Four Years On – Top Tips for Survival

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?

The Book Launch 1 August 2018

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!

The author in her natural environment.

All’s Well That Ends Well…

2021 has been a bit of a bumpy ride for all of us, and just when we thought things were getting better… the year seems to be ending as it started.

For me personally 2021 hasn’t all been doom and gloom. Along with the lows there have been highs, the biggest of which has to the publication of A Crisis at Clifftops. I proved I could do it – more to myself than anyone else, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved.  Not having had a highflying career, I don’t have a lengthy CV of professional accomplishments. Self-publishing and launching Clifftops probably comes third in my list of all-time personal triumphs, only surpassed by giving birth to my two daughters. Writing a book and sending it off into the big wide world is pretty similar to raising children. You do your best and just hope other people like them. It’s definitely a Proud Mamma moment when I see my babies altogether (and yes, the kids are pretty special too!)

Promoting my work still remains my biggest bugbear. I spent a large part of 2021 maintaining what I considered to be a chirpy social media presence with the aim of making myself more alluring to  potential readers. Of course it wasn’t enough to generate mega sales, but I exceeded my expectations and received enough good feedback to have the confidence to go ahead with a paperback version of Clifftops. I lack the mindset, skillset, stamina and patience to be a good marketeer and of course I should have been more prolific, telling my Twitter followers what I had for breakfast every day and posting artistic pictures of it on Instagram. But there’s only so many ways I can make yoghurt and berries look enticing, and none at all for a bowl of Weetabix and chopped bananas. Besides who actually cares?

What I do care about though is travel. Unlike breakfast cereal, travel is interesting, informative and enlightening. I love looking at other people’s holiday photographs and I am very happy to post up my own. With so many restrictions in place over the last twenty months opportunities to explore have been few and far between. Me & Mr T look back on our wonderful hike around the Isle of Wight as a highlight of the year, along with our road trip to Ireland. Both excursions provided scenic photo opportunities galore. 

We also just managed to squeeze in an escape to the sun before restrictions changed and spent a 10 days in Tenerife at the beginning of December. It was our first trip to Tenerife and will probably be our last. I didn’t post up an awful lot about it on social media because I didn’t find the place particularly inspiring, nor did I we have wi-fi in our hotel, which was actually a blessing in disguise because it made me realise yes I can live without Facebook 24/7, and in fact, I’ve hardly been on social media since we got back. Tenerife was good for re-charging the batteries, and although I say I didn’t find it inspiring, I did come up with a potential novel plot – Murder on the Mobility Scooter. I’ve never seen so many of the things in one place – they were everywhere, including tandems. I may send Eliza Kane off there at some point in the future to investigate a rogue tourist who takes revenge after been pushed off the pavement one too many times…

And talking of Eliza, her next adventure, The Puzzle of Pine Bay, is now pencilled in for launching in early summer 2022. Life has got in the way again and I’ve got side-tracked by other stuff. I’m also a perfectionist and I’m not going to rush something out there that I don’t think is ready. And that’s why I know self-publishing is the right route for me. I’m appalling at time management and need flexible deadlines!  

The downside of being an indie author is that slipping off the social media radar is not good for business. Ebooks sales have slumped, but that’s only to be expected when I’m not constantly maintaining online visibility. But I have found other ways and means of spreading the word which are, quite frankly, far more enjoyable. An author talk postponed from 2020 finally took place in November and if I say so myself, I went down a storm, or maybe not a storm, this was the WI after all. I went down with a polite ripple. But I sold books, and acquired another booking. I’ve also got a potential library talk on the back of my first podcast. And in case you’ve not listened to the podcast, here’s the link. http://wormhole.carnelianvalley.com/podcast/episode-48-rosie-travers/ Friends and family have also been doing their fair of sales on behalf, and for that I’m very grateful!

As we tick off another year, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my writing career throughout the last twelve months and to all those guests who joined me on the blog to talk about the locations which inspired their own writing. March to November was pretty full on working on and promoting Clifftops, and I’ll be continuing my social media break into the new year. I’m looking forward to polishing off Eliza Kane’s next adventure, and wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and peaceful 2022.

Me & Mr T after one too many Christmas sherries!

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.

Feeling Festive?

I’m sorry for the delay in sending out a traditional festive greeting. If you read November’s post you’re probably eagerly awaiting news on the decorating/curtain making v writing challenge. I’m pleased to report it all worked out very well.  Even the under-stairs cupboard has received a makeover, and there’s only one room left to go (which we’re saving for lockdown 3 because it’s a big one). The curtains are up and look beautiful – if I say so myself, and while on my upholstery high I even recovered an old ottoman to match. Creativity abounds!

My writing mojo came and went between coats of paint, but sadly, Mr T lost his lovely dad at the beginning of December, which has somewhat put a dampener on things. I write very much from the heart, and to be honest, my heart has been elsewhere for the last few weeks.  I’m not prolific on social media – that part of ‘authoring’ is not a part I particularly enjoy, so I took even more of a step back than usual. Some people are quite happy posting up their personal stuff for all the world to see, but there’s enough misery out without me adding to it. I don’t enjoy reading about other people’s problems; I don’t want to inflict my problems on others.  My social media persona is very much like my books, chirpy and cheerful, and I want to keep it that way.

Chirpy books for chirpy people!

At times like this it’s hard to find humour. The corona crisis drags on and Boris has stolen a lot of people’s Christmases. We’re not the only parents who won’t see our kids this Christmas, I’m not the only woman with too many sprouts in her fridge (that will teach me for buying my veg too early).

Take a look at what you could have won kids!

Writing has always been a solace, an escape, and with just the two of us home for Christmas I know there will be plenty of time to retreat to my study and continue my WIP when the mood takes me. And if all else fails, there’s always the jigsaw puzzle. Back in September, in anticipation of a long winter ahead, Mr T bought me a jigsaw for my birthday.  Seeking simple comfort during a stressful period, we got it out, restricting ourselves to just an hour a day to complete a nostalgic Amsterdam canal scene. I once read Gwyneth Paltrow completed jigsaws on film sets to help her relax between scenes. Trust me, there’s nothing relaxing about discovering your 1000 piece jigsaw is actually 999. You know you’ve reached a crisis point when your normally laid back, super patient other-half is ripping open the vacuum cleaner bag looking for that vital missing piece. Personally, I blame the cat.

Guilty as charged!

So that’s it. 2020 has come to an end and I’m very glad to see back of it.

Thanks for reading, have the best Christmas you can, and roll on 2021.

A very rare picture of the author with her curtains!

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….

Friends in the North

After my last post celebrating the highs and lows of my first year as published author, I promised myself I would tackle self-promotion with new gusto. I’d get on and finish my WIP. I’d spend more time being jolly on social media. Have I done that? No, once again that old spoilsport ‘life’ has got in the way.

I only have room for so many worries and domestic/family niggles take precedence. All things ‘writerly’ have currently taken a backseat. There’s more important things in life than stressing about word counts and Facebook likes. However, last week we packed up our troubles and set off on a long promised trip to the north of England – which was to culminate in York, where I had been invited to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association Afternoon Tea to celebrate ‘graduation’ from the New Writers Scheme.

The New Writers’ Scheme is a wonderful thing – aspiring writers can join the RNA and take advantage of all the benefits of the association. More importantly, they can have their potential book manuscripts assessed and critiqued by experienced authors. When I joined back in 2016, I already had one manuscript complete and a second under way. During my time in the NWS I was lucky enough to submit three different manuscripts for critique, two of which have now been published. Authors who become published during their time in the NWS are nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award, sponsored by Dr Hessayon of the gardening books fame. His wife Joan was a romantic novelist.

So our trip north already had a literary connection, but more by luck than design it turned into a literary feast! We arrived at our first stop Warwick Castle in record time; after a quick whizz around the ramparts (Mr T and I are seasoned speed-tourists) we realised the day was still young enough to pop over to Stratford on Avon for a peep at Anne Hathaway’s cottage and then on to William Shakespeare’s birth place.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Shakespeare’s birthplace

It was all very inspiring – as was dinner at the Spanish restaurant I’d booked that evening in Warwick purely on the basis of its Trip Advisor reviews. I’ve bought books on Amazon purely because of their wonderful 5 star reviews and have seriously questioned whether I’m reading the same novel. Not in this case – the food at Tasca Dali was outstanding, as was the service – and the best bit, it was a set menu. Takes all the stress away from the what shall we eat tonight dilemma. If you’re ever in Warwick, check it out https://www.tascadali.com/

From Warwick we headed north west to Blackpool mainly because we’d never been and we thought it would be fun.  It lived up to all our expectations so we quickly moved on. Having taken the slight detour I realised we were now close to Morcambe – home to the Midland Hotel. I’d come across the Midland Hotel during my research into art deco restoration projects for The Theatre of Dreams – so it was quite exciting to see the building in the flesh.  A lot bigger than my fictional pavilion but it does have a prime spot on the seafront and is a very impressive tribute to 1930s architecture.

From Morcambe we headed to Bowness-on-Windermere, our base for the next four days. I’m a hardened southerner and love living on the sunny south coast, but I could see myself becoming a northern convert. The scenery is stunning. There’s drama around every corner – glass lakes, craggy fells shrouded in clouds, and lush green fields dotted with sheep. We visited Beatrix Potter’s home at Hill Top. We viewed the gloomy rooms where she wrote her books (no kitchen – Beatrix was too posh to cook and had her meals delivered to her by the farmer’s wife next door – every writer’s dream!) and strolled through the vegetable patch in search of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter’s Garden

We visited Grasmere, where the poet Wordsworth famously wandered as lonely as a cloud amongst the daffodils. It was a wrong time of year for daffodils and the clouds – and crowds – were out in force so not quite the tranquil spot of Wordsworth’s time, but easy to see why he felt so poetic.

With the Lake District sort of ticked off we headed across the Pennines into Yorkshire and Whitby. If you are a fan of vampires, you’ll know that this is where Bram Stoker’s Dracula first came ashore. From Whitby we headed down to the beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough before finally arriving in York – and the RNA Tea.

The York Tea was my first RNA event and I sincerely hope it won’t be my last. It was a pleasure to meet so many ‘friends’ I’d so far only encountered on Facebook, fellow new writer scheme graduates and also to catch up with Crooked Cat authors John Jackson (the event organiser), Sue Barnard and Lynn Forth.  

I didn’t win the ultimate prize of the Joan Hessayon Award, but as Alison May, the chairman of the RNA, pointed out, to become published in today’s fiction market is no mean feat and an achievement worth celebrating in itself.   It was the perfect end to our fabulous trip north.

We will be back!

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!!)