When does a book need a new title and cover?

A few weeks ago, I attended a webinar organised by the wonderful Alliance of Independent Authors, in which Joanna Penn said we shouldn’t be afraid to rebrand our  self-published books as we begin to understand our market better.

Shortly after that, I came across her article On Changing Book Titles And Covers: My Own Experience And How You Can Do It Too, and those two things got me thinking about what I’ve learnt about my market in the months since I published my most recent books.

I think what I may have learnt is that choosing a cover and title isn’t about what I like, but about telling the customer exactly what they’re going to get, in the couple of seconds they’ll spend glancing at it in amazon or wherever.

I’m not sure, which is why I’m blogging – I would really value your feedback.

Here’s the cover my editor, designer and I came up with for my YA novel about sibling suicide, Drift.

9781910300084The rationale behind this choice of cover was that most current YA top-sellers seem to involve artwork rather than photography, and art is one of the themes of the book.

But does that image really suggest sibling suicide/angst/grief and depression? Are there really any clues as to what kind of story it is? And does it have a real impact that makes you feel curious to read inside?

I like the cover, but I’m not sure it works. So last night I mocked up a completely different one in canva . I don’t like it as much, but I do think it might do the job better – here’s the sketch so far.

drIFTWhat do you think?

The other book I brought out last year was When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow. I’ve typed that title enough times to be starting to feel it’s too long! Besides that, before I published it, an author friend of mine, Kelly McCain, said she felt a more positive sounding title might be more appealing.

I think she was right, and I’m leaning towards re-titling it something like Writer’s Block: Beat it, Be Published and Find Your Flow or How to be a Happy Writer: Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow. Which title would you be more likely to buy?

Although it pains me, I think the cover image might not be helping the book either. I like it a lot – I love all Hilke MacInyre‘s work – but I’m not sure it tells the reader in that one-second glance, what kind of book they’ll be getting.

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The rationale behind this one was that I wanted a brand-look with Writing in the House of Dreams I thought the two might help each other in the market. But I’ve discovered that most readers who have read both seem to have liked one but not the other (that’s me reading between the lines – my readers are too nice to actually say it!)

Writing in the House of Dreams isn’t your run-of-the-mill writing or dream book, so I guess the cover image is probably OK, but most practical books on writing like When a Writer Isn’t Writing have covers with more text and smaller/plainer designs.

Neither of these books have sold a huge number of copies, so what do you think – worth a revamp? Or should I give them a little more time, just as they are?

Do you want to know what your dreams mean?

I saw this image in my fb timeline recently and shared it on my author page because I thought it was funny.

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But there’s a serious point here, which reminded me immediately of how I developed a deep dislike for poetry during my school years that lasted well into adult life.

I wrote my first poem when I was about 6 years old (it was about my teddy bear) and carried on writing and loving poems until we began to study poetry in English Literature. Then I discovered that poems had hidden meanings you had to decode and that decoding them was always beyond me.

Instead of enjoying the mystery and music of a poem, and listening for the ways it spoke to me, I learnt to pick it apart and reduce it to an interpretation decided upon by my teacher. Instead of feeling, when I read a poem, as if I was on the exciting brink of something, I just felt stupid because I knew I couldn’t go there on my own.

I rediscovered my love of poetry through learning to engage with my dreams. Trying to analyse a dream can make you feel confused instead of excited, and I soon gave that up. But if you relax and let go of worrying about what they mean, ideas and associations might bubble and pop as you remember and reflect on tham, or you may find no immediate associations with your day life at all.

Either way, as with poetry, the key to enjoyment and ultimately understanding is to approach you dreams with your child mind, your beginner’s mind, open to all its possibilities.

Don’t ask what it means, but rather feel and experience what it is – let it work in you. Enjoy its images, patterns and music. Hold it in your mind without interfering; allow learning and insights to develop and grow.

What makes fiction, poetry and dreams so intriguing is that they are products emerging into consciousness in the minds of their creators, who don’t even know yet what they are. They are beyond the reach of logic and reason.

Sharing dreams, sharing writing, in this attitude feels exhilarating, and we’ll be doing six lovely sessions of it here in Cornwall, starting on January 20th. If you’re in the area, do check out the details on my workshops page.

If you can’t get to a workshop, there’s plenty more about how to approach dreams and writing along with lots of creative exercises for you to try in my book Writing in the House of Dreams.

Thank-you for calling by the House of Dreams in 2015, and may 2016 bring you much love, peace and joy.

 

 

Why you should never read someone else’s journal

In the long hiatus between my mother’s death on October 19th and her funeral last Friday, I wasn’t able to focus on work much at all, and that felt OK and appropriate. I slept a lot, dreamt a lot, read non-fiction books and wrote in my journal.

I was working through some of the exercises in Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Using Shamanic and Jungian Tools to Achieve Personal Transformation by Carl Greer one morning, when it occurred to me that anyone reading my journal after I died might not understand, as I do in the writing, that it’s an experiment, and not a report.

Slow start warning: I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter, which felt like puff and waffle. Glad I didn't.
Slow start warning: I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter, which felt like puff and waffle. A few chapters in, I’m glad I didn’t.

Actually, my whole journal is a perpetual work-in-progress. Every page I write is part of a creative exploration. It isn’t me – it’s a kaleidoscope of all the possibilities of me, and I’m aware of that when I’m writing in it in much the same way as when I’m gathering notes for a work of fiction, knowing all the time that many of my ideas won’t fit the story and will have to be discarded.

A journal or diary is a first encounter with ideas and events, before you’ve had a chance to ponder and decide what you think of them. To get a true sense of a person’s life, I guess you’d need to read their autobiography, because there you have a completed work. Where a journal is a mess of notes, often contradictory or inconsequential, an autobiography is an expression of the writer’s identity, his or her choice of what’s important and how they understand what’s happened.

I was struck by something in Natalie Goldberg’s book on memoir-writing Old Friend from Far Away last week; she says we shouldn’t think we have to be old before we can write a memoir. We don’t need the whole story all in one go, at the end. We can write memoirs from time to time throughout a long life, and each one will be the most complete expression of who we are and how we understand our lives up to that point.

In that sense, I guess autobiography could be seen as a work-in-progress too, but the difference is that in autobiography we are writing what we know about ourselves and our life, whereas in journalling we are feeling our way along the borders of our knowledge, and what we find must be judged as me or not-me, accepted or discarded, as part of the process of becoming.

If you read someone’s journal – as well as the obvious problem that it is private writing and they did not intend it to be read – you will not find the person there, and thinking that you will could give you every which kind of wrong impression, like listening to someone’s dreams and believing you can interpret them. A good dream therapist will simply hold the dream so that the dreamer can look at it from different angles, because only the dreamer can find out what it means.

I love my journals
I love my journals

I include all sorts of things in my journals – dreams, ideas, experiences, book reviews, quotations, drawings, writing exercises and creative experiments. I love them, just as I love my dreams, specifically because they don’t define me.

With both, there’s a feeling of infinite possibility, a continuously forming sense of direction, so that even at the end of a lifetime of journalling and dreaming, I’m sure there will be no conclusion, because the conclusion is always up ahead.

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My children have strict instructions to burn my diaries without reading them when I die. What would you like to happen to yours?

‘Use your dreams to grow your soul’ – Patti Allen in the House of Dreams

Today, I’m delighted to welcome dream teacher and author Patti Allen MA in the House of Dreams. Patti served on the teaching staff of Seneca College in Toronto in the field of Holistic Health for ten years and currently serves as a mentor for Denise Linn’s online courses for Hay House.

With a specialty in facilitating dream groups, and a frequent guest on radio and TV, she presents lectures and workshops on the topic of dreams and how to work with them. Her dream healing oracle deck, The Abaton Keys® combines creativity, wisdom and dream knowledge to help dreamers access their own wisdom.

Patti Allen
Patti Allen

Patti, when did you first begin to remember and explore your dreams?

The first dream I interpreted was in 1980 after hearing an interview with Gayle Delaney on the radio. It helped me with a decision that was weighing on me. But I didn’t start exploring my dreams deeply until I didn’t my training in the Rubenfeld Synergy Method® in 1991, a technique for integrating body, mind, emotions and spirit. Part of the requirement was to go through the work myself and my dreams became quite vivid and intense. It began my search for meaning and a life-long love of dream exploration.

How do you use dreams in your own life?

Dreams have advised me on relationships, helped me problem-solve and given me access to Source and creative possibilities. They amuse me, educate me, help me learn about myself and those in my life. Quite simply, I am enlightened by my dreams and I am bereft without them.

What is the relationship between dreams and creativity?

I believe that we are created in the image of the Creator and embedded in that is creativity! Dreams provide inspiration in the emotions they convey, the colours they feature and in the stories they tell and visual images they show us. They are just waiting to be mined and used to create our lives… whether we use them in a “creative” project or not.

I’m particularly drawn to your website page on the Abaton Keys. What was your process in creating them?

Thank you! I did my master’s degree on the role of dreams and healing in ancient Greece and I loved the healing practices associated with dreams and the healing temples of Asklepios. Then, Denise Linn, the founder of the Soul Coaching Institute and my teacher in Soul Coaching®, created a course for Hay House on oracle card readings. I served as a mentor for that group and was inspired by the course material to actually create my own deck. It was a creative birthing that couldn’t have happened without the amazing work of collage artist Julia Still. As much as I organized the project, there was something bigger than myself, organizing me! To this day, when I do a reading for a client, I check the book that explains each card. The work came through me but didn’t necessarily lodge in the part of my brain that I can access. An interesting process to say the least!

Is there anything else you would like to say about dreams?

Yes! Explore your dreams, play with them and use them to grow your soul. There is no right or wrong way to start. We spend a 1/3 of our lives sleeping and through dream work, we can be 100% awake!Patti Allen

To learn more or contact Patti, go to www.pattiallen.com

When was the last time you felt really happy? Write for 10 minutes…

I’m reading Nathalie Goldberg’s book on writing memoir, which goes under the wonderful title of Old Friend from Far Away. As you might expect with Goldberg, it’s full of practical writing exercises, and when I came to this one, I was briefly stalled: When was the last time you felt really, really happy?

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I’ve done the exercise before – I can’t remember now what prompted it – and it was really easy. Having fresh blueberries on my morning muesli – that had made me happy. Watching an old episode of Frasier while I was eating it – happy, happy, happy. My normal approach to life is celebratory and thankful, so happiness always feels close to the surface.

But today I found myself having to cast my mind back, across the numb times of these past few weeks, during which my mother was given a diagnosis of leukaemia, developed pneumonia and died, all within ten days. She approached the end of her life the way she approached every part of it, with stoicism, taking care of the practicalities and being clear about her preferences and decisions.

She was 90 years old, and had been ready to go for several years, as her physical condition deteriorated; she was not at all afraid of dying. She died in her own home, having steadfastly refused all life-extending treatments, with her family at her bedside, on her wedding anniversary, so in many ways it felt like a blessed death.

In this interval between my mother dying and her funeral, I’ve been mostly sleeping, walking and reading – books like the Nathalie Goldberg.

When was the last time I felt really, really happy? I suddenly remembered my book launch, at my friend Gill’s art gallery in Devon. My younger daughter was staying with me, and she raised the toast for one of the books I was launching. One of my oldest friends raised the second toast. I did some readings.

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It was a stunning, beautiful evening, a full moon over Dartmoor, and a happy throng inside the bright gallery, among the paintings and artefacts. Everything flowed.

A happy throng
A happy throng

Afterwards, my daughter stayed on for a few days. The weather was hot, as it often is in Cornwall in the last days of September, and we walked the coastal path together.

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So that’s what I’ve just written about, and now the last time I felt really happy was half an hour ago.

Such is the transforming magic of writing. When you use all your senses to immerse yourself in the creative experience and allow your body to feel the emotions, you are creating or re-creating real experience for the self.

Right now, I can’t manage to push forward into new worlds with fiction and my current work-in-progress, but writing into the more familiar territory of my own life feels easy and affirming.

I’m looking forward to offering a new course in memoir writing in March-April 2016 

Reading George Orwell on the island of Jura

I really enjoyed reading a post by Elizabeth Kay recently over on Authors Electric about visiting the setting of a favourite book and it got me thinking about a magical experience I had a few years ago.

I’d been listening to a series of dramas on Radio 4 about George Orwell, and was particularly moved by the last one, about the last few years of his life before he finally succumbed to TB at the age of 46.

He was living in an isolated house on the island of Jura, struggling to finish his final novel, 1984, despite increasing ill health. His wife had died during an operation a year or so before, shortly after they had adopted a baby boy, and Orwell’s sister Avril had come to Jura to look after him and his son.

So much pain and loss…  in that moment, and that place, he created a book I barely remembered from my schooldays, but felt it was time to read again. I decided to go to Jura and read it there, where Orwell had written it.

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It isn’t easy to get to Jura. You have to first take the ferry to Islay, and then make the short crossing from there.

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It’s a big island, home to only about 200 people. The ferry lands at the South end of the road, where there’s nothing except a shelter, and after a drive of maybe twenty minutes you get to the only village, with its hotel and distillery. I sat in the bar drinking coffee, where doubtless Orwell would have sat, and read a few chapters before driving the 23 miles to the North end of the road.

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There’s nothing at the North end either. Just a track that begins a 7 mile walk to the house Orwell lived in.

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I love wild, empty places, but I was struck by the extreme isolation that Orwell chose, so far from any neighbours and so inaccessible. I imagined him writing his dark dystopia, with its bleak vision of human nature and society, having already removed himself as much as he possibly could, before the complete departure of his death.

Have you ever read a book in the place it was written? Did being there intensify the experience for you?

Since writing this, I discovered a lovely post on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure by Lynne Benton about visiting Agatha Christie’s stamping grounds. Read it here

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Here’s a beautifully written piece about synchronicity on a blog I’ve been following for some time. Do take a look!

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Originally written 09-25-14, from Central California’s Women’s Facility, a state prison colloquially known as Chowchilla. It was posted by Dave in November, and turned to a draft on my return. I wasn’t going to repost it, but it was the message I think I needed to hear today. It should be tagged #HowIWidow, but as I wasn’t one at the time of writing, well…

I believe in fixed points of time. The idea that some things are inevitable.

Yes. Free will is rampant, and — yes — daily choices are made at the micro-level in the span of a nanosecond, over and over again.

But in the ever-evolving tapestry of life, some points are tied up by fate in advance, destined to make a knotted appearance no matter what the thread before it chooses to be or do.

A butterfly may decide to flap into a tornado, and all of…

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Creative dreaming, creative writing

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