Monday, 10 December 2012

Glorious Momentum

.... or  Self Publishing is Publishing  (part 4)

I didn't write books just for my nearest and dearest to read; I wanted the world to read them too. And  although I have come very close to that illusive publishing contract on more than one occasion, it has never happened.

After ten years of trying, I felt my optimism and excitement about the whole process slipping slowly into a dignified but stagnant stupor. As ‘exciting’, ‘warm-hearted’, and ‘masterful’ as my writing apparently was  (quotes from yer actual real life editors what have read my stuff and who should know their onions), my books never made it over the final hurdle of the acquisitions teams. 

The Random Penguin Acquisitions team in high-powered discussion. 

Admittedly, writing about real life in these dark times may not be to everyone’s taste, and I totally understand that publishers have to make money out of me or, like, what’s the point? But to come so close and yet still be so far away from breaking through, did leave me feeling more than a little weepy at times.

When my final submission came back with a "NOT FOR US" stamp across the front page, I longed for some movement in my writing career and knew it was time for a re-think.

And then my luck turned a corner. Two things happened:

1. I won a ticket to the Writers & Artists 'Publishing in the Digital Age' conference and it filled my head with all sorts of fancy ideas and notions of going it alone.
2. My good friend and fellow real-lifer, Kate Hanney, also decided to go it alone.

It felt like good old serendipity and the chance to get things going again. I ummed and arred and dithered a bit, and then I jumped. Wheeeeeeeeee….

And WOW! Just WOW! I never expected such a soft and comfortable landing.

Kate and I launched Applecore Books a few weeks ago, together. Although this was primarily to provide a home for our own young teen and young adult stories, we have found that the mutual support and encouragement to get things done has been the biggest bonus. We are part of a team, working independently, but drawing on each other's areas of expertise whenever necessary, and sharing both the highs and lows of the process so far. (Actually, there haven't been any lows yet.)

Kate had already published her first book, Safe, but went on to publish Watermelon and Someone Different under the Applecore banner. I published my first book, Where Bluebirds Fly and will be following through with Bring Me Sunshine and How to be Lucky just as soon as I can find the time. But in the meantime, I just have to sit back and watch the sales tot up.

And don't get me wrong, if Random Penguin do come knocking on my door, offering me bunches of bananas in return for the right to publish my books via the traditional method, then I certainly won't turn them away without seriously considering it. But, until they do, I'm back in control and enjoying the ride.

If glorious momentum is what you’re after, I can’t recommend self-publishing highly enough. No more sitting around waiting for phone calls, emails or lucky breaks. If anything is going to happen for us, it’s going to happen because of us, and that’s a rather nice place to be just now.

 Where Bluebirds Fly, available on Kindle through Amazon UK and US

And now available in PAPERBACK from many outlets, including

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Overcoming writers' block, snivelling wimpishness and why you should never give up, by Emma Haughton

Today I am handing my blog over to my lovely friend, Emma Haughton, to tell us about her road to publication. She has just signed a two book deal and her first book will be published in 2014.

The road to publication.

I get an image of a yellow brick road when I think about the journey to publication. Long, windy, and full of steep learning curves, though like Dorothy, I’ve made some great friends along the way. When I set out, I envisioned one of those nice efficient trunk roads that take you quickly and simply from A to B. I’d been a journalist all my life. I’d written a picture book and had it been picked up by the first publisher I sent it to. Writing a piece of longer fiction – how hard could it possibly be?

Cue many years of frustration, self-deception and disappointment. I wrote a YA book. It was undeniably flawed, though I couldn’t see that. I sent it out to a few agents, collected a number of rejections. Since I hadn’t yet integrated the idea of writing being a process, something you learn to do better, I reacted to the no-thank-yous with a mix of ‘Bah, what do they know?’ followed by several years of sulking and a lingering sense of hopelessness about ever being a ‘proper’ writer.

I became deeply, almost irredeemably, blocked. I couldn’t even look at any of my fiction files in Word without feeling nauseous. I shoved the desire to be a novelist into the deepest recesses of my mind, where it festered away like a canker sore, never quite disappearing and slowly forming layers of ugly scar tissue that blighted my deepest sense of self.

Emma Haughton
In a last ditch attempt to motivate myself, I booked an Arvon course. I met other people who both wanted to write and daily confronted the same fears. I heard stories of countless rejections from the successful novelists who tutored us, absorbed their exhortations to never give up, went home, started another novel, ran into a few obstacles, and promptly gave up.

Another Arvon course a year later. Gradually I began to recognise that my anxiety around writing was actually a bone fide block – I thought I was just endlessly procrastinating. I went back to the novel I’d started. Decided the idea still had legs. I developed a strategy for facing the terror by listening to relaxation music and setting a timer on my laptop to go off in 30 minutes. Just open the Word file, I’d tell myself, open it up and tinker around with it for half an hour, then you can stop.

Initially, I could barely stand that long. It was agonising. I would hanker after the sound of the chimes that told me the time was up. Then, gradually, I got caught up with the story. I also read loads of books on writing, and found a fabulous online course that showed me – graphically – some of the ways I’d been going wrong. Within a month or two, I was ignoring the timer’s bell. I was carving out a first draft. And then a second. I was even enjoying it.

This time, submitting to agents, I was more prepared for the inevitable rejections. I’d grown a slightly thicker skin and finally understood that they weren’t confirmations of my utter crapness as a writer. I got requests for the full. I got pretty close with one or two agents. I got discouraged.

Then one agent put me in touch with a freelance editor, who did an in-depth analysis of everything she felt still stank about my book, but at the same time told me she really believed in it. I sulked. I didn’t agree with many of her points, and anyway I couldn’t see a way round them. So I shelved it.

Some months later the editor got in touch. I confessed I’d given up. She told me to ‘PULL MYSELF TOGETHER AND JUST BLOODY GET ON WITH IT’ and offered to re-read the revised version free of charge. I felt so chastened by her generosity and guilty for being such a snivelling wimp that I decided to have a go. I had absolutely no expectation of success, but I sat down and learned how to revise a novel. Discovered it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I could come up with ideas, alternatives, solutions. I didn’t do everything the editor suggested, but I did a lot of it, and the book emerged stronger.

This time I sent it out to about eight agents at once, tired of waiting for the slow trickle of responses. Got a number of requests for the full. Then, in one utterly surreal afternoon, I had offers of representation from three of them.

A tad more revision for the chosen agent, and out it went on sub again. This felt considerably worse than submitting to agents, because I knew if all the publishers rejected it, I was at the end of the road. The only way I could cope was to simply pretend it wasn’t happening. I threw myself into writing another YA novel, finishing it just as my agent was getting some initial interest back from publishers. So in the end both books went out on sub together. There was a flurry of meetings in London, and a couple of weeks later I was accepting an offer for both books.

Writing all this down, I remember how firmly I believed that I would never reach this point. Writing novels seemed impossible, a fanciful dream. Not helped, probably, by an English degree from one of those universities that regarded anything written after about 1954 to be just so much flummery. It was a long, hard and very windy road to realising that talent is only part of the equation – and not even the most important part. That passion, resilience and perseverance ultimately counted for a lot more. That writing is a craft - not an inborn gift – and something you learn to do better by trying and failing and trying again.

The Wonderful Publishing House of Oz 
Sure, some people find a shortcut to literary success and seem to arrive at point B in record time, with barely a deviation. But most of us have to trudge every step of the yellow brick road with just a dream to sustain us, and three words tattooed in capital letters right across our foreheads: NEVER GIVE UP.

Monday, 12 November 2012

How to get noticed…

"But, Officer, I am just
promoting my book..."

... Self Publishing is Publishing - Part 3
Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win a place at the Writers & Artists Yearbook Conference, Self Publishing in the Digital Age. It gave me lots to think about and although I could have blogged off the back of this conference for a year, this post will be last one.
To recap … Read Part One HERE and Part Two HERE
... So, you've written your book and you've published your book. How are you going to sell it? Apart from the obvious proviso - make your work as good as it can be - Amazon's tips to help you sell more books are;

  • Make your work discoverable by adding the metadata (tags, photos, reviews, etc).
  • Books with a ‘search inside’ facility sell more than books without.
  • Update your author page regularly, with as much information as you can (biography, twitter name, your blog/website links, bibliography, appearances, videos, pictures, etc)
Beyond Amazon, getting yourself noticed is the key. Marrying a celebrity, streaking across Twickenham or winning Britain’s Got Talent will all help with publicity, but generally speaking we are talking about Social Media. Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn led a very useful session on developing audiences for your writing, and Joanna Ellis from The Literary Platform  talked about online writer and reader communities. (Basically, developing audiences is another term for marketing, except it's much more fun!) The contacts you make over months and years, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked in, blogs and so on, are the contacts who may help to sell your books. 
KNOW, LIKE and TRUST are the key words for social networking, so if you haven't yet established an online presence, start building one now. These things take time.
And then it was the turn of the authors. Ahhh, the authors; those wonderfully lucky people who have already made a success of self publishing… Louise Voss & Mark Edwards (the first 100% indie writers in the UK to top the Amazon charts), Nick Spalding, and Ben Galley. These writers are all now signed up with major publishing houses, having demonstrated not only their earning and writing ability, but also their marketing savvy and media awareness. Their websites are full of useful information for the wannabe published writer and I can't recommend them highly enough.
Here are some of their top tips for getting noticed and selling books.
1. Design a great cover
2. Put your book on as many retail platforms as you can.
3. Do free offers - either the first book in a series, or have free days when your book is available at a cost of £0.00.
4. Engage with readers on a social level (social media, thanks for reviews, acknowledge supportive emails etc).
5. Take advantage of any offers to guest blog, do an interview, and promote yourself.
6. Tweak and change your book blurb, to reflect page visits and conversions to sales.
And finally, there was another mention of that little nugget about self published authors being happier than their traditionally published counterparts, (read Alison Baverstock’s excellent blog post about this here ). As a writer in charge of your own destiny, you are involved in every stage of the book creation process and you get much better and more immediate access to your sales stats, giving you the power to change things which aren't working, and even to improve the things that are. If I wasn't already sold on self publishing as a process, this would have been my turning point. 
So there; that’s about everything. I could go on, but hopefully I have given  just enough information for you to start the ball rolling on your own publishing career. I personally got a huge amount of knowledge, ideas and confidence from this conference, but if you follow my links, you have access to all the same information, for free. Happy writing, publishing, and marketing!

Self publishing is liberating.
Self publishing is here to stay.
Self publishing is publishing.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

And then there was Amazon...

... Self Publishing is Publishing (Part 2) 

To recap - 2 weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win a place at the Writers & Artists Yearbook Conference, Self Publishing in the Digital Age. I won it with a piece of Twitter flash fiction.. It was a day in London, and a day which gave me lots to think about. Read Part One Here

This is part 2 - …and then there was Amazon. 

Although there are other service providers out there, there is no doubt that in the UK at the moment Amazon is the busiest and biggest marketplace for your books. Createspace Director, Jon Fine talked not only about how to publish a book on Amazon, but also the benefits of independent publishing solutions in general. The thing which really got me excited was that thing he said about control…

As a self-publisher you control:
  • the rights to your work
  • the content of your work
  • the cover design
  • the price
  • the distribution
  • the speed at which you move
And for someone who has had more near misses with mainstream publishers than hot dinners (well, almost) and who is terminally fed-up of waiting for emails, phone calls, contracts, and even signs of life, the notion of ‘control’ was very appealing.

Who do you trust in the driving seat?

I’m not knocking anyone here. I understand I am in competition with thousands of other wannabes. I understand that agents need to earn a living, have other clients to support and cannot devote all their time to me. I understand that editors have lots of books to read and cannot drop everything to read mine. I understand that these same editors and their bosses and their acquisitions teams all have to be 100% committed to my work in order to get behind it in a very competitive market in which they also need to make a living...  I understand all that and more. It’s just that whereas a few months ago I thought I had to endure this process, to grin and bear it, I now realise that I don’t have to.

A friend of mine has just been signed with a publisher, and I couldn't be happier for her.
Another friend of mine has just published two books on Kindle, and I couldn't be happier for her. 
But which one am I jealous of?  I’m jealous of the second one. She is in control, she is happy, she is involved with the process and has been from start to finish. Her books are out there now, getting read and earning money. And while we’re on the subject, she’ll be getting higher royalties than my other friend...

Instead of an 8% – 15% royalty from a traditional publisher, (payable only after your advance has been paid back by sales) Amazon, for example, will give you 35%, 70% or 80% depending on your publishing package. (Kindle, Kindle Direct Publishing or Createspace Publishing on Demand.  )

I don’t need to sell Amazon to you because plenty of other people are doing it. I’m just telling you how all this made me feel; which was, in a word, EMPOWERED.

Jon showed us an impressive graph which proved how Kindle sales have surpassed printed book sales in the last year, proving that more people are reading more. So if there has ever been a good time to self publish, it’s now. And personally I can’t see this changing.

All this, and we still hadn’t had lunch. Read part three here; How to get noticed…

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Self Publishing is Publishing - Part 1

I have never wanted to be a publisher because I always felt it would take me away from writing. Having to think in terms of content creation (writing), content management (editing) and disintermediation (getting rid of the middle man), and seeing books as products rather than my babies (!) was never on the agenda. But, having failed to meet market requirements and find a traditional publisher willing to take a chance on me, an unknown, publishing my books, myself, is becoming an increasingly likely prospect. Frankly, I am getting tired of hanging around waiting for someone else to take me on.

"The sounds of freedom. Tap tap she wrote.
Snip snip she cut out the middle man. Kerching she published. And she was happy."
And then last week, I was lucky enough to win a place at the Writers & Artists Yearbook Conference, Self Publishing in the Digital Age. I won it with a piece of Twitter flash fiction; see picture caption. It was a day in London, and a day which gave me lots to think about.
Effective self-publishing, like all publishing, is most evident when absent. You only notice when things go wrong or are done badly. If I was under any illusions that this would be an easy route to literary success, this conference put me right. But what it also put me right on is that taking control can be intensely rewarding, and self-published authors are generally happier than those published by others.
The first speaker to talk about self-publishing was Alison Baverstock. She gave a very interesting overview of the changing industry and has published  The Naked Author - A Guide to Self Publishing  bursting with very relevant information and advice which covers everything from what to write about to marketing the final product. She mentioned two very useful resources for authors who go it alone - The Society for Editors and Proofreaders and The Alliance of Independent Authors. Have a look at their websites if you are interested in self publishing but need a little encouragement; you will see that help is out there!
The next speaker was the very lovely and entertaining editor, Cressida Downing,  who described editing as making something beautiful out of something raw. Amongst her many pearls of wisdom, she suggested that professional editing can increase sales by 35%. Professional formatting apparently makes little difference to sales, but cover design makes the most difference. She quoted as her source, Taleist’s survey of self-published authors which noted demographics, how long respondents had been writing, how many books they’d self-published, where they got outside help, and how much they were earning, along with a multitude of other information. If you want to look at this, go to the Taleist Blog for more information.
So, once you have written and edited your book, you need to find a service provider. Kindle, Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space are the Amazon biggies, (more on KDP and Create Space in Part 2) but also at the conference were representatives of Kobo Writing Life, Blurb, Troubadour/Matador and Acorn who offer either e-publishing or print on demand platforms for your book. There are many more, of course, and each one will offer something slightly different. But the general advice is to do your research, and then think about your reasons for self-publishing, what kind of help you need, what kind of marketing you want and where your readers are most likely to be found. Your answers should help narrow down your search. As a golden rule, avoid anyone who showers you with praise, tells you your work is amazing and then charges you a small fortune. If you are in any doubt or want further help, Mick Rooney’s excellent website, The Independent Publishing Magazine , will give you plenty of information about service providers, as well as a treasure chest of other useful knowledge.
All this information, and it wasn't even lunchtime... 
By this point, my interest in self publishing was becoming more a goal, and less a fall-back position. But I'll write about that in part 2 ...

Friday, 19 October 2012

Staying Power - Who needs it?

 This week I have been for a job interview. It wasn't my dream job, and it was as much to do with research as it was to do with wanting the job, (i.e. nothing). But one of the questions I was asked is, "What other jobs have you done?" It took quite a while to answer because there have been so many...

My interviewers politely smiled and made noises about my ‘varied and unusual’ career but I could see them mentally marking me down as someone with no staying power. I didn't get the job.

It's not a good sign when the interview panel start on lunch whilst you are still talking.

Afterwards, I googled 'jobs of famous authors' and came up with an impressive list; for example, before he was famous, Douglas Adams worked as a hospital porter, a barn builder, a chicken shed cleaner, a hotel security guard and bodyguard. Jack Kerouac worked as a gas station attendant, cotton picker, night guard, railroad brakeman, dishwasher, construction worker, and deckhand. And Harlan Ellison was apparently a tuna fisherman, crop-picker, hired gun, nitroglycerin truck driver, short order cook, cab driver, lithographer, book salesman, floorwalker, brush salesman, and actor. 

‘Varied and unusual’ careers, but staying power? 

You bet. They had staying power in the thing which mattered most. Writing.

And I know an awful lot of other really GREAT writers, who for whatever reason have not yet been picked up by a publisher and shown the world their amazing talents. These are the people with real staying power. So let’s hear it for the unpublished.

“You only fail if you stop writing.” 
(Ray Bradbury.) 

And in case you’re interested, here is my own impressive alphabetical list of jobs … admin officer, baker, barmaid, book writer, canteen assistant, child minder, cleaner, clerk, cook, copy writer, dog walker, editor, elephant tamer, fairy, group leader, hypnotherapist, illusionist, jelly wrestler, kitchen porter, liar, llama’s back end, mother, nanny, opener of doors, picker, pill packer, queen, rocket scientist, sock packer, teacher, umbrella stand, volunteer, waitress, warehouse person, writer, xylophonist, yodeller and zebra.*   
*Some of these are made up*

What has been your most unusual job?

Monday, 1 October 2012

AUTHOR WANTED - Apply Within

Susan discovered that being an
author was as easy as riding a bike
Many years ago when I decided to be an author, I thought it was just a matter of writing a really good story, finding a publisher and signing a few books in the local bookstore. Simple. Beyond the ability to write, I had no idea of the range of skills I would need, and I sometimes wonder if I knew then what I know now, would I have persisted?

Writing is a journey. But it's not just a journey to publication; it's a journey of self-development, fraught with ups and downs and long periods on the flat.  Apart from the obvious writerly attributes (imagination, knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax, ability to use word processing software and the desire to blend these into a story), most of the required and desirable skills are only to be found within. And you won’t necessarily know if you’ve got them, until you need them. 

The writing process for example needs good time management and great organisation skills, especially if you also have a family and/or other job. The hours are long, often unsociable and you will be paid well below the minimum wage, and to actually get pen to paper, every day or week or month, or however long it takes to get the story out, takes commitment. Even the best story in the world has days when you feel like it’s not going anywhere, when it’s just a hard slog, and you wish you could jack it all in. 

And that’s the easy part. Once the initial phase of writing your story is complete, there will be an extended period during which you will be re-evaluating, revising and rewriting your work. You will need to be self-critical, and prepared to let go of things you love; shaping, sculpting, crafting, over and over again until your story is right. No one can tell you how long this will take. If you are not motivated by perfection you will sell yourself short.

Dennis was a patient man, 
with a quiet determination 
to succeed.
When you’ve finished, you venture onto the road to publication; patience, determination and tenacity are your key skills here. After submission, you may wait months, or more probably years, before publication. Or, if you choose the increasingly popular method of self-publication, your skills will involve technical know-how and getting to grips with different self-publishing media, project management (because books still need proof-readers, editors, cover-artists and illustrators) and you will still need all that patience, determination and tenacity because nothing happens quickly in the publishing world.

You will also need to give some time to self-promotion. A strong media presence is increasingly important via social media sites, blogging and your own website, and you will need to be confident, friendly, thick skinned and have a sense of humour whilst raising your public profile.

When your book is finally out there, you must dedicate your waking hours to publicising your book, both in person and via the wonderful world wide web. School visits, author signings and publicity stunts are all expected methods of promotion. Ditto for confidence, friendliness, etc.

Plus of course, you will already be working on your second or third book by then, so multitasking must be added to your list of skills

So, if I knew then what I know now, would I have persisted? The answer is a very big and definite POSSIBLY. Except of course, it doesn't matter. I'm enjoying my journey, I don't want it to stop, and I probably couldn't anyway. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

How do you like your endings?

Kate Hanney

Guest Blog by Kate Hanney, author of SAFE.

So, this is the dilemma: you try to write about life, reality, what actually happens. You try to present characters and settings that you could find anywhere; anywhere you’re curious enough to look. And although you might allow yourself a little poetic licence with the plot, you’re never going to let it turn into James Bond.

But then you get to the end. And you have to draw it to some kind of a conclusion; a resolution, a denouement. You have to finish it somewhere. But does it, unequivocally, have to be a happy ending? Even if it’s tainted with tragic realism, must there always be at least a chink of light?

People in the trade will say, unequivocally, yes, for Young Adult fiction at least (which is my only experience of this). And because they’re the professionals, they know what they’re talking about, so you have to think they’re probably right. But what about life? What about all the stories that don’t end happily?

You spend 70,000 words or so creating empathy and engagement for your characters, you try to portray them and their situations as honestly as possible; complex, real, authentic - so shouldn’t the ending be all of these things as well?

Because if it should, then we have to accept that some endings will be tragic; they’ll be sad, distressing, unfair. Because that’s what happens to some people; they go through awful things, and sometimes they don’t make it out into a blazon of light on the other side.

So in the pursuit of honesty, should we all be throwing off the shackles of convention, and running away to write hard-hitting, realistic endings because we owe it to our readers, and our characters and ourselves? Well, it’s what I did, in the beginning at least, when I wrote Safe. I wasn’t going to be governed by convention, I was going to tell it how it is.

But my journey down ‘Learning to Become a Writer Street’ brought me very quickly to a stop sign, and what is said is, ‘this is fiction; it’s different.’  And what it meant is, readers have expectations, they expect their hero to be proactive in saving his mate/his girlfriend/the world. Even if we all know it’s probably not what would actually happen in real life.

And my conclusion after to speaking to various readers? The signage is correct.

A friend of mine read one of my stories in manuscript form once, then I told her what the original (tragic, and much more realistic) ending had been in a previous draft. ‘Oh, no!’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have liked that at all.’

So what I’ve learned is, on the whole, readers don’t want sad, they want hope, even if it’s not realistic hope. And even if we as writers stop short of offering complete triumph, un-dying love and the ultimate happily ever after, we must always offer at least a glimmer to cling on to, no matter how tenuous, if it’s there, then good things are possible ... unlikely maybe ... but possible.

And I think that’s what my strategy has become now; to try and strike a balance. To tell it how it is, inject hard reality into a story, but to always offer at least a slither of optimism at the end. However, as in life, it’s vital that slither is tenuous, a flicker, and there must always be harsh reminders that it could, and still might, end very differently.

What do you think?

For over thirteen years she has worked as an English teacher in South Yorkshire, and has had the privilege of meeting hundreds of fantastic kids. Some are comedians and some are geniuses. At times some of them are desperately unhappy, and one or two of them are just plain scary! 

Find out more about Kate on her website

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Big Fat Publishing Rejection Quiz

Derek Shiftly knew more about
rejection than most men.
Have you experienced rejection? Once or twice? More than a dozen times? Possibly more than a hundred…? Well, psychologists from a University near Yale have come up with the ultimate quiz to help you understand a little more about the process of rejection, how you deal with it and what it says about you. 

Answer the questions, make a note of your answers and read the results to find out your score.

  1. When you get a rejection, do you:
a)       Feel like your life is over?
b)       Hire a hit man to ‘take out’ the rejecter?
c)       Feel bad for a day or two, and then move on?

  1. When your family or friends offer criticism of your work, do you:
a)       Ignore it. What do they know anyway?
b)       Unfriend them on Facebook?
c)       Say thank you, and give their comments some serious consideration?

  1. When your story doesn’t win/get short listed for that writing competition, does it mean:
a)       Your story sucks?
b)       The competition is rigged?
c)       Your story isn't quite ready?

  1. When an agent says they don’t want to represent you, does it mean:
a)       You are a lousy writer?
b)       You are a worthless pile of poop who will never amount to anything?
c)       They don’t want to represent you?

  1. When a publisher says your book is not right for their list, does it mean:
a)       Your book is rubbish?
b)       Your book  is a worthless pile of poop and will never amount to anything?
c)       Your book is not right for their list?

  1. When an Editor asks for changes in your manuscript, does it mean:
a)       Your manuscript is full of holes?
b)       Your manuscript might just as well go straight into the shredder?
c)       Your manuscript might be improved with a few changes?

  1. When you get a bad review on Amazon, do you believe:
a)       Your sales will take a nose dive?
b)       The world is against you?
c)       Everyone is entitled to an opinion?

  1. What have you learned from rejection:
a)       Some people are idiots?
b)       It’s not worth trying when everybody hates you?
c)       Learning to deal with rejection is just another step towards being a writer?

  1. When you finally find success, do you:
a)       Get well and truly blootered?
b)       Believe you are a literary genius?
c)       Enjoy it while you can?

"Darling, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, Leonard, tell me."
"Your manuscript, it... it's..."
"It... it's... in a class of it's own."

Mostly As
You take rejection personally, but then again who doesn’t? You are a great/terrible* writer, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool/genius.* The longer you are writer, the easier/harder* it will be to let go of upsets and move on. So why not give it one more shot; you know you can/can't do it. 
*delete as applicable

Mostly Bs
You are on the publication roller coaster and going downhill fast. You completely lack perspective and balance. When you get rejected, your world falls apart and so do you. On the plus side, when you get accepted you score top marks on the happinessometer, and boy does that feel good? You are human.

Mostly Cs
 Eileen Shrimp was ready to
explode at the merest
whiff of rejection.
By some small miracle, emotions bypass you. You are totally rational and you take everything in your stride. No heights of ecstasy or depths of depression for you. You are self-aware and have a level-headed approach to publication. You are almost certainly an alien. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

10 Reasons why writing a book is exactly like bringing up a child

1. Gestation. The period during which your darling is growing inside you. At this point you will have all sorts of wonderful ideas about how it is going to be and what you’re going to do together. The closer you are to giving birth, the more likely you are to sense a growing dread at the labour of love ahead of you. This is perfectly normal.

2. Birth. Give in to the process and get that thing out as quick as possible, even if it’s messy. It is only the beginning after all. You will have years to turn your screaming pile of poop into a half decent specimen, but the longer you delay its entry into the world, the bigger it will be. Nobody wants to give birth to a twenty pounder.

3. During the early days, you may well believe you have given birth to one of the greatest works of art ever to grace the planet. However, sooner or later you will discover just how easy it is to believe that you have produced the spawn of Satan. Do your best to keep things in perspective here.

4. As your work develops, you will start to connect with it in quite unexpected ways. Pleasing grunts give way to nonsense babbling, which gradually begins to make sense. You should feel justly proud, and might even want to show it off. However - don’t expect others to love your work of art quite as much as you do!

5. Small children and untrained manuscripts may at some time develop a fear of strangers; critical strangers especially. Temper tantrums, screaming fits and throwing ones toys from the pram are common reactions to external interference, (otherwise known as feedback).

6. A child needs freedom to explore their character and environment. However, know your boundaries or you risk everything. Nobody likes a child who is out of control.

7. Time apart is important; to wash, cook, tidy the house and remember what real life looks like. It's also important to have some space in which to develop objectivity. When you do spend time together, make an effort to listen, be sensitive to what needs to be done and don’t fight shy of killing any babies who are not pulling their weight. (Not to be taken literally.)

8. Before you know it, your work of art will be ready to leave home. You will feel a bursting sense of pride and delight for this moment you have worked so hard for, for so long. But, you will also experience a touch of empty nest syndrome because without your baby, your life means nothing…

9. And then it will come back; maybe once, maybe twice, or even a dozen times. It may need a little more of your tender loving care; a tweak here or there, and a fresh perspective. But with every new interaction, you are making it stronger and better.

10. One day, it will leave home forever and start a new life without you. Your gift to the world. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Literary Aerobatics: They Ain’t Big, and They Ain’t Clever…

There I was, flying; my WIP coming on a treat. With structure, characters, scenes and plot all fully operational, I was working on about the fourth (and hopefully final) rewrite. This was the move which concentrated on getting the delivery sown up; size of loop, degree of spin, angle of flick and so on. After this one last flight of witty wordplay, all I had left were minor edits.

So yes, there I was, flying along; soaring through the skies of literary genius around about chapter 13… when all of a sudden I had engine failure.

Something was wrong!

I pulled hard on the joystick, stood on my tail and went into a vertical climb attempting more and more brilliant bookish banter. And of course I loved it because basically, I thought it was so clever. Hell, I thought I was so clever.

"The worst English I have ever
encountered," said Orville Wright,
co-pilot and chocolate labrador
“Well Mrs, it’s too clever by half,” warned my literary critic of a co-pilot. “And totally out of place in this story.”

That’s when I remembered my last blog posting. Point 7. “Showing Off … knowing something really clever and in great detail is no reason to include it in a story. Nobody likes being lectured to. You can make your writing way more powerful and readable by putting complex ideas into simple language.”

Oo-errr, that’s me, I thought. That’s what I’m doing. It was at that point I went into a nosedive and started plummeting towards the ground at ten thousand feet per minute.

The inclination to be even cleverer had hold of my joystick and it was hard not to give in to Mrs Smart Arse. But I knew that if I persisted, and wrote something which didn’t fit in with the rest of my story, I was going to end up with my literary genius splattered across the earth below.

If I was going to save this novel, and if I was going to save myself, I was going to have to use the ejector seat!!!

And so, in a nosedive, I had a cup of tea, ate some toast and piled all my clever brilliant and frankly genius writings onto that seat, and plucked up the courage to hit the button.


Goodbye forever. I cried a few tears and stripped my chapter down to basics.

And do you know what? Suddenly, I felt lighter. I felt the wind beneath my wings. I saw the ground moving further away…. I was up again. Flying….

Charles Lindbergh dressed as a dog
The moral of this tale – clever crap is not good for you. If you are stumbling repeatedly over a scene, it probably shouldn’t be there. No matter how clever it is.

Monday, 9 July 2012

10 Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

1. Starting at the beginning
When I say the beginning, I mean at the beginning of the story, not at the birth of your main character. Do we really need to know all the background before we even know what the story is about? I don't think so. Start with the action - feed in the back story.

2. Writing about Mr and Mrs Dullage
Mr and Mrs Dullage have very little going for them. They have no personality, no dreams, no goals, no loves, hates, identifying features... nothing. They are amorphous blobs who just happen to have found themselves a speaking part in your story. And frankly, who cares what happens to them? Make your characters interesting, strong and like-able; people we care about.

3. Rambling speech
Even if you have found yourself the perfect protagonist, you risk throwing all your hard work away by letting him ramble. Don't let him hijack the conversation with all sorts of inconsequential rubbish and don't let him make long speeches. His speech should always be relevant, have a goal and be expressed clearly. The same applies to dialogue.

4. Pointless happenings
Filling your manuscript with pointless, irrelevant, extraneous detail is at best boring and at worst misleading. Or the other way around. Everything should happen for a reason. Use what you already know about your characters and background to enhance your story and give it the weight of authenticity.

5. Ignoring structure
Failing to think about the structure of a scene, chapter or even the whole novel, risks having a plot full of mole hills, pot holes and fog. You need to be clear about the goal of your story and how you are going to get there, building tension and drama exponentially as you go.

6. Under researching
You might not know what you think you know. If you get something wrong, you will lose credibility with your readers. It is always worth looking things up to be sure you get facts and information correct.

7. Showing off
Alternatively, knowing something really clever and in great detail is no reason to include it in a story. Nobody likes being lectured to. You can make your writing way more powerful and readable by putting complex ideas into simple language. 

8. Throwing a wobbly at the first hint of criticism
You wrote the goddam story, yes? You wanted it to be like that, yes? And just who do they think they are, telling you what would make it better? Well here's the thing - THEY are your reading public. If THEY have a suggestion to make it better, listening to them with your defences down mightn't be such a bad idea. Consider all criticism with an open heart and desire to improve. 

9. Thinking you have finished
You've worked hard, you've reached the end, you've dotted the Is and crossed the Ts... and now you want to send it off to an agent or publisher. But is it really ready? I mean, REALLY ready? The best stories take many many drafts, and many many revisions to get right. Writing is re-writing. 

10. Giving Up
So you've been rejected? Well join the club. The world's best and most successful writers have all been rejected at some point. If you give up today, you will never know how far away you were from making it - and remember, in this technologically advanced day and age, if you have exhausted all the traditional routes to publication, there is an alternative...

Mr & Mrs Dullage, BEFORE
Mr & Mrs Dullage, AFTER

*This post was inspired by The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack M Bickham. Thanks Jack :)))

Sunday, 17 June 2012

I am a morning person...

I know this because mostly I wake up in a good mood. I sing a lot, smile a lot and speak loudly to the dogs. 

"Make it stop..."
Whatever I do first thing is usually the thing I feel I have done best in the entire day. If I can start writing as soon as I get out of bed (after a cuppa, of course) I am at my most productive, creative and focused.

I am reliably informed this is something to do with brain waves.  In case you didn’t know, the brain has four different frequencies of brain waves, depending on the type of mental activity involved.

They are

  • Beta waves - associated with peak concentration, heightened alertness and visual acuity.
  • Alpha waves - associated with deep relaxation, and thought to be the gateway to creativity
  • Theta waves - associated with the twilight state that we experience fleetingly as we drift off to sleep and are strongly linked with creativity and intuition.
  • Delta waves - associated with deep sleep.

The most relevant of these to writers and other creatives are alpha waves, which appear when your eyes are closed and your mind is in a quiet state of relaxation. Usually this is between sleeping and waking (and vice versa) but an alpha state can be induced to enhance creative flow. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning.

When your brain is in an alpha rhythm state, the critical censoring function performed by your left brain is half asleep and the feelings and images from your creative right brain can more easily pass through the gate-keeper of your left hemisphere, unaffected by judgment, and into your conscious mind. 

Scientists who know about these things have been able to demonstrate that highly creative people have more alpha brain waves than non-creative people, that they are able to generate a big burst of the alpha stuff whenever they are faced with problems to solve, and that they have more insights or inspirations. Equally, less creative people who have sudden strokes of inspiration or insights should know that their brain has just produced more alpha waves than usual.

Phil was not a morning person
Concrete thoughts, physical activity, sudden noise or light on the retina of the eye can send the brain out of alpha and into beta wave activity. 

Since alpha brain wave activity is at its height when you first wake up, my early morning bursts of creativity should come as no surprise. But, for those creatives who are not ‘morning people’ alpha waves also occur naturally as you are falling asleep or day dreaming. You can induce an alpha state by closing your eyes, being aware of your breathing and counting backwards from 100 slowly in your head. When you reach zero, you should have slowed down your brain waves sufficiently to be able to start creating. At this point, open your eyes, grab your pen and write. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Book Which Changed My Life

Winner of the Children's
Book of the Year
and The Guardian
Children's Fiction Award
I remember the day Jacqueline Wilson walked into my life. Her book, The Illustrated Mum, was reviewed in the Guardian newspaper and I went straight out to buy it.

If you don’t know, The Illustrated Mum is about a little girl called Dolphin, her older sister Star, and their tattooed and slightly crazy mother, Marigold. Dolphin thinks Marigold is wonderful and unique, but Star is embarrassed by Marigold's tattoos and off-the-wall behaviour. Marigold meanwhile is obsessed with Star’s father, Micky. When Micky reappears in Marigold’s life, the reunion isn't quite what she had dreamed off, and Dolphin is the one left to deal with her mum’s subsequent mental breakdown.

Why this book affected me emotionally is not a big mystery, although I will spare you the psychoanalysis. How it changed my life is far more relevant and important.

To be honest until I discovered  Jacqueline Wilson, I wasn't much of a reader; I probably had the literary equivalent of attention deficit disorder and if a book didn't grab me from the start, I rarely finished reading it. I didn't read enough to know what I wanted to read and I had no idea that ‘teen’ fiction and ‘real life’ fiction actually existed. Discovering The Illustrated Mum opened my eyes to a genre of fiction I immediately felt at home with.

And I felt at home reading TIM because I’ve been a teacher, a hypno-psychotherapist and I’ve worked in schools where the children have been severely emotionally (and in some cases physically) abused. I am interested in real people, the real life challenges they face and the real life solutions they come up with, and I am especially interested in how children like Dolphin have risen to their challenges and come out the other side.

Not long before I discovered this wonderful book, my natural inclination to write (short stories, essays, letters, etc) was going nowhere and I was feeling creatively unfulfilled. There were only so many short stories I could write before I needed to get my teeth into something meatier.

And then I met The Illustrated Mum. Not only had I at last found a book and a genre I wanted to read, which reflected my personal interest in real people and their emotional journeys, I had found a book I wanted to write. A door had been opened, and there was no going back.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Why I am grateful to Simon Cowell

Not Simon Cowell
I am going to talk about my work in progress.

I’ve been working on it for… ooh, months (ish). And for much of that time, I have not really ‘connected’ wholeheartedly with the story. Part of that has been to do with circumstances – births, marriages, and near death experience kind of circumstances – and each of these has taken me out of my story world for a while.

But apart from this, (and possibly what has stopped me rushing back after an absence), an even bigger obstacle has been my lack of connection, or my lack of feeling about the project. I talked a little about this in a previous post and thought I had overcome the annoying indifference I felt towards my protagonist by giving her a bit more of a rebellious, defiant streak. For a while, I thoroughly enjoyed her bolshy, snarky character and I fell quite in love.

But it didn’t last for long.

I struggled to be interested if I am honest, and whole days, sometimes weeks went by when I just couldn’t care a less about what I was writing. That’s not a good sign, is it?

During this time of disinterest, I turned to my guiltiest pleasure for solace;  reality TV. Now before you cry ‘shame!’ I would like to justify this personality flaw with the defence that I am a writer and I am interested in people; what real people do, and say, and think, and dream, and feel… I’m not dumb enough to believe that Simon Cowell’s X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, (or any other of the non-SYCO productions like I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother, Secret Millionaire or Don’t Tell the Bride to name but a handful) aren’t formulaic and therefore scripted in some fashion. Of course they are. We all know the formula and we all know the outcome, but the people are real.

Not Simon Cowell
Most of what happens in these programmes is staged and to some extent that includes our emotional reaction. If you watch without a critical eye, you will love one contestant and hate another. You don’t know them so you don’t have anything other than the producer’s cues to respond to, but if you do get hooked and follow the process from start to finish you will find that at some level you will have connected to a range of emotions including happiness, sadness, anger, distrust, fear, loathing, yearning, surprise, joy, adoration, disgust, curiosity, dislike and boredom, and not least love and hate. Your connection may be superficial but you will feel both positive and negative emotional reactions. 

And then along came The Voice. The Voice attempted to strip these reactions away and you were supposed to watch this programme purely and simply because you liked to hear quality singing. To some extent The Voice succeeded. The judges couldn’t actually see who they were choosing to champion in the first round, and everyone (judges and viewers) was supposed to connect with the singer rather than the rest of the hype. It seemed like a great idea and viewing figures were good.

Not Simon Cowell
Except that once the 'blind audition' round was over, ratings fell, and frankly the single emotion The Voice engendered in me was boredom. I wasn't alone because The Voice then started to lose out in the ratings war to Britain’s Got Talent (the classic emotional variety show).

And then one sad Saturday night when I was 'forced' to watch The dreary Voice, and found myself bizarrely hanging on in there for BGT, I had an epiphany.  

There was nothing wrong with my new feisty protagonist, it’s just that in falling in love with her, I had forgotten to hate anyone! I had forgotten about all the other emotional reactions which give contrast and depth, meaning, loyalty and hope, wish fulfillment etc etc. If everything is one thing, how should we react? What are we supposed to feel? Who are we meant to root for?

Simon Cowell
For all it's faults, (prescriptive, predictable and manipulative to name but a few), reality TV (and BGT in particular) does at least allow you to feel a wide range of emotions and frankly, that is far more entertaining and interesting than just feeling one.

With this in mind, I turned back to my WIP. I wrote in a couple of new plot lines, upped the ante on the heroine's back story and turned a hitherto insignificant character into a proper bad boy. Et voila! ...  instant emotional rollercoaster. Sure fire success.

Thanks  Simon Cowell.