October and November 2020 contains two big anniversaries for me.
Five years ago, on 26th October 2015, my first psychological thriller, Bedsit Three, was published in paperback and e-book format.
The book was the result of my 2013 NaNoWriMo project (after a substantial amount of re-writing and editing!) and went on to win a competition.
Michael Barton, one of the competition organisers, said, “This novel is well-constructed and well-written. But it’s also far more than that. It’s a book that elicits emotional reaction, drawing the reader into the story and placing him or her in the middle of the action page after page. Be prepared for a sleepless night, because you won’t want to put it down until you get to the end.”
The Kindle version of Bedsit Three is currently only 99p!
At the beginning of November this blog will be ten years old! And I’m in good company, fellow bloggers about the writing life, Helen Yendall and Carol Bevitt celebrated the same milestone in October. There’s lots more of you who’ve been blogging a long time too. Possibly some of you longer than ten years? Please drop your blog link and longevity in the comments – even if you’re a relative newbie. We all deserve a pat on the back.
My first, tentative post was about self-discipline for writers.
I am attempting NaNoWriMo again this November and so I may be gone some time. But don’t go away! In the middle of November I will have an interesting guest post about writing the short story synopsis – something several women’s magazines now ask for.
I’ve had a day of writing events.
First up was a writers’ networking meeting organised by Writing West Midlands:
The chief executive, Jonathan Davidson, explained how the selection process for the writer development program Room 204 works – each year there are around 150 people for 15 places, but a worthwhile scheme for ’emerging writers’ if you can make the grade.
The Arts Council England is now open again for applications for Developing Your Creative Practice – grants from £2000 to £10000 are available, but be quick because they close on 5th November.
And a reminder about the free courses offered by Futurelearn and be edX.
Then it was off to Bristol Literature Festival and Build Your Social Media Presence with Tom Mason. He told us that social media posts that include images get 150% more engagement than those without. He recommended using Lumen5 to create mini promotional videos to use with social media and Canva for graphics.
Next up in Bristol was a panel discussion between Phoebe Morgan, editorial director at Harper Collins, literary agent Kate Hordern and book blogger, Anne Cater. Phoebe explained the importance of the hook – it is the selling point to an agent, on to a publisher and then on to supermarkets and book shops. It’s also essential that the book fits a recognised genre, otherwise even the best written book is likely to fall by the wayside. Kate Hodern echoed the importance of hook and genre and mentioned the usefulness of being able to draw comparisons between your book and others already out there. She added that younger agents are often more hungry to take on new writers than older, more established agents who already have a large stable of writers. Anne Cater gave an explanation about the blog tours that she runs for both mainstream publishers and indie authors. She and Phoebe both agreed that, hot on the heel’s of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, cosy crime is likely to be the next big thing. There was a general consensus that psychological thrillers are still hugely popular but to be successful, they need to be better than the books being published five years ago and need to offer the reader something different to what has gone before.
Please take the above nuggets and use them as you see fit!
Finally, a couple of months ago I recommended Readly for accessing a multitude of magazines digitally. I now have a link offering you a two month trial subscription if you fancy trying it out: Readly 2 Month Trial. The link is valid until 31/10/2020.
It feels like everything has been cancelled or indefinitely postponed this year.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Many of the literary festivals, writing workshops and bookish events have been re-engineered to take place online, either via Zoom or some other remote conferencing facility. This means that events which were previously too distant geographically to attend are now within reach. Plus, many are also being made available for free!
There’s an interesting article in the November 2020 issue of the US writing magazine The Writer by Melissa Hart giving tips for how to make the most of these remote events. If you can access the magazine (I use Readly) it’s worth a read. If you can’t, here are the salient points for conference participants:
- Put yourself on mute if you’ve got children/pets/background noise.
- When taking a break from the conference action, turn your camera off as well as muting (you don’t want others to see you wandering around in a smart top and pyjama bottoms).
- Have a tidy, neutral background.
- If the time of day allows it, use natural light otherwise try a white bulb about a foot in front of the screen (not behind you or you’ll appear like a silhouette).
- Put the laptop on a pile of books so the camera is slightly above eye level.
The original article also contains useful information for conference staff and instructors.
To get you started in the online writing world: Arvon are running a number of courses and readings ,My Virtual Literary Fest is connecting readers with authors (and there is a free e-book to download every month for members) and Harper Collins at Home is hosting a number of author events.
For some people another advantage of online events is that it can be less daunting to speak and give your opinion from behind a screen rather than in front of an audience. But if you’d like to start readying yourself for a return to ‘normal’ and the opportunity to speak in front of a group, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners has lots of tips for addressing in audience in many different scenarios. It is available on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback.
I want to give a shout out to the very generous Ellie Pilcher. She is running a series of free Zoom workshops entitled #MarketYourMarketing. The workshops are principally aimed at those taking their first steps in a career in book marketing. However, anyone can signup and it’s useful for an author to be aware of what goes on behind the scenes when a book is published or to apply some of Ellie’s advice to the marketing strategy for a self-published book.
So, in order to broaden my own horizons, I signed up to Ellie’s first two workshops: How to Write a Marketing Plan and How to Utilise Social Media to Promote a Book, the latter will also feature Claire Fenby from One More Chapter.
How to Write a Marketing Plan took place last week and is now available to watch on YouTube. There were over a hundred people in the meeting (all muted!) to watch Ellie’s presentation. The main purpose was to show how to create a book marketing plan during the interview process for a job in publishing. However, as an author, I found it interesting and picked up on the following points:
- The importance of pinpointing the audience for the book, for example: gender, age, beach read, Christmas gift etc. This enables the marketing to be correctly targeted.
- Publishers generally allocate large marketing budgets to writers who are already big names and often there is no budget at all for some books. No budget means creative thinking is needed plus more input from the author.
- It’s important to get a buzz going pre-publication around the cover reveal and the launch of pre-orders. At this point assets for social media are effective (gifs etc.) along with trying out different straplines for the book and using fun photos.
- Post-publication the emphasis shifts slightly to sharing reviews and a blog tour plus more social media.
- A person has to see a book mentioned three times before they might be tempted to buy. So it’s important to keep putting the cover image out there.
How to Utilise Social Media to Promote a Book takes place on Tuesday 15th September at 18:00. This is followed on Tuesday 29th September by How to Ace a Publishing Job Interview. Both of these are free and can be booked via Eventbrite.
During lockdown social media has been full of pictures of banana bread, sourdough starters (whatever they are!) and other delicious things produced by the nation’s bakers. In between the chocolate beetroot cake and lemonade scones, I’ve been trying some of the free food that nature has to offer:
Nuts from the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
When we moved into our house 24 years ago there was a small monkey puzzle tree in the garden. Nearly a quarter of a century later, there is a HUGE monkey puzzle tree in the garden and, for the first time ever, it has produced nuts. A quick internet search confirmed that these nuts are edible if boiled for ten minutes. They taste a little like chestnuts and are very moreish …
Like most people I used to cook the green bushy broccoli top and discard the stalks. However, if you slice the stalks very thinly, they can be successfully stir-fried or roasted in the oven and there are even recipes specifically for broccoli stalks.
Obviously, blackberries aren’t a completely new food for me but I’ve never really taken advantage of the easily available abundance of this fruit until this year. Last week we picked A LOT of blackberries and now have stewed blackberries in the freezer and ten jars of blackberry jam in the cupboard. The pips are a disadvantage compared to strawberries and other jamming fruit but spread over toast they don’t cause too much of a problem.
What has all this got to do with writing?
Not a great deal, but it does nicely lead up to me telling you that the food and drink website pellicle.com is accepting paid pitches for its blog.
Tip: My wine-related pitch was turned down because they are stocked up on wine articles for the next six months – so you might want to peruse the website and come up with a different topic.
Freelance writers must study their target publication before starting work on a short story or article.
It’s essential to find out the following as an absolute minimum:
- Are freelance contributions accepted? Look at the bylines, list of contributors etc.
- What’s the word count for the slot in the magazine you are aiming at?
- What’s the tone/style/age range of the publication?
- What topics have been covered recently? Potential writers will have to come up with something different.
- What’s the name and email address of the feature editor? This will allow an idea to be pitched in advance before writing up the whole article.
It’s difficult to discover the above without reading several copies of a magazine. If you’re aiming to write for several different publications, buying all the magazines can become very expensive.
I’ve just discovered the joy of Readly. For a monthly subscription of £7.99 Readly gives access to a wide range of magazines plus a couple of newspapers as well. You can read as many publications as you want across up to 5 devices including laptop, tablet and phone. Perfect for a writer to study the wide magazine market.
The Readly website currently offers a one month free trial but it’s sometimes possible to get a longer trial elsewhere. I found a two month trial via Money Saving Expert but unfortunately that’s finished.
However, electronic reading doesn’t beat curling up with a proper, paper copy of your favourite magazine. Use Readly for market research but please continue to buy your favourite magazines on the high street – otherwise there’ll be no markets left for us to write for!
Entries can be fact or fiction and there are categories for prose and poetry. However, the subject matter must have a connection with some aspect of mountaineering, rock climbing, walking or ski mountaineering / ski-touring.
In both categories the prizes are: 1st £200: 2nd £100; 3rd £50.
Prose entries should be a maximum of 2,000 words and poems a maximum of 200 words long.
Closing date is 31st August 2020.
As always, please read all the terms and conditions before entering.
The Canal and River Trust is asking for 300 words of your experiences of being by water.
The Trust says: You could recall a peaceful stroll, reminisce about spotting wildlife on a boating holiday or spin a yarn about a fishing trip with an unexpected twist. The subject matter is endless – the only condition is that the piece must be inspired by a visit to river or canal cared for by the Trust.
The judge is poet and author Ian McMillan. The winning entries will be published on the Canal & River Trust website and the winners will receive personally signed copies of Stephen Fry’s books – The Ode, Paperweight and Mythos.
Closing date is 31st August 2020 and don’t forget to read the terms and conditions.
Although lockdown is gradually easing, there are still lots of things we can’t do. Groups meeting together indoors is one of them. This has led to the rise and rise of Zoom, video conferencing software that most of us had never heard of at the beginning of March but now use regularly. I take part in Speakers’ Club and Shared Reading on Zoom. We have family catch-ups and quizzes and there’s been guided alcohol tasting too!
On Saturday I tried something new – an all-day Writers’ Retreat on Zoom.
It was organised by Sophy Dale of Fully Booked and ran from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. There were around twenty of us online and Sophy stopped any chaotic, cross conversation by keeping us all on mute. Instead of speaking we typed in the chat box a few sentences about what we intended working on. This included novels, short stories, blog posts, a translation and a guided meditation, among other things. For those who didn’t have a project in mind, Sophy provided writing prompts and also offered guidance to anyone who was struggling or had questions.
Introductions and explanations over, Sophy set a timer for 45 minutes, we all minimised the Zoom window and started writing.
It’s amazing how a defined time limit and the knowledge that others are beavering away too helps creativity! I focused on the chapter I was writing and the words came quickly.
After 45 minutes we were all called back together to add more comments to the chat window and then take a five minute comfort break before the next writing sprint. At lunchtime Sophy gave us an hour away from the screen and encouraged us to get some fresh air (I mowed the lawn, which went some way to cancelling out the ‘guilt’ I felt for spending a whole day on writing).
Through the course of the day we had five writing sprints. I switched from churning out words to reviewing the structure of the story and ironing out parts of the plot that didn’t work.
At the end of the afternoon there was time for comments on the day and everyone deemed it thoroughly beneficial. Sophy is planning on doing it all again sometime later in the year.
It struck me that a retreat like this would be easily organised by a group of writing friends – but it would require someone to have the paid-for version of Zoom. I fear the continuity of the retreat would be lost if participants had to keep logging into a new meeting every 40 minutes!
Have you got a rare and valuable first edition sitting on your bookshelf? Would you like one?
I recently came across an article on LoveMoney.com detailing the phenomenal sums achieved by the first editions of some books. Remember, when these books were first bought, the purchaser was often taking a gamble on an unknown author, simply hoping to find a good read and having no thought to what the book might be worth in the future.
Here are some examples to check for on your shelves:
A first edition of Bridget Jones’ Diary can fetch up to £303 or £500 if signed.
A signed US first edition of The Talented Mr Ripley can be worth up to £7,678.
First editions of either Animal Farm or 1984 by George Orwell can sell for £10,000.
A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was saved from a skip by a teacher helping to clear out a school library. It sold for £33,000.
The Abe Books website has a useful article about identifying first editions. It’s not straightforward because different publishers use different identification methods. As a starting point, the publisher may state the words ‘first edition’ or ‘first printing’ on the copyright page. Alternatively, look at the number line – that’s a line of numbers on the copyright page. If a one is present then it’s usually a first edition. Sometimes booksellers are able to identify a first edition by a printing error that was later rectified.
It’s not too late to start your collection of first editions or gift one to somebody else. I have some copies of psychological thriller, The Promise available for only £6.99, including second class postage within the UK. These books can be signed, personalised with a special message or left pristine. An excellent present for yourself or someone you can’t get to see at the moment. For more details or to order, please email email@example.com.
Disclaimer: There is no guarantee that your copy of The Promise will rise in value, just as there is no guarantee that your lottery ticket will win the jackpot.
What Amazon reviewers say about The Promise:
“… there is something about the way that Sally Jenkins writes that draws me in and keeps me wanting to read more.” – Whiskas’ Mum.
“I was particularly surprised to find out much sympathy I felt for Tina, she is a very well written character.” – Theda.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures! How far would you go to protect yourself!!” – dash fan