Saturday, 3 October 2020

Week Forty-Eight: Breathing New Life Into Old Projects

Back in the early noughties, I had a sudden flash of apocalyptic vision and wrote a Young Adult adventure fantasy called The Book of Tongues. It ran to about 50,000 words, which was about right for the time, and involved a princess, magic, a quest, and the eponymous Book, of course.

But it was the first in a series, and I wasn't sure where it would go after Book One, or even if I'd taken it far enough in Book One for the first instalment to make a satisfactory read. I ummed and ahhed over it, did some rewriting, but ultimately had no idea what to do with it ...

In those days, I no longer had an agent. And easy self-publishing on Amazon did not yet exist. Only so-called 'vanity' outlets which would have embarrassed me - not to mention cost me more money than I had, still an impoverished poet with barely a penny to my name!

I was also busy churning out babies at the time, so my novel-writing career consisted merely of writing the occasional saucy novel under a dubious pen-name in order to a.) survive and b.) keep my hand in the fiction game while bringing up a parcel of tiny infants.

So The Book of Tongues went into the proverbial bottom drawer, as I really had no idea what to do with it.

Fast-forward about ten years to 2013, and my career as a commercial novelist had been kickstarted. I now had a new agent and was actively writing and selling novels, including a YA paranormal romance Trilogy. One of those books - Witchstruck - even won the Romantic Novelists Association YA Novel of the Year Award in 2013.

Now more aware of the YA market, I picked up Book of Tongues and re-read it. Having developed greater skill as a novelist, various issues leapt out at me immediately, and I saw at once how to fix them. But the long-term trajectory of the series still escaped me. I had a great set-up, but something was 'off' about the overall world of this fantasy.

So I sat down and worked on a range of possibilities for where the series would go next, and in doing so, I stumbled across the reason why my first book felt wrong in some way. I had been basing everything on a certain well-worn trope in fantasy ... and now I realised how to escape that trope by introducing a different story strand altogether, and so bring something wholly unexpected to the story!

I rewrote the book with this new plot idea in the mix, and enlarged the book at the same time, as during those intervening ten years, YA Fantasy had become much larger and longer, almost unwieldy in length. So the 50K book grew to 75K.

I sent it to my agent, with high hopes of finding a publisher ... and had those hopes dashed.

The idea was exciting, my agent said kindly, and the writing excellent, but the characters were under-developed and some of the confrontations between my main characters and the antagonist were too complex and therefore confusing. 

In other words, the idea was sound but the manuscript still needed work.

At the time, I was snowed under with other projects. I'd just come out of two 3-book contracts with Random House, and was embarking on a third 3-book contract with Hodder. I was also working on some side projects for self-publishing, as Amazon KDP had come along and I'd started self-publishing shorter and unsold fiction manuscripts. 

So I put Book of Tongues back in the drawer.

Fast-forward another seven years to early 2020. (Do you see how long this book has been in development?)

The pandemic of Covid-19 strikes. We are in lockdown. Everyone has decided they have a novel in them, so I'm not alone in spending my days slaving over a hot keyboard.

I have about three projects on the go, under contract. But I finish all those during the lockdown, and look about restlessly for something 'different' to work on before I need to start my next contracted thriller. (I get bored writing in the same genre all the time, and need to blow off steam periodically with different genres and styles of writing.)

The Book of Tongues calls to me.

I re-read it yet again, while studying my agent's notes from 2013. Suddenly, I can see what needs to be done, which was not easy while I was still so close to the project. I find a new thread between my main characters that allows them to bond in a richer, more provocative way.

And I rewrite the book for the third time!

Here's what I think the problem was. When you're fresh from writing a book, especially if that book has been developed over a long period, you can suffer from 'brain fatigue' and feel exhausted at the thought of rewriting it yet again! So although you may get great notes on a manuscript, your brain can't get to grips with what they mean in real terms, and unless you're up against a contractual deadline - which introduces adrenalin and fear into the mix, so allowing your brain to function again! - you are likely to throw the messed-up manuscript away from you and start something else, something less taxing to consider.

This time, I had no brain fatigue but was eager to work on something different.

So I saw the editorial notes clearly and was able to act on them, also drawing on my increased skill and experience as a novelist since back in 2013 to improve other elements of the story and create a smoother read overall.

I also changed the title to THE SPELLWORKER, as I felt the original title, The Book of Tongues, might struggle in today's market. But I retained that concept in my series title.

The book is now nearly 90,000 words long!

So, off it went to my agent again.

Reader, she declined it.

The YA market is tough right now, my agent told me, and the book has elements which might make it less appealing to publishers in 2020 than would have been the case back in the early noughties. There may also be other similar or clashing projects out there right now. Better not to send it out to publishers when I can write something more apposite to the times and find a buyer more easily.

Back to square one, it seems.

Happily though, I still believe in the book, and in 2020 I have options that were not readily available to me in earlier iterations.

I ask my agent's blessing to self-publish and generously she gives it.

As with everything I've self-published, I believe in this book, even if others might not, and I want it to find readers out there, and I also want to be able to write Book Two knowing there are people waiting for it.

The YA market is incredibly tough, I agree. And finding YA readers without going through the usual channels of a traditional publisher is going to be extremely tricky - perhaps even impossible.

But unless I want this book to languish forever unread in a dusty bottom drawer or - these days - in a forgotten computer file, then I must take the plunge and self-publish. Life is short.

Finding value in abandoned manuscripts involves seeing what worked when it was first written that won't work now, because times and the market place have changed, but also what was good about the project and should be preserved. 

It also allows you to see the whole thing with more clarity than was possible when you were still too close to it, perhaps even bringing a little indifference to its fate, so making edits easier to implement.

But you must have full confidence in the project and in yourself as a writer. 

Just because others have said NO to what you've written, and even if it never sells more than a few dozen copies, almost seeming to justify that negative opinion, you must retain confidence in your ability and judgement as a writer. 

Because THAT is all we have, deep down. 

Confidence. 

That's what it's all about for writers. So embrace your confidence, and enjoy what comes with it. And don't let anyone tell you no. If you believe in the work, then let's see it.

And here is The Spellworker, a YA Fantasy which I have just indie published under my YA writing name, Victoria Lamb ...

 

THE SPELLWORKER: out now (UK)

 

Available NOW in ebook, paperback, and via Kindle Unlimited: support indie authors!

THE SPELLWORKER: Amazon UK

THE SPELLWORKER: Amazon US

THE SPELLWORKER: Amazon AU

THE SPELLWORKER: Amazon CA


Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Week Forty-Seven: Experimenting with Unusual Story Ideas

Sometimes you get an idea for a story set-up that doesn't fit what's selling out there, or you know most publishers would pull a face if presented with the idea. Yet you can't get it out of your head.

Amazon UK

That's what happened to me when I came up with my idea for the Stella Penhaligon mysteries.

Stella Penhaligon is an astrologer who helps the police with their enquiries.

As someone with a background in astrology, this was a fun idea for me. I could use all my knowledge and skill with astrology (basically my hobby for the past few decades!) and merge it with my knowledge and skill as a novelist (my job, in other words). 

The merger was a dream come true for me.

The only fly in the ointment was that my idea didn't fit with the kind of books I'd already been writing under my Jane Holland - very straight, hard-edged contemporary psychological thrillers. And I suspected that most publishers would have a hard time with an astrologer as a main character helping the police.

To add to this, I'd never before written a story with a police officer as a main character!

Yet I knew I wanted two main characters in this series - Stella, the astrologer, and DS Jack Church, the local officer with whom she has most contact.


Finally, I was aware of a need to make money as a novelist, which means not wasting time on books that might never get published. But also that self-published books provide a small amount of money to keep me ticking over from month to month, while book contracts can take anything up to six months to produce any income from the point of acceptance by a publisher, sometimes longer.

I approached my agent and we discussed this. I suggested that I self-publish a short series of novellas about these characters, and see how readers took to them. Thankfully, she agreed. (Coz she's amazing!!)

And so I sat down and wrote the first novella. It's called UNDER AN EVIL STAR. (See below for US link.)

The series is set in Cornwall, where I live, which feels like a suitably spooky, gothic region for a crime novella involving astrology.

A severed head is found by the police. Stella's father, a local vicar, is missing. She casts a chart to find him and falls under suspicion when the severed head turns out to be his ... But who would kill a vicar and why?

I put the novella on pre-order, and had a few sales come in at once. Not so shabby! So I made a space in my writing schedule and wrote a second and third novella, THE TENTH HOUSE MURDERS and THE PART OF DEATH. I then put all three on sale at Amazon.

All are now out on sale. Early days yet, but after a sluggish start, I changed the covers and sales have become more promising. I will need to leave it a while to get an overall sales picture, but if it seems worth doing, I may write a full-length Stella Penhaligon mystery in the next year or so, and see if any publishers would like to acquire it for a series.

Sometimes, you need to take a punt on an unusual idea, and hope it works out. Some ideas flop. Others need some massaging to succeed. What you need for them as a writer is CONFIDENCE and TIME. Be bold and write it, regardless of your fears that it won't succeed. Stay true to your vision and see it through to the end, never abandon the project partway through.

You can't tell if an idea is 'bad' until you've finished it, and that's a simple truth most newer writers don't get. Most writers have a tendency to panic, jump off too soon, and start afresh with a different idea. A "better" idea, or so they tell themselves. But they are likely to get scared again with this new idea and repeat the cycle.


Until you've gone the distance with a story and reached the end, you can't be sure if it was working or not. Because you can't see the pattern clearly when you're too close to the loom. Keep weaving, steadily and confidently, and not listening to internal or external voices, and when it's done, step back for a better look.

Only time will tell whether it was worth my while making these three novellas. Meanwhile, new readers are finding them every day. Will you be one?




Thursday, 19 March 2020

Week Forty-Six: Fiction in the Age of Coronavirus

We live in unprecedented, rather than interesting, times. In a few short weeks, ordinary life has become, well, extraordinary. Not to mention frightening. We have no idea what will happen next. Worst of all, some of us may die, or have loved ones who will die, a grim new reality made clear to us by politicians and news bulletins alike.

As writers, and especially perhaps as genre writers, we are accustomed to presenting the everyday and mundane in our novels, as an anchor for the otherwise outlandish world of our plots. As part of our skill set, we construct an accepted - and acceptable - fictional version of 'reality' as our characters know it and as our particular genres demand.

But what should we do when that 'everyday reality' has shifted sideways - almost overnight - and is now far from anything we have ever known in our lifetimes? When our realistic characters are now more likely to be in lockdown for anything up to half a year, and therefore unable to commit or investigate murders during that time frame, to meet friends or loiter in cafes, go to concert halls and theatres, travel anywhere beyond the end of their garden path - if they're lucky enough to have one - have sex, or fall in love? When apocalypse has actually become a thing?

We are at least used to the solitary life as writers. Self-isolating holds fewer terrors and issues for us than most other people working from home, I should imagine.

But as writers we are faced with a choice, it seems to me.

We stick our literary fingers in our ears - 'la la la' - and pretend we still live in that Other World, the one we inhabited roughly three weeks ago, and write characters who fit that lifestyle, despite the fact that it's becoming harder to envisage going out for a latte or booking a flight to Greece or dropping a book off at the library or sticking a knife between the vicar's shoulder blades ...

Or we accept that the world has changed, and therefore set our books in a speculative future world, when (hopefully) the coronavirus crisis has passed but is definitely still a thing. A world where characters may well be happy to murder each other - perhaps more so than ever! - but police are less well-equipped to investigate because of reduced numbers or shaky infrastructure, when sleek, Armani-clad executive heroes are few and far between because even the biggest companies have lost billions, and friends are less ready to shake hands or air-kiss on meeting, or new lovers to fall into bed together (just in case the infection is still around), and the world is financially on its knees.

 One of my writer friends said recently that it was becoming harder and harder, as she wrote her current novel, to remember what used to be normal everyday behaviour in a normal everyday world. Because that life and that world are both rapidly slipping away from our memories ... We are already adjusting to our new reality. Soon, even the most insistent coronavirus denier will find it hard to depict our world before the plague with any confidence, nor will readers believe in their now unrealistic reality.

And yes, what about reading fiction?

It seemed at first that people were eager to reach for plague fiction, for disaster and apocalypse novels, out of a ghoulish desire to mock this new reality with previous fictional versions of it.

But actually, it seems to me that people want to read about apocalypse because they are experiencing it first-hand, and instinctively need a fiction that reflects their strange and uncertain new reality.

Of course, as the horror continues, that urge may change. People may grow weary of finding reality in their fiction, and will turn to fantasy instead. Even though that 'fantasy' may simply be a contemporary book set before the virus, in the comforting pre-2020 world they remember ...

I think we ignore coronavirus at our peril as writers. (Though agents and publishers may well ask us to, fearing the saleability of any genre fiction that flirts too closely with reality.) Even historical writers may find themselves instinctively choosing plague periods for their next novels. Of course, we may all have pre-corona novels in hand, and can't suddenly introduce global death and disaster partway through a light-hearted romance or a chilling murder mystery, even though that is exactly what has happened to all of us, out here in Corona Land.

All of our lives have been INTERRUPTED by the virus and nothing will ever be the same again. How could it be?

We won't all come out from self-isolation or lockdown in four to six months and find life continues as usual. The virus may slow, but it won't disappear completely. And by then, many things we once took for granted - food chains, coffee shops, street vendors, household names, even global transport infrastructure - may have been irreparably damaged by a long income freeze or simply gone bust in the meantime. And some publishers and bookstores may even be on that list ...

I don't have any answers, I'm afraid. I only have questions.

But when we've finished writing our current books, do we continue in the same vein, as virus 'deniers' in fiction terms at least, on the grounds that most people, terrified by what is happening around them, must inevitably want to read about a world BEFORE the virus, because they find that lost reality easier and more comforting to experience?

Or do we start to write books set in the real world, in the post-virus world, where our characters and their choices reflect our own uncertainties in the age of coronavirus?

P.S. My latest publication is UNDER AN EVIL STAR (oh, a prediction!!) out last month, first in a new crime thriller series.

Only 99p/99c for the ebook.

Please consider buying if you'd like to support my writing. Thank you.

Under An Evil Star on Amazon UK

 

Under An Evil Star on Amazon com (USA)

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Week Forty-Five: Making Use of Fabulous HOW TO WRITE Resources!

Sometimes, even experienced writers need to take an overview of their writing, research how to move between genres, or just take a breather and look at how other writers build their careers.

For new writers, learning how to do things professionally, or getting hints and tips that prompt fresh writing or help them shift up a gear career-wise, can make the difference between finishing and giving up, or getting a book ready for publication. (See below for a list of fab 'how-to-write' research books, all ON PROMO right now!)

I am a bestselling author who writes in several different genres and publishes with some of our so-called 'Big 5' UK publishers. Yet I frequently consult 'how to' books, and in some cases would never sit down to plan a new book without checking some of my favourite 'how to' manuals.

My mother, Charlotte Lamb, published over 170 novels during her 30-year writing career and was a global million bestseller. She absolutely adored 'how-to-write' books and bought every one that she found on sale. She had a whole bookcase devoted to those books near her desk in her study.

My mother was adamant that good writers never stop learning. She loved sitting down in her spare time to study such manuals and make notes, even for genres she didn't write in. And she passed that obsession on to me ... :)



As for me, I not only write bestselling fiction, but also 'how-to-write' books!

In fact, I have several Writing Prompt books available for Thrillers, Romances, Poetry, and How To Write A Novel In A Month.

Look, my 'how-to-write' book is only 99p this week! 
Best of all, one of my top-selling 'how-to-write' books is on a 99p promo right now, along with some fellow writers with their own writing books, all at reduced prices!


My 99p book is '21 Ways To Write A Commercial Novel' and is based on this very blog, containing huge amounts of writing tips, plus various industry anecdotes about being a professional writer - not just from me, but also from a range of other novelists. 

Bursting with up-to-date information and entertaining anecdotes from the world of writing and publishing, this guide also features helpful comments on writing from both new and established writers, including Rowan Coleman, Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Lesley Cookman, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Alison Morton, Elizabeth Moss and many, many others.

A goldmine of advice for writers from an author of over thirty commercial novels under various pen-names, including an award-winning novel, WITCHSTRUCK, and a UK number one Kindle bestseller, GIRL NUMBER ONE.


Why not check out some of these fab 'how-to-write' or publishing industry books below, all on promotion this week?

Or see this wonderful 'how-to-write' page from Rhoda Baxter, displaying all these titles with covers and Buy Now buttons.


Nina Harrington - How to Write Short Romancehttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Write-Short-Romance-Kindle-Books-ebook/dp/B00UDP3XBUB00UDP3XBU
Liz Fielding - Little Book of Writing Romancehttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Fieldings-Little-Book-Writing-Romance-ebook/dp/B006YQCE5I/B006YQCE5I
Kate Harrison - Pitch Powerhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Pitch-Power-discover-makes-irresistible-ebook/dp/B081HDC6F3/B081HDC6F3
Liam Livings - Marketing the Romancehttps://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07DW9R6GJ/B07DW9R6GJ
Jane Holland - 21 ways to write a novelhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/21-Ways-Write-Commercial-Novel-ebook/dp/B00TRPN8I0/B00TRPN8I0
R Baxter and J Lovering - How to write Rom Comhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Write-Romantic-Comedy-Rhoda-Baxter-ebook/dp/B07RL6YR7W/B07RL6YR7W

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Week Forty-Four: THE HIVE: when books get rejected

As part of an eleven-book contract with my publisher, I have written a new dark thriller.

It's called THE HIVE.


The Hive on Amazon UK: 99p



If visiting that link though, you will see this book is self-published, not traditionally published.

On sending my finished thriller to my publishers a few months back, I noted it was rather darker than previous psychological thrillers I had written as Jane Holland, leaning toward horror in places, and suggested we might want to use another pen-name instead.

They didn't reply for two weeks. Then they wrote back, declining THE HIVE and terminating my contract with them, except for the final romance in a series due later this year.

Just like that!

I was devastated. I talked the situation over with my very supportive agent. I explained how much I'd been depending on that contract to keep me afloat financially. Everyone knows it can take anything up to a year from acceptance for a new publishing contract to be signed and the initial advance paid. Assuming there even is an advance in these digital-first days.

Only I don't have a year to pay my bills. They need to be paid every month, or things start to fall apart. A full-time writer's life is precarious like that. Which is why I first turned to self-publishing back in 2011 and still regularly publish short fiction online under an array of names. But I rely on my traditional contracts to add cash advances to that income.

So we both agreed that self-publishing this rejected book was the best way for me to keep solvent, while I work on a completely new book to be submitted to other publishers later this year. And I thank my agent profusely for being so understanding.

But that plan, of course, depends on THE HIVE actually selling more than a few copies. So I've decided to publish it as a Jane Holland thriller, as that is my best-selling name.

Worried about the future, with three dependent children still in school, I've now started several online shops as well as my self-publishing sidelines. More on that anon. Jobs are hard to come by in rural Cornwall, and in my fifties with no work experience to speak of, online hustles are probably my best bet. So I'm learning new skills in that area, and working hard to get by.

Curiously, this is not the first time a book of mine has been rejected by publishers (though not while under contract!) and then self-published. Last time, it was GIRL NUMBER ONE. I self-published that in 2015 after multiple rejections, and it reached #1 in the UK Kindle store within a few months of publication. It has since sold over 100,000 downloads.

If THE HIVE manages similar success, I'll be ecstatic. But times have changed since 2015. All I'm hoping for is that this book helps me stay afloat as a struggling writer. (Buy it here!)

I'm not well-off. I didn't marry a wealthy person. I rent my house, I drive an old banger, I have no capital or investments or savings. But I am a hard worker. I write several 'big' books a year, and also self-publish multiple novellas and short stories under other names to supplement that. I am constantly working on something new. Yet still I struggle to pay my bills.

The book market is saturated. Only top names seem to do well these days. Writers get the tiniest slice of the publishing pie, often only a few pennies per sale. Publishers do not support writers by growing them and investing in their careers, as was once the norm, but discard them at the first sign of low sales. Nobody is safe, not even established writers.

Readers who want to keep their favourite writers in the game need to help them compete in this dog-eat-dog marketplace, via word-of-mouth and retweets etc. Because what publishers want most is the next shiny new thing ... and while I may be shiny on occasion, I'm not new!

So it's PUBLICATION DAY! 👏💪😍👍

Please, if you like thrillers - or me! - help me get THE HIVE out to new readers. Especially in the US market, which is yet to discover me en masse.

Share, retweet, mention, read, discuss ... Amazon, social media, Goodreads. It all helps. And I've initially priced THE HIVE at 99p/99c to encourage impulse buys!

THANK YOU!!  


The Hive: a brand-new thriller for 2019 from Kindle #1 bestseller Jane Holland

Scarred by fire from infancy, with a persistent stammer, Charlotte has always been in the shadow of her glamorous theatrical parents. So it's a shock when her mother commits suicide.

Left to care for her sick father in the dark maze of her childhood home, Charlotte begins to unravel. First, there's the mysterious arrival of a box of dead bees. Then buzzing noises in the attic. People are watching her. Listening to her.

Everyone thinks she's losing her mind. But an old photo suggests another, more sinister possibility ...


Jane Holland's bestselling thrillers have sold more than 220,000 paid downloads across several continents, and she loves finding brave new readers! 


Also


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Week Forty-Three: To Blog Tour or Not to Blog Tour?

A book blog tour is when a writer promotes a book at a different blog every day for a set number of days, often during a crucial time in the life of their book, typically publication week or month.

I've had various book blog tours in the past, always organised by my publishers around publication week, and though I'm sure they helped get my name out there a bit more, I don't recall any massive sales boost during the tours or in the immediate aftermath. They are lovely for the ego, but can take a great deal of energy to prepare for - all those blessed blog posts and endless Q&A's that steal time away from actual writing - and it can become very repetitive, going on Twitter or Facebook each day to point people towards the latest blog stop.

Blog stops can involve some fun and interesting posts, it's true. But also they may result in some same-old, same-old posts, or a few less than exciting questions, like 'What is your favourite colour?' or even, 'Where do you get your ideas from?' (See this post for more about that old chestnut!)

So if, a few months ago, you had asked me if a book blog tour was worth the expense and hassle, I would probably have murmured, 'Unlikely, no.' But very quietly, as I know many people - publishers, in particular, and book bloggers, in general - put great store by such promotional tools, and rejecting that opinion can make you look like a Difficult Author.

However, something happened last month that has drastically changed my attitude to blog tours. Possibly forever.

My latest psychological thriller, FORGET HER NAME, came out with Thomas & Mercer.

FORGET HER NAME, UK AMAZON


To celebrate this event, and in the hope of reaching a wider US readership than I've enjoyed so far with my psychological thrillers, I decided late last year to pay for a blog tour.

It felt like a gamble. A real shot in the dark. But for several years I had been online friends with a lovely blogger called Rachel Gilbey, whose enduring love for my romcoms (written as Beth Good) had made me love her in return and got me to the sweet spot where I was pretty much inclined to trust her with anything. So when she started running blog tours, under the fun name Rachel's Random Resources, I became interested in the idea of asking her to run a tour for me. But being a busy person, I kept putting it off. Until FORGET HER NAME was nearly due out, and I thought, what the hell, and sent Rachel an email ...

Rachel is a total star. And a hard-working star at that. She asked me for a few basic details about the book, and some jpgs of me and the cover etc, and charged me an extremely reasonable fee. She did everything else at that stage. She asked around her blogger friend contacts, and got together a group of bloggers interested in my book and willing to take part. She sorted out dates for each blog stop, and made a poster for the blog tour. She also sent me a list of blog posts I would need to write - about nine in total - sorted out review copies for everyone, and which blogs would carry reviews or just straight promo for the title.


And for some weeks, that was it. I forgot about it. No sweat, no worries. I just cracked on with writing my next book. Until the deadline for my blog posts approached, and I had to sit down and write them.

That was quite hard work. But nothing comes of nothing, so I did my best to make all the blog posts lively and informative and strongly differentiated from each other. I sent the posts to Rachel, and she liaised with the bloggers on my behalf, and again, that was it. I just sat back and waited for publication day. No hassle!

Publication Day dawned. There were three blog stops on that day, all promoting FORGET HER NAME, and it was the same every day for the next fortnight. (Rachel very kindly allowed me a longer tour than most, as so many bloggers were keen to be involved, which was nice.) All I had to do was retweet bloggers' tweets and occasionally mention the tour myself ... Though I'm sure I could have got away with not even doing that. Except I was enjoying the process too much to take a back seat.

Rachel's Random Resources blog tour was the only promotion I had for the book. But it worked. Boy, did it work!


FORGET HER NAME rose steeply into the UK Kindle Top 100 almost immediately. Later it reached the Top 40. It rose into the top 2000 on Kindle US, higher than any other of my books previously, except for a couple of one-day Bookbub promotion spikes organised by my publisher. The first month sales figures blew me away. And my publisher was pretty pleased too.

But it didn't stop there. Although FORGET HER NAME has since settled into a nice position just above the UK Top 100, its stablemate LOCK THE DOOR, my previous thriller from 2017, has shot past it into the Top 100. In fact, at the time of writing this post, LOCK THE DOOR is at number 14 in the UK.

LOCK THE DOOR at #14 overall, and #2 in Women's Fiction, 26th Feb 2018


Although other factors may be at play here, including a price reduction to £1 by my publisher, I also attribute that massive success to Rachel's blog tour. Especially since I've been able to promote my books using some of the lovely quotes from bloggers that you can see in this post! (Which Rachel also organised for me, another of the useful services she offers to save busy writers time during promotions.)


So the blog tour was a catalyst for the success of my backlist thrillers, which are now all selling strongly after a few lacklustre months. And I don't think any of that would have happened if I had not reached out to Rachel and booked a blog tour with her excellent service. Running a launch tour with Rachel's Random Resources is the best thing I could have done for my book, and has made the publication of FORGET HER NAME a resounding, spectacular success.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Rachel, and ... I'll be back!!

And if you are a writer considering the expense and hassle of a blog tour, I would certainly recommend taking the plunge if you have a book which might respond to that kind of promotion.


Yes, it costs. But not a massive amount. Not given the possible success you could have. (Unless you have to pay for review copies or a Netgalley presence.) And yes, it's hard work when you have to write blog posts for the tour. But you can ask for a tour without author-contributed posts, or just write a few and request reviews or promo for the rest. And I can testify to the fact that it is wonderful to see bloggers' reviews going up on Amazon, Goodreads and Netgalley within days of your book's publication ... There is no guarantee that bloggers will give you the thumbs-up, of course. That's the risk you take when giving out free copies in large numbers. But I was lucky and most seemed to enjoy my book!

Getting the word out on your new book, or a backlist of books, is always difficult. But when you can hand over some of that work - if not the bulk of it! - to another person, especially someone as friendly and efficient and gifted at working with others as Rachel Gilbey, then you should find launch week a little less tiring than usual.

Not to mention the chance of it being mind-blowingly successful!



FORGET HER NAME UK

FORGET HER NAME US

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Week Forty-Two: The Art of Collaboration, plus a Q&A with Viki Meadows


I recently published a romcom novella under the name Beth Good, written collaboratively with a writer I know personally from Romantic Novelists Association events, Viki Meadows. It was the first book I've written with another author, and Viki herself is quite a new author, so neither of us knew what to expect when we started. By the end though, I think we were both pleased with the result, and would happily recommend collaborative writing to others.
The idea came to me while watching a television interview with the hugely successful thriller writer, James Patterson. He has a great franchise with his novels, but found he simply couldn't keep up with demand. So he began working with other writers on stories he had originated, editing and shaping them into Patterson-style novels, with those writers getting credit on the cover - and no doubt having a fantastic experience working alongside Patterson himself.
I was in a similar position with my Beth Good romcoms. I have a good readership for them, a (largely UK) fanbase who buy all my romcoms under that name. But with contracts underway to write thrillers as well, and several other projects in hand, I simply couldn't manage to write as many Beth Good stories as I wanted. So I rather cheekily decided to try the James Patterson approach myself, and enlist the help of another writer to work on a novella I had already plotted out in detail from beginning to end. 
That story became the delightful CHRISTMAS AT THE LUCKY PARROT GARDEN CENTRE, and I hope that it will be the first in a series of romcoms with this Yorkshire garden centre setting. 

I had known Viki for some time through the RNA, and always thought her prose marvellously smooth and well-written. I'd edited her manuscripts before too, and we had communicated well. So she was a natural first choice for this project, and I was thrilled when she agreed to give it a try.
I started out by talking to Viki about the plot and the characters I'd devised. After all, she might have hated those elements, and that would have made writing our story even more of a challenge.

Luckily though, she loved them, and indeed ended up infusing them with a wonderfully natural colour and vivacity, not to mention striking verisimilitude, being Yorkshire-based like the heroine of the story. 

After the success of her first chapter, we continued on like that, with me talking her through the plot in close detail - mainly to get the pace right - as she had never written such a long piece of fiction before, and then editing and consolidating at every stage. As the book grew, so did Viki's confidence, and it became a very enjoyable and easy-going process. After she had finished her part, I then shaped the novella, concentrating on pacing and tone initially, and then added my own contribution. It was vital that the book was recognisably a Beth Good romcom, that readers would sense that and enjoy it as much as any other Beth Good story. So that was my focus. But of course Viki's voice is very distinctive too, and that comes through in the writing.
Overall, I thought this kind of collaborative effort was not only a wonderful way to mentor a new writer, but a learning process for me too. I learned a great deal about structure from having to explain it, and I was pleased that my reputation in certain quarters for being a prickly pain-in-the-butt did not seem to impinge on my working relationship with Viki! 
Looking back, I consider our partnership to have been a brilliant success, and I certainly hope it won't be the last book I write collaboratively. Together we have ended up producing an exciting, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining romantic comedy that feels as much like a Viki Meadows story as a Beth Good!
Despite being busy with her own new writing, Viki Meadows has very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the collaborative process too, and this is what she has to say ... (Viki's responses are in italics)
Can you describe how the collaboration process started for you, and your first steps when you began writing?   
My collaboration with Beth Good/Jane Holland began when I was on a writing high. I'd just got a mark of 81 for an MA assignment when I was contacted by Beth asking if I'd be interested in working with her. 
After the first excitement had worn off, I started thinking of what it would really mean. The plan was for me to work off her plot / outline and of course this raised all sorts of considerations and potential problems, but it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up, especially based on nebulous fears.
I said yes, and knuckled down (sort of) to try and do it. Because of my concerns, which included things like, would I be able to write to someone else's plot, could I write humour, would the author like my work, I asked if I could do a one-chapter trial, after which, if there were problems, we could both pull out with no hard feelings.
Once I started writing I quickly engaged with the story. At times it was a bit like a puzzle. Working out how to make something happen when it needed to required ingenuity and mental agility, and I particularly enjoyed it. Beth seemed pleased with my work, and that approval motivated me and kept me going. Working with such an easy-going person was great. I felt supported without having someone breathing down my neck. I think it was helpful that we are both quite laid back. If one of us had been more uptight it might have been more challenging to collaborate like this.
What was the most difficult part of collaborating for you, and why?
I had all sorts of preconceived ideas and fears about my ability to complete the project, and so my biggest challenge was squishing those doubting voices. I also needed to be disciplined. It’s all too easy as a writer to slip into writing when you’re in the mood or feeling inspired. Even though I knew that wasn’t a good way to approach a writing career I’d never really developed a regular writing habit and for too long I’d been hit and miss. When Beth approached me about this collaboration, she took a risk on me, and I really didn’t want to let her or myself down. So I had to be professional and disciplined, and this was also a major challenge.
What do you think you've learnt from this that will be most useful to you in future?
That I CAN finish a project to an acceptable standard, that I can write MUCH faster than I thought, and therefore I now have NO excuse not to produce a lot more work.

I also learnt a lot from the way Beth took the raw material and turned it into a polished end product. The way she knew what to exploit and how to exploit it to make the story funnier and more focussed was fascinating and the mechanics of how she did that provided a real learning curve. I’ll certainly be trying to apply some of her techniques during rewrites on my own work.
Would you recommend collaboration to other writers?
Yes, for sure. I’ve mentioned some of the many benefits above but writing can be such a solitary thing to do and collaborating with another author made it more social and much more fun. There was a great feeling of satisfaction in creating something together rather than on my own, and a sense of companionship as well. I loved seeing the project take shape and how another author’s input could transform it in ways I hadn’t considered.
What are your writing plans for the future? Do you have a new story of your own lined up, for instance?
I’m feeling quite fired up and excited. I’m writing the first draft of a new novella and also trying to finish rewrites of a romantic suspense novella. Beth’s output and professional, disciplined approach to her writing is keeping me motivated and giving me something to aspire to. I’m also working on an MA in Creative Writing which takes up a fair bit of time but also helps keep me writing regularly. 

*** 
Now, why not read the free sample on Amazon of  
Christmas is coming to the Lucky Parrot Garden Centre near Whitby. And along with those first flakes of snow comes a tall, dark, and highly tempting stranger ...

Hannah is a sensible, hard-working Yorkshire lass, and her heart is set on a career in landscape gardening. Not on falling in love, not even with a man as drop-dead gorgeous as Daniel Elliott. He's a film producer, for goodness sake, more used to Hollywood parties than stomping about in muddy wellies.

But as the evenings draw in and the snow thickens, can Hannah resist the warmth and sparkle of this very unusual man? And if she can't, what's to say Daniel won't disappear every bit as mysteriously as he arrived?

The first in a brand-new series, this cosy, festive romcom is the fruit of a collaboration between popular author Beth Good and romance newbie Viki Meadows. Perfect for fans of Jane Linfoot, Jenny Colgan, and Milly Johnson.

 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Week Forty-One: When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Self-Publish

I have a new book out.

It's a thriller: ALL YOUR SECRETS.

Much like my other thrillers, this is a full-length psychological thriller, with a twisty page-turning plot and a strong local atmosphere.

But unlike my other thrillers, this novel is self-published.

Why?

ALL YOUR SECRETS (UK Amazon)

Apparently the setting wasn't what my publisher wanted. My other two thrillers were set in Cornwall. They wanted a thriller set in London. This new book is set in the gorgeous South of France, a place I have visited many times and with which I have a natural affinity.

Last summer, I submitted two synopses and a 25,000 word sample of my South of France thriller to my publisher. Following a miscommunication of some kind, I mistakenly thought my editor was excited by the sample I'd sent and was planning to acquire the book.

Some months passed while I knuckled down and finished the book before my contract arrived. (Which is something many full-time writers end up doing, working on a book before the contract arrives.) I loved every minute of it though; it was a delightfully tactile, sensual book to write, and deeply sinister too.

In December, a few thousand words shy of finishing ALL YOUR SECRETS, I asked again about the contract. It was only at this point that I discovered my publisher did not want the book.

However, I received a contract for the other synopsis. The book I had not written. With only 8 weeks in which to write it, apparently.

I did the only thing I could.

I wrote the new book. And I did it within the required 8 weeks. It's currently at copyedit stage and will be published in January 2018.

Bizarrely, this is not unusual in publishing. It's the kind of thing that happens to writers all the time. Talented writers. Hard-working writers. Established writers. Full-time writers with bills to pay and no other way to pay them but through their own skill with a keyboard.

Most established writers can tell publishing stories to make your toes curl. Trilogies that flop and are abandoned as a lost cause, leaving one or even two books unpublished. Novels that are commissioned in conversation - like my own bestselling thriller, GIRL NUMBER ONE - and then rejected later, leaving a writer stuck with a book written to a very specific brief that they now need to sell elsewhere. Not always easy.

In the same vein, I was once tipped the wink at an editor-author coffee meeting that my latest outline wouldn't be acquired unless I converted the setting to Faeryland, because 'we're desperate for those'. I wrote 50K of the blasted thing before the editor was made redundant. Needless to say, the remaining editors were politely baffled by the Faeryland setting, and my agent was less than impressed too. I never did finish that one. Though maybe one day ...

So two years after I was forced to self-publish GIRL NUMBER ONE (a book rejected by over a dozen publishers, mind you, which subsequently sold 50,000 copies in a few months as a self-published title, hitting #1 in the UK Kindle Chart), I found myself with yet another unwanted novel on my hands.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now. But hope springs eternal!

This time, I was not contractually permitted to offer it to another publisher - not under the name Jane Holland, at any rate, which has become my 'thriller' name.

However, I was given permission to self-publish ALL YOUR SECRETS.

When the going gets tough in this industry, the tough often end up having to self-publish. Not the most ideal situation, especially when a book has been written with a rather different arena in mind. But I have three children to feed and clothe, and this book took about 4-5 months to write and edit - an expensive time investment for me - so heigh-ho, self-publishing it was.

I proofed the book, made a cover, wrote a blurb, and started telling the poor, long-suffering souls on Twitter that my book was about to go live.

I had a pleasing number of pre-order sales. Those are my fans, and I thank them wholeheartedly for sticking with me!

Then it came out.

A self-published novel that isn't priced at 99p - instead, it's a modest £1.99 - is not the easiest thing in the world to persuade random punters to buy. Nor do I have the surprise of writing in a new genre to help me, as I did with GIRL NUMBER ONE.

So any sales you can waft my way will be hugely appreciated. This book has been written with all my skill and knowledge behind it, the experience of writing several dozen novels, and I feel certain many thriller-reading people will find pleasure in it.

I thank you all in advance for any retweets or Facebook shares or reviews or other promotional help you can offer this new and highly atmospheric book-baby of mine ... The blurb follows.

Thank you!

Jane x

ALL YOUR SECRETS (Amazon UK)

What happens when love is perfect? Too perfect?

When her glamorous cousin Emily drowns, Caitlin flies to the South of France for her funeral, full of bitter-sweet nostalgia for the summer they spent there as wild teenagers. Her aunt Tamsin, once a film star, now suffering from dementia, invites Caitlin to stay at her chateau high above the beach at Cap d'Antibes.

Suddenly the gorgeous, charming Robin is back in touch, son of a Hollywood film producer. 
Tamsin warns her to stay away from him, but Caitlin can't resist her teenage crush. Soon the pair are falling madly, deeply in love ... all over again.

But something doesn’t feel right. What was Robin’s relationship with her beautiful cousin? And what is her aunt trying so desperately to conceal? The chateau on the Cap may be beautiful, but it hides dark secrets.

Was Emily's death an accident? Or could it have been murder?

-- ALL YOUR SECRETS is an atmospheric psychological thriller that simmers with tension and will keep you guessing, from the bestselling author of GIRL NUMBER ONE and LOCK THE DOOR.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Week Forty: Building Your Author Brand

I've noticed an odd phenomenon recently. On Amazon, new books have begun to crop up. But not like any books we've seen before. These are pre-orders on books not due out yet.

Nothing strange about that, of course. Books have always been promoted before publication day. What is strange here is that some of these pre-orders, on books from big-name authors, are for books not published for almost another year. Most are going on Amazon with no proper covers, only a glossy publicity shot of the author. A few haven't even got a title yet, they are so early in the process that turns an idea into a published novel.

In the past - and indeed still today - these early books would go live with only a 'placeholder' cover. A grey space with 'cover not yet available' across it.

Now we get these ...

UNTITLED: Jojo Moyes (out Feb 2018)


This says to me that publishers are focused on a new way of selling books. And that new way is based on the idea of the author brand.

Nothing new there either, of course. The idea of the author brand is as old as, well, authors. In the Regency era, polite society eagerly purchased new volumes from Romantic poets like Byron or Shelley because they bought into their 'brand' or personality. It wasn't only about the tortured poet, the romantic soul, but the real person behind that trope, with reports of outrageous behaviour and naughty goings-on to thrill readers and feed the salacious gossip machine ...

But in these days of social media, once again we are talking about authors, rather than books. Books are the product, but authors are the draw for readers, the brand.

That's why we have these covers with the author mug-shot, reminding browsers whose book it is they are buying, putting the manufacturer front and centre, before the product, the book itself.

On social media, we see profile pictures. Pictures of authors. We hear about their day, their cats and dogs, their kids, their cookery disasters and triumphs, their struggle with writing or editing ... We identify with them and turn to their books with an increasing sense of familiarity. Ah yes, there's Jill's new sequel. There's Jojo's new novel. I must get them.


This Could Change Everything: Jill Mansell (25 January 2018)

Putting out books on pre-order as many as nine or ten months before publication is about sales, yes. Let's not be naive. But it's more about increasing long-term sales' potential than any short-term, 'make a quick buck' mentality. It's about the long tail, the backlist, the whole show, not just the headliner act.

And we as authors, particularly as indie authors perhaps, need to emulate that thinking if we want to build a brand around our author name like these publishers are doing. Not just by making all our covers look similar, or writing a series, though these tricks also help to build an author brand. But by building ourselves as the force behind the fiction, by selling the author, not just the book.

Selling an author rather than a title means greater sales overall, because readers will then come for the author regardless of the book on offer.

That's the theory, anyway.

The Image Of You: Adele Parks
But how to achieve this in real terms?

Not being a publisher or a marketing expert, that's not so easy to answer. One way I would suggest is to increase visibilty on social media and elsewhere online, and to be consistent with it. I know this is old hat to most writers now, but I would suggest there's a new emphasis here that we can adopt. To propel readers towards us as people, and as authors, rather than towards one individual title we happen to have released. To adopt an overall author promotion strategy rather than single 'book' campaigns.

I don't always follow that advice very well myself. Although I've published about forty books traditionally - I lost count some time ago - and maybe ninety titles self-published on Amazon now, mostly shorts and novellas, my own career has been very scattered, across various names and brands and genres, none of which have been particularly well-developed in promo terms. (With the exception of my romcom persona, perhaps, Beth Good.)

But some authors do manage very well in building a brand. And I am gradually beginning to see how it could be done better ...

One way, highlighted here with these pre-orders, is to keep your author brand ever-present by putting out pre-orders on books not yet written, or written to a certain extent. This is hard for indie authors, who need a file to upload on Amazon for a pre-order. Not only that, but Amazon don't allow pre-orders to go live more than three months before publication date. Which means we can't put up books for sale a year in advance like one of the big five publishers, for instance. It's not a level playing field in that regard. But it can be done with an unfinished file, three months in advance, which is then replaced nearer publication time with the finished book.

And perhaps you could experiment with one of these author 'New Book Coming Soon! covers, if you're particularly photogenic and have a good, well-lit professional shot to put up there. To heighten awareness of you as the author, as a real person, as a saleable brand.

If you have other ideas to share about how to increase awareness of an author brand, do let us know in the comments below ...

My new thriller, ALL YOUR SECRETS, on pre-order now!

By me: out 2017