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

Steve Dunn… a life of fantasy, mystery and close encounters of the zombie kind

Beacon Church Elder PortraitsOur guest on the blog today is Steve Dunn, author of three novels and the forthcoming ‘true’ story behind the Goldilocks fairy-tale, which will be available to download via Amazon soon. Steve is married to Jennie and they have a ten-year old daughter. He has worked for the ambulance service for over twenty years, and has been part-time paramedic and part-time church pastor for the past four, but from this November will be leading the church in a fulltime role. He is also a film lover and fig-roll connoisseur.

Welcome to the Blog, Steve, we’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far?

I’ve always enjoyed stories of all kinds (be they novels, comics or films) from a young age and so writing my own came naturally very quickly. I’m fascinated by the thought of other worlds or versions of our own, and the opportunity to live others’ lives within them, and so to create them myself is a wonderful thing. One English teacher in particular, Mr.Swan, encouraged me in creative writing more than most, and since then I’ve never been able to resist. I began writing a short story here and there, then came a novella, and subsequently a first novel I wrote in the 1990s which will remain forever hidden from public perusal but at least I’d written one! Once I’d finished a complete manuscript I’d somehow proved to myself it was possible whilst juggling family and jobs, and so other ideas bloomed into full-sized projects which I developed over the years.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer and what do your family and friends think about you having published three novels?

The fact that my brain won’t turn off – it’s both a blessing and a curse! Be it people-watching (“What’s his job? Her secret? Where did they grow up? Why do they look like that?”), appreciating life’s synchronicities and even enjoying “what-ifs”, which are the things that inevitably spin off into project ideas for me. My wife loves where my brain goes at times, and we have a lot of laughter and banter in the house, but it does also mean she’d like my attention a little more when I’m currently consumed by 999AD or Homefront Britain, for example… My family are immensely proud and I’m so grateful for their and my friends’ support.

You write across a range of genres, but do you have a favourite – either to write or to read?

As far as genres are concerned, I’m usually drawn most to the likes of fantasy or mysteries more than others, but then I’ll enjoy anything as long as it’s well written. Rather than specific chunks of the market, I’m more drawn to anything that’s different – I love characters and settings with quirks, the weird and the wonderful, the heightened atmospheres and realities than can elevate you to somewhere so decisively different to your own world. So I love to read from Bram Stoker to David Mitchell, from Iain Banks to Yann Martel – it’s when there’s something that sets them apart from others, be it a unique voice or vision, that my interest piques. And I trust that overflows into my own work.

What inspires you most in your writing and what gave you the idea for Viking Resurrection? VR

As I’ve mentioned, it tends to be a “what-if” that spirals into something eventually resembling a novel. The idea snowballs and evolves, and eventually becomes nothing like the original thought in the first place! Viking Resurrection was inspired a long time back from when Pirates Of The Caribbean first came out, for example. I wondered about a young girl who discovered she was heir to a line of pirate royals, and as the idea blossomed, I transferred it to Anglo-Saxon times and young Amy became someone who no longer discovered a long-lost inheritance, but instead something far grander and purer – the opportunity to change the world for the better and still remain somebody just like the rest of us.

We happen to know that you’re a huge film buff! Do you think this influences your writing style and would you ever try your hand at screenwriting?

I guess my writing is often fairly grand in terms of visuals and I enjoy using words to paint pictures. That must surely be influenced by the films I watch, and the crossover between words and images is a wondrous thing. Viking Resurrection is a fairly obvious one in terms of epic action and mystical beasts, but when it comes to School Of Thought some of the scenarios are somewhat left-field and abstract, while Raine Fall is very much a noir tale and so bears many tropes like a shadowy underworld, a femme fatale, sexual tension and romance. That one’s a juicy tale for both the boys and the girls! I have a couple of ideas for screenplays, and may even develop Viking Resurrection as such, so watch this space…

What are the best and worst things about being selfr-published? Would you ever consider a traditional publishing deal?

For both School Of Thought and Raine Fall I tried many, many different agents and each time received the letter explaining they didn’t even have the time to look at my submission, quoting the vast statistics of how many they receive each year versus how many they can take on. It’s hugely disappointing but then you realise quite what you’re up against in terms of “white noise”. So I published both of those on Kindle and then later on Kobo, mostly because I felt I had something others would enjoy, and it would be a shame if the books just sat in a dusty hard drive. I only expected to sell half a dozen to friends. Next thing I know, I’d sold triple figures across both titles over a few months, one week outselling Michael Crichton and James Herbert, and four-figure sums downloaded on promotional weekends. Still nothing to live off, but quite special for a guy whose only fan until then was his wife. If it had stayed that way, she’s my ideal reader so that’s brilliant, but this is now icing on the cake. So for Viking Resurrection, I naturally went straight for it and am now planning promotional events to help boost it once some more initial reviews have appeared on Amazon to validate people spending their well-earned money on it a little more. I’d still consider a traditional deal, who knows what the future may hold…

How do you handle the marketing, cover design, editing, typesetting and proof-reading aspects of being SP’ed and would you advise other aspiring authors to pay for professional services in relation to this?

Marketing is very much a gradual build of my platform via social media and making contacts. It seems for self-publishing (if not all publishing for Raine Fallmost of us) it’s about playing the long game – like a long-distance runner. One step at a time, but don’t stop. The more titles I can get out there – whilst continuing to be tough on myself for quality – then I trust the more it might all snowball.

With regards to covers, I do it all myself. I don’t have much in the line of spare capital so rely on my art college days to develop the images in-house. The cover for Raine Fall is actually personal family memorabilia – all those photos and papers you see are my grandparents’ from WW2, which not only authenticates the image but is also somewhat of a personal homage, with the book itself being dedicated to my Grandpa. As for editing etc, again I do it myself at the moment until royalties (hopefully) release spare funds for such services in future. I’ve always been a bit of a grammar pedant, and rely on certain folk who will read my books prior to publishing with an objective eye. It’s always nice to get positive feedback, but I’d much rather hear where a book can improve than just have my ears tickled. So certainly, professional services will be investigated in the future as things progress. I’d certainly recommend professional help with regard to proofreading if you don’t have a keen enough eye for it, and of course for the cover designs if it’s something you’re not strong at. When it comes to chart listings and website surfing, people do still judge a book by its cover in that immediate fraction of a second…

Who is your writing hero/heroine and do you have an all-time favourite novel?

I think David Mitchell is a master of language. Cloud Atlas took my breath away. Each of those stories not only has a different thread, but is also distinguishable by individual use of prose too. Brilliant stuff. As for my all-time favourite, I keep returning over the years to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, horror, narrative devices, and the characters alone are a delight.

What are you working on at the moment and what are your writing aspirations for the next few years?

I’m currently writing a short story/novella (the next few weeks will decide!) called “Gold a’Locks And The Three Weres” – detailing the ‘true’ events that inspired Goldilocks – ready for release at Christmas. After that it’s straight into another short called “Suffragette Sensei”, which will be the first in a series. She’s going to be a fun heroine to keep returning to. Following those, there are two novels brewing: “night/SHIFT”, based on my twenty years as a paramedic but with added zombies (although I have met one or two*), and then an untitled sci-fi which I’m very much looking forward to writing in a couple of years. I’m just keen to continue building a fan-base outside of my own personal circles, which is already happening now, and seeing where it takes me. If I sold no books at all, I’d still be writing. I love words! (*No, really. Ask me if we ever meet.)

Who is your favourite character from your books and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?

My favourite is probably Amelia from Raine Fall. She strides into Timothy Raine’s life and blows him away. She’s magnetic, carries the qualities we see in sirens of yesteryear, even resembling one or two, and Timothy can’t get her out of his head. Where their story together leads is for you to find out, but I’m looking forward to meeting her again in a sequel one day. I’m quite entranced by her myself. Don’t tell my wife. If your daughter told you she wanted to be a writer, what would you say? I’d be delighted. She already has a propensity for coming up with wonderful ”what-ifs” (I wonder why that is?!) and I love those conversations. She’s got great insight for subtext in stories, both written and filmed, and has already penned some little tales that demonstrate her own voice. We’ll see!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer and would you add anything further for aspiring writers reading this interview? SoT

The best I’ve come across recently is from Chuck Palahniuk on avoiding ‘thought’ words (“He felt/believed/knew…”): instead, aim to provide the evidence for your readers to feel or think the same. I’ll let him explain at length – it’s widely available on the wonderful interweb – and it’s helped my writing no end. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a fantastic resource too. Besides that, I’d simply add, “KEEP WRITING”. There’s too many people who talk about writing, what their ideas are and even what their book’s called, and not actually doing it! Write, write, write… In that process, you learn and you grow.

Is there anything else you want to tell us or any other advice you can share? Read lots, and read widely!

Watch what other published authors do and learn from them. And train yourself for the long distance run. Most “overnight sensations”, in writing and music alike, have actually been plugging away at it for years. In the meantime, enjoy the journey.

Thanks for joining us on the blog, Steve, and giving us such an interesting insight into your writing world. I’ll definitely be asking you about those Zombie encounters next time we meet!

Find out more about Steve and his books at the links below:

All Steve’s books are available on Amazon and Kobo.

facebook.com/SteveDunnAuthor

twitter.com/SteveDunnAuthor

Anyone for tea?

Anyone for tea?

Today I’d like to welcome Josephine Moon to the blog. She is the author of ‘The Tea Chest’, published by Allen & Unwin, and she’s a self-confessed tea lover!

Josephine, tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be a novelist?

I was born in Brisbane and now live on the Sunshine Coast with my husband, toddler and an unreasonably large collection of animals. I write fiction and non-fiction, with a different publisher for each. I love good food, aromatic wonders, nature and animals, and am a self-diagnosed spa junkie. My aim in life is to do all my work from the spa.

I took the long route to novel writing, and wrote ten manuscripts in twelve years on the way. I studied journalism at Uni, taught English and Film and TV in schools, worked as a technical writer and then five years as a professional editor, all the while writing and hoping to one day be published. Finally, in 2012, I got a literary agent and three book contracts soon after.

The title of your debut novel, “The Tea Chest” makes me want to open up the book and delve inside…what’s the book about and how did you come up with the idea?

I am a mad tea woman. I just love tea, teapots, tea rituals, high teas, doilies, silver spoons and teeny tiny cakes. One day, I was wandering through a T2 tea shop (around 2007), inhaling aromas and shaking bowls of tea, and I thought, ‘What an awesome job! Who gets to design all these teas?’ And with that, the character of Kate Fullerton, lead tea designer at The Tea Chest, arrived.

In the book, Kate Fullerton has just inherited fifty per cent of the company from her mentor and must decide what she will risk, both for herself and her young family, in order to take a chance to follow her dreams. Along the way, she’s joined by Elizabeth and Leila, two women at crossroads in their own lives, who join Kate’s venture to help realise The Tea Chest’s success. Set across Brisbane and London, with a backdrop of delectable teas and tastes, lavender fields and vintage clothes, The Tea Chest is a gourmet delight you won’t want to finish.

What are your plans for your next book?

My next book is currently sitting with my publisher and I’m anxiously awaiting her feedback! It is due to be published next year. It’s called The Chocolate Apothecary, and is set across Tasmania and France, is a family drama with a strong, classical romance structure, and continues my fascination with artisan food, lavender fields, sensory delights and chocolate, which wasn’t so good for my waistline and I’m now carrying the kilos of two years of hard research.

Which writers have had the greatest influence on you both as a reader and as a writer?

James Herriot, Monica McInerney, Liane Moriarty, Nick Earls, Kimberley Freeman (Kim Wilkins).

As a reader, what do you expect from a novel that you pick up?

I want to escape to another place, meet new characters that I love, and be taken on a journey. I avoid anything that is stressful, dark, involves violence or misery — I think there’s too much of that around us in real life and I’m not interested in spending my leisure time living it through books. So I want something nurturing and entertaining.

What are your most favourite and least favourite parts of the writing process?

Good question! I truly think I have the best job in the world and I would be doing it (and indeed I did do it for twelve years prior to a publishing deal) even if I wasn’t being paid. So I’m blessed to be excited to ‘go to work’ each day and I feel stressed when life gets in the way and I can’t work. I never feel happier than when I’ve had a great writing day.

There are of course moments of pain, too. I explain it like that moment when you’re running, or swimming or on the exercise bike etc. and you hit that pain barrier where you think, oh man, I’m not enjoying this and I want to stop now. But if you keep going, you reach another level and if you’re really lucky you’ll hit that zone where you’re just flying and scoring goals and nothing can stop you. I used to get that playing netball and it was a magic place. Some people call it a ‘runner’s high’. I now call it a ‘writer’s high’ 🙂 I’ve learned that when I hit that moment of pain in writing, when I really want to stop there, that’s the moment to just wait it out.  And so often (so often!), I’ll get a second wind and some really great words.

So, in summary, that moment of pain where I feel like I’m pathetic and this is hopeless and I’m never going to be able to finish this scene let alone this book… that’s unpleasant. But getting into ‘the zone’… that’s magic!

What did you learn from writing “The Tea Chest”?

Before writing The Tea Chest, I’d written ten manuscripts across a huge range of genres and styles. It took me a long time to really find my voice and know what I wanted to put out into the world. So the biggest thing I learned from The Tea Chest was to write the book I wanted to read.

Do you see social media as key to reaching your readers?

These days, I think you have to embrace social media as a keystone in relationship building and connection with everyone from all walks of life. For me, social media is a double-edged sword. It can be wonderful for that instant communication and feedback, entertainment and promotion and socialising… but it also takes up a LOT of time and, more concerning for me, headspace. I recently discovered ‘Freedom’ a computer program that blocks the internet for you. Whenever I find myself ‘looping’ on social media (you know, you check stuff, post something, move on, but then someone comments and you feel you have to reply, then you have to check if they replied and on and on) I switch on Freedom, go through a few moments of panic that I might actually NEED the internet for the next two-and-a-half hours (!!) and then get over it and write some great words.

Have you had reader feedback about “The Tea Chest”? Are there any responses that you have particularly treasured?

I have had so many lovely readers contact me to tell me how much they love The Tea Chest. And I really treasure each one. I mean, at the end of the day, you write so someone will read it, don’t you? So that kind of validation is really meaningful to me. I do remember one woman wrote to me and said she hadn’t read anything since leaving high school and The Tea Chest was the first book she’d bought since then and I’d turned her back into being a reader. I mean, wow.

Do you find some scenes harder to write than others? Are there any types of scene that you do your utmost to avoid writing?

Yes! I’ve definitely found racy scenes difficult to write in the past, but just in the past two years I think I’ve worked out what my style is and how I should approach them and so they intimidate me less now. A huge re-write happened in The Tea Chest in the first couple of drafts and during the structural edit I took out a lot of racy scenes. They just weren’t me and weren’t working. Liane Moriarty writes brilliant sex scenes, I think, and I’ve learned a lot from her writing.

The other thing I try to avoid are emotionally painful scenes (such as when someone has died). But that’s because I don’t want to feel all that pain. I do get back to them eventually; it just takes me a while to face them.

And finally…Do you have any strange writing habits? (That you’re willing to share of course!)

I don’t think so (other needing my ‘writing pants’ to work in… which are generally pyjama bottoms). But I do seem to need chocolate to edit. I don’t know what that’s about but it just seems to be as necessary as the red pen.

Thank you so much for having me along. I’ve really enjoyed these questions! Jo x

Thank you Josephine for talking about yourself and your book. I’m just over halfway through ‘The Tea Chest’ at the moment and it’s a great read…I don’t like tea but you never know, you may have converted me!

Helen R 🙂

Writing Talk! With the lovely Heidi-Jo Swain

Heidi JoHeidi-Jo Swain is a writer of romantic novels and decidedly darker short stories and is currently a Romantic Novelists Association NWS member. A passionate vintage collector, lover of fresh flowers and an avid reader with an interest in all things Pagan she lives in Norfolk with her husband and two delightful teens.  Here she tells us a little bit more about how writing’s got her just where it wants her…


What inspired you to start writing and when did you start on your writing journey?

 To be honest, I don’t think I ever felt inspired to start writing, rather I’ve always known that I have to write. For me (and probably almost every other writer on the planet) there was never a choice. The desire has always been there even though I’ve only really given in to the siren call during the last few years.

My focused and doggedly determined writing journey began in earnest about four years ago when it finally dawned on me that if I wasn’t careful I was going to live my entire life wondering ‘what if’. So I gave myself a good talking to, screwed my courage to the sticking place and went for it!

Have you completed any creative writing courses or joined any writing groups?

After the stern talking to I enrolled on a local creative writing course and I haven’t looked back since. I attended three in total, sharing flash fiction, short stories and even some poetry before a change in work pattern meant it was time to go it alone and tackle my first novel. I’m also a member of the online community Shortbread Stories and have enjoyed seeing my work read by thousands of people I would otherwise have never been able to reach. 

Where and when do you write?  Do you have any superstitions, like using a certain pen?

I’m a creature of habit when it comes to where I write. We moved house recently and it wasn’t long before I’d installed myself back at the head of the dining table only this time in the sitting room rather than the kitchen. I also write in my car during lunch breaks, although if it gets too hot I hunt around for an empty classroom!

I work part time and have the luxury of two days a week at home so I do my utmost to cram in as many hours at the keyboard as I can on those days and then make longhand notes and edits during work days to refine during the evenings. At weekends the house is generally packed with marauding teens so writing blog posts, endless lists and plotting in my head tends to take precedence over upping the word count.

I’ve recently discovered that the monotony of ironing often offers the solution to a plot problem or helps me develop an idea further as I play out different scenes and scenarios in my head. I’m not quite sure what that says about my writing routine and of course I’m not condoning ironing, simply passing on what works for me!

Please can you tell us about the genre you write in, your first novel and what your aspirations are for it? ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

My novels, unlike my decidedly darker short stories, definitely fall into the genre of romance and chic lit.

I am thrilled with my first novel The Cherry Tree Café and can’t wait to see it published. One way or another it will be launched by spring 2015 at the very latest. I love the main character, flame haired Lizzie Dixon. She has been a real joy to work with even though she did find herself unceremoniously dumped on her birthday!

What made you want to join the NWS and what have you got from it so far?

There were two reasons why I was so keen to join the NWS this year. Firstly, I attended the Festival of Romance in Bedford last year and authors such as Miranda Dickinson, Mandy Baggot, Lorraine Wilson and Carmel Harrington were so supportive and full of encouragement that I felt duty bound not to let them down. Secondly of course was the critique on offer. I’d finished writing The Cherry Tree Café and almost completed a round of editing when my membership was confirmed and I knew the feedback I was going to get would be second to none.

What I hadn’t taken into account was the support and friendship of the wonderful women I’d meet during the year. That has turned out to be an absolute highlight and the start of some relationships that I think will last far beyond the year!

Do you have a work in progress?  If so, can you give away any teasers and, if not, what are your plans for getting started on something else?

My current WIP is my second novel, The Skylark Serenade. Still in the planning stage, the story is set in the sometimes overlooked but nonetheless dramatic landscape of East Anglia and follows the story of Summer, a young woman searching for something, but she isn’t quite sure what…

Do you use social media a lot, including things like Pinterest, and if so, how helpful have you found it in your writing career so far?  Is there any aspect of social media you have found it tricky to get to grips with and could you offer any advice to others starting out?

I do you use social media a lot. A little too much probably! It can eat up the minutes like nothing else, but I do love it. This time last year I didn’t even have a Twitter account and now I have well over a thousand followers, the majority of whom are writers, some published some not, gardeners, allotment holders and a fair few RNA NWS members. I also have a blog, Wattpad account, author page on Facebook and a Pinterest account which is a great source of inspiration.

Writing can be a lonely occupation so an active ‘social media life’ can make all the difference. I’m fortunate that I have a very clued up daughter so anything I have found tricky she has been able to help me through, with much eye rolling and head shaking of course.

What do you think the benefits of using Wattpad are and would you recommend to other aspiring writers?

I have only recently set up my Wattpad account and along with a couple of short stories I’m uploading one chapter of The Cherry Tree Café a week. I’ve received a fair few reads but not many comments however, the associated networking opportunities have been great! So far I’ve featured on the blogs of Jennifer Joyce and Liz Tipping both of whom I discovered on Wattpad. With the summer break in full swing I’m now planning to take a more active role in reading and commenting on other Wattpad users work.

author 3Traditional or indie publishing – which camp would you pick and why?

Tricky question! I’ve spent half my life dreaming of seeing my books on the supermarket shelves with a big name publisher branded down the side but now I’m not so sure.

I’ve read a lot of blog posts and interviews with indie authors recently and I have to admit I am tempted. As far as The Cherry Tree Café is concerned I’m going to try the traditional route but if it doesn’t happen I’ll definitely self-publish, probably in eBook format. It’s a great story and one way or another it will be published. I’ve reached the point in my writing career now where I’m ready for Amazon chart domination and nothing is going to hold me back! *looks dreamily into distance*…

Would you encourage your children to be writers, if they showed an interest

Already happening! My daughter has her own blog and Wattpad account so she’s already on the path! I envy her. If Wattpad had been around when I was her age there’d have been no stopping me!

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog to see us Heidi-Jo and we’ll be sure to look out for you on those Amazon charts, be it by the traditional route or indie!

Find out more about Heidi-Jo and her books at the links below:

 Blog:     http://www.h-writersblog.blogspot.co.uk/

 Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/WriterHeidiJoSwain?ref=hl&ref_type=bookmark

 Wattpad:  http://www.wattpad.com/user/HeidiJoSwain

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeidiJoSwain

 Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/heidijoswain/

Indie Emily directs a writing destiny

Emily5We are delighted to be joined on the blog today by Emily Harvale, a successful indie author and self-confessed chocaholic – definitely a girl after our own hearts! Emily grew up in Hastings, East Sussex, and now shares a home with her adorable cat, Phoebe, who gets in the way of Emily’s writing whenever she can. When she’s not writing, Emily has lots of other hobbies; many of which, like watching a good movie, are enhanced by a glass of wine. She absolutely adores Christmas, something which you might not be surprised to hear when you review her back catalogue.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today, Emily. As you know, a number of the Write Romantics are thinking of going solo. So, we’ll start with the obvious question, what made you decide to self-publish and what do you think the benefits are?

A few things influenced my decision. I have ongoing health issues, requiring a number of operations over the last couple of years, so I didn’t want to contact an agent/publisher and have to tell them I’d be in and out of hospital for the foreseeable future! I received a wonderful report from the RNA’s new writers’ scheme and I wanted to know if other people also thought I was, “a talented writer who would go far”. What better way is there to find out than to ask the general public? I heard about indie publishing via Talli Roland. (I am an indie – for independent – publisher now, thanks to Amazon’s recent change). I’m a businesswoman and, after weighing up the pros and cons and realising there were no cons, I decided that indie publishing was the perfect route for me, so I added the extra chapter as suggested by the RNA reader, and went for it. I believe in jumping in with both feet and life is too short to wait for others to make my dreams, reality.

EmilyThere are so many benefits, in my opinion, that it would take all day to tell you, but the main ones for me are: speed of publication and being able to set my own schedule; choosing my own covers/cover artist; freedom to publish as many books as I want, when I want; not having to write in a specific genre; finding and working with professional editors etc. with whom I have built a good relationship … and money! Substantially more money than if I had waited, or taken another route.

Are there any downsides or things that surprised you about indie publishing?

I was surprised by how simple it is – and how easy it is to make mistakes! Things are constantly changing and it’s important to keep up to date. It’s also important to check one’s own books once they’re live. I recently had a formatting problem that only appeared on certain devices (iPad/Kindle Fire) but on the previewer, it looked perfect on all devices. That was a surprise. Things are not always as they seem. Other than that, I honestly can’t think of any downsides; only upsides. People say indie publishers have to do more marketing but I haven’t found that. I do far, far less than many ‘traditionally published’ authors I know of. I’m a huge fan of indie publishing. HUGE!

Do you buy-in any services to deal with things like proof-reading, formatting and book cover design?

I pay for a professional editor, a cover designer, and now a formatter (I believe in learning from my mistakes). I also pay for a very talented webmaster who has been with me from the beginning and who does lots of clever stuff for me, and not just on my website.

Emily2What approach do you take to marketing, how much of your time does it take up and what is your number one tip for increasing sales?

Er … I do very little marketing. I do some posts on Facebook and Twitter and, of course, send out my newsletter when a new book comes out or when I have my new cover or any other news. When my books achieve a high position in the humour or romantic comedy charts, (A Slippery Slope reached no. 1 in humour and no. 8 in rom com and they’ve all been in the top 5 of humour and top 10 of romantic comedy) I post about that, but that’s it really. I should plan a marketing strategy but it’s something I just haven’t got around to yet. My first book only sold around 500 copies until I did a 2 day free promotion on Amazon in December 2012, resulting in more than 12,000 free downloads. Since then, sales have been exceedingly good and I haven’t had/needed any reduced price promos (my books sell for £1.99; short stories .78p). Amazon did pick one of my books for their Summer Promotion last year, which was a lovely surprise, and I’m sure that helped boost sales even more. I gave away my short stories to my fans for free, as a ‘Thank You’ in December 2013 because I’ve been very lucky and they’ve been wonderfully loyal. I think it’s important to thank one’s fans. I’m fairly certain I could increase sales further if I made some effort at marketing. It’s on my list but it’s not a high priority as doing nothing much seems to be working extremely well – for me – and I’m not sure I’d be any good at marketing anyway! Perhaps less really is more.

Do you or would you ever consider writing in another genre and, if so, would you use a pseudonym?

I’ve written a ghost story (novella) but as it’s a romance too I’ll probably publish it under Emily Harvale. I’ve written a romantic suspense but it needs some work and I’ll decide whether to use a different name for that when I’m finally happy with it. I’m also writing a ‘cosy crime’ but that may turn into a romantic suspense. Yet another plus about indie publishing: I can decide what my books are, aren’t, or may be. I love writing my light-hearted, humorous romances though (yes that’s what I call them) and a lot of people seem to enjoy reading them, so I’m concentrating on those for now.

Would you ever consider representation by an agent or a contract with a traditional publisher?Emily3

When I’ve had my ‘final’ operation this summer, I may think about seeing if I can find an agent, mainly because I’m interested in subsidiary rights. I don’t believe in saying ‘never’ because things changed, but I would only consider a contract with a traditional publisher if the advance and terms were of considerable benefit to me. I’m certainly not seeking a publisher at the moment. My books are selling well and I’m making a really good living on my own by just publishing on Amazon. A large publishing house could increase my readership but I honestly don’t think a small one could. I have friends with smaller publishers and they don’t sell as many books, or receive as much in Royalties, as I do. I don’t see the point in losing money. To be honest, I think I can increase my readership myself, over time. I’ve already had a couple of orders via Waterstones. It may take me longer but I’ll get there.

Do you ever encounter any snobbery from traditionalists about choosing the indie publishing route and, if so, how do you deal with it?

Sometimes, unfortunately, from other writers, but I usually ignore it – or offer to discuss it over a bottle of champagne! Generally I’ve got no time for people who look down their noses at others. Readers couldn’t care less, on the whole, because they just want good stories. The Society of Authors see it as, “a perfectly valid form of publishing,” so that’s good enough for me. Actually, becoming a Full Member of the SoA was one of the highlights of indie publishing. I’d always wanted to be a member of the SoA and I sing their praises from the rooftops. The emails and posts on Facebook and Twitter, I get from readers, never, ever mention it – and as they are the ones buying my books, they’re the ones whose opinions I value. The world is changing; some people may not like it but they’re going to have to accept it or remain in the past. That’s their choice.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process from the initial idea to the release of the novel and roughly how long that process takes you as an indie author?

I’m not a planner so when I have an idea I just sit and write – virtually non-stop. I can write the first ‘fun’ draft (I don’t believe in using the negative term, ‘sh…. first draft’ because writing is fun) in a couple of weeks. I then leave it and work on something else – or tackle the jungle which clearly doesn’t want to be a garden – for a week or so. I then read and rewrite as necessary and as many times as I think it needs it. My short stories are each around 10,000 words and they took just two weeks to write and rewrite. My editor had them for about a week and after the edits were done, I published them. Four weeks from the ideas to publication. My novels (around 75,000+ words) can take anything from three months upwards but if I’m not happy with a book, I won’t let it go until I am. Another bonus of indie publishing: I can set my own schedule and don’t need to ‘rush’ to meet a deadline.

Do you think it’s worth publishing in paperback, as well as digitally and how do the sales compare?

I publish a paperback via Createspace but to be honest, I never check the sales figures. I do get regular monthly payments from them so they are clearly selling some copies. Very few compared to the digital sales though – probably between 1% and 10%.

You’ve written seven novels now, do you find it easy to create new characters and storylines or do you ever worry about unconsciously repeating themes?

The characters just turn up at my desk and tell me their stories. I do worry that they may start to get repetitive and I try to make sure they don’t. I think my readers will tell me if the stories are getting boring but I also think that certain similarities are inevitable. Girl meets boy, girl gets boy – nothing new there. I hope that the path to getting him, and the people involved, are different every time. I did want to massacre everyone at a wedding, once – just to stir things up with a surprise ending – but I decided not to.

Emily4Do you read all of your reviews and, if so, have you had any that you have found it difficult to deal with or that have bowled you over?

I usually read my first few reviews, or if someone has told me via email or on Facebook or Twitter that they’ve left a review, I read that. Most of them have been good but my first one star review filled me with self-doubt. It was followed by some five star ones and that helped. I never read reviews when I buy a book because I trust my own judgement and I always read the ‘Look Inside’ sample, so I realised that it didn’t matter if people didn’t like mine (unless every single person hated it, of course!) and I stopped worrying about reviews. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but that is all it is – an opinion. I hate anchovies, and I’m sure many other people do too, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with anchovies, they’re just not to my taste. It’s the same with books. Some of the reviews I’ve had are wonderful – and all my reviews are genuine, I don’t ask family or friends to post good reviews. That’s futile and a little immoral in my opinion. It’s often the emails, Facebook posts/messages and Twitter comments that really get to me – and yes, some of them have moved me to tears … in a good way. To be told that someone was going through hell but that my books made them feel hopeful and happy is actually mind-blowing! Or that chemo was bearable because of my books! Or that an unhappy divorce didn’t seem so bad now! It makes me feel very proud but oddly, very humble. It also makes me want to write even better books.

If you could go back and give your pre-published self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Stop wasting time; go for it – but use professionals from day one.

What are the best and worst things about writing for a living?

Best: Freedom to do what I want, when I want and to have the money to do it.

Worst: Ditto. If I want to tackle the jungle, or have a long lunch with friends, I can, and do, even when I should be working/writing.

Emily1What are your writing plans and hopes for the future?

That’s the most difficult one to answer because I don’t really plan these days. I suppose I’m planning to put all my books with retailers other than Amazon later this year. I plan to put together some sort of marketing strategy. (Yeah, right!) I plan to continue writing as many books as I can/want to. I hope the future is as good and as bright as the present and that my readership continues to grow. Oh … and I hope I win the jackpot with my premium bonds – but that’s not really writing related; although if I did I’d buy a ski chalet and run writing/skiing retreats, so it sort of is.

Seriously though, I hope more people achieve their dreams by indie publishing and not giving a fig for what some people think.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog. I really enjoyed answering your questions. I know some of you are thinking of indie publishing and I sincerely hope that your experience is as wonderful as mine has been. Indie publishers are a friendly and helpful bunch. I don’t regret it for one second and I’m sure you won’t either. One of my favourite sayings is:

“The future is a blank page. You can write your own, or you can wait until someone writes it for you.”

I prefer to write my own.

Good luck and best wishes to you all.

Emily

It was brilliant to have you on the blog Emily and we hope you’ll come back and see us again soon!

Find out more about Emily and her books at the links below:

Amazon Author Central pages, (.UK and .COM) listing all her books and author bio.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Emily-Harvale/e/B007BKQ1SW

http://www.amazon.com/author/emilyharvale

My website: http://www.emilyharvale.com

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

 

The Saturday Spotlight with Jenny Harper – A Journey of Publishing, Self Publishing & The RNA

As regular followers will know, The Write Romantics all met through being members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme. Within the RNA, there’s an incredible amount of knowledge and experience that members are eager to share so we’re always really excited to secure a guest Saturday Spotlight with a fellow-RNA member to hear all about their writing journey and any words of wisdom.

Today, we’re particularly excited to welcome Jenny Harper. Jenny has been published, self-published and is also a very active member within the RNA. We bombarded her with questions about these three different aspects of being a writer and she’s rewarded our curiosity with a really insightful and interesting overview of all.

On behalf of The Writer Romantics and our followers, thank you so much, Jenny, for joining us today. Over to you ….

Julie

 

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My writing journey

Back in the early eighties, when I was a young mum trying make my way in the world, I was lucky enough to come runner up in the BBC Woman’s Hour/Woman’s Weekly Romantic Novelist of the Year competition.

I thought I’d got it made. I completed the novel – but it was turned down! Turns out I’d broken a whole load of ‘rules’ for romantic fiction I knew nothing about, and despite kind encouragement from the editors, I didn’t have the time or energy to rework it at that stage in my life.

I was, however, offered a number of non-fiction commissions – three books about Scotland (where I live), several books on aspects of Scottish culture, a history of childbirth. I also did manage to get a romantic novel published (under a pseudonym) and a short book for young children was picked up by Hamish Hamilton.

None of it amounted to a living. I made my money from freelance journalism, writing feature articles for daily and weekly newspapers and for magazines such as Country Living and World of Interiors. I set up a company that produced magazines for big organisations in the oil industry, energy, heritage, banking, insurance and the public sector. I was still writing – but I made real money.

Recently, I was able to free up some time to take up creative writing again– and when my story ‘The Eighth Promise’ was accepted for Truly, Madly, Deeply, I decided I had to get a couple of novels out there. Why waste a great promotional opportunity? I took a deep breath, got my head down, and got to grips with uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space. I’ve also found myself trying to learn the inexact science of ebook marketing.

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There are pros and cons of indie publishing. On the plus side, you are completely in charge. You can commission your own cover designs (I love mine, which get loads of praise!). You can price your book as you wish and put it on special offer every so often. You can follow its progress in minute detail – almost hour to hour. On the negative side, you’re on your own. You’re not in a catalogue, you have no expert help on tap. And getting your work visible can eat precious writing time. Do I regret doing it? Absolutely not! It’s fun, rewarding, and I’m making loads of friends on both sides of the Atlantic. Plus, I love learning how to do new things.

Is it for everybody? I can’t answer that one, but I do think that the digital revolution is transforming the lives of both writers and readers. It’s an infant market, and is going to keep on changing and growing, so if you honestly believe your work is good enough, I would certainly encourage you to get it out there.

Would I still like a publishing deal? Yes I would. My writing is getting more accomplished and confident all the time, I’m a grafter, I have loads of ideas, and I believe that any publisher would do well out of me – and the experience I have garnered on my journey. (That’s a pitch, if there are any publishers reading this!). 

 

The RNA and me

RNA stalwart Anita Burgh introduced me to the Association some years ago and I’ve been a member ever since. Soon after I joined I spotted an advert in the RNA newsletter appealing for someone to take over. I’d done well out of magazines and felt it was time to give something back, so I offered my services as designer and production manager, joined forces with Myra Kersner (who was in charge of content), revamped the magazine into the full-colour production we get today, and eventually stood for the Committee.

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The RNA was fast approaching its fiftieth anniversary. The wonderful Katie Fforde took up the Chair and we were plunged headlong into a couple of years of whirlwind activity. There were plans for all kinds of celebrations, Jenny Haddon and Diane Pearson wrote a history of the Association, Fabulous at Fifty, which I designed and – quite by accident – I found myself in charge of a complete rebranding exercise. The ‘new look’ RNA, the RONA logos, the pop up banners, stationery and the website, were all part of this exercise. Oh – and I commissioned the beautiful glass bowl engraved by glass artist Julia Linstead that is now the Romantic Novelist of the Year Award.

(One day, I might even win it myself! Sigh…)

The RNA is a non profit-making organisation. It depends on volunteers to keep it going. Under the current constitution, you can’t be on the Committee unless you’re a full member – but there are still plenty of opportunities for helping out on one-off initiatives, at Conference or events, admin tasks, handling tickets and so on. And if you’re not published, it’s much easier to approach an agent or editor and introduce yourself as ‘the RNA member who handles ….’ than just as a wannabe! So if you have a skill, or even just lots of enthusiasm, I would urge you to get in touch with the Chair or any Committee member to offer some of your time. It can be a lot of work, but you’ll make many friends and have a load of fun too.

Many thanks to The Write Romantics for hosting me.

 

You’re very welcome, Jenny. You can order Jenny’s books through the following links and find out more about her via her website, Twitter and Facebook:

Loving Susie

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/1pfOeR2

Amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/1gtESsk

 

Face the Wind and Fly

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/1hGByxC

Amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/1gueVZu

 

Please Like me on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/authorjennyharper

 

Follow me on Twitter

https://twitter.com/harper_jenny

 

Visit my website at

http://www.jennyharperauthor.co.uk/

 

Saturday Spotlight Guest Slot – Writing a Novella by Liz Harris

Happy Easter! The Write Romantics hope you’re having a lovely, relaxing long bank holiday weekend and, if you’re working, we hope you do have some time off.

We’re delighted to welcome Liz Harris as our guest on today’s Saturday Spotlight. Liz is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association through which all The Write Romantics met virtually. 2012 was her big year when she saw publication of both her first novel and a novella and she’s joined us today to specifically talk about novellas.

As someone who tends to write a lot of words, I’m toying with a novella myself as I feel it will be good learning to really focus and limit my word-count. One of my fellow Write Romantics is currently writing her first novella and a few others have shown interest so we’re all extremely interested in Liz’s tips.

“So what exactly is a novella?” I hear you ask. Well, I’ll leave that question in Liz’s capable hands….

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With A Western Heart, set in Wyoming 1880, my second novella for Choc Lit Lite, soon to be published, I thought I’d say something about the differences between writing a novella and writing a full length novel.

Getting to grips with novellas is well worth doing as they’re increasingly a big thing in the digital world. The more material out, the better, is the mantra today – and ‘the better’ means more money. Novellas lend themselves to fast writing and to books that form part of a series, and that leads to healthy sales.

Not surprisingly therefore, both self-published and traditionally published authors are now slipping novellas out between their full length novels, or may even be focusing solely on the novella market.

At 50,000 words, my first novella, The Art of Deception, was at the top of the word count for a novella, which ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 words (50 to 100 printed pages). But 50,000 words is the same length as some Mills & Boon novels, so it didn’t feel like a novella to me.

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Because of that, when I decided to write A Western Heart, and was going to aim for around 30,000 words, I thought I’d begin by checking out the differences between writing a novella and a full length novel.

I did this in a very pleasant way – I read as many novellas as I had time for in the genre in which I was writing – in the case of A Western Heart, it was the historical genre. At the end of my reading, I’d found that:

  1. The tone of a novella was lighter, and it should be fast-paced. The period detail should be authentic, but there shouldn’t be too much of it. The same is true of descriptive details, be they for character or setting. There should be enough specific detail to make it believable and create a sense of place, but not slow the story. The reader of novellas wants a page-turning, speedy read.
  2. There should be a single plot, although it can have – and probably will have – complications. A 30,000 novella is too short for sub-plots. Generally, a single story line keeps aids clarity and pace. Having said that, if you’re aiming for 40- 50,000 words, you may feel that your novella would benefit from a sub-plot; if so, it should be easily resolved. It might even have been the cause of the main conflict. It should never be there, however, merely to help the word count.
  3. Point of view. Only show one POV unless there’s a really good reason for having more than one. Too many POVs could bring confusion to a short novel.
  4. Have a few clearly and succinctly defined central characters, and a few supporting characters, but not too many of either. You will need to know the same sorts of things about your characters as for a full-length novel, such as their background, character traits and secrets, but there will be fewer characters and they will appear early on in the novella – there is less time to spend on introducing, developing and building up each character. Your minor characters should add interest and move the plot forward, but they shouldn’t detract from putting across your story line.
  5. Dialogue, as with a full-length novel, should define the character(s) and forward the story. It shouldn’t meander, unless that’s part of the plot.
  6. As with a full length story, you’ll need a conflict, but not too complicated a conflict for there to be a satisfactory resolution. You’re working within a limited word count.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing A Western Heart, and will definitely write more novellas in the future. Good luck to everyone who decides to give novellas a go!

Finally, many thanks, Write Romantics, for giving me a chance to talk to you.

 

Thank you, Liz, for joining us. You can find out more about Liz on her blog at: http://www.lizharrisauthor.com/

You can access Liz’s material on Amazon through the following link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Liz-Harris/e/B009V1G8UA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1397897588&sr=1-2-ent

 

Enjoy the rest of the Easter weekend everyone!

Julie

 

Fenella Miller is our Saturday spotlight. Self publishing made easy.

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Today on our Saturday Spotlight we introduce Fenella J Miller who achieved her dream of being traditionally published and has now self- published over thirty of her books (not counting the box sets) on Amazon with huge success.If we could ask you some questions on your decision to self-publish and any pitfalls you’ve encountered, or any highs you’d like to share with us, that would be brilliant.

One question everyone wants to ask is, how difficult is it to prepare your own book for Amazon and which services would you recommend paying for, rather than struggling to complete yourself?

Getting a book ready for publication, whether for Amazon or anywhere else, is the same process. However, if you’re self publishing you need to employ professionals to do the jobs that would be done for you if you were with a traditional publisher. I would always recommend getting a professional cover, and proof read – if you’re a beginner then also pay for an editor. It’s helpful to have a group of friends (beta readers) who can read your manuscript first and point out plot holes et cetera.

Do you set a budget and include it in your marketing plan?

Marketing plan? Good heavens that sounds very efficient. I’m sure if I was just starting out and intending to go the indie route I would no doubt have a marketing plan and budget. However, I spend what I need to, in order to produce the best book I can. I would never spend more than I expect to earn in a few months – so wouldn’t go with Silverwood, for instance.

How do you market your books and is there any specific approach that appears to work better than others? (Such a giveaways, Twitter, paying for promo etc.)

I don’t think that social media makes any difference. Having an online presence is essential of course, author pages/websites/Twitter/Facebook – all these help to get your name out there but I don’t think are useful as a marketing tool. I have paid for blog tours but had no extra sales at all. I think that Amazon free book promotion is no longer as useful as it was, but their new book promotion (they put your book price up in increments over a period of a week and it is never at zero cost) seems to be working really well.

Do you find you sell many books through your website and do you feel it’s imperative for an aspiring writer to have their own website?

I get about 2000 hits a month from my website but have never sold a book through it as far as I know. I’ve no idea if aspiring writers should have a website, but certainly most publishers refuse to take on a new writer unless they have a media presence.

What aspect of self-publishing takes up most of your time?

 I spend far too long faffing about on Facebook – which I suppose could be considered an aspect of self-publishing. Writing my book takes up the most time and this would be the same whether self published or traditionally published.

What gives you the most satisfaction; self-achievement, financial gain or having total control over every aspect of putting your book ‘out there’?

All the above – I would never go back to traditional publishing as I like to be in control of my own deadlines/covers/promotions/publicity. I’m making more now than I made as a full-time, top of the scale teacher and that is only because of self publishing.

Do you have any regrets regarding any aspect of self-publishing your novels or have you done anything different from the early days?

I was in too much of a rush to put up my books initially and skipped the professional proof read and professional cover. When I changed my covers to professional ones, my sales increased by 50%.

Do you just publish your books on Amazon or are there other platforms you would recommend trying? (Such as iBook’s)

I have my three mainstream historicals with Smashwords but have sold so few books I don’t think it’s worthwhile keeping there as I can’t use the Kindle promotions unless I am exclusively with Amazon. Smashwords put books up on all the platforms for you.

How would a self-published writer go about getting a ‘Tree-book” version of their novel printed up? Does Amazon cater for that or would you have to go to a vanity publisher?

Amazon has an excellent service for paperbacks – Create Space. However I employ someone to format my book as I spent days trying to get it to fit their template with no success. Never use a vanity publisher.

Silverwood is a publisher but you pay for the services that you would normally get for nothing – £1200 will buy you editing/proofreading/marketing/cover and I would recommend this if you can afford it as they produce excellent books and get them into bookshops and Barnes & Noble.

And lastly do you have any words of wisdom for someone looking to self-publish so that they get it right the first time?

My advice would be to write a least three books and have them ready for publication before you consider self-publishing. It’s very hard to make an impact in the 3 1/2 million books available on Kindle if you only have one title. There’s a thriller writer who wrote a book a month for three years and is now a multi-millionaire.

Thank you, Fenella for taking the time to be with us today.

Check out the gorgeous covers and Fenella’s wonderful novels: here.

We’re grateful to Fenella for sharing her experiences with us. The views expressed in the interview are hers. The Write Romantics do not recommend Silverwood or any other publishing service.

Monday Interviews – Kerry Fisher

The Write Romantics will be starting a weekly Monday interview with a series of writers from those still at the ‘new writer’ phase, to recent graduates into the world of publishing (both traditional and self-published) and alumni of the New Writer’s Scheme now firmly established as readers’ favourites.

Our very first interviewee, Kerry Fisher, is a member of the New Writers Scheme who has self-published her first novel, The Class Ceiling, and has recently been signed by a literary agent to represent her second novel.  Kerry is a journalist and women’s fiction writer, living in the South East of England with her husband, two children and the family’s naughty black dog.

Hi Kerry, welcome to the Write Romantics Blog and thanks so much for taking the time to be our very first interviewee!

 Kerry Fisher

 

We know that, like us, you are a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you have been a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

Hello there. Thank you so much for having me. I have been a member of the NWS on and off for about six years – forgot to renew on the first available day one year and the places were snaffled up immediately! I write women’s commercial fiction. My aim is to create honest, funny stories about ordinary women. I try not to shy away from emotions that most of us don’t want to admit exist – envy of other people’s wealth, being jealous of your best friend, disliking your child. Pre-novel writing days, I was a journalist and part of my job was to review books. The more I read, the more I felt inspired to have a go myself, though I was utterly deluded about how easy it would be. Fellow RNA member, Sophie King, told me about the NWS and it’s been invaluable.

We know that we are in danger of sounding a bit like reality show contestants, but we Write Romantics see the road to publication, by whatever route, as a journey.  Please can you tell us a bit about your journey so far and what is next for you?

If I go right back to the beginning, my journey involved about a decade of procrastination thinking about writing a novel, a few more years talking about writing it, plus a good chunk of time being defensive about not having achieved it. Then finally, to a collective hurrah from all who know me, a year to write the first book, followed by a hideously long time mumbling, ‘No, not published yet’ into my wine glass.

In a nutshell, I took lots of online courses with the University of California – they have a great writers’ programme – before I produced anything that wouldn’t have had agents dispatching me to their ‘spam’ folders. My first novel won’t ever see the light of day owing to the general style of ‘And then she cleaned her teeth and then she walked to the door and then she did many other things in a very boring manner, even if she did live in Italy’ – but I self-published my second, The Class Ceiling, just before Christmas. I think my husband mentioning Einstein’s theory that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ finally clinched it.

Immediately after that, I got an agent for my third novel, (awaiting awesome, flying-off-the-shelves title). The two weren’t related, which, in my mind, just goes to prove that if you give the universe a shove, it sometimes shifts in your favour.

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Congratulations on being signed by an agent!  That really is the holy-grail for us aspiring writers and seems to be even more difficult that getting a publisher.  Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing an agent?

I feel embarrassed about giving advice to anyone as I blundered about so much myself but one thing I would say – and I find this very hard – is network as much as you can. Apart from the obvious benefits that you never know who you might bump into, getting to know agents and authors takes away ‘the fear’. The first time I had to do a formal pitch to an agent at a writing festival I shook, gabbled, fell apart and that was before he’d told me that no one was interested in reading about class and why on earth was I still banging on about something that everyone lost interest in last century?

If you do meet lots of authors and agents – at the RNA parties, writing festivals, workshops, even on Twitter – then when you are put on that hideous ‘What are you writing?’ spot, you might still sweat and stutter, but at least it’ll be a rehearsed stutter that might have enough coherence to elicit a ‘send me the first three chapters’. I met my agent at the RNA winter party last year and did just that.

On my goodness, that first agent you pitched too sounds scary and exactly why networking is as hard as it is, but we do know we’ve got to try…  What’s next for you now that you have an agent, Kerry?  

I’ve got everything crossed that my agent manages to sell the latest novel but one of the knock-on effects of self-publishing is that you simply have to get yourself out there and market, so I envisage a huge learning curve in marketing, social media know-how and squirming in the corner when anyone tells me that they are actually reading the damn thing.

What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your long-term career? 

As I sit down to plot my next novel, I am genuinely astonished that I’ve ever managed to write a book. My immediate dream is of not sitting here like a constipated cow, paralysed by the thought that if I do get traditionally published, I’ll be writing to a deadline when all those ‘Have you finished your book yet?’ comments will suddenly take on a new meaning.

Along with ten million other writers, my long-term dream is that The Class Ceiling is made it to a film. It’s about a cleaner who receives an inheritance to pay for a private education for her children and the shocking school gate snobbery she faces. All the time I was writing it, I was imagining Penelope Cruz (my Basque cleaner) and Gerard Butler (the cleaner’s love interest) in my head.

We love that!  After all, J K Rowling based many of her characters from Harry Potter on the people she wanted to play them if it ever got made into a film, or so we’ve read.  What has been the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

I’m going to choose two benefits of joining the NWS. The first one was that the manuscript feedback helped so much. I had a fantastic reader for The Class Ceiling – I received such an encouraging, detailed report that it made me believe that I could – with a lot of hard graft – get published. Secondly, I’ve met so many generous-spirited people through the RNA who have all done their bit to help me on my way – Adrienne Dines, Allie Spencer, Claire Dyer, Giselle Green

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

Let’s call this section ‘Things I wish I’d known before faffing about for twenty years…’

  • Learn how to write. Take classes, go to workshops, attend writing festivals, read books on writing, read novels.
  • Get a manuscript review and be prepared to ‘hear’ your feedback. Don’t assume that anyone who reads your masterpiece and doesn’t shout ‘Brilliant! Why haven’t you found an agent?’ is an utter donkey. Throw yourself on the sofa, shout on the hills but go back to the critique and see if there are some valid points.
  • Stop hiding behind pillars at networking events. You don’t have to rush up to agents with a book pitch (in fact, don’t do that…) but you can tell them that you enjoyed a book by someone they represent.
  • Be generous with your contacts and praise. Put people in touch with other people. Authors with helpful agents you’ve met, agents with people who run writing festivals, book reviewers with great writers, let Twitter know about brilliant blogs, novels, authors. I can’t say specifically that it’s led anywhere but I do believe that good writing karma goes around.

Thank you so much for having me. Click here to read some sample pages of The Class Ceiling, or here to join me on my blog, which is a mix of writing news and embarrassing my husband and children family observations. If you have any more questions, please hop over to my Facebook page or find me on Twitter. Best of writing luck to you.

Thank you Kerry, what an inspirational interview.  We do hope you will come back and see us again soon and give us an update when your agent has sold your current WIP for a ludicrously high bid!