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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Playing with Words

As a writer I love playing with words and I love words themselves. I know – weird aren’t I? Some words I love more than others. With certain words it’s because they have a lovely sound to them. With others it’s because they suit their meaning so well that no other word would quite suffice. There are many words that are so powerful and descriptive that they can transform a whole paragraph. In fact, ‘transform’ is one of the words on my list. Here are some of my favourite words:

Words 1

–         Expertise – It’s like experience, knowledge and skills all rolled into one.

–         Transform – it’s more powerful than ‘change’, don’t you think?

–         Incongruous – I love this one, it’s says exactly what it means.

–         Onomatopoeia – This relates to the use of a word that sounds like its meaning. What I love about ‘onomatopoeia’ is the sound of the word, the use of four vowels together and the fact that very few people can spell it. I can’t think of any other word that uses four vowels together – no doubt someone will put me straight on that point. I believe it stems from either Latin or Greek so there could be other four-vowel words that have been adopted by the English language.

–         Detract – I feel that no one word captures the meaning of this word in the same way. Although you’ll find alternatives such as ‘lessen’, Words 2‘diminish’ etc. in a Thesaurus, ‘detract’ means more than that. For me ‘detract’ makes me think of moving away from something or taking away from something, especially when used as ‘detract from’.

–         Encapsulate – I just love the sound of it. Again, no other single word does it justice. ‘Summarise’ is used as a synonym, but ‘encapsulate’ is more than that; it’s the act of taking all the components and bringing them neatly together as though in a capsule.

–         Retrospect – To me this word means more than just ‘reflection’, it’s looking back but also learning from past mistakes. Again, no other word conjures up the precise meaning.

–         Basically – It’s an excellent opener for a sentence and leaves the reader full of expectation of what’s coming next. It can open up an explanation, a conclusion or a summary. ‘Basically’, it’s a really useful word, but unfortunately I realise that I do tend to overuse it.

–         Divisive – Another powerful word, which was overused on the death of Margaret Thatcher – it was definitely the media word of the week. Now, whenever I hear that word my brain automatically connects it with Margaret Thatcher.

–         Replicate – Sounds more sophisticated than duplicate or copy.

Words 3

–         Proclivities – Means tendencies or inclinations but it’s often used in a negative way so it’s usually the word of choice if someone has perverse sexual tendencies. This word always makes me smile because of my mucky mind. It reminds me of Les Dawson (one of my all time favourite comedians) who said that some words are just funny because of all the connotations associated with that particular word.

Do you have any favourite words? What are your favourites and why? I bet you can think of some that I love but I’ve forgotten about – alas, the middle-aged memory isn’t what it used to be!

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Why I’m Using a Prologue

I’ve just been doing some rewrites for my latest novel, which is book three of the Riverhill Trilogy. Although (to me anyway) this novel screams out for a prologue, originally I didn’t include one. The book’s opening is a departure from the rest of the book as well as from the first two books in the trilogy. It takes place in a different year and setting from the rest of book three, and a different setting from the first two books. However, its relevance is revealed as the book progresses.

Trilogy

Feedback from my beta readers was mixed in relation to what was then chapter one. They commented on its detachment from the rest of the book but said that it was an effective device in terms of what follows later. This reaffirmed my belief that it should in fact be a prologue rather than a chapter.

So, why didn’t I go with my gut instinct and make it a prologue in the first place?

I’m embarrassed to say that I bowed to outside pressure. You see, prologues are on those lists of things to avoid, which the publishing industry are fond of producing. Although I’ve already sounded off about this topic in my previous blog post Breaking the Writing Rules, I still avoided having a prologue when it was clearly the right thing to do. Silly me.

In fact, the publishing industry are so emphatic when they set these rules that I was still hesitant. I therefore carried out some research about prologues. Apparently, the reason they fell out of favour was because many authors weren’t using them to good effect. One of the cited examples of poor use of prologues includes using an excerpt from a later part of the book to stimulate reader interest. Publishers and agents have now dubbed prologues as ‘overused’.

Researching

During my research I read several articles about how and when to use a prologue. These all agreed that prologues can still be effective if used in the right way. And the good news is that my prologue fits in with many of the stated guidelines for effective prologues. It is set in a different time and place and it carries additional information which is relevant later in the book.

Once I had established all this, I felt more confident about using a prologue. But really, I should never have doubted it. After all, I’m an independent author and therefore don’t necessarily have to bend to the will of traditional agents and publishers. Isn’t that part of what being an independent is all about? My prime considerations should be my readers and what works best for the book.

In terms of readers, those who have read the first two books in the trilogy are used to reading books about feisty females from council estates battling against the extreme challenges life throws at them. Therefore, they will expect similar from the third book.

Soldier

My readers aren’t necessarily into reading about all action heroes in war zones. So I don’t want to put them off by giving them the impression that the whole book is about a group of soldiers in Iraq. Therefore, the way to achieve this is to use a prologue. That way, it will be more evident to readers that the opening of the book is additional background information rather than part of the main setting. It comes into play later in the book as it helps to explain the motivations of one of the main characters.

I’d love to hear views from other authors and readers regarding prologues. Do you like prologues? If not, why not? Have you used a prologue in a book? If so, what made you use one?

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The Indie Author’s To Do List

Now that I’ve finished an early draft of my third novel, and sent it off to my beta readers, I’m thinking about the other tasks that I have to complete before publication. I’ve taken a look at the ‘To Do’ lists that I prepared for the previous two books and, to be honest, I could easily become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work still to be done. There’s the front and back matter, cover design, editing, proofreading, listing with Nielsen and BDS (for libraries), formatting etc. etc. And that’s before I even think about marketing.

The job of an independent author isn’t just to write a novel, but it’s similar to managing a project. However, unlike business projects, which may involve huge teams of people, the independent author is responsible for the whole project from start to finish. Although it is possible to hire help for certain tasks, ultimately, the overall responsibility for delivery rests with the author.

To Do List

I therefore thought it would be interesting to share a mock-up of a typical Indie author’s to do list. I hope that it might be helpful to others, especially new authors. I personally find a ‘To Do’ list invaluable because you can keep track of exactly where you are up to, and mark off your tasks as you complete them. I use grey highlighting to cover the areas that are completed, and use either bright highlighting or red italics to draw certain items to my attention. In this way I can tell at a glance what jobs still need to be tackled. By breaking tasks down in this way, and keeping track of them, the process will seem less daunting.

The following ‘To Do’ list includes only those tasks that have to be undertaken once you have produced your first draft of the book. Therefore, it refers to those activities that I would normally start organising once my book is with my beta readers. Here goes:

Task Done
Arrange cover design asap. N.B. Need both a Kindle and a print version.
Front and back matter.  

 

Write online press release.  
Allocate an ISBN number and register the book on Nielsen Title Editor website for the print version (takes 3 working days to show), (for the Kindle version Amazon allocate an ASIN number).
Libraries – Register with BDS once book is on Nielsen database: http://www.bibliographicdata.co.uk/ before I publish.
Write a series of blog posts related to the book, which I can publish at regular intervals until publication.
Re-read ‘Slur’ and ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ to make sure there are no inconsistencies in the three books (as it’s a trilogy).
Draw up a list of quotes from the book and from early reviews that I can add to Twitter.
Do a newsletter for people on mailing list announcing the launch (once available for pre-order), telling them about the Goodreads Giveaway & any other launch promotions.
Deal with feedback from beta readers once I receive it (deadline is 11th April).
Edit using editing software.
Arrange proof-reader in advance then do final proofread myself when he has completed it.
Arrange eARCs to all reviewers. Try to give them at least three weeks before I launch. Arrange any interviews.
Format for Kindle, upload, make available for pre-order and announce via newsletter.
Format for CreateSpace – Refer to typesetting instructions under ‘A Gangster’s Grip’ folder.
Upload to CreateSpace. Then approach bookshop with launch date (once I know when I will receive my print copies) & set up promo activities. N.B. Have to order a print proof first and check that before ordering my copies.
Organise a Goodreads Giveaway as soon as the book is published (make sure that the Kindle and print versions are linked together before I do this).
Send for personal copies from CreateSpace once the print version is available (this should cover friends, libraries and book shop signing).
Organise book shop signing. Make sure I have all the promotional materials ready for the signing e.g. A4 display stands for book posters, and that I have sufficient stock of the two previous novels.
Add the book to Booklinker to get the short form link.
Change profiles on WordPress website (all relevant pages), Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads and Facebook to include the new book, and replace old author photos. N.B. Must include the Amazon link once it is available.
Notify everyone about the launch – Twitter (pin launch tweet), schedule a new release tweet for next few days, FB, mailing list, blog, text friends if not active on FB etc.
Organise any ads in relation to any launch or pre-launch promotions (see below).
Once the book is available, possibly organise a book promotion in relation to one or both of the first two books in the trilogy.
Make up a marketing list for any additional promotional activities that may prove fruitful e.g. book trailers, radio interviews etc.
Do sales to libraries – Would have to approach re AGG at the same time as I haven’t done yet.

 

Your own ‘To Do’ list might vary depending on, for example, whether you are producing a digital or a print version of your book, or both, as well as other factors. However, the above list will hopefully give you some ideas to consider.

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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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Starting Work on a New Novel

Having completed most of the initial promotion for my second novel A Gangster’s Grip I’ve finally made a start on my third novel. I use the words, ‘initial promotion’ because I realise that promotion is ongoing. However, it is more concentrated at the launch of a novel. Because of this, together with client work, it has been several weeks since I have done any actual book writing.

After such a prolonged break I found it difficult to get started with the third book. I already had a plot outlined so I thought it was just a matter of doing some research and then the ideas would start flowing as they usually do. Unfortunately, after carrying out some initial research I found that my plot was totally unworkable. So there I was a few days ago with no plot whatsoever for my third book.Trilogy

It was an ironic situation because there are plenty of other books I would like to write and I have even penned some ideas for several of them. The problem was, I had to write this book because it’s a trilogy. It’s promoted as a trilogy, the book cover designs show that the first two books are part of a trilogy and I’ve written the first two books with a third book in mind.

Panic!!!

Ok, I was tempted to panic but instead I tried to stay calm and think of a different angle. It wasn’t coming to me immediately so I broke for lunch. Then, when I had switched off, the ideas started forming. By about three in the afternoon I had the bare bones of a plot. I know that my subconscious brain kicks in when I am relaxed so I took another break and had a walk to the bank. By the time I returned I had the whole thing worked out and couldn’t wait to type it up.

It’s still quite daunting though because what I have is a basic plot outline. I would still like to throw in a few more and twists and turns here and there. I’m also feeling a bit dissatisfied because I had psyched myself up to write the book I had originally planned. However, I have only just touched on the research for this book and I know that more ideas will start to flow once I get engrossed in the writing. (They usually do as long as I keep focused and stay positive but, like most authors, I’m prone to periods of self-doubt.)

Author at Work

I think starting a new novel is always going to be a bit scary if you let yourself get carried away. Basically what you have initially is the germ of an idea, which may be between a few hundred to a few thousand words. You then have to decide whether that idea can run to a full-length novel. Even when you’ve made that decision you can still have feelings of trepidation that you might not quite make it, even if you’ve succeeded with previous novels.

You might even have the characters in mind but how do you flesh out the plot? How do you take a novel from a sketchy outline and develop it into a full-length novel. I personally go through a process. Beginning with the outline I gradually build it up into a chapter by chapter synopsis. I start to write the actual narrative when I think I’ve got enough ideas to work with. These ideas can come at different stages and are helped along by various processes: research, exploring any initial ideas, adding sub-plots to the main plot, building on the early outline, planning the sequence of events and the highlights of the novel etc.

What ifThe more engrossed I become, the more the ideas flow. I also often find that I write out of sequence if, for example, I think of an idea for a scene later in the novel. I prefer to write it out in full straightaway while it’s fresh in my mind then I can slot it into the overall framework.

I love the feeling when the ideas are flowing. I’ve not quite reached that stage yet and I think this is because I hadn’t done any (novel) writing for several weeks. It’s starting to come though, but I need to carry out more detailed research before I can push forward. I’m off to the library tomorrow to comb through the archives. I need to read eye-witness accounts of a particular event so that I can get a real sense of what it felt like. I’m hoping to come home fired up and raring to go.

The third book in the trilogy will be another work of fiction but, as with ‘A Gangster’s Grip’, it will be based on real events. It looks like I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. 🙂

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Breaking the Writing Rules

Recently I have noticed a profusion of articles and blog posts by people involved in the publishing industry with titles such as ’10 Ways Not to Begin your Novel’. The suggestions of ‘things to avoid’ include having your protagonist waking up from a dream, prologues, going back in time and many others. The reason they give is that these types of openings are overused and are therefore sure to get your book rejected by publishers.

Clipartsalbum_16620 Books

Personally, I think this reasoning is crazy. Just because a particular approach has been used previously doesn’t necessarily mean it has been done in the same way. Similarly, because the opening to a book is of a certain type, it doesn’t follow that the book will have anything else in common with other books that have used the same type of opener. Of course, to justify their reasoning they often cite that it will put readers off. Really? Are readers concerned over whether or not a book has a prologue, or has the current dislike for prologues got more to do with publishing fads?

When I wrote my debut novel I opened it with my protagonist waking up from a dream. I had been reading books for 40 years prior to publishing Slur and I can honestly say that I cannot recall another book that opened in this way. It may be that I have read one years ago and retained it in my subconscious, but it isn’t as though every other book I read begins with a dream. Certainly dreams have been used to effect in novels, but does this mean that we should put a ban on the use of dreams in case they become overused?

This brings me to the bigger picture: if the publishing industry insists that we avoid openings that they consider are overused, then why restrict this ruling just to openers? Why not put a ban on jaded cops? Flawed heroes? Middle class chic lit full of dating and/or career dilemmas? Romance novels where boy meets girl but fate conspires to keep them apart for most of the novel until they finally end up together? Or, before this latest trend gets too clichéd, why not put a ban on the female cop who thinks she tougher than all the guys, but has a vulnerable side known only to the reader?

The important point I’m trying to make in all of this is that what’s more important than the type of scenario you create is how well it’s executed.

Another ‘rule’ that drives me to distraction is that it’s now become unpopular to replace the word ‘said’ with alternatives. Although we were encouraged to come up with more creative alternatives at school many decades ago (in my case anyway), those alternatives have now become anathema in certain quarters. I can understand how the overuse of alternatives can become jarring, but there are instances where certain words are more expressive than the word ‘said’ and they can convey the mood of the person speaking.

Gossip

The ‘point of view rule’ is another example that came to my attention recently through a book that I read. This is a rule that most writers follow, and I try not to break this one myself because it can become confusing if an author switches point of view mid-scene. However, in ‘Child 44’ by Tom Rob Smith there are many instances in the book where the author switches POV from one paragraph to the next. Yet, this is a bestselling novel, which has received rave reviews in the popular press. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision on the part of the author to take this approach, but I found that it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book and there were only one or two parts of the book where it caused confusion.

While there is a lot of good advice out there, which can improve your writing, sometimes I feel that there is too much. It is impossible to take it all on board especially as so much of the advice is conflicting anyway. Too much emphasis on ‘the writing rules’ can make your writing become stilted, so I think the best thing is just to enjoy your writing. Any howlers can be sifted out at the editing stage anyway and if there is any advice that doesn’t make sense to you, ignore it.

Rant over, for now, but if there are any writing rules that irritate you, please feel free to have a moan in the comments below. 🙂

Signed, Rebellious Indie Author.

P.S. My opening for Slur is staying.