Ten Years On

There’s been a lot of stuff flying through my Twitter feed regarding the start of the new decade and the end of the old – I’m caught up in a circular post urging me to sum up the last ten years in five words. One of my resolutions for the new year – although I don’t actually make resolutions as such because they’re just more things to feel bad about failing to achieve – is to concentrate on the things I enjoy and  I’ve never felt particularly comfortable talking to strangers.  I didn’t feel compelled to join in with the Tweet and I’m sure no one was offended.

But it did make me think. Five words. Where would I even begin?

Since 2010 my life has changed enormously. I could probably fill five books summing up the last decade – ten years of international house moves,  of leaving a very large carbon footprint and ticking off various sights that regularly appear on  bucket lists (but not mine because bucket lists are another thing I don’t do). I’ve been very privileged to have travelled extensively during the last ten years, to have lived in different countries, I’ve come right out of my comfort zone, I’ve made a whole array of new friends and acquaintances, I can speak Dutch (okay just a little and very badly).  I’ve watched my 2010 teenagers mature into confident young women, both now making their own independent way in the world and I’ve remained healthy – always a bonus.

But it’s always better to look forward than over your shoulder.

This was me at the start of 2010 – and that’s another one of those social media things we should all be doing, isn’t it – the ten year photo.

Well don’t be fooled by this idyllic snap because despite that sunshine, that pool, that glorious mountain backdrop – I was in the depths of despair. We had moved from our home in Southampton, UK, where I’d grown up and lived for the last forty something years, to the town of Arcadia on the outskirts of Pasadena in Californina. I’d never felt so lonely and isolated. Sunshine counts for a lot but it’s not the be-all and end-all. One daughter had accompanied us – the other hadn’t. She was only 18 and 5000 miles away – as were all my friends and extended family members. And after younger daughter and husband had left for school and work each day – I was on my own and I knew no-one. Yes, I did feel sorry for myself – and anyone who is ever been in that position will probably tell you, you know it’s totally irrational, you know how lucky you are, you know you need to snap out of it – but on the other hand…

I did have a set of new year’s resolutions for the start of 2010. I developed a mantra. I had a to do list and on that list was walk. I walked every day for at least an hour around the housing estate where we lived. I found a second hand book shop and I read all those classics I’d never had time to read during my busy working life.  I found a voluntary job one morning a week doing something I loved – gardening – and although I had to force myself out there amongst strangers – every little bit of social interaction helped.  I wrote copious emails to friends back home, and then the idea came to start a blog about the vagaries of our new ex-pat life.

Retaining a sense of humour at all times was vital for survival and I really enjoyed writing my blog, but one post a week wasn’t enough fuel for those creative juices. I received compliments about my style of writing, and that’s when the idea that I could write novel was born.

2010 was the year I began my writing journey and ten years on I’m a published author with two books under my belt. A third is on its way and although I’ll be looking for a new publisher in 2020, I’m still very positive about my writing career. Writing comes naturally, and after ten years I can’t imagine life without it.

I feel far more relaxed and positive about what the next ten years will bring, than I did at the start of 2010.

Ten years older and wiser. Perhaps those should be my five words.

The Great Christmas Giveway

I like to think I’m a generous person by nature, but I can’t be the only author who has reservations about the idea of giving their books away for free, on mass. As the occasional prize or to a charitable cause, yes, to worthy friends and family members, people who’ve helped on the writing journey – well that goes without saying. But to the general public? That elusive audience you’ve been trying to convince for the last eighteen months to dip into their pockets to pay less than the price of a takeaway coffee for a digital copy of your book? That book you spent months, if not years, sweating over, putting your heart and soul into, ruining your posture as you bent over your PC into the small hours for, editing, submitting to agents, publishers, braving rejections, having palpitations and panic attacks for…

However, I don’t always know best. I’ve learned many things on my personal mountain climb of a publishing journey, and free downloads are considered a useful marketing tool. It’s an opportunity to boost a book’s profile, to reach a whole new audience who wouldn’t necessarily take a chance on an unknown author.

Christmas is all about giving.  Your Secret’s Safe With Me hadn’t exactly gone flying off the shelves since its launch back in February, and probably needed a good kick up the butt.  So last weekend, I bit the bullet and sent it out into the big wide world for FREE.

Although I haven’t yet got the exact figures, a quick check on Amazon Author Central confirms that at some point over the weekend my book peaked as the 105th top-downloaded free book out of thousands in the whole of the US. This feat was mainly due to my big budget $20 spend on a book promotion website mailshot. Facebook, the Great Manipulator, cannot be relied upon to display your promotional posts alone. It pays to pay to reach that wider audience direct – although of course paying to give your book away is something the purest in me would have once cried ‘not on your nelly!’ (I told you it had been a steep learning curve).

Only time will tell if I will reap the rewards. The major downside of book promotion sites is that their audience is mostly US based. The only negative review I’ve ever received on Amazon and Goodreads was from a US reader who gave up after the opening chapters of The Theatre of Dreams. He/She clearly didn’t get my writing style at all and felt I’d over-complicated things by introducing my characters without an explanation of who they were. That’s the whole point mate, you read on and find out…

As all writers know you can’t please all the people all of the time.   The general idea is that you hope the readers who fall in love with your book will shout about it from the rooftops, while those who don’t, keep quiet.

I am very grateful to everyone who downloaded a copy of Your Secret’s Safe With Me, and to all those shared the news of my Christmas giveaway on social media here in the UK.  I hope there will be a positive knock-on effect from the free downloads, and word will spread about my books and my writing. As this is probably the only time I can make a song and a dance about one of my novels ever reaching a number one spot in the Amazon charts (on both sides of the Atlantic), it’s not such a bad way to end the year!

Life got in the way a little too much in 2019 and I know I have not been as pro-active as I should. Hopefully 2020 will be far more productive. I’ve a WIP to polish off and a new publisher to find. I’ve no deadlines and no pressure, and I feel the joie de vivre has returned to my writing.

Signing off on a high note, and wishing all readers, near and far, a very happy Christmas.

And if you are still scratching your head looking for that perfect present, I can recommend a couple of good books….

One Year On

It’s been a whole year since the official launch of The Theatre of Dreams – and if I thought the path to publication was a rocky road, then the journey since has been the equivalent of hiking up a mountain.

Launch day 1 August 2018 was filled with excited anticipation – I threw a party to celebrate with family & friends; I organised an on-line facebook launch, I thought all the hardwork was done – I’d secured a publisher and my book was out there on Amazon ready to be snapped by zillions of eager readers.

Ouch, winces at the memory. I was very naïve.   Yes I ticked the box saying I was prepared to take on my share of marketing; I’m intelligent and happy to learn, I was on Facebook and already had a blog. In truth I had no idea what modern day book marketing entailed – and why would I? I had no experience of the publishing world. I’d tossed aside a local government career to follow my other half on work assignments to exotic locations overseas. I hadn’t lived in the UK full-time since 2009 and my literary loop was a small group of friends I’d made in a part-time creative writing class. I didn’t know there was a whole network of people I should have been cultivating long before my book launch to get my name out there. The words “author platform” meant very little to me, as did “branding” – that was something for cattle.

So twelve months on I am a lot wiser. I know that having a book on Amazon guarantees nothing – my book is just one of many millions.  I know that as an author with a small independent publisher getting my book noticed and maintaining a profile in today’s flooded market requires a great deal of energy, tenacity and a lot of of time spent on social media.

I’ve learned I have to interact with strangers (something shy reserved me has always dreaded) and I know I have to blow my own trumpet (very hard when you are brought up to be modest). I know that having a WIP on the go (the potential next novel ) is vital to keep up interest and I’ve learned that book royalties alone will never be enough to live on (but I do it for love – don’t I? Well yes I do, but my publisher doesn’t and there is an obligation…)

Six months after the release of The Theatre of Dreams my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me, was published. I thought I had it all sewn up – I thought yes, my Facebook friends have increased by x-amount, my Twitter following is up into 4 figures, I have colour co-ordinated my Instagram account to make it more appealing…

But it’s still not enough. I need paid promotions, blog tours, mailing lists, newsletters, my own Facebook group. I need to ‘engage’ at every opportunity, continually post comments, be controversial, sympathetic, witty, clever, inane. And these activities can’t be left to simmer, they have to be attacked at a rolling boil.

I need to attend events, to network in both the real and virtual worlds. Mr T already complains I spend too much time on social media; I tell him I don’t spend enough!

And I have to find time to read too. A writer has to be a prolific reader to maintain a presence, comment and review on every Facebook book club and bookish website. That’s without attending tangible book clubs, organising author talks and composing multiple blog posts…

Oh and did I mention Pinterest? I need boards. And lots of pins.

And as for any hope of finishing the WIP, I don’t just have to have one work in progress but a whole series of them. That’s where the “branding” comes in.

Actually, what I really need to do is lay down in a darkened room.

Some people are very good at balancing all these balls, but I’m not one of them. I’ve never had a head for heights and there are times when I seriously question if I will ever conquer the marketing mountain. Yes I would love to sell more books and reach a wider audience, but there is a limit to my time, capabilities and resources.

On the plus side, the writing community is hugely supportive and I have made many new friends who have encouraged and cheered me on during the last twelve months. I’ve gained new skills, and although I’ve never had bags of self-confidence, I’ve definitely been forced out of my shell – although probably not far enough! I love writing and I can’t imagine not doing it. My enthusiasm may have been dampened, but ideas for plots and characters continue to arrive uninvited. I have the notebooks. I will fill them.

The Theatre of Dreams is currently a contender in the Joan Hessayon Award for debut novelists who have come through the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. I’m going to attend my first RNA event in September, the York Tea, where the award is announced. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of my new writer friends for the first time. I didn’t think I’d be doing that this time last year.

I’ve had some amazing reviews for both my books – and not just from my family. Comments such as ‘an unexpected gem‘ and ‘a treasure trove of a novel’ are personal favourites, and have done a lot to boost my sagging ego in the darkest times. This last year really has been a huge learning curve. In hindsight would I have done things differently? Undoubtedly. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

You can find out more about either book – and buy your own copy – via the links below!

https://www.rosietravers.com/the-theatre-of-dreams/

https://www.rosietravers.com/your-secrets-safe-with-me/

And by the way, in case you’re wondering – no the cat didn’t love the dog. (See previous post!!)

My House Move and Other Horror Stories

Bookish things have taken a back seat over the last month or so. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Basically I’ve had a lot of “stuff” going on. If I was a master of self-publicity I would use these episodes – a house-move, car trouble, elderly mother’s deteriorating health, preparations for imminent arrival of daughter, boyfriend and her dog (how is he going to get on with the cat?) from Budapest, to my advantage and continued to Tweet, FB and Instagram about my personal life to raise my social media profile.  People do but when I was knee deep in corrugated cardboard and bubble-wrap the last thing I thought about was dropping a picture onto Instagram – ooh look, another box to unpack. Anyone else have Tupperware that breeds? Some people might find that interesting – personally I don’t and I always judge my social media posts by what I consider something I’d want to read – and this, I realise is where I’ve been going wrong.

This is when I wish I’d used a pen name when writing my books because with a pen-name I could have created a whole new persona who’d be one step removed and could twitter on about anything. Suzi Smith (yes, I name I really did consider adopting) would be ever present on social media with witty comments, and even non-witty comments on every day life. She would be continually posting to keep her presence afloat (this is a tough business and if you don’t float, you sink without trace). Suzi Smith would be putting herself out there and using every situation to her advantage – even in her darkest hour.

Don’t you just love the NHS – mum’s hip operation cancelled due to chronic iron deficiency. Never mind at least we got a free cup of tea and a cheese sandwich after three hours waiting in pre-surgery. LOL!

Now I know why estate agent insisted on using the back entrance when he showed us around the house. Loving our genuine Arts & Craft front door but wish I could get it open…

New house teething problem number 2 – who doesn’t love a soft-close toilet seat. Just wish it would wait until I’d finished doing my business before it starts closing. OUCH!

By the way, have you ordered a copy of my latest book? Just £1.99 on Amazon…

Suzi Smith would not only be the master of self-publicity she’d also  write very commercial women’s fiction; her novels would be highly marketable – and here’s my next dilemma. My faithful old desktop crashed just before our house move. Had I backed up my latest WIP? Well yes, but not since about the 25K word-mark and I last left it at 40K. But now that my precious data has been recovered (at considerable cost, I might add – that’ll teach me to ignore those messages reminding me to back up my PC) I’ve taken another look at Book 3 and decided my efforts to write something a little more commercially orientated a la Suzi Smith are not winning me over, in fact I don’t actually like the hunky all-American boy-gone-bad-but-he-will-redeem-himself hero I purposefully created to attract a wider audience.

Stressing over things we cannot change is wasted energy. Today, I feel like I have emerged from a long dark tunnel. Over the last few weeks it seemed impossible to imagine I’d ever have the time, let alone the inclination, to return to the keyboard.   But now, as watery sunshine filters through the canopy of the enormous Caucasian Wingnut tree at the end of my new garden (it’s a very rare specimen – we viewed the house in winter when it was half the size)  I feel a welcome sense of calm.  

My mum has accepted she’ll never get a new hip unless she eats more greens (slipping into Suzi mode here) just as I’ve accepted she needs a little more looking after than she currently receives – but other carers are available. As always it’s a question of attitude. I’ve decided the dent in my car gives it far more character, as does the crack in the windscreen, the Hungarian Dachshund-cross compatible dog food has been ordered on-line (the cat will love him), and as much as I appreciate the historic merits of my rustic front door, a new one I can open, shut and lock is already on its way.

It’s time to pick up the pieces and crack on. I do want to complete another novel and the answer I believe lies in a good murder. In fact, I’ve decided all-American boy is going to be my first victim. His girlfriend – un-named as yet but I have one in mind – may well be my second.

Poor Suzi, what a horrid way to go...

A Postcard from 2018

Everybody is doing a big fat quiz of the year, but here’s my personal postcard from 2018 – edited highlights of what has been a rollercoaster ride.

January – The excitement of starting a year knowing I had just signed my first publishing contract is offset by panicking about packing for a six week trip to Australia and New Zealand. How many pairs of pants…

February – Visit Australia and New Zealand. Too many wow moments to mention and definitely too many pants in my suitcase, but fulfilling a childhood ambition of cuddling a koala pretty much tops the highlights list. I know it’s not ‘PC’ but the opportunity was there…

March – Coming home from Australia and discovering we had missed the Beast from the East and all the fuss about the snow. First steps into the magical world of publishing as I begin working with a professional editor on The Theatre of Dreams.

April – Discovering two short stories I’d submitted to Writing Magazine competitions had been shortlisted in the same month.  Another successful competition entry at Hampshire Writers Society for the first 300 words of a commercial women’s fiction novel, is actually mushrooming into a commercial women’s fiction novel. Could this be Book Number Two? Yes it could. Change name of book from competition title of Marrying Mother to Your Secret’s Safe With Me after all sorts of plots twists infiltrate the original idea.

May –The rush is on to finish Your Secret’s Safe With Me so it’s out of the way before the launch of The Theatre of Dreams.

June – Choosing my book cover, writing blurb and dedications and then coming home from a week’s holiday in Spain and finding a paperback copy of The Theatre of Dreams waiting for me on the doorstep.

July – How do I launch a book? Surely if I just throw a few tweets out there, chat about it on Facebook, add a few Instagrams, tell a few friends…that’ll work, won’t it? The first Amazon reviews are in and they’re very good – but they are all written by people who know me.  Fulfil another personal ambition and visit Hampton Court Flower Show on the hottest day of the year.  We all wilt and have to be revived by large doses of Pimms. I do, however, gather ideas for a winter knitting project if the writing career plummets.

AugustThe Theatre of Dreams is officially launched into the world and the euphoria soon ends with a look at my sales figures.  How do you make one book stand out against so many millions of others? Maybe I should have done a bit more tweeting and making friends on social media. Maybe I should have just paid out big bucks for a professional book promotion service.  Maybe I need a much bigger family. It’s a steep learning curve but on the plus side more reviews are in and they are not written by people who know me…

September –  We set sail on a two-week cruise to the Baltics.  After traipsing through a mere smidgeon of the 22km of corridors at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg it’s easy to see why the Russians had a revolution.  It’s jaw-dropping opulence in the extreme. Publisher accepts Book Two.

October – Do what we we’ve been meaning to do since we returned from the Netherlands twelve months previously – put house on the market and plan an escape to the country. Yes we are that couple of empty-nesters looking to downsize to a house with sweeping views in rural isolation but close to all local amenities and obviously we still need something big enough for all our stuff, and our children’s stuff that didn’t leave the nest with them…

November – Onwards and upwards to conquer the Everest sized mountain of book marketing and self-promotion.  Meanwhile, start edits on Your Secret’s Safe With Me.

December – First author talk, nobody fell asleep which I take to be a good sign.  Continue to try and make self more alluring and interesting on social media. House sold – first challenge of 2019 will be to find a new one that ticks all our 101 boxes. Edits complete on Your Secret’s Safe With Me and launch date set for 18 February 2019.  Who’d have thought, this time last year…

Book Links:

The Theatre of Dreams

Your Secret’s Safe With Me

 

Many thanks to everyone who has supported my writing journey and also to my fellow authors who have guested on this blog during the year, either talking about their favourite comfort reads or their own magical books.

Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2019.

 

 

 

The Importance of Creating Headspace

The last twelve months have passed in a bit of whirlwind with house moves, job changes, and of course, the book. Before acquiring my publishing contract for The Theatre of Dreams my forays into social media were limited to a personal Facebook page and a low-key blog about being an ex-pat.  Then I had to up my game and reach out into the whole new world of marketing. If writing a book is Dr Jekyll, then I’ve discovered  marketing it is my Mr Hyde. And unfortunately one doesn’t come without the other.

I’ve heard it said before that writers can feel consumed by their book. It’s true. It does take over your life. That baby you created, loved and cherished can easily become a monster.  The path from pitch to publication is a rollercoaster. There are the highs – the contract, the launch, and the lows – what comes after. It’s been a whole  witch’s brew of new skills. You don’t just have to be creative, you have to be tenacious,  relentless and/or extremely well organised.

Sometimes you have to step away from a situation to see it more clearly. When Mr T and I lived overseas we made the most of our weekends. We set out with our guide books to soak-up the history and culture of our adopted homeland. We promised ourselves that once we settled back in the UK, we would attack our local area with the same sense of  vigour. It’s very easy to overlook what’s on your own doorstep. In the Netherlands we explored towns – the Dutch countryside can be somewhat samey. But here in the UK even within a short distance of home the landscape changes. We’ve spent several recent weekends setting out on walks and hikes all within a thirty-minute drive of our home.  Up on the downs or down on the coast, the scenery and the exercise has proved quite liberating. Not only have we discovered some amazing new places, but more importantly these walks have provided the opportunity to gather thoughts and clear some headspace.

 

I’m a total novice into the world of book promotion but even I have quickly come to the conclusion that checking Twitter to see how many people have liked a tweet is not good for the soul.    I can be quite witty when I want to be, but that wit isn’t always spontaneous. Blink and a tweet is gone – and with it another missed opportunity!  I can’t be glued to my phone all day.  I’m not a teenager and I have to rise above it (and I’d just like to add in here I’d hate to be a teenager today, or even the parent of a teenager. Nobody needs that pressure!). Yes I am disappointed that my Amazon ranking is heading downhill with the speed of an Olympic skier – but my book is just one of many millions out there. It’s very hard to stand out from the crowd. I have to put it in perspective. It’s important to look at what you have achieved as opposed to dwelling on the perception of what you haven’t.

So okay, although not a bestseller (it always helps to lower your expectations) The Theatre of Dreams  has accumulated several 5* reviews on Amazon.  People have enjoyed it, and that’s why I write. My Instagram account is growing. Twitter – the necessary evil – has to be dealt with.  However, I do now have an author platform that didn’t exist twelve months ago and I’ll admit, I should have put more emphasis on building up that following before publication as opposed to after. I blame it on my upbringing – I was always told modesty is a virtue, but in today’s flooded book market, it really isn’t!

I’ve had my moments of serious self-doubt, but headspace cleared, and a deep breath of Hampshire air  I feel ready to continue the challenge.  Thanks to my publisher, Crooked Cat, my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me will be out next year.  More news about the book will follow soon – so watch this space, or even better subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss any updates!

The Book Launch

The day finally arrived – The Theatre of Dreams was officially launched and it’s like sending a baby out into the big wide world. You hope everyone is going to like it, you hope you’ve created something endearing and captivating, but of course, books are subjective and not everyone is going to be enthralled by your style or even interested in your genre.

It seems to have been an awful long time coming – eight months in total since I signed that publishing contract and it has been hard keeping the momentum of  ‘I’ve got a book coming out’ going. I have tried to build an ‘author platform’ during that period – it’s a been a learning curve that has taken me right out of my comfort zone and I’ve still got a long way to go.

I’ve extolled the virtues of my book, I’ve described it as warm-hearted, as funny, entertaining, now at least it’s out there in the public domain people can read it for themselves, make up their own minds and hopefully agree.  The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I think I’ve baked something quite delicious but now it’s time for the taste test!

The Theatre of Dreams is out there taking its first steps, and the online launch  – interacting on social media with four different devices all pinging away at the same time – went without a hitch,  and the physical launch, more of a celebration with friends and family and an open invitation to everyone I’ve ever met in Southampton to come along, went better than I could have hoped, and in fact provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen for years! (Oh yeh, and I did sell a few books too…)

As much as I’d now like to sit back and take a break from social media I can’t. The launch is just the beginning – a book is for life, but I no longer feel quite so much like a one-man band. I’ve had good reviews, I know I’ve written a well-rounded story and I will keep on plugging away.   Hopefully I will have more confidence to go out there and promote myself.  I read somewhere that the best marketing tool is to write another book. That’s taken a bit of a backseat over the last couple of months  but I feel ready now to pick up the WIP and attack it with new vigour.  And more importantly, breathe…..

Time Out

I am very lucky, I don’t have to cram my writing into evenings and weekends, or get up five o’clock in the morning to write for a couple of hours before work, or taking kids to school. There is a saying, if you want something done, ask a busy person.    A few years back, that would have been me – a busy person.  I was a working mum. When your body is already wired in to operate at frenetic speed, what’s one more task to fit in? I’m a Virgo, and we’re notoriously hardworking, meticulous people.

But I’ve been out of the professional work-space for some time now.  I’ve got out of the habit of having deadlines. I’ve got used to being a lady of leisure. I’ve got used to thinking, I don’t need to do that today, I can do it tomorrow.

I want to be taken seriously as a writer. If people like my first book, they’ll want another. Writing The Theatre of Dreams was fun, because I had no other demands on my time, but now I have. My other half, who works for a multi-national oil company, doubles up with laughter when I tell him I feel under pressure, but as all authors know, the sequel to The Joy of Writing  is The Joy of Promoting Yourself on Social Media. And it’s not just the technical competence I lack, when it comes to efficiency, I’m out of condition. My work-space is chaotic and my time-management skills are zilch. I worry constantly that if I don’t keep up with what’s going on people will forget about me. Come that magical publication date of 1 August, nobody will know who I am.  I need to arrange a book launch, write blog posts, compile guest articles, add witty comments on Facebook and Twitter, post pictures on Instagram, surreptitiously promoting my book.  Creating an ‘author platform’ takes cunning, guile and time.

Time. That elusive commodity slipped through my fingers last week when I caught up with some girl friends from my ex-pat days.  We escaped to Guernsey, and it had nothing to do with the current hype about the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – it just so happens one of my friends is lucky enough to live in the Channel Islands, and we’d planned our visit long before the film’s release.  Guernsey is a beautiful place, a throw-back to a slower pace of life, a land where a traffic jam only lasts for five minutes and the busiest road is a single carriageway.

I shouldn’t be here at all, I thought in a moment of panic, that’s three days of not writing or posting meaningful literary-related comments.  I’m chatting when I should be tweeting, I’m admiring fields of cows when I should be creating publicity,  I’m walking along footpaths overgrown with pink campions and cornflowers, buttercups and stinging nettles when I should be….doing exactly just that.

What’s so wrong with not being busy? Sometimes you just need to take time out to relax and breathe.

And write a blog post very quickly when you get back home!