Closing the Book on 2017

I love looking back over the past year, especially if I can be pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve achieved! (More often than not it’s regret over another year that failed to meet its potential.) But this year, I really feel like I’ve had a shift. I really feel like I’ve stopped thinking like a hobbyist, and started thinking like a business woman. My mindset has totally changed.

So, let’s see what I have achieved this year.

The VisionaryFebruary saw the release of The Visionary, book 3 of The Paper Duchess Series, which was quickly followed by a March release of After: A Post Apocalyptic Story Collection (which has turned out to be unexpectedly popular!)

It was a bit crazy doing two book releases in such quick succession, and I feel like I’ve learnt an important lesson from that. It did not go as smoothly as I’d hoped, but that lesson has led on to exciting plans for 2018.

Edge-LitFast forward to July, and I was at Edge-Lit literary convention. While I was there, I attended a workshop on running literary events, and this sparked a whole heap of ideas I plan to implement next year. It also prompted me to approach the organiser of Edge-Lit with a workshop pitch.

The MothersOctober saw the release of The Mothers, the 4th and final book in The Paper Duchess series. I had officially completed an entire series of books which was quite monumental.

Again, I’ve learnt a lot of lessons through the two years I’ve been writing and publishing the series (which you can read about here), and it’s already making the writing of my next series so much easier in a lot of ways. You see; mistakes are never just mistakes if you learn from them. And lessons are valuable, and something to cherish.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Winner BadgeNovember proved to be a ridiculously busy month. I decided to give NaNoWriMo another shot. This was my 7th year doing it, and I had 3 wins and 3 horrendous losses under my belt. I hadn’t come anywhere close to completing it since having children.

But I felt determined this year. I spent all of October planning, and I put my success down to that. I stormed in at just over 51,000 words by the end of the month. And a very nearly completed novel draft (which is now completed).

Sledge-LitNovember also brought around Sledge-Lit, the Christmas edition of Edge-Lit literary convention. Remember that workshop pitch? This was my first ever time as a guest author, and my first ever time on a discussion panel. I also ran a very successful worldbuilding workshop which I’ve had amazing feedback from. You can read more about my Sledge-Lit experience here.

The Paper Duchess Series Box SetAs if that wasn’t enough for one month, I also put together and released The Paper Duchess Complete Series Box Set. This was not nearly as easy as I’d anticipated, and I spent days fiddling around with the coding and the format to get everything working properly.

But, I did it, and people can now get the entire series in just one file. Phew! What a year!

2017 has also seen a lot more going on, both on and off stage: promos, newsletters, giveaways, author takeovers, secret plans, upping my social media game, bettering book delivery, having a short story accepted for an anthology, and I could go on forever. It’s been so busy. And December isn’t going to let up either.

December has already seen the completion of my next book’s first draft, The Smudger, which was mostly done in NaNoWriMo. As long as editing stays on track, I’ll be sending it out to my beta readers before Christmas. And that means I can spend the festive period with my feet up (at least, as much as a mum can!)

I’ll see you in the new year to talk about my plans for 2018 (the non-secret ones, at least!)

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Sledge Lit and Me (Part 2)

Sledge-LitKick off by reading Sledge-Lit and Me (Part 1)

Following the morning’s panel discussion, I ran a workshop on Worldbuilding. The truth is, I could very easily write a year-long course on this, so squeezing it into a session of just under an hour was not an easy task.

Throwing in a group discussion exercise, and a writing exercise meant that I wasn’t able to time it perfectly, but I had a plan B up my sleeve in case I ran out of time, and a plan C in case my script fell short on time. Which it did. So I simply gave out the handouts I’d prepared, and we started going through the extra topics on that. I think it was pretty seamless.

Worldbuilding is something I can happily nerd out over completely, and this workshop allowed me to indulge that. It was exciting to share my passion, and to get other people excited over something I love. And best of all, as one of the attendees said, my “excitement was infectious”. I couldn’t ask for anything more, really.

All of the attendees were great: creative, engaged, and keen to get involved. I couldn’t have hoped for a better group. The atmosphere in that room was electric, and we all went out of there absolutely buzzing with inspiration and ideas.

The feedback I’ve had has been amazing, and made it all totally worthwhile. Really hope I get the opportunity to do more of this.

Edge-Lit 3 Workshop Feedback 1Edge-Lit 3 Workshop Feedback 2Edge-Lit 3 Workshop Feedback 3Edge-Lit 3 Workshop Feedback 4

Sledge-Lit and Me (Part 1)

Sledge-LitSaturday 25th November saw the third instalment of Sledge-Lit, the Christmas edition of Derby’s bi-annual science fiction, fantasy, and horror literary convention. I’ve been attending the events since 2014, but this one was my first time attending as a guest author.

The thing I’ve always found about these events, is that every single time I leave them I am filled with inspiration, enthusiasm, and ideas. And this summer’s Edge-Lit left me with an idea for a workshop. So I emailed Alex, who organises the events, nervously awaited a reply, and that was it, I was added to the line up.

Well, there was just one more thing.

Alex asked me if I’d like to also be on a panel discussion. I said yes straight away (well, straight after I got my husband to tell me to stop being so silly over it all). If I’d given myself time to think about it, I’d have probably wimped out. My whole background is in theatre, I practically grew up on the stage. But I have always, and still do, suffer from terrible stage fright. And there’s one huge difference between being on stage, and being on a panel. On a panel, I have to be myself. There’s no costume, no script, no character to hide behind.

To my great relief, I was sent the panel questions beforehand, giving me a chance to, in my own time, construct answers to them. I brought my prompt sheet with me, because my stage fright does tend to shut my brain down completely. Of course, what I couldn’t prepare for was when the questions were opened up to the audience.

Sledge-Lit 3 Panel Discussion

Although I was shaking the whole way through, I was put at total ease by both my co-panellists, and the audience, and I managed to coherently answer the questions thrown at me. That’s why I love these events: Edge-Lit is a small, tight-knit, friendly, and supportive community of people that only want to see each other succeed.

Now read Sledge-Lit and Me (Part 2), where I talk about my worldbuilding workshop.

Warts and All (Why You Should be Real with Your Readers)

BooksWe’ve all experienced it: posting something on social media, and receiving a comment along the lines of ‘great pic, check out my profile’. Sometimes it’s painfully clear that they’ve not read your post, or even looked at the image, they’ve simply addressed you because of your hashtags and content. It’s not engaging, it’s not interesting, and it certainly doesn’t inspire you to check out their content, let alone buy their services or products.

And the reason is simple: people like to be treated as people. They like to be spoken to as a person, by a person. And you are a person, don’t let that get lost under marketing.

Imagine meeting someone for the first time, and the conversation going like this:

“Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Buy my book.”
“Oh, so you’re an author are you?”
“Buy my book.”
“That must be an interesting job.”
“Buy my book.”

You’d give up on that pretty quickly, wouldn’t you? It’s annoying, it’s intrusive, and it shows your readers one thing; that you don’t care about them.

When I was young, the only way I could find out about my idols was interviews in magazines. But we live in an amazing time now that we can chat with the people we admire. They’re no longer out of reach, so far above us on their pedestals that they can neither hear nor see us. It’s amazing for fans, but it’s amazing for writers too. We can connect with our readers, and engage with them on a friendship-like level.

I know a lot of writers struggle with what to post on social media. Set your rules. Whether that be no pictures of my children, no pictures to identify where I live. That’s fine, we all have a right to our privacy and security. But beyond that, go for it. Show your readers who you are. Show them you doing yoga in the morning. I bet some of your readers do yoga too. Show them you walking your dog. I bet several of them have dogs. Show them you browsing books in a library, finding a charity shop bargain, eating fish and chips from the wrapper, your favourite reading chair, a miserable rainy afternoon, your huge coffee mug, your fluffy slippers, your secret chocolate stash. These are the things your readers will relate to.

Show yourself as someone they want to be friends with.

Because, if they like you, if they’re interested in you, when you say, “by the way, I have a new book out if you want to take a look”, they actually will. And it’s not hard, there’s no big secret. All you have to do is be your own wonderful self.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

ReaderWhen I first started to take writing seriously, I was weighed down by a lot of advice I read from professional writers that I admired. Advice along the lines of ‘you have to write every day’, ‘make daily writing a habit’, and ‘you have to treat it like a job: show up every day’.

I was so disheartened every day that I didn’t write, I got so bogged down by feelings of futility and failure that I almost gave up writing altogether.

It took me some time to realise that not every bit of advice, even if it was, fundamentally, good advice, was going to work for me. You have to find your own way, and it may be different to everyone else’s, but if it gets words on the page, stick with it.

I recently came across another guilt-inducing quote online, something like ‘a professional is someone who does it even when he doesn’t feel like it’. I can see the truth in it, and the admirable commitment, but also the finger pointing, the presumption, and the potential harmfulness. I say a professional is someone who finds their own way, and then totally rocks it.

Writing is so involved, we all know that. Your head, your heart, your soul, it’s all poured in. And it can be exhausting, and draining, and confusing, and heavy-going. And you do need to take a break sometimes. Because you need to look after yourself.

If you need a day off writing, do it. If you want to go for a walk, or watch trashy TV, or read a book, or eat cake, or whatever you need to sort your head out, do it. Your writing will still be there tomorrow. And don’t feel guilty for it, don’t feel like you’ve failed. Because your writing needs you to be healthy. If you want to write well, you need to look after yourself as well as the words.

Often, a day off will bring you back to writing refreshed and ready to go. Do what you need to get words on the page, and if that means the odd day off to recharge, to clear your head, do it. And don’t feel bad for it.

How to Turn a NaNoWriMo Loss into a Long-Term Win

NaNoWriMo Participant 2017So here we are in November, and a whole load of overly optimistic (or overly crazy) writers around the world are heads down writing like mad for NaNoWriMo. Chances are you know lots of people doing it, but if you don’t know what it is, National Novel Writing Month challenges you to write a 50k word novel in just 30 days. Yes, you have to be a little bit crazy to try it.

I’ve been that crazy six times already. But I’ve only hit that magical 50k three times (since having children, I’ve not managed to come anywhere close!)

As many people as you know doing NaNoWriMo, you’ll probably know just as many who decry it as a joke. An event that promotes terrible writing (by encouraging quantity of words over quality). And they’re right. It is more than likely that your NaNo novel will be terrible. As all first drafts usually are (especially when written in a caffeine-fuelled blur of just 30 days). But what does that matter? Your first draft never sees the light of day.

Many, probably most, NaNo novels will never find their way through to publication, and are destined to languish on hard drives, abandoned and forgotten. But there is light at the end of the literary tunnel here. Let me tell you about one of my NaNo stories.

In 2011, I hit NaNoWriMo with a story called The Bottle Stopper. It was about a little girl, eight years old, living in the care of her abusive uncle. She was blind, because he had blinded her. She worked in the back of his apothecary shop, bottling his ‘miracle medicine’, which was, in actual fact, nothing more than river water and a sprig of lavender. I won that year, penned 50k words. 50k awful words. 50k words that sat on my hard drive for years.

In October 2015, I published The Bottle Stopper. It certainly wasn’t the 2011 version, nor was it any of the other three versions that had followed. It’s still about a girl, but she’s 17 now, and she can see perfectly well. The abusive uncle is still there, and she still bottles his medicine. Beyond that, it bears very little relation to the original.

But that idea, those characters, and that conflict carried through to the book as it is today. It may have taken another four years, but that book was finished, and published. It also contained a whole supporting cast of characters rescued from other unfinished books (some of which were written for NaNo). The Bottle Stopper is the first book of The Paper Duchess quadrilogy.

So what I’m saying is this: a good idea never dies. Even if your NaNo novel is utter trash, the ideas are salvageable. The characters can be resurrected. And the story can still be played out. Some day. And my terrible NaNo novel evolved into an entire series. So a loss at NaNo doesn’t need to be a loss forever. It can, in time, become a great big win.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.