Improving Your Writing Craft

The Punishment of Sisyphus

At the beginning of October, I had my first round of edits back on my From Here to Nashville sequel novella, Over You, with suggestions as to what I might rewrite before submitting it for the final, final edit. As I wrote this book some time ago, before The Vineyard in Alsace in fact, there were a lot of things that I thought I had improved on since then. So I got to work and sent it back to the editor again, hoping that I had put most of those rookie errors right.

Then while I was waiting for that one to come back, my latest novel, let’s call it The Bistro, came back from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. This is a first draft that I had sent in for my final New Writers’ Scheme assessment. I told one of my writing friends that I thought this was the best first draft I had ever written. Famous last words! The report I had back is nine pages long and very thorough, and also very supportive, but I was gutted to see the same comments coming up about where my writing isn’t quite hitting the mark. You know: show don’t tell, ‘goal-motivation-conflict’, make sure you describe the setting etc. And my heart sank because I really thought I had worked on all those things and cracked them. Still, I left it for a few days while I tried to think positively about where I stand with my writing craft four years down the line.

And just as I was getting there, Over You came back with its final edits as well. Many of the comments are about things I really should have got to grips with by now – or at least, I feel I should have. Everything I have to do is manageable but it still leaves me feeling like I’m not making any progress, and that is so disheartening. It has left me wondering whether if I was traditionally published, with an editor guiding me, I might actually be a better writer by now. Don’t get me wrong, I know in my heart that I am a better writer in many ways, but the progress really does seem slow sometimes 😦 I keep reminding myself that a first draft will need work, and so will the second, third etc, and that the final draft is the one that needs to be the most polished, so if it’s not perfect yet, it doesn’t matter. And that’s what we use an editor for of course – to help us produce the most polished version we can. I can at least say that I have been very lucky with the majority of editors I have worked with.

I have picked myself up enough to make a start on the novella edits from tomorrow and then I’m going to push on and write the next, and final, From Here to Nashville novella which will tell Jenna’s story. Then I hope to publish them both together early next year. After that, I will come back to the next novel and hope that with the passage of time, I will feel better about my report and not so vulnerable about my weaknesses as a writer.

I’d be interested to know whether anyone else feels like this when they get their edits back and whether, if you’re traditionally published, you have an editor who is more like a mentor for you?

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News

As you know, in September, I auditioned to be added to the WI’s directory of speakers in my region. At the audition, I was really nervous but it seemed to go well. I have heard back since the last time I posted to say that I have been accepted into the directory and I am really pleased about it. I have also received my first booking but incredibly, it is for January 2019! I thought it was a mistake at first but it’s not – they just like to plan ahead! Still, I’m looking forward to it and I’m glad I applied.

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Marketing

As you may know, I did a Kindle countdown deal last month for From Here to Nashville, which saw my debut novel reduced to 99p. I tried to get a BookBub featured deal for it but to no avail – apparently, they only accept 5% of the submissions they receive so that did make me feel a bit better! I did have some success with some smaller promotion companies but although I sold a fair number of copies, it wasn’t earth-shattering. Many people supported me though, especially on Facebook where I also did a promotion, and for that I was very grateful. I also sent out a newsletter to my subscribers (you can join it here if you’d like to be kept up-to-date with what I’m doing), and this was well-received and widely shared.

I have now taken FHTN off its automatic re-enrolment to KDP Select and towards the end of the month, I’m going to expand distribution to other platforms again to see what happens. However, I should say that this year, since The Vineyard in Alsace came out, I have sold five times as many copies of From Here to Nashville as I did last year, so that is good news.

I have had a number of guest appearances on other blogs since my last post was published here. I was featured on the Love Books Group blog for their #FavFive feature and I was also on Delightful Book Reviews talking about a typical day in my writing life as an author. Not only that but The Vineyard in Alsace was also reviewed in France magazine and it was a favourable review too!

 

 

 

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Social

Next week, I will be giving a talk at our monthly Society of Authors meeting about how I use Scrivener in my writing. Scrivener’s not for everyone but it works for me and our group of writers is very interested to know more about it. If you’re engaged in NaNoWriMo at the moment, Scrivener is usually offered as a prize if you make it to the end. I bought my copy for my half-price way back when I did NaNoWriMo and it has been worth every penny.

I’m also meeting up with my local RNA group for lunch this coming week. Next week, I will be attending the RNA Committee’s Christmas lunch to which I’ve been invited as the Deputy Editor of our quarterly newsletter, and after that, it is our Winter Party in the evening. The week after that I’m meeting another RNA friend for a writerly catch-up as well so will be keeping myself busy, and full (!), with all these social activities.

In the final week of November though, I’m going to The Society of Authors’ AGM because they’re holding some workshops as well, one on ‘Building Your Brand’ with Joanne Harris no less (swooning already!) and one called ‘Beyond the Book’ which is about innovative ways to market your book and reach new audiences. I will report back on all this activity next month.

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As always, another busy month lies ahead and that’s all before we even get to Christmas. I hope all is going well for you with your writing. Please do leave me a comment below and tell me how you’re getting on. Thanks for reading!

 

Thunderclap anybody?

Thunderclap_logoAs you’ll all know by now, if you are regular readers of this blog, I like a challenge and so this week, I decided that my next challenge would be to set up a Thunderclap campaign. What’s that, I hear you cry? Well, a Thunderclap campaign, if you’ve not come across this before, is a way of encouraging all your friends and supporters on social media to rally round to help you spread a certain message on a certain day.

So what led to this new challenge? Well, every Tuesday, the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) uses the hashtag #TuesNews to promote members’ good news, blogs, sales etc on Twitter and last week, as I didn’t have a blog post to share from this site, I promoted the fact that my debut novel, From Here to Nashville was nearly one year old. The RNA is a wonderfully supportive group and my tweet received lots of shares and retweets and it reminded me of the Thunderclap idea.

So I have now set up my own Thunderclap campaign using the step-by-step guide on their website. It was relatively painless. To be honest, the only real difficulty was choosing the right size of photo but I got there in the end. You do need to be prepared to write a short bio of yourself and also a message about what you’re trying to do with the campaign. For me, the message was simple – my book is one year old and I would like people to help me spread the word about that in the hope of encouraging more people to buy it on its actual birthday.

Now I just need to persuade 100 people to support it! This bit is really important as well because in order to support my campaign, you have to go to this link: Julie’s Thunderclap Campaign Page and then click on either the Facebook, the Twitter or the Tumblr button to give your support. Some people go to the page and look but don’t realise that they actually need to click on a button as well. When you give your support, you are just agreeing to a tweet/post going out from you on a given day using the words that are shown in the blue box on the page. If I get the full number of supporters, that tweet will go out all across Twitter/Facebook etc at the same time giving the message greater impact. If I don’t get the support, then the tweet simply gets binned 🙂

Why am I doing this? Well, it’s another means of marketing to see if it has any impact and a bit of fun too. I have supported a number of Thunderclaps because it doesn’t cost me anything except a moment of my time and a tweet or a Facebook post. I’m not sure what impact it has for the person trying to spread a message but I think it’s worth a try. I am very pleased with the fact that my book has been out for almost a year and it is a great way to celebrate it.

It only remains for me to ask you if you would mind popping over to my campaign page and clicking on one of the buttons to say you’ll support it for me. I would be very grateful and of course, I promise to come back and let you know how it all goes.

Promoting Your Book with a Library Talk

V__CAE9A few weeks ago, one of my work colleagues saw my debut novel From Here to Nashville on the shelf in our local library. She very kindly took a picture for me which I shared on my Facebook Author Page. It was a very exciting moment for me, as you would expect.

I decided that I should go into the library as soon as possible and see it for myself but when I said that’s what I was going to do, everyone told me to ask if they would be interested in me giving a talk about my book and my self-publishing journey at the library. I knew that this was a good idea but the very thought of it filled me with dread. Taking that step meant really ‘announcing’ to my local community that I am an author and although people who know me wouldn’t believe it, I am actually quite shy.

So I let a week or so go by and then one day, when I was feeling brave, I just went in and introduced myself to the manager and she was so friendly and welcoming that I was glad (as well as relieved) that I had summoned up the courage to do it. She was delighted when I asked whether she would like me to do a talk and we exchanged details with the aim of scheduling it in before C20151108_093552hristmas.

After a flurry of emails, we have now settled on a date and the manager has produced some wonderful promotional materials too which you can see here. Around this time, someone on our RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) members forum asked for advice about writing press releases. This is something that I should have done for my book when it came out of course but once again, I was afraid of doing it in case I was shot down in flames. Well, I got in touch with another lovely member of the RNA who was offering help to anyone who needed it. I have now written a press release which Linda has checked for me and it is ready to be sent to some of our local newspapers and I even have an idea (with Linda’s help) for sending it to the local radio that might just grab their attention. Even if it all comes to nothing, at least next time, I will know what to do.

So now all I have to do is to work out what I’m going to say! I am very used to standing up and talking in front of people (children and adults) but of course, I have never been talking about myself before. I have already decided that the Power Point approach is not going to work for this sort of talk. It’s not a presentation after all. The whole event is going to be an hour and a half long in total but I think that a half hour talk by me, followed by time for questions should be enough. The library is then offering refreshments while I will be signing and selling lots of books (I hope!)

For my talk then, I am going to use index cards and tell how I started along this journey with the idea for the story followed by a summary of the steps along the way to self-publication. I will have my computer there so that I can show my website, amongst other things because I think this will be of interest to some members of the audience. I plan to finish up with a bit about my new book Where My Heart Belongs which is now in the final editing phase before it goes off to a professional editor.

I hope that if this talk goes well, I may be able to interest more libraries in the area, as well as other organisations like the WI. The library manager also contacted me the other day to ask whether I could lend her some copies of my book for a display they’re doing about my talk because the copy they have has now been taken out! This prompted me to get on and apply for a Public Lending Rights account which has been on my to-do list for a while. If you don’t know about this, it is a free service provided by The British Library for authors whereby you are paid for all the times that someone borrows your book from a library. It really is marvellous 🙂

I will of course let you all know how I get on and I hope that if, like me, you have been hesitating to get out there and promote yourself, the library may be a good place to start. If you have already given a talk at your library or somewhere else, please do let me know how it went in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

My First Audiobook Experience – The Girl on the Train

AudibleMy husband recently took the plunge and decided to sign up for a free trial of Audible. As he had read an early review in The Times of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which had got us both intrigued, it was an easy choice for our first audiobook. We had decided that we would listen to it together to share our thoughts as we ‘read’ something at the same time. We started it on the plane journey to France in the middle of August, listening on and off during that week and then on the way back. We just finished it, a month and a half later, on a long car journey to Oxfordshire and back.

This was the first shock for me. I am a fast reader. My husband is not. If it had just been me, I would have finished it much more quickly and at first, the slower pace drove me a bit mad. Not only the pace of our ability to listen to it at the same time on any kind of a regular basis but also the pace of the actual narration. There are actually three female narrators in this story and I found at the beginning that I kept forgetting little details that I couldn’t easily go back and check. We did get used to the narrators and the pace though and in time, we came to enjoy the whole experience.

GOTTThis had a lot to do with the quality of the story as well, which was one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever ‘read.’ As a writer myself, I found I was constantly listening to the vocabulary and to certain turns of phrase in a way that maybe I don’t take the time to when I’m reading as quickly as I usually do. The constant twists and turns of the plot kept us guessing until we were almost at the end…when my husband guessed and told me what he thought. Hmmm. We enjoyed listening to the story together though and over the time we were doing so, we listened on a plane, in the car, while making dinner and even in bed…but we both fell asleep! I’m not sure if we did ever listen to it on the train but the options are endless 😉 It is an excellent story and one I wish I could have written 🙂

I have already considered whether to have an audiobook created for From Here to Nashville but not gone any further with it than that. First of all, after your free trial runs out, your subscription costs you £7.99 a month and for this, you have one credit, equal to one book. This is a fair amount of money – for a fair amount of work, I know – but compared to an ebook, it’s a lot more. As I don’t drive anywhere long distance on a regular basis, I don’t think I would prefer it over actually reading a paperback or an ebook. For those who do, I can see it certainly would have its benefits, especially when you’re stuck in traffic, although it could easily be a distraction at times. However, how many people would be prepared to pay that amount of money for an audiobook by an unknown (still!) author? Paula Hawkins was also unknown at the time but she’d already got her book deal and as I said, we read a review of her book in The Times. I’m still waiting for them to get back to me about the one they’re writing for my debut 😉

It was interesting to note that in The Girl on the Train, the male voices are all narrated by the female narrators. This made for an interesting take on the sound of different men’s voices from the different female characters’ perspectives. For me, this would be tricky. I have a British woman and an American man, from Tennessee so I would have to have at least two narrators which would undoubtedly be difficult to find and also would affect the cost dependent on which path I chose – a one-off payment to the narrators or a share of any subsequent profits. As a new author, the cost would be prohibitive to pay them upfront before any sales, so I would probably go with a share of the royalties option. There is a lot more information about this whole process on Joanna Penn’s helpful website, The Creative Penn if you would like to read about all the options in more detail.

So while I enjoyed the experience as a reader, I don’t think it would be my preference in the future. This makes me reluctant to do it for my own books, especially when I am still so new to all this self-publishing lark. This is another job to add to an already very long list of jobs to do as an indie and one that can perhaps wait a while.

How about you? Fan of audiobooks or not? Do leave me a message in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading.

Picture Credits: Amazon and Doubleday Publishing.

Highlights from my first day at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference 2014

RNAI returned from my first ever writing conference yesterday evening, completely exhausted and with a bit of a brain overload from all the information I had taken in over the two days I was there. The main feeling I had afterwards though, was a sense of utter contentment from having been amongst like-minded, lovely writing people for a whole two days!

Naturally, I want to share with you some of the things I learnt over the weekend and today’s post is going to tell you about a few tips I picked up from the sessions I attended on the first day of the conference.

The Chemistry of Reading – Arousing your Reader by Nikki Logan, President of RWA Australia

Nikki gave a fascinating talk about this topic (she has even written a book all about it here). Nikki explained that people are becomingly increasingly addicted to experiences that arouse them and we are conditioned as human beings, to seek out this arousal again and again. A good example of this is when you read a good book and don’t want it to end. When it does end, you may experience what’s called ‘A Book Hangover.’ Women, in particular are experiential and seek the emotional experience that a good romance story can offer so if they read one good book by an author, they will go and look for others so that they can repeat the experience. Nikki explained that as writers, we need to write characters that the reader can connect with, giving them experiences that the reader can respond to. This is why a series of books by the same author can be so successful because the reader keeps coming back for more because they have come to care for the characters.

Self-Publishing Trends and Revelations – Alison Baverstock and Hazel Gaynor

This session revealed a number of interesting statistics. 65% of self-published authors are female and 60% of them are between 41 and 60 years old! That made me feel quite young 😉 In addition, 76% of them have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. From her research, Alison suggested that most people choose to self-publish through a desire for control over the whole process from beginning to end. 59% of people surveyed used a professional editor. Some people were surprised at how low a figure that was. The average cost of self-publishing a book was £1,500 with most of that being spent on editing, formatting and a professional cover design.

Going Solo: Publishing and Marketing an E-Book – Ian Skillicorn, Corazon Books

This excellent session was full of good tips so I can only pick out a few points here. I wasn’t aware that e-books don’t need an ISBN to be published on Amazon and as they have 91% of the UK market, it is simplest to just publish with them to start with and keep outlets like Apple, Kobo, Nook and Smashwords for further down the line.

Ian suggested that although you should have a marketing plan in place before you self-publish your book, you shouldn’t do any publicity until it’s out so that readers can click on it and buy it at once. He said that book bloggers should be contacted about a couple of months before the book is going to be out.

These are just a few of the things I learnt whilst at the Conference but there were so much more and I know this will all be invaluable as I continue on my path to publication in the coming months. I’ll be back next week with my highlights from day two. Thanks for reading and as always, I welcome any comments or indeed, questions.