Category Archives: Self-publishing

A therapist for the non-writing writer

Writing. It’s amazing. It can help us to

  • explore and gain mastery in our inner worlds of emotion and imagination
  • develop, organise and share our ideas
  • satisfy our natural yearning to create beautiful objects
  • make our own entertainment and never get bored

The way children learn to write at school completely ignores all these wonderful benefits and that’s why, ten years ago, I wrote my children’s book, How to be a Brilliant Writer focusing not just on the nuts and bolts of how to do it, but also why you might want to, and what writing can do for you.

I knew I’d want to write some books for adults about writing one day too, because I’m a bit of a maven – when I’ve found something great, I just have to share it.

In the spirit of the maven, I'm sharing the fab book I first found the word in
In the spirit of the maven, I’m sharing the fab book I first found the word in

After Writing in the House of Dreams last year, which is about dreams as much as writing, I started work on a new book just about writing, no dreams – writing as a hobby, a spiritual path, a career – the psychology, the process, the question of publication – a distilling down of what I’ve learned from a lifetime of writing and twenty three years of being published. I called it When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow.

I didn’t offer the manuscript to my agent or traditional publishers, but decided instead to go straight to self-publishing. The main reason was that I wanted to get a second book out fairly quickly after Writing in the House of Dreams, as I thought two books on different aspects of the same theme might support each other in the market – if someone read one and liked it, they might take a punt on the other.

Writing my book about writing was relatively easy because I’d been thinking about it for several years before I sat down to start. Sending the manuscript out to beta readers – which is really important when a book isn’t going to go through the traditional agent+publishers vetting process – also felt unchallenging, because I was confident in the material.

Working with the editor and then the designer felt like part of the creative process of the book, so I enjoyed that too, but then I had to get to grips with some promotion and pre-publicity, and that certainly didn’t feel like part of the creative process to me.

When the focus lifts from writing to sales, my interest always dips, and with this book I began to sabotage my promotional efforts by thinking ‘what’s the point anyway?’ which made it even harder to feel motivated.

One of the things that got me thinking that way was that my experience with Writing in the House of Dreams had been mixed. I had struggled to find my elevator pitch, because that book straddled two areas of interest, dream-working and writing, so it didn’t fit neatly into either. (My thanks again to Susan Price, who described the book perfectly in her review of it, and so helped me reframe how I describe it myself)

Not having a clear enough concept, all my efforts to get some pre-publicity for it hadn’t achieved very much, and had felt like a waste of good writing time.

I was on the point of deciding to just press publish and let When a Writer Isn’t Writing sink or swim without a shout, when I had this dream:

I’m thinking about my app Get Writing! and I see that the tasks could be represented by people sitting on a wall, and you could click any one, and they would all take you to a writing task. Just writing, so you could click with confidence, knowing what you were going to get.

When a Writer Isn’t Writing is like that, which means it will be easier to pitch and sell than Writing in the House of Dreams. That book could take a writer places they don’t want to go, but When a Writer Isn’t Writing only takes them into writing. 

In the dream, the people on the wall reminded me of 'ten green bottles'
In the dream, the people on the wall reminded me of ‘ten green bottles’ 

This dream gave me the energy and confidence to stop messing around and do some promoting, and I managed to place articles in Mslexia and The Author. Mslexia have subsequently approached me to ask if I’d like them to feature the book in their October competition. Er… yes please!

There will be reviews on the book analyst and awfullybigreviews, which I’ll link to here when they go up (if you’re a book blogger and would like a review copy, please get in touch!) I’m also organising a launch party in September.

It’s been a tough couple of months, not because self-publishing, writing press releases, pitching articles and organising events is hard and horrible work – I actually quite enjoy it – but because it takes up so much head-space that it stops you getting stuck into new writing.

My daily dose of writing – every stage from pondering and note-taking to drafting and redrafting – is what normally keeps me feeling happy and grounded. Writing isn’t just amazing – it’s addictive.

A non writing writer is a monster courting insanity | Franz Kafka

Dreams are my therapist when not writing makes me feel a bit crazy – what helps you?

Impatience is a form of resistance

Sometimes, I look fondly back on my early days as an author, when the whole job was simply writing books, and the wheels moved very slowly indeed.

IBM_Selectric

The act of writing was slower because, in the days of typewriters, even a minor change such as choosing a different name for a character could be a long-winded redrafting task, searching through reams of paper armed with a tippex brush.

When the manuscript was finally finished and neatly packaged up, it made its leisurely way to the agent or publisher via the Royal Mail, and some weeks later, their response would eventually come back.

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In those days, I was blissfully unaware of sales figures and marketing, publicity and self-promotion, and I certainly didn’t have anything at all to do with the publishing process.

In many ways, being an author twenty years ago was far less stressful, but there are lots of things I love about being an author now:

  • Word processing has made every stage of writing much easier and quicker. It means I can make manuscripts that look brilliant and are a pleasure to work on from the earliest outline to the final draft.
  • The internet means I can have frequent contact with readers who follow my blogs or read my books. Their feedback and ideas are both encouraging and inspiring to me.
  • Self-publishing means I don’t have to have unsold manuscripts languishing on my shelves, out of print books consigned to obscurity or projects I want to work on having to be abandoned because they’re unlikely to find a mainstream publisher.

The only problem is that, while I positively enjoy all the opportunities this new way of being an author presents, there’s an awful lot on my to-do list, and if I have to take unexpected time out because of illness, as has happened recently, things can quickly get out of hand.

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On my to-do list right now, I’ve got:

  • redraft my YA novel Drift from editor’s suggestions
  • ditto my next adult non-fiction When a Writer Isn’t Writing
  • write design and cover brief for Drift and When a Writer for designer
  • redraft my iPhone and iPad app Get Writing! following testers’ suggestions
  • plan my workshop for the home educated group
  • write my commissioned article for The Author
  • pitch further mag articles in time for the September launches of Drift and When a Writer
  • write blog articles for writinginthehouseofdreams and girlsheartbooks
  • write my guest blog article for Val Andrews’ Art For Happiness blog
  • write the new children’s fantasy novel that I’ve had in outline since New Year

All those years ago when I started out, and everything seemed so slow, I had a postit on my study wall to remind me, ‘Impatience is a form of resistance.’

When  writing my new book can’t seem to get off the bottom of the list, I still have to remind myself of that today.

Money from self-publishing – it’s not just about how many books you sell

Just after I self-published Writing in the House of Dreams I blogged about my financial outlay in Self-publishing: What are the actual costs? Five months on, I thought you might like a progress report.

I initially registered the book in the amazon Select programme, which meant I couldn’t publish through any competing outlets for at least 90 days. The benefit of Select is that you can offer your book either free or on a sliding scale of reduced rates in a promotion which, while not making you any money, should make your book more visible and improve its amazon sales ranking.

I didn’t realise that you could only do one promotion in the 90 day period, and I don’t think the one I did really achieved anything for my book, so I wouldn’t personally enrol a book in the Select programme again.

As soon as the 90 day period was up, I took Writing in the House of Dreams out of the programme and made it available as an ebook via all the major online retailers, including Nook and apple, as well as amazon.

I’m thinking of publishing the paperback through Ingram Spark as well as Createspace (which is part of amazon), though I haven’t investigated whether amazon allow this (does anyone out there know?) I’m happy with the quality of the paperback, but apparently some bookshops are reluctant to sell books published by amazon. Happily, I have had orders from several independents as well as book wholesalers Bertram’s and Gardner’s.

Sales have been slow, and that hasn’t come as a surprise because the very reason the book didn’t secure a traditional deal was that publishers deemed writing about dreams as a creative resource rather than from the psychological angle ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales.’

But I’ve had some wonderful emails from readers and a big boost in demand for workshops, which my agent predicted would happen. The book includes lots of writing exercises I use in my general writing workshops, not just the ones which involve working with dreams.

I’ve also hand-sold a fair number of copies through events and workshops. All in all, I’ve recovered less than half my costs through book sales so far, but I’ve had enough extra workshop bookings on the back of it to make up the difference several times over, as well as an article on creative image-work for authors in the next edition of Mslexia.

This reflects the fiscal facts of being traditionally published, because very few authors indeed can make a living from royalties these days. Most have to supplement their income from books with some kind of day job, or spin-off work on the back of their books, such as teaching and speaking engagements.

I’m hoping sales will gradually build, through workshops and word of mouth, but I don’t want to annoy my twitter and facebook followers by over-promoting, so my strategy now is to bring out a second much more mainstream book on writing as soon as possible. If readers enjoy either one of these two books, maybe they might take a punt on the other.

Writing and dreams
Writing and dreams
Just writing - no dreams!
Just writing – no dreams!

This second book is called When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to beat Your Blocks and Find Your FlowI’m going straight to self-publishing with it because

  1. it’s much quicker – I can bring the book out in September this year
  2. I can create a brand look with Writing in the House of Dreams
  3. I will only need to sell a fraction of the number of copies to make the same amount of money as I would if the book was traditionally published, and i have plenty of opportunities for hand-selling at writing events and workshops

Speaking of workshops, check out these pics from last week’s residential at The Writing Retreat in beautiful Lamorna, where I was invited to speak and teach a session on writing dialogue. Good times!

Rosemerryn - The Writers' Retreat
Rosemerryn – The Writing Retreat
Writing dialogue round the table at Rosemerryn
Writing dialogue round the table at Rosemerryn

What are the most important things?

I loved Abi Burlingham’s post Diary of 2014 so I’m shamelessly nicking the idea for the House of Dreams.

At the turning of the New Year, I always look back and take stock of the old, as well as focusing my goals for the year to come. In day-to-day life, it can sometimes feel like work is the most important thing, but when I look back, I can clearly see it isn’t.

So here are my highlights of 2014.

January

I started the year with a new experiment – two Saturday workshops, ‘Writing the New Year In’ and ‘Under the Ice: Writing in the Chilly Heart of Winter.’ I always enjoy bringing people round my kitchen table to write, and eating together in the middle of a whole day’s writing turned out to be icing on the cake.

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I’ll definitely be offering more Saturday workshops in 2015.

February

I met up with lots of writing friends at the Scattered Authors Conference in Peterborough. Peterborough’s a long way from Cornwall but the drive took me within a hop skip and a jump of Oxford, so I stopped off on the way home to spend the afternoon with my younger daughter.

Wittenham Clumps
Wittenham Clumps

 

We had the most delightful evening walk on Wittenham Clumps and supper in a riverside pub.

March

My birthday is in March, and I love my birthdays, however many I have. All my kids came down to Cornwall, plus their partners,  and we had a really fun few days just messing around.

My cake – fresh strawberries and cream, and very glam candles

April

In April, I finally decided enough was enough with trying to get permissions for all the quotations I wanted to use in Writing in the House of Dreams, which was a great relief.

I substituted the ones I hadn’t been able to get permission for with some quotes from older books which were out of copyright. I will never write another book with lots of quotations – I’ve blogged about it here.

I joyfully embarked upon the actual publishing process, finding an editor and a designer for the covers and layouts.

May

A trip up to London to visit my sons was definitely the highlight of May, and while I was there I stayed one night with some great friends who years ago were my editors, and had lunch the next day with writing friend, Jennie Walters.

June

Time to shake out the tent for the first camping trip of the year! I met up with some friends down at the far end of Cornwall in Treen. The last time we camped together was a couple of years ago at Scourie, on the North West coast of Scotland.

Fabulous campsite, fabulous beaches, fabulous night at the Minack, just a short walk across Porthcurno beach from the site. I also felt comparatively efficient for a change, because they forgot their tent poles!

Walking down to one of the beaches near Treen
Walking down to one of the beaches near Treen

July

July started with the Scattered Authors’ retreat at Charney Manor in Oxfordshire and finished with a glorious couple of baking hot weeks in the tent on Coll and Tiree.

Last evening on Coll - a good book and a comfy cafe. Bliss!
Last evening on Coll – a good book and a comfy cafe. Bliss!

When I’m camping on my own, I find lots of people talk to me, so it can be surprisingly sociable.

August

On up from Coll and Tiree to Orkney to stay with my older daughter and her partner, before cramming ourselves and all our camping gear into her little car and taking the ferry to Shetland.

Westsandwick beach on Yell, where we spent a few hours instead of walkingg on, because I fell down a rabbit hole and hurt my leg :(
Westsandwick beach on Yell, where we spent a few hours instead of walkingg on, because I fell down a rabbit hole and hurt my leg 😦

Baltasound in Unst, where we were camping, made the national papers for rainfall the first night we were there. But on the upside, we happened to be camping in the garden of a hostel with a warm kitchen and a big washing machine, so we had lots of tea and toast through the small hours with other campers who had also got flooded out.

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September

Home again, and a frantic time getting ready to launch Writing in the House of Dreams.

I got the covers and edits for my next children’s book, The Binding and remembered how much easier it is being published when you’re not doing everything yourself!

October

My book launch! Three of my children made it, coming down from Orkney and London, and so did my ex husband, from Brighton. Our youngest had just started a new job and unfortunately couldn’t get any time off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was really grateful to have them there because launching my child-of-the-heart book into the world turned out to be really emotional.

November

Some very enjoyable promotional events for Writing in the House of Dreams, including a day in Totnes Library and an evening at View the Gallery, two of my favourite places, run by two of my favourite people.

Then there was a weekend at Daymer Bay with a dozen friends, which was brilliant, and a weekend of sacred and spiritual singing at Cullacott Manor with ace singing teacher Abbie Lathe, where we chanted by candle light for an hour or more between workshops. Magical.

Chanting by candlelight
Chanting by candlelight

December

Well, December’s all about Christmas, isn’t it? Family and friends. Looking back over my year I guess it’s pretty clear that those are, as they always have been, my most important things.

This year's tree - I'm going for the understated look!
This year’s tree – I’m going for the understated look!

When I started this post, I was intending to tell you about the highs and lows of my working year, but you already know about that if you’ve been following my blog.

The main problem in 2014 when it comes to work has been that I haven’t managed to finish the book I began writing in January When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to beat Your Blocks and Find Your Flow because of all the new things I’ve had to get my head around with learning how to self-publish (ironic, given the subject matter!)

I’m not sorry I put so much time and effort into learning about self-publishing. I think it will free up and enable my writing from here on in, because I won’t have to be so tied to trying to please the market. I can be more adventurous.

But I feel very frustrated that I’ve only had a few months in the whole of the year when I was able to fully immerse myself in new writing.

I can’t wait to get back to it in 2015.

Thank you for visiting the House of Dreams this year. May 2015 bring you lots of happiness and new creative adventures.

 

Shh… I can’t hear you!

In my personal life, as in my professional life as an author, I can’t help wondering when our culture became so… well… shouty.

Until a few years ago, I always used to follow a soap – The Archers and Eastenders in my twenties, Neighbours in my thirties and forties, Doctors in my fifties. I liked getting to know the characters over a long period of time, and sharing the minutiae of their everyday lives.

I lost interest when the minutiae got squeezed out, and each of these soaps became a continuous onslaught of extraordinary events.   Arson, beatings, kidnappings, murder… black and white characters, dastardly villains with no redeeming features… The third time the coffee shop got burned down, that’s when Neighbours got boring for me.

I stopped watching the News too, as it gradually began to feel more like clips from an action movie, or a disaster movie. Even the weather reports seem to be plagued by the same need to sensationalise everything. This week, for example, we have apparently been hit by a ‘weather bomb.’

I find it frustrating because for me, ordinary people and ordinary life are endlessly fascinating. I relate to real life stories; I want to read and to tell the stories of ordinary people like me.

Professionally, this is a problem, because it means I’m ‘too quiet for the market.’ If you want to get a publisher to take on a book these days it has to have a ‘strong hook,’ which generally means be out-of-the-ordinary in some striking way.

I wrote my YA novel, ‘Drift,’ because I wanted to help other survivors of sibling suicide feel less alone in that already extraordinary grief. The whole point of my book was that it should feel real; it should feel like any young person’s life, suddenly disrupted by something that could happen to anyone.

‘Drift’ was deemed ‘too quiet for the market’ although all the editors were very positive about it. One suggested I read a current best-seller about teen suicide, which had a great hook. This book was built around a series of suicide notes the dead person had left in which he blamed various family members and friends for what he was about to do.

Interesting, maybe. A hook, certainly. But a real story that could be your story or mine?

Another MS of mine that has been rejected on grounds that it’s ‘too quiet’ is about a child who has been home-educated, starting mainstream school for the first time at the age of twelve.

The current bestseller on that theme is about a boy who has been home-educated because he is hideously disfigured. ‘My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.’

The book has masses of enthusiastic reviews, and I’m sure it’s wonderful, but I personally was put off by the big hook of his disfigurement. Home-schoolers entering regular school – that’s interesting enough for me. I don’t want the added distraction.

I really relate to a recent post in Authors Electric by Catherine Czerkawska, The unexpectedly long life of an eBook, where she says

I always used to wonder what ‘too quiet’ meant – none of my agents ever seemed able to explain it satisfactorily. Then a writer friend said ‘they’re looking for a stonking great story.’ I could see what she meant – and could understand why that was what publishers wanted since they are always on the hunt for the next blockbuster, even though they have no idea what that might be – but it struck me that I don’t always want to read a stonking great story. Sometimes – quite often really – I want some Barbara Pym or similar.

When I’m looking for something new to read or watch or write, I sometimes feel like someone in a crowded room full of people shouting at the top of their voices; I wish they would quieten down and talk to me properly.

On becoming a fully-fledged hybrid author

It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’ve finally arrived – it’s publication day! In this, the last of the five dreams I’ve shared here about my self-publishing journey, I’m looking at the road ahead.

I’ve done a talk about being an author, including the difficulties of getting stocked in bookshops and making enough sales. Not that I’m complaining – I do have enough. As I chat outside with the organisers, they’re waiting for the next author – and it’s a really famous one.

Here she comes in her little yellow car. She’s a friend and I’m delighted to see her, delighted to see the eager anticipation in her young fans’ faces.

As she walks towards us, I notice the little creature I’ve found and been looking after has caught the attention of a crow-like bird. The creature is small and furry, some kind of hybrid, strange and very sweet. And feisty! He isn’t afraid of the crow, although it’s much bigger than him.

I shoo the crow-like bird away and pick up the creature – he isn’t hurt or even shaken. It’s happened before – cats have chased him as well as birds, foxes too – but I think they’re more curious about him, than wanting to eat him.

It’s odd how he’s come into my cave, but I’m glad, because he’s a lovely little thing and I like looking after him. 

It’s been stressful, it’s been full-on, it’s been emotional. I won’t lie. Learning how to self-publish has taken up most of my energies these last six months, one way and another.

If you’ve read my last four posts, you’ll see that having embarked upon it, I soon learnt to love it though. I even came to choose it for the book I’m working on now, When a Writer Isn’t Writing.

I got swept up in the buzz of being free to make my own choices and decisions, and push forward in my own time and at my own pace. I felt like William Blake, inventing his very own printing system to publish his own books, but without even having to be a genius or inventor.

I felt like the child I once was, never happier than when I was writing projects and making them into books, doing all my own binding and illustrations.

In my dream, it felt odd the way this funny little creature had come into my cave. As a technophobe, I would never have had a strong enough desire to learn how to self-publish if I hadn’t had a book I cared so much about that didn’t have anywhere else to go.

I protected my little fledgling hybrid from every attack – crows, cats, foxes; other people’s judgements and my own self-doubts.

But what I also learnt, in the course of self-publishing, was how much traditional publishers do that we authors tend to take for granted.

I discovered how much I still wanted that to be part of my writing career. Looking forward to 2015, I’m delighted to have a book coming out in February with A and C Black, as well my self-published writing book.

This funny, furry little creature was the beginning of my new career as a hybrid author, and I’ve blogged about it in a post called Why I’m a Happy Hybrid for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, where I lay out my pros and cons of self-publishing vs being traditionally published.

So now it just remains for me to ask you to raise your glasses please to Writing in the House of Dreams. If you buy it and enjoy it, please review it, but if you think it stinks, please don’t!