaps explain why I’m so joyously, deliriously excited about the new audiobook. Readers had been asking me for an audiobook, but I thought the expense of such an undertaking would be beyond my reach. I resisted the idea of even investigating the possibilities, until my sister-in-law gave me an Audible membership for Christmas. The first thing I bought was Lord of the Rings, narrated by Rob Inglis.
What a revelation! A great work of fantasy was elevated, by a masterful job of narration, to a plane of perfection almost beyond my comprehension. That was when I knew I had to pursue an audiobook of my own series, and damn the cost.
… And Now Here We Are
Here we are, on June 1: Release Day! I can hardly wait for the world to hear Simon de Deney’s wonderful work on Waterspell: The Complete Series. I love how Simon connected with the characters. I am deeply grateful that he took on this big project, that he liked the story and my writing, and was willing and able to produce 51 hours of narration. Not a small undertaking! I feel honored to have an actor of Simon’s reputation narrating my novels. 💙
Simon de Deney is a professional actor, playwright, director, and audiobook narrator with more than 25 years of broadcast experience and a wide range of acting credits, from feature films to shows in London’s West End. His audiobook work includes Flames Over Frosthelm (Dave Dobson), It Calls from the Forest (multiple authors), and The Story of Wine (Hugh Johnson), for which de Deney was nominated for Best Performance (Factual Audiobook) in the 2022 One Voice Awards (UK). As a writer, de Deney has had several BBC Radio commissions, including “The Way It Is” and “Future Perfect.” He has developed and directed new plays including “Broken Voices,” “Scotch and Water,” and “Late Fragment.” His acting credits include (theatre) “The Madness of George Dubya,” “The Prisoner of Windsor,” “Beneath The Waves,” and “Felix,” as well as television roles in “House of Elliot,” “The Upper Hand,” and “Rose Cottage.” His film credits include Damage, Shining Through, Another Country, and The Selfish Act of Community. Simon de Deney has a Master of Arts degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University. He lives in London.
This being my first audiobook, I’m not sure what to expect. Will it suddenly just appear in the catalog of every retailer? It’s been available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble, Chirp, AudiobooksNow, and Libro.fm. It’s supposed to show up on June 1 at Apple, Kobo, Walmart, Overdrive, and many others including Audible. But I’ve been warned that Audible lags behind.
So check back here on my website for new links. I’ll post them as I get them.
I will have 100 Giveaway Codes to hand out. Drop me a note (below) if you’d like a free copy of this audiobook!
Look what I found! A video from a few years ago, of my audiobook narrator, actor and voiceover artist Simon de Deney, reading a short story during a fundraiser for the Emergency Care Fund of the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery in London.
It’s a great story and an absorbing performance. Watch it here:
You can also enjoy Simon reading an excerpt from the forthcoming Waterspell audiobook (The Complete Series, a boxed set of four books). I’ve posted the excerpt on my very own, brand-new YouTube channel:
Much more to come! This being my first audiobook, I’m climbing the learning curve as I explore options for distribution: going wide, far beyond Audible. Barring unforeseen complications, Waterspell: The Complete Series boxed audio set should be available Summer 2022. “Stay tuned!”
The dates are set: April 21 is release day for the Waterspell ebook boxed set, followed by the audiobook set on June 1.
WATERSPELL: The Complete Series (boxed set of four ebooks)
Other people’s schedules largely dictated my choice of these two dates. Goodreads is having a March sale on Kindle Giveaways. As long as I book a giveaway by mid-month, I get the discounted price, and those who enter and win will get their free boxed set in April on release day.
For the audiobook edition, I hope to tie my promotions to “Audiobook Appreciation Month” in June. My wonderful narrator, Simon de Deney, is now recording Book 4 of the series and should completely finish his narration this month. Then I begin the process (I hope) of uploading nearly 100 separate MP3s at Audiobooks Unleashed.
WATERSPELL: The Complete Series will be available as an audio boxed set, expertly narrated by Simon de Deney.
I’m still debating about NetGalley and Written Word Media. As I mentioned in my January planning post, Written Word Media is pricey. And I read that NetGalley reviewers can be even harsher than Goodreads reviewers. Not sure I want to spend $50 and get negativity from constipated reviewers. Maybe I’ll stick with the Goodreads Giveaway, and try a little advertising for the boxed set(s), too.
Unpacking a shipment of your own new book is a thrill like no other! I’ve had the pleasure of opening a box of my latest, Waterspell Book 4: The Witch, which is now available in print (paperback) and all ebook formats. It looks great, IMO. But I’m biased. Now it’s a waiting game, putting me on pins and needles as I look for the first reviews to come in. I’m sure I could have done more, I could have sent out more Advance Reader Copies, I could have spent more on ads and promotion. But the reality, I know, is that readers won’t care about Book 4 unless they have read and enjoyed the original trilogy.
My promotional efforts, therefore, remain focused on Book 1: The Warlock. It’s featured today, February 18, by BookRaid (with which I’ve enjoyed success previously); and on Saturday, Feb. 19, Bookorium (new to me) promotes it. After that, I intend to run only one ad each month, alternating between BookRaid and The Fussy Librarian (adding Bookorium into the mix, if that one proves successful).
The greater part of my attention must now turn to the two boxed sets: Ebook and audiobook. With Book 4 releasing (singly) in February, does it make sense to release the boxed set of ebooks in April? Is that too soon? Will that schedule give me time to promote the set? Research is needed, along with serious thought. The later in the year, the fewer the months during which the boxed set will carry the 2022 copyright date. With so much emphasis on “new releases,” keeping that 2022 date as fresh as possible, for as long as possible, seems to argue for publishing the boxed ebook set ASAP.
Then there’s the boxed set of audiobooks. Will it be most likely to find an audience during the summer months? Should it be released in May, hard on the heels of the companion ebook set? I think that might be best. But again, I should research and find out when audiobooks sell most strongly: spring, summer, fall, or winter.
Also washing around in the back of my mind are the words of my experienced beta reader, and the suggestions of my audio narrator. Both of them are telling me that I should write more books (or at least novellas) set in the world(s) of Waterspell. Hmm. Should I? Can I?
I think my spring, summer, and winter of 2022 will be busy.
Being more oriented to words than to pictures, I had no interest in Instagram until I learned about its subgenre, Bookstagram. (Book Instagram = #bookstagram ) Now I’ve taken the plunge. Early activity is promising: In just my first two days I connected with several book reviewers and bloggers. When I get at least 20 potential reviewers, I’ll offer them complimentary copies of Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock. I’m told that Amazon treats writers better when their books have at least 50 reviews. As a series, Waterspell has more than that, but Book 1 by itself has only 35. My goal is to get that number to at least 50 before I start serious promotion of the forthcoming audiobooks and Book 4.
If you enjoy reviewing fantasy books, please drop me a note at waterspell(at)earthlink(dot)net. I have review copies of The Warlock available in all formats, print as well as ebooks, but I can mail the paperbacks within the US and Canada only.
Full disclosure up front: Book 1: The Warlock ends on a cliffhanger. And as reviewer Twiggy Piggy says: “The moment you finish this book, you WILL want to go on to the next.” (Perhaps I could supply you with that next book, too. Let’s talk.)
Here are the results of my advertising test at BookBub: “Belong” (ad 1) and “Courage” (ad 2) got almost exactly the same number of clicks, but hardly any clicks at all from Amazon shoppers. The vast majority of readers who showed interest by clicking either ad were Barnes & Noble customers (“Belong”) or, surprisingly to me, Apple Books and Kobo readers (“Courage”).
This supports my belief that writers who give Amazon exclusive rights to sell their books are condemning their works to compete with the almost infinite number of “products” sold by Amazon, while ignoring the truly dedicated readers who shop at Barnes & Noble and elsewhere, and who prefer non-Kindle tablets and e-readers.
My next steps include looking into the usefulness of these things:
• The Fussy Librarian
• Blog tours
• Goodreads Giveaways
• Amazon advertising
• Written Word Media
I know who I’ll ask for new reviews to augment the glowing reviews that Waterspell received upon the books’ initial publication. The circle I move in, these days, is much changed from the social circle that I knew before my husband’s death in 2012. Now, I number among my friends many anti-fascist activists, folks I got to know after November 2016. Most of them didn’t even know I was a many-times published author; it wasn’t what drew us together. Now, gradually, I’m revealing my past life and enlisting the support of those who are willing to help me recover something of it.
Am I dreaming, thinking I can relaunch a 10-year-old fantasy series? Possibly. But I’m making final edits to Waterspell Book 4, preparing for a 2022 release. And the audiobooks are slowly coming together, after my wonderfully talented narrator endured a major upheaval in his own world. It took him away from the work for six months—disruptive, yes, but not as damaging to a career as was my own dark, nine-year period of grief and neglect. If nothing else goes too badly wrong, the audiobooks should be released in 2022, along with Book 4.
I’m thinking those two events could be and should be enough to spark new interest in the original trilogy. If I will get out there and promote, dammit. It’s no secret that promotion takes money, and I’m prepared to pay, within reason, for advertising. Here’s what I plan for my first sponsored Facebook post:
“Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Charlotte Brontë.” From award-winning author Deborah J. Lightfoot, an unforgettable epic fantasy that readers call “extraordinary, enthralling, completely unpredictable.” Think “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” Coming in 2022, Book 4 of Waterspell will complete the series. Print & ebooks available. Audiobooks in progress. www.waterspell.net
Amazon advertising and BookBub being completely new to me, I’ll need to discover how they may or may not fit into the budget. But at least I’ve got a little ready cash to spend on a new promotional push. The 2020 Pandemic Year not only gave me time and opportunity to pursue audiobooks and to write Book 4, it saved me money. I went nowhere and cooked meals at home. Everything I didn’t spend on travel and restaurants is now earmarked for book promotion.
I hope to Drisha this plan of mine will get these four books in front of the readers who will most enjoy them. At this point, it’s readership I want—not fortune so much, just a tiny bit of fame to validate the years I’ve spent obsessing over this story of mine.
Evidently the rest of the writing world learned about Canva.com long ago. I’ve only recently discovered its multitude of free and easily customized templates for Facebook posts, Instagram, postcards, and all sorts of things.
Now that I know, I’m hooked. I started out playing with their ready-made templates, and created graphics that I may or may not ever actually post on my Facebook page:
Further experimentation produced results more in keeping with my tastes and better suited to the books:
Canva’s templates gave me ideas. This one suggested a way of showcasing several reviews at once:
Finding my rhythm, I knocked out several images that I’ve stockpiled for a social-media blitz when the time comes to actively promote Waterspell Book 4 (it’s nearly finished!) and the audiobooks (after an unavoidable delay, we’re now aiming for a Spring 2022 release at Audible).
I’m thinking I can never have too many of these things pre-made and ready to post. So it’s back to Canva.com that I go. Many thanks to that wonderfully generous Aussie tech company for making so many of its templates totally free. ♥
Making a place for yourself in a world where you don't belong takes courage. So does moving in with a warlock.
“A riveting series. Well written, excellent world-building with an engaging plot in each book and well-developed characters. I was gripped right from the start with twists I didn’t see and unpredictability.” —Aria, NetGalley
“Addictive epic fantasy, with drama and adventure. I binged through the books, eager to see how the story unfolds. Great book. 5 stars.” —Di, NetGalley
“Captivating. I loved this series from beginning to end. Complex characters who mature through the series and unexpected plot twists kept me reading far too late into the night.” —Amy, Amazon
“An entertaining, fast paced, and well-plotted fantasy series. The world building is fascinating, and the characters fleshed out. Highly recommended.” —Anna Maria, NetGalley
“A great read that features world building with drama and magical characters. Highly recommended.” —Neil, Amazon
“I was hooked instantly. I willingly gave up sleep and could not wait to get up to read more. I’m reading the whole series, and absolutely loving it.” —Sarah, Amazon
“Lightfoot has a sure touch with regard to characterisation. Each of her characters has their own authentic and convincing voice. Narrative, description and speech are exceptionally well-balanced.” —Martin Dukes, author of the Alex Trueman Chronicles
“Complicated characters, plot twists, romance, adventure, and magic — all written in a voice that immerses you in a fantasy world both foreign and familiar. Get the box set because you won’t want to leave this world.” —Beck Digs It, Amazon
“Jane Eyre meets Beauty and the Beast. Amazing story, very original. Great series.” —Emma, Amazon UK
“In this four-book saga, the author has created an epic fantasy world full of magic, danger, romance, and travel through time and space. The characters are vivid and complex. This is a most enjoyable read for fans of fantasy and fine writing.” —Shirley, NetGalley
“Such a joy to narrate this. It didn’t feel like work. The story and characters take flight so naturally and then soar.” —Simon de Deney
“I was HOOKED. I read until 3 am two nights in a row to finish this. The magic system is unique and the characters are as morally gray as they come.” —Megan, Goodreads
“I absolutely loved all four books! You kept your storyline throughout the four books brilliantly. The characters were all genuine and relatable.” —Carol, Goodreads
“An extraordinary book, four in fact! I read these over a five-day period and found the storytelling fantastic. See for yourself!” —Michelle, NetGalley
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot’s earliest flights of fancy. On her father’s farm in Texas, she grew up reading tales of adventure and reenacting them behind ramparts of sun-drenched grain. She left the farm to earn a degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography. High on her bucket list was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is Waterspell, a multi-layered, intricately detailed fantasy about a girl and the wizard who suspects her of being so dangerous to his world, he believes he’ll have to kill her … which troubles him, since he’s fallen in love with her. Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She lives in the country near Fort Worth, Texas.
Magic, mystery, murder, and romance. Waterspell: An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre.
Mix environmental fantasy with magic, mystery, and a little slow-burning romance, add dystopian undercurrents, and that’s the Waterspell series—a cross-genre story with too many layers for a single label.