How to Make A Living as a Writer!

Apologies to all my US, NZ and Aussie writer friends, this post is very UK based so won’t apply to most of you, but feel free pick up ideas. 😀

On Wednesday 24th May 2017, I attended my first Society of Authors (SoA) event in Bristol, at the Arnolfini Gallery, a place I used to visit all the time when I was a struggling art student some twenty years ago! In fact, I first saw a young Damien Hirst exhibit his work there before he made it huge with his pickled sharks, and I marvelled at the huge architectural spiders of artist Louise Bourgeois (a thing of fear for an arachnophobe like me!). The Arnolfini itself is perched on the banks of the River Frome in the heart of Bristol and although it has changed a bit (more sleeker than I remember), thankfully it was still recognisable with it’s impressive exhibition spaces and relaxed bohemian vibe. If you’ve never visited it’s well worth a look. In fact the whole of the Bristol Docks/Quayside area is a lovely place to spend some time especially in the summer, very arty with almost an Amsterdam feel to the place with all the boats, barges and canal ferries going up and down the water, the smell of street food wafting through the air, acoustic guitar strumming in the background, cafes and restaurants spilling onto the cobbled streets, now pedestrianised, and of course the Watershed Arts & Media Centre one side of the river and the Arnolfini Gallery the other, linked by the stunning architectural Pero’s Bridge.

The SoA event was a very topical one – ‘How to Make a Living as a Writer’ – something every writer I know would like to do! As most SoA events are centralised in London, a criticism made by one of the members there, I was absolutely determined to attend this rare outside of London event. As usual my body had other ideas…as I had dared to go to a last minute Grimbold Books work/social on the Monday evening which was fab but left me exhausted the following day, I ended up paying for it on the Wednesday. Annoyingly I went to bed on the Tuesday with a migraine, woke up on the Wednesday with a terrible migraine and one that decided to get progressively worse through the day with my usual vertigo and sickness, to the extent that I was then unable to drive and had to ask for a lift in. 😦

The event was upstairs in one of the gallery ‘Reading Rooms’ and one with very little air conditioning on one of the hottest days of the year! I was shocked and delighted that the whole thing kicked off with the chair reading a quote from Gareth L. Powell, a brilliant Bristol based writer who I happen to know and who wanted to be there but the tickets had sold out! How weird and wonderful is that?

“There are two kinds of courage. There’s the kind you get from knowing that what you’re doing is right. And there’s the kind you get from knowing its hopeless and wrong, and just not giving a damn.”  ― Gareth L. Powell, The Last Reef

It began with an interesting Q&A session chaired by Sarah Baxter who advises SoA members on publishing contracts and issues, handles literary estates, including print permissions and amateur stage licences. She also administers grants for writers in need including the Authors Contingency Fund, PD James Memorial Fund and Authors Foundation grants. The SoA’s newest contracts advisor, Theo Jones, who used to work for Oxford University Press, also joined her and I had a rather nice chat to him during the break.
During the Q&A various topics were raised including issues about competing titles, the new Amazon buy button (which is worrying a lot of people), the difficulty of earning a living through writing, the rise of celebrity authors and I mentioned the problem of author signings in chains like Waterstones. To my delight I wasn’t the only person who had found a problem trying to get Waterstones to stock books from smaller authors and small presses, as well as indies and how once James Daunt took over Waterstones, their policy changed towards signing events – where now most shops only hold signing events for big celebrity names. Yet another door/opportunity closed to struggling writers. The discussion around celebrity authors was very pertinent and how even well established authors are finding themselves squeezed off the shelves in both bookshops and libraries and are finding it harder to get publishing contracts because celebrities are swamping the market. I myself mentioned the whole Miranda Hart problem I had encountered where I’ve had to completely re-write my entire picture book along with illustrations because her upcoming first foray into children’s fiction is almost exactly the same as my concept. Years of work wasted. Grrrrr. 😦
I kept taking notes and trying to listen as I battled the migraine which was now pounding away behind my eyes with a regular persistence and tried to ignore the rising temptation to vomit. No-one likes throwing up, but vomiting in public is one of my fears. We had a break for refreshments and after a brief chat to Theo Jones I scuttled off to the toilets in the hope of being sick so I’d feel better after. No go. I came back and found myself cornered by an overly enthusiastic writer putting the world to rights. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, although I’m not naturally very social, I can go into my ‘social façade mode’ and chat with the best of them. The problem here though, was that apart from my sweating profusely through a mixture of meds and unbearable heat, this particular woman was actually shouting. Obviously she had a problem hearing above the general chit chat, but shouting in an animated fashion only inches away from my banging migraine was something akin to torture! 😦

We returned to our seats for the meat of the matter – a one hour panel discussion on ‘How to Make a Living as a Writer’. Sarah Baxter was joined by Helen Chaloner (CEO of Literature Works*). Helen worked in publishing PR for over nine years, at Penguin Books, Macdonald Publishing and, latterly, at Faber & Faber. She was the National Director of the Arvon Foundation and Chief Executive of Farms for City Children. She is a lover of fiction and principal short story reader for the Bridport Prize. The panel was rounded off by writer and fellow SoA member, Patricia Ferguson, who has published seven novels and a volume of short stories so far, teaches Creative Writing for the University of Bristol, and was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Reading University for three years.

*I admit I’d never heard of Literature Works before – a strategic literature development charity for South West England who are a National Portfolio Organisation of the Arts Council England. Literature Works’ role is to fundraise for the Literature Works Annual Fund, a support and grant scheme providing small awards for literature activity across the region, and where possible securing funding for larger regional projects with delivery partners, advice, advocacy and partnership. There mission is to support, understand and advocate regional literature in all its contexts, for everyone, for all ages, etc.

Sarah Baxter mentioned the South West Writers Directory (Literature Works) and that we should all get ourselves listed on there (something I have done this afternoon). Write Now was also mentioned as an initiative being piloted in Birmingham and Bristol – a scheme to find, mentor and publish new writers with different stories to tell and is in correlation with the BBC Writer’s Room. Writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves. It is sponsored by Penguin Random House and I must say, anything that promotes greater diversity on our bookshelves is very welcomed by me.

I’d love to say some magic wands were discussed, some instant thing we can all do to suddenly become full time writers who can pay their bills exclusively through just writing, but if it was discussed, then those were the bits I missed…

Annoyingly, during this most crucial part of the event, I was desperately ill, teeth clenched, mouth clamped shut fighting the urge to barf, and so embarrassingly twice I had to leave in front of everyone. The second time I only just made it to the Arnolfini toilets before projectile vomiting everywhere. The only good thing is that it was with such force that I had no disgusting sick on me, it was like some comedy water canon being switched on. Apologies to the cleaners, I tried my best. 😦

Dear dear…you can imagine the state I was in, trying to concentrate and put on a professional front and write down copious notes for myself and friends while struggling with a howling migraine and nausea. Ugh. NOT my finest hour. I later made my apologies to Sarah Baxter and Poppy Rosenberg who were running the event and they were lovely. Then, exiting as quickly as I could, I found a bench overlooking the harbour, under the dappled shade of a sycamore tree and waited for my ride to pick me up as my head pulsated and swirled as if it were trying to copy Michael Ironside’s exploding cranium in horror film, Scanners.

So, what can I tell you about the outcome of all this?

Well, apart from the fact that you are not alone in struggling to make a living solely from writing, there really were no instant answers.

A few helpful hints were given though to raise your profile, perhaps get financial help and get paying writing work, so I’ll pop them here in no particular order (apologies for any obvious ones):

  • Literature Works – have resources, advice and help for writers.
  • South West Writer’s Directory – its free, get yourself on there! (sorry west country only)
  • Bid writing – Using your transferable skills ie. professional writing expertise in writing for companies, charities and organisations needing a more comprehensive and literate approach to their communications, fundraising and marketing.
  • Join a local writer’s group, not only as a means of fine tuning your own writing but as a networking tool.
  • Royal Literary Fund – The Royal Literary Fund is a UK charity that has been helping authors since 1790. It provides grants and pensions to writers in financial difficulty; it also places writers in universities to help students develop their writing.
  • National Writing Day (June 21st) – get involved with libraries and schools to celebrate this day.
  • Arvon – Was discussed a great deal and the grants and support.
  • Caroline Summerfield was mentioned and The Eugenie Summerfield Children’s Book Prize.
  • The Bath Novel Award was mentioned as well.
  • Mailing lists were discussed as a good way of building your fanbase.
  • It was discussed that as authors we needed to find a way of incentivising publishers to sign authors who are not celebrities, of finding a way to break that repeating cycle which is not only detrimental to professional authors whose sole income is writing, but also in some cases, floods the market with yet more substandard writing!
  • The organisers were very keen to start up a Bristol SoA chapter, as currently, despite there being apparently 481 SoA authors in and around Bristol, there is no Bristol group. I’d certainly be up for joining one, especially if there was a speculative fiction based one (Gareth?). Unfortunately a lot of this discussion and networking no doubt happened in the networking/socialising with drinks portion of the event, held afterwards in the Watershed bar and which I had to leave due to illness. 😦
  • Apparently the average earnings of a writer had now dropped from 18K a year to 11K. I must confess, my earnings from writing is nowhere near this. My illustration work with HarperCollins is the money maker for me, not my writing.
  • Promote your local connections through local libraries, bookshops, schools and writing groups – local radio is a resource as well as newspapers, use them.
  • Put yourself forward to teach creative writing courses at festivals etc. huge amounts of experience are not needed, it can be done with just a single published book under your belt.
  • Podcasting – as a visual means of raising your profile and getting more of your content out there on channels such as YouTube.

There, that seemed to be the majority of what was discussed. 😀

For me, a very handy contact gained, was meeting Judith Gunn who runs the Gloucestershire & Neighbouring Counties SoA group. I explained that unfortunately I’ve never been able to attend any of the meetings and events as they are always held during the day usually on Monday or Tuesday when I’m working. Judith said she had been discussing possibly opening up the group to hold an evening session every so often, so keen members like me who work day jobs, can attend. I certainly think that would be hugely beneficial not only to me, but other SoA writers I know, like lovely fellow fantasy writer, Jules Ironside who was working on Wednesday so couldn’t attend. Watch this space!

Are you prepared for SUCCESS?

Despite not being well at the moment it has been a good year so far. It’s funny, I don’t know if it’s a Brit thing – being humble not ‘hooting your horn’ or wanting to be seen to show off, or if it’s just a me thing, but I’ve always been prepared for failure not success.

On the relationship front – yeap, I’m pretty much a human tsunami, a total disaster zone. It’s true I never wanted to get married or trapped as I saw it (hardly surprising given my childhood and family) but I did and do still want kids…something I’m going to have to do something about sooner rather than later.

On the professional front – I fell into a career (teaching) I never intended to do, and though to my own surprise I was very good at it, it was hugely draining and creatively very unfulfilling. But, I thank that career for my house and mortgage and the boring adult life stuff it gave me.

On the creative front – yes, I’ve always been blessed with the ability to draw and paint to a high standard, even from the age of 3 apparently. It led me to do a National Diploma in Foundation Art followed by a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art/Visual Arts, which I loved every moment of. But, having completed said degree and not having any money, I foolishly turned down the MA place I had secured at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London. Instead, after yet another disastrous relationship break up and a marriage proposal (yes, I still have feelings for him but no I have no regrets saying “No”), I escaped as far away as I could, 15,000 miles away to New Zealand for four months – backpacking in blissful solitude and stunning landscapes! I’d never been happier. 😀

On returning, without a job or prospects of getting one, I did a post-grad teaching course and fell into teaching for 16 long years – many of which were enjoyable but many of which were not.

Life passes so frigging quickly…how the hell did I get here?

Then, my first completed novel, White Mountain, was published. I was ecstatic, a childhood dream and passion had actually come true and to make things more perfect, I had illustrated my epic fantasy novel too, combining my two great loves.

What happened?

Well, an 8 date Waterstones book signing tour and numerous independent bookshops, sold a ton of books, which gave me my membership to the Society of Authors, newspaper interviews, things were moving fast and brilliantly and then…it all promptly collapsed. Despite my jubilation at being published, it was with such a thoroughly unscrupulous and dreadful publisher who had ruined my book (something I had taken ten years to write and research), had given me possibly the worst contract terms in the business, broken that same contract numerous times, bullied me terribly and finally shafted me out of hundreds if not thousands of pounds of royalties. I left them and after only 4 months of the book being out there on shelves and in bookshops, it was withdrawn and I skulked away badly battered and bruised by the whole ordeal.

It very nearly stopped me from ever writing again and certainly contributed to my permanent illness and my problems ‘getting the words down’. 😦

Fast forward, amazing thing upon amazing thing happened and my beloved book was taken on and re-published by another publisher, the wonderful Grimbold Books based in Banbury (and their imprint, Kristell Ink Publishing). It was re-edited, re-formatted, given an amazing new cover from the dreadful one it had been landed with and was completely overhauled and released out into the world once more as a beautiful fresh thing! 😀 ❤

I was thrilled and elated beyond words. That elusory second chance had come along and the book was how I had always dreamed it would be. BUT, despite Grimbold being utterly brilliant, which they are and the book being brilliant too, that initial momentum had been lost. Yes sales were steady, but not the fast flow they had once been and in the intervening time Waterstones had changed their policy about small press authors signing, and so suddenly, despite having sold well in every Waterstones I had signed in, the doors were slammed shut. I believe, slowly, that is beginning to change…we’ll see.

Now, with a crippling illness and mental constrictions on what I can do (short term memory loss and severe mental fatigue as part of my ME/CFS and Vestibular Neuritis), I have struggled on, writing a slew of short stories, novellas and poetry and trying my hardest to still write the second novel and follow up to White Mountain. Now at least I finally have a first draft of Darkling Rise from which to work.

I kept drawing, painting, mostly for myself and friends and started doing book illustrations. Nothing major, all very enjoyable but hardly paying the bills, especially as once my teaching career ended I found I physically and mentally couldn’t work fulltime anymore – I work part-time in a library now, a job I love.

So yes, some ups, undoubtedly, but lots of downs and certainly lots of practice for failing.

Then suddenly, this year after a strange string of ‘word of mouth’ and luck coincided, along with a large dose of THANK YOU to author, Anna Smith-Spark, I was actually approached by the big boys – HarperCollins! 😀

They had seen the hand drawn fantasy map I had done for Anna Smith-Spark and her wonderful fantasy debut, The Court of Broken Knives, and seen my other illustration work and wanted me to be one of their illustrators/suppliers! It was a strange dream, but a wonderful one.

Of course I jumped at the chance and quickly found myself doing a second commission for them only weeks later, for Anna Stephens and her highly anticipated fantasy debut, Godblind.

But here is where the – are you prepared for success?, comes in…

Because I really, REALLY was not ready. Suddenly I had HarperCollins contacting me on almost a daily basis, tight deadlines thrust on me, and yes…MONEY! They were valuing me and my work in a way I was unprepared for.

I was having to deal with purchase orders and invoices. I’d always given clients a receipt if they wanted it, but no, these were bonafide invoices, each one for a different hardback edition then paperback edition of the books the maps would be in and each for a handsome amount.

I was stunned. I still am. I just received 6 purchase orders from HarperCollins a few days ago, for me to send back with 6 different invoices. Then, I got contacted by Dutch Publishers, Luitingh-Sijthoff, who want to use the same map too, and Orbit from the USA will be using one of them as well, etc., etc. OMG!!!

It’s been utterly bewildering. For someone not used to any kind of success (other than the fleeting kind), despite all my hard work, efforts and dreams, to have this happening now is frankly bizarre.

To all of you out there, plugging away as I have been, trying to find that magical ingredient to finding a market for your work, or ‘making it big’, finding success, having your dreams realised…take some heart. Although I’d never claim that I’ve ‘made it big’ because I haven’t, I have suddenly found myself in the big leagues in illustrative terms at least, with the prospect of making a good living from what I create – there is now a small space for me at the grand table.

So keep working at it guys, keep having those dreams, don’t give in, work your ass off and grasp every opportunity that comes your way because they don’t last and may not come again.

I for one have no idea where all this will lead me and am convinced it won’t last, but I’m hanging on for the ride with every intention of staying on this rollercoaster for as long as I possibly can! 😀 xxxx ❤

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Steven J. Guscott!

This is the twelfth outing of a new blog series, as I dabble my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends.

Grimbold Books were also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles were priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Now, although summer is over, there are still great promos and bargains to be had running throughout Autumn, so grab yourself something special before the prices go back to normal! Awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our twelfth author interview, the uber-talented, cosmically cool dude and darkly prophetic…

Steven J. Guscott

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Steven, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

What classes as essentials? Lol

Well, I guess if we’re thinking practically: a bottle of water, food, blanket, matches and a plastic bag (assuming I can afford one) OH! DARN!! I forgot the toilet roll…

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

My Pikachu teddy, my copy of Dune, Picture of my family (notice the order I thought of these, whoops!), general media device for music (hoping it was charged), My ‘little blanket’ from my aunt- I’ve had it since I was like one.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

Life-forms! The probability is I’m screwed either way so it’s worth taking the risk to see if they are friendly. And if they aren’t, looks like we got ourselves the making of a hunter/prey space story. We shall see who is the hunter, and who is the prey. (who am I kidding? I’d be doomed!)

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

*Public Service Announcement* I have a problem!! Like serious unhealthy obsession with Frank Herbert’s Dune series.

I do love most sci/fi and Fantasy, but these stories I can read over and over and over again (currently about 11 times :/). They are just so epic! So the problem I have now is picking 5 out of the 6… I love them all for different reasons, but guess I would have to leave out… argh! I can’t do it! I’d swallow Messiah (the smallest book) and carry the other 5. Then when its time…I’d still have all 6. I warned you, I have a problem!!

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

Tool-Lateralus

Metallica- S and M

Slipknot- Slipknot

Bring Me The Horizon- Sempiternal

Disney Greatest Hits

I love all music but favourite genre is rock/metal. I just find it more inspiring and connects with me. As for Disney, well, that needs no explanation! 🙂

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Water. Not a fan of the others. All I need is ‘good, quality H2O’

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

Loathe! Yuk! yuk!

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

“Hey, you look familiar? Do you speak English?”

“Aarefa menaja”

“Oh, well. Here it goes any way.

The Book of Prophecy is a story about Dragatu and his family. He lives on another world and they own a secret book, The Book of Prophecy. It contains writings about the future. Dragatu is told about it by his dad, but told not to read it until he’s older. Dragatu, however, can’t help himself…

…Wait! I know why you look familiar!!

…Dragatu?”

“grilantu sikanon nis allajidus”

“Wish I could speak… hang on? Why do you want to eat my brains??”

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Embarrassingly trying to communicate through actions that I need toilet roll. Once that’s sorted learning the language and playing out Dances With Wolves (Smurfs)/Pocahontas/Avatar.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

Family, Friends, Orion Constellation, Aeroplanes, Game of Thrones.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Selfies, Reality TV, Racists, Celebrities, Being addicted to Facebook.

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Nothing! Life has been brutal at times, but it has been ‘my’ brutal life and made me who I am today. I would never change that.

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

Hell, yeah!! It’s been out of this world…

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Firehurler, by J S Morin- This was surprising good. It is very original and well thought-out (Don’t be put off by the cover- Personally, I think it’s really bad).

Spark and Carousel, by Joanne Hall- It’s so addictive and has awesome characters. It’s also a bit dark in places and I like that.

Willow, Weep No More, by various writers- This anthology is a great collection of fairy-tale stories. I love it for the diversity and creativity.

Spirit’s Destiny, by Ken Dawson- This was another very creative and original story. I love reading things that feel new and fresh and this certainly did.

The Reluctant Prophet, by Gillian O’Rourke- This is a very emotional tale and pulled at my heart strings the whole way. If you like that sort of connection this is a must.

(I do honestly recommend checking out all the authors at Grimbold. They are all amazingly talented and I am humbled to be counted amongst them)This is too hard! Books are such a matter of personal taste.

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Writers- Write for you! Or write to honour loved ones! Or for any other innocent or noble reason. Never write just because you think it will earn you money. That’s just a bonus a lucky few get, you are likely to be very disappointed. Despite this fact, never ever give up on your dreams! Just count the cost (what it will take).

Readers- Please review and recommend indie authors you like! We need your help and every constructive and honest review makes a difference. It’s not an ego trip, it helps us out in many different ways i.e publicity.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

12112851_10153260406805829_2120139347_oSteven in his own words…

I’m Steve (Steven J. Guscott). I enjoy many hobbies such as, writing, drawing, climbing and computer games. I’m at my happiest when being a big kid and being silly, but I do love a good deep discussion too. Family is the most important thing to me and I have been incredibly fortunate to have the family I do.

My inspirations come from all aspects of life. To quote Dune, ‘every experience carries its lesson.’ And my own little phrase is, ‘…creativity inspires creativity inspires creativity…’ The world is full of creativity so that inspires me every day and flows into my own attempts to be creative, with my own perspective at the helm.

My publishers are Kristell-Ink, part of the Grimbold publishing family. It really is a family and I could not have asked for a better publisher! Everyone involved is just incredible, especially the two women at the top who mesmerize me every day with how hard they work for us authors.

For all other info. you can visit www.stevenjguscott.com

Waterstones

Steven J Guscott’s Author Amazon Page

Amazon UK

Amazon US

12071478_10153260406225829_434316461_nLatest Book Blurb

The Book of Prophecy

No one in this quiet world knows what ignited the change; no one suspects that it all began with a secret book…

Living among the innocent, in a society that has blossomed under seven centuries of tranquility, Dragatu expects to live out his days following the same path as his father before him, without even the smallest challenge to lift the monotony. But when he and his brothers are granted incredible mythical powers, every skill they possess is put to the test. Their actions will determine the fate of their people. What has been passed on in trust threatens to tear the brothers apart.

Honour, love, power; all are at stake, and with them the only hope for a return to peace.

***

I also have stories in the anthology collections, Strange Tales from the Scriptorian Vaults (steampunk stories) and Felinity (fantastical stories with cats in).

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***

Thank you, Steven. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing exploratory vessel has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

What? You don’t want to?

You fitted in and have a family now- that was quick. Well, I guess you switch off the distress beacon and the passing freighter moves on.

Yes, I will tell your friends and family here you love them!! Enjoy you new life! I guess you always did have your head in another world!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

Distant Worlds – Welcomes Frances Kay!

This is the eleventh outing of a new blog series, as I dabble my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

6990934-space-planets-art[1]

To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends.

Grimbold Books were also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles were priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Now, although summer is over, there are still great promos and bargains to be had running throughout Autumn, so grab yourself something special before the prices go back to normal! Awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our eleventh author interview and a talented lady with a penchant for dark dangerous fiction, the mysterious…

Frances Kay

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Frances, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

Savagely sharp knife/pruning saw; enough rope to hang myself or tie up attackers; endless supply of matches [assuming there will be an atmosphere up there]; tarpaulin; enormous fluffy blanket.

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

Photo of SEVEN of the dearest people in my life; Yardleys Lavender soap; Earl Grey teabags; my cat, Jasper; sherbet lemons.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

Seek! I need significant others wherever I am.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin [he created dystopia before Orwell]; John Wyndham, THE CHRYSALIDS [helped me feel less like a left-handed freak]; 1984 by George Orwell [the daddy of dystopia]; Oh, and I haven’t yet read WHITE MOUNTAIN by Sophie E. Tallis, this would be an ideal opportunity to enjoy it undisturbed, except by aliens.

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

I like silence. Occasional Bach would be okay. But mostly, silence.

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Champagne every time.

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

 Mmm…not sure really.

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

God, you’re gorgeous! I love the scales – grey green is my favourite colour. What do you do on your day off? Like to join me for coffee, you’ve got several adorable mouths there to drink it with… I could read to you as you swing by your – whatever you call that thing, from a branch, if you have trees? I have a book about the end of the world right here. It’s tragic and funny. There’s a bit of sex in it, you might be interested to see how earthlings do it, you can skip the nasty ones, we wouldn’t want to be like them, would we? Your eyes seem to be filling with tears… have I moved you? No – wait – you’re shaking, you’re opening your mouths and. Oh. I get it. You are laughing. Laughing because I have not ‘sold’ my book to you. You’d better learn something before you eat me. Not all writers can sell. I admit I’m really bad at it. It sounds too un-English, too pushy, too big-headed. So eat me.

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

It would mostly be a desperate day to day struggle for survival, but when I take time off I would swim, laze about, and lie in the sun wishing I had brought paper and pens with me from the ship, instead of stupid sherbet lemons

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

Family – I have hundreds. Discovery apples. Jamon de Bellota – pure heaven – and other food and drink. Familiar places I love which are signposts to my past. Libraries. BBC Radio 4.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Money and the world’s obsession with it; people in power; children leading unhappy lives; wars; diseases.

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

I would like to expunge from history Hitler and Nazi ideology. I wonder how different the world would be without that stain on our human conscience .

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

God no! I didn’t even want to come on this one! I told you I wasn’t a scientist! I loved the view from the portholes on Day 1, but, as I would say on TripAdvisor if I ever get to a computer again, the whole experience has been greatly overrated.

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

This is too hard! Books are such a matter of personal taste.

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Go with the ‘what if…’ in life as in art.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

fb puppet fan author cropFrances Kay in her own words…

I am VERY old so my CV would take pages. I am inspired by Life, mine and others; by children [I write plays for them]; by love and loss and death, and by natural curiosity. I bring my shadow side to my fiction, which means in my real life I can be kind, caring and gentle.

I’ve been published by Picador [MICKA] and Tenebris [DOLLYWAGGLERS and STRANGE CREATION].

Waterstones

Frances Kay’s Amazon UK Author Page

Amazon UK

Amazon US

SC CoverLatest Book Blurb

Dr Dorothy Broadhurst, a biologist, is living in 1950s Central Africa to study the local ape population. When civil war erupts and the rest of her team flees, she’s left alone in the jungle. Dorothy may think she understands the apes she has studied for so long, but she could never have predicted what they do next . . . 

Other great books by Frances Kay which are available to buy from Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops!

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Thank you, Frances. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing space cruiser has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

Wow, thank goodness. That ship looks hugely impressive… can’t quite read the name on the prow… looks like ‘Totemic’…. A lucky omen?

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx

6 months of magic and mayhem…with more to follow!

Today’s post is a rather reflective one, so apologies for getting a little misty-eyed and overawed!

Six months ago on the 1st December 2014 my debut novel, White Mountain, the first of my Darkling Chronicles trilogy, was gloriously published by Grimbold Books & their imprint Kristell Ink Publishing. I knew at the time that the merry-go-round of madness was about to begin, but boy what a rollercoaster ride it’s been!

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White Mountain, as most of my friends, family and supporters know, was a complete labour of love that took over ten years to write, research and worldbuild (yes, I am a VERY slow writer! I promise that Book 2 WILL be finished and ready next year, so no decade to wait!). All my interests in ancient history, world mythology, geography, geology, natural history, ecology, anthropology etc., etc., dripped into the history and worldbuilding behind the story of White Mountain; and my personal experiences and complicated relationships seeped into the characters and their lives.

No matter what genre you write in, no matter how fantastical or other-worldly it may be, use your life in what you write.

For me it was a wonderful cathartic experience of writing about dysfunctional relationships I knew, about friendships, inner turmoil, feelings of atonement, guilt, rage, loneliness and yes, it was liberating to write my villain, a thoroughly nasty, manipulative, violent and cruel character who I have openly admitted is based on my father. Do I have baggage to write about? Hell, yes…don’t we all?

Anyway, White Mountain was born into the world with its awesome new cover and that’s when all the fun began!

My signing at Books On The Hill

The last six months has been a manic ride. I attended my very first fantasy/sci-fi convention, BristolCon, (huge thanks to the multi-talented and fellow fantasy writer, Joanne Hall who founded & runs it brilliantly). I went to my first book fair and did my first public reading (terrifying but brilliant!). I then embarked on a hectic book-signing tour around Wales and the West Country, signing in some truly gorgeous and prestigious bookshops and meeting some terrifically awesome people along the way. Best of all though, has to be that sense of tingling excitement when someone buys your book! I don’t think I’ll ever feel blasé about that, it’s a truly humbling experience chatting to customers, signing and dedicating books to them and loved ones. Simply put, it’s just one of the most magical experiences and completely eclipses the awkwardness and embarrassment of sitting in a bookshop feeling like a lemon waiting to be squeezed! SAM_6855 (2)

Chepstow BookshopAmongst the book-signing tour and newspaper articles I went to my first literary festival as an author, to do a poetry and fiction reading. The tiny but potent, Hawkesbury Upton (HULit) Literary Festival, founded by local indie author, Debbie Young, who is a one-woman self-publishing whizz and who managed to not only organise the whole event but to even attract big name authors such as Katie Fforde – who opened the event, read from her book and graciously took a photo op with little old me!

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White Mountain, continued to pick up momentum and great reviews, including gaining a 5 star review and shiny medal from Reader’s Favorite and from very popular websites, Girl Who Reads and Brainfluff among others. Of course we authors are always desperate for more reviews as we know that getting reviews is absolutely crucial to whether a book succeeds or fails. So if you read a book you love, help that book and author and post a review! Reader's Favorite review

Then, amongst the book signings and readings, I was asked to participate in the Cirencester Literary Festival in July, as an author and illustrator and run my own illustration workshop for children in Bingham Gallery!

Cirencester event on Octavia's

Octavia's Cirencester eventWow!

With more bookshop signings and book fairs on the horizon in addition to BristolCon 2015 and FantasyCon coming up in the Autumn, it has been a gloriously nutty few months!

Then…to top it all off, White Mountain, has been shortlisted in The People’s Book Prize! The People’s Book Prize is the only major literary award voted by the people, as a way of finding new books and new talent which may have been overlooked by mainstream markets. Founded by Dame Beryl Bainbridge and with Frederick Forsythe as it’s current Patron, it is wonderful to be nominated.

People's Book Prize page

Do I have a chance of winning?

I’d certainly LOVE to win as it’s a fantastic way of raising your book’s profile, with the awards ceremony even being televised on SKY News, but honestly I don’t hold out much hope. White Mountain is in the Children’s category and the competition is very stiff with the most likely winner being a larger mainstream author who sells in Waterstones, has a larger fanbase and has won it before. BUT, you never know…could David defeat Goliath?

People's Book Prize capture

So here’s my shameless plugging bit…can I ask EVERYONE reading this to PLEASE lend your support and give the underdog a chance by voting for White Mountain? It only takes a few moments of your time, is totally FREE and really would make all the difference to a little indie author like me. Voting continues until August, but every single vote counts! Just pop on the website, register by giving your name and email, they will then send you a password. Then click back onto my book, put in your name, password, VOTE and leave a short comment. http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=1295

A MASSIVE THANK YOU to everyone who has already voted, especially those who have left comments too, and to those who are going to vote. It really is hugely appreciated, so thank you guys, you are the best! Lol, I won’t hold my breath, but I’ll quietly keep my fingers, toes and dragon wings crossed! 😉

So, there you go…as my little blog passes 39,000 visitors (a truly humbling number for such a tiny online diary about writing), I can only wonder what the next six months will bring… 😀

A HUGE thank you to all of you who keep the fires burning in this quiet cloister of the internet! You are all amazing and uber-cool dudes and dudettes! THANK YOU!!!!!! 😀 xxxx

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Book Signing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

This is the second post I’ve written specifically on book signing, as this is a topic I have some experience with. So, I’d like to share what I’ve learnt and what the experience is like for authors embarking on this scary and exciting journey.

Back in 2012, I had a sell out book launch in prestigious ‘Bookseller Award Winning’ Octavia’s Bookshop, followed by a very successful Waterstones book signing tour. It was both exhausting and exhilarating and costly in terms of petrol/gas and parking, but I loved it and sold a lot of books! Yay! Octavia's Bookshop Cirencester

Fast forward to now. I’ve done my first book fair, my first reading and attended my first convention for my novel, White Mountain (published 1st Dec 2014 by Grimbold Books & Kristell Ink Publishing), and am embarking on yet more signing dates. Octavia's Bookshop

Along the way, I’ve learnt things that work and things that don’t and have had invaluable advice from booksellers and staff on what they like and are looking for, and what they really don’t like!

Now, getting any signing dates is an achievement in itself, it’s very tough out there and many bookshops simply aren’t interested in smaller press and indie authors, sadly all they want are the big names and celebrities to draw big crowds. However, another HUGE reason the large bookshop chains such as Waterstones, WHSmith’s, Foyles or Barnes & Noble in the US have pretty much stopped all indie author signings, is due to the bad behaviour of a few over zealous writers who have ruined things for the rest of us.

Stories of customers being accosted by authors prowling the shops, book in hand, and pouncing upon them or frogmarching them to the tills, have effectively given Waterstones the excuse to shut their doors to all of us. Yes, that one rotten apple really can spoil the barrel!

The climate out there for any author wanting to do signings, is certainly not easy. Waterstones in particular have actually stated that they are no longer doing local author signings in any of their stores, this is a new company wide policy, since I did my Waterstones signings two years ago, which has to be at least partly due to unprofessional bad behaviour by a few idiot authors.

So, what makes an author attractive or not to a bookshop? 45-Chepstow-Bookshop[1]

For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learnt about the art of book signing, I hope you find it helpful. In no particular order, here are my 8 do’s and don’ts:

DO’S

  1. Do your homework on the shop you’re signing in. What sort of books do they sell more of? What authors have signed there? Do they have a particular specialism or niche? What is the name of the owner or event manager? If you’re prepared, you’ll look like a true professional and will immediately impress the bookshop owner/staff. No, you don’t need to know every little detail about the shop, but you do need to look like you’re interested in them.
  2. Do organise yourself. Plan your event, what to take/is appropriate to take (depending on whether it’s a children’s bookshop, fantasy/horror bookshop, general book store etc.), know your route there, where the shop is, how to get there, how long it takes, petrol/gas needed, tolls, parking, everything. Will you be eating at any stage? Take water…ALWAYS TAKE WATER! Trust me, you’ll need it!
  3. Do publicise the event. You want it to be as big a success as it can be. So set up FB event pages, tell your family and friends and anyone who will listen. If it’s appropriate make up some cheap flyers or photocopies advertising the event that you can leave at work, try to organise some newspaper coverage if possible. 10614253_846486532082170_6044863703050848758_n[1]
  4. Do be professional. Remember that the bookshop is doing YOU a favour in having you sign there. Yes, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship as they will take between 30 – 40% from each book sold. But do be thankful and courteous – humility goes a long way and will get you asked back again!
  5. Do be flexible in approach and practicalities. Obviously bookshops vary in size from the very petite to the large. By all means take that huge banner along with you, but be aware that some shops may not want it taking up precious floor space if space is tight. SAM_5405
  6. Do provide as many visual aids as possible. We are a very visual species, we buy with our eyes, which is why book covers are so crucial and a bad cover can do untold damage on a great book (I have personal experience in having previously had a very crappy cover – I LOVE my new publisher’s cover which is so good it’s edible!). So, provide materials which will draw the customer to you, whether it’s posters, flyers, bookmarks, postcards or illustrations from your book. Use them. A note of caution though, you have to use your judgement here as an over cluttered table will detract rather than attract, so choose a few striking images/visuals only. For me, being an illustrator too, it’s quite easy as I take along an illustration book to showcase my work, pull in curious customers and it’s a great thing for people to flick through. This is especially useful if you have more than one customer at your table, so while you’re chatting to one person the other is kept busy and interested by the illustrations. SAM_5409
  7. Do keep a record of the number of books you actually sign and sell, this may sound obvious and rather daft, but in amidst the nerves, adrenaline and chatting to customers it’s easy to lose track. You’ll need to know the exact number of books sold either for your publisher or yourself so that invoices to the bookshops are accurate.
  8. Do enjoy yourself or at least try to. Yes it can be nervous as hell, embarrassing and buttock clenching at times, but you’ll need to try and relax. No customer is going to approach an uptight nut job. Find your pace, what makes you comfortable and enjoy yourself. Remember, if you can get a signing in a bookshop, that’s one more bookshop stocking YOUR book and before you know it you’ll be wanting to do more and more signings for the rush of adrenaline as much as for the book sales! SAM_5394

DON’TS

  1. Don’t behave like a diva. You’re not the star, your book is. Diva behaviour will GUARANTEE that you won’t be asked back again. Although you should pat yourself on the back for having written a book, you must also temper that ego with the fact that nowadays every other person seems to have written a book too. The market has never been more saturated and sadly, a lot of it is detritus, poorly written and poorly edited, but nonetheless, it also makes it damn difficult for your brilliant fiction to rise above the masses and be noticed. Acting like a diva will get you remembered in the wrong way!
  2. Don’t be offended or put off if your signing table is the size of a napkin, or if you are placed at the back of the shop, behind a sign, next to the toilet, out in the cold entrance, or are given no table are all. Every bookshop is different, EVERY one, even the big chains differ from shop to shop, so be adaptable.
  3. Don’t intimidate your customers. An obvious, eh? Well you’d be surprised how many authors can come across in a very intimidating fashion and end up putting more potential buyers off just by their body language. Be cheerful, approachable, don’t stare or keep eye contact too long if the customer is merely browsing and casting a curious look your way and don’t cross your arms.
  4. Don’t pounce on customers, shadow them, follow them around the shop like a puppy, frogmarch them to the tills, prowl the shop like a cougar book in hand and strike up false conversations. People aren’t stupid, they know you’re bothering them to try to sell them your book. DON’T DO IT!!! You’re not a secondhand car salesman or trying to hock some dodgy stuff from the back of a van. It’s tacky and unprofessional. You are a professional writer, an author, novelist, behave like one. If people are interested in your book, THEY WILL COME TO YOU! If they’re not interested, then shoving your book under their nose won’t get them buying it and again, will guarantee complaints against you and guarantee that you won’t be invited back! Respect your customers enough to let them CHOOSE what they want to buy. Hard sell NEVER works. Honestly ask yourself – when you’re quietly browsing in a bookshop, do YOU want a stranger sidling up to you? No.
  5. Don’t be late. I know I’m terrible at being late for things, but you really cannot be late for signings. If you say you’ll be there at a certain time, BE THERE! In fact, a good rule is simply to be 30 mins early (40 mins if you want), that way you can introduce yourself, see what space you’ll be working in and have time to set up without being too flushed and flustered.
  6. Don’t be too laid back. This is a big thing, someone has actually invited you to sign your book in their store. So be professional, be organised, know your route there, exactly where the shop is, where you’re going to be parking, exactly how long it takes to get there, what materials you need to take with you, etc., etc. Think of it like a job interview, at the beginning you’ll be as nervous as a job interview before you settle into it and start to enjoy yourself, but you need to look and act the part. Be yourself, but on a good day!
  7. Don’t be too pushy. Even when customers are interested and come to you, you still need to sell them your book, get them interested, hooked, in what makes your book special. But don’t be too pushy about it. It is a fine line, but there’s nothing more off-putting that a desperate person. So practice your spiel beforehand on your friends and family, anyone who will listen, so you can perfect how you’ll speak and deal with people.
  8. Don’t stand! This may sound weird to you, but if you don’t follow any of the advice above, FOLLOW THIS! I cannot tell you how important this is and just how many times bookshop staff have said to me that they like their authors to stay seated. It’s what bookshops and customers expect. SO SIT YOUR ASS DOWN! Actually a recent bookshop member of staff put it brilliantly, “People like to feel at ease. You have to make the customer feel in charge, in power, so they have to be taller than you. If you’re sitting down you’re more approachable, so more people will approach you.” Absolutely! It’s basic psychology 101, let the customer be in the position of power. Stay seated and let them come to you. You won’t look lazy, indifferent or too laid back, you’ll look like a professional. Since when did you ever see a major writer standing up to do a book signing? They don’t. They’re always seated. They’re not signing autographs outside of a football stadium or a film premiere, and neither are you. SIT DOWN! Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012

There, that’s about it! Some of the points may seem obvious but you’d be amazed how you forget everything. It’s easy to panic and forget your name when your first customer looms up. Just breathe, try to calm down, smile and be friendly. Don’t talk too fast and remember to sign your books properly. Even after doing quite a few signings, at a recent book fair and in the heat of the moment, I found myself signing my scribbling signature like I’d do for a cheque rather than actually writing my name! Duh! Remember too, that a lot of customers want their books dedicated/scribed to someone, rather than just having an author’s name.

Other than that, just make sure you have a good supply of reliable pens (black looks best), some clear acrylic book stands (not all bookshops will supply you with these so bring your own), water, a notepad, some good visual aids and of course your lovely books!

For more information on the mechanics of how it actually feels doing a book signing, check out my previous post: https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/book-signing-what-you-need-to-know-but-were-afraid-to-ask/

There you go! GOOD LUCK my friends and may the pen be with you! 😀 xxxx

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