writing tips

Balance and Control in Publication

It’s the first thing anyone an author will say when you ask why they’re self publishing:

I’m in control of my book, every element of it.

Now, that can sound controlling, paranoid or just like a hell of a lot of work. When you think about the things outside of writing a book, that are just as important, like the editing, the promotion, the cover, the blurb, the reviews, the pricing and the long term plan for a book, it can seem daunting.

I’ve never thought I’d be able to do my books justice. I struggle as it is to write and work and study.

But there is something terrifying about leaving your book at the mercy of others, letting the cover, the angle, the promotion and the pricing be decided by someone else, whether they’re a specialist or it’s the market that determines how it’s seen.

The truth is, your book is never going to be more important to anyone than you. For you, it’s a piece of yourself, a piece of your truth, whether it’s a silly story or a saga you spent years perfecting – it’s yours. And the idea that it might been seen in a way you don’t want it to be, can be painful.

However, at some point, you have to give up the control any way. The minute those words are released into the world, the minute someone picks it up and starts the first sentence, you have no control. The control you had as a writer is done the minute the final draft is finished. The control you have as a publicist is to ensure your book is defined correctly, that the cover isn’t misleading and that you keep the conversation going.

This summer, I’m running workshops at Larmertree Festival in Wiltshire. This will be my sixth year with them, and along with my writing for wellbeing, I’m going to be running a ‘Writing for Publication’ class. This will be focussing on defining your work, branding and owning that branding. Deciding who you’re writing for and what you want to say. But as a dear friend and excellent writer said recently, “I want to work with writers who love what they’re writing.” So publication can’t always be the main goal. It’s got to be a labour of love, to an extent.

That’s how I feel about my latest book, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday. It will be released on Friday, and then I’ll have to let it go, out into the ether to make its own destiny, create it’s own history. Perhaps, it will achieve greatness, or perhaps it will sink into the depths of thousands of other books being released this week, month or year – ignored and destined to sit sweetly on an Amazon page. And after it’s out there, all I can do is talk about it, tweet about it, and wish my baby well. There’s a grief and anxiety in that, like not fully preparing your child before they go off to uni.

But most of all, I’m excited to introduce you to Ruby. This is my favourite story, and I’m so glad I get to write two more books in the series, and hang around my fictional friends a while longer!

Keep an eye out on twitter over the next few weeks using the hashtags #goodbyerubytuesday and #houseoncamdensquare and stay tuned for news of a London launch next month!

And to all the writers out there: how much control do you want over your book?

 

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday

 

 

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Things I didn’t know before I became an E-Book Author

I had a book published by a small indie press before I got my ebook deal with Carina. I had no idea about marketing, beyond making posters and quietly asking if people would maybe-sorta-like to buy my book.

 

Ebooks have opened up a whole new dimension to the writing community and the engagement with readers, and it’s an amazing world!

 

Net galley– Your book is listed so that reviewers/librarians/bloggers can get an advanced free copy in order to spread the word!

Book reviewers- There are readers out there who are passionate about reviewing, and if you find the right people, they’re happy to give you a chance! A lot of them find you through netgalley, or some have submission pages on their websites. Twitter is a great resource for finding reviewers.

The amount of different book buying siteswe know about Amazon and kindle, but Kobo, nook, Itunes book library, Barnes and Noble, international sites, there are so many places to sell!

Support of other authors- either through twitter, or knowing some of the other authors on your imprint, or just other people you enjoy working with. Knowing others are going through the same thing, same writing issues, or knowing they’re writing away at the same time as you, all of that makes for an inspiring and supportive network!

Book Tours- Perhaps once saved for famous writers touring Waterstones locations, the internet means you can tour/blog hop your way across the world! You can organise these yourself, or sometimes lovely people will do it for you!

 

 

I’m sure I still have much more to learn about all this, as the book is out NOW (and you can buy it HERE!) so I’ll keep reporting back with my experiences!

If you’d like to know more about how to use these facilities as an author, plus all about Marketing yourself, understanding how to achieve success and really get your work out there, I’ll be facilitating a Marketing Bootcamp for Writers in Barnet in July, along with creative business expert Steven Sparling. Send me a message on the Contact Me page if you’re interested!

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Creating for You versus Creating for Them : How Having a Publisher Makes a Difference

 

I had a creative meltdown a few weeks ago. I was boiling under the pressure of a deadline, a new book coming out, an essay deadline, and the possibility of starting another new novel. I’m ashamed to say I freaked out. I fell into every writerly cliche possible- I’m no good, I’m terrible, I need to get a nine-to-five, why would anyone publish me?

 

The book wasn’t working, the pacing was off, the characters were sketchy. I stalled. And I realised the issue was this: my first two novels, I wrote for fun. I wrote them for me. Either because I had something that needed to be said, or because I enjoyed the process.

When you write for someone else (a publisher/an agent), no matter how lovely and understanding they are, there’s a fear of judgement. The fear that they’ve taken a chance on you, and it’s no good. A chance you were a one hit wonder and they’ll let you down easy.

 

After some advice from a good friend (who’s both a writer and a publisher) I realised the truth was there all along- I needed to do it for fun. If I stop writing at the end of the day and feel satisfied, with both the word count and the fun time I’ve had, then I’m probably good. It’s the opposite to almost every other work experience I’ve had, where usually I know I’m doing well if my brain hurts.

 

So who do you write for? What do you write for? To feel good, to feel important, as play? To make money, to impress people, to have a finished article? I’m currently studying the importance of creative writing as a therapeutic process, and that’s the point I was missing- sometimes, if you focus on the process, the outcome will work itself out.

 

With that said, I’m off to write!

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Submitting to Submissions

Hey, mothers, here’s a question: Do people come up to you and tell you how ugly your baby is? No. No, they don’t. Because generally, when you’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating something, the average person isn’t inclined to come up and shit all over your achievement.

So, why are writers so scared to put their work out there? A writer friend and I have been discussing this recently. He finished his book, and wincingly told me he was going to submit it. My response ‘That’s awesome, wahoo!’ Because I say things like that, obviously. It wasn’t until I had to gear myself up for that same process months later that I realise what he was getting at.

So far, if I’ve shown it to people, it’s trusted friends and advisors, people who know what they’re talking about. Or people who are too polite to tell me if it’s rubbish. And if I leave it like that, then I don’t have to deal with the possibility that I might not be any good at this. It’s writer’s denial. It’s stranding yourself on an island and knowing that, yes, you created something, but no-one’s going to come rescue you unless you start putting the flares up and screaming at the top of your lungs. That analogy needs some work.

 

So, I’ve been doing so gradually, working my way up. I started with the Mslexia Novel competition, in which the book was longlisted. I recall it being some crazy number, from 700 submissions down to 100. So that means something. Then I entered it into a competition run by Bookline and Thinker, which I’ve yet to hear back from. And now it’s doing pretty well on Authonomy. But as The Walrus said, the time has come. Because, okay, I write for pleasure. But if I was just writing for me, I wouldn’t bother entering competitions or putting it on websites, would I? Books are written, and they are made to be read. That is their function.

There’s also the fear of seeming like a crazy person when you submit. You know the ones:

‘Hi there, this is my AMAZING book about THINGS AND STUFF. My mum really likes it, and the dog pissed on the first draft, so I think it’s lucky! Get in touch when you realise how awesome I am, and how I will make you millions. Well done for choosing me!’

 

Having belief if your art is important. Realising that you are one tiny person, and that in whatever you do, there will always be someone better and worse than you, is also important. It might be a matter of timing, it might be conflicting interests. It might be nothing to do with you at all, because the publishing market is having a hissy fit right now. But…what if it is me? What if I suck? What if I’ve spent four years and two degrees and a good portion of my life trying to do something that I am incapable of? These are just some of the questions that arise when you decide to submit. It’s not just a case of paying for some stamped addressed envelopes. This is the psychological shit, right here.

So what can you do? You can be prepared to respond badly. You can convince yourself you don’t care. You can bitch about the current titles offered by such a publisher. You can drink an entire bottle of whisky and tell yourself it didn’t do Hemmingway any harm. Or you can shrug, try and take on any criticism, and move on with your life. Maybe it’s just not your time right now. But be prepared.

If we’re going back to your manuscript being your baby, then would you send it on a plane ride by itself without knowing it’s being taken care of? Wouldn’t you wrap it up warm, and pack an extra bottle and do all that mother-type stuff that means you care about this little package of trouble more than anything else? What am I saying? Don’t send off half-finished, unedited bullshit. That is the opposite of being a good mother. Or writer. Be prepared, have a go, and if all else fails, I’m sure the whisky helps.

 

Happy Writing, and even happier submitting!

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What the Bloody Hell Am I Writing About? (and other questions from a self-loathing writer)

 

Writing a synopsis is a bitch. Anyone who has had to write one will know this. You’ve written an entire book. Finally, you’ve finished something that doesn’t send you into the corner of your writing room, rocking back and forth in disgust and fear, and now you’ve got to explain what you wrote?

Well, how the bloody hell should I know what I wrote? I just wrote it! Sure, I had themes and ideas and concepts. But none of these turned out exactly the way I thought they would, and as each of my ideas developed and matured, so did my characters and what they meant. And sure, maybe I had a ‘message’ to begin with, but after you’ve edited 60,000 words a good few times, you start to think maybe you had no message, no idea, no clue as to what you were saying, and the characters themselves did all the hard work.

So what does this mean for my work? 

Well, I’ve got to tell you, I’m pretty damn good with spin. You want me to write for advertising, to make something sound amazing. I’m there for you, my friend. You want an outraged letter focused on the school system? I gotcha with the outrage. But selling my own stuff? Oh jeez, well, I just couldn’t! It would be far too much like boasting. And that’s not English at all.

But, we are Creative Entrepreneurs (or trying to be) after all, and selling yourself (no, not like that) is all part of the game. So, sure, if I was to sum up my writing, it’s usually very easy, and I’ve defined it this way many times before:

I write about drugs, love, sex and death. Not always in that order.’

It’s snappy, isn’t it? Except my debut novel Wine Dark, Sea Blue is not just about that. It’s about family connections, and being a different person for your friends and family until you don’t know who the ‘real’ you is at all. It’s about being scared of attraction, of not believing you’re worthy of love. Of being haunted by memories and nostalgia until you’re convinced all you can do is follow in the footsteps of your family, no matter how many mistakes they’ve made. It’s about trusting your friends, believing in strangers and eventually, letting the past go. It’s about things not being perfect or even being fair, but about finding snippets of happiness where you can.

Sounds intense, right? Alternately, it’s about ‘one-night friendships’, how happiness can be chemical, ecstasy and clubbing till the early hours, Camden pubs and Hampstead Heath on Sunday morning. It’s about boys with blue eyes, and best friends who break your heart. It’s about how that person you first loved never really leaves and that terrible moment when you realise that your parents might be flawed people after all. It’s about graduating in a recession, about trying to make art in a world with no funding, when your family think you should get a ‘real’ job. It’s interning for no money, slaving for no reward, and rewarding yourself with a bottle of wine and a joint.

It’s about family and friends, happiness and chaos, drugs and love and sex and death and everything that makes us who we are.

So only one question remains:

How the fuck do I turn that into a synopsis? How do I sell what I created, with the intense complexities of what I think it’s about, versus what it may actually be about? This is where I used to get irritated during English lessons, and in lectures. Someone writes something, and then we sit around talking about his or her intentions, coming up with themes in the book that may never have even been there. We apply a critical view, some theory to how to interpret a text, when really, the author might have just thought it was a good story.

Or, more likely, was cowering in fear in the corner, wondering why anyone agreed to publish them, because they had no message and nothing to say.

I did a terrible thing last week. I read an article where some writer guy said something along the lines of ‘I don’t understand people who get writer’s block. If you’re a writer, get on with it. I have no time for people who sit around and bitch about it.’ (I’m paraphrasing)

My first thought was ‘what a dickhead’. My second was ‘hmm, well, he’s published, maybe he’s got a point. It is better to get on with it rather than be a self-loathing cliche’ and then the next day I did a horrible thing: I said the same thing. To a group of writers and artists. And I felt like a tool.

Because it’s hard, putting your work out there. It’s akin to giving birth and then walking around wondering if someone’s going to walk up to you and say ‘boy, that’s one ugly baby you made there!’ No-one does that with babies. Because they’re people. But they do with books. Especially now that the internet means we can publish our every scathing thought with no regard for what the creator might be feeling.

So there’s my little worry. Encapsulating something big and wondrous that you’re proud of, but simultaneously almost ashamed of, and defining it as something. Something that exists, in the world.

The only thing I can do is turn to the people I trust, and ask what they think I meant. Whether they’re writers, readers, editors or friends- they’ll see the message in the text. Because just as we look down at our newborn baby with the huge ears or crooked nose, we still can’t see anything other than our own egos. But our friends, well, they’ll see the ears and the nose, but still find the beauty somewhere.

 

Note: Also, an advantage of creating a book over a baby is the ability to edit. And that a book isn’t likely to inherit your father’s crazy eyebrows. Win.