Organising an indie author book tour

When I published my latest book, Free-range writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul, I decided to celebrate it with some author talks and workshops, as I always do with a new book.

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In publication week, I did both a talk and a free-range writing workshop at Looe Literary Festival. I got subsequent bookings for talks at the Liskeard bookshop and Totnes Library, and for workshops at Launceston Library and the Penzance Literary Festival.

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We launched at Looe

But this time I didn’t want to just stick to my local area – the theme of the book sparked the idea in me that I’d like to go free-ranging around the UK.

I live in Cornwall but I go away a lot for visits to family and friends, meetings and events, and my plan was simply to try and fix up free-range writing workshops in places I was already planning to visit. That way, I could spread my tour across the year and it would be both low stress and light on expenses.

I emailed independent bookshops, libraries and festivals in various parts of the country I often visit; then I waited to hear back. But although I sent out exactly the same proposal as I’d sent out locally, none of the bookshops and libraries outside my area got back to me, except the completely excellent Orkney Library, which is up for an event next time I’m there. (Shout out to Orkney Library for recently celebrating reaching over 50,000 followers on twitter. Be there or be square!)

Orkney library's famous balls
Orkney Library’s famous balls

I thought my little tour was dead in the water, but then it gradually dawned on me that bookshop and library events are almost always either local authors or else ones with a high profile nationally.

So I wouldn’t be able to get events outside the South West in the normal way, by approaching bookshops and libraries – I would have to approach it from a completely different angle. I had to stop asking myself, ‘What would a publicity department do?’ and, for my independently published books, start thinking like an inde.

So here’s my first tip: Think like an inde

I was booked to teach a workshop in Peterborough for Writing Magazine in April, planning to stay with my sister-in-law in Stamford afterwards, but my first enquiry to the library there had gone unanswered and I’d had a no from the bookshop. However, the bookshop owner had kindly taken the time to suggest I contact the Arts Centre.

Why hadn’t I thought of that? Because I was in traditional book-tour mode, looking for hosting in bookshops and libraries, and not thinking like an inde. I booked a meeting room in the Stamford Arts Centre, sent them a poster to put up on their noticeboard and put the word out via social media.

I decided not to pay for advertising, because then I would have to charge more for places, and I already had to cover room hire. I braced myself for the possibility that I might only get one or two bookings, if I got any at all, and that would leave me out of pocket.

But the workshop was fully booked. Fourteen lovely local writers round the table, and a thoroughly enjoyable session. I’m hoping to provide another workshop there, on a different theme, next time I’m in the area.

I was elated! I set about finding meeting rooms in other towns I would be visiting later in the year. I searched ‘meeting rooms’, but soon became disheartened, because even the smallest ones were really expensive to hire. The world of meeting rooms wasn’t geared up to serve private events for small independents like me.

Tip two: Think like an author

I was ready to give up again when it occurred to me to try a different tack: writing workshops aren’t business meetings – there’s no corporate budget. What’s more, numbers are small and writers aren’t generally known for their high spending power. I searched again, this time not for meeting rooms but for writing groups in the towns I was going to, in order to find out where they held their meetings.

I found that writers’ groups were meeting in cafes and community buildings, pubs and Quaker houses, all at much lower prices than business meeting rooms, and I booked myself some rooms in Cheltenham and Bath, to tie in with my next two trips up-country. Here are the posters.

Cheltenham

Manvers Street Baptist Church

It’s still scary, because what if no-one comes? But I get a real buzz from teaching these workshops, so I’ll be tweeting and posting on facebook, and hoping for the best.

This approach might not work for all indie authors, but I haven’t got any bestselling ambitions or desire for fame. With all my writing books, articles, blogs and workshops, besides needing to pay my bills, my main aim is to create and participate in communities of readers and writers, and my free-range writing tour is helping me to take that further.

I’ll be looking for venues in Oxford and London soon – does anyone know any cheap, writerly rooms in those cities?

In the meantime, if  you live near Bath or Cheltenham, do check out my upcoming free-range writing workshops in those cities, and please tell your writing friends! 

 

 

 

 

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Julie Newman: My who, where,when, what, why and how of writing

Last week, I wrote about my writing life using those trusty writing prompts – who, where, when, what, how and why. I invited readers to send me their own versions, and was delighted to receive this guest post from Julie Newman. Enjoy!

Me in London Sept 2016
Julie Newman

Who?

I have been writing seriously for 10 years since taking my first course ‘Finding Your Voice’ with Jenny Alexander in Cornwall. I had newly retired and wanted a new project, hoping one day to write my memoir; although at the time this was a distant dream. This course also gave me the confidence I needed to explore other forms of writing and I’ve since had nine articles published with Evergreen and This England magazines. Other writing courses followed, one of which was in conjunction with the Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project. I had a historical short story published in each anthology, ‘Mining for Words’ and ‘Write to Remember’.

Where?

At home in my study mostly. I also take a notebook with me wherever I go, for when inspiration strikes.

When?

Whenever I feel like it. I have no set times.

What?

I have just finished rewriting and editing my debut novel. The seed for this was sown one evening during the first writing course I took with Jenny. ‘Where There’s a Will’ is a playful romp through a month in Jess Harvey’s life, a 29 year-old woman with a strapped-for-cash lifestyle who thinks she’s found her Prince Charming in lawyer Giles Morgan. I hope to publish this in the next few weeks. Last September I finally realised my dream and proudly published my memoir ‘No One Comes Close’ which had been twenty years in the making, first in longhand taken from my old diaries and subsequently transcribed into Word and reformatted.

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I am now surrounded by books on the 1640s (English Civil War) with a view to writing a historical novel set in the Fens.

Why?

Again, I initially wanted to explore the creative writing process with a view to publishing my memoir one day. But I have got so engrossed in every aspect of writing that now it occupies most of my time!

How?

I took numerous writing courses whilst living in Cornwall and I belonged to four writers’ groups – one in particular I found extremely helpful, not only with feedback on my own work, but I learned a lot through the process of critiquing other members’ work. Since moving to Norfolk and struggling to find writers’ groups in my area, I have recently found and made friends with three other local authors which is great. We often meet up for coffee and chat about our progress. I also belong to various writers’ groups on social media which I find very stimulating.

I’m delighted to see that Julie is free-ranging with her writing too! 

If you’ve enjoyed Julie’s article, and would like to share your own responses to the writers’ old friends, who, where, when, what, why and how, please email them to me author@jennyalexander.co.uk 

ps The header comes from Julie’s guest post about journalling – you can read it here.

The who, where, when, what, why and how of writing.

I once went to a writing workshop that had no structure or content – the facilitator came with only two things – a few prompts and the information that to find a story all you need to do is ask the questions: who, where, when, what, why and how?

What surprised me – besides seeing someone lead a 3 hour workshop with no more than that – was that a lot of people in the room had never heard of finding stories by asking questions, so they were actually quite happy customers. (If you haven’t either, have that one on me!)

It reminded me of a questionnaire I filled in for a PHD student who was studying writer’s block, because that was more or less the who, where, when, what, why and how of my writing.

1    Who?

I’m an author with about 25 years experience in writing fiction, non-fiction and magazine articles for all ages. I’ve worked for traditional trade and educational publishers as well as self-publishing under my own imprint, Five Lanes Press.

2    Where?

At home in my study for the actual writing part, but thinking and note-taking at the beach or out and about on the moors – I live in Cornwall and I like to walk and ponder.

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3    When?

I don’t have any regular writing times. I might write through the night when I’m on a roll, but then spend several days away from my desk, just musing. A writing session might last anything between 20 minutes and 20 hours with breaks.

In the early days, I had just 2 hours every morning, while my kids were in school/playgroup for writing. That extended to about 5 when they were all in school. I absolutely love not having any regular patterns in my creative life these days, now that they’re all grown up.

4    What?

At the moment, I’m promoting my three books for writers, with a free-range writing workshop tour and a monthly column in Writing Magazine.

I’ve also updated and adapted another one of my out of print children’s self help books – 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself, which comes out in September. I’m writing articles and and putting together a blog tour for that.

My children’s book on helping the planet is finished and looking for representation – I’ve sent it to an agent. If I can place it, I’ll write one about healthy living next year for the same age group.

5     Why?

One of my main drives as a writer is sharing the useful stuff I’ve learnt just through living. I think of myself as writing in an elder tradition.

6    How?

I’m a stationery junkie. I love coloured gel pens and an assortment of different papers. I can’t work with music or any other kind of background noise, so it’s just as well I have very considerate neighbours.

I’ve never taken any kind of formal writing course, but I go to other people’s workshops sometimes because I enjoy them. If I want to try a new kind of writing project, I’ll read the latest books in the genre and try to figure out how they work – then I experiment.

I love reading books about writing. Some of my favourites are Nathalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and Ted Hughes’ Poetry in the Making. I recently enjoyed Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing too.

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What’s the story of you as a writer – your who, where, when, what, why and how? Email me if you’d like to do a guest post here in the House of Dreams.

 

Creating connections through poetry

Last year  the Director of Bridging Arts, Susan Roberts, contacted me to ask if I would like to provide a poetry workshop at Truro Museum, helping people to explore their personal responses to the Heart of Conflict exhibition about the Cornish experience of World War One.

I visited the Bridging Arts website to find out more about them, and really loved their mission statement. I said yes, please!

Bridging Arts links real people to real issues with real action.

We bring people of different cultures, interests and backgrounds together. We commission work, stage and tour exhibitions, develop educational resources and offer workshops

After the workshop, Susan applied for Heritage Lottery funding to develop the project further, with a series of talks and writing workshops focusing on one part of Cornwall that was of surprising importance in that war – Hayle.

The project was given funding, and the three talks by local historians have already taken place. They were incredibly well supported by the local community. There was standing room only at the war graves talk in Phillack Church; a throng of people at the guided walk around the National Explosives Factory site and a full house for the talk about the 251st Tunnelling Company, who fought deep underground beneath the trenches.

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Phillack Churchyard, where local servicemen and civilians killed in an accident at the Explosives Factory are buried
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The talk at the Explosives Factory site in the Towans
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A full house to hear about the brave Cornish tunnelling company

The second half of the project is three poetry workshop days that I’ll be running, in which we’ll explore the same three topics through writing.

My task, in planning the workshops, is to make them

  • completely accessible for anyone in the area who would like to see how writing poetry about their own place feels, even if they have no experience of creative writing at all
  • suitable for people from outside the town,  or who didn’t go to the talks, so will know very little about the history
  • engaging for writers and poets throughout Cornwall who just love writing and enjoy the feeling of instant community that comes when people sit down to write together
  • effective as stand-alone sessions, so people can choose to sign up for one, two or all three.

These are the things that are in my mind as I ponder the content of my Heroes of Hayle writing days. Planning workshops is a challenge I always enjoy, like any other kind of creative process. But it’s been particularly pleasurable with this project because, as well as learning all about the experience of WW1 in the West of Cornwall, I’ve ended each research trip with a wonderful walk and a pasty on some very beautiful beaches.

If you come on one of the workshop days, you could head to the beach with a pasty afterwards too!

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Full moon on the beach after the Explosives Factory walk

The workshops are scheduled for September 8 and 22, and October 6th. There are only 10 places on each workshop so, although they are absolutely FREE, booking is essential.

More information: https://jennyalexander.co.uk/writing-workshops/

Bookings: http://bridging-arts.org/contact-us/ 

 

Going away and coming back again: how to refresh your writing

I haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been away. I was in Arctic Norway for three weeks in June, then home again and away again for a spot of camping on Bodmin moor, then home again and away again to Oxfordshire for the summer gathering of the Scattered Authors’ Society.

I always find it difficult to leave my work-in-progress, so I work right up to the wire and often take some notes with me, half planning to do a bit of writing while I’m away.

That never happens. It didn’t even happen in Norway, although the combination of wintry weather (in June!), bright daylight round the clock and really rugged walking meant I completely overdid it and got worn out by the end of the first week. (Someone on a travel site suggested the guide books should translate ‘Easy’ in the Norwegian descriptions of walking trails as ‘Hard’ in English, ‘Moderate’ as ‘Difficult’ and ‘Difficult’ as ‘Don’t even go there!’)

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‘Moderate’ walk in the Lofoten Islands – sheer drop, massive rock, helpful chain to hang onto

I did hang out in cafes for a couple of days at that stage, scribbling in my notebook, but I was just jotting down random thoughts and ideas that had nothing to do with anything I’d been working on at home.

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Great cafe in Lofoten – the artist makes you coffee in her lakeside studio!
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Cool cafe in the ‘Paris of the North’, Tromso. Strong coffee, Leonard Cohen, everyone reading.

I scribbled some thoughts down in my notebook when I was camping too, but on the Scattered Authors’ retreat, although I took my computer and current work in progress and really thought I was going to crack on with it, I wrote absolutely nothing at all.

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Empty site with fire pits on sunsoaked Bodmin moor
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Children’s authors at play in rural Oxfordshire

I sometimes take work, but I never stress about not doing any, because I know from long experience that going away always means I’ll come home full of new creative energy, enthusiasm and ideas.

I think one of the reasons my trips are fruitful is because I do focus on my work in progress right up until I leave, and hold it in the back of my mind even when my main focus is on the new places I’m seeing and people I’m meeting.

By the time I sit down at my own desk again, I’m coming to my writing completely renewed – a new me, a different me, made up of the old me plus the experience of my adventure. And my work in progress, somewhere out of sight but never entirely out of mind, has been growing and developing too.

I was going to blog about the Scattered Authors’ summer retreat but my friend Sheena Wilkinson has written a great post about it, and I couldn’t do better – you can read it here.

 

Dreams, daydreams and the writer’s trance

Jung believed the dream goes on all the time, day and night, a constant flow of images and narratives that runs like an underground stream beneath our conscious awareness. He said the only reason we think of dreaming as a night-time phenomenon is because most of us only become aware of it when the conscious mind is completely turned off in sleep.

If you conceptualise dreaming in this way, as a continuous layer of consciousness, you begin to notice how you naturally slip in and out of it all the time, in fantasies and daydreams. What if I go to the beach today? That person I met in the cafe last time might be there, and she might say… and then we might…

What if I hadn’t said what I said? We might have gone ahead with our plan… We might be making lots of money, and then we could…

Lots of us are unaware of our daydreaming mind. It’s like background noise we’re so used to we hardly notice it. But others enjoy their dreams and daydreams so much, they notice and deliberately nurture them.

Many writers report that they daydreamed their way through school – they may have got into trouble for it. But I’d say it was time well spent – they were developing a vital creative ability.

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The ‘writer’s trance’ is a kind of daydreaming. In his book on writing, Stephen King describes his writing sessions as like slipping into sleep, because when he’s writing he’s completely unaware of what’s going on in the household around him. When he stops for lunch, he says,it’s like waking up from a dream and gradually becoming aware of his surroundings again.

Most people assume that the craft of writing – how to construct a strong plot, write convincing dialogue, conjure vivid settings so on – can be taught, but that the inspiration side is just luck. It has to come on its own, if it comes at all.

To some extent, that’s true but in writing as in creative dreaming, we can learn techniques for tapping into the unconscious mind at will, directing it and harnessing its power.

Developing dreaming and daydreaming skills doesn’t only make your dreams and writing more exciting – it makes your whole life more exciting too, because the unconscious mind is made of stories. Its nature is movement – a continuous growing and then dying back of possibilities – in which our conscious mind sits with all its certainties and definitions, limited and fixed.

Do you enjoy your dreams and daydreams? Does writing feel like daydreaming to you?

The key to living creatively

My last post was about the royal garden party, which I mentioned was right outside my comfort zone. When I got my invitation, I didn’t even possess a dress, let alone a hat or fascinator, so the dress code felt quite challenging!

But I like going outside my comfort zone – its expansive. Going outside your comfort zone makes your comfort zone bigger.

Trying new things is also the key to living creatively because creativity is, by definition, making something that didn’t exist before and, when we try new things, we create brand new experiences.

Quite often, we may be reluctant to try new things – a different kind of food, book, activity or TV show – and there is indeed a good chance we won’t like the new one as much as our old favourite. But if that’s the worst that could happen, I reckon it’s worth the risk.

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My current notebook – a gift from my ex husband, who knows me well!

It doesn’t have to be a giant leap into the unknown – shaking up the little things can start a creative wave. When was the last time you parked in a different spot at the supermarket, took a different route to work, sat in a different chair in the evening, went out for a walk at a time of day when you usually stay home?

Living creatively by seeking out new experiences puts energy into all your creative work because you carry those attitudes of openness and adventurousness, and also that buzz of pleasure and excitement, into your writing or painting or gardening, or whatever creative activity floats your boat.

Anyone for a seaweed sandwich?

 

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