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Monday, 24 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Three: Author! Author! Audience! Audience!

Let The Fun And Games Begin...
Deciding who will be your audience is a vital first step.  It affects everything, from the tone of your writing to whether you’ll aim for publication, or write simply for the pleasure of producing a finished piece of work.  

If you write only to please yourself, your audience may be small, but you’ll satisfy one hundred percent of it.

Always write what you want to read.  Then you’ll write from the heart. That’s the quickest way to appeal to other readers, too, if you decide to expand your market. It’s a great help when the going gets tough, too. As long as you’re enthusiastic about your work, you can get through the tough times. 

If you really can’t face cobbling together any more of the Game Of Thrones fanfic you’re only writing in the hope of selling a million, your writing life will become a living hell (dragons optional).

Befriend A Bookseller Today...
Identify wider markets using the same process you used to decide what to write. If you love your work, it’s more likely to be appreciated by people like you. Keep your ear to the ground at your place of work, and any clubs, societies and social media groups you belong.  You’ll discover the subjects, people and places they enjoy, and the authors they like to read. 

Pick up on what’s popular in your circles. Read the books that are recommended by word-of mouth, which is always the most powerful selling tool. You’ll discover how to pitch your language and style to appeal to your prospective readers. Make use of your local independent bookshop. Keep them in business. One day you might need them to sell your book.  

Join online sites like Goodreads, to discuss with others what makes a book enjoyable, rather than just readable. Check out the best seller lists to get a feel for genre and length. Become your local library’s best customer.  Read as widely as you can, and try writing in different genres to find out where you’ll find the best fit.

Do your research into all possible markets beforehand. Write your own book, but with half an eye on what has worked for other people.  When you get to the stage of trying to sell your book, you’ll be tapping into a ready market.

The end result...myBook.to/HisMajestysSecret
This is where you head out into the wide, often dangerous waters of aiming to catch an agent, or a publisher. Once upon a time publishing houses had huge advertising budgets, and handed out advances like chocolate at Christmas. All the author had to do was turn up at catered events, sign a few books, and smile. 

Those days are gone. Now you have to be prepared to work every bit as hard at promoting and selling your own work as if you were self-publishing. That’s an option I’ll discuss in a future blog, but there are big advantages in being published by a firm with enough staff to take some of the responsibility off your shoulders. Writing is more fun than selling, but you’ll have to do a fair bit of that even if you’re published by one of the big international publishing houses.  These days, they’re risk-averse and won’t take an author on unless they can guarantee a return on their investment. 

If you follow my tips for researching your market beforehand, you’ll be ready to sell hard, and sell well.  

Monday, 17 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part Two: Your Three Superpowers...

If you want to write a book, all you need is three superpowers. The first is imagination, the second is observation, and the third is determination. 

They'll see you through from the beginning to the end of any writing project, no matter how complex. Everyone has those skills, and they can all be honed and improved.

Once we leave school, our imagination is pretty much put on the back-burner. Revive the fantasy habit. Let your mind drift on your commute, and make notes on your phone. Do a bit of wool-gathering before you drop off to sleep at night. Keep a notebook and pen handy next to your bed, so you can jot down ideas that come to you in the middle of the night. You might think you’ll remember them when you wake. Chances are you won’t.

Some expressions you just can't put into words....
Train yourself to notice details. Watch and listen all the time. Readers are fascinated by the little things that inspire, intrigue or infuriate everyone. Listen to the way people speak in real life, and you’ll write more authentic dialogue. Try putting into words the expressions of people you see on the bus, at a wedding, or in a hospital waiting room. Snippets drawn from your real life experiences will help readers see things in a different way.

Einstein said; great minds have purpose, others have wishes. Creating a mission statement (see Part One of Writing Your Book) is a good start, but you’ve got to stick with your project right to the end. 

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and it’s exactly the same with writing. You’ll get such a buzz from creating your first few pages, it'll get you out of bed early, and keep you up late into the night. Elation at reaching the fifty-thousand word mark will push you on to the point where you type The End. 

Readers make the best writers—discuss!
It’s the tricky slack water between those points where you’ll need determination. This is where sharing your dream is important. Tell someone who’ll understand, and they’ll be there to cheer you on when times get tough. You’ll find it hard to disappoint them. That will keep you going. 

Try out your superpowers this week. Imagine your perfect hero or heroine, and put them in your own situation. How would they cope with all the challenges of your daily life?

You can catch up with Part One of Writing Your Book here. To make sure you don’t miss the rest of this series, follow this blog by clicking on the "subscribe" button above.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Writing Your Book, Part One: Three Top Tips To Get You Going...

Here in England, we're moving from summer (wet and cold) into autumn (wetter and colder). It's time to put away the barbecue and suntan lotion. Instead of retreating into a world of comfort food and early nights, why not use the long, dark evenings to make your dream of writing a book come true? Writing can be fitted into any spare moment. It's light, indoor work with no heavy lifting—and I'm writing a book is a better excuse for staying home than I'm washing my hair. 

You can make a start while you're curled up with a mug of hot chocolate in front of a roaring log fire*. What could be better than that?

Like making New Year's Resolutions, deciding to write a book is easy to do, but tempting to abandon. Fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Make it easy to succeed and hard to give up by formulating a mission statement.  State exactly what you want to do, and give yourself a time limit. Something like;

I will write a romantic novel 70,000 words long by 31st December 2017.

Write it out and pin it up where you'll see it every day. Put a pop-up on your phone. Talk about your ambition, and tell people what you're aiming for. It'll be easier to succeed if you're too embarrassed to back out. When your friends badger you for details, you'll have to be ready with news of your progress...or some creative reasons for stalling.

Make time for writing. Commit  to getting up an hour earlier, or go to bed an hour later. Make a big thing of choosing the tools of your craft. All you need are the basics, but browsing round stationery shelves is encouraging and costs nothing. 

When you get to the stage of submitting your manuscripts to a publisher or agent you'll need a word processor, but don't let the lack of one put you off starting to write.You can make notes on phones and ipads, but nothing beats the anticipation of opening up a brand new notebook and writing those first lines by hand. Make sure you've got something by the side of your bed, ready to jot down the brilliant ideas that pop into your head overnight. Try and keep a dedicated space ready for writing, no matter how tiny. You'll need somewhere to keep your research notes, paperwork and books on the craft of writing. 

It's all too easy to get distracted, trying to decide whether you're a planner working out every detail of your book beforehand, or a pantster who makes it up as they go along. If you're all fired up and ready to go, just write. If your writing time is limited, don't use your creative energy on anything other than getting words down. Set a kitchen timer for thirty minutes, and write as fast as you can until the alarm goes off. I find writing out dialogue is a great way to make real progress, fast. There's nothing like quick results to give you a boost. Your characters come alive and once they are real to you, plot developments suggest themselves. This first, "dirty" draft gets you used to creating text. You then go back later and refine it, adding things like period detail, and descriptions of place. 

I'll be posting more hints and tips over the next few weeks. To make sure you don't miss any of them, sign up at the top of this page!

*If you're all-electric (or gas), just exercise your imagination. The comforting hot drink is pretty much compulsory, though.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Time, Tide And Technology...

This is Canary Wharf, in London's Docklands development. OH took this photo from the balcony of our hotel the last time we stayed there. We had a beautiful suite, with the Thames running below our windows, and a perfect view of the city. At low tide the shore was exposed, along with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam.

It was on that mud, just over a hundred years ago, that my grandfather's family scraped a living. In the early twentieth-century version of repair, re-use and recycle, they salvaged everything they could to sell on, or use themselves. They went everywhere on foot, and lived in conditions you only see in the film Oliver! nowadays. As a child, my grandfather was saved from his awful hand-to-mouth existence by the charity Barnardos, and later by signing up with the Royal Corps of Signals in the British Army.

Grandad wouldn't recognise the old place now. These days, Docklands is a place of high finance and expense-account lunches. Planes skim over the sight of his miserable early life every few minutes, on their way into London City airport. Nobody walks anywhere, unless they are so hard-up they can't afford public transport.  The National Health Service, together with networks of rules, regulations and safeguards should mean no family struggles as my grandfather's did.

Find out more at myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
That's a relief, but with big gains has come at least one loss.  The only thing Grandad liked to remember about this early life was the community spirit. Everyone struggled to survive, but they did it together. There was always time to talk with your neighbours—if only to tell them the bailiffs were coming!

They used to say it takes a whole village (or in Grandad's case, warren) to raise a child. These days we have electronic babysitters, with screens instead of faces. With sipper bottles, onesies, adult colouring books and Haribo adverts, nobody has to grow up if they don't want to. There's no time to talk to anyone, and no need, either—if you're glued to Pokemon Go, nobody's going to disturb you.

It's a form of escapism. I'd rather lose myself in a book!

What do you think is the best thing about life today, and what's the worst? There's a copy of my feel good, light-as-a-summer breeze romance, My Dream Guy, for a comment pulled out of my beekeeping hat by midnight on 8th August. If you can't comment, email me instead! christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Notes From The RNA Conference, 2016 —Author Marketing: Brand, Plans And Goals

I had a great time at the RNA Conference 2016 in Lancaster last week. It was four days of networking, industry appointments, and fun. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting some of the notes I made on each of the sessions I attended, so follow this blog using the sign-up on the right of this page to make sure you don't miss anything!

To kick off, here are a few bullet points from the Author Marketing Session, presented by that great double act, best-selling authors Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady. All the photographs are by John Jackson. I know my limitations behind a lens...
Brigid Coady
  • Start by writing the best book you can. All your marketing efforts should take second place to that. 
  • A brand is a promise. Every interaction with your readers should add value to your brand, and create an emotional attachment.
  • Katie Fforde and Carole Matthews are fantastic “brands”
  • What are you willing to share online? Does it fit with what you write?
  • R J Ellory, the crime writer who faked his own reviews, was cited as a "damaged brand" which is taking a long time to recover.
Liz Fenwick
  • Avoid politics and religion when you’re interacting online
  • Keep a flow of information and interaction between you and your readers on Facebook, Twitter etc, always promoting the same values
  • Find out everything you can about your target audience. If they’re Australian, make sure you’re on social media at midnight, etc. Be where they are, when they’re there. 
    Lancaster University Campus
  • Use scheduling services  such as Tweetdeck, but take care tragic international events don’t overtake your happy tweets.
  • Support local bookshops and library campaigns to get your name out there. 
  • Engage your reader with everything from the cover, through blurb, bio, photo and your first page.
  • Use Facebook Author page to monitor stats and help understand your audience.
  • Liz and Brigid decided they spent about 3 hours writing and 1 hour on marketing, every day.
Don't forget to follow my blog by signing up at the top of this page, to make sure you don't miss the next instalment of my notes from the RNA Conference, 2016.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Sunshine And Showers...

Stormy Weather Ahead!
This year, instead of either weeks of unrelenting rain or continuous boiling sunshine, we’ve had a mixture of the two. 

There have been a couple of beautiful days, when everyone remembers the words; “flaming June”, followed by cloud, occasional drizzle, one or two old-fashioned deluges, then back to sunshine again. 

Given the pattern of the last decade this pattern feels odd, but it’s much more like the weather I remember from my childhood. When air travel was expensive, most people holidayed at home rather than jet away for guaranteed sunshine. My family always stuck it out in Britain, opting to stay in hotels and holiday lets. When OH arranged a camping holiday in Wales for the summer after we got married, I was looking forward to showing him all the places I’d loved before we met. 

Visit myBook.to/MyDreamGuy now!
A few mornings of waking up to find frost on the inside of our tent cooled my enthusiasm for life under canvas.  Early starts because of the cold meant we had hours to fill in freezing conditions before any of the shops or attractions opened. We weren't short of ways to keep warm (!) and put it down to experience, but the idea of holiday memories being so much better than reality sowed the seeds which grew into my short romance My Dream Guy. Here's a taste of the finished story...

Emily is dreading the thought of going camping in the wettest summer for years. Only the idea of catching up with a gorgeous local guy again stops her from staying at home—but she’s in for an almighty shock. Then her distracted boyfriend Jack springs some even bigger surprises. 

Can Emily’s holiday from hell ever have a happy ending? Pick up My Dream Guy and find out!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Pupdate! A Puppy Update...

Alex at 7 weeks old...
I knew becoming novice dog-owners would be tough, but I didn't realise we'd be riding such a roller-coaster for a lifetime (sorry, nine weeks).

First, Alex didn't sleep through the night until he'd been here for four days.  It was harrowing to hear him scream for hours on end. He'd eventually drop off to sleep, exhausted, only to wake half an hour or so later and start howling again. 

Soon we were all —Alex included—shattered from lack of sleep. OH moved into his office in town  and  cancelled the week's holiday he'd booked to catch up on chores around the house. Our son, who has wanted a dog all his life, did all the research into breeds and breeders and paid for Alex out of his savings, was pretty disillusioned by the racket and sheer, unending misery of it all. 

We racked our brains. What was the puppy so unhappy? He was well fed, had water, toys, a comfy bed, the radio  and a nightlight. We turned the heating off overnight, in case he was upset by the sound of the boiler firing. All that did was to make us all freezing cold, as well as miserable.   

...what a difference 8 weeks makes!
Staggering outside in the half-light at 4am for Alex's first toilet break of the day, while he was busy I bagged up the usual mess left behind by the deer that somehow manage to break in each night.  Then it struck me—to get from the northern boundary of the garden to wreck our fruit trees, they had to walk across the terrace, only inches from where Alex was (supposed be) sleeping inside, under the window in the living room. 

It only took minutes to shift the puppy's crate into the kitchen, well away from any route the deer might take on their way to the orchard. That night, Alex had his first experience of unbroken sleep since leaving his breeder, and so did we!

If only transporting Alex by car was so easy to solve. We started off by feeding him in the stationery vehicle then taking short drives to the end of the lane, then to a friend's house, gradually increasing the distance each time. It doesn't seem to have any effect. He spends the whole journey yodelling fit to burst.

The cat is another hot topic. Alex was brought up with cats, so he thinks our huge and ancient pest control officer is bound to love him as much as he wants to love the cat. The cat has other ideas. For the first few days, he refused to come into the house. He's gradually been coaxed back in, but won't share any space with Alex. Whenever they meet he swells up to twice his already impressive size, hisses and spits. Alex assumes this is a friendly gesture. He advances, and gets firmly cuffed by the cat for his trouble. It's as though the Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Dawkins stumble upon each other several times a day. Unconditional love meets immoveable obstacle... 

Have you got any solutions for our puppy problems?