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.

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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.

Does It Matter What You Title Your Blog Posts? 


 The short answer, of course, is yes. Naturally it matters. More people will read a blog post with an interesting or eye catching title, that’s just common sense. But what makes an interesting title and is there anything else to consider? Here are some points I have noted from my own site analytics, as well as comments from fellow bloggers. 

 Firstly, people like structure. If it’s an educational blog post then they like to know exactly what they will learn. The easiest way to do that is to tell them the number of points you will be making in the title. For example, my last post was entitled 3 Essential Tools For Marketing Yourself as an Author. Now everyone knows what they’re getting. 

 What if your blog is on more personal subjects such as your own life or what you’re reading? Many bloggers go for a quirky title. Here are two I found when having a quick scroll through my followed sites just now- Wait. So Timon of Athens isn’t about a Meerkat Eating Baklava? And: It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere… oh wait, this is supposed to be a blog post, isn’t it?

 I’m sure you’ll agree, these are interesting titles! They definitely made me want to read them. But there is one more thing to consider… 

 If you want traffic on your blog to be consistent, rather than just for a few hours after publishing a new article, you’ll want to be found by search engines. But, though there’s nothing wrong with them, how many people will find a super quirky title on their google search page? Not many. 

 My most successful blog post in terms of getting people on my site through searches is entitled What To Do If Your Book Is Too Long Or Too Short. This is a common problem and quite a few sites deal with it. But the title of my blog post seems to have hit the search terms people with that problem use pretty accurately. And the more people who search and click on it, the higher up the list it goes. If you search in google what to do if your book is too long, my article comes up fourth. So try to think about what people will search for that is covered in your blog post. Starting your blog title with ‘what to do’ or ‘how to’ or ‘does it matter’ works well because that’s what people will be searching for. 

 What sort of blog title works best for you? 

3 Essential Tools for Marketing Yourself as an Author


 A lot of people think anyone can be a writer. And it’s sort of true. With self-publishing tools such as Amazon Createspace all you need to do is finish a book, not necessarily even a particularly long one, and hit the publish button. But if you’re serious about writing, whether self-published or not, you’ll want a little more than that. You’ll want to be professional. You’ll want others to take you seriously as a writer. You may even dream of making some money! So what do you do? The answer’s simple- you network. 

 Networking is basically forming useful connections- with fellow writers, with readers, publishers, bloggers, reviewers etc. You can do this online through social media, or face to face at events. But there are a few things you will need: 

1. A business card. When I first got mine done, I thought I’d hardly ever use them. But I do, all the time. When a friend or acquaintance is asking about my writing I whip out a card and suggest they go to my website for the latest news. When I meet someone for the first time and they ask ‘what do you do?’ and then express interest in my answer that I’m a writer, I’ll suggest they look me up on social media and, you’ve guessed it, give them a card. Frequently people will discuss their own or a member of their family’s writing dreams with me. So I’ll tell them there’s lots of advice for new writers on my blog and… all together now… give them a card. This way, you’re turning casual conversations into connections. A card is especially important for any kind of business meeting, perhaps if you’re trying to get the job of writing an article or doing a presentation. Having your own business card says- I’m a professional who knows what I’m doing. 

 What should you include on your card? Name and profession. And contact details, of course. This can be a phone number and email address, or just one of those. I only included my email address on mine as I felt that would make me more comfortable about handing it out indiscriminately. You should also have your website and possibly social media information. Which brings me to:

2. Social media. This is the easiest way to form connections. Get involved with writing, blogging and reading communities on social media and you will come across all sorts of opportunities. You can be interviewed, get reviews, do guest blog posts etc. You’ll get exposure. But it’s also very important that you have a social media presence when it comes to marketing yourself in the real world. Why? Well, what is the first thing someone does after you’ve given them your business card? Do they immediately email you with a job offer? Sadly not. They google you. So, if nothing comes up under your name they will likely conclude that you’re not as professional as they thought you were. Now, it’s not always easy to get your own website to the top of the google page under your name. BUT social media sites have already done that. Go and google your name now. This is how mine goes: Facebook, Facebook, Bewritingblog.wordpress.com, Twitter. (Please notice that my website is in the top three. Round of applause for me.) But, however high your website is, you’ll never get above Facebook! Plus, it looks good to have a page of options, don’t you think? 

3. Closely related- you need a website. When people google you, if you’ve got your site high enough on the list, that is where they will go. And on your website you can present yourself in the way you want. Don’t just have a blog. Have a page for your book, including great reviews. Have a page for you, your accomplishments, and what you stand for. Have a page where they can get in touch. And if you already do book signings, presentations, school visits and the like, then an events page is a good idea. 

 So, those are my three essential tools. Of course, these are the bare minimum. You may also want to consider a letterhead, postcards or flyers, and a professional-looking author headshot. What would you add to this list?

New Author Interview 


 I was recently very honoured to be the first author asked to do an interview for Soulla Christodoulou’s new series, A Cup of Conversation. I talk about my inspirations, writing routine and favourite snacks! You can read it here

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.