As many of you might have guessed, it’s time for Mia’s story (though you’ll still see a bit of Savvy here and there too!):
2017 has been a strange year – on a personal and professional level, it’s been a triumph for me. On a political and wider world level, I’ve spent most of the year wanting to bang my head against a wall. These two things are not unconnected.
Writers work best when we have something to say, and whilst my books are by no means searing political commentaries, they are a way for me to work out my snarkiness, focus on human interactions and (shocker) give everyone a fairly happy ending.
We need a little light relief in our lives these days. We need books that make you laugh and cringe and smile and sigh. We need books about food, books we can enjoy with a glass of wine, books we chat about at book clubs, hand over to our friends, dog earred and devoured.
This year I have been outraged, screamed, cried, pulled at my hair. I’ve had more arguments with people about the future of our country, about my heritage, about our place in the world. I have become more ballsy, and inversely, more anxious. I have doubted myself, felt sick at the arguments, felt my cheeks redden and my stomach clench. I have been obnoxious and sincere and desperate.
That is starting to be an element of my personality, I fear, this awkward little voice telling me I’ve done something wrong. But that’s okay, everyone learns which voices are intuition and which are anxiety. The wolf you feed is the one that wins, after all.
And yet, this flash of real world has not damaged my insatiable belief that I am meant to be writing. In fact, this year, I’ve smashed my own targets, pushed my limits and done things I wasn’t sure I could do (that little voice has learnt, professionally at least, to fuck off):
- I signed on to write a three book foodie series with Canelo.
- I wrote a domestic noir thriller under a different name (in a month!).
- I wrote a Ruby Tuesday novella.
- I ran workshops locally.
- I got a day job where I get to be a professional writer.
- I committed to learning as much as possible about writing, through self publishing podcasts, TED talks and marketing books.
- I got signed by an agent.
- I had an article published on The Creative Penn’s website. (I’m a total fangirl)
- I passed my MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes.So what’s next?
Well, I’m hoping 2018 will be less of a political shit storm. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep chugging along and pushing more boundaries:
- Writing a book for my agent
- Writing the third in the Martini Club series
- Giving a talk on my creative process at a lit fest (will be working on my public speaking!)
- Aiming for paperback
- Making the most of my rights
- Looking into running a summer writing retreat
- Possibly giving a talk on my MSc research (eep, again with the public speaking
What are you proud of having achieved this year? How are you challenging yourself next year? Be loud and proud about your goals – they might not always happen at once, but if you keep the dream alive and keep your focus, they get closer. And then there’s always another dream.
I’m so excited to have my lovely friend Annie Lyons on the blog today. Annie wrote one of my favourite books of 2017 (which will incidentally be featured in that post next week) The Choir on Hope Street.
It is just so uplifting, life-affirming and funny. I’ve read every one of Annie’s books and she only gets better. This book absolutely made me want to sing!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing more joyously rewarding than singing in a choir. I have been the proud member of my beloved Churchfields Community Choir for nearly three years and can honestly say that singing with them has brought me levels of happiness that I hadn’t experienced since I wore out the cassette reel on my treasured Adam and the Ants Prince Charming album in the early eighties.
When I wrote The Choir on Hope Street, I wanted to convey this happiness – this love for music and singing. I wanted to show the sheer joy you can feel as you channel your inner Carole King or Rihanna – as the real world melts away and for a blissful moment, hearts rule heads and music does its awesome thing.
Of course it’s tricky to convey all this in a book cover but I am delighted to reveal today that those clever people at HQ have done just that with this brand new beauty of an eBook cover.
So, stick on your favourite tune (I recommend Crazy in Love by Beyoncé for this particular moment) and feast your peepers on this!
Gorgeous or what?
If you’ve already enjoyed The Choir on Hope Street, you are also already one of my favourites. If not, you can find out more about the story by following this handy link.
I absolutely loved this book, and some choice friends and family members will be getting the paperback as Christmas presents – share the love, raise your voice and get singing about this book. It’s a winner!
It was my birthday this weekend – and just before, it had been a day of much bookish chat, possibility and relief. Exciting things are happening, and I’ll keep you posted as soon as I know anything. But the reason I’m mentioning this is that I was chatting with someone who was just starting out on a really exciting project, and he said he was writing just because he enjoyed it.
When was the last time you did that? Wrote for fun? When it wasn’t for a pitch, or you planned for it to be a novel, or you’d worked out that you were going to self publish? When was the last time you removed all of the expectation of that story, and just let it tell itself?
Ironically, ego is the greatest barrier to creating something you’re proud of. Because you’re obsessed with writing something worthy, something important, and special. And that’s hard! Because you’ve built it up in your head. Who on earth can manage to work efficiently on a project whilst thinking ‘this is going to be really important’?
I’m not against wanting to create a work of art or being dedicated to perfection, but you know yourself better than anyone, and writing, like most creative pursuits, is about vulnerability – so ask yourself, why does the thing you’re writing need to be important? Why does it need to defend your desire to write?
And whilst you’re asking yourself questions, what about these:
Would you still write if no one read or liked what you wrote?
Would you still write if what you wrote was not important, but just fun, or entertaining?
Would you write if you got bad reviews?
What happens if you write something that isn’t important?
What is the worst thing that someone could say about your books?
Is there anything that could stop you from writing?
People write for a hundred different reasons – because it makes them feel good, because it’s fun, because it’s therapeutic, because it’s the easiest way for them to communicate, because they want to be heard…no matter what your reason is, let it come from love and passion, not ego. Ego doesn’t create good writing, it creates inauthenticity.
Find your reason, and enjoy the process. Writing is a gift- don’t waste it worrying on being the best.
One of the most wonderful things about this industry is the flurry of new authors who enter the fold each month and year – people realising their dreams and making their stories into a reality. But whether they’re planning to self publish or debuting with a publisher, some have no idea of the resources they need to make their book a success. Often, a debut author isn’t necessarily a blogger or part of the online book fan community already, meaning they don’t know about netgalley, blog tours or all the elements that become standard when you’ve been doing it a while.
So here are 5 things you absolutely need when publishing a book:
A decent website
Ideally, get your website up before your book is out. You can do it yourself cheaply and with very little effort, using pre-created templates on WordPress or Wix. I’d recommend looking at websites of authors you want to be like – focus on your theme and genre, and match that accordingly. Down the line you might want something more professional, but until you establish a brand, you just need to take up space. Even a basic website is better than having no web presence at all.
A social media stream
A lot of people come to writing with old fashioned ideals – they don’t read ebooks, they expect their first deal to put their paperbacks in Waterstones, and they don’t do social media.
In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: ‘Big mistake. Huge.’
Almost 40% of book lovers, when asked their reasons for buying a book, felt they had some sort of online relationship with them. Whether that’s as bloggers, seeing adverts online or getting a ‘thank you’ tweet for reviewing the author’s last book, social media exists to form relationships with your audience. It’s a massive way to reach people. It also offers opportunities – my ‘big break’ was through finding a call for submissions on Twitter. Social media showed me how many publishers and agents were out there, it helped me get a sense of what they wanted. Watching things like pitching through hashtags, or agents giving their wishlists, it gave me an insight into the industry, and helped me create friendships with other supportive authors. Whichever social media stream you choose – enjoy it, use it to learn about and interact with other authors, show support and get conversing. Your readers care who you are, so show them.
Get yourself a writer posse – maybe it’s other writers with your publisher, or groups of self publisher writers, or a local group. Whether it’s an online group with friends halfway across the world, or people who are down the road – you’re going to need a support system. One’s who know what the joy of that first great review, and know the perfect thing to say when the bad reviews come (and they will always come). Find a group who can answer your questions, and share their knowledge and be there to celebrate with you. Having people who know just how painful that second round of edits can be, or to remind you that you’re not crap halfway through a first draft makes the whole thing more enjoyable.
Part three of the trifecta of website and social media is having things to say. Any writer who thinks their job is done when their book is written does not know what it means to be an author. Your job starts after the book is done. You’ll write more blog posts than you ever thought possible, about your process, your characters, your goals. You’ll write top tens, and create spotify playlists and do everything you can to share about your book. Channel that love for writing into your blog posts and share your excitement.
Be a reader
The old way of reading used to feel impersonal – an author could write something that would touch you, and yet you’d have no interaction with them, beyond paying for their book. You might read about them, or hear an interview, or recommend their book, but that’s it. Now, the reading world is so much bigger than that. You can interact with authors, talk to them, and influence their sales. As an author, you’ll know how much one review, one retweet, one fan saying how much they’ve loved your books means. Make sure you do that for other authors. Read their books, and be part of the community. And find your own rules for sharing feedback – think about how it makes you feel, and how true to yourself you need to be.
Personally, I follow a ‘nothing nice to say, say nothing at all’ policy. If I don’t like a book, I don’t review it. You’ll find your own way, but please PLEASE just think of how it feels to create something and have someone else shit on it. If something isn’t for you, that’s cool, but please don’t tag an author on Twitter telling them how crap it was. We’re a delicate community, and you’ll need other authors on your side.
I remember how terrifying it was starting out, how it was a completely different world. So I’m creating a resources sheet for authors, including things to remember when setting up a blog tour, stock image sources, and how to consider all different promotional forms. A comprehensive checklist of everything you need if you’re wanting to promote your work. If you’d like to receive my resources list, sign up for my newsletter here. And if there’s anything you really want to see on the resources list, put it in the comments!
In my work as a content writer, being able to write about things just relying on research, scrolling through websites, mining forums for information, is necessary.
But writing for books is slightly different, as I found on when I started writing book 2 in the martini club series. All the previous books that I’ve set abroad have been based on places I’ve already visited. Finding out about Ischia, the island Prosecco and Promises is set on, was easy enough using the internet (how did anyone manage to research before the internet?!). However, whilst I could find out practical questions – where does the ferry come into, how many bars are on the strip, what’s the beach like – the questions I needed to know were the ones that would build a believable, wonderful world in a book. The things I love to know – what does the air smell like, who lives there, what do they have to say about it? What does the ocean sound like standing at the port, the feet on cobblestones, the voices in the square? Is there music? Is it sleepy, quiet, comfortable?
I’ve realised the thing that makes me a storyteller is the fact that I’m curious. Or nosey. Take your pick. I want to collect up stranger’s stories and put them down in pen. The way the waiter winks as you walk past, the story the receptionist is telling her friend at the hotel, the American tourists who tell you about the gardens they visited yesterday, how the birds sang and the marble shone in the sunlight?
Those, to me, are the things that make a book sing. I should probably be more concerned about whether there was car parking at the port, or how long the flight is, or if there’s a particular type of shop in the promenade. But it’s the human stories that draw me to a place.
So I’ll be in Italy this week, and I’m excited to really add that vibrancy and life of the island to the book, as well as supporting the industries on Ischia, after the earthquake they suffered a couple of weeks ago.
How do you feel about on-site research? Do you think it’s necessary, or can you make do without? Do you write about places you’ve been to?
So, writing Cocktails and Dreams meant a lot of research *cough*drinking*cough.
And now, I’m glad that I did that research. Partly because I don’t have to drink any more cocktails for a while, but also because I can now bring you…
A L Michael’s Official Best Cocktails in London List
This is one of my favourite places ever. Underneath Kingly Court, I think I’ve walked past it so many times. It’s hidden away, and when you arrive you need to ask for the captain. It’s a lot of ‘what ho’s and vintage gorgeousness. The snacks are all wartime nostalgia treats – fishfinger sandwich anyone?- and the drinks are named after film stars. I can’t wait to go back for one of their swing nights.
2. Tonight, Josephine
I went here to celebrate the launch of Cocktails and Dreams, and I couldn’t have picked a better place. Neon, snappy cocktails and a white and black checked floor, along with a mirrored ceiling – it’s vampy, friendly and the cocktails are interesting. The only thing that could improve it is bar snacks.
3. Radio Rooftop Bar
Definitely one for the summer. Beautiful views, beautiful people, and some damn trippy dark mirrored bathrooms. Typical London prices, but there’s nowhere better to laze on a rooftop.
4. The Ivy City Garden
Just outside Liverpool Street is an oasis, but inside. Lots of leafy plants, funky pictures of animals and some effin’ delicious cocktails. All very classy and classic with a twist of fun and flirty. Plus, the food is amazing.
5. The Alchemist
Can’t leave The Alchemist off the list. It’s an unbelievable mixologist’s dream. I love a theme, and The Alchemist follows through with the science-y vibe. The cocktail menu is a periodic table, and everything is designed to delight and surprise, from the drinks served in test tubes and conicals, to the ones that change colour halfway through drinking them. Makes you clap and cheer like a child.