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Same Same but Different: What to do when you’re sick of your genre.

Surely everyone’s had the thought at some point.

‘God, why is every thriller since Girl on the Train a ‘girl on the something’?’

‘Ugh, why is every chick lit book set in Cornwall this summer?’

‘Why do all the covers look the same?’

‘Why have they all got song titles?’

‘Why is there always bunting?’

Why doesn’t anything seem original any more?

 

I do not write ‘typical’ chick lit. There is not going to be a little house/cafe/cottage by the sea/beach/river. Nothing I write is adorable or sweet. Occasionally it’s heartfelt, and sometimes it’s sentimental. But most of the time, I like to think, it’s funny and it’s genuine.

I’m not saying none of these other chick lit books are, I’ve read a lot of them and they’re very good. What I’m wondering is why we all have to be marketed the same. When I look at the books that grip me and demand attention, they’re the ones that have been marketed to look different, to stand out. From some authors, the different and the unique is embraced. For others, we are encouraged to write ‘same, same but different.’ The tropes of the romantic genre must be met, and manoeuvred and there should be no surprises. X meets Y, include something marketable, create a cute location, throw in a wedding or an island holiday, give it a happy ending and wrap it up with a bow.

Now, no author wants their work made small in that way. No one wants to think this story they’re writing doesn’t have value. But I’ve lost faith in the market, a little. Perhaps because I’m following hundreds of authors and bloggers, so that every romance book this summer seems to have the same blue cover. Because every thriller says it’s the ‘next girl on the train’.

I was burnt out, basically. I was tired of writing stories that already seemed to be written. I wanted to write stories that tested me, that I could measure my craft by. I could easily spend the next ten years knocking out snarky women’s fiction, but I didn’t feel like I was growing. So I’ve decided to experiment.

When in doubt, play. As a kid writing stories, I didn’t let not knowing about something stop me. One week I’d be writing a Ten Kingdoms sequel, the next a story about two special agents working to defeat a government agenda. The week after that I wrote a story about a girl being afraid to start dating, and then one about two twins called Ruby and Sapphire, who each had psychic abilities and were recruited by MI5. In between, I wrote fanfiction for TV shows, and got myself a little following.

Now, most of these stories didn’t have legs. But the point was, I was unencumbered by fears of branding and marketing and having a name. I wrote because a story appealed and it was fun. I played with genre and expectations, and just let the story tell itself through my fingertips.

So I’m doing the same again. I dealt with feeling like a tiny fish in a huge pond of ‘same, same but different’ books and decided to write something different. This has of course, left me in a pickle. As I’m now writing a whole bunch of books at once. I’ve got my romantic comedies for Canelo (the first of which will be out on 24th July 2017), a darker Ruby Tuesday novella (Out sometime in September 2017) a magical realism book and a thriller under a pseudonym. I’m also quietly plotting a more serious women’s fiction book.

My ideas, before expanding my space and genre, were beginning to stagnate. I wasn’t excited by anything any more. Everything felt the same. Now I don’t feel the need to stay in my lane, I’m making greater progress.

So, when you’re feeling weary and blue, when you think you’re stagnating and unsure of what story to tell next, I would encourage you to remove your fences, your limitations and your fears. And just write for fun. The stories that need to be told have a way of making themselves known.

A L Michael(1)

How do you deal with a lack of ideas, and do you ever feel like all these books are starting to look the same?

 

 

 

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We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby: Acknowledging growth and success in an industry that makes you strive for more.

Facebook Timehop has helpfully informed me that on this day, three years ago, my first women’s fiction novel, The Last Word, was published. At the time, it felt like a huge deal, and something different for me. I kind of fell into being a chick lit writer – I’d planned to write terribly important literary fiction, in the tradition of UEA grads. That was the thing to do- write something gritty about the working class/drug abuse/quirks of rich people, and then I ended up writing something just for fun, for myself, and it launched a whole career for me.

I am currently in ‘Achieve’ mode – I have a three year plan, a ton of different projects I’m working on, and I’m expanding my scope. I’m learning as much as I can so that in 3 years I can (financially and creatively) say that I feel like a success, and that my life has balance.

What I didn’t think to do was to look back at the three years that got me here.A L MichaelEven in thinking how different my life was in 2014 has given me an appreciation for the hard work I’ve put in, how much I’ve achieved and how much writing can change your life. Before The Last Word, I didn’t have my writing buddies, I had no idea what a blog tour was, or Netgalley or how to market a book. I didn’t know anything about publishing and I in no way thought that I would have so many books in me. Looking back to see what got you here is invigorating – look how much I changed and how much I did when I was just muddling through! I didn’t have a plan, beyond ‘keep writing books, hopefully make more money.’ Now I have a plan! Who knows what life will look like in another three years time.I encourage you, whatever business you’re in, to look back at how your life was three years ago. What have you achieved, what have you changed, what is closer to making you happier, and what steps have taken you further from that? What have you been putting off, that you kept meaning to do in those three years? Travel somewhere, learn something? What is that goal that’s niggling in the back of your mind? Why didn’t you do it?Now, time to plan for the next three years. I was listening to a TED talk by Laura Vanderkam about time management (which you can watch here) and she said that most jobs will have a review period at the end of the year, or some families will send out a newsletter about what’s going on with them at the end of the year. She says to write that review, that newsletter now. Write those things you’ve achieved down before you’ve achieved them, and then put the steps to achieving them in the diary first.Looking back lets you prioritise – if you didn’t do that thing you wanted, then light a fire and get going. If you did more than expected – go you! Look how much you can achieve! Now, what are you going to do next, with this precious time you have?Be proud, make plans, reflect, and adjust your flight path if necessary. We’ve come a long way, baby. And we have so many places yet to go.

 

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The Bazillion Great Things about Having A Writing Support Network

When I was studying creative writing at university, it felt like a competition. There were only so many spaces out there, in the ‘literary world’ and every piece you wrote had to be the best. It had to be meaningful and exploratory and say something about life.

Well, you know what? I was eighteen. I had jack shit to say about life that someone hadn’t already said. I had limited life experience, and everything I wrote was obnoxious and self indulgent. But that was okay, because that’s what learning the craft was for. But no matter what, no matter if you wrote something for enjoyment, or wrote it to prove a point, if you were proud of it or hated it – someone would tear you down. Under the guise of constructive criticism and a ‘need to feedback’ (especially as you got marked for participation) someone would rip the shit out of the heart you wore on your sleeve.

And so I learnt not to talk about my writing. Not to share ideas, not to discuss it for fear of dismissal. The fact that I’m better on paper than in person adds to this fear – that ‘no honestly, it’s better than it sounds’ as noses turned upwards made me irritated and fearful. But you know what else it did? It made me write. It made me write without a need for someone else’s justifications or opinions. It made me write for me. It made me get a book done and dusted and published, because I didn’t let anyone else see it. I just did it.

And now, years later, I can see why people have writer friends. Because it’s not a competition any more, it’s a way to keep sane and motivated and happy and because it’s about people who get you. Writing is a super lonely business.

So here’s the things I love about my writer friends:

  • They will always make some noise on publication day, or any sort of event.
  • They get how infuriating it is to get those one star reviews that say ‘haven’t read it’ or ‘file didn’t open’ or ‘thought it was a different book.’
  • They get how elating it is to get a five star review where someone really loved what you did.
  • They get the lure and danger of social media, but the absolute need for it.
  • They are happy to answer questions, and are a fountain of knowledge. Issues with rights, don’t know how to promote, editor ignoring you? They’ve been there, they know what to do. And what not to do.
  • They know the hundreds of annoying things people do when you’re a writer (e.g Ask if you’re going to be the next JK Rowling; ask how much money you make; ask if you’re a ‘real’ writer; ask you to write their life story; ask you to come up with a story on the spot; pitch you an idea for an amazing book; comment that it must be so nice to have all that free time to write; explain that they’d write a book if they weren’t so busy).
  • They will make you LAUGH YOUR ARSE OFF about these things, because you realise they happen to everyone, and it’s a bloody funny old world.
  • They will make you realise you are not alone, and we’re all in this battle.
  • You will commiserate when things are awful, and you will feel proud of each other when amazing things happen.
  • You won’t feel jealous of their achievements, but their achievements will make you feel like your dreams are possible.
  • You will realise ‘writer’s bum’ is a thing, and that everyone is trying to find ways to burn calories at their desk and not reach for the chocolate hobnobs when times are tough.
  • You will realise that the drunken writer’s cliche has probably come from the ridiculous one star reviews and accidentally stumbling onto Goodreads – gin is often required.
  • They will share your rage when hateful reviewers use GIFs to animate the mean things they say about your work.
  • They will also wonder how someone can possibly have so much hate in their veins they need to animate their insults.
  • They will teach you to have a thicker skin, and laugh your arse off.
  • They will help you spot a mean review from a wannabe writer a mile off.
  • They will help you feel better about self promotion.
  • They will be there to discuss the important matters, not just Oxford commas and present tense first person narratives, not just ‘what’s the word for this?’ but representing minorities in writing, why there aren’t enough gay love stories and whether the world is ready for what you want to write.
  • They will make you a better writer and a more empathetic, thoughtful person.
  • Sometimes you will feel jealous and you will feel bad, and then they’ll be so lovely that you remember you’re not a terrible person.
  • When you’re balls to the wall against a deadline, you’re writing 5k words a day and it’s not coming fast enough and you’re sure it’s shit but you’ve got to get the book done…they’re there. With hilarious GIFS and cheerleading over the internet. And they GET IT. Because they’ve been there.
  • They will teach you all the things they learnt along the way. Sometimes you will feel like a newbie, and sometimes you will feel like a zen master, able to pass that knowledge along.
  • You will make mistakes. You will put a bad book out, or you’ll sign a bad contract, or the book won’t sell. And they won’t be there to say ‘I told you so.’ They’ll be there to help anyway they can, and share their stories of their own mistakes.
  • They will make you forget the horrible time you had with other obnoxious teenagers learning to write, because they are your colleagues, your friends and your support system.

 

So to my writing friends – THANK YOU. You keep me sane and motivated and calm. You are a fountain of knowledge and hilarity.

business

Dealing with the ‘Business’ Side of Being an Author: tips and tricks.

I know. We’re artists. Creatives. Imagineers in a world of drudgery and darkness.

But we still have to do our tax returns.

Being an author is a fine balance between the art-driven self, and the money-driven self. If you want to write for free, and just want to have a couple of people read your book, of course that’s fine. It doesn’t make you any less of an author. If, however, you’re one of what I assume is tens of thousands of us who would like to be able to write full time eventually, then it’s time to start thinking about the business side.

I’ve spent a few months doing research on this, as though I did an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, which made me thinking about funding streams, deal-making, self promotion and branding, it didn’t tell me much about the specifics of being a writer, and what that means. Sadly, neither did my writing degree. We focus on the art, but the business side needs a space.

So, here’s some points I found useful if you want to work your way towards making more money, writing full time or just feeling like you’re achieving more:

 

  • Register with the HMRC – if you’re making money from your books, however little, it’s worth registering straight away. After all, even if you’re just making pennies now, this time next year, you’ll be a millionaire (Rodney), won’t you? Keep any receipts for relevant writing-related spends, including things like printer ink, tech, books, promo costs, and any training/travel to training, and any journals or memberships. It’s costly being a writer. Think of all the pens.
  • Sign up for PLRif you have a book that’s currently out in the world, ebook or print, it might be in a library. Signing up for PLR means you get a little back whenever someone borrows your book. Now again, might be pennies to start with, but we’re setting up for long term success, aren’t we?
  • Join Amazon AssociatesA similar thing – when you share a link of your book on Amazon through your website or social media pages, you get a little back for recommending people come to Amazon, even if they don’t end up  buying your book, but buy something else. This also isn’t just for authors, so anyone can do it.
  • Get your branding house in order – Don’t like social media? Tough luck I’m afraid. If you’re an author hoping to sell some books, research has shown Facebook ads are the way to go. Make sure you have everything you need for people to know who you are, and find your books easily – a website/blog, a Facebook author page, a Twitter handle, and anything else you want. Research is still being done as to whether making boards on Pinterest, sharing images on Instagram, sharing videos on Youtube or making book playlists on Spotify will help sell books, but it will help give your readers a sense of who you are and what you do. Find the things you enjoy, and make them a way of selling who you are. It also helps with the next point…
  • Find your tribe– your fans are out there. So find them. Call out for them! Offer prizes and goodies, ask what they’d like to see in your next book, ask how they want to be advertised to, or how they choose which books to read. Your existing fans are your greatest insight to what you’re doing well, and what you’re not. Author and marketing specialist Mark Dawson has offered some great advice about how he gets his books out there, sending non-finalised copies to an Advance Reader Team of fans, who will come back to him with criticism. When he felt unsure about an ending, it was his readers who agreed with him, and encouraged him to rewrite a more satisfying ending. The result? 200 people who felt valued as readers and fans, and who immediately gave a good review on publication day. You can hear more about this on the podcast Self Publishing Formula and on Joanna Penn’s interview with Mark on The Creative Penn podcast. (Both of these are invaluable resources, even if you’re traditionally published).

What does success look like to you_

The most important factor that I keep coming back to, and was the same thing I learnt doing my creative business degree is – define what success means to you.

My idea of success has changed over the years. At first it was ‘write a book’, then it was ‘get a book published’, then it was ‘get some reviews.’ Whilst I did manage to survive as a full time writer for a couple of years, supplementing my income with workshops, classes and tutoring, I am aiming for a life where I don’t have to do that. Now, that might not be achievable until I’m a few years off retirement, but luckily, writing is something you can do for the rest of your life, if you enjoy it.

Success for me looks like over a hundred reviews on this new book, a lot of promo, noise and visibility on this new series, getting an agent, and in the next two years, being able to go down to four days a week at work. This job is a long term goal. You build a backlist, you build fans, a readership, a writing community. These do not come the minute your book goes live, or is placed on shop shelves. And my biggest mistake has been in not collecting that data, recording my fans, getting a subscription newsletter up and running, or a street team. I’m working on those things now (if you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, please do) as well as experimenting with different types of social media, exploring promotional tools I’d never thought of.

So, what does success look like to you, and which tools would you recommend for the ‘business’ side of being a writer?

 

 

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Writing and Jealousy: A natural marriage?

I am a fairly zen person. I do yoga, practice mindfulness, try to treat people with respect, and I regard jealousy as a negative, and pointless, emotion.

But being a writer is a job unlike most others, and it’s easy to see the success of other writers in your genre, or in your area and think ‘Goodness, I wish I had that’ or even, ‘Hey, why the hell don’t I have that?’

That doesn’t mean you are denying these other writers their good luck or the rewards of their hard work, but where in other careers there is a clear path to the top, the rungs of promotion and targets, writing doesn’t have that.

A debut author with no blog, no concept of blog tours or social media and no fanbase can get to the top of the charts. An author with more friends than you might get more reviews, so that the system feels skewed.

When you’re down, when the words aren’t flowing and the sales aren’t coming in, these things can feel unfair. And it is easy to dwell on this unfairness. Because, for all that writing is a wonderful community of friendly, creative people, connecting online and sharing their knowledge, social media shows us how much of a rat race writing is. Absolutely everyone seems to have written a book, to be vying for a top Amazon spot, to be tracking their metadata and using titles and covers that seem similar to previous bestsellers. Because writing is a business. And if you’re going to act as a business person when it comes to your writing, then you have to accept that sometimes you ARE going to want what someone else has, you ARE going to feel like you’re more deserving, or have worked harder, and finally, you’re going to have to accept, that business, like life, is unfair.

The confusing thing about writing is that so much of it is about community and friendship, and yet it's a business. You will compare your success to that of your colleagues, and sometime

 

But, this does not mean you are destined to be a jealous, embittered writer who never feels like they get the breaks they deserve. It means you have to start looking at your work like a business if you want those results.

  • Quantify your goals (how many books do you want to sell, what ranking do you want to reach, how many books do you want to bring out in the next few years?)
  • Ensure your goals are realistic (you are not going to win the Man Booker Prize for your romantic comedy, but if prizes are important to you, look and see what’s around).
  • Assess your weaknesses and create an action plan (Need more reviews? Want a longer blog tour? Want to merchandise? Want to get involved in the local community?)
  • If other writers are achieving the things you want, ask them how they did it! Turn jealousy into motivation!
  • Keep writing the things that make you happy, and make you proud. Slipping into a genre you don’t care about, and writing inauthentically and without heart, just to make a few bucks, is not good for your brand or your soul. If writing is a business, it should also be a joy.

 

I would also suggest assessing what your personal success story looks like – how do you define success for you and your books? Everyone always holds up the big names as examples of success, but it’s the writers bringing out content, writing great books and managing to survive who really impress me.

My personal goals:

  • Take a writing class/go on a retreat. I’ve been running workshops for so long it would be nice not to be responsible, and just enjoy someone else leading it. Also, I see this as a craft, and you have to practice your craft.
  • Talk to people about what I want from my books, and how to get it. If I want to write a book that is turned into a movie, what do I need for that? It’s all very well yelling into the Twitterverse that I want someone to take on my books, but what about learning to write a book that would be easy to adapt for screen?
  • Get an agent to tell me how to do a lot of this, and fight my corner. Currently working on a book for this, but so many books to write, so little time.
  • Be engaged as a writer more prominently in my local community. Whether this means running things, building relationships, joining a writing group…

 

What do you think about the place of jealousy – do you ever get jealous of other writers? What are your goals for success, and do you have any tips for other writers to manage their expectations or reach their goals?

 

Also, in case you missed the news earlier in the week, I’m excited to announce I’ll be writing three books for Canelo, The Martini Club series, with the first book out in the summer to be Cocktails and Dreams. I’m also running a Writing for Wellbeing workshop in Watford Waterstones, FOR FREE, on Thursday 27th April at 6pm.

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10 Responses to Receiving Structural Edits on Your Books

I think it was in Plato’s Republic where he said the best person to be in power was the person who didn’t want to be? Writing a book is a bit like that. The people who make good writers, the ones who write with instinct and heart and certainty, who forge ahead through doubts and make sure the damn thing is written…well, they’re probably the least likely to respond well to edits.

Our job is literally to get feedback on this thing we put pieces of our soul into. And then we take that constructive criticism, and put more soul. And then we send it out into the world, where people can either tell us it made a difference to their day, or add us to lists on Goodreads entitled ‘This Author Must Die.’ (Yeah, apparently a thing – don’t people just suck?)

Every author knows the edits pain – it’ll pop up on Twitter ‘Disappearing into edit mode’ ‘Dealing with these edits’, ‘Preparing myself for edits.’

I think edits are great. It’s a wonderful thing to be given feedback from someone who not only knows good stories, but knows how to sell them. Taking out a character, changing a name, adapting the structure, these things are not always about good writing, but are about making something sell, making it fit the market, and genre and exceed expectations. And I am so grateful for that chance to receive that insider knowledge.

But receiving edits can be fraught, and full of emotion.

So I present to you, 10 thoughts authors have when dealing with edits:

  1. Yes! Yes! I KNEW THAT! I freaking knew I should have gotten rid of that dog, he must be like a hundred years old by the end of the story.
  2. These are going to make the book AMAZING. How AWESOME is this story going to be?!
  3.  Ugh, why am I such an idiot who needed this many edits. I must be so awful.
  4. This is going to take forever. Where is the chocolate?
  5. But…but I LOVE that character/scene/paragraph. I know it adds absolutely nothing to the story but I LOVE IT. Goodbye, sweet darling. I loved you.
  6. Nope. Nope. In the name of artistic integrity, I am NOT adding that scene.
  7. …Oh crap, I really need to add that scene.
  8. Wait, I said my character was 8 years old in 1996, but if he was driving, and his mother…did his mother have him aged 11? How did I do this?
  9. I am THE WORST. Why did I think I could do this?
  10.  DONE. YES! Please, please, PLEASE, let there not be another round of edits. I can’t even BE IN THE SAME ROOM as this manuscript anymore.

 

 

And these aren’t even the line edits, where you will spend ten minutes wondering if something is meant to be hyphenated and end up staring into space all ‘WUT R WORDZ?’

Editing is a necessary part of the craft, and I would encourage you to engage in them fully, take on criticism, and acknowledge your moments of resistance. Is that intuition, loss or ego talking? Sometimes I don’t want to give up things just because they’re mine and I’m stubborn. Sometimes, a suggestion sparks a hundred more and I can’t wait to get fixing.

And sometimes, when you should be diving into your edits, you write a blog post about it instead.

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Guest Post: The Friends to Lovers Trope in Romance Novels – Darcie Boleyn

Today I’m excited to welcome the fabulous Darice Boleyn to my blog. Darcie has written a great many wonderful romance books, and her novel Something Old, Something New was one of my favourite reads last year. Her writing is warm, funny and honest, and I’m really excited to hear about what she’s working on next!

 

I’m currently writing a story that features the good old friends to lovers trope. It’s one I’ve used before and one I’ll no doubt use again.

As I was writing this morning, I asked myself:

Why do I like this particular trope?

Why is it a favourite amongst readers and writers of romance?

The main characters in my current story have been friends since school. They grew up together and liked and admired each other. But… they never got together. They almost did. They certainly knew that they cared about each other, but there were several reasons why it never actually happened for them. This is part of the layering of the story and I really enjoy this element of the creative process.

In the friends to lovers trope, there might always have been a spark between the characters, perhaps they even shared a kiss, but when they meet up years later—as my hero and heroine do—that spark becomes a roaring flame. It’s a form of Wow! You’re all grown up now and I like you even more than before!

But there must be conflict, otherwise the story would be over and done with far too quickly and where’s the fun in that?

The hero and heroine need to have a common past, however long or short that is, but there must still be things for them to discover about each other. If they’ve been apart and been through different experiences, this can enhance the journey for the reader. Perhaps they’ve been hurt by the loss of a loved one, shunned by a loved one, or even society, and this makes them doubt themselves.

Whatever happens, this lovely trope gives an author plenty to work with, as well as plenty of challenges.

As I plot then write, I constantly ask myself:

What does this mean for my hero / heroine?
How has it shaped their journey to this particular time and place?
At what point will they change / see things differently / re-evaluate what it is they want?
What will hold them back and create the ultimate emotional ‘black moment’?

The important thing about friends to lovers stories, is that the relationship needs to be built on more than just physical attraction. The characters might always have been aware that the other is attractive, but something got in the way – whether it was the importance they placed on their friendship, the fear of rejection (perhaps one of them didn’t feel the same, or they were both unaware of the other’s feelings) or there could have been a third party in the friendship, creating a kind of love triangle complication. But when the hero and heroine eventually get together, a shared past means that their whole relationship deepens.

So to summarise:

There should be tension and layered conflict.
There should be a lot to lose, otherwise the hero and heroine might get together too easily.
There should be depth to the relationship and to their shared past.
But ultimately, they have to be prepared to take the risk to lose it all… because if they get together and it goes wrong, then their friendship is on the line.

Then there’s the Happy Ever After.

Predictable? Maybe. Desirable? Certainly. Achieved through different journeys? Of course.

And that’s why us romance readers keep coming back for more.

To make it even more interesting, tropes can always be blended together, so, as an example, you could mix friends to lovers with secret baby, widower and fake engagement. There are many possibilities…

What are your favourite tropes and why?

 

You can check out Darcie’s books HERE (and you should!)