Onwards & Upwards

My self-publishing journey continues to be one big learning curve. Having successfully launched A Crisis at Clifftops in ebook form and proving, mainly to myself, that I am an intelligent and capable person who can master new tricks, the education continues. I’m now embarking on the production of a paperback. I’d love to say its due to popular demand – yes I have had few enquiries, but mainly its because I’ve realised what wonderful Christmas presents a signed copy will make to friends and family, especially with all the shortages predicted over the festive season this year. What no turkey? Never mind, devour a good book instead.

Seriously, I just love the feel and smell of a paperback, so I just thought, why not. I’m doing it for me, and that was also very much the theme of my first Facebook Live event which took place last week. I know these things are second nature to the younger generation, but not for me, although to be fair, it wasn’t actually meant to be live. I had recorded a well-rehearsed word-perfect video presentation to upload to my post, but at the last minute, technology let me down.

Fortunately, the event, the Chick Lit & Prosecco Facebook Chat Group Late Summer Festival, was a wonderfully relaxed affair.  My contribution was supposed to be a short, humorous piece entitled The Joy of Writing, an account of how I got my writing mojo back after a serious slump, with the aim of helping others in the same position.  The main emphasis of my talk about going back to basics, reminding myself why I started writing in the first place, which wasn’t to get a book deal or to top the Sunday Times bestseller list, but to simply tell a story. (It’s a theme I talked about on this blog back in November 2020 The Joy of Writing)

Despite the technical glitch my talk went down well, possibly because of the comparisons I made between writing and sex (I know my audience!). Fortunately I was neatly coiffured, made-up and fully-dressed when I had to jump in last minute when my video failed to upload. The show must go on, after all!

I’m very attached to my comfort zone and doing things like this quite frankly, scares me. I know it’s all about character building and challenging yourself, but twice in one week….

The Facebook event was followed a few days later by taking part in a podcast. Yes me, a podcast. I know, the kids couldn’t believe it either. After the release of A Crisis of Clifftops I was contacted by Charlie Place, a local book blogger. I originally met Charlie three years ago when I was just about to launch my debut novel The Theatre of Dreams.  Charlie told me how much she’d enjoyed the book and how the story and its characters had stayed with her, after all this time – which is music to any author’s ears!

The podcast will be broadcast at the end of October via Charlie’s website: http://wormhole.carnelianvalley.com/. At least there were no visuals to worry about this time and Charlie promised the piece would be edited! I wouldn’t say I was a media natural, but I’ve realised, just like writing, when you’re passionate about something, the words tend to flow quite easily.

And talking of The Theatre of Dreams, I’ve always felt this story deserved another chance out there in the big wide world, so I’ve given the book a make-over. When I’m back from my hols in October this lovely little book is going to have a relaunch. After receiving my rights back from its original publishers, Crooked Cat, the book has sat on the back-burner, buried in the dark vaults of Amazon obscurity. When designer, Berni Stevens, came up with her wonderful cover for A Crisis at Clifftops, I asked her to work her magic on The Theatre of Dreams too and here’s a teaser of the new cover…

After the relaunch, and the paperback, I’ll be hunkering down to do some serious writing again. The Puzzle of Pine Bay, the second Eliza Kane mystery, needs some revision if I want to publish in Spring 2022, which I do, and there’s also a sequel to The Theatre of Dreams which has been brewing away for some time and is singing to me again. I’m marching on!

After The Theatre of Dreams’ original release I thought I had to conquer the publishing equivalent of Mount Everest to consider myself a “successful” author. I beat myself up for feeling I’d made it no further than base camp. But it’s all about mindset. As I said in my Chick Lit presentation, find your G spot, work out what makes you happy and take it from there. I don’t have a head for heights. I don’t like climbing mountains. This time round I’m sticking to the hills!

One Month On

After a few weeks with my feet up, I thought I ought to pen my own blog post this week. A Crisis at Clifftops has now been out in the big wide world for a whole month, and it seems a good time for an analysis/appraisal of how things have gone.

Success, no matter how small, should always be celebrated. I’m a complete technophobe but I managed to upload my book onto Amazon – woohoo! I’m shy and reserved, yet I’ve managed to convince people they’ll enjoy this book enough to want to download their own copy – go me! Seriously, I am totally chuffed at the response.

My book launch was low-key. I’m working on a very tight self-publishing budget, prioritising editing and cover design, to ensure I had a professional quality product. I knew I would have to publicise this book organically with no paid promotions, not even a blog tour. I knew sales would be limited, but if I’m honest they’ve exceeded my expectations.

A Crisis at Clifftops was never going to become an overnight Kindle bestseller, but we made it to the dizzy heights of being a HOT NEW RELEASE, and at one point it was sitting at NUMBER 3 in its golfing category, which gave me something to sing and dance about.  I apologise now to anyone who follows me on Facebook –  every time I post something I can hear a chorus of “there she goes again, banging on about her b****y book.” The thing about being self-published is that if I don’t bang on about my book, no-one else will.  I have to keep it visible.

We all know about Facebook algorithms which limit who sees what, and anything I post on Twitter always disappears into a void. I’m grateful for every re-tweet and share by friends who understand how hard it is for independent authors like me to reach a wider audience.

Goodness knows how many books have been published in the last month. A Crisis at Clifftops will soon disappear off the radar. It will settle somewhere low down in the Amazon charts.  I do get a little flutter of excitement every time I see it move up in its Amazon category. I know those BIG bestselling authors never have to check these things – Richard Osman would be in a constant flap, but for me, each flutter is special, even more so because I made it happen all by myself.

There was a time after the publication of my second book back in 2019 when I felt totally disenchanted and deflated with the whole publishing/writing thing. Seriously I could have happily never written another word again.  

However, this time round I knew exactly what I was capable of. I set myself different targets. In the last four weeks I’ve received some amazing reviews from readers and from within the writing community, together with messages and comments which have totally restored my confidence and made my heart sing! And yes, even more exciting, readers can cope with a heroine who plays sport for a living!

I know not everyone who buys the book is able, or will be willing, to leave a review. There’s a minimum spend requirement on Amazon, and to be honest I don’t review every Amazon purchase I make. It’s a crochet hook – it crochets. It’s already got 1000+ reviews it doesn’t need another one…

I dream of 1000+ reviews, but us writers are needy, fragile creatures.  I genuinely want to know if you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written. So if A Crisis at Clifftops has made you smile, provided a few hours of escape, let me know. (And don’t forget to tell your friends if you think they might like it too – there are loads of people out there who would benefit from having this book in their lives, if only they knew it existed…)

Meanwhile, The Puzzle of Pine Bay, Eliza Kane Investigates Book 2, is on its way. I originally intended to have everything ship-shape and ready to set sail later this year, but that’s not going to happen. Apart from the fact that the Christmas novel marketing deluge is already underway (yes I know, ridiculous right? I don’t even feel I’ve had my summer yet), my plot was far too complicated. I’d basically tied poor Eliza up in knots. It’s not exactly back to the drawing board, more an extensive unpicking (why do you think I bought that crochet hook?!) Seriously, Pine Bay will be out early in 2022.

Making the decision to self-publish was very much about taking control, not just of what I write, but about publishing under my own terms. I’m really pleased (and relieved) with how these first steps have gone. To everyone who has downloaded a copy of A Crisis at Clifftops, you’ve made me very happy. Thank you. And if you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, what’s your excuse?

I Made This!

We’re not travelling anywhere exotic this week, but staying put at my writing desk in Southampton. I am going to talk about a journey though, my writing journey, and why I decided to head down the self-publishing route for my latest novel, A Crisis at Clifftops, which launches next week.

It’s three years since the publication of my first book, and two and a half since the second. There are various reasons why it’s taken me so long to produce a third. I’m a slow writer, I’m not one of these dedicated 5000 words a day people, I’m an as and when, and sometimes life just has this habit of getting in the way.  I’m also a perpetual tweaker with a serious case of self-doubt, so even when I’ve got what looks like a finished product, I’ll edit, re-edit, reinstate paragraphs I took out six months ago, add in a new character, start a new project, force family and friends to read my work, incorporate their comments, and edit it all over again…

Then there’s the whole submitting to agents/publishers debacle, which for anyone who doesn’t know, takes ages. You send out a query letter and wait for a response. And wait. And wait. Not just days. Or weeks. Months.

I felt I had to give it go. Of the handful of replies to my queries, I received a couple of “encouraging” rejections. It’s wonderful to be told there ain’t nothing wrong with your writing, BUT also disappointing when compliments are inevitably followed by a BUT (and even more disappointing when one of the big BUT’s appeared to be because of my heroine’s occupation!)

Over the last twelve/eighteen months of lockdown I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and contemplate. I knew if I carried on submitting, my book might eventually get picked up, BUT there would have to be changes and compromises, and another long wait until publication day itself. I’ve seen authors on Twitter shouting about new books coming out in 2023 – I didn’t want to wait in the literary wilderness for another two years. Making a decision to self-publish was like stepping off a hamster wheel.

I know what the publishing world is like. Creating a main character who played golf was a risky strategy, BUT even so those rejections were demoralising. I write because I enjoy writing. It’s a creative outlet, it keeps my brain cells ticking over, it’s something to do in the winter when it’s cold and wet and I can’t go outside.  And for me, being creative also means creating something that doesn’t mimic every other book out there on the market.

I must admit I did have a wobbly moment and wonder whether I ought to play down Eliza’s sporting prowess in my book blurb in case it put readers off, but then I thought, what the heck! Self-publishing means taking control and having the freedom to write the books I want to write. My heroines don’t have to conform and bake cakes. NOT that there is anything wrong with heroines who bake cakes, I know the public love cake-baking heroines, in fact I’m one myself, I BAKE CAKES, in fact here’s one I made earlier, together with the book I made too…I’m just talking about giving readers choices and diversity!

The self-publishing process has been a learning curve. I haven’t been reckless. I did consult an editor, and splashed out on a wonderful cover designer. I’ve taken a professional approach and enjoyed the process – which is what it’s all about.  I know I don’t want to be hunched over my laptop 24 /7 days to meet deadlines. I don’t want to spend every hour or every day on social media promoting my books.  I also have to be realistic about what I can achieve.

I have fingers crossed for next week’s launch. I hope readers will love Eliza, Lillian and Charlie as much as I do, and will want to follow their adventures into the next book in the series. And if they don’t, tough. I’m writing it anyway.

Here’s the A Crisis at Clifftops blurb for those of you who haven’t yet checked it out!

When Lilian Hathaway is named as the chief suspect in a murder enquiry, her granddaughter Eliza drops everything to rush to her side. After a string of crushing defeats, professional golfer Eliza is facing a career crisis of her own. She seizes the opportunity to hide away with Lilian at Clifftops Hotel, the family’s home on the Isle of Wight, determined to defend her beloved nanna’s innocence.

But just how innocent is Lilian?

As the evidence starts to mount up, Eliza turns amateur sleuth in a race to uncover the truth. Family loyalty is stretched to the limits when she discovers a series of events in her grandmother’s past which could have far-reaching consequences, not just for Lilian but also for Clifftops, and Eliza’s own future.

Available exclusively on Amazon Kindle, A Crisis at Clifftops is a fun and original cosy mystery, set against the backdrop of an old-fashioned seaside resort and featuring a feisty heroine who quickly learns life outside the sporting arena doesn’t always follow the rules.

No News…

I’m very aware I’m failing on the communication front, and that’s not good for business. My first blog post of 2021 didn’t happen until February and I’ve posted nothing since.  I’ve got plenty of excuses, lack of anything exciting to blog about being the main one. However, if I want to be a successful author, I need to keep my readers in the loop, and with a creative mind I should be able to make the mundane sound mega interesting.

So firstly, here’s a picture of some plants I’ve been cultivating over the last few weeks in my greenhouse. Growing your own is very rewarding and the results can be almost instantaneous, especially if you sow radish seeds.

Books on the other hand, are slow-growing, and a writing career has to be viewed as a long term project.

My current bedtime read is the illuminating Stop Worrying, Start Selling, The introvert author’s guide to marketing by Sarah Painter.  Marketing has always been a big bug-bear, and now that I’ve committed to going down the self-publishing route, I have to conquer my fears and be far more pro-active.  I’m finding this book very helpful.  I now realise I don’t have to apologise for promoting my own books – I write because it brings me pleasure and I want to publish what I write because I think my stories could bring pleasure to other people.

As Sarah points out in her book, if I designed a comfortable shoe, I wouldn’t be apologising for trying to sell something that could enhance your daily hike – avid walkers would want to know about it! And whereas lots of marketing advice is to “sell yourself” – Sarah says not. I’m selling Rosie Travers Author, writer of fabulous, original, entertaining fiction, not shy retiring little old me who fills her spare time gardening, knitting and going on long walks in countryside.  It’s important to recognise the difference.

It’s also a question of measuring success. It takes time to build up an audience. I’m a relative beginner and shouldn’t make comparisons with authors who are two or three steps ahead with multiple books and/or large publishers. I have two books currently on the market – that’s an achievement in itself.

And the third is on its way. As suspected A Crisis at Clifftops came back from its professional edit with lots of comments – in fact I felt like I’d been wrung out through a mangle. However, I put on my big girl knickers and rose to the challenge of making some major changes. Hopefully I’ve come out the other side with a better book, and still aim to publish this summer.

I’ve engaged a cover designer, and am working on my fabulous, original and entertaining branding,  commissioning a new cover for The Theatre of Dreams at the same time.   I have to see Rosie Travers Author as my business, although I’m under no illusion I’m ever going to make big-bucks from my writing. To be a successful author in the current market takes a huge level of dedication and energy, which to be honest, I just don’t have – mainly because I also want to spend time cultivating radish and taking those long walks in the countryside…

But having invested in an editor, and a cover designer, it would be foolish not to up my game. The latest trend in author marketing is the newsletter.  Last year it was Facebook Groups, but me being me naturally I didn’t jump on that bandwagon. I’m in a few author Facebook Groups and it’s hard enough work keeping up with all the posts and comments, let alone having to instigate them. On the other hand a newsletter sounds achievable – it’s just like a blog, but as one of those people who regularly ticks the ‘do not send me any other material’ boxes whenever I buy anything, I have this moral dilemma. Do I want to be responsible for infiltrating inboxes?

Yesterday I sat down at my laptop with my serious author head on and explored MailerLite, which is supposedly one of the easiest and simplest newsletter formats. I have the IT skills of a fruit bat – yes I’d rather hang upside down in a tree than read about pop-ups, domains, URLs and RSS feeds. In fact after a couple of hours and a thumping headache, I gave up picked up on my knitting. I felt a lot happier.

Once I’ve finished knitting my bike, I’ll go back and give the mailing list idea another try, but at least it prompted me write this blog post!

Keep watching this space for more book news coming soon, and if at some point in the far distant future you see a pop-up asking if you want to subscribe to my newsletter, you are under no obligation to tick yes! Although you may miss out on the great radish give-away…

Reasons to be Cheerful?

Two months nearly in to 2021 and this is my first blog post of the new year. Where have I been? What have I been up to? Has anyone missed me?

I know we’re all struggling to remain upbeat. My world has got smaller. This morning’s Facetime with a friend  revolved around a discussion on our attempts at knitting, extreme jigsaw puzzling, and the weather. The only consolation I’m taking out of this lockdown is that at least I haven’t got children who need home-schooling.

Blogging has been way down my agenda, but next week marks the 2nd anniversary of the publication of my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  A book birthday is always worth celebrating.

Your Secret’s Safe With Me was very much intended as a romance; it’s a story about repairing hurt and love conquering all, although then some pesky modern-day smugglers crept in, and a wedding fiasco, and an unexpected baby, because why stick to one theme, when you can include several.

It would be a lot easier when people ask me what my books are about if I could just reply ‘it’s a romance’, or ‘it’s a thriller’ or ‘it’s the greatest, funniest thing you’ll ever read.’ How do you fit 300 odd pages of love, laughter, action and angst into just a couple of words?

And talking of crossing genres, I do have another reason to be cheerful this week.  The completed manuscript for my new novel is off for a professional edit. Yes, the plunge has been taken and step one to self-publishing is underway. Learning from my experiences with the first two books, originally I was adamant I was going to stick to one theme – the cosy mystery.  Both my previous two books contain elements of intrigue and I liked revealing new layers of plotlines, dropping in subtle hints and clues. As I know nothing about police procedures and I don’t like reading, let alone writing, about blood and gore,  whatever ‘crime’ story I created was always going to be ‘cosy’ in the extreme. My new novel wasn’t just planned as a snuggly suspense, it was going to have its slippers on too.

Yeh, right, slippers, me? Naturally I wanted my heroine to have a job that was different to any of the other amateur sleuths/female crime busters currently out on the market, so I gave her a set of a golf clubs, and made her a professional sportswoman, which as I’ve since been told, is a commercial no-no. I can untick that ‘cosy crime’ marketability box straight away.

And there weren’t going to be any dead bodies turning up at the church fete in my book. Oh no, my heroine was going to investigate something original, a vintage  mystery she uncovers while poking her nose into her grandmother’s past, and then I thought it would be quite amusing if Granny told her side of the story too.

Okay, so I haven’t written a cosy crime at all. I’ve written another mash-up.  I’ve included a dual timeline, a heroine with career crisis as well as a moral dilemma, I’ve divided family loyalty, and sprinkled it all with some local history, yet again.

But what about the romance, I hear you cry.  You’re in luck. I’m a romantic at heart and I just couldn’t, even though I tried, write a book without an element of romance in it.

So what exactly do readers want from a leading man?  At least here, surely I can’t go wrong, can I? Literature is full of flawed heroes. Sorry for the spoilers but Heathcliff digs up his ex’s dead body, Mr Rochester locks his first wife in the attic, Christian Gray is a sexual deviant, and when we think Mr Darcy, we don’t think rude snob in Pride and Prejudice, we just see Colin Firth in that white shirt (or in Bridget Jones). Flawed doesn’t come anywhere near it. Men I’d want to steer well clear of is the correct term.

However, we all want escapism, including me. Romance readers don’t mind a defective hero because by the time the story ends ultimately he will have changed; smitten, humbled, moulded into our idea of perfection.  And we all want that fantasy because it simply doesn’t happen in real life. I’ve been married to Mr T for thirty years, love him to bits, but he still can’t replace a toilet roll.

Book three, working title A Crisis At Clifftops (it could all change) is out of the building, and will no doubt come back, covered in red ink.

And reason to be cheerful number three? Successful completion of dry January. I won’t be doing that one again in a hurry. And definitely not during lockdown.

The Joy of Writing

I suppose this post should really be called the Corona Diaries the Sequel, but we’re barely a day in. The difference this time round is we all know what to expect, and whereas back in the spring I lacked the enthusiasm and concentration to use those long lockdown hours for writing, this time I’m fired up and ready to go.

And the reason for this potential burst of productivity – winning “Star Letter” in Writing Magazine, or rather the feature in Writing Magazine that prompted my letter.  Last month the magazine featured an article on young gay writer George Lester and his path to publication. In the article George mentioned how he adopted the phrase Write Your Joy as his mantra, a term he picked up from his mentor, another writer Peter Ness.  George had been struggling to find his author voice, but once he let rip and gave himself the permission to write what he actually want to write, his voice won through.

There was something about this article that struck a chord, reminding me why I started writing novels in the first place. I wanted to write the books I wanted to read – not something that fitted in an already over-crowded pigeon hole, but multi-layered stories about unique but relatable characters, in familiar local surroundings facing challenging situations, all told with a good dose of my inimitable sense of humour. That’s my style – my author voice.  

Quite frankly it’s demoralising continually submitting chapters and covering letters to agents only to hear the same thing.  All authors take heart from the story of JK Rowling and her numerous rejections, but after a while, especially when you do receive the odd positive response, ie we like your writing/story/style/voice but… you do start to wonder exactly what publishers are looking for. I used to think finding a publisher validated my writing, now I don’t. Publishers are only interested in profits – one look at the best seller list verifies this, celebrity authors rule OK.

But this isn’t a post about feeling sorry for myself, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s a post about coming to terms about what I write and who I am. Write your Joy resonated with me because – yes of course I’d love to write a million-dollar best seller – but actually what I enjoy is writing; the act of creating my characters, picking them up and placing them out of their comfort zone, then setting them off on an obstacle course to reach their goal.

I’ve had enough positive feedback from my first two books to know that there is a place for my feel-good-fiction-with-a-twist. I’ve set my heart on publishing my Isle of Wight mysteries next year and so far only book 1 is complete, book 2 needs finishing and book 3 is yet to be plotted.  I’m going to ask Santa for a self-publishing budget and learn how to blow my own trumpet rather than standing in the back row tootling away on my recorder.

As Mr T has already stocked up on gallons of paint to continue decorating the house, and I have somewhat impulsively ordered 10 metres of fabric to make new curtains, I sense my time-management skills are going to be put to the test over the next few weeks. My next lockdown post may well be entitled the Art of Multi-Tasking aka the Art of Tearing My Hair Out.

Ps If you read my Star Letter you’ll see I compare my writing to playing golf. Mr T would just like to point out he would actually like to win a championship.

A New Era

This post has got nothing to do with the ‘B’ word but something quite significant happened on Friday, 31 January 2020.

My publishing contract for The Theatre of Dreams was up, and I took the hugely momentous step (well it felt hugely momentous for a complete techno-phobe like me) of putting the ebook back up on Amazon all by myself. I’m now a self-published as well as a traditionally published author.

My original publishing contract was short – just two years when I think the average in the industry is five, so I always knew this day would come round pretty quick. I didn’t realise just how quick – or how long it takes to become established in this business. 2019 flew by in a flash, life got in the way, and I didn’t have the time, or enthusiasm if I’m honest,  to dedicate to writing or marketing my existing novels as effectively as I’d have liked.  I don’t feel I’ve done either of my books justice, and I couldn’t let The Theatre of Dreams disappear into oblivion so soon – especially as I was booked to do on author talk in Fareham, a town which features in the book, just a week after the publisher removed it from Amazon….

I did spend most of Thursday tearing my hair-out, despite the fact that my publisher had very kindly given me back an already formatted Word Document which was a great help, and generously donated the existing cover.  However, once I’d realised I’d missed out a vital step in the whole uploading process, well there it was, my ebook was back up and running, just in the nick of time. I could give my talk with a clear conscience without feeling like a complete fraud.

So my talk. That was another quite significant moment because I am not a natural public speaker. I’d committed to give this talk way back in the summer after being approached by someone who’d got my name from the local WI – where I’ve already promised to speak later this year.

I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for, but it transpired I was to be the special guest at a ‘literary lunch’ for 50, organised by a group of ladies who raise funds for cancer research. It felt like quite an honour, and I was a little over-awed. It’s that imposter syndrome again (do they know I’ve only written two books?).

Anyway, after numerous rehearsals in front of a my very unappreciative cat, my thirty minute spiel on my ‘path to publication aka my rocky road’ (which provides the opportunity  for a biscuit analogy – hard bits, the crunch, the soft-squishy marshmallow bits and the delicious chocolate moments, etc etc) went without a hitch. I threw in a couple of little quizzes to encourage audience participation, everyone laughed in all the right places, there was a good question and answer session at the end, and I sold more than enough paperbacks in the process to make the afternoon worthwhile.

I felt quite chuffed.  My donated raffle prize of two paperbacks was the first picked off the table, several people remarked my talk was far more interesting and entertaining than the one given by the eight book thriller writer the previous year, and in a moment straight out of Calendar Girls, my WI stalwart confided I was a breath of fresh air compared to their last speaker who’d spent an hour detailing his orchid collection.

High praise indeed! Anyway, hopefully this accolade will give me more confidence to go out in the big wide world and shout a bit louder about my writing in 2020.  Ultimately I’d like to give the Theatre of Dreams a bit of a re-launch later this year with a new cover (and hopefully there will be a sequel) but I’ve got a bit more detailed techy stuff to work through first. One step at a time. However, I have entered a new era.  I want my writing journey to continue, and it really does feel like (yes, I’m going to say it) I’ve taken back control.