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.

Stumbling across a new story

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As part of my plan to stop being the laziest person on the planet, I have embraced spring and tried to get my butt outside for a walk and some fresh air as often as possible.

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I have always appreciated the little things, such as the chirping birds, the blossom on the trees, spring flowers and the scent of fresh cut grass and I try to make sure I have my camera or phone on me to capture a few shots.

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Last weekend’s wander wasn’t the most picturesque, but we did stumble across what I believe is an old part of the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum. It is currently standing in a derelict state and from the signs up around the grounds work will soon commence to convert the building either into flats or office space.

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Of course it had my writer’s imagination running wild. What terrible tales could take place within the walls? I have the pictures and will return to them at some point to craft a story.

Watch this space.

Writing Highs – And why you should enter the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014

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It has been just over a year since I learnt I had won a package with Rethink Press to have my novel, Dead Letter Day, published and as I edit the sequel I am taking a moment to reflect back over the highs of the last twelve months.

Writing can be difficult. Depending on the day, staring at the blank page can be either terrifying or exhilarating. The story is in your head, but finding the right words to put it down on paper so other people can enjoy it can be challenging. You have to breathe life into characters, write believable dialogue and create realistic, but interesting scenarios that will make a reader want to turn the page.

To any aspiring writers and certainly anyone toying with entering the Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014, let me share with you why persevering was worth it for me.

1/ There is no greater high than having someone read your book and then take the time to tell you how much they enjoyed it. I honestly had no idea how Dead Letter Day was going to be received, but the response was amazing and I have dozens of emails from people I have never met telling me how they were kept up most of the night unable to put the book down.  Several of these lovely people have continued to engage regularly through my Facebook Author Page, as they wait for the sequel, and I am so grateful for their support. I was also invited to talk to two book clubs – a surreal experience listening to the members discussing and dissecting my story, but also very rewarding – and both clubs are keen to invite me back once they have read the sequel.

2/ I never expected to get a good critical reception to Dead Letter Day. I always believed professional critics to favour literature over popular fiction; therefore I read the reviews of my book in the local press with trepidation. I honestly couldn’t have asked for better write ups and these helped restore my confidence and belief that I am good enough to do this writing lark.

3/ Holding the hard copy of your book for the first time is a feeling you will never forget. All the years of hard work, rejection and periods of self-doubt are sitting there in your hand. Dead Letter Day looked fantastic thanks to the folks at Rethink who designed a slick, classy and striking cover and seeing it sitting on the shelf in Jarrold Book Department alongside established authors such as Dan Brown and Mark Billingham just about blew me away.

4/ Finally, I turn to the Amazon sales ranking. Dead Letter Day spent much of the first month or so inside the top 5,000, which when you consider the millions of books on sale means it was doing pretty well. But the ultimate high came about three months after the release when a surge in sales saw it almost break into the top 1,000. The geek in me had to capture a screenshot to remember the moment.

Two months before I learnt of the Rethink Press New Novels Competition, I was sitting in a dead end job with a bleak future. I had taken so many knockbacks with my writing I had thrown in the towel, concluding I just wasn’t good enough. If this is you, do not give up on your dreams. Yes, I still have to do a dead end job, but winning has restored my faith in my writing ability and I know I have a future in this industry. I have just completed my new novel, working my butt off putting in ridiculously long days, but it has been worth every minute.

No I have not become an overnight success, but let’s be honest, how many people do? What I do have is the belief and the determination, and now the foundations to build on the opportunity I was given. And if you enter and your book wins, you could have this too.

For more details about the competition, please follow this link.  http://rethinkpress.com/new-novels-competition-2014/

Good luck to all of the entrants.