A Little Blog Post by the Sea

I’m not usually one to court controversy but there were a few bits and bobs on Twitter this weekend about book titles, so I just thought I’d jot down my thoughts. Joanne Harris, one of my favourite authors, upset a few people with a list of book titles she no longer wished to see, anything featuring the word ‘little’ – eg café, bakery, coffee shop, titles with The + one other word, and titles referring to a feminine relative – daughter, mother, sister.

I didn’t enter into the argument other than to like a couple of replies, simply because I actually (shock horror)  agree with some of the points Joanne was trying to make.  Book titles follow trends and I think it would be fair to say there is trend in the women’s fiction market for pretty pastel coloured books featuring a variety of ‘little’ business opportunities.

There’s no doubt that the ‘little’ in the title is meant to convey a quaintness, the romantic idyll, something warm and comforting and a lot of readers like that – as the marketing departments of the big publishing houses well know.  Include a ‘little’ something in the title and a reader can immediately identify the genre.

Cosy ‘little’ coffee shops abound between the pages of novels, but rarely do such wonderful places exist in real life.  Who wouldn’t want to escape to Cornwall and run a ‘little’ B&B? Well not me actually because running a B&B is bloody hard work, but I’m more than happy to read a fictitious account of somebody else’s attempt to revitalise Granny’s ‘little’ old cliff-top hotel – and dream on.

Likewise tea rooms, which always seem to have a faceless background crew so that the heroine, or hero, has plenty of time to run around the village doing other wonderful things – when of course the reality is that like the small café in the village where I live, there’s never enough customers to make the place a viable financial proposition running it single-handedly, let alone make enough money to employ wonderful support staff.

Any business run along ‘little’ lines is doomed to failure in the real world so maybe it is time to come up with some alternative descriptions. A quick check through the thesaurus reveals some interesting possibilities – besides the size connotations – diminutive, miniature, there is also the unimportant – trivial and insignificant. Perhaps ‘little’ isn’t such a comforting word after all.

Books are subjective. As writers we have to acknowledge the paying public don’t all want to read the same thing and everyone has different tastes and preferences.  I don’t want to knock escapism – after all I write it – but ‘a little’ diversity in titles could go a long way in elevating commercial women’s fiction to a more prominent platform, and perhaps even a wider readership.

I heard Joanne Harris give a lecture a few years back at The Winchester Writers Conference and she is an eloquent, inspirational and passionate speaker.   The novel for which she is probably most well-known, Chocolat, was first published in 1999 and the publishing world was very different then. The irony is if the book was being marketed today, I’ve a sneaking suspicion the suggestion might be mooted for The Little Chocolate Shop in France…

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!

Fame At Last!

I’ve always considered myself to be a modest, shy, person, characteristics which aren’t particularly conducive to self-promotion, which is why I struggle with this whole social media/creating a writer platform malarky.

My other half points out I can’t be shy because after moving abroad, I pro-actively joined social groups and made many new friends.   I had to. I’d moved 5000 miles away from the town that had been my home for over 40 years and I didn’t know a soul, but that didn’t stop the dread of having to introduce myself to strangers over and over again – Hi I’m Rosie, I’m an expat, can you recommend a good hairdresser/dentist/doctor/therapist….

Admittedly that first international move nine years ago forced me out of my comfort zone, however, I now find myself in a similar position.

Hi I’m Rosie, and I’ve written this book….

I hate putting myself out there, but I’ve got a book launch coming up and if I don’t publicise it, nobody else will.  So besides being ‘active’ on social media, bombarding my friends, what else can I do? Contact the local press…

I’ve had dealings with the local press before. When we moved to the Netherlands I undertook an on-line writing course, and being a model student, during the lesson on writing articles and features for magazines, I contacted my local newspaper back in the UK, pitching a story about a transplanted Southampton woman now living in the Netherlands. I think this might interest your readers, I wrote.  I heard nothing….for six months. Then I received an email. Dear Rosie, please could you write us a 500 word article about your life in the Netherlands by Friday…oh and by the way, can we have a photograph of you with a windmill.

500 words and one 4 km cycle ride to the nearest windmill for a photo-shoot later, the article was complete.

Despite the apparent rush, my feature didn’t appear in the paper for at least another three weeks, presumably something better came up. Having said that, three weeks is  nothing compared to the two year wait I had for a short-story to appear in another local magazine after it had been accepted!

So, knowing how long it can take to receive a response, let alone publication, I sent off a couple of notices this week about my book and its forthcoming launch on 1 August. The very next day I received a phone call from one local newspaper, the Portsmouth based The News and had a very pleasant chat with a reporter who asked lots of questions about my writing and the inspiration behind it. Oh so you will come to my launch? I said. Yes, she replied and we’ll run a feature on it tomorrow. You’ll be on page 13….’

Tomorrow! Likely story I thought, but just on the off chance, I rushed into my local One-Stop and grabbed its lone copy of The News, and there it was, perfectly filling a slot on page 13 as promised!

‘Mum picks up pen to commemorate town’s demolished art deco building…’

I do actually write with a keyboard and a computer, and my children have both long flown the nest, but what the heck! I’m very grateful to The News for running the story. I’m not sure I’m going to get stopped in the street because of it, but hopefully it’s aroused a little bit more interest for the book.