What a year! 2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 14 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Biting nails, book signing and the road to publication – Part 4

Okay, you’ve written, edited and honed your masterwork. It’s publication ready.

You’ve joined many writer’s sites, built some contacts and hopefully a lot of friends, learned not only your craft but as much as you can about the book business – and believe me there is SO much to learn! I’m still very much a novice myself!

Are you ready?

Well, while I certainly don’t advise rushing to send your work off or sitting on your novel as long as I did, there always comes a time, an indescribable time when you HAVE to take the plunge and just GO FOR IT!

This time is different for everyone.

If there’s one piece of single advice I can give it’s this – every writer’s journey is different.

Your novel is unique, as unique as you, and therefore your journey to publication will also be unique.

Yes, there are times when you find yourself doing that dangerous thing of comparing yourself to others especially those examples of wildly successful writers with inferior books (something shades anyone?), but not only is that dangerous (as it can deflate your confidence) it is also a totally futile exercise like comparing apples to aircraft!

Your writing, your novel cannot be compared directly, neither can you. By all means take advice, look at what fellow authors do, what works, what doesn’t, but in the end the path you chart has to be your own.

So, that next shaky step is approaching publishers and agents. There is a plethora of information out there regarding the good, the bad, and the dodgy.

Do your homework! You’ll regret it if you don’t!

Query letters are arduous but far worse is the waiting process involved, especially if you’re impatient like me, so be warned.

Some publishing houses want to know if you’ve sent submissions off to others. If a house is picky for goodness sake approach these first so you can honestly say that you haven’t approached anyone else…yet!

There is great advice in The Writers & Artists Yearbook on how to write a good letter and examples of bad ones. What I would say though, is use this but also make the letter individual to you. Publishers will know the standard letter, they’ll get hundreds maybe even thousands of them a week. Make yours stand out!

Give yourself the best possible chance!

There is a huge debate as to whether you need an agent or whether you should pursue an agent first or a publisher. Well, certainly I think writers DO need agents, especially if they are hoping to make writing a long-term career, but grabbing one is an entirely different matter. You will find as I said in my previous posts, that trying to get an agent is not only as hard as getting a publisher but is actually harder! A catch-22 scenario – you need an agent to send your ms off to most publishing houses but most agents won’t look at you unless you have a publishing house! Go figure!

My advice for what it’s worth, is that if you and your novel are ready, go for a publisher first. Now, that doesn’t stop you from pursuing agents, but try and get that publishing contract if you can.

Again remember the statistics… Less than 1% of all fiction published in the UK is by new authors…less than 1%!

Now is as hard a time as ever for getting published. The goal posts are continually changing. Guidelines that publishing houses wanted ten even five years ago, will not be the same now. Certainly I know when I was first writing my novel, some of the Big Six (now Big Five) were accepting unsolicited manuscripts, that certainly is NOT the case now.

Product DetailsBut it’s not all doom and gloom. Some new authors do still manage to breakthrough and snag a major house. One of them most notably is Mark Lawrence, a fellow Bristolian and fantasy writer and all round really lovely guy. His wonderfully epic and visceral novels, Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns, are published by Voyager, HarperCollins and is available in Waterstones, WHSmith’s, Amazon and everywhere else, including my bookshelf…but you can’t have those! 😛

However, for the rest of us the main benefit of the Big Five shutting their doors to all unsolicited (unagented) manuscripts, is that their rigidity has given rise to a whole new breed of publishers. The indie or small press publishing house. This is both a good and bad thing. These independent publishers are invariably quite new on the book scene, but don’t see that as an automatic disadvantage, it hugely depends on the individual house. Some are young, full of energy and often way ahead of the publishing curve and the big houses. They want their books to be a success because they have had to invest in them personally and risk their own money, so they should work harder and go that little bit further than those Big Boys who may have deep pockets but are also spread pretty thin and tend to ignore ‘mid-list’ authors who don’t bring in the big bucks.

BUT you must DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!!! Remember, anyone nowadays can set up a publishing house, without the merest sliver of real book publishing experience. The new author must be wary.

I’m afraid for every decent indie publisher, there is a whole sea of unscrupulous presses, which are either wildly inexperienced, incompetent, lazy, fraudulent or a mixture of all. Finding the good ones is not easy. So DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Some indie publishing houses will make highly exaggerated claims, so check the facts. If they say they have offices in London, New York, Paris or Germany, do they? Are these real addresses, real offices with staff and telephones, or are they bogus, merely a post office box in a building which has several thousand other businesses operating out of it? Remember, an ‘office’ can be someone’s living room, know what you’re getting yourself into before you sign the contract. What about their contracts? If they don’t pay advances, then the percentage should at least be good. Don’t accept anything under the standard 7%, many other houses such as Wild Wolf Publishing give 10% to all their authors. Look at their sales record. Do they have a specific sales and marketing team or are they expecting you to do everything? What about covers? Covers are SO important. Never sign with any house who doesn’t employ professional qualified cover artists. Just because someone in the company dabbles in art, doesn’t mean they’ll have the talent, skills or know how to produce a professional looking cover. So check. Check with the authors too, have any authors left them, if so why?

It is a shark infested sea out there for the inexperienced newbie, so be careful which boat you put your trust in, if it has holes, you’ll regret it!

Having said all this, don’t be afraid to take the plunge. By all means send your MS off to the Big Five and try your luck if you want. If your novel is great but you want it published before you collect your pension cheque, then try for an indie.

Then of course, the other route is also the self-publishing. Now to be honest, I really can’t give much advice here as I really don’t know that side of the book business BUT I can tell you that there is NO shame in pursuing this path and don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. Writers are writers, books are books, no snobbery please! Again, remember this is your creation, your journey, you must follow the path that best suits you, your needs and your masterwork.

I personally have some of the most astonishing works of fiction on my bookshelves which happen to be self-published, because the author knew their vision and knew that they wanted complete autonomy over their creation and its birth in the marketplace. I tip my hat to those venturers and their wonderous creations!

Thank you to all those writers, published, self-published and yet to be, for creating fiction that you wish was real! May your dreams continue to take flight…

Good luck! 😀 xx

Book signing – what you need to know but were afraid to ask!!!

books[1]Okay…I’m jumping ahead here, but seeing as I just had my fourth book signing event on Saturday and have my next coming up this Saturday, I wanted to share the freaky experience of author book signing.

Think you’re ready people? I can guarantee you’re not!

Well, like many of us, my only ‘experience’ of book signing was watching it portrayed on TV and in film, i.e. a pretty exciting, thrilling glamorous thing, right? LOL!!!!!!  Oh dear… If you are a celebrity, you’ll have people thronging around you, lining up to get a glimpse of you and a signed copy of your latest tome. If you are a new writer…you’re a nobody. No lining people, unless it’s to the tills, no throngs.

Well, again, like every aspect of a writer’s journey, it will be unique to you. Some writer friends I know don’t do it all. Whether it’s because of time constraints or simply because they feel they can’t and don’t want to do the whole ‘selling’ thing, I don’t know. In fairness, it is an expensive venture, travelling, petrol, parking…it all adds up!

I must shout out though, to some brilliant surprises I had on my book launch at wonderful Octavia’s Bookshop, apart from selling out in an hour! Thank you to my gorgeous fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons, turning up (a welcome distraction and lovely support) and my lovely and nutty mate Will Macmillan Jones who LOVES book signings – he has a natural confidence in talking to people and an ease when doing these events.

Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012Then there’s me…the nervous jelly in the corner. Cold sweats, lack of sleep, bitten nails, dodgy tummy, dry throat and well, a host of other nervous complaints. It IS hard and difficult but what nobody prepares you for, is that it is also one of the most totally bizarre experiences a human being is ever likely to find themselves in!

Exactly like walking down the street naked. That is how it feels…and no, I haven’t gone romping down the local lanes and roads starkers! But you feel utterly exposed and naked in a room of crowded strangers…yeap…prepare yourselves guys!

Firstly, you will have to decide on what approach suits you best. By now we all know the changed policy from Waterstone’s head office regarding signings, so NO pushy hard sell! It doesn’t work and it’s at least one of the reasons Waterstones cites for changing their policy, because they were getting complaints from customers who had literally been frog marched to the tills!

Remember you are selling your literary masterpiece, not a tin of beans. Nobody likes being hassled, especially if they’re in a bookshop quietly browsing…so back off. Always go with a relaxed soft sell approach.

That aside, you still need to decide how to do this. Do you stand and wander round the shop? Stay permanently seated at your table? Or a mixture of both? Sometimes the bookshop will tell you what they would like you to do, so you can just follow those guidelines.

My friends all do it slightly differently, which works for them. You’ll need to find out what works for YOU. For me…I just don’t have the confidence to wander, so I tend to stay permanently glued to my table and let people come up to me, or not.

Even though all the Waterstones staff I have met have been absolutely lovely, very friendly, welcoming, helpful and ply you with as much tea/coffee as you want, you will most likely be given a small round black table only a little bigger than a napkin, to display your books. So be prepared! 😉

You may be placed in the fantasy section, teen section, children’s section or by the doors, it totally depends on the store. If they are planning to place you right at the back, you can very sweetly ask if you could be moved. Remember they want you to be every bit as successful as you want to be. You sell a lot of books, it’s great for the store, great for you and most likely you’ll be asked back.

As far as symbiotic relationships go, it’s pretty good – they are the oak tree and you are the nourishing fungus at its roots! Ummm…now doesn’t that sound sexy?!

The next thing you need to be prepared for is…people. Lots of them, none of them, crowds jostling past you, ignoring you, bumping into you. People glancing at you and your book then thinking better of it, shy people wanting to approach but nervously edging past, brash people, “So, what’s it about?” You start your well rehearsed but genuine spiel, “Nah…not for me,” as they drop it on the pile with a clunk. You notice the smear of finger prints on the cover and quickly pop it to the bottom of the pile.

Also, depending on where you are stationed, be prepared for arses (asses for my lovely American friends) and lots of them as you see them leave the shop having NOT bought your book, or worse still, as they queue at the tills and the queue goes back to you. Suddenly you’re sitting in a forest of people’s legs, backs and arses, totally obscured! 😛

You’ll find yourself with a gentle fixed smile, trying not to look desperate as you shift your weight, stare aimlessly into middle distance or try to make eye contact and lightly engage passersby with a, “good morning,” you check your watch. Damn it! It’s 12:30pm. So you change tact to, “good afternoon”.

Or you start to play ‘spot the fantasy fan’ – a fun game which entails eyeing everyone coming into the shop and trying to place which section they’ll head for. Even though I’ve only done 4 signings so far (my amazing book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop and three lovely Waterstones branches to date, with more going right up to Christmas) I’m getting pretty good at this detective game.

But the frustration comes, if you see someone heading and then lingering in the fantasy section and before you can get a chance to talk to them, they’ve left the shop carrying a Robert Jordan, G.R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, David Brett and walked straight past you without noticing…despite the 7ft banner next to you! You could try a net or lasso, but I wouldn’t recommend it! 😛

Then, you get the ones who have no intention of buying your book but haven’t had a decent conversation with anyone in a while and as you’re just sitting there doing nothing, how about a chat? You know what? Always be gracious and grateful…at the very least you are talking to someone and look busy – this is good! Unless of course they stop you from engaging with those who really are interested in buying your book. Tricky.

Then, you get the good stuff, the reason you are there, putting yourself through this…the interested person…what a thrill! The person or people who ask questions, are really engaged when you tell them about the story, who ask about when and why you started writing it, your inspirations and in my case, those who get totally enthralled with my illustrations.

Btw, it really really helps to have visual aids! I’m lucky, I have my own illustrations so I enlarge them, colour some of them, even laminate them and put them in this flick through book for people to…er…flick through! If you don’t have any visual aids – GET THEM!

Now don’t get me wrong, even though the experience can be akin to having root canal, which I have had, there is a genuinely awesome payoff – you get to be on the frontline, talking to people about your book, the characters, the plot, how you created it, what your influences are, and most amazingly, you get to sign a book and watch someone walk to the tills and buy it!!!!!!!!!!!

There really isn’t anything like it!

If I hadn’t been sitting in public, I would have welled up and cried, it’s that emotional. A really unforgettable and moving moment.

That’s why you do it, why you put yourself through the nervous emotional exhaustion of it, not to mention the difficulty of travelling there, finding somewhere to park, finding the store etc – because the payoff is SO sweet. Isn’t that what we all want? To feel that sensation – pride, accomplishment and sheer joy? It doesn’t happen often in life so try to embrace it when it does.

So the next time you’re in a bookshop, do spare a thought for the lonely author sitting or standing there, being brave or possibly nutty, and go and talk to them. Even if they’re selling a manual on how to clean the inner tubing from a bicycle wheel and you couldn’t be less interested in what they are selling and certainly don’t want to buy it…spare a thought for them and go a have a natter and a smile, you’ll really make their day! 😀 xx

P.S. Make sure you have a bottle of water with a good screw top, you’ll need it. In your nervousness, if you knock it over you’re not going to spoil your precious books. Oh…and make sure you have at least three pens, at least one is likely to fail on you! 😉

P.P.S. I must say a special mention to my pal Lucy for stopping by and saying hello yesterday while I was book signing in Waterstones Cribbs Causeway, thank you honey! AND a special mention to Bryony, the lovely lady I meet yesterday who was so interested in my book and who I had a fascinating chat with. I hope you keep going with your writing sweetie, and DO check out The Alliance of Worldbuilders on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy www.authonomy.com or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheAllianceOfWorldbuilders or on it’s own website http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com we’d love to see you on there with the rest of us nutters!.

Right, so that’s it, at least for now…everything you needed to know about author signing events, but were afraid to ask! HUGE good luck guys and I hope to meet you on the circuit!  ;D xx

Dodging boomerangs, celebrating and passing 6,000!!!!

Strange how life throws boomerangs at you periodically.

You get something really great that happens to you and then you get a bunch of obstacles and unforeseen difficulties that get in the way.

How did Dickens describe it? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

It’s just life, eh?

Recently I’ve had one of the best days of my life, my wonderful book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop www.octaviasbookshop.co.uk a little over a week ago, which to my utter delight was a complete sell out! Yes, we sold out of every book in just over an hour!!

Then, despite wanting desperately to publicise and promote my novel and all the wonderful things that have happened, I’ve been struck down this week by severe migraines and sickness! Ughhh…I found myself saying “I don’t have time to be ill!” But of course, your body has a way of saying, “STOP!”

I hate being ill as we all do and I never, never take time off work…but have spent the last few days curled up in bed with the curtains drawn, like some oversized dormouse. Ughhh.

Juggling life, work and stress is tricky at the best of times but throw in illness and it’s a kicker.

So, it is with total unbridled joy that with a bag of frozen peas on my head, I popped onto the computer and saw that my beloved little blog has passed the 6,000 visitors mark!!!

I am SOOOOOOO thrilled and delighted and genuinely touched by all the amazing support I’ve received from friends and strangers a like!

Thank you to everyone who has dropped by this little blog to say hello, to hang out for a while, or just to whizz by. Whether you are frequent visitors or one-time passers-by, thank you, thank you, thank you!

I won’t share my migraines, but I’ll happily share the LOVE!!!!!

Thank you guys! 😀 xx