Reasons to Stay Positive

In a scary couple of weeks that has seen me and both of my adult children become ill with Coronavirus symptoms, I thought I would try to draw some positives out of the current situation.

While I appreciate that the position in the world right now is dire, I always find that positive thinking helps me to fight off anxiety and depression when I’m going through bad times. With concerns over mental health issues during the lockdown, I’m hoping that this post will also help other people to think of their own positives.

  1. Although there is a good chance that me and my two children may have had Coronavirus (due to the fact that my son has been in contact with Coronavirus patients) the good news is that we all displayed mild symptoms and we have all fully recovered.
  2. As a home worker I can still work and don’t have to face the additional worry of financial hardship.
  3. We are going to have one hell of a party when this is all over.
  4. If a similar situation should ever arise again in the future, hopefully the world will be more prepared and we may have such things in place as vaccines, testing and protective equipment.
  5. Even though I’m still working, I have a bit more time on my hands. It’s a refreshing change not to be constantly rushing around.
  6. The time spent on lockdown will give us all time to reflect on how we live our lives so that we can hopefully make changes for better in the future.
  7. Humanity is a wonderful thing. I believe that current events have brought out the human side in so many people and it’s great to hear tales of people offering support to one another.
  8. I have had the same bit of cash in my purse for about three weeks and not had to rush to the cashpoint.
  9. I’ve not had to fill the car with petrol either.
  10. Many people staying at home are reading more, which is a good thing for authors.
  11. We can all watch holiday programmes and plan for the wonderful trips we will make when everything is back to normal.
  12. I’ve not had to do any ironing because who sees (or even cares) what I look like at the moment.
  13. I am currently focusing on diet and exercise to build myself up in case I haven’t had the virus and also to look after my general wellbeing. I am not eating out, having takeaways or boozy nights out. The upshot of this, I hope, is weight loss.
  14. I’ve found some online software that enables me to have a virtual party with my friends – maybe I should put the weight loss on hold for the time being.

I know that not everybody can draw the same positives and that some people are suffering real heartache and hardship because of the Coronavirus. However, I’m hoping that many people are able to draw some positives out of the current situation and I hope this post helps.

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Keeping a Schedule of Events for your Novel

Following on from my previous post in which I said I would write more posts that fellow authors and aspiring authors might find useful, I decided to share my tips for keeping a Schedule of Events. Below is a sample of my Schedule of Events for the first few chapters of The Mark. For me this document is just as important as the manuscript itself as it helps me to quickly pinpoint exactly where I am up to in a novel without having to wade through pages and pages of text.

The ability to do this is particularly valuable if you have to spend long periods away from your work in progress (WIP), for example, if you go away on holiday or if you have other commitments which mean that you can’t always spend as much time on your WIP as you would like. For me, I can be writing one novel when my publishers come back with edits for the one that is currently in production. That means I might have to put my WIP to one side for a few weeks while I action the developmental edits so it’s useful to have a Schedule of Events when I eventually pick it up again.

Week Day/Time Chap Event
1 Ref jacket 1

 

 

 

7 pgs

Maddy is interviewing prostitutes in the Rose and Crown who are Crystal and some others. When the prostitutes become nervous of someone standing at the bar, Maddy packs up her things and goes.

 

Gilly the pimp is standing at the bar and he comes over to talk to Crystal, his girlfriend who is on the game. He spots Maddy walking away and asks Crystal what is going on. He starts to become curious about Maddy.

1 8pm

Finished with Rob 2 months prev

2

 

5 pgs

Maddy makes it home just in time before her ex-husband Andy brings her daughter Rebecca back. Maddy’s friend, Clare, rings and invites her to a night out. We find out a little about Maddy including her most recent eight month relationship with Rob.
1 Lunchtime 3

4 pgs

Crystal meets Gilly in the Rose and Crown and gives him her earnings. We see how badly he treats her. He tells her to go ahead with the meeting with the journalist.
1

 

 

1

4

 

 

4 pgs

Crystal’s 2nd meeting with Maddy, told from Crystal’s pov.

 

Gilly’s POV as he watches the meeting between Crystal and Maddy through the mirror at the back of the bar. He is becoming increasingly intrigued by Maddy. When she leaves the pub he follows behind her.

1 Late evening 5

5 pgs

Gilly follows Maddy home and then goes back to his seedy bedsit. We see the contrast and see him chasing the dragon.
2

 

 

2

A week later

 

 

Night after prev scene

6

 

 

6 pgs

Maddy goes on her night out with Clare. She meets a man called Aaron who is good looking, tall, slim and blonde.

 

Maddy gets a message from Aaron the following night asking her out and she texts him back saying she’d like to see him.

My Schedule of Events isn’t just useful for keeping track of where the plot is heading; it also serves several other purposes. You will notice that there is a Week column and a Day/Time column, and these help me to figure out my timeline for the novel. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that timeline is something I often struggle with so these days I keep a note of anything time related as I’m writing the novel.

I also keep a note of anything that might affect the timescale and these are shown in red italics, for example, the fact that she was wearing a jacket rather than a coat in the first scene of chapter one, indicating that it is unlikely to be mid-winter.  By keeping a note of all these time-related details it has made it easier for me to work out the timeline for my novel although I must admit that I still find it the most challenging aspect of writing a novel. That’s probably also down to the fact that all of the books I have recently written form part of a trilogy or a series of books, which complicates matters more than if I was writing a standalone novel.

In the Event column I have detailed what happens in each chapter with a separate paragraph for each scene in the chapter. You will also notice under the Chapter column that I keep a note of how many pages constitute each chapter. This makes it easier when I’m producing a second draft or doing the edits as I might want to extend some scenes, shorten others and maybe switch some scenes around. By keeping a note of the page numbers I can make sure that the whole thing balances overall and that there isn’t too much different between chapter lengths unless this is deliberate, for example, if I want to add a particularly short but impactful chapter.

I hope these tips help you in organising your own WIP. You might think of a few items to add to the Schedule of Events. If so, I’d love to hear your ideas as they might help me too.

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My First Author Talk

A while back I was invited to do an author talk at a Manchester based writing group and, although the thought of it made me break out in a cold sweat, I agreed. This sort of thing is well out of my comfort zone and I think the last time I did any public speaking was over 25 years ago. However, I realise that, these days in particular, authors need to become more visible and interact with their readers so it was something I was determined to do.

I decided the best way to start would be with friends and family so I asked my children for some tips as they’re both university students who are used to doing this sort of thing. I was pleased to find that they were really helpful and understood my qualms.

Signing some books

Next I decided to get in some practice on family and friends then extend it to larger groups of friends of friends. It was great to get their feedback and I found that each time I gave a talk I was feeling increasingly more confident. As I tend to over breathe when I’m nervous, one of my friends recommended meditation to practice steadying my breathing, and I have found it a great help.

My friends and family have been such a tremendous support as usual in helping me to overcome my fear of public speaking. I would like to thank each and every one of them as I benefited greatly from their input. What also surprised me was that I wasn’t just relieved after my first practice session but I also felt a tremendous buzz knowing that I was well on the way to conquering my fear. Having said that, I conducted the practice sessions from my own home (bribing friends with snacks and alcohol) so I still needed to conduct the talk in a strange environment.

My talk sparked some discussion amongst the audience.

After several practice sessions I went along to the writing group that had requested the talk. It was daunting walking into a room full of strange faces knowing that I would soon be standing in front of them for the next hour giving my talk then answering questions.  However, I tried to keep calm by telling myself that I had already conducted the talk several times before so it was essentially the same talk but to a few more people. Plus, whenever I start getting nervous and out of breath I pause, take a deep breath and continue. It was also good being able to take along my brother and his partner who helped with some of the practicalities as well as giving me moral support.

I’m thrilled to say that it went well. It took till about halfway through the talk before my nerves settled but I’ve watched a video recording and am pleased to say that the nerves don’t show. The video recordings extend to over an hour altogether with roughly half an hour for the talk and another half an hour for questions as well as a short reading afterwards. Unfortunately I’m a bit lacking in the technical department so I’ve not figured out how to upload a video recording of the event on WordPress. Therefore I’m afraid I’ve only got pictures to share. However I managed to upload a short clip to my Facebook page if you want to check that out at: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherBurnsideAuthor.

Signing for a new Heather Burnside reader

I think that so often in life we are held back by our own negative thinking as we convince ourselves that we can’t do the things that feel scary or alien to us. But I’ve just proved to myself that I can do this so I’m determined to continue giving talks in the future. I am really pleased to have already received some positive feedback from the writing group and I have already been invited to speak some more.

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Organising a Book’s Timeline

As I’m coming to the end of writing my eighth book I’m reminded again of the author task that I find the most difficult of all – the dreaded timeline. It seems that no matter how many books I write, I still haven’t mastered an easy way to deal with the timeline issue.

So, what does it involve?

Each time I write a book I draw up a timeline relating to each chapter and scene in the book. It’s important to have a timeline so that you can ensure that everything fits in sequentially. This can avoid situations where, for example, someone gives birth to a full term baby when they have only been pregnant for five months. There are many other howlers that can occur because of the lack of a timeline but I won’t list them all here.

Why is it so difficult?

My problem is that I always produce my timeline at the end of writing a book. This is because I don’t want anything to spoil the continuity while I am writing. I therefore have to do a search of all mentions to weeks, days, months, seasons etc. Other things to watch out for are the clothes that someone is wearing, whether it’s sunny etc. as this can be indicative of the season. I then add the timeline to my list of chapters from the book, indicating if a particular scene came before or after another and, if so, what the time span was between each.

I know this is a long-winded way of doing things and it also means I often have to switch things around to make sure I’m not contradicting myself. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make too many changes in this latest book but I have had previous books where I’ve had to make a lot of changes to make sure everything fits in sequentially.

What’s the solution?

The answer I think is to keep a note of the timeline from the outset so that I can make any necessary changes as I go along. I keep a document, which I call a ‘Sequence of Events’ for each novel anyway. It’s basically just a list of chapters and scenes, which gives a brief description of what happens in each so that I can easily recap each time I return to my work and take a quick overview of how the plot is progressing. I also review my previous days’ work every time I return to my desk. I therefore think it wouldn’t be too much trouble to add an extra column for the date/time in my Sequence of Events and fill it in each time I review my work.

If anybody has any other ideas of how to approach the timeline issue I would love to hear them. Please feel free to post your comments below.

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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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