Category Archives: Self-publishing

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.

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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.

 

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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!

 

Are you temperamentally suited to self-publishing?

Dream 4 in the countdown to publication! Last week’s dream highlighted how I felt when I started self-publishing; this week’s showed me why I felt that way. 

I’ve got on a bus to go to London and a few hours later the bus stops in the early morning mist and I see we’ve come to Camborne. Instead of going East, we’ve been going West. I get out and look at the misty hills of the far West, so wild and beautiful, but so much not where I expected to wake up, and I think having got up so early and set out so hopefully, now it’s too late to get to London.

Now I’m writing about an adventure on a train. I see other authors – Liz and Elen and some others – have got together to write adventures on trains, and get publicity, and they’ll sell much better – but the fact is, I prefer to work on my own.

When I finished Writing in the House of Dreams, the first thing I did was ‘go to London.’ I sent it to my agent, she liked it, she sent it out to major mind-body-spirit publishers.

When it didn’t get a contract I realised that where I had been heading all along was home, towards publishing it here, myself, and I experienced a mixture of feelings.

I was disappointed, certainly, having set off so hopefully, believing in the book, armed with wonderful feedback from my expert readers and feeling sure that it would find a publisher.

But I also felt excited about the ‘wild and beautiful’ vista of self-publishing that was opening up in front of me instead.

My dream went on to acknowledge that the mainstream way would certainly give me a higher profile and sales, but going it alone could actually suit me better.

In my career, fame and fortune have never been main drivers; my passion is the writing, and I’ve never sought the kind of success that would take me away from it on things like book tours and festivals.

My career goal, now as ever, is to make enough money from my writing to keep on doing it, without having to worry about the bills or trying to fit all my work into a marketable brand.

Last week, I asked whether you had ever self-published, and how you felt about it once you got started. Not everyone will feel the same; this dream suggests it might just suit my temperament and fit my writing goals.

Next week the countdown ends! Meet me back here to celebrate publication day and hear about dream number 5, which involves a sweet little furry animal and a curious crow.

Self-publishing – why every author should try it at least once.

‘Writing in the House of Dreams’, the book – dream 3 today on the countdown to publication! This one came when I was working out my publishing schedule. 

Before, you had to take your story and wait for them to see you, like waiting at the doctor’s. Hours, days you might be waiting there, because every story had to be checked and verified, and they might have questions for you.

Now, you can just post your story online, and if they’ve got questions, they can research online, and you don’t even have to go. It feels liberating!

When you’re thinking about trying something new, first you feel excited. Then anxieties flood in, to stop you acting impulsively and make sure your head is in line with your heart on the  adventure.

Once your hopes and fears are all in the mix, you can stir it up and see what rises to the surface. In the post before last, I described how  what was important to me when I was first thinking about self-publishing rose to the surface in a dream.

Weighing up the pros and cons can bring you to the threshold of a new venture, but you don’t know what it will feel like until you actually begin.

Before I decided to commit to self-publishing Writing in the House of Dreams I had viewed it purely as a fall-back if I couldn’t get a traditional publisher.  Although I was glad it was an option, I would not have chosen it.

But as soon as I got started on the work of self-publishing, I felt how different it was from my previous experience as a traditionally-published author, and it was a very positive difference.

Having a manuscript under consideration with traditional publishers you’re full of impatience, helplessness and anticipation about what they’re going to say, just like when you’re waiting to go in and see the doctor.

It usually takes months; it can take longer. One of my books got an offer a year after we started sending it out.

Now suddenly, with self-publishing, there’s no need to wait. You can crack on with it as soon as you want to, and that feels exhilarating.

Research is just data; what fires creativity is emotion, and until I experienced the emotional difference between that doctor’s waiting-room feeling  and that unexpected exhilaration, I would always have thought of self-publishing as second best.

I have no plan to submit my follow-up book When a Writer Isn’t Writing to traditional publishers. Although I still very much hope to go on being traditionally published, it no longer feels like the route of choice for every book, and I want to feel the buzz of doing it myself again.

I think that’s why Orna Ross, who set up the wonderful Alliance of Independent Authors says every author should try self-publishing at least once.

Have you ever tried self-publishing? How did it feel to you?

 

 

When your to-do list is freaking you out

Five posts to publication, five dreams – here’s the second. It came when I’d made some decisions and started the ball rolling with self-publishing Writing in the House of Dreams, and was worried about the enormity of the task I was taking on.

Sat 8th Feb, 2014

I’m in a cafe with my grown-up son. It’s a formica tables and plastic chairs kind of place, and he looks completely incongruous in a wide-shouldered, pale-coloured overcoat which makes him look like a cross between a fat-cat businessman and a mafia godfather.

I’m talking about Writing in the House of Dreams. ‘There have been times,’ I say, ‘when I would have loved to just give up and, if I hadn’t loved it so much, I would have done.’

He says, ‘What you need to do is pray!’ I see he’s also a preacher of some kind now. Before I can say, ‘I do pray. That’s how I’ve got this far,’ he whips a little music machine out of his pocket, puts on some loud gospel music and yells ‘Halleluyah!’ Everyone in the café jumps up and joins in, dancing, clapping and singing along.

This is one of those dreams that feels like a gift when you’ve gone to bed feeling anxious, because it wakes you up in the morning with a smile on your face. That, in itself, puts your anxieties in perspective, even before you get to the sense of the dream.

As an author who has always been traditionally published, one of the things that surprised me about self-publishing was how challenging it could be to keep up my stamina and confidence without the back-up of a hard-working and confident publisher.

Normally, I don’t have to think about the book once it’s with the publisher – I just get on with writing the next thing. But when you’re self-publishing, you have to go on working with the manuscript long after the decision to publish is made. You have a massive to-do list, and doubts can start to set in.

Have you got enough time and energy to see it through? Is the book actually worth all that time and energy? Are you capable anyway of doing a good enough job?

One way to get past worry is by lifting your focus from every individual problem to the bigger picture; from what you’ve got to do to why you want to do it; from yourself to what is bigger than yourself.

You can call it what you like, it doesn’t have to be God. You can call it Love. Whatever you love is bigger than yourself. It lifts you above selfishness and laziness and bends you to its work. The reason I write is because I love writing. I want to be better for writing. I’m willing to give up other things I’d like to do for the love of writing.

Prayer is perspective. My dream reminded me that I couldn’t give up, because of that love.

Laughter is perspective too. My dream told me not to take it all so seriously. I could only do my best, and the rest was down to luck, or grace, and out of my control. O happy day!

What helps you get a sense of perspective when your to-do list is freaking you out?