Insecurities

Strange that a long overdue meeting with old friends should cause so much tension, but there it was. There were butterflies, sweaty palms and long sessions in front of the mirror beforehand. And, once there, half forgotten conflicts resurfaced…

“Hello Fatty.”

“Hello Moley.”

The two rivals paused, sizing each other up for their next attack.

“Not this again,” sighed Iris. “We’re supposed to be working together, remember?”

‘Fatty’ dismissed this. “It’s only our bit of fun.” But everyone knew it wasn’t.

“Did you hear what happened to Pegs?” asked Moley.

“No?”

“Cellulite!”

“Poor thing! And always so proud of having none too.”

“That’s what fat does to you.” This was said with a meaning look.

“Of course, there are worse disfigurements.” Another meaning look.

“Right, that’s it,” said Iris. “I’m communicating with head office.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I would. Someone has to be the brains behind this operation.”

Moley shuddered. “Don’t say that word.”

“Operation?”

“Yes.”

“Why ever not?”

“Hysterectomy,” Moley whispered. “Sometime soon.”

“Oh dear.” Distress caused a temporary alliance.

“I know.”

“For a minute,” said Fatty, “I thought you meant they were going to whip a not so little something off.” The alliance was over. Moley bridled.

“Or suck something out?”

“Now see here…”

“I do,” interrupted Iris in a resigned voice. “I see far better than you. Head office wants a word.”

“Oh great.”

“Great indeed,” someone snapped. The ‘brains of the operation’ had arrived and was not happy. “I was busy minding my own business and trying to have a good time with my old friends, and now instead I’ve got to think about you. You should realise how unimportant and superficial you are. I can manage perfectly well with or without you, and I will even do fine without other, much bigger parts. Because I’m not defined by you. All that really matters is that I am me. The rest is just shell. Now stop bothering me with your insecurities, because I’m not going to waste anymore of my time worrying about you.”

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How To Find Places To Submit Your Writing

With the ease in which authors can self publish now, I’m finding that many actually don’t know how to do it the traditional way. And by traditional I don’t necessarily mean sending your epic novel to Penguin Random House, getting a five figure advance and winning the Man Booker Prize. (Can’t be just me who has those dreams?) No, the simplest way to be traditionally published is to send a short story out to a literary magazine, whether online or printed, and be accepted. And it is a lot more likely.

I previously did a post on ten places to submit your writing, which many of you found helpful. The problem with any sort of list like that, though, is it eventually becomes outdated. But if you know how to find these places for yourself you can be more sure that your information is correct.

What’s the advantage of this compared to publishing your short stories on your blog?

Well, first of all, you might get paid. Yes, some magazines do actually pay authors for their work. Amounts vary, but we’ll take anything right? Secondly, if ever you do decide to submit that epic novel, you’ll be taken a lot more seriously if you have some publishing credits to list.

So, having (hopefully) convinced you to send out your short stories, how do you know where to send them?

My top tip is to sign up for Submittable. You will need to do this anyway as a large number of publications only accept submissions through their portal system. But while you’re at it, sign up for their monthly newsletter. Each one includes opportunities for writers and information on publishers seeking submissions. You can also find such information on their website.

Authors Publish magazine is also an excellent place to go. As the name suggests, they are dedicated to helping authors share their work. They too have a newsletter you can sign up for to get regular notices in your inbox of which publisher is looking for what type of writing. It also includes a helpful articles written by fellow authors on some aspect of writing. (Look out for the one in issue number 246. Just saying.)

Finally, a simple search engine enquiry can throw up some very interesting opportunities. Try to be as specific as possible though. Trust me, if you search ‘short story submissions’ you are going to come up with an awful lot of results to wade through. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but including extra information that’s important to you can really help narrow it down. So trying something like ‘short story submissions, UK’ or ‘short story submissions, free’ or ‘sci fi short story submissions’ can really help.

As always, I hope you’ve found this article useful. If you have any tried and tested ways that you use to find places to submit to, do add them in via the comments.

A Lesson on Self-doubt

I learned an important lesson last month. I decided I wanted to enter some short story competitions again, something I haven’t done in a while. One of the ones I looked at was asking for short stories and poems on the theme ‘dusk.’ Now, I’m not always very good at coming with a story on a particular theme. I wracked my brains on this one, but what actually came into my head was a narrative poem. I don’t as a rule write poetry, and I’m not too good at it. However, I thought if I wrote this poem it might clear my head for another idea, or a story might come out of it. So I did. And I thought it was okay. Maybe I would enter it after all. I put it aside to think about, and then decided it was rubbish. So I did nothing with it.

Then, the other day, I was scrolling through my notes and came across it. And it was actually pretty good! The only problem was, the deadline had passed just the day before. If I’d entered it, I probably wouldn’t have won anything. But I definitely won’t now! I wouldn’t have lost anything by trying. So that reminded me once again not to give in to the self doubt that is part of a writer’s life. Just send your work out. You never know.

The above post is an excerpt from the December edition of my newsletter. While it’s more for fans of my work than for new writers, whom I try to cater for on this blog, I am taking it in the slightly new direction of being a lot more open and honest about the ups and downs of my writing life. So if you enjoyed this post and think such experiences could help you, then do sign up for my monthly newsletter on the pop up form or the contact page.

How Do You Know Which Writing Methods are Right For You?

There are many different ways to write. There are plotters and pantsers, writers who type straight off, writers who do it all by hand first. Writers who don’t look back until the first draft is finished, writers who perfect each section as they go. How do you know which methods are right for you?

Part of it has to be trial and error. So don’t be afraid to try different methods. I always used to type everything straight away. Then I had a great idea for a story as I was about to climb into the bath. I didn’t dare take my tablet in with me, so I took a notebook. And I found the whole thing flowed better and I was less caught up in things like punctuation. Now I usually write my words out on paper first. So just because you’ve been using one method for ages doesn’t mean another won’t work as well or better. So give it a go.

Another help to deciding what methods will work for you is self knowledge. I’m a pantser for two reasons. Firstly, because I know making detailed lists and character studies would bore me and keep me away from the actual writing. Secondly, I know that part of the fun of writing for me is to find these things out as I go along. I like to get to know my characters gradually, in the same way that the reader will. And the scenes that are unplanned, that arise out of my subconscious, are always my favourites.

Having said all that, some methods will depend on what you’re writing. My last manuscript jumped back and forth between past and present, and the timing was quite complicated as it had to align with some real historical events. So I made myself a timeline, something I would never ordinarily do. One of my future projects will need each chapter to be (roughly) outlined to make it dovetail together properly. But for my current project I just know basically what I want to happen, and there’s a few scenes in my head, otherwise I’m just going for it.

You also need to recognise that in this case there is no wrong or right way to do it. All writers are different. The oddest method I’ve ever heard was Lin Anderson’s. She starts with one scene, always a crime scene. When she starts she has no idea how it will end. And she just writes a chapter at a time, only starting the next one when the previous is polished and ready. I’ve never heard of any writer doing it that way before, but clearly it works for her as she has had multiple works published. So don’t be afraid to come up with your own, unique method.

Do you have any interesting writing methods? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment.

What I Learned from my Book Launch

Last week I launched my first independently published book, a collection of 12 short stories with diary extracts, taking you on my journey from unpublished writer to debut novelist. As you will have gathered from this masterly description, although it was my first self published book, it was not my first published book. My teen novel, Victoria’s Victorian Victory, was released last year by Rainy Day Reads Publishing. The thing with this, though, is that they launched the book. I let everyone know on social media, but that was the end of my role really. With my new book, is was all down to me. Perhaps because of that, I staged a rather elaborate launch across all of my platforms. Some things I got very right, some things I got a little wrong. As you know, I always like to share my experiences so other writers can use them. So here’s what I learned:


You will have to give away quite a few paperbacks.

I staged paperback as well as eBook giveaways across all of my social media sites. I also sent one out to each of my market research team. Doing so created a buzz on the day, with lots of people entering the competitions. Over 4000 people saw my post on twitter alone. Having said that, many of these will be giveaway accounts. It’s a good idea to exclude these if you want someone to win the book who really wants it. If you’re not bothered about that and just want the publicity then it’s a great tool.

Sending out paperbacks also keeps the momentum going. As everyone starts to receive their free paperbacks they will likely post about it on their social media for you. They may also give you a great review.


Make sure you get the book absolutely right.

If you’re going to make a big fuss on your launch day, you need to make sure the book is worth fussing over. People will be quick to spot all hype with no substance. Make sure the eBook and paperback are both the best you can make them. It’s a good idea to get a proof of the paperback sent to you beforehand to check if you can. This really pays off though. I’ve had a lot of great comments on the quality of my paperback in particular.


Have some advance reviews to share. This tells people, not only that your book is now available to buy, but why they should buy it. I only had a couple, and I shared them the day after the launch, but they made a big difference.


Use videos to get more views. People on social media like videos. They are more personal, they get to see and hear you, and they still have a certain novelty about them. The two videos I posted to Instagram, one telling everyone what was happening, the other doing a short reading from the new book, got more interaction than any of the other things I posted that day. I also did a Facebook live session. I’ll be honest, not many people tuned in for that and it was slightly off-putting. I think I did it too early in the day. However, I needn’t have worried- lots of people have watched it on playback. However, next time I do a live video I may try it on Instagram. Instagram sends out a notification to all your followers that you are live. So we will see if that works better.


Don’t expect huge sales straight away. Unless you’re spending a lot of money on advertising, these things take time. They build like a snowball. For now, lots of people on social media are hearing how great my new book is. Some bought it straight away. More will follow. Interestingly, I’ve also seen an increase of sales for my novel. I guess if people like one book then they are more likely to buy the other.


As always, I hope you find that helpful, and please feel free to add your experiences in the comments.

New Book Cover Reveal!

If you follow this blog or my social media, you’re probably aware that I’ll be releasing my very own short story collection in October. So obviously I’ve been working very hard getting it right for you, and the cover is finally ready for the big reveal! (Though newsletter subscribers have already seen it…) Anyway, here it is:

And the back:

There’s all sorts of great giveaways, readings and events planned for release day, so make sure you’re following me on Instagram and/or Twitter (username for both is @abiwriting), or signed up to my newsletter, so as not to miss out!

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.

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?