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Top 5 Things Every Author Needs When They’re Starting Out

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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.

Writer friends

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.

Content

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.

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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!

 

 

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Travelling for Research – Is it just a holiday?

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?

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Top Five Places for a Cocktail in London

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

  1. Cahoots

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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9 Things I’ve Learnt by Writing 9 Books

I like number nine. It’s got something a bit sassy about it. Which is why I’m glad Cocktails and Dreams was my ninth book. I’ve written nine books in five years, and the more I think about that, the more insane it is. And I’m in a completely different place to where I was even a couple of years ago.

So I thought I’d take a few moments to reflect on what I’ve learnt:

  • No matter how many books you write, you are always going to have those moments where you are insanely certain that you are the worst writer in the history of the world.
  • It’s not enough to work on your craft, you’ve got to do your research on the industry – listen to podcasts, read the bookseller, keep an eye on what’s selling and what’s not.
  • Surround yourself with positive people – find your tribe. People who tear you down, who constantly try to one-up, brag about their work or trample your wins are not your friends. Not everyone will get ‘it’ and that’s okay. But the ones who try to understand, or support you even when they don’t understand, keep them close.
  • Don’t limit yourself – when it starts to feel stale, deviate, explore and play. No one writes the same book 40 times. You’re going to grow. The things you never thought you’d ever want to write, or be capable of writing, might just surprise you.
  • Know that you shouldn’t compare yourself to other writers. You’re going to do it anyway, but know that you shouldn’t.
  • Think bigger, and long term. Don’t be the fool who takes a thousand pound payout compared to a lifetime of trickling royalties. This is a career. Keep your rights, think about what you can do with them. Look after your pieces of the pie, don’t just sign the first contract that comes along.
  • Stay hungry. Dream big. It’s not a conveyor belt. Don’t do the same thing a hundred times. Learn new marketing techniques, try new things. Growing and changing as a writer is one thing. Growing and changing as your marketing exec is just as important.
  • Be a listener, a collaborator, a reader. Give to receive. Be part of the community. Don’t expect people to give a shit about your work when you don’t give a shit about them.
  • Think about value – think about what you’re offering to readers, not what they can offer you. So often we just consistently call for people to buy our books. Instead, think about what you’re offering them. Maybe it’s not just a good story. Maybe it’s a friendly interaction on Twitter, or a response to their review. Maybe it’s a blog post that might help a writer earlier on in their career.

 

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Adjusting your Goals for Growth…Or ‘Making Wishes for my Book Baby’

I have never asked a new mother if she’s done this, but I imagine I might:

I visualise a quiet, dark house, sitting cradling my baby, exhausted and overwhelmed. And I imagine making wishes for that baby. That they will be happy, and confident, and know they are loved. That they will grow up in a world that has an NHS, and acceptance, and creativity. That there will still be trees and parks and a way to grow up that doesn’t involve receiving some sort of Wi-Fi tracking chip in the back of the neck.

And I wonder if we make these wishes for everything we create. The things we bring to life, we wish them well as they make their way in the world, suddenly separate from us.

My ninth novel, Cocktails and Dreams, was released this week.

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For a long time, I didn’t have any goals for my books. Or rather, they were the same ones: maybe it’ll be a bestseller, maybe it’ll sell well and become a paperback and I’ll see it in WhSmiths when I’m at the airport and then I can be a full time writer and be a success!

Parents will tell you how dangerous it is to pin all your hopes and dreams on one kid. It’s not fair on them, and they don’t get to grow in their own way. And you know, obviously I realise books aren’t actually babies.

This book, I have set up as best I can in life – she had a wonderful editor, and a beautiful cover. She’s had a whole load of support from a publishing team. She’s got a blog tour, and people are starting to know who she is. I gave her my best, and I hope people like her.

But you can’t assume a book will be ‘the one’ any more than you can decide you’ve hit 35 and it’s about damn time ‘the one’ came along. Because sometimes there is no ‘one’.

So here’s what I wish for you, Cocktails and Dreams:

  • I hope people are fair in their criticisms, and you don’t get any one star Amazon reviews because people couldn’t open the document properly.
  • I hope you get 100 reviews, because that would be cool and you’d be more impressive than all your sisters.
  • I hope no one uses a gif on Goodreads to tell you how crap you are and that they hope your mother never writes again.
  • I hope you hang around the top hundred in the charts, because there’s some damn cool people hanging around that spot, and I will take loads of pictures of you hanging out with them.
  • I hope people are excited to meet your siblings, because book number nine will be joining you in February. Don’t get jealous now. I love you all equally.

 

 

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Narrative Therapy Techniques, and how they can improve your writing.

From the minute I started studying how creative writing could be therapeutic, I became interested in narrative therapy. It makes sense, right? Narrative is about the creation of a story, the order of events that leads us to a conclusion.

Narrative therapy is really useful at encouraging you to look at moments in your life in detail, considering why you picked that memory, why you used certain words and phrases, and what those choices might say about you. It’s also great for encouraging empathy, and opening up different ways of viewing a situation.

When I heard about narrative therapy, about activities like titling and organising the chapters of your autobiography, or putting different definitive events in your life in order, I became obsessed with the concept of truth.

Here’s the problem:

My father recalls sitting in the first row when I played Joseph in Joseph and The Technicolour Dreamcoat when I was nine, and he remembers that he was fifteen minutes late because he got stuck helping an old lady change her tyre on the A41. He remembers how proud of me he was.

But

I remember playing the angel in Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat, when I was eleven, because that was the same year Natalie moved away and I was left without a best friend for a few months. I remember he sat in the third row because I couldn’t see him at the beginning, and he was sat behind a lady with really big hair. I remember forgetting one of my lines and that my halo was crooked.

Who’s right? Who’s memory is correct?

Whilst it’s something I probably won’t get a clear answer to, with memories being so malleable and changeable, the truth isn’t really the point. People’s narratives say something about how they see themselves. The things we put into a story, and the things we leave out, define how we want to be seen. Some people define their narratives by places they’ve been, the bad things that have happened to them, the successes they’ve achieved. In this way, it’s almost a self fulfilling prophecy. If you ask me who I am, and I tell you three stories about how I’m a clumsy failure who keeps messing stuff up, I’m determining my narrative, and how you see me.

We create our own narratives. We create our world through detail.

In narrative therapy, adding these details is called thickening. It’s adding texture to a memory. So you might stand up at a wedding and tell a funny story about how Phil got lost in Amsterdam, but you’d skim the details, you’d keep in the funny stuff. You’d adapt it to your audience, and remove some of the details that were a little more morally ambiguous. However, if I asked you about getting lost in the shopping centre when you were five, you might simply say, ‘I remembered looking around for my mother and feeling really scared.’

A narrative therapist would ask for details to thicken the narrative, and access the memory. Where were you? How old were you? What shop were you in? Was it the first time you’d been lost? What were you wearing? What could you hear? What did you see? Who did you talk to? What happened, point by point, until the situation was resolved?

In writing novels and stories, narrative is often about pacing and movement – it’s about keeping the story going. It’s about structure. And yet, using thickening techniques can really add a fullness, add texture to your characters and your stories.

Do it now with your own memory – a moment you were disappointed, elated, running late, made a fool of yourself. You will remember a moment, but it’s when you search for the details, the context, that you start to remember more clearly, and get a fuller picture. Not only that, but what you’ve revealed in that moment will tell you something about yourself.

You might not want to do this directly in your writing. It doesn’t suit everyone’s style, and some readers don’t want all that detail. They just want to know your character was lost in the supermarket aged four, and how that relates to who they are now, and their actions. They might not want to know that it was a dark day in October, that she was wearing a red dress with white stars and that her mother had lost her three times already that month. That she knew the security guard by name, and that he had given her a pack of white chocolate buttons.

But they might want to know that. It’s visual. It’s real. And maybe it’s relevant, I don’t know, it’s your story. But this narrative thickening, these details and relentless questioning of a character’s memory and perspective can be really useful to you. Sometimes the writer needs to know these details, even if the reader doesn’t.

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Valuing alternative narratives: How to be a positive member of the writing community.

It’s the one thing that is asked time and again – ‘Tell us your journey to publication.’

Partly, we like the story of the author to be as interesting as the story they sell us. I always worried I was too boring to be an author. There was nothing tremendous or particularly special about me, except that I could spin stories on a page. I am not particularly adept at doing it in real life, or in conversation.

But the main reason we ask, is because we want to replicate the effect. We want to know the nitty gritty, the exact thing they did. Sometimes, an element of it will be relevant to us, but most of the time it won’t.

Another element is that we want to know that someone does things the same way we do. We want to be classified as traditional or indie, with agent or independent, plotter or pantser. We create boxes for ourselves, because all of us, at all stages of our journey, at one time or another, struggle with legitimacy.

We each want to be a ‘real’ author – so we look for the markers in others to determine what that means. Then we look to ‘successful’ authors to see what they’re doing.

The thing is, success looks different on everyone. And so does the route heading towards it. Back at the beginning of my journey, I would look at authors where I am now with envy. Now, I turn my head towards the next goals – higher sales, different defining factors of success.

What we need to remember, as members of this community, is that everyone’s story and journey is different, but that does not mean it is not as valid. Those with agents are not more talented, and may not necessarily achieve as much with an agent. Those in professional groups or with memberships and affiliations are not more professional than others. Those with traditional publishing deals are not necessarily at an advantage over those who self publish.

Each journey has its ups and downs, its forks in the roads, and if being part of this community has taught me anything, it’s been the comforting realisation that there is no one right way.

But this is a job where egos are delicate and fragile, where the dismissal of one author can shatter and break belief in your journey. Where being made to feel that if you don’t have an agent, a big name publisher, big sales, consistent income, five star reviews….you’re not doing well.

The thing to remember is your goals, and to stay in your lane. Define success for yourself, and with each book, aim to improve, and beat your own goals, rather than competing with other authors. You have a unique voice, and a unique story, and the best way to be part of the community is to share that without judgement, and celebrate others’ stories without judgement as well.

There is room enough for everyone who has a story to tell, and we are all doing brilliantly.

 

What is your favourite thing about the