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Diary of a Mad Writer: Weeks 4 and 5: MELTING MOMENTS

Wow. What a fortnight I’ve had here in Mad Writer Land…

First, you can subscribe to my newsletter and receive an exclusive novella BUTTERFLY absolutely free. I signed up to a Mailchimp account, free for your first 2000 subscribers, and discovered how to use the Insert Link and Add Media features. I used Diana Marinova’s ‘How to Use Mailchimp to Auto-Send a Free Ebook to Your New Newsletter Subscribers‘, and Jonathan Blundell’s ‘Adding a PDF to WordPress,’ to accomplish this, then I added a Subscribe to my Newsletter page both on my blog and on my Author Website: heidicbooks. I spent the past two weeks busily writing BUTTERFLY, a 25,000 word PDF version of a DI Jesse Rider case from before the time he met Hunter Cade, the main protagonist in AFFLICTION and THE OBSIDIAN. Writing 5,000 words a day when you have three kids who love to argue and it’s the summer holidays, has made me realise that cloning might not be such a touchy topic.

Second, and certainly one of the highlights of my fortnight, I was author-interviewed for the wonderful Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews. You can read my interview here, and check out her other author interviews and book reviews. Thank you again, Lisa.

On top of all that I decided to change the covers of my first two published novels, venture into the audiobook market (and managed to net myself a fantastic narrator), and received a positive response from an agent who loved Hunter as a character and would like to consider my standalone romantic thriller DON’T FORGET ME. So I’m having to put poor Hunter up on the shelf for the next few months to get the new book to a submittable standard.

Phew! When I began Diary of a Mad Writer I thought I was going to struggle to find things to write about. I suppose it’s a good example of how accountability can help you to achieve more. Because I needed things to say – I set out to do more, so I would have more to say. I know this article has seemed a bit me-ey, and I apologise, it isn’t how I like to roll, but I hope it demonstrates the way that even the most introverted  writer with next to no budget for their author-entrepreneur business, can make a good go of things. If I can do it, so can you. I got close to having a few melting moments this fortnight, but the positive more than outweighed the negative.

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Diary of a Mad Writer: Weeks 2 and 3: IT PAYS TO TAKE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

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nimue

Working like a dog… never understood that. My dog doesn’t do much more than sleep or mooch about the house, although here she is checking out my sales stats. She isn’t impressed.

In an attempt to satisfy my grumpy border collie, I’ve had a busy two weeks. (She has been for a very long walk which has made her a little less grumpy, for the moment at least). As you can see above her picture, you can now subscribe to my newsletter. I’m busy writing a free book I can give away to new subscribers, a DI Jesse Rider novella. More work on top of an already busy schedule, but I’m not a mad writer for nothing. The more works-in-progress I have piling up, the happier I am.  I’m certainly not suffering from writer’s block which made me ponder whether writer’s block actually exists, or is it an easy excuse for (please don’t get mad) lazy writers?

Years ago I went through a phase when I considered myself to be an arid desert when it came to ideas. Nothing was growing. It was sand as far as you could see. Each oasis turned out to be a mirage and there were very few of those. In desperation I signed up to a writing course with The Writers Bureau. I didn’t actually complete the course, (I’m now an English graduate, always wanted to say that), but what I learned during my short time taking part gave my muse a kick up the arse. When I looked out at that rolling expanse of golden sand, I saw a small sapling. That sapling was my first Hunter Cade novel which has now grown into a mature tree and triggered new trees to grow. What I’m trying to say is, I thought I had writer’s block. I may well have had writer’s block, but by learning ways to force inspiration, I have never suffered with it since.

This is where the title for this post comes into it. It pays to take affirmative action. If you aren’t getting any ideas, find a way to make the ideas come to you: pick up a book in a genre you might not normally read; watch a great box set (you can’t go wrong with Hannibal); grab a sheet of paper and get started on a mind map or a cluster map, start with a single idea (and I sometimes use a novel I’ve enjoyed and feel inspired by, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for example) and begin branching off topics until you have a premise you can work with. Take affirmative action. The floodgates will open and you may just find yourself inundated with book ideas.

That cluster map with Gone Girl in the center of it gave me three standalone romantic thrillers to work on, one of them I am actively writing as part of my Diary work. I have gone so far as to buy the 3 covers, very inexpensively. I use The Book Cover Designer (http://thebookcoverdesigner.com), especially bettibup33, and I have also used Melody Simmons pre-made covers (http://ebookindiecovers.com).

As well as hitting word count targets, I have been taking part in the Self-publishing Success Summit hosted by Chandler Bolt (http://selfpublishingsuccesssummit.com). With presentations from experts such as Joanna Penn and Daniel Decker, (http://www.thecreativepenn.com and http://www.danieldecker.net respectively), it has been a bottomless well of information. Okay, it does have a bottom, but I’m trying not to think about that because I’ve been having so much fun, knowing it’s going to come to an end is too much for me to cope with. I bought a book right before I signed up to the Summit from author Nick Stephenson (http://nickstephensonbooks.com). Supercharge your Kindle Sales:(http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supercharge-Your-Kindle-Sales-Strategies-ebook/dp/B00MMQN0VG) and was overwhelmed by the response I got by implementing just one of his strategy ideas. I was extremely excited to learn he was also going to be a guest speaker.

Finally, I  contacted a few blogs in the hopes I could take part in an author interview.  I was blown away to receive a response from Lisa Haselton (http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.co.uk). This is my first author interview, it should be up in August or maybe September. You should check out her existing author interviews because they’re great. I always find it fascinating to get inside the head of writers, to find out what makes them tick and what they’re working on now. Thank you Lisa for giving me this opportunity.

So you see, having a can-do attitude, and actually implementing it by getting out there and not being afraid to be rejected, has positive results. This has been a good two weeks for me, and I hope for you too. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to  so leave a comment or email me. Or, if you really really want to, subscribe to my newsletter 🙂

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Diary of a Mad Writer: Week 1: FIRST DRAFT NERVES

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I want to share my favourite writing related quote. If you’re a writer, particularly a fiction author, you’ve probably already heard it. It’s from Stephen King: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,’ (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/156272-amateurs-sit-and-wait-for-inspiration-the-rest-of-us). He also said: ‘Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones,‘ (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/stephen_king.html). I agree with Stephen King on both points. Inspiration is a fickle master (or mistress), one who comes and goes as he (or she) pleases and doesn’t always give up the goods. When I was writing my debut novel AFFLICTION, I would quite often sit down at the computer at 9 a.m, after the school run, and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. Two full length novels and a novella later, I’m still doing the same thing. I’m sat here now, writing this blog post (firstly, because I really, really want to, I’m a writer after all. But secondly) because I don’t have a clue where to start. I’m at chapter five. I’ve managed to hit my daily word count target. I have more than a general sense of the story, and where it is headed. But as for how I’m going to open chapter five, or what’s going into it, I’m as lost as a blind rat on a ship she can’t remember getting on to. I have to force myself to get inspired, and I do that in a number of ways. Music is one. I have a playlist, a sort of soundtrack for whatever book I’m working on at a given time, and when I’m working on a first draft I often listen to several songs over and over again. I’m not particularly into music; songs I like generally spark an image or a feeling in me I can use to get the ball rolling. Presently, I’m listening to Milky Chance, Stolen Dance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX-QaNzd-0Y), and Vance Joy, Riptide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ_1HMAGb4k) My list ALWAYS includes U2’s With or Without You (my all time favourite tune) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmSdTa9kaiQ, and Hoobastank’s Inside of You (which is a rare ten out of ten too) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcSZ7deAHbw . When I want to get away from the computer I’ll walk my dog Nimue, a double-merle border collie who’s partially sighted and very active. I more than often leave the house with no idea what’s going to happen to my characters next, only to arrive back home with a clear plan of the following chapter at least. Walking and listening to music are my two top ways to force inspiration to cough up, with ironing and washing up close behind. So, yes, we do plonk our butts down and work whether inspired or not, but we also have our ways of whipping Inspiration into shape. I’d love to hear about other ways to get the ideas flowing. King’s second quote, about all books having lessons to teach us, particularly the bad ones, applies to the books we are writing, (not only the ones we are reading). It isn’t for me to say which category my novels fall into, certainly I’m never going to be one hundred percent happy with anything I write, but certainly, my first drafts are always rubbish. I used to scrap… a lot. Now I don’t. Those awful manuscripts, they can teach me a great deal, like how to commit to a story, how to fill up holes in plot points you could drive a bus through, how to sharpen my vocabulary and swap weak words for strong ones. Inevitably, I am always happier with my subsequent drafts and all because I stuck with it. Talking about books that can teach you a thing or two, this week  I invested in a non-fiction book: Supercharge Your Kindle Sales, by Nick Stephenson (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supercharge-Your-Kindle-Sales-Strategies-ebook/dp/B00MMQN0VG). I have next to no budget either for marketing, or book covers etc, but this was money well spent (and it was inexpensive, less than a cup of coffee from Costa). I have implemented ONE of the points  – Keyword Strategy – and have already seen my sales increase. Finally, I subscribe to Joanna Penn’s (The Creative Penn, http://www.thecreativepenn.com) newsletter and learned about the Self-Publishing Success Summit, July 12th – 23rd. I’ve checked out the schedule and there are some great talks lined up. I’ve got my ticket, it’s free as long as you listen live or within 72 hours. http://selfpublishingsuccesssummit.com. Happy writing

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THE OBSIDIAN… and why I cried when I let this book go

Hunter Cade Mystery: Book 2

Hunter Cade Mystery: Book 2

After nine months of excruciatingly hard work, the new novel has finally passed out of my hands, and is making it in the big wide world all by itself. I find releasing a book a moment that comes with mixed emotions. Elation, excitement, anticipation, anxiety and most of all sadness. I’ve reached the end of a long, emotional journey with friends I bonded with along the way. The relationship a reader forms with the characters they read about, or a writer forms with those they create, is every bit as real as the relationships we forge whilst dealing with living, breathing people.

Rachel Nuwer’s article: The Psychology of Character Bonding: Why We Feel a Real Connection to Actors (http://www.thecredits.org/2013/07/the-psychology-of-character-bonding-why-we-feel-a-real-connection-to-actors) explains the phenomenon of bonding with fictional characters brilliantly, it’s well worth a read, and had me going Ah, yes. Now I understand. Basically, readers, and writers, invest a great deal of emotion (and time) in reading a novel (or watching a film) in the same way we invest emotional energy and time in cultivating friendships. Empathy and Sympathy – emotions we experience daily in our real lives – Nuwer tells us, are key to the way we respond to fictional characters.

Howard Sklar, from the University of Helsinki, (http://blogs.helsinki.fi/hes-eng/volumes/volume-5/believable-fictions-on-the-nature-of-emotional-responses-to-fictional-characters-howard-sklar/) attempted to show that despite there being differences in how readers respond to real-life people versus how they respond to fictional characters, the psychology of both shares important similarities. I use reader and writer interchangeably, although the experience may very well be more intense for the creator of a work. As a voracious reader too, I know certain characters, Will Trent created by Karin Slaughter for example, resonate with me beyond any of the books I’ve read with them in, but my own characters – Hunter, Jesse, Toby K – they’re like my children (and I have several real ones so I know what I’m talking about). I am responsible for them and their journeys and when a leg of their journey comes to a close, it’s like a chapter in my own life has ended and of course that sense of loss, of grieving for something I have lost, affects me when I scan the last few words for typos or bad spelling, and flip the last page over onto the pile. It rushes out of me, that sense that THIS IS OVER.

When I sit down to start a book, I have already spent several months – if not years – with the characters I am going to write about bobbing around inside my head. I have laughed with them, cried with them, worked out how to make their lives harder, before trying to make it better. They have grown into fully fledged beings in their own rights and, although I know they aren’t real, for all intents and purposes, to me, they are. When I reached the end of The Obsidian, just as I had done when I reached the end of the first novel Affliction, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss, as if a good friend – or friends – had passed on. Even the bad guys I grieve for, it is common in my household for someone to laugh about how I can’t let my bad guys go. People say writing is a lonely endeavor – and for the most part, it is – but in some ways it isn’t. I’ve made lots of friends and I can’t wait to experience the next leg of their journey with them – and hopefully, with you.

If you’d like to meet Hunter Cade and Jesse Rider, check out AFFLICTION from Amazon, and the latest Hunter Cade Mystery THE OBSIDIAN, is also out now. http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=heidi+cieciura

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THE REWRITE

 

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You’ve finished your rough draft. It might be 20,000 words, it might be 50,000 words, it might have taken you four weeks, might have taken you months, it makes you want to lament the loss of your lifelong dream to become a writer because it’s awful. So far away from the sparkly, polished prose of your favourite authors; a primitive ancestor who shouldn’t see the light of day. No fear. Don’t bin it, don’t stuff it in a dusty drawer, almost every author who has ever existed has at some time been in the same situation. The difference: they rewrite.

‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten,’ said Micheal Crichton. Louis Sacher says he did not become a good writer until he learned how to rewrite (both these inspirational quotes about rewriting plus more can be found here: http://www.brainyquote.com). Be prepared to work, be prepared to bare your soul, be prepared to be baptised by fire. Be prepared for the rewrite. This is where you build your house, only to knock it down, just to rebuild it again. Sounds crazy? It is. And it isn’t.

I find that after completing the rough draft, I  have connected with my book. I expect to have the foundation of the story, a skeleton which now needs to be fleshed out. Think of the rewrite as putting the internal organs in place, the lungs, the liver, the heart particularly; the aim is to identify the heartbeat of your book, the rhythm of the narrative, the arcs and peaks of the developing plot lines: beginning, middle and end find their places in the sequence of things. At this stage I don’t worry too much about grammar and punctuation, vocabulary and technique, I try to get it right as much as I can during every draft, but it isn’t my main concern when I’m rewriting; more important to know what I want to say and find the best way to say it.

The rewrite is about fleshing out what has already been written, changing and improving along the way. I always begin by asking myself: What can I do to make the book better? I write a list, it will be different for each project because each book needs different things, but the basics are the same: conflict, jeopardy, character development, extra research, what needs to be removed, what needs to be changed and/or developed…Then I go through the list making the necessary adjustments. The purpose of this stage is to have a solid story foundation – is the pace right? Is the narrative engaging? Would I be better starting with Chapter 3 rather than Chapter 1? Should I cut out a particular character altogether because they aren’t bringing anything to the table? What is it I really want to say (or more likely, what is it my hero/bad guy really wants to say?). It’s a matter of sensing what needs to be strengthened, removed, altered, and having the motivation, determination and commitment to address the issues.

Check out this article by Matt Salesses for some great advice: http://necessaryfiction.com/writerinres/AMonthofRevision and remember, it may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, writing, rewriting, etc. But the more drafts you work on, the better your story will become. I know my writing will never be perfect, but it is something I am happy to put my name too, and that is surely the best outcome.

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THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS: Know Your Target Market

By guest writer Atlanta Jackson

The market you enter is a constantly evolving and changing place

The market you enter is a constantly evolving and changing place

To write a great book one must be able to write well, but the highest quality writing in the world is still susceptible to business failure. For all the writing talent in the world, selling books is a business and a certain business skill is needed. Marketing, distribution and publicity all need to be considered. This series of articles entitled ‘the Business of Books’ will explore the ways in which independent authors are entrepreneurs, shifting stock and making profits (hopefully).

What one might call their readership is in fact their target market group: every author has a particular demographic in mind when writing or marketing their books. Understanding your TMG is vital to succeeding in any business. It will influence every aspect of your novel. In fact, it should influence every aspect. It’s very easy to disregard the business side of things. ‘Good writing always rises above the rest.’ It can be true, but to minimise the risk of failure (the main goal of any start-up business), an author can’t rely on their writing alone.

Marketing and establishing a brand is a subtle art. It is important to be specific but not to exclude potential customers from your TMG: rather like walking a tightrope. As with many things, a good balance is important to success. Unfortunately a ‘perfect’ balance doesn’t exist. There is no ready-made formula or checklist to decide on your TMG. Instead, one must consider their main demographic: who do you imagine reading your books? Age, gender, race, religion, even income and socio-economic status makes up a demographic. It sounds a lot like discrimination, and in a way it sort of is. But all these factors must be considered to decide on a target market, which will in turn form the basis of all business-related decisions in the future.

Cover design, genre, advertising, even your choice of vocabulary are influenced by your TMG. The readers of a gritty crime novel are more likely to appreciate concise vocabulary, whereas a voyeur of the classics will value a more descriptive lexis. The market you enter is a constantly evolving and changing place. Reader wants and needs change and the supply and demand of certain products will vary. The wants of your readership are ignored at your peril. After all, the readers are the ones paying and they will only pay for a product they consider quality for the price. Get it right and you will make some loyal customers. These are the ones who buy the next novel in your series, or check for your next books.

Over time, consumer habits change – much like fashion. Nowadays one wouldn’t dream of wearing a shell suit for a quick cup of coffee in Costa. But in the 90’s it was the trend! Almost every reader appreciates a fashionable novel. A new product can enter the market in one of the following two ways: it can be product-orientated, or market-orientated. A product-orientated product enters the market a bit like Bruce Willis: full of swagger, you either take him or leave him. These products sometimes enter the market with no market research done; the entrepreneurs pin their chances of success on the quality of the item. A market-orientated product is well-studied and sensible – the entrepreneur has extensively researched the market and consumer needs and has created a product that the consumers will want. One certainly seems more likely to succeed than the other. You could see product-orientation as rash or even naïve. However, what if I told you that Apple was product-orientated? Yes, the now-billionaire entrepreneurs behind the pioneering Apple sent their brand into the market and simply willed it to sell. One can see the importance of a high-quality and innovative product. But, as usual, you can’t simply decide to product or market orientate your novel. It is hugely important to write what you want to write, but it is also important to incorporate what your potential consumers want. Another example of why knowing your TMG inside and out pays dividends.

Not only does an entrepreneur need to understand their customers… they need to know their competitors too! Armed with a cup of coffee and a computer the author must transform into a modern day Sherlock Holmes, shamelessly Googling their competitor’s websites until their eyes slam shut. From this, one can glean all sorts of marketing information, including how much their product can sell for. A market full of other competitors is saturated. Much like the slightly-overweight referee of a Sunday-league football game on a waterlogged pitch, an entrepreneur can’t get anywhere in a saturated market. With so many already established competitors, how can one small author jostle for market share? It’s almost impossible. It is important to find firm ground where one can eventually compete with market leaders. Right now, I don’t fancy myself getting famous with another Twilight spin-off when a few teen-paranormal-romance novels are commanding total market share. It’s just another way in which the humble author must struggle for the survival of their precious book-baby.

So, we’ve scratched the surface of the entrepreneurial iceberg. It’s true: authors have published their hobby-novel one night and woken up bestsellers, but it’s mostly pure luck. To minimise risk and maximise one’s potential for success, a writer has to unleash their inner entrepreneur: considering their consumers, competitors and market. After all, being a writer is not just sitting at a computer and bashing out words.

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