So you want to be a writer?

The number one thing I get when people find out I’m a published author is ‘I’m thinking about writing a book’.

I am always polite as I smile and wish them luck, but deep down I know that for most of them it is all talk and they have no idea what is involved in writing a novel.

That may sound harsh, but it is honest and anyone contemplating writing a book, read on because here are three truths that you need to take on board.

TO BE A WRITER YOU MUST WRITE

This is where most people fail. Penning a novel is an arduous task. To begin with you need a decent plot structure, one that will be interesting enough to appeal to your audience. You need to identify your genre and meticulously plot where your story is going, and you must create likeable characters who will undertake the journey with the reader, people who are fleshed out and easy to identify with.

Pad of Paper & Pen

Okay, so you have gotten this far, now you need the commitment to write. You need to be able to sit down at your computer and stare at a blank page and be able to put words on it – regularly.

This is where many start to make excuses. Fear of the blank page, writer’s block, not enough time to write regularly. If this is you and you’ve maybe penned the first couple of chapters over a few year period, chances are you may never finish it.

We are all busy and struggle to find free time due to family commitments or holding down a fulltime job to pay the bills and there may be times in our lives where it is truly impossible to find the time to write, but if you are really serious about penning a book you will need to stop saying ‘one day’ at some point. I work fulltime and have very demanding bosses. Most evenings I arrive home exhausted and with my brain only half functioning. I wrote Dead Write during my evenings and over weekends, setting myself a schedule and sticking to it. Yes it meant sacrificing 90% of my social life, but it was worth it to see the book finally completed and in print.

As for writer’s block, the only way to beat it is to write. Chances are the first few pages you churn out will be drivel, but so what? You’re writing. And the more you write the better and the easier it will become.

A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR IS A NECESSITY

It is scary how many people are arrogant enough to think they can write a book and edit it themselves. Once you have completed your manuscript you need to go through and do a rewrite, taking out irrelevant clutter and sharpening your work, but remember, you wrote this, so you will likely miss several errors in your story. That is why you need to hand it over to fresh eyes. And professional fresh eyes too.

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I have six beta readers (I call them my ’alphas’ because there is nothing beta about them) who are great for judging the story for readability, character likeability and picking up plot holes, but they are not professional editors, trained to pick up grammatical errors.

When I send my manuscripts off to my editor I always think they are perfect. ‘Ha, she’s not going to find any errors this time,’ I told myself after completing Dead Write. And then it came back with a lot of highlighted areas and notes in the side column and I huffed in frustration at all the silly mistakes I had made and reminded myself I’m not as great at grammar as I would like to be.

Ignore this advice at your peril. Yes you can publish a book that hasn’t been professionally edited, but it will show and it will never be taken as seriously as its counterparts.

PROMOTION IS KEY

Too many authors are of the opinion that once their book is written and published the hard work is done and they can sit back and watch the sales rack up.

No book is going to sell itself and if you want people to be aware of your novel’s existence then you need to spend time promoting it.

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By promoting, I don’t mean blatantly shoving it in people’s face, but you need to build a fan base and ideally you should do this well in advance of your book’s release.

Make sure you have a website and blog on this regularly. You should also set up a Facebook author page and get yourself on Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Google + and as many other sites as you can manage. Chances are you will only have time to dedicate regularly to a couple of these, so figure out what is working best for you and concentrate on it.

For me it’s my Facebook author page and I try to post to this on a daily basis. A few of my posts are suggesting people check out my books, but mostly they are humorous anecdotes, pictures or quotes, things I think will engage people and hopefully bring them back to my page.

Promotion really is vital and the harsh truth is, unless you are prepared to put in the effort you will sell very few books.

Inside a writer’s mind at her first book launch

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Thursday night saw the launch party for my second novel, Dead Write.

I never had a launch event for my first book, Dead Letter Day, so I was a little unsure of how I should set the format of the evening, as well as nervous as to whether anyone would actually show up.

Being a girl who likes her wine, I chose a city pub as my venue. I wanted the evening to be relaxed and fun, a chance for everyone to mingle, have a few drinks, maybe buy one of my books and eat cake.

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Yes, I went all Marie Antoinette and let my guests eat cake.

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These were courtesy of my great friend, Vanessa Hagg, of My Sweet Williams, who produced a fabulous giant chocolate fudge cake in the shape of my book, plus dozens of cupcakes.

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The day of the launch party arrived. I was excited and a little nervous. My publisher and Iceni Magazine were both going to be there to support me, as well as a few of my fellow authors. I had family travelling up from Suffolk who I hadn’t seen in years and lovely readers coming who had been engaging in my Facebook author page, but who I had not yet met.

And then there were the niggling doubts still there. What if none of them came? What if it was just me sat in the pub with a stack of books and enough cake to fill a bakery?

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And throughout the day as I sat in the hair salon having all those pesky grey bits covered up ahead of my big evening, the texts and email came, people sorry that they were unable to make my event due to illness or unforeseen circumstances. I had expected a few such messages, as I know there is a lot of sickness around at the moment. These things can’t be helped and I know many of those affected were genuinely disappointed they couldn’t come, but I hadn’t expected so many last day drop outs.

As my phone continued to bleep with apologies, I began to wonder if my niggling doubts would prove to be true and it would be a book launch flop.

Gulp!

So I arrived at the venue with my mother and my aunt. It was still packed out with after work drinkers as we carted in boxes of books, then Vanessa arrived and brought in the cakes. One drinker glanced across at our eateries before informing his pals ‘reckon they must be having a funeral party or something.’

Well, people do die in my books, so I guess he could have been right by a very big stretch of the imagination.

Eventually the pub cleared out and we were able to set up.

My mother glanced around at the small number of us and helpfully said in that wonderfully pessimistic way of hers, ‘Maybe this is it and no one else is coming. Oh well, your brother and sister should turn up later.’

Yup, thanks for that, Mum.

And then I spotted a couple of familiar faces and the shadow of doubt lifted slightly.

By the time the books were laid out and the cupcakes set up, the room was packed out.

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‘Yes.’ I thought silently. ‘Take that pessimistic mother.’

And from that moment on the evening passed in a bit of a blur.

I said a few words, thanked everyone for coming and for their support. I sold and signed books, people ate cake and a good time seemed to be had by all.

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For one evening I had glam hair, delectable cupcakes and a fantastic crowd of people celebrating the release of my second novel. I felt like the belle of the ball.

If only those same people could have seen me the next day, dressed in sweats with tousled hair and no make-up, washing dirty dishes, scooping up cat poop and taking out the trash.

Oh the heady life of the writer.

 

And I’m done, done, on to the next one

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Dead Write is on sale.

Months of writing, panicking the story wasn’t coming together, that my characters might come across as vacuous or unlikeable, that the twists wouldn’t be as clever as those in Dead Letter Day, editing, choosing covers, writing blurb for the cover (always more difficult, in my opinion, to do this than write the book) and now the anxious wait to see how it sells and find out if my readers enjoy it.

Early feedback seems to be positive from the few who have already finished the book, but there are still plenty more to go, and refreshing the Amazon page hoping to see that new reviews have appeared is like having skated in the Olympics and waiting for the judges scores. I quite like that analogy given my complete lack of poise, grace, rhythm, coordination and actual skating ability.

Now is the time for promotion. Trying to make people aware of Dead Write’s existence, and to give my novel a try, without forcing it down their throats and annoying them by relentlessly saying ‘buy my book, buy my book’. And all the while my mind is thinking ahead to the next story.

The most exciting part for me of writing a book is getting the words down on the page and feeling the novel start to take shape. Preceding this is usually several weeks of developing and plotting, hanging out with old characters and deciding what paths they are going to take, while meeting new ones and learning all about them.  And this is where I am at now.

Most of my days are spent with my characters and they are nearly in place. My dilemma now is building a story for them that will live up to the first two books.  I have so many ideas and have explored several different plotlines. None of them are quite right yet, but the story will come, and if you see me wandering around with a completely vacant look on my face, in a world of my own, I’m not ignoring you, I’m just very busy figuring things out.

Followers of my Facebook page, be prepared for many questions over the next few weeks as my dark and devious mind goes into overdrive.

 

Monday is Blog Tour Day

 

Today is Blog Tour Day, where authors talk about their writing process, and I have been invited to take part by my fellow Rethink Press New Novels Competition winner, James Ferron Anderson.

James won the overall best new novel prize for The River and The Sea, a tale of love and hate set in Canada in the early twentieth century. He is currently working on his new novel, Terminal City, and is also one of the judges for the Rethink Press New Novels 2014 Competition, which closes Friday.

Thank you to James for giving me this opportunity and if you would like to know more about his work, please follow him here. http://jamesferronanderson.com

So, today (well, technically tomorrow, since I’m sneaking in 50 minutes early due to work commitments) it is all about me, and here are my answers to the blog tour questions.

What am I working on?

I have recently completed the sequel to my award-winning thriller, Dead Letter Day, and am now working with my publisher on the edit ahead of the book’s release in March. Dead Write has been a challenge, albeit a very enjoyable one, as it falls into the category of ‘the second difficult book’ and has a lot to live up to. I hope my fans will find it as exciting a read as Dead Letter Day.

As well as editing, I am spending time working on a few new plot ideas. I am hoping to start the third book in the series shortly and may also release a couple of novellas in between.

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How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It would be arrogant to say my work differs from other thrillers when there are so many good books available to read, each offering something different. With my own writing I have tried to take all of the elements I like in a story – fast paced twisty plotline, interesting likeable characters and the right balance of humour and thrills. I am a fan of books you literally cannot put down, because you need to know what is going to happen next, and I try very hard to make sure the stories I write give the same experience to my readers.

The best advice I have ever been given is to ‘write stories you would want to read yourself, as if you’re not enjoying them, no one else is going to’. I can’t for the life of me remember who said those words, but they have stuck with me.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I enjoy it. I love telling stories and I’d still be doing it even if it was just for me. The fact other people want to read them and I now get paid to write is a huge bonus.

I have always loved well-crafted thrillers, both in book and on screen, and there was never another genre I wanted to write. Comedy would be the closest second, but although I enjoy reading them, I’ve never had the inclination to write a lighthearted book. It just doesn’t appeal. Having said that, there are definitely moments of humour to be found in both Dead Letter Day and Dead Write.

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How does your writing process work?

Usually I start with an acorn. It can be a tiny part of a plot or a nuance of a character. Gradually the story develops around the acorn in my head. I build on the plot, I flesh out my cast, figure out how who they are, what they look like and how they talk and act, and I have a lot of conversations with them.

Eventually, when I feel I have gotten to know everyone well enough I start to write. I don’t use storyboards, as I find them too clinical, and I prefer to work from a series of notes I’ve made along the way. Once my characters start to come alive in words, they tend to go off on their own tangent. I indulge them to a certain extent and while I start off with an A and a Z and a rough idea of how I am going to get from one to the other, I always end up with a few plot deviations along the way.

Next week on Blog Tour, talking about their own writing process, are three very talented authors I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past year.

Tara Ford

Tara is the new name in humorous contemporary women’s fiction and her first novel, Calling All Services was released in July 2013, garnering great reviews. The follow up book, Calling All Dentists is due for release shortly and I look forward to reading it.

Please find Tara’s website at http://taraford.weebly.com/

You can also follow her on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Tara.Ford.Author?fref=ts or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rata2e

Paul Beaumont

Having your debut novel shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize is a good way to make your entry into the publishing industry and that is just what happened to Paul Beaumont for his provocative and witty tale, A Brief Eternity.

Paul’s website is http://paulbeaumont.org/

And you can also follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/paulbeaumontauthor?fref=ts and Twitter https://twitter.com/beaumont_paul

CA Shilton

My final chosen author is CA Shilton, who took inspiration from Les Miserable for her first novel, Barricades. This clever story tells the tale of Javert, offering fresh insight into a complex character and, while it weaves in and out of Victor Hugo’s classic, it is a brilliant book in its own right.

Find CA Shilton’s blog page at http://www.barricadesat.blogspot.co.uk/ and her website at www.copsecornerbooks.org.uk

And you can follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BarricadesByCaShilton?fref=ts and Twitter at https://twitter.com/CAShilton1

 

 

Writing versus Social Media

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I have been very bad of late, ignoring my blog in order to work on my book.

For a while I tried to juggle both, wishing there were more hours in the day, but this took a toll on my writing and eventually I had to commit myself to finishing the novel, with my only social media coming in the form of brief Facebook posts on my author page.

As I hurtled towards the finishing line I even turned my back on Facebook and was reminded of the importance of daily interaction as I saw my ‘post reach’ tumble from the 1,200 down to just 500. I need to build this back up while editing Dead Write and also to start engaging on other sites, getting the word out about the new book, in order to give it the best chance possible.

It really is a chicken and egg situation and I know I am not alone, with every other author experiencing the same dilemma. Writing is the most important thing, right? This is your product and it is what you are trying to sell. It has to be good, the best work you can produce, and it takes time and concentration to get it right. But without social media, how will the finished article reach a wide audience? You may have written the best book in the world, but what is the point if no one knows about it?

I don’t regret the time spent working on Dead Write. It is currently with my test readers and the four who have finished it so far all think it is better than Dead Letter Day, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

So I will edit and send the manuscript off to my publisher, and I will become a social media whore for the next few months, trying to get my face and name everywhere. I played the game once before with moderate success and this time I want to spread the word wider, get my book on the map.

Love me or loathe me, expect to be hearing a lot more from me over the next few months.