Feel The Fear… and Write it Anyway

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When you want something; really, really want something, where do you begin in getting close to it? My own answer: “Build it, and they will come.”

I live in a beautiful, rented house in Scotland which was the very thing that drove me to write. Seven years ago our landlord decided she wanted to sell it, my husband and I wanted to buy it, yet it was (and still is) way out of our price range and we knew one of us would have to do something extraordinary in order to make it our own. Then our landlord agreed to let us stay until we could, however long that might take.

Sundown in 'Field'.
Sundown in Field

Behind our beloved house is an empty field, owned by our landlord, and every day I take the dogs up there to let them run about free, turning around to look back down over the roof of our home and tell myself again that one day we WILL own it. That is, the whole house, not just the roof. But there are other things I have been telling my landlord’s field.

‘I’m going to write a book,’ I said on a Monday. On a Friday, two years later, I finished it.

‘I’m going to get an agent for this book,’ I told the sky above the landlord’s field several fine, summer mornings in a row. Just six weeks later, on a fine summer morning that found me trudging around Kilmartin Glen, I got an email from an agent asking to meet with me. I signed with her less than a month later.

‘I’M GOING TO GET A PUBLISHER FOR THIS BOOK!’

I shouted this on a pretty windy afternoon in the field that will one day be mine, red-faced and bubbling after the last of a stream of publisher rejections came through. I even shook my fist for emphasis; well, you never know when the Universe needs a bit of sheer grit and anger to get your point across. Just over a year later, I signed to a small press.

‘I’m going to be a best-selling author, Field.’

Okay, I didn’t say ‘Field’, but I love that bit in Shirley Valentine where she talks to the wall, addressing it as ‘Wall’. Right from the off, ‘The New Mrs D’ became a best seller; but not one of those fancy ‘million’ or ‘New York Times’ ones. It’s an Amazon best seller, which all authors know isn’t necessarily going to help anyone buy their house.

‘I’m going to see my name and my writing in one of my favourite publications.’

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Psychologies Magazine (UK), September 2015 edition.

Tadahhh!

‘I’m going to sell a million books!’

Wait… what?

This is the one I’ve been telling Field for around a year now. It’s a toughie, because a year on I’m nearer to the mark of buying a million books than I am to selling them. I didn’t even make one ‘Best Chicklit Books of 2015’ list to give me a sales boost. No one hailed my book as a ‘Top Ten Beach Read of 2015’ even after I’ve spent a lot of time asking the bloggers and journalists that make these lists for reviews. Many have gladly helped; many, many more have never replied. And as British summertime comes to a close, after allegedly having started in the first place, (has anyone had a postcard from the sun?), the beach reads lists are becoming less relevant. It seems the Field of Dreams has hit a stumbling block in the race for me to write my landlord a fat cheque.

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Line from ‘I Hate That You Bloody Left Me.’

So I better get on with the business of finishing my next book, ‘I Hate That You Bloody Left Me’, which is in edits right now.

And everyday I’m still out standing in my field, (you knew I was going to go there with that corny line, right?), watching my dogs roll around in fox poo while I say out loud what I’m going to do with my life.

Who is this nobody shouting at fields and having the audacity to write about selling a million books? Does the fear grab you when you even dare to think about doing that? This is my point. Fears can stop you reaching, and reaching is necessary if you’re going to catch that bonus ball. Let me list some common writerly fears for you:

  1. What if I can’t write as well as I think I can?
  2. What if people laugh at my efforts and I make a fool of myself?
  3. What if no one wants to read my work?
  4. What if people do want to read it and then they hate it?
  5. What if nobody buys it?
  6. What if I get some terrible reviews?
    And the main one:
  7. What if I fail?

Read all of those fears again and imagine they all happened. Now, where in the world are you? Has the absolute worst thing that can happen to a person happened to you?

What if you don’t fail?

I had all of these fears at the beginning but I’ve met them now, and they weren’t nearly as ugly as I thought they would be. I get to say I stood up, took my turn and I tried.

Perhaps you scoff at the idea of thinking and believing yourself to success. If you happen to be an author on Twitter, you might have your own ideas for sales success. Well, let me take this opportunity to tell you this: how many books did you buy after clicking a link in a tweet from a fellow author? This should tell you what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling yourself.

Asking the entire world to buy won’t always make them buy. Daring to tell yourself out loud you are going to sell drives you, at the very least, to work harder for it. Much harder than spending your time spewing out the kind of tweets that will make your followers mute you. Think hard about where you want to be, say it out loud and watch the answers begin to arrive.

So, I’ll race you to the finish line, oh book link tweeting author. Two hundred and forty ‘buy my book’ tweets in your timeline against two hundred and forty days of asking my future field to make the masses buy a million of my books. Because I do believe there is some truth in this ‘ask and you will receive’ thing. If you dare to make yourself want something enough, you will continue to focus on it until finally, it becomes yours. Not by chance or mystical, universal intervention; by sheer hard work, persistence and a great big dollop of belief. What I’ve found is that shouting out loud about what you want also helps drive away fear; the very thing that holds many of us back when it comes to reaching for something we want. Shout at the fear. Don’t be afraid to tell yourself outside of your head that you are going to do this and be specific about it. Just make sure you’re listening when you do.

Be specific; that’s the ticket right there. On reflection, I’ve got a new request for my pal, Field:

‘I’m going to sell a million books. But listen, I’d like this to be before I die, if you don’t mind?’

Tony-Robbins

A Comedy Writer’s Trip to St Kilda

I was found remaking a movie last month, on the top of the highest sea cliffs in the UK. Well, a book and a film if I’m honest. One minute I was Cathy, hand dramatically against forehead, searching for Heathcliffe through the romantic mists and only finding – and narrowly missing toppling off – real cliff-cliffs.

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”

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The astonishing view of St Kilda from Seamus Morrison’s boat

I could tell Mr wasn’t impressed with my literary show as we floundered about lost for a hairy quarter of an hour in the misty bog. Well, he couldn’t see me to be fair. And I couldn’t see him, which was why I panicked a bit when a giant sea bird chose that moment to dive bomb me from out of nowhere.

‘Woah! Not that form, Heathcliffe.’

We were extreme islanding; hiking to the top of ‘the island at the end of the world’, which we all knew was in Scotland of course. St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides to be exact. And even on that boiling hot, Scottish summer’s day – known locally as freak weather conditions – Hirta had its very own cloud which I’m convinced just sits there on guard all the time, like a giant, fluffy, white lizard from a 1950’s B movie.

Now, I know you’re not going to believe I did this, so here’s the photographic evidence of me doing ‘a Cathy’ just prior to ‘the Tippi’ which I’m going to tell you about next: 

If you haven’t heard of St Kilda until now, it’s an amazing place with a fascinating history which you must look up when you’ve had enough of reading this brief spin on my day here.

The people that had lived on the only occupied island, Hirta, since the Bronze Age were evacuated; forced to leave behind everything they knew, in 1930. Currently, the only year-round residents are military personnel, conservation workers, volunteers, scientists, wild Soay sheep and more birds than you can shake a mobile phone at. Which I absolutely did not do, after innocently and accidentally stumbling across a Skua’s nest while wandering about lost in the fog, just in case any member of the trust is reading this.

Which brings me to that Tippi Hedren in The Birds thing.

A trip to St Kilda was on my bucket list. I got off the boat and strode up that cliff side like the intrepid adventurer I was in my head, proud as punch to look back and find not another soul had been brave enough to follow us. Weren’t we fit and daring?

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The mostly abandoned houses on High Street

No, actually. We were knackered, a little bit lost and slapped on the head a couple of times by the mahoosive webbed feet of an angry Skua that didn’t take kindly to my wandering too near their nest. You can’t blame them really. But it was an accident and I did back away without having disturbed anything but my husband, who thought I was having an altitude meltdown and was laughing until I opened my back pack and started pelting him with sandwiches in the greatest, most quick-thinking display of self preservation I’ve ever achieved.

Me and birds.

I wasn’t stood behind some bird watchers, with their cameras trained on 40,000 barnacle geese that had settled in a field on Gruinart, before shouting, ‘Luci, come look at this!’ to my daughter on a day in 2013 that this entry happened on the Islay blog either…

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Many, many thanks to Seumas and our brilliant guide John of www.seaharris.com, for what was one of the most spectacular and amazing days ever, made only better by the three home-made portions of ginger cake we ate. Magic.

A Folder Called ‘Bollocks’ – Why Authors Should NEVER Respond to Reviews

Regular readers of my blog may recall I celebrated the much anticipated landing of my first one star review as an author, with a light-hearted blog post and a nod to fellow authors to try not to take them too seriously.

In the last month I have seen a few knee-jerk reactions to scathing reviews and am almost always saddened, especially when I find one very talented author I greatly respect saying, ‘I just feel like giving up’. But today I began to read this response to a book review from an author on Goodreads, and found I couldn’t read on. To say it felt like watching car crash TV was an understatement.

The first and most obvious thing that occurs to me here is how the author has succeeded in spending what must have been hours alienating a community of book lovers he will have spent hundreds more writer hours trying to reach – 131 of whom ended up liking the bad review even though I suspect many hadn’t read the book. But also, I mourn for the time lost when this author should have been doing what he clearly feels he was put on this earth to do – some actual novel writing.

I am now indoctrinated in to the world of book publication with a few bad reviews of my own. I say a few, because I haven’t counted and have stopped reading them, particularly on Goodreads, where I find they can be at their most brutal for almost all authors I have read and loved. I made a conscious decisions to quit doubting my ability to write when it became clear that the good reviews far outweighed the bad for my debut novel; only if the opposite had been true was I going to allow doubt to sink in. Only then would I question whether I was in the right vocation, which is just as well because I cannot imagine ever doing anything else. I don’t dwell on bad reviews because that would stop me from working and almost certainly stifle me creatively. I only recall my first on Amazon, for the fact that it was the first, and the last one I was gifted with on Amazon UK, because it stayed at the top of my reviews list for what felt like an age after being posted on the very day of the release of my paperback from my new publisher:

one star reviews

I don’t mind sharing it and have spared outing the writer by blanking out her name. It’s not important; nobody died and everyone is entitled to not like my book. I have very good friends and relatives who I know would not like, ‘The New Mrs D’, yet they remain good friends and the rest can’t do anything about being related to me. The review here only became a momentary annoyance for me because this was the day of my traditional publication. Would this person’s thoughts affect my sales? My livelihood? With hindsight though, I think not.

There is always going to be the understandable worry that in trashing your work the reviewer has affected your business and, more annoyingly, without a second thought. It can also be painful to know someone hated your book – not you, remember, your book – enough to feel the need to try and put everyone off buying it. Okay, it hurts. So if you need to, take a few seconds to acknowledge that then move on. But don’t respond. Don’t, don’t… just don’t.

Writing is a business and vendors on sites like Amazon, Google+ and Trip Advisor are always answering bad reviews, because it is considered good for business for them to state their side of the story. If an author does so, it is up for sharing across social media and blogs as a lesson to us all. So think of this from the point of view as a consumer.

As an occasional frequenter of hotels, I would worry about bad reviews but feel heartened to see the hotelier acknowledge the complaint, accept its relevance or explain how it may have been inaccurate and suggest ways forward for change and improvement. As a reader, I have pretty much decided on whether or not I’m going to buy a book after a recommendation, reading the blurb and briefly glancing at the ratio of good reviews to bad. One ‘this is tripe’ among sixty ‘I loved it’ comments isn’t going to stop me visiting Paypal for another ‘buy it now’ trip. (Nobody tell my husband, okay?)

I have thought this way about reviews since day one of my decision to publish, but I understand more than ever why no author should go down the road of responding to reviews after reading the Goodreads thread above today, which is why I have brought the incident to my blog, not as a seasoned pro with twenty published novels, but as a new writer looking in, sucking in my cheeks like a plumber about to give you a very large quote for your leaky boiler and saying, ‘ooh no, don’t go there. Please.’.

Read it and weep. Answering bad reviews is a waste of your valuable, creative time and readers are always telling us they are rarely swayed from buying a book by the appearance of a couple of stinking reviews.

Yes, it is early days for me and no, I haven’t suffered the joys of a scathing public review yet. But I know this much: if and when that day arrives it will be because I made it to a place that was beyond my wildest imagination when I first set out to write a book. Maybe I might need to come back to this post to remind myself where my head was today when dealing with this. I think we all need a nudge from time to time because writing is hard and putting your work out publically feels beyond scary. But I want to write and if you’re still here this far down, I suspect you do too. Enjoy it as much as you can. Hell, why can’t we have some fun with our poor reviews? I even stuck one of my most cutting ones in the middle of a marketing video for a Kindle promotion I ran last year:

Think on, writer pals, think on. If I’ve learned anything in the five short years since I set out to chase my ambitions it’s this: With inordinate passion for writing comes inordinate rejection and criticism. If this succeeds in making you quit, then perhaps you’re not supposed to be a writer. And if you are supposed to be a writer, focus on the parts you love; all the things that bring you to your writing desk each day. And file every ill-thought out, scathing review you happen upon in a mental folder called, ‘bollocks’.

Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

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Lucy Kelson: George, I think you are the most selfish human being on the planet.
George Wade: Well that’s just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?
– ‘Two Weeks Notice’.

This weekend I had my very first book signing event at the Waterstones store in East Kilbride, Scotland. It was a great and pime at my first signing... for a chick lit book?votal day for me, being a newly published author in the shop nearest my home, where I’ve spent many happy hours getting high on new book smell and about three purchases low on cash. And all with my big sister and various other members of my family watching and cheering me on.

The Waterstones staff were fantastic; so supportive and encouraging as well as taking care of my needs and sharing stories of other authors’ come-from-nothing successes to bolster my confidence. All in all, it was a fabulous day – a huge thanks to them for inviting me along.

But there was one moment that threatened to spoil it all at the very beginning. As I sat watching shoppers stroll by, all avoiding eye contact with me as though I had a clipboard and a ‘Market Researchers do it in the Street’ t-shirt on, the very first stranger to approach me smiled, picked up a copy of ‘The New Mrs D’ and glanced at the back cover for all of one second before placing it quickly back down with a scowl and taking off as fast as her legs could carry her.

Being perpetual jovial sorts, my sister and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘This is going well, don’t you think?’ I said, showcasing the books in front of me with a sweep of my arm like a model displaying prizes on ‘The Price is Right’ …and knocking my glass of water over them. (Oh yes I did).

Three down, twenty to go…

Don’t get me wrong, I do judge a book by its cover, but never without having read the entire blurb first. So what was it that made a person run away after having a glance at my cover and a read of the first two lines on the back?

I don’t know and I never will. But here’s my best guess. Dare I say, that brightly coloured, cartoon cover and the promise of a light-hearted, comedy novel that screams, ‘chick lit’?

The week before my first signing, I had responded to a comment left on a Facebook book club wall that asked something like, ‘does anyone else here hate chick lit?’ So I bit my lip and wrote what may have been a contender for longest Facebook comment in a thread ever. It went something like this:

‘As a writer of what has been called chick lit, I’d like to defend it if only because it depresses me that it gets such a bad rap, like it doesn’t deserve its place in literature. I read all kinds of genres and regularly have two or three very different books on the go at the same time but I never rule an entire genre out. I love to try something new, dipping in to different writer styles often. Chick lit has its place for light reading, for laughs, for comic escapism. I have had several men who professed to hating the chick lit genre read my book then come back and tell me they really enjoyed it. I was thrilled when science fiction writer Dylan Hearn, who took the plunge into something new for him, read my book then wrote a rave review and blog about it, admitting he had never picked up a chick lit book before.

I want to defend the genre because it is reading all of the dismissals of it that stops many women from writing what it is in their heart to write, for fear of being rejected by the ‘literary police’. Anything new, bold and original is exciting to find and nothing would ever be created if writers didn’t take the difficult step of bringing their stories out into the world. The fact is, we all have different tastes and to me, writing is not just a craft but an art. It should be a joy to bring that which you were meant to do out in to the world and, after all, art is about freedom of expression. It’s about capturing the imagination and taking it anywhere you wish it to go. An individual may hate the work of Van Gogh, but that doesn’t make him any less of the incredible & innovative artist that he was. It’s all a matter of personal taste. What sings to one person can screech like nails on a blackboard to another. And what’s wrong with that?

Perhaps you read one or two bad chick lit books. Perhaps, like me, you’re of an age where you’ve read countless books with will-they-won’t-they, she-hates-him-then-she-loves-him plot lines and think you can’t stand to read another. But then, if you are like me, you’ll remember that you loved these once and now you’re older, you’re perhaps looking for something different. It doesn’t make those kinds of stories any less relevant, they’re just not relevant to you.

I would ask anyone not to discount an entire genre based on some they’ve read or seen, as not all books in any genre are the same. The majority of chick lit writers are women and we should be encouraging more female writers to find their voice. The only thing I have to say that I don’t like about chick lit as a genre is the name. I’m 44 years old, I’m not now nor have I ever been a ‘chick’. I hope it changes to ‘contemporary fiction’ or something equally suitable. I’d like something that says I write commercial, comedy fiction for all genders.

And for the reader, let’s not be afraid that no one will ever take us seriously if we admit to liking a bit of easier reading and laughter – the best medicine there is. There is a lot to be said for so called ‘easy reads’ too. They encourage more people to read and that, we should all be able to agree if we’re true book lovers, is a fundamental and beautiful thing.’

Others have written on this very subject of course. In his article for Huffington Post, entitled, ‘Stop Being Literary Snobs and Embrace Chick-Lit’, Ben Mirza writes, ‘There’s a reason why these people hate chick-lit, and it’s nothing to do with declining standards. It is simply that these people hate escapism and frankly, hate a genre that focuses on the general lives of women.’

The hatred of escapist comedy reading is something I know many readers have and there is absolutely no wrong in this. To each his (or her) own. For me, one of the most interesting things about comedy is the fact that everyone loves to laugh, yet comedy books seem to be the target of the harshest critics, often accused of appealing to a readership of the lowest, common denominator.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t be reading. Overall, I want books that test my intelligence, scare me a little bit, make me think, make me question things, freak me out, make me cry and make me laugh – and I can get all of these things in a year filled with reading a little bit of something from every genre. There’s a special place for all of it in my brain.

Lucy-Anne Holmes sums it up nicely in her 2014 article for The Guardian:

‘I’m not going to apologise for enjoying books that focus on women’s careers, families and love lives, as romantic comedy often does. As a woman – as a person – discovering what I love to do, feeling empowered to do it and falling in love have been pretty seismic events in my life, ones I can identify with far more than discovering a murdered body in a disused car park.’

So let’s not profess to be specific genre haters; let’s continue to be book lovers with open, hungry minds requiring nourishment from a wide variety of sources . And to those who still say they hate chick lit, I say, ‘that’s just silly. Have you read every chick lit book on the planet?’

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Conquering Writer’s Block (Without Your Head Falling Off)

One of the questions posed on my Goodreads author page, was ‘how do you conquer writer’s block?’ I said I didn’t believe in it. I said, ‘just push through. Keep writing. Write anything, even if it’s drivel.’

I think the best thing you can do is allow yourself to write nonsense and all of a sudden, breakthrough occurs.  Simply put: speed write.

I must just point out that speed writing isn’t anything at all to do with drugs. No, that’s called ‘I’m going to prison now writing.’ Speed writing is where you simply blast out all your thoughts in one long, stream of conscious flurry not stopping to worry at all that you might be writing garbage. And yes, you’ve guessed it; this blog post is a speed writing exercise. Thank you for noticing.  And look out, it may be somewhat unpredictable. One minute, I can be telling you something and then (oh look, a new pencil that needs sharpening) I can go off at a tangent because, wow, (my nails need biting some more, hold on a sec), my brain is off the charts odd.

But I believe this is an incredibly effective way to break what you perceive to be your writer’s block and using your blog to do so is the perfect place. This is where I put all my lesser edited, stream of conscious writing, so it’s perfect. But I do think writer’s block is your perfection obsessed self simply stalling you. Stop it and write!

Having said that, I have become a bit of a new-age hippy lately and taken up meditating. But not before I spent an age trying to teach myself how by searching for YouTube videos for guidance and practice. I’ve tried listening to and watching so many bizarre things on there, but keep finding myself side-tracked by my own, zany thought processes that don’t ever seem to switch off when I’m watching or listening to someone else.

‘Now,’ says meditation guru number one. ‘Imagine your whole body is loose and limp.’

I sink down into my pillow, not being able to help imagining I’ve fallen off the top of a tall building and everything is broken. Hmmm, this might not be good…

‘Imagine your hands are loose at the end of your arms.’ What? Like coming off, loose?

‘And your head is loose on the end of your neck.’

Holy hell, now I’m decapitated. Next!

Then there was the ‘ASMR Ear To Ear Whispering’ video, where I plugged in my earphones and listened to a young woman ‘awakening my creative self within’ by leaning in to whisper ‘you are wonderful. You are creative,’ into each of my ears at a time.

‘Ah, what a lovely, hypnotic voice,’ I thought. ‘This could work.’ Only, WAIT! Is that a penis under the chin of the sun behind her?

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Next!

The soft, male voice on my little free meditation app says, ‘imagine yourself on a beautiful, tropical beach.’

Ah, this is better. Yes please.

‘Now, you see a small rowing boat on the horizon and it’s heading towards you.’

I really hope it’s Gerard Butler with a case of champagne, wearing a thong. Do they make thongs for champagne cases?

‘When the boat reaches you, you climb aboard and sail away.’

Oh, Gerard Butler is wearing the thong. Okay, now I’m really not relaxed.

‘And then you come to a small, uninhabited island and disembark. Then the boat leaves.’

What the…? Gerard has left me marooned on a deserted island! How is this helping again? *panic panic*

So you see, I can’t do it… the whole ‘switch off your mind and relax’ thing. Even downloading the famous Paul McKenna’s app for my mobile phone didn’t work:

‘Do not listen to this tape whilst driving or operating machinery.’ (Puts down the chainsaw) ‘Wait for a time when you won’t be disturbed. Get into a comfortable position and switch off your phone.’

Okay done. Why has he stopped talking…?

So now I simply sit in silence for ten minutes twice a day and empty my thoughts to only focus on my personal mantra. Which I cannot tell you, as it is very personal; but I can reveal that I changed it from ‘I am’ to stop my mind wandering further as I attempted to finish the sentence with a comedy retort.

‘I am… probably asleep.’

‘I am… missing Coronation Street.’

How have you conquered writer’s block?

To World Book Day, Waterstones and Being Delusional

For what seems like my entire life, the gift I have loved to receive far and above anything else has been a shiny, new, book-smelly, book. And none more so than a hardback – a pleasure I can’t often indulge myself in these days, given the additional cost factor.

For a long time, I did think this made me a bit different. None of my friends in school talked of a love of books; no one in my family was an avid reader except my dad, who hoarded them all over the house like scattered dust, but sadly, didn’t live long enough to tell me much about his love for them. All these years later, I do like to think my bookish mania was sent from his heart to mine.

The first books I remember being given as a gift has a special place in my memory though, and I was probably only about eight at the time. They were from my older sister, Linda, and they were two hardbacks: a beautifully illustrated copy of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame and ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams. I6a00d8341c84c753ef0168eb87d246970c-800wi remember loving them completely and breaking the first one open on Christmas morning, the way children nowadays might stuff in to the first of six chocolate filled selection boxes and the latest Xbox game.

My first love was books and I always felt this made me a little strange, having no bookish friends that I knew of. I have spent years taking off from the crowd to wander into grand bookshops like Waterstones by myself, not to be found again for several hours. While many of my school pals were licking the windows at boob-tube tops and Rah-Rah skirts in TopShop, I was stroking pretty book covers whilst being weirdly intoxicated by the delectable aroma of paper, ink and adhesive. I was no glue sniffer; I was a book sniffer and not yet proud of it. I told no one.

Then one day, as as slightly older fifteen-year-old, I rode my bike through town on the way to school and spied a gorgeous, white, boob-tube dress that took my fancy. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and every day – for about a month – I stared at it as I cycled by, wishing it could be mine but knowing it had a price tag my hard-up mother would balk at. I dreamed of that dress and it was a dream I could tell my friends about had I chosen to, because loving new fashions was cool, of course. But I didn’t.

I remember spending an extraordinary amount of time thinking about that dress. How the boy I was mad about at school would notice me at last if I wore it to the school youth club disco. How much I would feel like Madonna in it. I must have imagined myself in that dress, wearing the pair of white lace, finger-less gloves I did own, singing, ‘Like a Virgin,’ for weeks.

Then one night my mother came home screaming that she had had a huge win at the bingo. Hooray! We could buy new clothes instead of being gifted second hand ones from friends with older daughters. The very next day, I walked in to the shop that had almost made me fall off my bike countless times and bought my dream dress.

As a young girl, I told no one of what I thought was my extraordinary love of books or my ‘delusional’ dreams of myself in that dress and as an adult, I’ve told no one of the amount of times I have pictured my own books on the shelves of Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles. How many times I’ve mentally placed them between Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella in airport shops. No one knew just how delusional I was – until now.

Last month, I had word from my publisher, Fledgling Press, that my book launch event for the paperback of ‘The New Mrs D‘ would be in Waterstones in Glasgow. Because I pictured it so often? Or because it is written… so to speak? ;-) We shall _78300969_waterstones_tweetsee, because, my delusions include getting locked in one night like this lucky guy…

Happy World Book Day! And stay delusional.

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My book launch for the paperback of ‘The new Mrs D’ is at Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow on 30th April 2015 at 6.30pm. I’d be thrilled to see you there, if you happen to be in the vicinity. Please stop by :)

Book Marketing Tactics You May NOT Have Considered

I’d like to apologise in advance because this is a MUCH longer blog post than I usually prefer. I don’t know about you, but I like the kind of blog I can jump in and out of, coming away with my will to live intact and plenty of time to work for the rest of the day. I also prefer to blog about life and comedy, but after my 29,000 Downloads Later blog, I’ve had so many writers asking for more information on my marketing tactics I felt I must do at least one post in a War & Peace style-e.

Forgive me *Clears throat*

You can find a lot of tips online, just by Googling ‘book marketing tactics’, yet what I’ve noticed is a lot of the advice given is the same. So I’d like to take this opportunity to try and pinpoint some you might not have considered.

Largely, this entire post is around the less obvious SEO tactics for Authors. How many of you are making that SEO work for you when it comes to marketing your book? Do you think this is a) way too complex or b) just for businesses?

Well, have you seen how many new authors there are out there? You ARE a business and you have a world of competition to keep up with.

SEO, for those that don’t know, stands for ‘search engine optimisation’ and it isn’t as hard as some people would have you believe. ‘Some people’ being those that would want to sell you their advice and guidance on the matter. Not that I wouldn’t LOVE some professional help (I know, I need it, right?) but it really isn’t all that hard to do at least some basics for yourself, for free.

In short, SEO optimisation is about finding search terms that you think the general public would use to find your book and using these terms in everything you post. You don’t have to put it in your text, although it occasionally helps to, but in your article tags and social hashtags.

Take my own writer genre for instance. I would guess people looking to read a book like mine would search for ‘women’s fiction’ ‘comedy author’ ‘comedy novel’ ‘chick lit’ or, if you are anywhere outside of the UK, ‘British Chick lit’.

If you Google ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘comedy author’ then click on the videos tab, you will find me – a commercially unknown, British Chick Lit, women’s fiction, comedy author and writer of a comedy novel – scattered throughout your search results. (See what I did there?).

And, you can see how this would get annoying if you posted like this in every blog post. But one isn’t going to hurt your readership. She hopes….

You can throw your keywords in casually every now and again, but don’t try to be clever or go for (comedy novel) irrelevant to subject matter, (women’s fiction) subliminal messages (British Chick Lit) which would annoy the heck out of (comedy author) anybody!

I’m going it alone with what I have read online so far, and thought I had only conquered SEO mastery with YouTube, but visits to this website have increased threefold recently. Not that you’re all buying a book, but more people seem to know who I am these days. I am building my brand. Although you might not like my particular style of comedy novel, I may well surprise you with ‘The New War and Peace’ at a future date, therefore snagging that more literary sale from you later. :-D

Bottom Line:

1) Think about what your target audience would Google in order to find you and your books. Then, make a list of those words and phrases and use them in EVERYTHING you post. Blogs, social media posts, YouTube videos, everything. You are aiming to make Google see you as an expert in your chosen subject therefore, pushing you up in search rankings. And social media posts DO count – even more so now than ever before.

2) Get a Google+ account. Yes, I know it feels a bit like a graveyard full of people simply there to sell not buy, but it is one of the best places to post your keywords for Google ranking and it is linked to YouTube. Double the value!

3) Get a Pinterest Account. I am still working on mastering this one myself, but Pinterest has been one of the fastest growing social networks TO DATE and the great thing about this site is that, unlike most other social networks, people on there are actively seeking things to buy and sharing what they themselves like to buy. It’s like scrap-booking online. You can easily find your target audience here because people are sharing pictures of their favourite books. Find those accounts pinning books in your genre or even fans of authors you think your work is similar too and connect with them. You can invite them to pin to your boards and even send pins to people if they are following you back.

Let me help you start out – if you’d like an invite to pin to THIS board connect to me on Pinterest and leave a comment below so I can connect to you and send the invite. As I said, I am just finding my way on Pinterest so the board isn’t that old and doesn’t have any other pinners at the moment but it does have 248 followers, which is a start. Let’s get that Pinterest marketing moving together! There are enough hungry for content readers out there for all of us.

4) Get an Instagram Account! Instagram is another network where people are happily sharing their interests, particularly when it comes to books. Its users are looking for recommends and love nothing more than to link with like-minded people. As with Pinterest, search for lovers of books in your genre and followers of more famous people you think you are a lot like. So, for me, I would look for fans of Claudia Schiffer of course ;-) What do you mean ‘dream on?’

And you need to get hashtag savvy here. You want to use hashtags in your posts and also search them to find people to connect with. Don’t think for one minute this is not worthy of your precious time. You are going to find active, book-loving people in your target audience instead of sitting at home waiting for them to find you! Reach out.

For instance, a kindly US review website compared my work to one of my writer heroes, Jane Green. Not only is the lovely Jane ON Instagram herself, but there are heaps of people posting pictures of her books with the #janegreen hashtag. Now, all I have to do is search this hashtag, follow people posting about her and her books and chat to them because I already know they have my taste in great books and my sense of humour. The aim isn’t to sell, sell, sell, it is to converse and yes, why not, make friends. I love Instagram because I can connect to my lovely readers there and am building a fantastic, supportive little community of people that think like me and love all the things I love. The beauty of Instagram is ease of use and a conversational thread that I think is easier for everyone to follow than on Twitter.  And you can use it to share pictures from your day on your smartphone while going about your day or walking the dog. *CLICK* ‘Look everyone, a pretty tree… oh, that he’s just cocked his leg up.’  It really is THAT simple.

Here’s a great list of author hashtags to get you started. And no, you don’t need to use all of them. You will soon find the ones that work for you, just give it time. You’ll find me there as @hell4heather – taking people shopping with me, sharing photos of my grandson, things that make me laugh and sharing occasional news about my book. You don’t have to plug, plug, plug. Let your real personality shine through. I kid you not, I once sold four books in an evening just through chatting to a couple of fellow Instagrammers, without once asking them to buy it and having no outwardly promotional intention while I was chatting to them. I enjoy Instagram and I love chatting to people! If I can sell a few books by just being me, I’m happy and it is worthy of an hour of my time a couple of times a week.

Remember, the Amazon website is a search engine too. Use your keywords OFTEN in your book description and research the seven keywords Amazon gives you for your listing, watching your placement for each one and altering them from time to time to try and stay visible. I could write a lot on this, but I won’t – Amazon have done it for you HERE

Sounds exhausting, right? For me, it doesn’t feel so bad because this is my chosen career and I’m very bloody serious about it. I am NOT a million best seller, but I’ve kept my book in an Amazon bestsellers list since my KDP free promotion in December last year and have regular sales – not always huge – but regular. I’m building brand awareness just like any online business should be trying to. This is what YOU have to think of yourself as – a BRAND that needs to build an online presence. It’s very much the long game and may feel tiresome, but a good campaign can keep you writing for years to come and also attract publisher interest if that is your wish. I read all the time how publishers love to see authors who are clearly working extra hard on their own branding.

But back to that free KDP promotion. Lots of people asked about the gigs I used on Fiverr.com for marketing mine. There were only two that I could say for sure really helped:

https://www.fiverr.com/facebookprogig/promote-your-amazon-kindle-book-with-real-uk-usa-book-lovers-to-200000-members?funnel=201501071454174808500000

and

https://www.fiverr.com/kindlepromoter/submit-your-kindle-book-to-30-top-kdp-promotion-websites?funnel=201501071455427078500000

And lastly, I went to the Author Marketing Club website and submitted links to as many of the sites on this page as I could find myself:

http://authormarketingclub.com/members/submit-your-book/

I hope you’re still here and still feeling positive.  It isn’t supposed to be fun I guess, but why not try to have some fun with it? Mix up your marketing and get creative with it. Turn that one star review that made you weep back on to itself, with a light-hearted, $5 Fiverr.com gig video like this one:

Try not to be afraid. Put out lots of different types of content and more than a smidgen of the real YOU. And if that one star review has hurt you, take a look at this must shorter post that I guarantee will put your smile firmly back on:

In Celebration of the One Star Review

Hopefully you will find something unique in here that will help and I can now use this link whenever someone asks me what I did to get those downloads.

Good luck everyone!

News Flash! I have a publisher at last!  The hard copy of ‘The New Mrs D’ is to be released by Fledgling Press in Edinburgh in the Spring. I’m so excited to be working with ‘Fledge’ as I now affectionately call them. Here’s hoping for a brighter, writer future :-)

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This is a tribute to my elongated blog typos! :)

Real translation: Don’t be afraid to get your voice, your image, your work and your ‘YOU’ out there. Never worry that you are any way inferior. Go for it!

Authors: Don’t Be a Bloody Statistic

There are people that are writing in the hope of getting rich, and there are people that are writing for the love of the craft. I would firmly plant myself between these two extremes.

I suspect that those writers who are most disappointed are in the first category.

I love writing, have reached a point in my life where I recognise I have always loved it, yet was hampered by an inaccurate belief that making a career out of it was out of my reach and capabilities.  Today I’m ready to pursue it to the death, only with the hope in my mind that I might make a decent living out of it.

Since the moment I first began working on my book, I knew I’d never stop writing again. I know that even if I never sold another word, I couldn’t stop. I’m forty three years old; that’s how long it has taken me to get to this place

Do I hate the idea of getting rich quick? No. I’ve almost accepted around four email marriage proposals from Nigerian Princes in 2014 alone. Do I care if I don’t make my fortune with writing? No, actually, I do not.

I’m not taking my rejections personally, not watching my sales figures hour by hour asking why the world isn’t recognising my genius and I’m not dying inside every time a fellow author has heaps more success than I do. This is my journey; my dream. I’m not going to dilute it or belittle its significance to my life’s journey by making it all about money or the competition. I wish we could live a little (okay a lot) easier and I do imagine that big cheque landing on my doormat, of course I do. But my ultimate goal is having a better, more fulfilled life experience. It is doing what I think I was supposed to do with my life and being in love with it. That, for me, is worth more than gold.

I’m offering you here my best advice on how to overcome your obstacles as a new writer. It is an A for attitude – and the greatest thing about attitude, is you get to choose yours. There are too many articles telling writers to be careful what you wish for and I for one don’t like reading them. It is good to know the pitfalls you might face, but not good to focus on them too much.

Let me break it down in to a simple sentence: Don’t let people tell you you can’t do something.

A few months back, I wrote to hundreds of book shops all over the world, asking them to put ‘The New Mrs D’ on their shelves. I emailed scores of book reviewers, joining what I don’t doubt is an absolute sea of similar requests from self-published authors just like me. As well as the rejections this book has had, I also have the biggest pile of ‘no thank you’ emails you’ve ever seen. The ‘no reply at all’ pile is so big, I’m considering climbing it for charity.  :-)

A submission that sticks in my mind the most is the book I bought and posted, as per the submission guidelines on their website, all the way over to Barnes & Noble in New York asking that they please consider stocking it on their shelves. Their response was (something along the lines of), ‘in our experience, self-published authors only sell on average two hundred copies for the lifetime of the book, many of those to family and friends.’ In case you haven’t guessed where this is going, they declined my request. Yet I had already sold a thousand copies by the time I read their letter, and believe me, I don’t have that many family and friends.

I read this particular line again: ‘Most self-published authors only sell on average 200 copies for the lifetime of their book.’ I’d already proved them wrong in my own case, but instead of internalising this statistic, as some might be inclined to do, I decided to smash it. And no, I haven’t yet. This is not a victorious, ‘I told you so, you short sighted bookshops, agents and publishers’ post. I didn’t sell thousands of copies, but to date over 32,000 people have downloaded ‘The New Mrs D’ and of that 32,000 I gave away just over 29,000 in a free Amazon promotion. It’s not a huge, life-changing income, but it’s a very promising potential readership for book two. Although, in a personal way, it is life-changing. It taught me I’m ever-so-slightly addicted to being read. Thank you for feeding my addiction today.

I can’t offer advice from the perspective of a long in the tooth, experienced writer who has made it to the top. I can only offer the perspective of a long in the tooth person with some years of life experience behind her. And my advice is, if you love it, don’t let it lie.

Don’t be a bloody statistic.

Am I selling dreams of writer success to people who can’t write? I don’t think so. If writing is what you love and truly believe is inside of you to do, even if your first attempt sucked, you are going to work hard to get better. You’ll scrape together your last pounds for proper, professional editing, get the best cover art you can afford and you’ll read your submissions feedback, searching for the common elements and taking at least some of the advice given to make your project shine. You’ll give it all you’ve got and stop wallowing in bitterness and self pity.

(Okay, give yourself an hour on this last one, then move on) ;-)

You won’t spend your precious writing time emailing agents that reject you with a stream of profanities telling him/her they have missed a golden opportunity and don’t know what they’re talking about. You are writing all of the time and reading about writing all the time.

So I guess I’m talking to YOU.

Now, get off this page and on to your own. X

carl_jung_quote-002

The Rollercoaster – 29,000 Downloads Later

Remember this scene from the 1980’s comedy film, Parenthood?

If you follow my progress you will know two significant things have happened to me lately:

1) I left my agent and found my novel, ‘The New Mrs Dunpublished with a loss of my sales rankings and
2) I held a three day free promotion last week in an attempt to push the book back in to the charts.

It worked.

Last week, 29,000 people downloaded ‘The New Mrs D‘ for free, giving me what I hope will turn out to be a substantial new readership. Hooray!

And many authors are asking me how it happened. So as always, I am only too happy to share as much as I know here.

Firstly, I went to www.fiverr.com and paid for three services at $5 a time. A promo video, an SEO expert to share my video link as many times as possible and a marketer to send details of my book promotion to forty websites.

I also successfully managed to secure a small advertisement with www.bookbub.com. Bookbub only accept something like 10-20% of submissions I believe and require that you have a certain amount of five star reviews. But I do credit this with the huge spike of downloads I achieved on the very first day.

I paid what was at the time, just over $30 to have The New Mrs D promo mailed out to a 210,000 strong mailing list of fans of chick lit. The prices have risen a little lately, but you can find them here.

What’s great is that although I didn’t have the funds to reach the 1,030,000+ subscribers of their women’s fiction list ($245) The New Mrs D reached the no1 best selling humour spot on both the Amazon UK and US free stores list for the entire length of the promotion. It’s highest ranking over ALL of the free store books was no4 in the UK and no7 in the US – beating many of the other BookBub promoted novels for those days who would have accessed the one million plus mailing lists. Not at all bad!

What I didn’t do was tweet my book link constantly or flash post to hundreds of Facebook pages. Some people may have done that for me through the Fiverr.com gigs, but not I. I simply do not believe it works. I did write a blog post and share it across my social channels and I did share the promotions progress over the three days. I also manually entered the book to around twenty free ebook promoting websites. And that is it, the sum total of my efforts.

As I type, The New Mrs D is no 20 in the best selling literary humour chart, just ten places behind Helen Fielding’s ‘Mad About The Boy’. Maybe it will stay, maybe not. Maybe it’s a post promotional lucky spike in sales that will tail off. Only time will tell.

But what a roller coaster! It’s thrilling and hard and scary and up, down, up, down and round and round. What a ride, this writerly life.

I like the roller coaster.

Back to book two!

Those lovely folks at Novelicious.com made me this.
Those lovely folks at Novelicious.com made me this.

Those lovely folks at Novelicious.com made me the quote opposite. Read my full interview on the site HERE

If you wish to know the specific details of services I used on Fiverr, please email me at hell4heather@gmail.com

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments here also!

Laughing inappropriately and Other Guilty Confessions

Womens comedyI spied a Twitter profile today which said, ‘laughs inappropriately. Even at funerals.’

At first I was outraged… and then I remembered I have done this.

Before you click away from here, let me attempt to explain myself. You see, I was young, naïve and completely horrified when it happened.

My thirteen year old self and the boy next door, Ian, had befriended the lonely old lady that lived across the road from us. Her name was Betsy and Ian and I would go around outside of school hours helping her in little ways; going to the shops for her and tidying her garden.  (See? Nice, friendly, Girl Guide type here). So we were very sad after she died and jumped on a bus into town alone on the day of the funeral to pay our respects at the crematorium. We possibly took flowers to her from her own garden, but, then… we were thirteen.

On arrival we found the service already in full, erm, ‘swing’ and so  jumped into some seats right at the back before snivelling through the service, even joining in with a hymn. I remember one or two people looking back at us with quizzical expressions, no doubt wondering who the heck we were. Only to be expected; we’d never met any of Betsy’s relatives.

Then the minister got to saying something along the lines of this:

‘We have come together from different places and we are all at different stages on our journey through life. Our paths are varied and we look at life in different ways.’

We are nodding. I have tears in my eyes. Ian places one arm around my shoulder and passes me a tissue.

‘But there is one thing we all have in common…’

I look at Ian, my eyes saying, ‘it’s true, we do. We all loved Betsy.’ *sniff*

‘…at one point or another, our lives have touched the life of Margaret….’

That was when it happened – the inappropriate laughing thing. Not loud belly laughs you understand. More of a stifled guffaw as we realised with horror we were at the wrong funeral and dived out of the door before really letting it all out, to outraged stares from the undertakers who had been busy solemnly placing the funeral flowers on the pavement outside.

But it was nervous laughter. You see, we couldn’t hold it in. It was like trying to suppress a sneeze and I’m utterly convinced I’m going to hell for it. Dear reader, I swear, to this very day I feel awful whenever I think of it.

It was the guilty laugh; the embarrassed laugh. The ‘did that really just happen?’ laugh. It is what has happened to me many times over the years while stood in crowded lifts (for no reason at all), when people trip in front of me in the street, when the nurse about to take my son’s blood pressure bends down to get her notes, lets out an accidental fart and continued seriously on like it hasn’t happened. When the doctor examining my boy’s broken arm on the same day said, in very broken English, ‘we’ll have to take it off’. And yes, before realising he meant the plaster cast, not the arm. I was laughing because I thought the doctor was recommending amputation – but, to be fair, my son laughed too. It was a NERVOUS LAUGH. Honestly.

Shocker – this awful thing is hereditary.

Let me attempt to explain the phenomena that is the nervous laugh more clearly:

In my early twenties I worked as an auxiliary nurse and one morning myself and a colleague had been given the unenviable task of bed bathing a recently deceased lady on a low lit ward, in her bed, with the curtains pulled round as the other patients slept. The old lady had passed peacefully with her eyes closed, yet as we struggled to tug her nightie over her head for her wash, the neck of the garment caught on and lifted her eyelids. As we peered down to find her eyes now wide open, both of us jumped back, alarmed, before bursting into nervous laughter. The ward Sister had not been so amused.

‘What on earth is going on in here?’ She’d hissed, while poking her head in through the curtains, making us jump a second time.

I really am going to hell, aren’t I? But we were terrified. We thought the old lady was a) looking at us b) returned from the dead and c) going to need her nightie back on. I do like to think that she was somewhere on the sidelines watching us, having a last giggle at her joke at our expense, before heading to some more peaceful place than this.

However, I can’t help it. Whilst I have the utmost empathy in most sad, difficult or embarrassing situations, life has always seemed to hand me inopportune comedy gold. And yes, often the joke is on me. Check out what happened last time I ever went to the gym in this post: Who’s Laughing Now?Untitled

Only two weeks ago I was struggling to open the lift in Edinburgh Premier Inn, which only worked if you put in your room key card, when I turned to the stranger beside me and complained:

‘God, I miss real keys. I hate these things.’

He then proceeded to show me how to work it properly before very seriously explaining to me that he was the person who had installed the entire system at the hotel.

Me: *Snorts*
Because of course, he was joking.

Him (still straight-faced): ‘No, it’s true. I work for the company that invented them.’

Most people would apologise or at least have the decency to look mortified. I found myself stifling inappropriate laughter all the way to the fifth floor, which was where I jumped out – glad to be free – and found him following me. He was getting out at the same floor and had to point out the direction of my room for me.

If there is a special kind of hell for people with inappropriate laughing disease, I have a one-way, first class ticket.

For my new novel (she adds in seamlessly), I’ve been studying the Pseudobulbar Affect, which is a neurological disorder involving unpredictable and uncontrollable emotional displays of, among other things, inappropriate laughing. So I may get back to you sometime in the future with the kind of personal diagnosis that will explain everything. Or, I may have been tied in to a strait jacket with locks built by the man from ComparetheKeycard.com

Finally, and I’m aware you might not want to do this now given my confessions of previous, seemingly callous behaviour, I must tell you that The New Mrs D is available to download FREE for three days from tomorrow – 3rd to the 5th of December. I’m giving it away as penance for evil acts. I do hope you will download it… and laugh appropriately.

Here’s a short video all about it.

Note: Names have been changed to protect identities. Except mine. Yours truly, Sharon Osbourne.

Falling off treadmills & running home to blog about it

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