Aspiring writers step away from the scorpions! The WRs are here to tell you why…

Hello and happy bank holiday weekend!

If you’re a regular follower of our blog, you’ll know that a Saturday normally means The Saturday Spotlight in which we interview writers at all stages in their career – aspiring to chart-topping, indie or traditional – as well as the occasional interview with an editor, publisher or agent. Today, though, we’re doing something a little bit different. We want a little exploration of the past, present, and future of the Write Romantics…

conf 2014 10In the beginning, there were just a pair of Write Romantics. Jo and I ‘met’ when I was in my first year of the RNA’s NWS and Jo was in her second year. I’d finally got around to joining Romna, the RNA’s online community, where newbies are invited to introduce themselves so I tapped in a “hi, this is me” kind of email. Jo immediately contacted me as we shared a writing genre and other interests. A friendship was instantly formed and we exchanged incredibly long and detailed emails over the next few months. In early 2013, the idea developed to set up a blog. We found our name, we found a format, and away we went. But it soon became apparent that finding enough writing-related things to say to regularly contribute to a blog when there were just two of us, neither of whom were ready to seek a publishing deal, was going to be a massive problem. But a problem shared is a problem halved. Or tenth-ed in our case because we put an offer out on Romna to extend the group and were quite overwhelmed to find eight other writers who wanted to join us. Phew. Because it could have been a bit embarrassing if we’d had no response!

Conf 2014 3We don’t mind admitting that we hadn’t a clue what we were doing! None of us were expert bloggers. In fact, we weren’t bloggers at all! I’d set up a blog a couple of months previously following my journey to get fit and lose half my body weight through a beach-based bootcamp (which I still run although I’m slightly ashamed to say that I’m still, 2.5 years on, trying to lose half my body weight – oops!) so I had a little bit of experience of regularly posting, and Rachael had some experience of being part of a writing group who blogged, but that was it. So we had to pretty much start from scratch.

It’s been great working together as a team to develop the format for the blog into the regular bi-weekly slots we have now. We all contribute posts and we all bring interview guests to the party. Two years ago, after about 4-5 months of blogging together, we asked the WRs if they’d like to re-affirm their commitment. Were they happy with what we were doing? Was it what they expected? Did they have the enthusiasm and willingness to really move the blog forward and start posting more regularly? At that point, one of the WRs decided to dip out because her commitments outside writing meant she was going to struggle to contribute and, for a year, we were nine. Then last September, we asked Sharon to join us. I’d met Sharon the year before, as had WR Alys, and she’d become a great supporter of the group. She already felt like one of us so it was a natural step to officially invite her into the fold, restoring the power of 10.

Although we live all over the country – Cumbria, North & East Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, East Sussex, Hertfordshire, Somerset, Kent (hope I haven’t missed anywhere!) – and have never all been in the same place at the same time, we’ve become really close through the power of social media. We’ve celebrated the highs, sympathised during the lows, built each other up during down moments, and learned from the various paths the group’s writing journeys have gone down. It’s often said that writing can be a lonely business but the WRs are never really alone and we’d massively recommend all writers find themselves a support network, whether that’s a writing partner or a large group like ours. We’re all convinced that some of the amazing things that have happened to the group over the last couple of years have been thanks in part to the support and encouragement of the group. So what are those amazing things? I’ll hand over to Jo to let you know more …

Reproduced by kind permission of © Ra\'id Khalil via Dreamstime Stock Photos

Reproduced by kind permission of © Ra\’id Khalil via Dreamstime Stock Photos

‘What a difference a day makes, twenty four little hours…’ or so Dinah Washington’s song goes. It might have taken more like twenty four months since deciding we wanted to stay Write Romantics, as Jessica says above, for our fortunes to really change, but the sentiment’s exactly the same. Even on our down days, when we do consider giving up to take up scorpion petting instead, as one of the Facebook jokes about writing goes, it’s been a pretty incredible two years.

If you’d told us back then what we might have achieved by now, we’d probably have given you a bitter little laugh – how little you knew. Most of us were wearing the battle scars of rejection already and some had been pursuing the publishing dream for ten years or more. Did we give up? No, but boy did we talk about giving up! That’s the beauty of the group though, just when you are about to put a down payment on a pair of breeding scorpions, someone is there to talk you off that particular ledge.

I’m about to give you a round-up of what those two years has seen for us. Not because the WRs like to big themselves up, as my kids would say; in fact, the other eight don’t even know Jessica and I are doing this and they’ll probably cringe when we sing their praises. The reason we are writing this blog is the opposite. It’s because we remember exactly what it’s like to be an aspiring writer – not one who used to write for Tatler or produce radio plays for the BBC and has the sort of connections you don’t get when the height of your networking involves spotting Bob Geldof buying carrots in your local branch of Tesco – but ordinary people who just love to write.

Is it really possible to get published if that’s your starting point or will it only ever be your mum who downloads a self-published tome from Amazon, as you languish at chart position number three million and thirty two? We want to tell you, if you are an NWS member reading this, or an aspiring writer of any sort, that it’s not only possible but there are lots of ways to get your work out there and, whether indie, traditionally published or some hybrid of the two, there are also lots of ways to measure success. Not everyone is lucky enough to be part of a group like this, who will tell you to step away from the scorpions, but we hope reading a round-up of our journeys so far will reassure you that if you keep going, it can happen for you too.

So what is it we’ve done? Well, being of a certain age – I think Helen R was just clinging to her thirties when we first joined together, but we are now all in our forties or beyond – I think IMG_0076most of us dreamed of having a paperback with our name on and maybe even seeing that on the shelves of WHSmiths or Waterstones. Okay, so we know that all the statistics reveal that books in the commercial genres we write in sell better as ebooks than in print, but we’ve had this dream since before Kindle was even a twinkle in Amazon’s eye. So are we living the dream? Well, of the ten of us, eight of us now have paperbacks out there or are in the process of going in to print and four of us have had books in WHsmiths and/or Waterstones and supermarkets, with Jessica’s about to appear in some of the Yorkshire Waterstones really soon and Sharon’s pocket novel hitting the shelves in October. Nothing beats seeing your book on the shelf, despite how times have moved on… although being caught taking a selfie with it is a bit embarrassing, hence me using my son as bait in Smiths! Our books are also starting to hit the shelves of libraries too, with Jessica leading that particular charge.

Helen P, Rachael, Jessica and Sharon all have multi-book deals with the same publisher and I’m awaiting finalisation of my contract before revealing some news of my own on that front.  We’ve also seen the launch of The Write Romantic Press for our anthology and a number of us have dipped our toes into the world of indie publishing, with Lynne riding consistently high in the charts with her first indie published title. Fabrian Books, which started off as a small indie publisher, is now handing over the ownership to its authors, giving them the benefits of having more of a say in their publishing journeys and hoping to follow in the footsteps of other publishing cooperatives like The Notting Hill press, with two of the Write Romantics breaking new ground in this exciting venture of what’s termed publishing’s ‘third way’.

We’ve had almost twenty five books published (or about to be) between the ten of us, through publishers including Carina, Crooked Cat, DC Thomson, Fabrian Books, Mills and Boon and So Vain Books, with more news pending and work under consideration by a number of places that are the stuff of dreams, including the BBC no less!

Chart position wise, Deirdre, Helen R, Jessica, Sharon, Lynne and myself have all appeared in the top hundred or higher of our genre charts at one stage or another, with a number in the top ten. Helen P and Rachael have hit even dizzier heights than that though, with Helen P regularly knocking her own hero, Stephen King, off the top spot and Rachael hitting number two across the hugely competitive Mills and Boons chart, although the rest of us know that the number one spot is hers for the taking.

author 2Alys secured something else we’ve all dreamt of at one stage on another, with agent representation, and her debut novel will be out in time for Christmas. Jackie made the top ten shortlist of a hotly fought Mills and Boons contest and is about to make a round of submissions which we are sure will see all ten WRs published by 2016.

So for all you NWS members who’ve recently submitted your manuscripts – or, if you are like I used to be, who’ve just run down to the post office to send it last minute, days before the deadline, with your hair stuck to your forehead and a hopeful surge in your heart as you send it off – or if you’re an aspiring writer of any sort, it can happen. There’s a hackneyed phrase that says the difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer, is that the former never gave up. It’s the sort of advice that used to make me want to French-kiss a scorpion after yet another rejection, but believe me it’s true. So step away from the poisonous arthropod and keep going, it really is worth it in the end.

Jo and Jessica xx

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J Keller Ford on the Art of Make Believe

JKellerFord-web-301Our guest today is J.Keller Ford (aka Jenny).  With a father in the army, Reader’s Choice award winner Jenny, spent much of her childhood travelling the world and wandering the halls of some of Germany’s most extraordinary castles hoping to find the dragons, knights and magic that haunted her imagination. Though she never found them, she continues to keep their legends alive.  Her story, The Amulet of Ormisez, is available as part of the MAKE BELIEVE anthology. Jenny also had a YA short story, Dragon Flight, released December 2013 as part of the ONE MORE DAY anthology  When not at her keyboard breathing new life into fantasy worlds, Jenny spends time collecting seashells, bowling, swimming, riding roller coasters and reading.  She works as a paralegal by day and lives on the west coast of Florida with her family, three dogs, and a pretentious orange cat who must have been a dragon in his previous life.   With a fascinating bio like that, of course we have loads that we want to ask Jenny…

Why did you choose to write young adult and new adult fiction?

In a nutshell, I don’t want to grow up. When I was young, so many people told me, ‘Enjoy your youth.  It’ll be gone before you know it and you can’t get it back.”  Like a typical teen, I snarked at those words.  Now that I’m a grown-up, I don’t want to be.  I wish I could go back and change things. I wish I’d been a bit more daring, maybe prettier, stronger, more adventurous.  In writing YA and New Adult fiction, I can do all the things I couldn’t or wouldn’t do as a teen. I can re-live my youth vicariously through my characters.  Every day holds endless possibilities for my young characters.  Love is new and fresh.  Heartache is raw. Dreams aren’t wasted.  It’s fun to see my characters do what I always dreamed of doing if I hadn’t been in such a hurry to grow up.

What gave you the idea for In the Shadow of the Dragon King?

Oh wow, there are so many factors that came into play, but I suppose it boils down to my brave, knightly dad, and a soldier who wanted a little bit of fairy dust to save the world.

My dad was in the Army, and on the rare occasions he tucked me into bed, he would tell me stories of how he battled dragons and protected us (his family) and his lands from bad magicians and evil-doers. I knew better.  I watched the news, but my dad’s version was so much better, and thus my love for fantasy began. Between the ages of 6 and 8, my dad was stationed in Germany. My mom, knowing of my dad’s stories, made sure she took my brother and me to as many castles as she could, thus solidifying my love for fantasy.  Sadly, my father died a few years later, slain by a figurative ‘dragon’, and a very sad story began to churn in my mind.  It wasn’t until after the end of the first Gulf War in 1995 that the story resurfaced and started taking shape. I saw an interview with a soldier who said he wished he had magic and fairy dust because he’d sprinkle it everywhere to make the world a better place to live. I saw these brave men not as soldiers but as chivalrous knights battling evil for the sake of humanity, and if they had a choice, they’d prefer a little magic, rather than lives, to save the world.  Over the course of several years, I toyed with plots, characters, and ideas, finished my first draft, and then let it sit for a very long time.  I picked it up about 3 years ago, dusted it off and allowed it to breathe.  Soon it will be ready to present to the world, thanks to my dad and an unsung hero who wished for a little magic and fairy dust to save the world.

perf5.250x8.000.inddWhat advice would you give to aspiring writers looking for publication?

First thing:  never, ever, ever give up.  I don’t care how many rejections you get, how difficult the process may seem. Never throw away your dream of being published.

Second, as time passes, more and more paths to publication are opening up.  I’m of the old school.  I like the traditional publishing route.  I like being vetted before my work gets out in the world.  On the other hand, I have some lovely writer friends who have been very, very successful in self-publishing, hitting best-seller charts on Amazon all the time. There are so many avenues to travel and so many doors to open that make it easier now than ever before to be published.  I do recommend, however, if you choose to self-publish, please produce your work to professional quality.  Yes it costs money, but if your book is worth publishing, it’s worth publishing correctly.  Get a professional editor.  Make sure your book looks like a mainstream book.

I think it’s also important to be present in some fashion of social media.  You don’t have to be on all of them, but you should have at least one prominent presence. You need to make sure people out there know you.  Be yourself. Be someone that others want to interact with. Help others promote their work whenever you can.  Once you have a following and have established yourself as someone trustworthy and helpful, they’ll do everything they can to promote your work when the time comes.  Always be thankful.  Always be respectful.

Do you have any advice for UK based writers looking for a publisher in the US?  Are there any things we should think about or avoid in our writing?

First, check tax laws.  Self-published U.K. Author, Karen Inglis, wrote an extensive blog post on taxes, ITIN and EIN numbers and paying U.K. Tax on book Royalties.  You can find that article here and I recommend everyone from the U.K. to take a look at her very informative blog on the matter.

I would also pay attention to local colloquialisms.  Some words or phrases may be viewed differently in the U.S. than in the U.K.  I’m aware of a few words that mean nothing here, yet are frowned upon or mean something completely different in the U.K.  Of course, if a book is set in Britain, some words and phrases might add flavor and color. Just make sure they don’t make the book confusing or distracting.

As to covers, U.S. publishers usually do not consult with the author.  American publishers will usually write their own blurbs for the back of the book. They may also change your title to suit the market.

It may be worth your while to get an agent to sell your rights to a U.S. publisher who will ‘translate’ and sell your books.  Always ask any publisher or service to give you full details of their plans for your book, especially how they intend to use the rights. Never give world rights as standard.  Works published in the U.S. are subject to U.S. copyright laws, not those of the country of origin.  Always be aware that if an agent sells your book in the U.S., they are entitled to all subsequent income on that book in the US even if you part ways with the agent somewhere down the line.  Always do your research and try to stay abreast of the latest international publishing laws. It’s a lot to take in.  A lot to do.

Who are your favourite writers?

OMGosh, I have so many.  There are the classics:  Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, George Orwell, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and the list goes on.  More recent favorite authors would include J.K. Rowling, Kristin Cashore, Tahereh Mafi, Veronica Rossi, Kiera Cass, Cassandra Clare, Jocelyn Adams and Julie Reece.

perf5.250x8.000.inddWe see from your blog that you love visiting castles and we wondered which was your favourite?

Neuschwanstein, by far.  The first time I saw it, I forgot how to breathe.  It was more grand and opulent than anything I could imagine.  It was (and remains) the epitome of everything I ever imagined a fairy tale castle to be.  Not only that, the “Mad” King Ludwig only lived in this magnificent palace for 172 days before his body was found, along with the body of his doctor, floating in a nearby lake.  While his death was ruled a suicide, the demise of this romantic and popular German king remains a mystery to this day.  There is so much history in this castle and is a must-see place of beauty and serenity.  It is a reminder that no dream is too big. Anything can be accomplished if we set our minds to them.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today Jenny, it has been an absolute pleasure to have you and we hope you will come back again and see us really soon.

Find out more about Jenny and her stories at the links below:

http://jennykellerford.wordpress.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Make-Believe-J-A-Belfield-ebook/dp/B00ACMPEGQ

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5832198.J_Keller_Ford

http://www.amazon.com/J.-Keller-Ford/e/B00ADKZTJO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_3

Follow Jenny on Twitter at @jkellerford