This week marks a very special anniversary – it’s four years’ since the publication of my first book, The Theatre of Dreams. Back in August 2018 I was giddy with excitement, full of optimism. I loved my story of two actresses and their fight to save a seaside pavilion. That book was written straight from the heart. There was drama, romance, a seaside setting, a mystery. The Theatre of Dreams had it all. Surely this book would be a huge success and herald the start of a whole new literary career?
If only I knew then what I know now. Anyone who follows this blog will know that the last four years have been a rollercoaster ride of conflicting emotions, and not a dazzling romp to the top of the Sunday Times Bestseller Chart. But hey, I do have four books out there on Amazon. That’s four more books than a lot of people ever manage. Of course, I realise it’s not everybody’s ambition in life to write a book, let alone publish it, but in case it is, based on my own personal experiences, here are my top tips for surviving the publishing jungle.
Top Tip Number One
If you’re Intent on Capturing a Publisher – Choose your Publisher Carefully.
Of course, we all know it’s actually the other way round, the publisher chooses you. But the big publishers are the elephants and tigers of the jungle, and if you’re happy to snare a smaller beast – a warthog for example – do your research and make sure that warthog will satisfy your needs.
Whilst I’ll always be grateful for the publisher who gave me my first break, when I signed my contract, I was very naïve. I had zero knowledge of the jungle and was ill-equipped to tackle the tasks expected of me, which subsequently led to feelings of inadequacy and failure. On reflection, now that I’m older and wiser, I realise I hadn’t failed at all. My warthog was simply not the right warthog for me. I should have held out for a tiger.
Top Tip Number Two
Make Friends Wisely
At the start of my writing journey my social media following consisted almost entirely of people I knew personally. I was unaware there was a whole online writing/reading community out there. I didn’t know about Facebook author/book groups, bookstagrammers and bloggers. Four books later I do. The more you engage with the online world, the more followers and friends you gather. And while it’s true, the more people who know and like you, the more books you may sell, there is also a huge benefit in engaging with like-minded people. Every writer needs a support network and there is a wonderfully generous community of successful authors out there who are happy to pass on tips and advice.
Social media can seem overwhelming – especially with the rise of the dreaded do-I-don’t-I TikTok. Find your tribe and pick out the aspects you enjoy and are comfortable with. Don’t put yourself under pressure to befriend everyone and do it all, because you can’t. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day, week, year – at least not if you want to write more books.
Top Tip Number Three
Celebrate your Achievements
You’ve found an agent. WELL DONE YOU! You’ve netted a publisher. CONGRATULATIONS!
But what if the big stuff never happens? What if you don’t think you’ve got anything to sing about? Bash that negativity on the head and THINK POSITIVE.
Envy is a perfectly natural human emotion but always remember where you are on your own personal journey. You don’t have to be part of the elephant brigade to blow your own trumpet.
You’ve written a book, or maybe it’s just a short story. That’s an achievement. SHOUT ABOUT IT!
So you’ve only sold enough copies of your book this month to count on the fingers of one hand, BUT you have got a fabulous new 5 star review. LET EVERYONE KNOW ABOUT THOSE 5 STARS.
If you celebrate your success, other people will cheer with you.
Top Tip Number Four
Grab Every Opportunity
Networking IS important. If you have an opportunity for a 1-2-1 with a publishing professional, take it. If you can go to a conference, or a book festival, GO. Every connection you make, is a connection. I know I’ve had opportunities I’ve let slip; chances I didn’t follow up, and yes, I do sometimes wonder what might have been…
I’m naturally a shy person, and that has held me back. Writing has forced me half-way out of my shell. I’ve had to put myself out there and over the last four years I’ve become far more pro-active. I’ve talked to WIs and book groups, taken part in Facebook and Instagram Lives, a Podcast, things I never thought I would do. Stand up in a banqueting hall and give a talk to 100 people? With a mic? Crack jokes. Who me? If I’m talking about my love of writing, yes I can and I will.
Top Tip Number Five
Write the Book you want to Write
That’s easy for me to say now that I self-publish and I don’t have the constraints/obligations of a publishing contract. However, I have tried to conform. I have tried to write the book I think a publisher is looking for. When I came up with the idea for A Crisis at Clifftops, I started out with the serious intent of writing a traditional cosy mystery because cosies are currently the “in thing”. Amateur sleuth solves crime, tick. Nothing grisly/gory requiring in depth forensic knowledge, tick. Quaint countryside/seaside setting, tick. Potential for series to continue indefinitely, tick. Amateur sleuth is professional golfer, untick. Major suspect is amateur sleuth’s grandmother, untick. Also include vintage crime from sixty years earlier, untick. Add in another subplot involving resort redevelopment with far too many secondary characters, untick.
I can’t help it. I have a vivid imagination and a creative mind. I can’t reign it in, and when I do, I’m not happy. The words don’t flow.
Let your creative juices run wherever they want, and if that’s in the direction of an agent or a publisher’s wish-list, all the better. But if they meander off-piste… Think about what you want from your writing and why you do it. Do you want to conquer the jungle, or are you happy hanging about on the fringes?
I’m not going to lie. There’s still part of me that thinks it would be wonderful to get snapped up by one of those big tigers, but self-publishing has given me the control to write what I want to write and when I write it. I know my limitations. If I were younger I might be more ambitious, more committed to conform. It’s taken me a long time to reach the stage when I’m happy and comfortable with what I do.
And My Final Top Two Tips?
Two phrases I chanted like a mantra while adjusting to life as an ex-pat wife in the wilds of LA many years ago, but equally as applicable to surviving life in publishing jungle: DEVELOP A THICK SKIN and RETAIN A SENSE OF HUMOUR. I don’t think either requires any further explanation!