Tag Archives: authors

Your book has been published – is there any point in having a website?

A new author asked me recently whether I thought it would be worth her while to set up a website. ‘I like the thought of having a platform out there, but obviously if nobody is going to look at it then there’s no point…’

I would ask, is there any point in NOT having a website? It doesn’t cost anything and with platforms like this one (wordpress) it isn’t difficult to set one up, even for someone as technically challenged as me.

Your website is like your shop window. You can point people towards it via your social networking profiles, email signatures, business cards and any other promos you can think of, such as bookmarks, and show them what you do.

You can install ‘buy now’ buttons, so they can instantly order your book from you if they like what they see (but be careful not to undercut amazon on price, or they’ll delist it).

The job of writing the text and adding images is entirely pleasurable if you love writing – and I’m guessing you must, as you’ve actually managed to complete a whole novel.

You’re trying to convey a sense of you as the author – your style, as well as the style of your book. You want your website visitors to know, from reading your site, what kind of reading experience they might expect to find in your books.

The content you choose to include will also probably reflect the kind of books you write. For example, I’ve got a fair amount of personal information on my website’s ‘About’ page, because I share my own experiences in my non-fiction, and write in a personal kind of voice.

In the separate area on my site for my children’s books, the content and voice is aimed at younger readers, including a second ‘About’ page with different information on.

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Just as with the content and voice of the text, the visual style of your blog should have the same feel as your books. A romantic novelist, for example, needs a style that’s completely different from a lit fic writer.

Setting up your own website makes keeping it updated really easy – you’re not having to send a batch of updates to a web designer every couple of weeks or months – and it evolves like any other kind of creative work.

As well as being a shop window for you and your work, your website can be a hub for all your networks. You can add links to your blog, if you have one, to your social media profiles and also a sign-up button to your mailing list (I use mailchimp for mine – definitely worth checking out).

If you’re new to all this, it can feel daunting setting up a website, but remember no one can see anything until you press ‘publish.’ Even then, you can just publish to a few people if you like, and get their feedback first, rather than going public straight away. So play around and enjoy it!

Rather like when your book is published, when you publish your website it won’t suddenly mean gazillions of people are flocking to read it. For almost everyone, it’s a slow build. But you don’t need gazillions of people to like your work.

If you can get a couple of hundred people who like it enough to tell their friends, with any luck that could set the snowball rolling, and your readership will begin to grow.

So friends, if you liked this post, please tweet, fb or share it. The buttons are all here below, for your convenience!



You’ve finished writing your book – what now?

I get a fair few emails from people who have completed their first novel and want some advice on how to get it published. It’s really time consuming to keep repeating the same things, so I’ve decided to put my thoughts in a blog post – then all I’ll have to do when I reply is send them the link!

The first thing to say is ‘Well done!’ Seriously. I mean it. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. People who’ve never tried it have no idea how hard it is, and a lot of people who do try find they can’t go the distance.

Having said that, make sure you actually have finished it.  Getting the story down is only the start. Once you’ve completed your first draft, you need to redraft and keep redrafting until the book is as good as you can possibly make it.

I’m not going to go into the issues with redrafting here, because it would take too long, and I’ve already written about crafting your novel at some length in my book Happy Writing: Beat your blocks, be published and find your flowwhere you can find loads of tips and advice.

When you’ve written your novel, crafted it, got it as good as you can get it, then you have three choices:

  1. Decide not to publish
  2. Try to find a traditional publisher
  3. Publish it yourself.

You’ll have discovered, having reached this stage, that publication isn’t the only point in writing a book. The process itself is intensely challenging, and intensely rewarding. That’s another thing that people who have never written a novel may not understand.

So although publication is certainly an option, it isn’t the only reason why you might decide to write and keep writing.

Option 2 is still the route most new authors want to start with, and I think that’s a good idea, unless you’re writing something you know you can find readers for yourself.

There are no short cuts that I’m aware of. Most major publishers will only read agented manuscripts, so you need to check out agents’ websites and look carefully at which books and authors they represent, or check out authors writing the same kind of story as you, and find out who their agent is.

When you’ve got 4-6 agents who seem like a possible fit, contact them, following their guidelines for new submissions. Some prefer email, some letters. Keep it brief, don’t big yourself up – ‘My book’s better than Harry Potter and I’m going to be bigger than JK Rowling!’ (Somebody actually wrote exactly that in their covering letter when I worked for a reading agency).

Also, avoid mentioning that your mum/friends/children love your stories so they must be good. Of course your mum/friends/children love your stories – they love you!

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If you want to take a punt at approaching publishers direct, find books similar to yours and check out their publishers’ websites. They may say they accept un-agented manuscripts and, if so, make sure you follow their submissions guidelines.

The wheels move exceeding slow in traditional publishing, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait weeks for a response. It’s also incredibly competitive, so don’t feel too disheartened if you can’t get any takers.

That would once have been the end of the road for your novel but now we’ve got Option 3 – self-publishing. My advice if you’re considering this route is to check out the Alliance of Independent Authors – they have a fantastic blog and, for members, a really  useful fb group where you can always find people who know the answers to any questions you may have concerning any aspect of the self-publishing process.

Again, I’ve written about the various routes to publication in Happy Writing, so I won’t go into it at any more length here.

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Happy Writing – it’s all here!

Whichever route you take, you’ll have to learn how to use social media and be willing to get out there and promote yourself and your book. Also, whichever route you take, you’re very unlikely to be able to give up the day job and earn your living from writing.

Nobody ever believes this, but it’s a fact. Check out the last authors earnings survey by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society – bearing in mind it was compiled in 2014, and things have gone on getting worse since then. Read this clear and honest article by author Dawn Finch on her own experiences – and the comments from other authors at the end.

Most authors have to supplement their income from books by doing some teaching, editing, mentoring or a different kind of work that isn’t related to writing at all.

There’s one other thing people sometimes ask me – do I have any contacts that might be helpful to them? I personally probably don’t but anyway, I obviously wouldn’t want to recommend someone’s book without having first read it, and I simply don’t have time to read manuscripts for people I don’t know.

I used to work for a reading agency, Cornerstones, but I gave it up for precisely that reason – reading manuscripts takes a long time, and writing appraisals even longer. If you’re a new author,  please don’t ask authors you’ve never met to do this work for nothing. It’s simply not a reasonable request.

An agency like Cornerstones will do a brilliant job of that for you and, if they spot publishing potential in your manuscript, they can help you try to find an agent. But obviously it will cost you.

So there it is! Well done, good luck, and I hope I’ve been able to be helpful. In my next post, I’ll address another question people often email me about – whether writers need a blog or website and how to set one up.

Have you got any experiences or advice you’d like to share with someone who has just finished writing their book? 

The loneliest day in the life of a published writer

In between books, when I’m pondering my next project, I like to read about writing, and I particularly enjoy books by other authors in which they share their own experiences of the highs and lows of the writing life – thoughtful books, personal books, such as the one I’ve just finished reading by Dani Shapiro, Still Writing.

This one's definitely going on my recommended reading list
This one’s definitely going on my recommended reading list

I read this book a few days after publishing my own book on writing, When a Writer isn’t Writing, and a few days before the publication of my YA novel, Driftso this idea caught my attention:

The loneliest day in the life of a published writer may be publication day. Nothing happens. Perhaps your editor sends you flowers. Maybe not. Maybe your family takes you out for dinner. But the world won’t stop to take notice. The universe is indifferent. You have put the shape of your soul between the covers of a book and no-one declares a national holiday.

Shapiro goes on to explore why writers keep on doing it, even though so few are heading towards any major recognition or celebration of their work.

I pondered before reading on, because of the moment I was in. I remembered when publication days really did feel like the loneliest time to me, in the days before social media, when maybe your publisher would send you a card, but that was all.

Back then, I learnt to make my own celebrations. I followed the Weatherly rule (Lee Weatherly‘s genius idea, passed on to me by Liz Kessler) and opened a bottle of bubbly with friends as soon as I finished a manuscript, rather than waiting a year or more for publication day before feeling I could celebrate.

I learnt to get started on something new as soon as possible, so that my creative energies were happily engaged in writing the next book rather than focusing on the build-up to publication day for the one I’d finished.

When publication day did eventually come, I learnt the importance of throwing a party, not as a publicity or sales event, but as a personal celebration, because writing a book is hard and, as the writer of your particular book, you know what an incredible achievement it has been to go the distance.

This year, the launch is in a lovely gallery on the edge of Dartmoor. All welcome!
This year, the launch is in a lovely gallery on the edge of Dartmoor. All welcome!

I still do all these things, but I must say publication day doesn’t feel so lonely any more to me now that we’ve got facebook, twitter and blogging. When I put the word out about a new book, I straight away hear back from people I know and people I’ve never met, so that instead of a solitary card on my doormat I receive a steady flow of congratulations.

Soon after that, rather than waiting several months to receive a few letters from readers via my publisher, I start getting direct messages in twitter and fb, and emails through my website, from people who have bought my book, and started reading it.

A lovely selfie via fb from a friend who has just bought my book
A lovely selfie via fb from a friend who has just bought my book

And rather than just a press review or two, readers begin to post their thoughts on my new book in amazon and elsewhere.

So publication day is no longer the loneliest day for this writer, and that’s down to all of you. Thank-you for calling by!

On being a ‘veteran author’

A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to teach someone on an Arvon course who, it turned out, was a branding and marketing expert. I needed help with my branding and marketing and she needed help with her writing, so it proved to be the start of a very fruitful friendship.

She helped me to create a new website where I could bring together all the various aspects of my writing and teaching, and develop a much more consistent brand for myself as an author. She’s called Sarah Mackie, and her company is Caxton Bell – I highly recommend her.

It was mostly really interesting and fun working with Sarah, but there were a few sticking points, and the first one for me was her suggestion, when I sent her the draft of my blurb for Writing in the House of Dreams, that rather than describing myself as a ‘much published’, ‘versatile’ or ‘established’ author, I should use the term ‘veteran’.

I argued it. I wasn’t technically a veteran author, as I’d only been published for 23 years and not yet 25. I had had an unusually large number and wide variety of books published in that time, so ‘much published’ and ‘versatile’ were more accurate descriptions. And anyway, I was too young!

She told me of course I was too young, and of course I was prolific and versatile, but the bottom line was there were three kinds of effective author profile, bestselling, award-winning and veteran, and as far as she was aware I hadn’t had a bestseller or won a major award.

So I had to really examine why I’d felt reluctant to acknowledge my age in my professional life, even though in my personal life I celebrate it. I’d never put the year of my birth on my website for example, and had dreaded it appearing somewhere on the net. It has recently done just that, on google search, but according to the bio I’m from the Bronx and was born in 1958, neither of which is the case.

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In our culture, we fear ageing and death and idealise youth. We try to disguise the years and look as young as possible. But that is at odds with my personal values because I’ve always believed that while the energy of youth is essential for social change and regeneration, so is the wisdom of age to temper and direct it.

I feel very grateful to have had more than six whole decades of living and learning. In the fields I’ve been writing about recently – dreaming and writing – I know so much more now in my sixties than I did ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years ago, when I first started to explore them in earnest.

When I thought about the experience I brought to Writing in the House of Dreams and When a Writer Isn’t Writing, and how I should be proud of it, and flag it up, it occurred to me that it’s not just in these books that my main drive has been to share what I’ve learnt from life experience.

I remembered that in an interview in 2007, I was already describing myself as ‘an elder’

I think of myself as an elder in a society which doesn’t really have elders any more, writing the sort of reassuring common sense that grandparents used to be there for when families had more leisure and were less geographically dispersed

So Sarah’s suggestion that I should describe myself as a veteran author, flagging up that the value I bring is experience, didn’t only describe what I was doing in my recent books on dreams and writing, but also caught something of the essence of what I’d always done.

Veteran author… OK, I can live with that!

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?

Do you have a dream house?

I’ve just got back from a wonderful weekend in Peterborough with the Scattered Authors Society where I got into conversation with several people on the topic of dreams.

The first thing two of them mentioned was that they sometimes dream about a house. This is a house they recognise from previous dreams, but have never seen in waking life.

Lots of people have a dream-house, and when they dream about it they are usually finding a new door or room, which they have never noticed before.

I’ve heard these house-dreams interpreted in a number of ways, but I prefer not to interpret. What is interesting to me is the house itself, and the experience of exploring it.

My dream house is big and old, on three storeys. It’s long rather than square, and grows longer as I discover more and more rooms. Once, to my surprise, I discovered a complete self-contained appartment with a squatter who had been living in it for ages!

I always enter my dream house with feelings of excitement and anticipation. ‘Here I am again! What will I discover?’ I always come away feeling as if I’ve been given something wonderful.

There are slight variations  in my dream house, but it’s always the same sort of style and age, and I don’t think I’ve ever been there in the dark.

Some people’s dream-houses may not be recognisably the same building but have a strong theme which alerts them to the fact that they are in their familiar dream house. One of the authors told me his dream house is often mixed up with other people’s houses, so he has to go through someone else’s living room to get to his bedroom, for example.

Do you have a dream house? Is it old and labyrinthine, like mine? Is it always the same, or variations on a theme?