Moving Experiences

“It’s exhausting moving house,” I remarked to hubby this evening. And indeed, I really think it is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. Even more so than getting married. It’s not just the packing, lugging about and unpacking of innumerable boxes. In fact, the moving day itself was the easiest of the lot. Several family members came to help, and by 7:00 we were all sat outside in the sunshine eating the most enormous Indian takeaway you have ever seen.

No, the next day, wherein we had to go back to the old house and get it cleaned up for the new occupier, was by far worse. Is there anything more dismal than a house with all your furniture and belongings moved out of it? And is it just me who suddenly realises that they really ought to have vacuumed under the bed and behind the fridge semi-occasionally? I was never more embarrassed when my mother and father in law removed these particular items and revealed what was underneath. I fleetingly resolved to spend less time reading and writing and more time on housework. I say fleetingly because I’m now starting to think it would be easier just to never move house ever again.

Anyway, once the old house was ready to hand over, it was time to concentrate on the new one. A few new items of furniture being needed, we set forth to IKEA, and five hours and four trolleys later we congratulated ourselves in having remembered everything. We subsequently discovered that our new dining room table came in two boxes, of which we only had the second one. So we had to go again, which somehow ended up being another five hours and a further two trolleys. I think we have almost everything now…

IKEA is a delightful place, but it does pall when all the muscles in your feet ache. And then when you get home you still have to assemble the furniture. Hubby is complaining of ‘Allen key arm.’ But I was very good and didn’t get upset when he made a mistake with the console table and left four little holes evenly spaced all along the front.

We have also done seven trips to the recycling centre with all the resulting cardboard from said furniture and the boxes. However, we love our little tiny house and are finally starting to get organised. I’ve arranged my new bookshelves by colour. And I’ve finally even found time to write a blog post.

Advertisements

What To Do Before You Publish Your Book

There’s nothing that feels flatter than sending your hard work out into the world, only to realise that your audience is either indifferent, or worse, nonexistent. The problem is, many authors make the mistake of thinking that it’s enough to develop a small social media following and then do one or two posts about their book release immediately before or during publication. But in fact, only a very small percentage of your social media followers will rush out and buy your book. There are just so many authors out there, only a millionaire could buy every book advertised on their social media the moment it’s released. So you need to build excitement for your book and show people why they need to read it. Here’s a few suggestions on how to do this:

1) Grow an email list. Please, if you’re releasing books that are barely making a ripple in the sea of social media, put your pen down and create a smaller pond. Yes, it takes time away from writing. You may have to release your book a few months later. But it’s worth it. People on your email list are far more likely to buy your book than people on your social media.

2) Get your audience involved. Ask your email list and/or social media to help you name a character, choose a title, or critique a blurb. Readers will enjoy a book they feel they’ve had a part in making so much more.

3) Release regular updates. As parts of your book become finalised, such as the cover, keep your audience informed of its progress. This not only keeps everyone updated and creates anticipation, it gives people multiple opportunities to see that you have a book coming out.

4) Get advance reviews. I really regret not doing this for Victoria’s Victorian Victory. I meant to, just a weird combination of circumstances meant I couldn’t. But what that means is you have to wait for reviews until after your release day. Which means you can’t tell everyone what great things others are saying about the book to build excitement on the release day itself. And those who do buy your book that day will likely take a week or two to read and review it. By that time, most people have forgotten about your book release. Harsh, but true.

5) Do a blog tour. This is something I did do. Ask a few bloggers you know to host you on their sites. I had five or six guest blog posts lined up, and the lovely ladies who published them for me kindly staggered them to go out every two days leading up to my book release. It got me a lot of great exposure.

6) Send out a press release. It doesn’t cost anything to email a press release to your local paper, but it may result in some great free advertising if they take up the story. And if they don’t, what have you lost?

I hope those are some helpful suggestions. Remember, releasing a book is a big, exciting thing. Treat every book you publish as special. Make a fuss. Because if you don’t, no one else will.

How To Write A Cover Letter


 If you’re looking to be traditionally or independently published then one of the most important things you will ever write is your cover letter. It can make the difference between an agent/publisher reading your submission straight away or mentally consigning it to the bottom of the pile. A bad cover letter may mean your submission doesn’t even get read. This may seem unfair, but from their point of view, if you can’t write a good letter, how can you have written a good book? 
 So how do we get your submission to the top of the slush pile? 

1. Research. Spend some time on the publisher/agents website to familiarize yourself with what they are looking for. Always follow their submission guidelines. And always start your letter with their personal name. 

2. Remember they’re busy. Three, or at the most four, paragraphs should be ample. Include only relevant details. 

3. Be professional. Know exactly what you’re offering them. Be confident, but don’t brag. 

4. Check for mistakes. A cover letter with grammar, punctuation and/or spelling errors raises serious forebodings in the mind of an agent or publisher. They are now pretty confident they can expect the same from your manuscript excerpt. This is most off-putting when they’ve asked for a polished piece of writing. 

 So, now we know how to say it, what exactly are we going to say? This is the layout I’ve found works: 

 In paragraph one briefly summarise your story in one or two sentences. This is what I put for my book, Victoria’s Victorian Victory- 

 ‘When their Pa dies, only fourteen year old Victoria realises that, in an age of industrial and agricultural revolution, new possibilities are emerging not only for farmers but for females. She hatches a bold plan to run the farm herself with the help of her mother and two sisters, in the process learning much more than just how to run a successful business.’

 In paragraph two mention relevant details such as style, word count and target audience. I also like to put on something about why I’ve chosen to submit to that person in particular. Again, here is an excerpt from my cover letter-

 ‘The book is written in short, snappy chapters, each one followed by an excerpt from Victoria’s private diary, giving her very personal view of events. She experiences loss and grief, loneliness, complicated friendships, her first crush and family life on a whole new level. So the story is relevant to young people today, even though set in Victorian times. It encourages hard work and entrepreneurialism and will appeal to fans of Berlie Doherty’s Far From Home and Jacqueline Wilson’s Opal Plumstead and Hetty Feather. It’s around 36,000 words.’

In paragraph three tell them a few relevant details about yourself. Include previously published work, qualifications and writing courses. You can also put why you wrote the story you did. Do not include what your mother said about your manuscript, that your teacher said you could be a writer one day or that writing helps take your mind off your homicidal thoughts. (Okay, the last one may be a bit far fetched, but you get the idea!) I put this-

 ‘I’ve had short stories published in several online platforms, such as Mystery Weekly, Platform for Prose and The Flash Fiction Press. I also received a commendation in the 2016 William Soutar Writing Prize. I wrote this book because I wanted to write about ordinary people making a go of life.’

I hope that helps with writing your cover letter. Please feel free to leave any further questions in the comments. 

Growing Your Mailing List

 

 One of the most frequent pieces of marketing advice I hear, and agree with, is that you need an email list. Your email list is where the sales happen. Think of it as a sort of chain- your social media is designed to get people on your website, your website is designed to get people on your email list, your email list is where you create both fans and sales. Because of this, many authors, like myself, opt to send out a monthly newsletter. Starting your newsletter is the easy part. You can read more about how to do so effectively here. The hard part can be getting people to sign up for it. My email list is by no means large, but it’s steadily growing, so here is what I’ve found works. 

 Make it the entry criteria in a giveaway.
 My biggest sudden increase in subscribers was when I did a giveaway on Instagram. On offer was a signed copy of my book, Victoria’s Victorian Victory and the criteria for entering was to sign up for my newsletter. Of course, not everyone who signs up in the hope of winning a prize becomes an active subscriber, however I’ve only had one person from that promotion actually unsubscribe, and a good percentage are active subscribers. 

 Tell people what they’re missing. 
 Occasionally I will do a contest in my newsletter, either to win something physical, such as a notebook, or to be involved in my writing process- for example, naming a character. When I do that I make sure to let everyone know on my social media just what they’re missing out on. Even if I’m not doing a contest, I’ll still post something about what my newsletter is about that month around a week before it goes out. 

 Get other subscribers to help.
 Include some social media sharing buttons in your newsletter and ask existing subscribers to help you spread the word if they are enjoying what you have to say. This tweet by the lovely Diana Anderson Tyler got me several new subscribers:


 Diana herself uses this method in her newsletter. She frequently does giveaways in which you are asked to post something from her newsletter on your social media in order to enter. Not being privy to her stats, I can’t tell you exactly how successful this is, but I do know that it always has me sharing something from it. 

 Use a discreet sign up form on your website 
 And now on to the elephant in the room. The newsletter sign up form you see at the top of this page is relatively new, and I was dubious about it at first. I made sure it was as unobtrusive as possible, but I was still worried it was going to irritate visitors to my website. I hope it doesn’t. Because it works. 

Do you have an author newsletter? If so, how do you grow your list? If not, would you consider starting one? 

Why I’ve Decided to Self-Publish


   I’d never envisaged myself as an indie author. ‘Traditionally published or nothing,’ I would say. ‘Only mediocre authors have to publish their own work.’ So why have I decided to self-publish my own short story collection?

 The first reason is that I think recent years have proved it isn’t actually only mediocre authors who self-publish. There are a few of them out there, of course. But you know, not every book that’s traditionally published is well written. Lately, enough indie authors have secured book deals on the back of self-publishing success to demonstrate that plenty of excellent writers slip through the cracks of traditional publishing. 

 Secondly, I’ve realised I’m a bit of a control freak. I sold my last book in the sort of middle ground between traditional and self publishing by going with an independent publishing company. You get a lot more control over your book with one of these than with a traditional publisher. But I still found it hard. The final product was great, don’t get me wrong. But sitting back and letting someone else control the cover design, formatting etc was tough. I’m looking forward to having complete control over my next book. 

 Thirdly, indie authors all support each other. You become part of a great network of fellow writers. Next time you’re on Instagram take a look at the #indieauthors tag. You’ll see what I mean. 

 Finally, indie authors get to write about whatever they want. Many books never even get looked at by traditional publishers or agents simply because they feel the market isn’t right for that type of book. Or they have too many of them. If you want to be traditionally published you either have to try and guess what the market will be like in eighteen months time when you finish it, or you just have to hope you’ll get lucky. And some types of book (such as short story collections) have hardly any market at all in the traditional publishing world. Well, as an indie author that all gets taken away. You can write, and share, whatever you want. And that’s what appeals most to me about self publishing. Because creating what you feel is, after all, the essence of art. 

Using the 5 Senses


 This is the other thing that really benefitted me in Joanna Fedler’s 7 day writing challenge. 

 The idea was to describe a emotion. But we weren’t allowed to name the emotion, rather we had to describe it. I chose guilt and came up with this: 

 The heaviest emotion of all. It crushes, blocking the way forward like a giant grey boulder, hard, cold, and slick with salty teardrops. Underneath it is the darkness of grief and disappointment. And in those shadows hide insidious thoughts, like woodlice, squirming and burrowing with their ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s.’

 This was a really useful challenge for me, because I was recently told by a publisher that drawing the reader into the story by using the senses was something I needed to look at. 

 Because we always describe what a character sees and hears. But we often forget to describe what they smell, touch and taste. So a brief exercise like this in which we choose something to describe using those senses is a great way to train us to write our scenes with them in mind. Though I realize I didn’t use them all. I’m working on it! 

Mrs Drew


  I took a long breath, squared my shoulders and marched into the office block. 

 ‘I’m here to see Gareth Drew.’

 The receptionist deigned to raise his eyes from his phone screen. ‘Yes ma’am. And you are?’

 ‘I’m Mrs. Drew.’

 He looked hard at me. ‘Are you indeed?’

 ‘Yes. So, can I see him? Now?’

 ‘Well, the odd thing is, ma’am, that I just showed Mrs. Drew upstairs twenty minutes ago.’

 I stared. ‘Are you suggesting my husband’s a bigamist? Don’t be silly.’

 ‘It’s either that, ma’am, or one of you is not Mrs. Drew.’

 ‘Then who is this other woman?’

 ‘Mrs. Drew, according to her.’

 ‘Yes, but she’s clearly not, because I am.’

 He was silent. 

 ‘Don’t you believe me?’ My voice was rising. 

 ‘It’s just that she was here first, you see. It makes her more credible.’

 ‘Nonsense. It’s the other way round. If you know you’re making a false claim and the person you’re pretending to be is likely to turn up, you’d make damn sure you were first. If you didn’t know, then you’d be second.’

 ‘If you say so, ma’am.’

 ‘Oh, this is ridiculous! Get my husband down here at once. He will be able to identify me.’

 ‘Mr. Drew is not here, ma’am.’ 

 ‘Not here? Why not?’

 ‘That’s the other funny thing. Mr. Drew resigned yesterday. The other Mrs. Drew, she knew. She’s up there getting his things.’

 ‘Whoever she is, she has no right to his things! I see it all now. This is an elaborate plan to steal something he has! Call her down!’

 ‘Ma’am…’

 ‘I insist you call her down. Or I shall phone the police.’

 He sighed. ‘One moment.’

 Ten minutes later the lift opposite me pinged. The doors slid open like curtains on a stage. ‘Veronica!’ I exclaimed. The impeccably turned out blonde raised an eyebrow. ‘Heidi? What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since college.’

 I laughed. ‘And how long ago it seems. What are you doing here?’

 The receptionist coughed. I expect he meant to be discreet. ‘This is Mrs. Drew, ma’am.’

 ‘So you finally admit it,’ I sighed. 

 ‘I mean that this lady is Mrs. Drew.’

 ‘Veronica? Veronica isn’t Mrs. Drew. She’s Veronica Blake. An old friend from college.’

 ‘Don’t you remember that I married Gareth?’ asked Veronica. I recoiled. 

 ‘You’re not married to Gareth. You’re not Mrs. Drew. I did. I am.’

 ‘Heidi? What are you talking about? You came to our wedding.’

 ‘No. No! You came to our wedding. Why are you doing this? Is this some kind of joke?’ Veronica turned to the receptionist. ‘She’s always been obsessed with my husband.’

 ‘Where’s Gareth? I want to see him!’

 ‘I’ll call him.’ The bitch even had my husband on speed dial. ‘Maybe you need to hear this from him.’

 Veronica walked away and the receptionist and I were left avoiding one another’s eyes. I went over to an abstract metal chair and sat, drumming my fingers on the polished surface. At length, Veronica came back. 

 ‘He’s coming over.’

 By now, I had an inkling that this wasn’t to go my way. Veronica evidently had an understanding with Gareth. I guessed I no longer needed to demand the identity of the blonde I’d seen him with yesterday. Was she going to steal my life? Tomorrow morning would it be she who made Gareth his sandwiches and kissed him goodbye at the door? Would she be waiting to share dinner and wine with him when he got home? Would it be her who spent the day vacuuming dog hairs from our cream carpet and unnecessarily watering cacti? Is that what he wanted? 

 When Gareth walked in I knew it was true. He looked right past me, as though we hadn’t just shared five years of our lives, his gaze resting on Veronica. ‘What’s going on?’

 Veronica gestured in my direction. ‘It’s Heidi. You remember? From college? She thinks she’s married to you.’

 ‘What?’ 

 ‘I am,’ I choked. ‘You may choose deny it, but it will still be the truth.’

 ‘Heidi, I had no idea…’

 ‘Oh, stop. I don’t want to hear any more lies.’

 He and Veronica exchanged a glance. ‘This has gone way too far.’ He came over to me. I thought he was going to say it was okay. That it had all been a big joke. A game. But he said, ‘I think you need professional help.’ And, looking from one to the other, I knew there was no escape.

‘So that’s how I ended up here.’

‘And how does that make you feel?’ my psychiatrist asked, pen poised. 

 ‘Like everything I knew was a lie.’

 ‘Yes. Ye-es. Now the question is, Heidi, was it Gareth and Veronica who lied to you? Or your own mind?’

 I paused. I knew what she wanted me to say. And I so badly wanted to get my life back. 

 ‘Heidi?’

 ‘My own mind,’ I said.

A Simple Way to Show, Not Tell

 

 Just a short post today, but I absolutely have to pass on to you this great tip from author Joanna Fedler! (I’ve decided to just bring out the points that really helped me from her writing course, rather than taking it day by day.)
 
 Showing, not telling is one of the hardest things for us writers to grasp. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. Let’s face it, it’s far easier to say, “it was raining really hard” than to say “the leaves streamed with water and puddles formed within moments.” And sometimes we have no idea we’ve done it. We write ‘he made her so angry’ without even thinking about it. So here’s Joanna’s tip: 

 Start the sentence with telling. Write ‘he made her so angry.” 
 Then add “that…” 
 For example, “he made her so angry that her eyes blazed and her voice shook.”

 Ok? Now delete “he made her so angry that”, and you’re left with “her eyes blazed and her voice shook”- a sentence which shows, not tells.

  You can use this trick to show all kinds of things. “It rained so hard that…” “he loved her so much that…” “the house was so old that…” You get the idea! 

 This is definitely going to be a big help to me, I hope it is for you too. 

Thoughts on Reading My Old Writing

 Last weekend I was clearing out a cupboard and found two old manuscripts of mine. The first (pictured above) I wrote at about age 13, the second 15/16. No doubt if you have kept your old pieces you’ll understand that perusing them again was in equal parts pleasurable and cringeworthy. 

Let’s start with cringeworthy… 

 There are a lot of exclamation marks. Now, I know I use plenty still when commenting on social media and do on, but I have learnt to limit them in my writing. But not by this point. And, worst of all, I even spotted a double one!! 


The dialogue is often stilted.
Since I brought myself up almost exclusively on Enid Blyton, there’s a certain old-fashioned formality in the speech patterns, which would have been okay had I set it in the same time period. But sadly I didn’t. 

 I didn’t know how to edit. I evidently went back over the story I wrote at 13 and added some little clauses and sentences to improve it. They are almost invariably worse. I’m adding unnecessary details rather than removing them. Oops. 

 The motivation’s are weak. How can they be otherwise? Both are mystery stories, but I had no real understanding of human nature at that point in my life. Characters act in odd ways for inadequate reasons. 

 And finally, and very embarrassingly…  I didn’t know what double spacing meant. In the manuscript I wrote at 16 I appear to have thought double spacing was between words, not lines. Therefore  each  sentence  looks   like  this. It must have taken me ages! I think I sent it out afterwards to a rather prominent writing competition. Hide me, please. 

 Now on to the good things. And there were a few! 

 Let’s start with the first story, the one I wrote at 13. It’s called The Mystery at the Forest Hotel. 

 It’s not at all self-conscious. I never really intended anyone but family to read this, so I’ve not second guessed or censored myself at all. The result is some surprisingly grown up sentences. I had a good vocabulary even then, I must say.  

 It’s funny. In a sort of angsty teenager way, but amusing for all that. 

 The characters are diverse. Some of them are caricatures, but that could easily be fixed. 

 I hadn’t any high flown ideas about descriptions. It’s short, blunt and to the point. I’m uninterested in vistas, architecture and clothing. And it’s all the better for that in my view. 

Now for the one I wrote as a 15/16 year old. 

 This one is called Model for Murder and I have to say that the concept is good. I tell the story from the alternating perspectives of twin sisters, who see the world very differently. I could have executed it better, but it’s a pretty cool idea, don’t you think? 

 I seem to have grasped the idea of a circular ending. This is the first line: ‘I’m a very ordinary person.’ And this is the last one: ‘I don’t feel just “ordinary” anymore, because I share my life with someone who will always think I’m special.’ I had no idea I was using a solid literary technique here, but I was. 

 Summing up, to my astonishment, I feel that both these stories are eminently salvageable by the more experienced, 30 year old me, and could actually become quite good. With lots of work of course. I’ll let you know how it goes. 
Have you ever furbished up some old pieces? 

5 Ways Not To Start Your Novel


 Earlier this week I posted the first line of my work-in-progress to Instagram, with the comment that I knew I was breaking a rule by starting my novel with the main character waking up. I asked what everyone thought and the general consensus seemed to be that I was breaking the rule well enough for it to be good. But not everyone knew that this was a rule. So, in the spirit of learning the rules so we can break them, here are some ways that my obsessive reading of articles written by agents and publishers about what gets their attention has taught me not to start a book… 

1) Waking up
It seems like such a natural place to start. Your character gets up in the morning and goes through their daily routine until something happens that throws them off. Great. Except this is a big turn off for agents and publishers. They read countless versions of morning routines. It’s boring and cliched. It doesn’t grab their attention. All is not lost though. Delete all that stuff about them waking up and agonising about their first day of work, school, interview, date, etc while they brush their teeth. Start the story at the point in which they actually do that thing instead. 

2) Dreaming 
 Starting with a dream is a lazy technique that just makes the reader feel cheated. For example  ‘Sonia teetered on the precipice, knowing she couldn’t save herself, didn’t even want to. She took a deep breath and jumped. The wind knocked the breath from her as the ground rose to meet her… Then she woke up.’ 

 See? Promising beginning that’s then ruined by the fact that, oh yeah, it’s not actually happening. And the other problem? The real beginning is actually the character waking up, which we’ve already discussed. 

3) Prologue
 Writers love prologues and readers hate them. I’m both so you can hopefully trust me when I say that prologues are an old fashioned device and generally serve no purpose other than to confuse the reader. When I see a prologue my first thought is that the writer has put it in in the hope of showing me that things will get exciting soon. Which usually means that the beginning of the actual story is slow. 

4) Onomatopoeia 
 Bang! Crash! There’s your originality going out the window.

 I was taught this method as a way to start a story when I was at school. The problem is that it still sounds childish. Particularly if it’s something like- Briiiiing, Briiiiing went the phone on that fateful morning. ‘I wonder who that could be?’ said Harry to himself. Little did he know etc etc. Just tell us that the phone rang. You can even say urgently if you must. 

5) Setting the scene

  You’ve probably seen this done more often in films. We get a few minutes of an idyllic setting before everything goes horribly wrong. It’s a lot quicker an easier to do this in films, though. In books no one is going to be gripped by your description of tea at the vicarage or a picnic in the park. Especially not an agent or publisher, who’s attention needs to be caught at once. So cut right to the action and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. We can. If you show us a rumpled blanket on the grass with an overturned basket then we will grasp that your protagonist was having a pleasant picnic before disaster struck. 

Breaking the rules- 
 So, now we know the rules we can work out how to break them! For instance, The Hunger Games starts with Katniss waking up and going out to hunt- as she does most days. If I Stay begins with a, rather stickily sweet in my opinion, scene of the protagonist’s family interacting happily. And no doubt like me you’ve read plenty of books that start with a prologue. So the rules aren’t hard and fast. But you need to know them so you can break them well enough to get away with it. And if you can do that then that in itself may catch an agent’s or publisher’s attention. 
 I hope you found this post helpful. And if you’re curious about my rule-breaking first line mentioned at the beginning then check out my Instagram