Wednesday, 31 July 2013

More book promotion ideas

If you are able to write full time, try to spend a couple of hours a day on book promotion and marketing (this also includes any social media), but don't go over that two hour time slot because writing should always take precedent. As with anything, it takes a lot of discipline, so draw up a schedule say over the next six months breaking down each area of your marketing into manageable chunks.

Today I've got some more ideas for promoting your book:

Create a book trailer and publish it to your website and social media. Most of us are on a budget so using footage with real actors and actresses is probably out of the question. In that case, go the stills route. Find some quality photographs - either your own if you dabble in photography or I'm told pinterest could be useful. Always ask permission first though! Write a script for the stills, find some music and then use a movie editor like iMovie to put the whole thing together. You could even create it in Powerpoint. Make sure on the final slide you have your contact details, where you can buy the book and possibly the blurb.

Write articles around your book's themes and / or your writing life and send them to ezines and article directories. Link back to your Amazon page, website and blog where you can.

Here is a list of potential ezines / article directories:

Amazines –
Article Alley –
Article Base-
Article City –
Articles Factory – – –
Constant Content –
Ezine Articles – – –
Jogena’s – – – – – – – – –

Your book will most likely be on Amazon and Goodreads as a starting point, but run a Google search and see where else you can place it on the virtual book shelves. A few that I know of - Smashwords, Createspace, Independent Author Network, Indie Kindle, Indie book of the day, Celebrating Authors, The Kindle book review, World Literary Cafe and Indie Book Collective. That's enough to be getting on with, but seriously, there are loads! More on these sites over the coming weeks.

Keep an eye on your Amazon ranking and offer your book cut price - or even for free - to get it back up the various charts. Again, more on this over the coming weeks.

Finally, write a press release for your book and submit it to a whole host of press release websites (see below). I've read that press releases are recorded within the news filter of Google search, so that's handy for getting the word out there if you are planning any events - launch, signings, meet the author, etc

Monday, 29 July 2013

Ongoing book promotion

Here are some more ways you can promote your book. The good thing is a lot of it you will already be doing, so, with a little extra effort, it could really pay off for you:
  • Blogging regularly, not just on the themes of your book, but on topics that interest you. This will keep you visible in search engines.
  • Posting in writing and book related forums and generating discussion around your book and its themes.
  • Offer author interviews to other bloggers.
  • If you can afford to offer a prize like a new Kindle, run a competition or quiz based on your book.
  • Organise an interview on Twitter (Twitterview). To do this, start by creating a hashtag for your interview and then invite your followers to ask short questions (with the hashtag included) which you then reply to (with the hashtag included). Advertise on your blog and social networks with a week's lead in time, and block out a whole day for the interview because you will need to run regular searches on your hashtag to view the questions and answer them.
The idea with book promotion is to be as creative as possible and keep coming up with innovative ways to market and sell your work. I'll have some more ideas for you in my next blog post.

Post launch book promotion

Before I take a side road in The Publishing Journey and talk about self publishing, we're going to take a look at ongoing promotion for your book. With the changing face of the Publishing industry, it's not simply a case of launching the book and then sitting back. If you want your work to be a success, post launch is when it really counts.

Here's how you can maintain the momentum:
  • Keep commenting and participating regularly on the blogger's websites who took part in your blog tour and virtual book launch.
  • Put a link to your book with a picture in your signature so, when you post in forums, you're advertising your book.
  • Open an Author's Page on Amazon and link back to your blog so potential reader's can get to know you.
  • Offer the first few chapters for free download on Amazon so readers can determine whether they want to read more and buy the book. Remember: A bad review on Amazon is detrimental. Give readers the choice.
  •  Start by offering a low book price (if you can control it) and then up it as and when book sales take off. We'll cover more on price points with Amazon in the self publishing section.
Finally, a word of warning: Blogging about book sales will get you publicity (because other writers are chomping at the bit for this information), but you run the risk of being banned by Amazon.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Planning a virtual book tour

So far in The Publishing Journey blog series we've covered the book proposal, what the professionals in the publishing industry expect of an author today, what you can be doing whilst searching for an agent, publicity tactics before publishing, YOU as a brand and finally the coveted book launch... But what happens next? How do you continue promoting your book?

Enter the virtual book tour. Of course, you can do a real life one too, but it's likely to be more cost effective and you'll reach a bigger target audience by continuing to promote your work online.

Planning a virtual book tour is much the same as planning a blog tour and I'm sure with a little refreshing, you can use much of the same material.

Here are 8 steps to follow:

1) Make sure your blog is active along with your social networking accounts - Twitter, Facebook, etc

2) Give yourself at least 2 months planning time (if not more). Determine the type of tour you want to do, what you hope to achieve, and specific dates and duration

3) Plan your content and giveaways

4) Research for prospective hosts and send them an invitation (much of this work you would've already done when organising your blog tour)

5) Once confirmations from hosts come back in, assign dates to them for the tour

6) Begin pre-tour promotional activity for the book tour (again, use the same strategy from your blog tour)

7) Write your articles / blog posts and interview questions and send them to your hosts

8) Finally, when the tour kicks off, monitor daily, be virtually visible and available, and co-ordinate any action points (like prizes for giveaways)

Friday, 26 July 2013

The book launch

Ah the coveted book launch... just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. I never got round to organising one for my debut novel, but I'd love to do one some day. Maybe for the next book...

Everybody is talking about Goodreads, so take a look at their author program which I shall be signing up for shortly. Here you can promote you, your book and your launch - and more importantly, build your fan base block by block. I also like the fact you can share your favourite books and what you're currently reading, so it's a two-way portrayal - you the author and you the reader. And you can link your existing blog to your author profile keeping things very streamlined.

Now onto organising a book launch. I'm no expert but I've found some helpful advice to share with you today:
  • Choose a date, time and venue appropriate to your book. You wouldn't hold a launch for your children's novel in the evening for example.
  • Theme or no theme? If your book has a clear theme that can easily be used, go for it, but don't make it compulsory to dress up.
  • Design and send out personalised invitations to everyone you know - whether by post or email - whichever suits.
  • Order the books with plenty of time to spare.
  • Advertise in the local paper.
  • Write a catching press release and send to the local media.
  • Organise some simple catering - welcome drink, nibbles.
  • Have a little speech prepared.
  • And a raffle or competition - with an enticing prize...
  • Turn up and dazzle!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

YOU the brand

Remember I said you had to think of yourself as a brand and not be a one book wonder - unless that's your intention. Depending on your marketing budget and time constraints, there are many ways to promote yourself and it's all about finding what works for you and then running with it. For example, something I've picked up on: I don't think having my blog as part of my website is as effective as it could be, so I'm also running this blog alongside it to see how my audience differs and whether anything obvious jumps out to prove one is better over the other.

Over the past few weeks, we've covered the key ingredients to an author platform - having a Twitter and Facebook presence plus any other profiles which work for you, and having your own website and the all important blog. We've also looked at following blogs across the publishing spectrum from Agents and Editors to marketing gurus and your fellow writers. Commenting on these and guest posting. Running a blog tour with competitions and securing reviews for your book. Attending events and networking with the industry professionals and other writers, and talking to local libraries and local book stores to run book signings and Meet The Author Q&A sessions.

So what else can you do?

Here are a few more ideas:
  • Design a set of business cards
  • Use Vistaprint or similar companies to create promotional items for giveaways
  • Run a contest giving away free copies of your book (in exchange for a review!)
  • Approach podcasters who are looking for authors in your genre to interview
  • Add author videos to your website
  • Create a book trailer
  • Open up a YouTube channel and post all videos and podcasts here as well

Next up, we'll take a look at the book launch.

Using your blog to promote

Through networking for reviews and piecing together your blog tour, you will no doubt make many new contacts and find a whole host of helpful websites for cross promotion opportunities. It's definitely a minefield and so easy to get distracted, but you need to have a clear idea of what your objectives are - and then stick to them.

Now bringing it back to your blog, which for me is the basis of all the platform building, promotion and publicity you will do, here are some ways to use it to promote you and your book:
  • Talk about the themes, characters and inspiration behind the story
  • Explore your genre and topic
  • Who are the authors you most admire and why
  • Share your writing life, writing tips, social media tips, networking tips - anything of relevance that you've picked up along the writing and publishing journey
  • Engage your readers by creating a writing challenge or contest

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Organising a blog tour

Today we're going to talk about setting up a blog tour. This comes way before the launch of your book, several months in fact - if not longer!

As I explained in my post Publicity before publishing, a blog tour is basically sourcing other writer's blogs of a similar genre to your book and interacting with them and their readers via their blog. This could be in the form of you guest posting, running competitions and promotions targeted to your book, or simply gaining a review or Q&A from the blogger.

What it means is a lot of preparation is required beforehand (hence the big lead in time) - contacting the bloggers, setting up content, sorting out competitions and prizes, arranging dates for posts...

As you know, I like to break things down into their simplest form, so here are the steps you need to take to get your blog tour off the ground:

1) Have your own blog up and running!

2) Identify blogs that match your genre. Depending on the scale of your blog tour, decide how many bloggers you want to contact. Run a Google search to find the blogs and then delve into each one individually to see how effective they could be in helping you promote your book. Remember, you want maximum exposure. The main thing to look out for is how well are they represented in social media - Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+ etc. Check their Twitter and Facebook following and see how often they post content.

3) Contact the bloggers. Invite them to participate in your tour by offering a free copy of your book in exchange for a review or a Q&A with you - or both. Link back to your blog so they can check you out and also to show you're willing to promote them. A blog tour is not just about promoting your book, it's also about promoting other authors. The more you include this dynamic in your strategy, the more you'll get out of this exercise. It's a two-way thing. Also nail down specific dates for specific activities to keep the tour moving along. Other ways to entice your fellow bloggers could be getting them to compete with each other for a prize - whoever gets the highest hit rate on the post relating to your book perhaps...

4) Advertise your blog tour on your own blog and through your social media profiles.

5) Lastly, be available for whatever comes up during the blog tour ie. don't suddenly disappear midway through the promotion!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Blogger reviews

I just read a terrifying thing - to be effective in marketing your book, you need to be working at it 12+ hours a day! Yes the internet makes it easier than ever before to achieve this, but also the internet can bombard and overwhelm you with information to the extent you don't know what to tackle first.

Thank god this is a publishing "journey"!

Taking No.1 from my Publicity before publishing blog post, here are five ways to find the right bloggers to review your book:

1) First, remember to treat this exercise as if you were approaching an Agent or Publisher. Be bothered to research them and their website and blog.

2) If you do your research using social media sites like Twitter and Google+, you'll find good blogger websites and they will have links to other great sites. Keep clicking through and jotting down the sites, making sure each blogger is interested in your genre.

3) Read the individual review policies.

4) Write a query email, but here's the thing - yes emails are quick but they also get deleted if they aren't personalised enough. Spend time over the personalisation. Don't forget, you're asking a blogger to spend 10+ hours reading your novel and then writing a concise review. Show them you've bothered to check out their work too.

5) Follow them on social media sites if you aren't already.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Publicity before publishing your book

So you've written your book, you're looking for an Agent and / or Publisher, but whilst doing that you've decided to self publish.

You're working hard on building your author platform and networking like crazy to get your name "out there".

What comes next?

The book launch?

Not quite yet. A few weeks before you launch, there are some things you can do to give yourself a better chance of making a "splash" with your new book.

We'll touch on four items now and then over the next week or so, I'll go into more detail for each of them:

Get reviews - contact a few select bloggers and send them a copy requesting a review. You can then link back to their reviews on your blog to build your book's credibility.

Setting up a blog tour - best to organise this in advance and start the tour a day after the launch. Identify blogs you would like to feature yourself and your book on and then contact the bloggers. Try to have the material pre-written so it's just a matter of posting it.

Cross promotion - join a group of authors (on Twitter) who are cross promoting their respective books preferably in the same genre to yours.

Invitations to podcasts / radio interviews - if you can get something like this, you can link back on your website.

A week before the book launch, now is the time to really start turning up the heat and pushing your book. Organise a launch party on GoodReads (more on this later) and offer giveaways to the first X number of people who download your book in exchange for a review on Amazon. Make sure you've updated your website with the reviews you hopefully secured a few weeks earlier and any interviews you've managed to pull out of the hat. Put them on your blog as well and use your blog as your main marketing platform because if set up to do so, your blog can cover all bases - Facebook, Twitter etc etc. Less work for you - and let's face it, you're going to be pretty busy!

5 things to do whilst searching for an Agent

We'll talk more about self publishing as this series of blog posts on The Publishing Journey develops, but for now let's continue with the journey itself.

Here are 5 things you should be doing whilst you attempt to find an Agent and / or Publisher for your work.

Note: I wasn't doing any of these so I know how important they are! Now I am doing them, I'm reaping the benefits - small scale - but still, in my eyes that's progress.

1) Get your name out there by building an author platform through a website, a blog and Twitter and Facebook presence.

2) Start marketing yourself by following Agent and Editor blogs (and your fellow writer's blogs) and commenting on them.

3) Network with local libraries, local book store managers and fellow authors. When visiting libraries and book stores, leave a business card and offer to do a book signing once your book is published. After publication, give them signed copies with Local Author stickers for recommendation purposes.

4) Attend Agent, Editor and Publisher events to get to know them and vice versa.

5) Above all, keep writing. The professionals are interested in your career as a writer so don't be a one-trick pony. Try to stay one book ahead...

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Success on Amazon & the Kindle case study

Carrying on with the theme of proving you have an audience for your book before trying to get a traditional publisher interested ie. going down the self publishing route first, here's an inspiring story that it really can work:

In August 2011 I found myself reading about Louise Voss who put her novel on the Kindle for 96p and landed a six-figure, four-book deal with HarperFiction. 

At the time I worked out she was making the same amount per eBook as I was - and mine was 5 times the price! 

As a result of the deal, her eBook would now be printed and stocked in book shops in the traditional way. 

She promoted it through social networking and by asking independent reviewers (AKA Indie reviewers who specialise in reviewing self published material) to write about it online.

Entering the Amazon Top 100 UK downloads must have been a thrill, but she built on that momentum and quickly shot to the top of the Amazon Kindle and Amazon Fiction charts.

The book sold 50,000 copies and stayed at the number one UK download spot for the whole of June.

It didn't cost her anything to load up the book on Amazon. All she paid for was an image on the front cover.

She made around £20,000 on the combined sales of her first novel and second novel using this method. Not bad going at all!

Advice from the writing professionals

My next series of blog posts are going to be about the publishing journey, which is actually very very different to how I imagined it.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I thought you signed a book contract and were instantly propelled to fame. My dream was shattered at a Legend Press event in 2011 where I met real life Publishers, Agents and Editors. So, as promised yesterday, here is some advice from the experts.

Ideally, have a good ponder on the pointers in this post before attempting the book proposal… and then try and say that after a few bevvies...

Today we’ll be covering:
What Agents are recommending you do before you submit your manuscript
What Editors are looking for in a good novel
What Publishers are expecting from you the author

The Agents on the panel were quick to slice through our dreams with the reality.

They advised the following:
  • Research their websites thoroughly and check they represent your chosen genre before contacting them
  • Present a CV that advertises your writing ability and publishing history
  • Prove that you’re industrious – Do you regularly enter writing competitions? Have you exhibited your work at any book fairs? Are you raising your literary profile and building your readership? In other words, have you got an established tried and tested author platform up and running?

As you know from reading my blog series, this is what an author platform should contain:
  • A professional website that details your literary inspirations and aspirations, showcases your work, has a YouTube video of you reading an excerpt from your book, an Events page (book signings etc) and must be easy to navigate
  • A blog
  • Facebook and Twitter profiles
  • Optional - a personalised Facebook Page for your book
  • Optional - a Google+ profile

Check out more information on developing your online presence and author platform here.

Harder to obtain but pure gold if you can get your hands on them:
  • A list of any literary competitions you’ve been shortlisted for
  • An endorsement letter from a book buyer like Tesco or from the book retail trade

Be able to answer the “marketing questions” using these 4 headers:

YOU – Why did you write the book? Are you social networking yourself as a brand? Are you marketable as an author?

BOOK – What is the hook? Is it marketable? Does the story link back to you and life experience/s?

TARGET MARGET – Who will buy your book, and why?

APPEAL TO TARGET MARKET – How will your book appeal to the target market?




Journalists love an easy headline and people are intrigued by real life.

We had an Editor from Headline and one from Simon & Schuster on the panel. These were the things they wanted from a new manuscript:
  • An engaging voice
  • Emotional reaction
  • Obvious selling points
  • A brilliant “hook you in” first chapter
  • An original twist on an established genre
  • Unusual combinations like Eat Pray Love meets The Devil Wears Prada
  • Unique Selling Point (USP) – what’s the marketing angle / hook for publicity

There are only 5 or 6 key book buyers for the UK. Even if an Editor loves your manuscript, they still have to get it passed their marketing and sales team and convince them it’s a winner.

Nowadays, Publishers want hard evidence of tangible sales. This is why many debut authors are going down the self-publishing route first. Their aim is to prove there’s a market and readership for their work. If you can self publish, market and sell 2,000 copies of your book, AWESOME. If you can self publish, market and sell between 4,000 to 5,000 copies, that’s exceptional and a Publisher should be knocking at your door!

Publishers expect your input in the marketing strategy and campaign. They want to know your REACH – how many people can you target in one hit with each individual marketing idea?


Traditional publishing houses still believe in reviews, but to move with the times, think about the hooks and angles of your story for a book feature. This is much more powerful.

From signing the book deal, it’s usually a year until the publication date – and guess what – the publication date is just the beginning…

It’s not just about the writing anymore. Check out the 10 jobs of a modern day writer to prepare yourself for this mammoth and exciting journey!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Writing a book proposal

I still consider traditional publishing the bees knees even with the advent of self publishing on Amazon and co., so in today's blog post we'll be covering how to write a book proposal and query letter. I'm going to share with you the way I've been taught to approach this task.

Always start with The Writers & Artists Yearbook. This is a great resource for finding potential Editors and Agents in your genre, but be sure to double check the information listed by them on individual websites. People come and go all the time and you want the most accurate information. If you find the book doesn't match the website and you're still not sure (because the website looks like it hasn't be manned for several months), make a phone call to the company to find out the name of the Editor or Agent. The number one rule is to address your proposal / query to a named person, so it is worth all this extra effort. If you simply write Dear Sir / Madam, expect to find yourself on the slush pile in no time at all.

Before you write your proposal, make sure you have a completed manuscript and it's edited to the best of your ability. In the past, I've let potentially great opportunities slip through my fingers because I'd only written five or six chapters and that's all I had to show.

In the good old days I used to write query letters that were three A4 pages long because it was ok to do so. Nowadays, however, it's preferable to write just one A4 page with approx three to five paragraphs. Remember, you want to hook the Agent or Editor in within the first few seconds, much as you do when writing a book, so keep your proposal succinct and to the point. Even if you're emailing the query, keep to the structure and format of a letter and don't send attachments unless you're allowed to. Only include your website or blog in your signature because they are unlikely to click through to these unless you've impressed them and they are keen to see more of what you can do. Everything you want to pitch about your book should be expressed in the confines of the letter, not tucked away on your website or blog.

So that's the basic principles of the layout covered. Now, what should the proposal contain?
Start with a paragraph about your book. This is a chance to pitch your story in a way that will simply blow the Editor or Agent away. Show them your irresistible hook and they will already be thinking about possible marketing opportunities. Tell them about the authors you admire and who of those you write like. X meets Y with a touch of Z. Don't be too cocky (setting yourself up for a fall), but be confident in your style, flair and content.

Next, write a paragraph about yourself and link it back to your book. Explain why you're qualified to write this story. Also mention you're a first time novelist, active on Facebook and Twitter, running a website, blogging regularly... All of this shows to them evidence you're aware of the importance of author platform and social networking. Most marketing filters through these channels if the budget is limited. If you do have a publishing history, now is the time to sing your praises. This "history" can include published articles, web copywriting, etc etc. It all makes up your published portfolio.

You need to clearly state your chosen genre, where you think your book will sit in a bookshop and which authors it will sit next to. Research thoroughly and don't make up a genre.

Be sure to let the Editor / Agent know what's available if they request to see more ie. a complete manuscript.

Finally, check the submission guidelines and most important of all - follow them. If you are being asked to send the first three chapters with a short synopsis, ONLY send the first three chapters with a short synopsis.

Using this format won't necessarily guarantee success, but what it does do is take you out of that fiction bubble and drop you into the publishing industry world. Putting your marketing head on and getting you thinking like a pro. The easy part is writing the damn book. The hard part is pitching it for sale.

I'll be continuing with this subject tomorrow and sharing tips from real life Editors and Agents.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Writer's manifesto

To wrap up my How to be a better novelist series, it seems fitting to share the Writer's manifesto with you. I have it printed and pinned to my office wall and I make sure to look at it everyday. I stumbled across it when I was in dire need of a little direction earlier this year. I had just begun my new novel and I took a while to really get going. This manifesto helped kickstart everything for me.

Friday, 12 July 2013

What writing means to me

Receiving and understanding feedback is so important for a writer to progress, but I especially love it when people just get it - they get what I'm trying to do and what I'm trying to say. Thinking outside of the box is so important when you read anything. Never take the words, the situation or the characters at face value. When you get feedback like I received yesterday (which prompted this blog), your heart quite literally sings and it's the best feeling because you're changing someone's perception, you're enlightening them and touching them with your words. Writing empowers you. It gives you the power to make things right, cause utter devastation, challenge the status quo, turn life on its head and unleash torrents of emotion - heartache, humour, distress, excitement.... You hold destinies in the palm of your hand. I don't yet know the fate of some of my characters in The Dalton Bridges saga, but that is definitely all part of the fun.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

4-step plan for reviewing other writers

On many writing sites we're encouraged to review our fellow writers, so we can all learn and improve and help each other on our respective writing journeys. What should you be looking out for? Well today's blog post will give you a 4-step plan to ensure you're covering the relevant areas and helping your fellow writers gain the most from your comments. We're going to be looking at character creation, plot structure, descriptions and the technicalities.

First up - characters. Some authors go down the descriptive route heightening the senses with carefully crafted places and scenes, while others write a blinding plot that keeps you turning the pages. But for me, characters are the heart and soul. Good character creation will have you connecting with them from the off. You should feel like you know them, be able to describe them, understand what motivates them and distinguish between each character you come across as the story unfolds. Personality traits should be relevant and speech should reflect personality.

Nowadays plot structure is being challenged and writers are keen to break from the norm. Essentially though, every good story has a beginning, middle and end and includes conflict and resolution. A plot line should never start with too much information, but rather allow that flow of information to penetrate throughout. Is the author using everything at their disposal to disperse detail - through dialogue, character action and description. A good writer mixes it up and mixes it up well. As a reviewer, this is what you're looking for. Does the storyline flow? Is it jumpy? Is there too much suspense, or not enough? Are you anticipating the protagonist's next move with ease, or with too much difficulty?

One thing to check with description - do you feel your senses are being assaulted in a good way? You will know if the author is "showing rather than telling" because you will see, hear, taste, smell, feel each scene and everything belonging to the scene like you are standing right there with the character/s.

Lastly, the technicalities. Check for the usual things - grammar errors, misspelled words, commas in the wrong place, never ending sentences... Also, is the tone of the narration fitting with the mood of the story?

Using the above plan will provide a good basis for your review, but remember to keep it positive and upbeat. For any writer, criticism is tough to take when we've laboured for so long over our pride and joy.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

How to make your life as a writer work

This post is simply a list of bullets to get you pondering on with regards to your writing career...
  • You need to chase your writing. If you really want it, pursue it.
  • Pick a project. Stick with it.
  • Keep up the pace.
  • Write in a way that only you can write.
  • Don't worry so much about trends and markets that your writing chokes.
  • It's about quality, not quantity.
  • It won't be easy.
  • It will be lonely.
  • Keep your expectations realistic and tune out the people around you.
  • Writing is not something you do. Writing is who you are.
  • Eat well and exercise to keep your creativity and enthusiasm burning.
  • Own your successes.
  • Deal with the frustrations of daily life when all you want to do is write.
  • Don't linger over mistakes. Make it better next time.
  • Feel empowered.
  • Control the things you can, and leave the things you can't to someone else.
  • Set your own trends.
  • Don't be overwhelmed by the publishing industry.
  • Connect with your writing.
  • Put fear aside.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The real work of novel writing

In today's blog post I'm going to take you behind the scenes of writing a novel. Hands up if you thought writing a book meant sitting down and tapping away approx 100,000 words on your laptop in some kind of sequence and hey presto - finished!

It's ok because actually that's what I used to think before I started to learn my craft...

Many authors will write draft after draft after draft before getting to the finished product. I know when I was writing scenes for my first novel, some had multiple edits as I twisted and turned the plot (and because I was writing it over a period of 10 years). Just remember however long it takes and however you do it, there are four stages to take yourself and your book through before you submit the finished manuscript - and they require equal amounts of your time, dedication, focus and energy if you want your work to be the best it can be.

The four stages are:

1) First draft - Writing the story freely from beginning to end. Let the words flow and don't worry about indulging yourself - that's all part of the fun of writing something new for the first time.

2) Re-work - Checking sequence, timing, realism of plots and sub plots, depth of characters and descriptive text. Break the story down. Analyse each of the above separately and then bring them all back together. If something isn't working for you, now is the time to change it before you go too far down "that road".

3) Bulldozing - Cutting out unnecessary scenes, making the story more succinct and word counting so you fit the length of a novel in your chosen genre. If you weren't sure about a part of the story in Stage 2 but you left it in, this is your final chance to make the change. Guaranteed it will be more work if you left it until now, but better late than never!

4) Final edit - Includes a line by line analysis (painstaking work!) and grammar, spelling and punctuation check. Ask somebody to do this for you if you prefer. Not many of us have the luxury of an Editor, but friends may be willing to help you proofread. They will see things within your story that you've overlooked - and trust me, you'd rather hear this criticism now than after you've gone to print.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Writing books for a living - the reality

Here are 10 things I didn't know about writing for a living:

1) There is only a slim possibility you will be able to give up the day job and live off your book sales

2) Non fiction writing is more rewarding and profitable - easier to find a publisher, higher paid, more books produced

3) To have a shot at success, you must write within a genre

4) To build on that success, you should think about writing a series

5) Each book within the series should have its own conflict and resolution

6) Ideally the second book needs to be written before the first goes to print

7) Even if you manage to get traditionally published, unless you're a Bestseller, be prepared to dirty your hands and market your own work

8) Advances are only loans. Until your book sales pay off the advance, don't expect any royalties

9) Most authors will never "pay off" the advance ie. won't make enough sales to cover the "loan"

10) You'll only make between 50p and £2.50 on a book sale

Still want to give it a go? Of course you do! But stay realistic and plan your finances wisely before you take the leap of faith.

Your editing checklist

However you edit - whether it's after a page, after each chapter, or once the first draft of your novel is complete - there are certain things you should do to make sure your work is the best it can be.

You can get people to edit basic spelling, punctuation and grammar for you, but when it comes to the "heart" only you know how the story, the tone and the voice are supposed to play out.

Read your work aloud. 

Read each and every sentence. 

Read them separately and then read the complete scene. Does it work? Do you stumble over words? Is one sentence too long making you lose the thread of all the others? Do you pause where you have commas? If not, you need to make adjustments. 

When you're struggling to piece a block of text together, or a conversation, say what you want to be said out loud first and then write it down.
Imagine your readers reading the story. Is the language appropriate? Will they connect with the messages?

Does the plot flow? 

Are the sequence of events logical? 

Are there long periods where nothing is happening? 

Is the mix of speech, description and action equal throughout the whole story?
Use verb contractions to lighten your character's conversation. Instead of "I will do it", use "I'll do it". Write speech how it's really spoken using the different emotions of your characters to dictate that.

Avoid cliches - they are the devil. It's actually a really hard thing to do.

Avoid exclamation marks too. Try to bring out the emotion of the text without over emphasizing it with a ! If the sentence falls flat once the exclamation mark is removed - that sentence needs re-writing.

Finally, take out unnecessary words. Every word should earn its place.

I'm sure there are many other aspects to be thinking about, but these are the most important to me.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

7 tips for keeping your readers hooked

We've touched on the emotional journey you're taking your readers on when you write a story, so now it's time to talk about how to keep your readers' interest peaked throughout this journey. 

If you think of your story like a contract between you and your audience and the biggest clause of that contract is your promise of a good read, it's therefore your duty to make sure you deliver. And if you really want to impress, exceed their expectations altogether.

Here are some tips for keeping your readers hooked:
  • Don’t bring people into the story without an introduction – unless of course you’re waiting to formally introduce them. In the opening of Little Child, I substitute an introduction with an explanation of motives instead.
  • Don’t switch tenses in the same scene. It stops your writing from flowing.
  • Don’t use He or She if multiple characters exist in the scene. It’s so easily done, but will instantly make your text lifeless and dull - and hard to follow.
  • Stick to the rules of your genre. If it's historical fiction, include history. If it's a romantic comedy, include love and laughs.
  • Ensure your protagonist is active throughout the story because if they aren't, you've picked the wrong character to lead your story.
  • If you use characters and scenes as build up before the main event, follow through with these to the very end to give your story depth.
  • Every story should have conflict and resolution. Make the conflict good but make the resolution better. The conflict should never just fizzle away.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Character creation

Give your characters a rainbow of personalities so they compliment each other
Every writer will have their take on character creation and how they go about it, so here are my thoughts for the How to be a better novelist series.

When creating characters you need to think outside the box – don’t completely stereotype your protagonist - some stereotyping is ok so the reader can connect, but make sure you keep surprising yourself and the reader with the prot’s decisions and actions. How many different emotions do you feel with Maggie in Little Child? Maybe at first you love and admire her, then maybe as the story unfolds the adoration turns to dislike. As more and more is unravelled, there could be the strong possibility you may absolutely hate her… Snape is a brilliant example from Harry Potter. We never know to the very end what motivates him and why he does the things he does, but JK Rowling leads us on a journey.

That’s something else I find really useful – take the protagonist on a journey because in doing so, you’re taking the reader on a journey. And that’s what writing a book is all about.

My rules for secondary characters are more lenient. Example James in Little Child – he’s very one-dimensional. My personal view is that this is ok. Too many characters doing things to surprise will detract from the protagonist.

Read your character's dialogue aloud, imagine them as a living person. Brainstorm their hopes, dreams, fears. Do this with your whole cast, but spend twice as long on your prot. Readers connect / fall in love / compare themselves with the prot. in every book (I certainly do!) so they should always get first priority. Secondary characters are there to support the prot. but they should never be strong enough to override. Again, this is just my personal view.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Tricks for clarity in your fiction writing

We all have bad habits when we write which are hard to break because we don't know what they are until we hear the criticism. The good news is, there are simple things you can keep in mind whilst you're writing to bring back the clarity and sharpen up your prose.

Use metaphors, similes and analogies sparingly, but if you really must use one, pick a metaphor over the other two.

Forget cliches. No squeaky clean. No trips down memory lane. No sleeping like a log. Or springing into life. It's really hard when they roll so nicely off the tongue...!

Use the past tense rather than "would".
    Every day she would run through the park.
    Every day she ran through the park.

Avoid weak words like appeared to or seemed to.
    The man appeared to be shocked.
    The man was shocked.

Cut out unnecessary adverbs. He ran quickly. If you're running, you're moving fast and the reader knows that. Only include the adverb if there's something about the action the reader needs to know.

Show, don't tell. Emotions can be conveyed through the character's actions.
    Angered, Martha sat down at the table and started writing furiously.
    Martha sat down at the table and started writing furiously.

Don't use passive sentences.
    There was a dog barking in the background Vs The dog was barking in the background.
    There were cats crying for food Vs The cats cried for food.
    He was to be elected Vs He was elected.

And this is my favourite one and something I am consciously working on whilst writing my new novel: Using your five senses to bring a scene alive - the setting, the characters, the pace.

Don't just describe what your character is seeing, hearing, smelling. Don't just describe the physical and obvious aspects of a setting. Put the emotion into your writing. Make your readers feel it.

The best books I have read (and the ones I'll always remember) are the books that made me feel something. Right off the bat I can tell you I laughed my way through India Knight's "Don't you want me?" and I cried my heart out through Danielle Steel's "Lightning".

Using these suggestions to tighten up your writing will make the words come alive on the page and enhance the reader's experience.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Motivation for novel writing

It's really difficult to not get distracted when you work from home because there are a million things you could be doing verses the one thing you should actually be doing. If you woke up this morning with only a smidge of interest in working on your novel or writing project, trust me, it will be very easy to achieve little or nothing today.

So how can you stay motivated?

First of all, set yourself a realistic target for the day. Something along the lines of editing 100 pages, writing the first draft of a chapter, or piecing together a sub plot using a spider diagram. Try not to beat yourself up if it doesn't happen for you, but do everything you can to complete the task by the end of the day. That in itself will give you a massive boost.

Allow yourself some day dream time (maybe when you're making and eating breakfast - or lunch - or both) and let the buoyancy of the day dream carry you for a moment or two. It's ok to get swept up in best case scenarios (I do it all the time!) but don't turn the dreams into your expectations. You'll only be setting yourself up for a mighty fall...

Finally, write what you love and love what you write - and do all that unconditionally. Trends and markets are important (and they should always be sitting in the back of your mind) BUT if it's coming out stilted, you'll know straight away and it'll put you right off. DON'T think too much about the technicalities. DO focus on the heart of the story. Tuning and fine tuning come much later. That's what second, third, fourth and fifth drafts are for!

As I was telling a friend, when I'm in the zone with my writing, I'm really in the zone. That writing place, that I hope for the writers out there you can connect with, is simply magical. The words flow, the plot thickens, the characters come alive in the visual inside my head - and the secret is to capture it in words before reality drags you back to, well, reality. When I wrote my first novel, I would say I probably only found that peace about four or five times in the space of six months. The rest of the time I teetered on the edge, my everyday To Do list sitting there in the back of my mind, bugging me and distracting me. Does it affect your creativity and output? Of course it does, and it also causes frustration and resentment. To escape is self indulgent and selfish, but that's how I write my best stuff, so I'll never change it.

A few years ago now, a friend and colleague gave me some advice when I kept making excuses about why I couldn't write daily. Apparently Yoda says in Star Wars "Do. Or do not. There is no try." Sandy wrote this on a piece of paper for me and I still have it pinned to my noticeboard in my home office today. It's amazing the impact a few words can have. They were the catalyst to get my first novel finished after so long. I guess what I'm trying to say is - find your motivation and hold on to it (for dear life in many cases), so you can fulfill your potential and complete whatever writing goals you've set yourself today, this week, this month, this year and beyond.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Strategy for a good novel

Apart from the obvious - spelling, grammar and prose - when you're writing that work of art, my strategy for a good novel lies in the characters, the plot and the pacing. Once you've fixed your genre, these 3 key ingredients are pivotal during the writing process.

You know how much I swear by my characters. Their emotions dictate their actions which in turn dictates the plot. Strong characters will lead a story and this what the reader will remember.

Plots need to be plausible but you do have some flexibility here. A reader will be prepared to suspend reality to a certain extent and for a certain amount of time during the story - and this is what you must exploit.

When it comes to pacing, even the best plots can suffer if the pacing is too slow or too fast. No reader wants to drag their heels through a novel, so make sure they don't have to.

The best novels I've read hit these elements on the head and I salute the writers. We wannabe authors can never stop learning from the experts!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Questions every author should ask

Yesterday I introduced you to the idea that being an author - or freelance writer - or both means more than just writing nowadays (see my post 10 jobs of a modern day writer). And it sucks, let's be honest. When all you want to do is write and you can't, it's a frustrating and miserable time for all.

There's the dreaming. And then there's the reality. Unfortunately, as a writer you start by dreaming and quickly get doused in reality, whereas friends, family and colleagues expect you to be world famous - just like that. In fact, they expected instant success the minute you penned the last word, but let's be honest, didn't a tiny part of you expect the same thing too?

I know I did - and I was more prepared than most after being brought up to speed with the current state of the publishing industry at one particular conference. Problem is, I'll always dream!

Whether you're going after a traditional publisher, or you're attempting indie publishing, you need to be asking yourself some serious questions along the lines of:

1) Can I handle people criticising the story I've been working on for years?

2) Am I in this for the long (long) haul?

3) Do I have time to read and improve my craft?

4) Am I really and truly ready to be a published author?

5) Do I have time to build my author platform, manage my online presence, market my book AND continue writing?

6) Am I willing to support and promote other authors struggling to be heard just like me for our mutual benefit?

If you can't answer YES to every one of these, then it's time for a rethink...

Embrace or run away!

Like anything, it's a tough old business, yet I'm guessing you keep at it because one day, just one day you might come good.

To end this post on a positive - don't forget my definition of success and celebrating each and every little achievement.

The 10 jobs of a modern day writer

When I began my publishing journey a few years ago I thought all I had to do was write and if I did it well enough I would be famous all over the world.

I loved my ignorance back then!

I learned in one day that there was so much more to it than that. I think it took about four hours for my dream to be blown apart.

To succeed in today's industry you've got to wear nine additional hats to the hat of being a writer. Pretty scary eh when all you thought you had to do was write!

So in no particular order, here are my 10 jobs of a modern day writer:

Writer - first and foremost this is what you set out to be. Always fall back on the writing (if everything else I'm about to tell you overwhelms you) because this is where you'll earn.

Administrator - to keep track of bills, payments and expenses for tax purposes.

Accountant - to file the tax return.

Editor - to be a great writer you need to be an expert at stringing the best words and sentences together with a minimum of spelling and grammar mistakes.

Researcher - to get beyond Wikipedia information and dig for the real facts.

Negotiator - to get the best rates for your super duper writing.

Marketeer - to build your brand as a writer and make you visible to potential opportunities.

Speaker - to share the industry with others.

Advocate - to sing your praises and to sing those of your fellow writers too. Word of mouth is such a powerful tool! Also for rights, payment, treatment and helping each other with all the different aspects of being a writer.

Networker - to connect and recommend.