My First Collaborative Author Event – Noir at the Bar

Last night was a first for me as not only did I take part in Noir at the Bar, Manchester, but I also met several popular and successful authors. It’s hard to believe that, despite publishing books since 2012, it’s the first time I’ve actually met another published author apart from my cousin, Lily Kramer, who recently published her debut novel, Song on a Loop.

Meeting other authors has always been one of those things I intended to do but never quite got round to it. So, when the wonderful Robert Parker invited me to take part in Noir at the Bar, Manchester I jumped at the chance. The line-up of authors was fabulous and I felt really privileged to be amongst such talented writers. Here’s the billing of the event:

So, what is Noir at the Bar?

It’s a collection of gritty crime authors and aficionados of the genre who gather in an informal setting to have a drink and a chat and share readings. The idea originated in the US and there have been Noir at the Bar events in several UK cities but this is the first in Manchester.

The venue for the event was Lock 91 in Manchester. We used the Loft Study bar area which was ideal, with a small stage and its own bar. There were nine readings altogether of six to eight minutes duration by eight authors plus a wild card. The readings took place in sets of three with a brief introduction to each author by our host, Robert, and a half hour refreshment break after each set of three. Authors names were pulled from a hat by a member of the public who won a signed book by that author.

I must admit that I was glad of the bar area. It is the first time I have ever given an author reading and the first time I have done any public speaking for about 30 years. Needless to say, I was more than a bit nervous. I was the last author before the wild card and by that time I had plucked up some courage (most of it Dutch and from an optic). So, after a brandy or six I took the stage.

It’s tricky trying to select a passage of the required length, which can also work on its own for readers who aren’t familiar with the book. I chose an excerpt from Danger by Association, the third book in my Riverhill trilogy where a paedophile is being released from prison and preparing himself to adapt to life on the outside while also trying to fight his unnatural urges. The passage leaves the reader guessing what will happen next. I was told by my friends and Robert that I did well but I’m not sure whether they were just humouring an overanxious, tipsy author.

Despite my nerves, the evening was an extremely enjoyable event. It was great to hear the work of others, meet authors and readers, and chat about the industry with like-minded people. I’m glad I stepped outside my comfort zone and gave a reading, and I am keen to get involved in future author events. Noir at the Bar, Manchester was a great success and hopefully the start of many more to come. Big thanks go to Robert Parker who was an excellent host and did a brilliant job of organising the whole thing.

Now that I have experienced the event and am familiar with what is involved, I am keen to invite my readers to future Noir at the Bar events. I will publicise them in advance via the blog and social media so that readers within easy reach of Manchester will be able to attend. I look forward to seeing you there in the future.

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Exciting Opportunity for Crime Authors

If you’re an author of gritty crime fiction then I’ve got good news for you. My publisher, Aria Fiction, is currently looking for submissions in this genre to add to its ever-growing list of successful authors. So, if you have ambitions of becoming the next Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers or, even, Heather Burnside then this is an excellent opportunity.

Aria is an imprint of the award-winning publisher Head of Zeus and, although Aria has only been operating for 2 years it is expanding at a dramatic rate and achieving much success along the way. The staff there are very friendly and professional and most of them have years of experience in the publishing industry. Aria has already helped many of its authors to achieve bestseller status, including debut authors!

I have been contracted to Aria for a year and a half now and I couldn’t be happier with them. The first book I published with them, Born Bad, became an Amazon bestseller and was selling over 1000 books a week in the first two months of publication. I know that I couldn’t have achieved sales figures of anywhere near that number without the backing of the Aria team. Their terms are favourable too and they offer good royalty rates compared to the rest of the industry.

Apart from helping authors to succeed, Aria has a very friendly and supportive approach and the staff are always happy to offer help and advice. To be published by Aria is very reassuring as an author. It’s good to feel that you’re not out on your own and the staff make their authors feel special and proud to be a part of their success. I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I received a bunch of flowers through the post on publication day!

So here’s the deal;

If you have a gritty crime novel up your sleeve, then submit via Aria’s submissions portal. And then, one lucky author with lots of promise will be selected for me to mentor you and give valuable feedback on your first novel. It would be lovely to have a fellow author as my partner in crime (or crime novels anyway) and I look forward to reading your future bestsellers.

To be considered for a contract with Aria, just send your manuscript via the submissions portal which can be found here.

Any questions, please email melanie@headofzeus.com

Good luck!

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A Message to Aspiring Authors – Don’t Give Up

As the end of another year approaches I thought it would be good to write a blog post which might give encouragement to other authors. I recently read a post about famous authors who were initially rejected but then went on to be successful. Most of us have heard of authors who were initially rejected but it’s always encouraging to find out more about them. You can read the post here.

It made me think of my own journey. Admittedly, I’m nowhere near in the same league as the authors mentioned in the above post but this past year or so has seen a big turnaround in my writing career. In August of 2016 I signed a contract with Aria Fiction at Head of Zeus, and subsequently published my first book Born Bad with them on 1st July of this year. They have been excellent to work for and I’m looking forward to the launch of my second novel with them in March 2018, which is entitled Blood Ties and is already available to pre-order from Amazon.

So, back to the beginning. I started writing in 1999 when I began studying for a writing diploma with the Writer’s Bureau in Manchester although I had dabbled in a bit of poetry prior to that. The course was very comprehensive and took me until 2002 to complete.

As part of the course, students were encouraged to submit their work to agents, magazines etc. depending on the particular module being studied. It was during that time that I submitted the first three chapters and a synopsis of my first novel Slur to various agents except that, at that time, the novel was called Nightclubbin’ and had a chic lit feel to it.

Despite rejections I continued working on the novel and completed it. Then, becoming a bit disillusioned with the number of rejections I received, I put it on the backburner but swore I would return to it one day.

It actually took me 15 years before I eventually returned to my first novel. In the meantime I had changed the title and a lot of the plot and it became a crime novel.

I have documented much of the journey towards getting Slur published in previous blog posts entitled The Story of Slur and My Favourite Rejection Letter if you want to take a look. Throughout that period I read as much as I could about the craft of writing, the publishing industry (which has undergone many changes in that time) and how to promote your work.

Prior to publishing Slur independent publishing really took off and I decided to publish two parenting books. I had already drawn up an outline for one of them as part of the studies for my writing course, and I thought it had potential. It was called Kids’ Clubs and Organisations and I followed it with Great Places for Kids’ Parties.

Both of the books took up a great deal of time and effort especially the second one, which I published in colour. Unfortunately both books bombed despite one of them being featured on a well-known parenting site. They sold less than a hundred copies each, most of which were through public libraries and entailed a lot of effort in getting to the right people then sending the copies on. Apart from the library sales the books sold no more than a handful each, and left me feeling deflated after all the effort I had put in.

After I published Slur, I instantly saw a different reaction amongst friends and families and it was much better received than the two parenting books. Feeling encouraged, I went on to publish a further two novels, A Gangster’s Grip and Danger by Association, and the three books form a trilogy. I eventually made the decision to withdraw the two parenting books from the market, which I wrote about in the article entitled Why I’m Withdrawing my Parenting Books.

Despite being well received, Slur wasn’t a success straightaway. I held a promotion at the end of 2015, and made Slur free for a few days. I paid to advertise the promotion on various sites and, to my delight, this led to a dramatic increase in sales of Slur and the two other books in the trilogy. Subsequently the rank of the books improved on Amazon making them visible to more readers and also to publishers.

The improved rank only held for about six months, after which time the sales slipped again in a matter of weeks. I tried subsequent promotions but wasn’t able to emulate the success of the first one. Fortunately for me, however, the temporary improvement in rank had enabled my books to come to the attention of my publishers who approached me to discuss my work. This in turn led to me signing a three book contract with Aria Fiction in August 2016.

If you are an independent author and want to find out how to promote your books, there is a lot of information available on the Internet and in book form. In particular, I recommend Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran as a very useful guide. Sandra Beckwith also has a very helpful website at: https://buildbookbuzz.com/ where you can sign up for a newsletter with lots of free tips on book promotion. You may also find the ALLi website useful at: https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/.

It has been a long journey to gaining that publishing contract but ultimately a very gratifying one. And it isn’t over yet. On 1st March I will be publishing my second book with Aria, Blood Ties, which is already available for pre-order and is the second part of a trilogy. Then I’ll be publishing the third and final novel in the trilogy later next year.

Once the three books are published I have no idea what lies in store but I have many ideas for other novels and hope to continue writing and publishing books for many years to come. The future is a bit scary as I now depend totally on writing books for my income. However, the future is also tremendously exciting.

If you’re currently feeling disillusioned, having written a book or more and not yet seeing the rewards for all your hard work, don’t give up. Immerse yourself in as much information as you can relating to both the craft of writing and the promotional side of things. Then keep on going until you reach your end goal.

I’d like to end this blog post by wishing a Merry Christmas to all my blog readers and a very successful 2018.

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Writing though the Chaos

Friday 3rd November is a date that will probably stay in my mind for a long time. It was the completion date for my house move. I wish I could say that I am now happily settling into my new home. But no…

The party at the bottom end of the chain pulled the plug on the whole thing three days before we were due to complete. It turns out that they were nowhere near ready to move, but that information didn’t filter through to me until three days before the proposed completion.

So here I am, two weeks on, living out of boxes, sleeping on a mattress on the bedroom floor and still waiting to hear whether I might be moving in the near future.

It’s so frustrating!

For almost three weeks I have been in a state of limbo. I left out just enough things to keep me going until the move and, as we have passed Friday 3rd November, I have had to buy things which I already have in storage somewhere. I’m also constantly tripping over things that have been left out for the move, and I have the bruises to show for it.

To complicate matters I have things stored at three different houses as well as a mountain of boxes at home. And to complicate matters more, even if I know where something is in my home, I still can’t get to it.

The problem is that the boxes are heavy and due to a health problem I am not allowed to lift heavy weights. I find myself staring longingly at a plastic box and wishing I could lift the boxes on top of it so that I can get to the contents. It’s so tempting and I confess that I have been naughty once or twice. I’m just not patient enough to wait until someone is around who can help me.

Against this chaotic background I am still trying to write. I had a whole week without writing when I thought I was moving and had to pack up quickly. This was also very frustrating. I take my writing seriously and hate anything getting in the way of it unless it’s a holiday, and I’ll definitely need one of them soon.

The other thing about writing is that it can provide an escape from stressful situations. So, a stressful situation that keeps me away from my writing is a double blow.

Currently I’m still waiting to hear whether contracts might be exchanged on Monday. I’ve found it difficult to concentrate on work today as I know that once I receive confirmation of exchange of contracts it will be all systems go.

If contracts are exchanged on Monday then hopefully we will make the new proposed completion date of Friday 24th November. It would have been nice to have known before the weekend but I’ve come to appreciate that things are never straightforward when it comes to moving house.

So, I won’t count on it until it actually happens. Here’s hoping…

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My First Year with a Publisher

It’s hard to believe that a whole year has passed since I signed my publishing contract with Aria Fiction at Head of Zeus. A lot has happened in that time and the year seems to have flown by. So, I thought it was a good time to reflect on the past year and look ahead to what is in store in the future.

Progress so Far

At the time of writing Born Bad is currently ranked 82 on Amazon UK out of over 5 million books, and for the last couple of weeks it has hovered around the 100 mark. The highest rank it has achieved so far was 58 on two occasions. It has also received some excellent reviews. Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled as it has exceeded all my expectations.  

I am gaining a growing fan base which is wonderful to see. People are going on to read my other books as well as signing up to my mailing list and following me on social media.

At the moment I am polishing up book two so that I can send it to my publishers in a few weeks’ time, and it will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon.

What I’ve Learned

Working with a publisher means that there are lots of tight deadlines to meet. However, this is good for me as I am usually a massive procrastinator and it has made me become more self-disciplined with my writing routine.

It is wonderful to have the knowledge and support of a professional publisher which has been brilliant in terms of editing, marketing and promotion. Marketing encompasses a whole spectrum of activity from cover design to the book blurb and everything after that. At every stage it is specifically tailored to reach the target readership.

In terms of promotion, I have found that ads on large reader websites do work provided they are targeted, and this is one aspect in which my publishers have a wealth of knowledge and experience. A good publisher can also reach areas that I couldn’t have reached as an independent author e.g. the Amazon Summer Sale, which features only a few hundred books out of the millions available on Amazon UK.

Support

No matter what questions I have, my publishers are always on hand with help and advice. I am also connecting with other Aria authors who are a friendly, supportive bunch and I am discovering some great books that have been written by them. I still also keep in touch with some of my Indie author friends who have been very supportive over the years. 

Future Plans

The second book in the trilogy will be published at the end of this year/beginning of next although it will be available for pre-order on Amazon long before that. The third and final book in the trilogy will be published next summer.

After that, I would love to work with Aria again provided we can agree terms. I have a lot of ideas for other crime novels which I am looking forward to writing in the future.

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The Best Writing Advice Ever

There is one piece of writing advice that I have come across many times. The first time was during my writing course and I have since read a lot of blog posts and Internet articles giving that same advice, which is to ‘Show Don’t Tell’. I have found that piece of advice invaluable although I also find sometimes that I forget to heed it. When I do forget, I can often see that it makes a big difference to the standard of my work.  So, what exactly does it mean and how do you achieve it?

I think the best way to explain is by example. A simple example is to look at the way in which young children write stories. If a young child was writing a story about a girl going to the park, he might say:

‘The girl went into the park which had some grass where boys were playing football. There were lots of trees and a playground with swings, a roundabout and a slide. The girl enjoyed herself on the playground.’

Placing the Reader at the Scene

If you wanted to show instead of telling you would in effect be placing the reader at the park. The best way to do this is to try to get inside the girl’s head. Think about what it felt like being in the park. Was it a warm day or a cold day? Were the other children friendly? Did she feel nervous about playing among them or excited at the prospect of making new friends? What could she hear? Were the birds singing in the trees, was there laughter from the other children or perhaps squeals of excitement?

A good way to get inside your character’s head is to use the five senses i.e. think about what she could see, hear, touch, feel and taste. I have written about this topic before at: Writing Using the Five Senses.

It is also good to give the girl a name so that the reader can identify with her more easily. A name in itself can help to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. For example, the name Mabel would paint a different picture than the name Karen, which would also paint a different picture than the name Jessica. For Mabel I would imagine an elderly lady, for Karen a middle-aged woman and for Jessica a young woman or girl.  Try an Internet search for popular baby names in the year in which your fictitious character was born.

Exposition

Exposition is used to give background information and it does have its use. However, if you overuse it you can find that you are telling the tale instead of showing what is happening. Many writers do this without realising it, myself included, and a good editor can be helpful in spotting the overuse of exposition.

If you want to give some background information but don’t want to use too much exposition, you could try conveying it in another way, for example, through speech. If you are going to use this technique though, it’s best to ensure that the speech still flows naturally and doesn’t sound contrived.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have found this blog post useful.

Writer’s High

There’s a feeling that many authors are probably familiar with. I like to think of it as ‘writer’s high’ but others refer to it as having the muse. I also call it being ‘in the zone’. It’s that wonderful feeling when you enter one of those writing phases during which you’re on a roll and the ideas are spilling from you quicker than you can type them up.

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Unfortunately, it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it’s an uphill struggle, especially with a new novel, and it can take a while before you really connect with a piece of work and with the characters. You’ve got your basic premise for the novel and may have drawn up an outline but it feels a bit like painting by numbers as you try to fit each of the scenes into an overall framework. However, you’re not feeling a real spark and your writing isn’t exciting you.

Then, all of a sudden, something kicks in – one idea leads to another, scenes come alive in your imagination, characters become animated and you’re typing like the clappers, before you forget everything. You stop to make the dinner, you think of something else. You go for a walk, another scene comes to mind. You go to bed and the ideas still keep spilling out of you. By the morning you’ve got pages of handwritten notes ready to type up the following day. Your mind is alive with the thrill of it and you can’t wait to commit it all to the PC before you lose the feeling. Does that sound familiar?

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It can take over your life – a bit like a drug and, although it’s a good feeling, it can get in the way of so much. When I’m ‘In the Zone’ ideas usually come to me when I’m trying to relax so it can be while I’m trying to sleep, when I’m out for a walk or even when I’m taking a shower. I find it useful to have a notepad by my bedside and another in my handbag so that I can jot down ideas whenever they come to mind. When I’m ‘in the zone’ I find it difficult to concentrate on a film as my mind wanders. That’s the reason I watch a lot of trash TV; because I don’t need to concentrate too much. (That’s my excuse anyway.)

With my current WIP it was an uphill struggle for part of it but mostly because I was going through emotional upheaval in my personal life. However, I’m now in a much better place and back ‘in the zone’. This novel has two timelines running through it and, in order to write the later timeline, I had to recap on a lot of what had happened in the previous timeline. I was relieved to find that it read quite well. Perhaps my personal struggles helped me in dealing with much of the conflict in the book.

I’m almost ready to give the novel a good edit and hope to send it off to my publisher in a few weeks’ time. It’s been a challenge as it’s the most I’ve ever written for a novel, in accordance with my publisher’s guidelines. But this story has a lot of depth to it so I was confident of reaching the word count without any unnecessary padding. I’ll be keeping you updated as I progress further with the novel.