Why the most important thing about your book is the person reading it

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A fellow author shared a joke with me a couple of days ago about how social media has made it easier and more acceptable for fans to stalk their favourite writers on a daily basis.

The joke was very amusing, though it did get me thinking about the people who follow this blog, my Twitter feed and my Facebook author page. So far I have published one novel and my Facebook fan base stands at around 220 followers, which may not sound huge, but several of these people interact on my page on a frequent basis and many of them have not only read and loved Dead Letter Day, but have gone the extra mile to recommend me to all their friends and family.

A writer is nothing without readers and that social media has made us so accessible to them is, in my opinion, a very good thing. Here are my reasons why.

1/ Having social media pages can give readers an insight into who the author is. Previously, writers were something of an enigma and unless they were very famous, the only clue you had to the person behind the name on the front cover was a mini biography and, if you were lucky, a snapshot of them somewhere at the back of the book. Giving readers a chance to engage with an author creates an opportunity to build a stronger fan base.

2/ Writing a novel is a lengthy process and it used to be a case of out of sight out of mind, but this is no longer so. Authors are able to keep in touch with their readers by regular blogging, letting them know what they are up to and whetting appetites before the release of the next book.

3/ Fans who are regularly interacting with an author and getting to know the person behind the books are more likely to keep recommending your work and spreading the word to friends and family. You can advertise all you like, but nothing beats personal, word of mouth recommendations.

4/ Knowing people are enjoying your books is the best feeling in the world and I believe this is the same for any author. For me personally, my confidence in my writing was at an all-time low when I entered the Rethink Press New Novels Competition. After years of knockbacks I had clawed my way back and was on the verge of a deal with a major publishing house, only for them to decide my book wasn’t for them. Even after winning my contract with Rethink there was a part of me convinced that people wouldn’t like my story. It is thanks to my fans (and a couple of great critical reviews in local press) and being able to hear from them personally how much they have enjoyed reading Dead Letter Day, that my confidence has been restored and I truly believe I can do this writing lark.

Whatever your view on the positives and negatives of social media, I think it is worth remembering that a writer is nothing without their readers and it is important to make time for your fans.

The juggling life of a writer

Lovely Oregon. Setting for Dead Letter Day and its yet to be named sequel.

Lovely Oregon. Setting for Dead Letter Day and its yet to be named sequel.

I was discussing with a fellow author a few days ago the difficulties of finding quality writing time in our busy day to day lives, and I am sure this is something most others working on novels can relate to.

Unless you are one of the lucky few, whose books have sold so successfully you can afford to write full time, you will probably have a day job eating up a huge chunk of your week. I had one of these when I was writing Dead Letter Day, but was fortunate that it was nine to five-thirty and fairly stress free. Now I have been promoted and have a much bigger workload and a lot of responsibility sitting on my shoulders. Add to this a boss who uses words such as “disaster”, “catastrophe” and “nightmare” on a daily basis and most evenings when I leave work I want nothing more than to unwind with a hot soapy bath and a bottle of wine.

At the moment the day job pays the bills and quite rightly they expect full commitment while I am there. I am not lying when I say I have seriously contemplated jacking it in and getting a job in the local supermarket, so my “me” time can be spent full focusing on my second book and not worrying that I have forgotten to do something crucially important in the world of contracting. It’s still not ideal though, so I will continue to juggle work and writing and hope that one day the second one will pay well enough to allow me the luxury of going part time.

In addition to work, you have to find time for family and friends. Some writers I know have the commitments of a young family to contend with and I applaud them for being able to get any writing done at all. I have no kids – unless you count the two furry monsters that live with me and demand frequent feeding, litter changing and attention – but I still want to find time for my family and friends. They have all been so supportive of my writing career, I can’t neglect them.

Housework has gone out of the window since my book was published. While my desk at work is chaotic and the inside of my car looks like “Steptoe’s Yard”, my house (well actually, it’s more a shoebox) has always been my little bubble of serenity. Everything has to be clean, tidy and smell good. Not so much anymore. The carpets are barely visible under a layer of Lola fluff, my bins are overflowing, there are socks outside of the linen bin and a pile of washing up is gathering by the sink. It’s driving me insane, but a little voice chirps away in my head, telling me to ignore it. The book is more important.

Finally there is marketing. I already have a book out and I need to do everything possible to keep it in the public eye.  The marketing side is great and I really enjoy promoting the book, but it is very time consuming, as I am sure other authors will agree. There are myriad websites offering book promotion opportunities and it is very easy to lose an entire weekend plugging away blogging, reviewing and updating. And it pays. I have noticed that if I am very active online reminding people about the book, my sales improve. Whenever I take some “me” time and focus on writing the sequel, my rankings suffer. Add to this contacting press, bookstores, libraries and book clubs and marketing can easily become a full time job.

Now I don’t want anyone reading this blog to think I am complaining. I have been handed a wonderful opportunity and with the publication of Dead Letter Day, my ultimate dream came true. I feel very lucky to have the above dilemmas and I wouldn’t change any of it for one second. I am a writer and the need to write and the frustration at not always being able to write is just making me vent a little while I try to put some order into my life, so I can get everything done.

This weekend I am going to do my anal Virgo thing and have boxes. There is a little box for the marketing, which involves this blog and a couple of posts on Facebook, another box for the housework, which I will be doing as soon as I have finished the marketing bits. My house needs to be clean or my brain will go into meltdown. Then the rest of the afternoon, this evening and most of tomorrow I have kept free to write. Likewise, I will be doing the same over the bank holiday weekend. I have even turned down an invitation to go to the pub next Sunday afternoon. See how seriously I am taking this? I know the letterettes are desperate for the sequel and I want to deliver one that won’t disappoint.

I am not an author who can manage five minutes writing whenever I can snatch the time. I need to lose myself in the plot of my book and the lives of my characters in order to bring them to life. So this afternoon I am off to Juniper, Oregon.

See you later, folks.

Do you really know your neighbours?

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A friend of mine has been engrossed with the news of Ariel Castro, the monster in Ohio who held three women captive in his house for ten years. She admits to finding it morbidly fascinating and cannot comprehend how he could have gotten away with it for so long.

As I pointed out to her yesterday, there is no telling how many other people are getting away with things, because truth is, unless they are caught we will never know. And as another friend added, people talk about the perfect murder, but if it has been committed we wouldn’t know, because if we did it would no longer be perfect.

It serves to prove that we really don’t know what our friends and family; neighbours and work colleagues are up to behind closed doors and as a writer with a highly imaginative mind, I find it intriguing.

The sweet little old lady shop assistant who serves me in the supermarket, how do I know she doesn’t keep her husband’s body hacked up in pieces in her freezer, having once poisoned his morning cup of tea?

The taxi driver who gave me a lift home last night, perhaps he sometimes likes to drive out to the woods, strip naked and howl at the moon.

The nerdy guy at work, who is always in such a rush to cycle home, is it because he has to feed the woman he has chained up in his house?

And how about the dog walker who passes my house twice a day? He looks innocent enough, but how do I know he doesn’t sleep in a coffin and keep vials of blood in his fridge?

It is fascinating trying to figure out what makes people tick and as a thriller writer it gives me plenty of material to play with.

Of course, the only crimes I commit are on paper.

Now I must go, I need to sharpen my knives… sorry, I mean my pencil.

 

 

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk…

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You know the movie, Bambi? Remember that scene where he was trying to balance on ice? Well imagine Bambi had the grace of an elephant and the dance moves of Ricky Gervais, then you will get somewhere close to picturing how I looked when attending my very first zumba class.

My friends had been concerned that the only exercise I had been getting was from lifting my right hand to my mouth to drink wine. Purely for this reason (and not at all because they wanted a good laugh) they decided it was time to kick my butt into shape.

After having all twenty-five of my excuses destroyed I reluctantly invested in a sports bra; I had to think of the safety of the other ladies attending. Maybe this would be a good thing, give me a little more energy and exercise my mind, which in turn would help my creative flow and my writing.

The lady taking the class greeted us on arrival and asked if we had any medical conditions she should know about. I told her I was allergic to exercise, had two left feet and no rhythm.

‘Don’t you worry,’ she told me. ‘We will soon teach you coordination and rhythm’.

Now I didn’t want to put down her skills as a zumba teacher, but a twenty week intensive dance training course with John Travolta is not going to teach me coordination or rhythm.

So I smiled and did the best I could, wearing an expression on my face throughout the class similar to the one I expect Mr Ben had the first time he put on a fancy dress outfit and headed through the secret door.

The only thing I was doing in common with the other people in the room was breathing, but I approached it enthusiastically and waved my arms and legs around like a demented octopus, and I ache in lots of places I didn’t know you could ache, so at least I got some exercise.

Tomorrow I expect to be doing my very best impression of John Wayne.

Guest Blog from Megan Denby, author of A Thistle in the Mist

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The publication of Dead Letter Day has brought me into contact with a number of other first time authors and it has been both exciting and educational to share my journey with them. There are a few who have been very supportive and who I now regard as friends. They are all incredibly talented writers and it is great to see them enjoying the success they deserve.

Over the next few weeks I plan to introduce you to a few of them. Today I start with Megan Denby, who has kindly agreed to write a guest blog.

Megan Denby is an award-winning novelist who grew up on a farm amongst a family of six. Once she discovered the world of books, she was lost, often reading to the wee hours of the morning. Megan has been writing for over thirty years. Her debut novel, “A Thistle in the Mist” was described by one agent as having a “hypnotic, fairy-tale-like quality” and was inspired by the turbulent life of her feisty, Scottish great-grandmother.  A Canadian girl, Megan is an avid dragon boater and draws inspiration from the tranquility of her secluded cottage in Northern Ontario. She lives in the enchanting, lakeside community of Port Perry with her wife and passel of children and is working on the disturbing sequel, “Lost to the Mist”.

Over to you, Megan.

‘A Writer in the Mist’

Some of my earliest memories were of Great-Grandma Ross caring for me while Mom worked. Her lilting Scottish burr, full-bodied laugh and warm hugs helped shape my young mind. After she passed away, her voice lived on, captured forever on a treasured cassette tape. She was my inspiration.

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I was exposed to the world of books early. Dad read Ernest Thompson Seton to my sisters and brother and I and as we sat in our darkened living room, nestled within the comforting shadows, I stepped into the lives of the animals Ernest wrote about. With Mom captivated by thrillers and gory mysteries and my big sister living on a steady diet of Harlequins, I couldn’t help but fall in love with books of all genres.

Born third, behind my two older sisters who were tall, slim, dark and just plain cool, I yearned to be like them. Alas, I was short, stocky, blond and just plain dorky. And so, I created a dream world, conjuring lovely scenarios in my head where I became less of a dork and more like one of my favourite characters, Nancy Drew. I hung out with my little brother, played pond hockey, explored the tangle of dirt roads on our bikes and sprawled on the porch swing with my nose buried in a book.

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Time passed and it occurred to me that perhaps I was different. Did everyone have endless thoughts careening inside of their heads? Did everyone stay awake far into the night wrestling with ideas that marched back and forth, taunting with reckless abandon? Observant to the point of obsession, I often felt as though I was on the outside looking in.

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It was a relief when these feelings finally found their way from my head to paper in the form of short stories I wrote for school. I excelled in English and had one of my stories published in the yearbook. Another was submitted by a high school teacher to a contest where it won an award. A seed of desire had been planted. I wanted to be a writer – a real writer.

But instead, I married straight out of high school and immediately set about creating my family. Writing faded away and Life took the reins. My granddad knew of my secret passion to be a writer and often nudged me in that direction. I remember the day he handed me a slip of paper; an entry form for a writing contest. With three small children, my mind had strayed far from writing and so I stored that scrap of paper away in a drawer. Years later, after Grandad was gone, I found that yellowed form. I sat down before my computer, wrote about my much loved granddad, entered it in an online contest and was awarded runner up.

With that small recognition, the writer inside of me blossomed.

I enrolled in a creative writing class, started my Scottish novel, wove bits and pieces of Grandma Ross’s life into the fabric of my story and slowly created a tale, drawing on thirty-five years of keen observation and endless ideas.

Then the bottom fell out of my world. My marriage ended. With four sons and no clear idea of who I was anymore, I shelved my writing and set out to rebuild my life. Six years later, with my feet back on the ground, I unearthed my hard copy of ‘A Thistle in the Mist’. All edits had been lost when my computer had crashed and now I stared at the reams of paper that lay before me, a feeling of excitement growing within.

Life was different now. My head and heart had found their way home. The random thoughts inside had banded together to form a myriad of stories and now I had someone by my side who championed my cause.

So, I sat down and restored my tale, entered it back into my computer and edited like a madwoman. Next, I began the process of contacting agents.  I gave myself a deadline of six months and after some encouraging feedback but no real bites, I opted to self-publish.

When I hit the publish button on Amazon Kindle this past January, I had no idea what I was getting into. Self-promotion was a foreign concept to me and one I warily embraced. I learned the ins and outs of social media and was fortunate to stumble upon some like-minded writers – writers who were familiar with obsessing and of being too observant and of losing oneself in the process of storytelling, and writers who quickly became my outside support system – selfless people who didn’t mind passing on advice, doling out encouragement and generally being the kind of writer I wanted to be.

After the first month, ‘A Thistle in the Mist’ was downloaded almost 3000 times. At the end of March I received my first paycheck – a paycheck for writing! My sales climbed every day and I decided to move on to the next step and format a paperback edition. Again, my obsessive nature ruled my decisions and days turned into weeks. But finally I held the proof of ‘A Thistle in the Mist’ in my hands.

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After four months of self-promoting, networking and writing, my little Scottish thriller had found its way across oceans and was being read worldwide. My readers were responding with lovely reviews, heartfelt messages and general words of encouragement.

I held my book in my hands. The cover felt smooth, the artwork looked beautiful and the pages smelled like Heaven.

I was an author. Through the mist, my dream had found me at last.

For more information on Megan Denby, please see the following links.

Links

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/A-Thistle-Mist-ebook/dp/B00B2XML88 (For USA)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Thistle-Mist-ebook/dp/B00B2XML88/ref=tmm_kin_title_0? ie=UTF8&qid=1367845394&sr=8-1 (For UK)

Website www.megandenby.com

Blog http://notyouraveragelassie.blogspot.ca/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMegan

Twitter https://twitter.com/megan_denby

Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6927701.Megan_Denby

LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=153859334&trk=hb_tab_pro_top

Shelfari http://www.shelfari.com/megan66

 

How do you pay the bills?

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When writing is in your blood, telling stories is the only thing you want to do. It’s a tough career to crack though and we still have to pay the bills while struggling to realize our dreams.

Over the years I have tried many things to earn some pennies, from being the world’s worst hairdresser, working in a video rental store a la Quentin Tarantino style, renting out inflatables and simulators (that is not as dirty as I am making it sound – I was an entertainment agent hiring out bands, DJs, bouncy castles and arcade games for parties), serving coffee to, well, actually – most spilling coffee over customers in a café to my present occupation, working for a travel firm.

I am sure all writers will relate to this, soullessly struggling away in a job you don’t enjoy, while daydreaming up plots, characters and dialogue that you can’t wait to get home to write about. It is all you want to do and no other career will ever give the same satisfaction.

One rather unusual job on my CV is “caricaturist”. I did a few gigs around the country when I was in my early twenties. The work was mostly at military balls, drawing the guests, and it was always a nice evening, as I got to glam up and then stay for drinks with them afterwards. And we all know Beev loves a good drink.

Recognize any of the faces above?

 

 

Who else has this rather strange condition?

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Okay, this is going to be a fun one, and probably most of you who read this are going to think, ‘yup, Beev really is ready for the nuthouse’, but I find it fascinating, so here goes.

I have a condition.

No, it’s not alcoholism (honest) and I don’t suffer from anything like tourettes or scurvy.

I have the most useless, completely utterly pointless condition in the history of the world, ever. I have synesthesia.

Now at this point you may want to Google the word, because most people assume I am making it up. In fact, I will save you the trouble http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

Now synesthesia comes in many shapes and forms, but essentially all sufferers (and I use the word sufferer mildly, because I think it’s kind of fun) have a merging of the senses. So for example, some people taste words, others see sounds. There was a programme on TV about this and one poor chap was dating a girl called Barbara and had to dump her because every time he said her name he tasted elastic bands, which amused me greatly.

My type of synesthesia – the most common – is grapheme synesthesia, which is word/letter colour association. Every word and every letter of the alphabet is a specific colour to me. For example, Keri is red and Beev is brown, cat is green and Friday is orange.

Sounds very odd, eh? But interestingly it’s all connected with creativity and there are many artists who suffer from a form of it, including David Hockney, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Stevie Wonder and my favourite singer songwriter, John Mayer.

Does this mean Beev is destined for greater things?

Research has actually shown that as many as 1 in 200 people have some form of synesthesia and I would love to know if anyone following my page does.

Take a look at this word.

MONDAY

Is it blue, red, yellow, pink, or maybe another colour?