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.

 

Liebster Award

Big thanks to Brigid at Brigid Writes Things for nominating me for a Liebster Award. The Liebster is an award that bloggers give to each other as a way to promote blogs with less than 1,000 followers. It’s also a fun get-to-know-the-blogger tag!

Liebster Blog Post

The Rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the nominator has given you.
  3. Tag 11 bloggers who have less than 1,000 readers.
  4. Think of 11 questions to ask the bloggers you have nominated.
  5. Let them know you’ve nominated them through social media or their blog.

Brigid’s Questions (and My Answers)

  1. Put your music on shuffle. What are the first five songs that come up?

‘Old Fashioned’ by Cee Lo Green, ‘Promise This’ by Cheryl Cole, ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life’ by Indeep, ‘All the Time in the World’ by Boyzone and ‘More than a Woman’ by the Bee Gees. Cringe! OK, I admit it, I still play CDs and I haven’t updated my iPod for a while. I’m an 80s throwback.

  1. What’s the last thing that made you laugh really hard?

I go to a Spanish group once a week and we do nothing but laugh although we are supposed to be learning. It’s just general banter, mispronunciations and misinterpretations etc.

  1. What’s something you did in 2015 that you’re proud of?

I published my second novel, and I finally became visible to the book-browsing public on Amazon UK. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it continues.

  1. What’s one thing you hope to accomplish in 2016?

To publish my third novel, which is the third and final part of The Riverhill Trilogy.

  1. Do you enjoy going to concerts? If so, what was the last one you went to?

I’m not a big concert goer. I think the last one I went to was probably Rihanna.

  1. What is one of your favorite quotes?

‘No les illegitimi carborundum.’

  1. What is the weirdest food you like?

Sushi and seafood according to my family.

  1. What book has made you cry the hardest?

I honestly can’t remember a book making me cry but I don’t generally go in for weepy novels.

  1. What was the best day of your life?

The day I gave birth for the first time.

  1. What fictional world would you love to live in (or at least spend some time in)?

None. I’m very grounded in the real world and think that there is enough good and bad in the world without looking for it elsewhere.

  1. If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be?

As much as I love reading, I’ve never really thought about meeting authors. I suppose it would be someone like Jeffrey Deaver or Minette Walters but then I wouldn’t know what to say to them other than ‘I think your books are great’.

My Nominees:

Georgia Rose at Georgia Rose Books

Linda Huber at Linda Huber Author

Guy Portman at Author Guy Portman’s Blog

Judith Barrow

Marilyn Chapman at Guernsey Girlie

Katherine Jenkins at Katherine’s Bookcase

Kath Middleton at Ignite Books

Mark Barry at The Wizard’s Cauldron

Geoff West at My Blog

Julie Stock

Pauline Wiles

My Questions:

  1. What makes you happy?
  2. Who are your favourite authors?
  3. What genre do you like to write in, and why? (This one is for writers only).
  4. What are your favourite genres to read, and why?
  5. What was the best day of your life? (I pinched this one from Brigid)
  6. In general, do you think books are best portrayed through films or through the book itself?
  7. What place in the world would you most like to see, but haven’t yet got round to visiting?
  8. What’s your favourite form of transport, and why?
  9. Do you have a writing goal i.e. something that you would like to achieve through your writing? If so, what is it? (This one is for writers only).
  10. What is your all-time favourite book?
  11. What is your biggest passion (apart from writing)?

I just want to finish by saying that if you are unable to take part it isn’t a problem, and thanks again to Brigid for nominating me. Also, please don’t be offended if I’ve nominated you and you have more than 1000 followers as it isn’t always possible to tell.

In future blog posts I will be continuing the theme of Manchester’s historic libraries, with two still to come. I wonder if you can guess which ones they are. Bye for now and have fun with the questions and answers.

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Why Thinking Time is Important for Authors

Recently, while writing my third novel, I reached a bit of a standstill. I was following the outline that I had written but it felt a little like painting by numbers, and I didn’t have the enthusiasm that I had for A Gangster’s Grip. In fact, because of this situation I had put off writing for a few days.

With my first two books I was so enthusiastic that the ideas were spilling out of me. I would wake up with an idea for a scene later on in the book or it would form while I was out at the shops or taking a shower. However, with my third novel things were different. 18,000 words in and this still wasn’t happening. To complicate matters, I needed to do some primary research but I didn’t want it to halt my flow while I was waiting for the answers.

What if

Thinking TimeIn my search for inspiration I started reading a James Patterson novel and going over some of the notes from my writing course, but it still wasn’t happening. So, I put the books to one side, lay down on my bed, shut my eyes and thought about the plot so far.

What had happened up to now? What direction was the novel heading in? How could I inject some suspense and excitement on the way to reaching my final destination (as I already had the ending worked out)? How could I write my way around the scenes requiring research while I awaited answers to my research questions?

N.B. You’ll note that I refer to ‘scenes’ rather than ‘chapters’ because I like to think of ‘scenes’ while I am writing. This helps me to visualise what is taking place. I haven’t yet allocated chapters but I will come to that later. With my first two books I divided them into chapters as I went along but then found that I had to make some alterations at the end, so I’m trying a slightly different approach this time.

Whilst lying on my bed I went over the scenes I had already written in my mind. Then I started thinking about the scenes that were to follow. I decided to write the next scene based on assumptions but highlight it so that I could easily make changes once I had received the answers to my research questions. Once I had decided how to go forward with that scene, I found that the rest fell into place, and ideas started to form for subsequent scenes. I picked up my small notepad and within a half hour I had several pages of notes.

 

Notepad

That half hour or so was worth so much more than hours spent at a computer keyboard willing the ideas to come. It’s great to be able to sit at the computer and hammer away on the keys when you already have a few pages of notes to guide you along. The notes should keep me going for a few more thousand words but if I come unstuck again, I’ll try employing the same tactic.

I’d love to hear from other authors regarding this topic. Have you ever come across a similar problem and, if so, how have you tackled it?

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Why do you Love Being an Author?

During a recent email chat with an author friend we were discussing how frustrated we become when other work pulls us away from writing our novels. I commented that it was probably because other work didn’t give us the same sense of satisfaction as writing novels. This led me to thinking – just what is it about being an author that is so satisfying? So I thought it would be interesting to try to pin down some of the reasons:

Escapism – When writing a novel you can escape into your own world which can be anything you want it to be. That does beg the question – why is my writing world full of violence, bad language and warped characters, and why does that give me so much satisfaction? Hmmm!

Creativity – I gain a sense of fulfilment in having created something from nothing and I’ve no doubt it’s the same for other authors. Your book is like your baby that you feel proud of and it gives you tSatisfied Readerhat special feeling of having nurtured it from start to finish. A lot of us are familiar with the buzz of holding the print version of our own book in our hands or seeing it on the shelf in our local book store or library.

Reader Satisfaction – It’s lovely to receive feedback from readers and know that somebody has enjoyed one of your books.

Organisation and Planning – In the (non-writing) world of work, good organisation was always one of my strengths and I think that both non-fiction and fiction books require good organisation skills. You have to be able to plan the chapters, and carefully interweave the main plot and sub-plots. Organisation and planning are also important in achieving a good balance with the pacing of a novel. Because of my organised nature I actually enjoy these challenges.

Kudos – If I’m honest it’s always flattering when people take an interest in what I do although I also get a little embarrassed sometimes. Even though there are increasing numbers of people publishing books, it still attracts a lot of attention when you say that you have written and published a book.Money Pile

Huge Potential for Financial Gain – Yes, there’s a golden carrot dangling on the end of that metaphorical piece of string. The trouble is, every time you try to grasp the carrot, somebody yanks the string and you find you’ve got a bit further to go until you reach your reward. But as long as we can see the carrot, we’ll keep trying to grab it.

I’m speaking for the majority of authors, of course. There are some who are already reaping large financial rewards, which provides further encouragement for the rest of us.

Now for the things I don’t love so much:

I don’t think I’m very good at the whole marketing and promotion thing. I’ve never been one for selling myself. I’d rather shy away and get on with my writing but I expect a lot of authors are like that, which is probably why we choose to do what we do.

TimeThe other negative aspect for me is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. This is another one that I often hear other authors complain about, especially independent authors. It would be wonderful if we could devote all of our working hours to writing and have somebody else take care of all the promotion, editing, proofreading and formatting etc. but for most of us that isn’t feasible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. What is it about being an author that you love or are there any aspects of being an author that you’re not so keen on?

Anyone fancy a carrot?

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Are Big Publishers Compromising their Authors?

I read a book recently by one of my favourite thriller writers but was disappointed because it wasn’t up to his usual standard. The book extended to 500 pages in print but I felt that it should have been no longer than 250 – 300 pages. At 250 – 300 pages it would have been a good book but for me there were too many forced twists that were unconvincing.

To illustrate my point, here is a brief synopsis:

The protagonist worked for a protection agency in the US and he was assigned to protect a family from someone who wanted to obtain information bypolice-man-standing-smiling-12425-svg violent means. At first it was suspected that the father would have the requisite information as he was a law enforcement officer but it transpired that it wasn’t him. It may have been a convincing twist if played only once but that twist was carried out repeatedly. The author worked his way through each member of the family, four of them altogether, until eventually the person holding the information turned out to be the 16 year old daughter. Without all these unnecessary additional twists it could still have been a very good plot, which leads me to believe that the fault doesn’t lie with the author.

It isn’t the first time I have noticed this; the same thing has happened with other good authors. When I checked out the reviews of this particular book they reiterated what I was thinking and cited examples of other popular and talented authors where this sort of thing had happened. I’m not convinced that it’s because the author has run out of ideas. Take the above example; it would still have been a good book if it had been much shorter. No, I think the problem may lie with the publishers and here’s why:

When I studied for my writing course many years ago we learnt the way in which the major publishing houses operate. Once an author has signed up with them they will require the author to produce a set number of books over a certain time period and will also specify the required minimum word count per book. Therefore, on occasion authors may be forced to stretch a plot beyond the bounds of credibility.Clipartsalbum_16620 Books

At that time (about 15 years ago) I was informed by my tutor that publishers wouldn’t consider any novel of less than 80,000 words. In fact, the trend was for novels in excess of 100,000 words. I don’t know what the current requirements are but, in view of the above, I wonder whether these are still the same.

While I would be I liar if I said that I wouldn’t consider going with a traditional publisher if I was to be given the opportunity, the above is one of the factors that I would have to think long and hard about. Here are some other factors that are worth considering should you decide to follow the traditional publishing route:

  • How do the royalties compare to the rate you receive as an independent author?
  • Would any increase in sales compensate for the fact that this rate would be substantially less than the rate of 70% (in most cases and after VAT) currently enjoyed by authors independently published through Amazon?
  • How much promotion would your publishers undertake on your behalf?
  • Would your book be stocked by major book store chains?
  • Would you have any say in the choice of book cover design and the book’s title?
  • How much advance would you receive?
  • How long would you have to wait for your royalty payments?
  • What would the time lapse be between completion of the book and publication date?
  • Would you be expected to make public appearances etc.?

What ifFor anybody who is offered a contract with a major publishing house it is easy to become so carried away with the excitement that you lose objectivity and don’t think about all the implications. As independent authors we have autonomy and are used to making all the decisions ourselves. I therefore think it is important not to lose sight of this and I wonder how it would feel to have all of these decisions taken out of our hands.

On the one hand it would perhaps free up more time to focus on writing because you might get more help with editing, proofreading, formatting and promotion. However, on the other hand, how would it feel to be told, for example, that you couldn’t use your own title for your own book?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this one.