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

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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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Filed under Book Promotion, Diary of a Mad Writer, Motivation, Novel Inspiration, The Business of Books, The Writing Process, Writing and family life

Mmm… Chocolate Brownies

Yummy, Scrummy, Gooey and Chocolatey

Yummy, Scrummy, Gooey and Chocolatey

Having my birthday in the same week as World Book Day and being named after a pretty famous novel really makes me feel like books are in my blood. Lots for me to celebrate this week so a cake is in order. Books AND cake, Mmm…thought I’d share my favourite chocolate brownie recipe. It’s gooey, indulgent, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love them. They’re good for lunchboxes and keeping you going during mammoth writing sessions.

Ingredients:

400g butter

700g dark chocolate (doesn’t have to be 70+% cocoa content, I use inexpensive dark choc from Aldi, 89p for 200g)

6 eggs

500g dark brown sugar

100g self raising flour

32cm x 22cm brownie tin, lined with greaseproof paper

 

Heat oven to 190 degrees centigrade/Gas mark 5.

Fill a large saucepan with water and put on hob to heat. Break chocolate into a metal bowl, add the butter and melt over the water which should be on a low heat.

Whisk the eggs in a different bowl until pale and fluffy (but not stiff). Add the sugar and whisk until mixture thickens. Gently fold in the melted butter and choc mix, then sieve in the flour. Fold until mixture is smooth.

Pour brownie mix into tin and bake for about 25 minutes. You want to take it out the oven when a crust has formed over the top. The secret is not to overcook it.

Tip out and cool. They might still be wobbly, that’s good, that’s what you want. I refrigerate. They’re even better the next day.

You can half the ingredients, but quite frankly, why would you want too?

Add vanilla, mini marshmallows, chocolate chips or anything else that takes your fancy

 

 

 

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Filed under Recipes, Writing and family life

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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Filed under Art of Writing, The Writing Process

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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Filed under Book Promotion, The Business of Books