Getting back in the writerly zone

Well, here we are again, a little over a year since I last blogged. Every now and then in the last several months, I contemplated taking my blog down altogether. Various things stopped me – inertia, other preoccupations and, occasionally, somebody from across the world stumbling across an old post and making comment.  So more than a year after my last post, those words are still… live.

Long-time readers may remember, I published Singled Out in February 2015 and began writing Novel Number Two five months later. It was a faltering and ultimately false start. Life intervened over the next three years or so. Work kept me busier than I’d anticipated, then my mother fell terminally ill and needed all the care I could give. What came next, the clearing-out of her lifetime of paperwork, passions and possessions, was time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. By then I needed life to give me a boost. It chose to deliver a disruptive payload of gallstones instead, and surgery and hospital stays effectively wrote off the next few months.

But since then, things have picked up quite a bit, it’s fair to say. Life is good and positive again, in many ways.  One outcome of this is that I’m at last making time to get back into this funny business of… writing stories.

I write all the time. A self-employed marketer and copywriter for 20 years, I know I’m privileged to be one of lucky ones who is paid for their words. Those commercial writings, these days mostly for corporate blogs, event promotions and websites, have kept me in paper and ink and I’m not in the least ungrateful. But as I’m in a position to scale back a bit on the jobbing copywriting now, I want to reconnect with the joy of fiction and get started (again… again… again…) on Novel Number Two.

As a result of that faltering early start, I have seven short chapters, about 7,000 words. But they’re in not-bad shape – for a first draft. I have a whole, entire story outline too – and now I’ve read it through, I realise… I still like it. The theme is very in vogue and the story has legs.

So I’m going back in and alongside this endeavour, I’m turning this blog around and setting it back on its original track as A Writer’s Notepad.

My original writerly posts have been knocking around for upwards of six or seven years and they’re buried at the bottom of a deep blogging black hole. I reckon there’s life in a few of those old dogs, so I’ll be updating and reposting the odd one as well as penning a few fresh words too, on the second-time-around experience. I venture most of those early posts weren’t seen by more than a handful of people anyway.

Will it be any different this time, I wonder?

After that, we’ll just see how it goes.

Life Laundry

Julie Lawford Aug 18I’ve been having a bit of a sort-out and a clear-out lately; physical, emotional, psychological – and digital too. It’s come about through a combination of reasons. Dealing with the clear-out of my mother’s life, possessions and paperwork over the last 18 months has shown me, quite brutally, that just like her, I’ve been holding on to much more stuff (of every kind) than I should be.  It’s made me question what I’ve been keeping, and why, and look afresh at everything, challenging it to show me its value or its beauty.  Gallbladder problems over the last several months have made me feel, well… vulnerable… in a way I haven’t felt for a very long time. With this (hopefully) behind me, the need to reassert control over my life and environment has been compelling.  And for the first time in several years, some old stress symptoms were making a most unwelcome return.  Last time they’d proved difficult to shift and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again – ignoring the early warning signs, failing to deal with the stressors.

Time to think

Over the summer I had a lot of time to think, as I spent a few weeks doing little else whilst my insides settled down and my physical scars mended. This pause for reflection  helped me decide to use the remaining months of 2018 to consolidate, reassess and, personally speaking, regroup.

So as soon as I felt my energy levels pick up again, I got on to it.

Out with the old

I’ve been ruthless with the stuff that needed to go. I’ve been back and forth to my local tip with general and recyclable waste, garage, attic and cupboard clearance. I’ve been shredding… and shredding… and shredding more.  Old financial paperwork and old client work formed the bulk, but my philosophy has always been ‘if in doubt, don’t bin it, shred it’.  My local council very kindly told me it was ok to break the rules just this once  and put six bags of shredding out for the recycle collection in one go. My alternative was living with the six bags blocking my kitchen door, whilst I carefully filtered it out a little each week for, oh, I don’t know how many weeks, but certainly until long after Christmas. I’ve been clearing out my wardrobe and bagged-up stock of old clothes too, so local charity shops and Ebay have benefitted. Horror of horrors, I’ve even been thinning out my bookshelves.

I’ve dusted top shelves, reorganised cupboards, glued and sewed loose bits of stuff, consolidated a giant bag of travel-size toiletries and sprayed some noxious pink treatment all over my lichen-stained patio and decking. (I’m not at all convinced it will deliver the results the marketing blurb promises, but time will tell.)

Emotionally and psychologically speaking, I’ve been tackling issues which have lingered in my life for longer than they should have done. In one instance this involved a difficult conversation, but once the talk was talked, the weight that lifted was palpable. Another, a resignation from a thankless voluntary position I’ve been holding because nobody else wanted to do it. After too many years, I’ve decided it’s someone else’s turn, and that’s that. I’m giving plenty of notice, but I’m not intending to make succession planning my problem.

Other changes are taking place, enthralling and unexpected. In recent months one or two friendships have reappeared, repaired or strengthened in ways I could never have anticipated, whilst I’m consciously letting other less enriching connections fall away.

To the administratively mundane… There was the bundle of more onerous desk-based jobs which have clung to my task list for far too long. You know the kind of jobs I mean; the ones which you stare at on your list every day, knowing they’re on there because they need to be done; but you can’t face actually doing them because they’re too complex, or boring, or tricky, so you move on to do something easier instead. Three down, two more to go, and already I feel so  much more in control.

Digitally speaking, I’ve been busy on the keyboard too. I’ve reorganised my data files, culled my contacts list, sliced away at my slew of email folders, sent thousands of pointless photographs to the trash-can and checked my back-ups are working. Phew!

Somehow, I’ve made the time to have major electrical works done at my house too, the list of little things that needed doing having finally grown so large that it involved three precious weeks of my electrician’s time.  Next stop – finding a painter for the top-to-toe domestic redecorating project – and I’m on it!

To blog, or not to blog

One last thing though, and it concerns you, my lovely readers. I’ve made a decision about my blog. You won’t have seen that much from me lately – and that’s because I’ve let myself off the hook, freeing myself from the self-imposed burden of posting regularly.

The decision I’ve now made, is to stop blogging altogether.

I opened this blog to build an audience for my writing. Initially I wrote about the experience of writing, then of trying to get an agent, then of self-publishing. When I ran out of steam on that front, I began blogging about weight-loss and healthy lifestyle, and lately my blog has ranged all over the place – no core topic, no strong stand, no clear message… and perhaps (though I may be being very self-critical here) not much point at all. So I’ve decided, for now at least, to call it a day.

I didn’t want to disappear without a trace, leaving those who care wondering whether something ghastly has happened to me.  So this post will stay up for a while, perhaps a month, before I take down the whole blog and leave a holding page. Not sure if I’ll be back or not, but I think, probably, not.

I love writing, you see. But I don’t make enough time for it. And when you have a blog, and you find yourself with a couple of hours to write, the obvious thing to do is to write something for the blog. Net result – no actual writing of actual fiction, no developing of Novel Number Two, happens. And that’s another thing that I want to change in this great Life Laundry period.

The process of clearing out the old, makes room for the new. And that’s what I’m hoping – intending – will happen. That in reasserting control, clearing down some of the clutter of my life, I can make time for the things I want to do more of. One of those is to focus more consistently on my health and fitness, and another is to write fiction, properly, again.

So – and I hope you will forgive me – this is me, signing off. For now, or for good, I’m not sure. But I really, really am so very grateful to those people who have actually read (and hopefully enjoyed) my posts over the months and years. Thank you for reading, for making yourself known, for commenting, for interacting – it really has been a pleasure.

Adieu.

What, No Photo? #BloggersBash 2016

Bloggers Bash 16Call yourself a blogger, Jools?  

I’m a rubbish blogger.  A properly rubbish blogger.

I mean, what was I thinking of, going to the 2016 Bloggers Bash yesterday in London, and not even once, not one single time, getting out my phone and snapping a photo or two of the assembled gathering. Other bloggers – the proper bloggers, the real ones, the ones with their readership’s interests and thirst for information on this unique event in the blogging calendar at heart – other bloggers managed it, but not me. What in the world was I thinking of, showing up to a Bloggers Bash and not taking any photos?

Face it, Jools, you’re not a real blogger at all, are you? You’re a fraud.

In my defence, I’m a fraud with just two hands. And on a sticky day, moisture clinging to the warm air, those hands of mine were preoccupied in the critical task of keeping my core temperature under control.

Ha! I bet you thought you were over all that menopausal flushy business, didn’t you?  

I thought, with dropping almost 60 pounds in the last 9 months, that rushes of steaming hot blood to the head would be history. Not so much, so it seems.  So… one hand gripping my life-saving pound-shop battery-operated fan, and the other hand clutching a glass filled to the brim with crushed ice and a drop or two of neat… water… and that was it. No spare hand for that phone.  And being an oldie, I haven’t quite grasped the techniques required to both hold a phone and take a picture simultaneously with one hand only – I’d have needed both hands anyway. And abandoning both cool-aids at once, I simply could not do.

Until, that is, I was pointed in the direction of Geoff Le Pard’s spectacular sugar-free Banana and Almond cakes.

Yes, cake.  Sugar free.

Oh my goodness, they were tasty! Having gone added-sugar-free several months ago, my taste-buds have acclimatised to less ‘sweet’ in everything, but to taste a snack that has every characteristic of a real, actual… cake… but has absolutely no sugar, is, quite frankly, a moment of bliss.  I confess, I dropped the fan in my bag, abandoned my crushed ice, and fell upon said delicacies.  [With Geoff’s permission, I will shortly – as soon as he provides it – reproduce the recipe here for all interested parties.  Trust me, it’s a good one.]

Calm down, Jools, enough with the cake. What about the bloggy part of all this, Jools. What about the actual Bash itself?

You know what, it was great. It was an absolute joy to take a small corner of the blogosphere and make it ‘real life’.  A room full of people who normally communicate from behind their PC screens, but managed to get on trains, boats and even planes, to show up in London for the day, turned out to be a room full of friendships waiting to happen. Yes, bloggers do actually talk, and listen, and laugh, and share face-to-face like real people. We do!

There was the joy of putting new faces to names and URL’s, and the pleasure of reconnecting with bloggers who’d come to the inaugural event last year [ahem…]. There was recognition (Awards!) for some really great bloggers, and a provocative presentation from Luca Sartoni (Growthketeer at Automattic/Wordpress). There was access to alcohol, food, cake, chocolate and for some reason I didn’t fully appreciate, a mountain of Maltesers (one of my favourite impossible-to-stop-munching sweet-treats until I gave up on chocolate). There was above all a joyous sense, simultaneously, of diversity and commonality – all sorts of bloggers, from all sorts of backgrounds, blogging all sorts of stuff, united for the afternoon in their enthusiasm for the strange world of blogging about whatever pops into your head.

So… just in case you’re a blogger thinking you missed something good (you did), and just in case you’re thinking you might attend next year (10th June, get it in your diary), here are my top take-aways from the 2016 Bloggers Bash:

  • The simple, delightful pleasure of a sociable afternoon with blogging at its heart
  • Lovely, lovely people – new friendships, hopefully not just in the Facebook kind of way
  • Pointers to great blogs I haven’t come across before
  • A recipe (don’t let me down, Geoff) for a truly delicious sugar-free naughty
  • A valuable lesson on what’s really important about blogging (see below…)

Am I a little bit jealous of those bloggers with tens of thousands of followers? Every now and again, yes, I am. But am I blogging for any goal which is met through acquiring followers in vast volume.  Actually no, I’m not. At the moment (until I get back into writing my second novel at least) the purpose of my blog is to make myself accountable for my newly adopted healthy, weight-lossy lifestyle. If in the course of that, I can spread some inspiration, positivity and general feelgood, that makes me very happy indeed.  But none of that has a great deal to do with numbers.

So that last take-away from this year’s fabulous Bloggers Bash comes courtesy of Luca Sartoni – and it lets me off the hook, big time: If your goals for blogging do not depend on acquisition of a huge readership, stop chasing volume. It’s okay not to get hung up on the numbers.  It’s ok to just have fun blogging. 

And it’s definitely okay to have fun at the Bloggers Bash.  It’s even, possibly, I venture to suggest, just about okay… to not take pictures.

Five Things to do with Today’s Extra Hour

2015-10-25 15.54.40

The clocks went back last night in the UK, treating us to an extra hour. But what to do? What to do with it? Here are a few ideas – not including having a lie-in – based on what this procrastinating writer has been getting up to today.

  1. Go for an early walk round the park, kick through the damp leaves and smell the morning dew. (I’m feeling virtuous, can’t you tell?). Say ‘hello’ to everyone you pass and draw no confidence-sapping conclusions from the fact that the only person to totally ignore you is the 30-something, tight-t-shirted hottie, preoccupied by his smartphone.
  2. Read a big chunk of book (radical for a writer, eh?). Finish one book, begin another. Chain-reading, with but the briefest interval to top up the coffee pot.
  3. Catch up with last night’s #Strictly and waste no energy feeling guilty that at the age of, oh, 50-mumble, the one you’ve got your eye on is the ex-boy-band member.
  4. Write a really, really serious blog post about a seriously personal subject and then realise you can’t possibly post it. Gah!
  5. Cook-up a big, blippy pot of autumn yumminess with mince and mushrooms and tomatoes and sweetcorn and a garlic-laden, gloopy gravy (countdown to consumption – 30 mins).

So what did you do with your extra hour?

First Annual #BloggersBash – This Introvert Gets a ‘Reality’ Check

underground-534617_1280What do you get when you put two dozen introverts round a table in Pizza Express in the heart of London?  A surprisingly good time, that’s what.

I’m a rebellious introvert. You know the sort; we like to believe we’re more… um… extrovert… than we are. We’re proud of being self-contained and comfortable in our own company, but we don’t like people thinking that this makes us antisocial. So it was that when the First Annual #BloggersBash was announced a few weeks ago, I signed up enthusiastically. I wanted to be part of it, and I especially looked forward to meeting up with one or two bloggers with whom I’ve struck up a friendship over the months.

But whilst I look forward to events like this – parties, socials, gatherings of one kind or another (and I properly looked forward to this one too), when the day comes, I always inexplicably find myself wondering why I ever signed up in the first place. ‘Just get up, get washed and dressed and Get On That Train,’ my inner extrovert (is there such a thing?) ordered me. ‘Whatever resistance you’re feeling now, you know you’re going to enjoy it once you get there.’  It’s true, I DO enjoy things like this once I get there. It’s just that when it comes to the day, it always seems easier not to go.  It’s not a confidence thing; it’s not a shyness thing either. I’m not a shy person and I can hold my own in company, business or social. I do find it tiring, but not in a bad way, just in an introvert’s way.

So I got myself up, washed, dressed and off to the station. My mood lifted as a through-train arrived within a couple of minutes and it remained blissfully un-crowded for the whole journey. Decanted from the Tube at Kings Cross, I should have gone straight to the British Library. Instead, my protesting introvert reasserted itself, so I stopped to fortify its poor disconcerted soul with a Costa Coffee, Arabica, two shots. Twenty minutes later, I was ready.

And guess what? It was a super day. From the moment I wandered into the plaza at the British Library (the giant man on the loo/statue of Sir Isaac Newton) is a great landmark) and was eyeballed by BlondeWriteMore Lucy, to a last cheery hug from Suffolk Scribblings Dylan, I enjoyed every amiable, sociable moment.  The lemon drizzle cake (thanks TanGental Geoffle and sorry I’m not big on rhubarb!), the photos (looking forward to seeing how those turned out), the courtesy with which our big group was treated at Pizza Express, the Awards (well done the winners!), the conversations, positivity and friendship, and the general, warm conviviality of the whole thing.

It was fun meeting fellow bloggers ‘in the real world’ – ones I already knew and ones I didn’t – and getting to know other blogs will be an enjoyable follow-through. Sacha and her co-opted team did a terrific job of logistics and it all ran like clockwork. An afternoon filled with conversation, laughter and waves of cheering and whooping too. Amazing, when you consider most of us are unreconstructed introverts, happy to engage from the other side of our respective screens and devices but generally subdued in company.

My afternoon had an unexpected ‘extra slice’ too, with an on-spec call from a friend who lives in Manchester, who was in London with a spare afternoon and hopeful of meeting up. Turns out he was but 5 minutes down the road from our #BloggersBash, which was by then winding up. Cue a stroll up the Caledonian Road and a top-up of caffeine and conversation in a quirky café piled high with books and magazines and boasting old cinema seats for chairs and packing crates in place of tables.  Shabby chic, or just plain shabby – I’m not sure, but it was perfectly pleasant.

All in all and exceptionally enjoyable day, and all the more surprising that it all took place in Central London which, as regular readers of this blog will know, is not my favourite place to be.

To all who came, it was a great pleasure to meet you and celebrate some top writerly bloggers. Blonde Lucy… thanks for the lovely boost you gave me about my guest post. And Dylan… It was a real joy and privilege to meet you in person at last. And I can’t wait to get stuck into that next Beta read!

Information Overwhelm and the Death of… Silence

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, news, Tweets, blogs, emails and updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

I read somewhere that the amount of information a person living in the Middle Ages had to digest in their whole lifetime, was about the same as is contained in one average modern daily newspaper. How anyone can deduce this, I’m not at all sure, but even if it is wildly inaccurate (and when are statistics ever wholly dependable?) it makes an interesting point.

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. It comes at us from every facet of life; TV, radio and the Internet, through flat screens, desktops and mobile devices. There’s a 24-hour news cycle; there are newspapers, headlines, highlights and sound bites; there are websites, data streams and news feeds, blogs, podcasts and emails; there’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and dozens of other social media channels.

That’s just the news and views – the keepy-uppy of contemporary culture. Add into the mix the battle to win our loyalty and sell, sell, sell, through advertising hoardings, posters and pop-ups, the ever increasing flood of promotional messages, ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and location-based offers, the ‘if you liked that, you’ll love this’ links, streams, trends and updates; all the time, the implied obligation to stay abreast of technology, celebrity, fashion, lifestyle and more… much, much more.

megaphone-150254_1280There’s so much noise; there are so many entities clamouring for our attention. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, more news, more Tweets, blogs, emails and miscellaneous updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

Here’s what:

 

Quiet time…  Thinking time…  Silence…

 

 

[Humour me now.  Pause here… Stop reading for a moment. Close your eyes. Take a few silent breaths before you continue…]

 

My coffeeDo you remember those precious moments when all you would do was sit back and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee; no TV or radio blabbering in the background; not trying to keep up with your emails, or your Twitter lists, or your WordPress reader; not collating information from other people’s blogs or scouring the Internet for wise words or quirky pictures to ‘share’; not scratching your forehead for something to ‘update’ your Facebook friends about; not squeezing in a quick post because you haven’t done one for three days and you’re so afraid that people will forget you exist, de-friend or unfollow you – for the heinous crime of… inactivity.

But here’s the thing…

We’re all of us culpable. We’re victims of the tsunami of informational white noise and the clutter of surplus data and opinion. But we are perpetrators too. We who blog and Tweet and upload our thoughts, pictures or videos; we who comment and  debate on forums, upload articles to LinkedIn; we who scour the Internet for stuff to reblog, repost and re-Tweet. All of us – we’re part of the problem.

We’re all afraid that if we don’t participate, producing content, opinion (I’m aware of the irony here) and feedback, that we will be insignificant and unheard. Invisible. So we shout ever louder, trying to make our voices rise above the white noise. Only, everyone else is shouting louder too.

And writers have an even more acute need to be heard above the noise…

We write with the sole purpose of getting our words out there. We create a story – a novel, perhaps – and we naturally want to share it with people. We want to be read. And – joy of joys – the advance of technology has provided us with the most perfect platform. Words are our tools of choice, and the Internet is the home of words.

So we’re all out there now, struggling to be heard. We jump up and down with our hands high, shouting ‘notice me… please notice me’. We strive to be the most resourceful, the most humorous, the most contentious, the most candid, the most unique. We try just to have something, anything, to say, even when we have no idea what to write. And when that happens, we post about the fact that we have no idea what to write. (Yes, you’ve done it, I’ve done it…), and in posting about nothing, we steal two minutes of everyone’s precious time for no legitimate benefit.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

So we shout louder. We blog more often, we share more frequently, we Tweet dozens of times a day – for that is what the people whose voices shout the loudest of all say we should do. We post about our thoughts and moods; we upload photographs of what we had for dinner or how pretty the moon looked last night – just for something to say.

But just as we’re doing it, so is everyone. So we’re forced into a never-ending cycle of checking, checking and checking again. What’s happening on our feeds and readers, in our in trays, our profiles and our accounts? We don’t want to miss out, get left behind, miss something fascinating that we could share, find ourselves scrolling back down miles of streamed… stuff.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

I wonder sometimes if aliens came from far away, and a far more advanced civilisation, what would they think as they approached Planet Earth? As they swept across the vast, silent universe towards us, when would they begin to hear the first hiss and crackle of our feverish ‘conversations’? What would they think as they drew closer and the volume soared to deafening proportions? What would they make of the incessant babble and clamour, everybody shouting, and nobody listening very much? What would they think of a society that fills its precious time so relentlessly with that babble and clamour?

What would they make of people, who, in their thirst for engagement, leave so little time and space for the purity of silence, self-reflection and contemplation?

inchydony-lightened.jpg

[One more time now. Before you move on to the next… whatever… Stop reading. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and silently, and think for a few minutes of… nothing. Nothing at all.]

A big thank-you to Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Every time my blog goes bonkers, it’s because Chris Graham over at The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, has re-blogged one of my posts. I thought it was time I said thank you.

I’d been at it all daytsra-white-bg on Sunday, essentially trying to write a blog post but in reality, procrastinating like mad. Eventually the post emerged, a quirky list of… yes… what I’d been doing instead of writing a blog post. I uploaded said musings, shut down my PC and came down to the kitchen to make my tea.

As I messed around with ingredients – salmon baked in a tinfoil parcel, watercress sauce, broccoli and rice, since you ask – I could hear in the next room, my iPad dinging merrily away as my WordPress App announced a succession of readers liking or commenting on my blog. That’s nice, I thought. I have to say, it was above averagely active – a veritable melody of dings – especially for a Sunday evening. And especially for, if I’m honest, an inconsequential, albeit mildly amusing post.

Salmon baked, watercress sauce warmed through (I know, I should have made it from scratch), broccoli blobbed with butter (don’t say it… don’t), I repaired to the lounge to take a snoop at who was liking my Peevish Procrastination Post.

What greeted me was unexpected, but wholly delightful.

It turns out that round about the same moment that I’d uploaded my list of procrastinations, the lovely Chris Graham over at Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog had re-blogged a post of mine from a couple of weeks ago – Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing. The surge in hits and that concerto of dings was all down to the readers which Chris had so very kindly pointed in my direction.

If you haven’t come across Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog before, I recommend you take a look. It is a veritable cornucopia of writerly musings, humour, advice and great material about books, authors, the world at large and reading in general. Chris scours the blogosphere seeking out posts he thinks his rapidly expanding readership will enjoy, and he’s a great supporter of indie authors.

When he picks a post of yours, stand by for a busy few hours! I like to respond to every comment on my blog and that’s not usually a particularly demanding commitment. But when you get a re-blog from Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, things go a bit crazy – in a good way. I had fun, responding to comments from new readers, and it was wonderful to see new subscribers sign on too. I had to cut the sound on my iPad and go dark for an hour for Poldark (as any warm-blooded woman would, you understand, don’t you?) – but I was back later and again this morning, to enjoy the blogging conversation with more visitors from Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog.

Apart from the two occasions when I’ve been fortunate enough to be Freshly Pressed courtesy of the team at WordPress (another post on editing, strangely enough, and one on Marmite and sex – oh, just check it out, you know you want to), The Story Reading Ape’s blog has been responsible for the biggest surges in hits and subscribers to A Writer’s Notepad, since I began blogging.

So, this post is the least I can do, in offering a big thank-you to Chris, and an urging that you check out The Story Reading Ape’s most diverse and engaging Blog for yourself.

20 things to do when you don’t have a clue what to write for your next blog post

Winter Pansies 2

  1. Make a cup of coffee
  2. Phone a friend
  3. Compile your To Do list for next week
  4. Check Facebook, even though you hate Facebook and you hate yourself for checking Facebook
  5. Update your current reads on Goodreads
  6. Phone another friend
  7. Pay your bills online
  8. Pull a few unwanted clothes from your wardrobe for the charity shop bag
  9. Make another cup of coffee
  10. Order a replacement carpet protector for under your desk, because you’ve had just about enough of catching your chair on the splintered shreds of the old one
  11. Rate all the products you’ve recently purchased on Amazon
  12. Review your KDP and CreateSpace stats
  13. Clear out an old work folder and retrieve any pages printed on one side only for re-use
  14. Look through all the old pieces of writing you’ve already rejected a dozen times for material, and reject it all again
  15. Wash out the filters on your Dyson vacuum cleaner
  16. Top up your cloakroom soap dispenser
  17. Clean out the squishy vegetables and other time-expired produce from your fridge
  18. Make another cup of coffee
  19. Take a photograph of the winter pansies outside your kitchen window, which have lately appeared, despite the combined onslaughts of urban foxes and neighbourhood felines
  20. Write a list post comprising all the things you’ve been doing for the last three hours because you couldn’t think what to write for your blog.

Singled Out: Launch + One Month – Full Disclosure

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxA month ago my first novel, Singled Out, was published on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. Here’s how it’s gone since then…

I launched Singled Out on a largely unsuspecting world on 1st February 2015. Paperback and Kindle versions were priced at UK£8.49 and UK£2.99 (US$11.65 and US$4.60) respectively.

In the month since then, Singled Out has sold 66 copies, roughly 50% paperback and 50% Kindle e-book.

 I wasn’t sure what to expect and I’m not certain even now whether selling 66 copies of a debut self-published novel in the first four weeks is good, bad or indifferent.

One thing though; I believe I know – or know of – the majority of buyers. Many are friends and family, colleagues and clients, blogging buddies, neighbours, friends of friends and miscellaneous kind supporters and interested parties. To all of you, those I know, and those I don’t – I offer my deepest gratitude.

It’s been emotional

This last month I’ve been a bit all over the place. Other upsets and irritants have piled on top of what was always going to be an anxious time, fictionally speaking.

I’ve been surprised and touched, as several people I did not expect bought copies of Singled Out. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the kind words and largely positive feedback it’s received – both privately and through the first few 4-star and 5-star reviews which readers have been kind enough to post on Amazon and Goodreads.

But I’ve also felt as if I were sitting on the edge of a precipice, where one small nudge would send me toppling over.

A whisper of disillusionment

Like any debut author who has lately attempted to capture the interest of an agent and win that much sought-after representation, never mind the publishing deal, I can’t seem to escape the niggling whisper of disillusionment.

When it came to agent submissions, I tried, but I didn’t make the cut. I had hoped in vain that my novel was unique enough, well-written enough, compelling enough… And even though my rational brain understands the numbers game and the overwhelming odds against success, I cannot yet totally suppress my disappointment.

There are so many positives around taking ownership of your own destiny through self-publishing, and so many opportunities to capitalise upon. Things have changed and the agent/publishing deal route doesn’t have anything like as much to commend it as it used to. So why do I still feel like this?

I don’t know, but I do.

A sense of achievement

This is the other side of the scales. I do absolutely feel proud of my novel. I set out four years ago to see if I could perhaps, maybe pull together a half-decent piece of fiction. I didn’t know if I had enough imagination and creativity, or sufficient skill, for a novel-length story. I just wanted to give it a try. Four years and 90,000 words later, I had my answer.

The end result isn’t perfect – I’ve been learning all the way. But it’s a page-turning read (so say the reviews) and I am allowing myself to feel good about it. I was conscientious about the learning and the writing process and the many layers of editing; I love the cover design and I’m properly thrilled with the quality of the Createspace paperback. So there’s a satisfaction there, to temper the negatives, no doubt of it.

Stress, anxiety and fear – Gah!!

But here’s the stuff I didn’t expect – and it hit me like a bullet train. For the last month, I’ve felt spacey and nauseous. I’m waking a few times a night and seem unable to sleep beyond 5:00am. I’ve had back ache, neck ache, clusters of spots on my chin, palpitations and disturbed digestion.

Stress and anxiety symptoms; I know what they are, and I know they’ll pass sooner or later. They are the physical manifestation of my literary fears and worries… That people won’t buy my novel… that they will buy it but they won’t like it… that they’ll be bored by it… that they’ll be appalled by those odd moments that I’d intended to be gritty and edgy… that they’ll find a hundred typos… that I’ll only ever sell 66 copies… that it’s not good enough… that I’m not good enough… oh, and on, and on… Paranoia is a pathetic thing, isn’t it? Though I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this sense of my guts being reef-knotted and tugged upon, each day when I fail to resist the urge to check my CreateSpace reports, my KDP reports, my Amazon page, my Goodreads page, my Twitter feed, WordPress comments, Facebook page… Ugh.

What of the next 66 copies?

Sooner or later (more sooner than later, I fear) I’ll run out of ‘friendly’ buyers – by that, I mean those in my circle who will purchase a copy of Singled Out because they want to support and encourage the crazy author in their midst; or because they’re curious about the book I’ve been blamming on about these past four years. So it’s fair to assume the next 66 sales – and the 66 after that – may be a lot harder to come by.

I’m not yet sure what I’m going to do about those next 66 sales. I haven’t yet approached any independent reviewers. I’m going to continue playing in the blogosphere of course, but that’s because I enjoy it. Twitter taunts me – I don’t work it in the way that authors are urged to do, and I have to figure out where to go with this. I’m thinking about approaching some local bookshops, perhaps buying space at a local craft/artisan market, just to test the water. There’ll be a Goodreads promotion at some stage, maybe a campaign around holiday reading – I’d be stupid to let that opportunity pass me by, given the subject matter. There might be some paid-for advertising, but I’m not yet persuaded of its value.

One great thing about the way self-publishing works today is that the author is under relatively little financial pressure. Gone are the days when our garages would be piled to the ceiling with boxes of our treasured novels, a burdensome investment which must be sold for any profit to be realised. So I’ll be taking a steady-as-she-goes approach to marketing Singled Out, balancing these activities alongside my other work and the growing impetus I feel – heaven help me – to start writing the sequel.

One thing I’m certain of, and I’ve blogged it before here, is that I want to enjoy the marketing and promotion of Singled Out and that means not putting myself under undue pressure. So how long will it be before I see the next 66 sales?  I can’t rightly say, but if I make it in less than a month, I’ll let you know!

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Guess what! Singled Out is available to purchase on these and all other regional Amazon sites:

A light-bulb moment: I want to enjoy marketing Singled Out

So how relentless, determined, repetitive, insistent, drum-beating and dogged should I be?

2015-01-20 20.45.01I began writing fiction just over 4 years ago for pleasure. I’ve been writing for business for years, but I wanted to see if I had sufficient creative imagination and writing skills to craft a page-turning story, the length of a typical novel – somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I knew I had a lot to learn, so I attended courses and read how-to books and blogs. Whenever I came upon a challenge – creating characters not stereotypes, avoiding cliché, show-not-tell, learning to write dialogue, precision in description, creating tension and so on – I drafted and re-drafted and studied my way through it, learning all the time.

It’s had its moments, but it’s been rewarding and really, really FUN.

Now Singled Out is ready to launch on 1st February – all the boring background admin is done and everything’s ready on Amazon. I’m looking forward to seeing whether Singled Out finds favour with readers. And… I’m looking forward to getting going on book number two (broad concept, bit of an outline so far, but I’ve learned so much from writing book number one, that I just have to carry on).

But what about the task of marketing Singled Out?

I’m a marketer by profession. I’ve marketed Business-to-Business for years. Marketing a book to consumers/readers is different, but the principles are the same.

My pitch to clients on my marketing website has always been this: Before they buy from you, customers need to know who you are, understand what problems you solve and believe you’re the supplier best able to help them.

In book/reader terms, this would be: Before they buy your book, readers need to know who you are, understand what type of book you’re selling and believe that it’s likely to entertain them.

A blog goes a long way towards these goals. As an author your personality, character, writing skills and ability to engage are on show. Readers have a chance to feel connected, decide if they like you and the way you write – and what you write about. You’ll tell them about your writing, maybe tease with a few samples. They’ll share your challenges, dilemmas and adventures. They’ll feel connected with you in a way that was almost impossible before social media was invented.

From an author’s point of view, blogging is FUN. It’s wonderful to engage, share experiences, get conversations going and find that – amazingly – people all over the world are reading and subscribing. For me, blogging is the easiest and easily the most enjoyable aspect of marketing my book – it’s not a burden, it’s a pleasure. It’s also the most low-key and least in-your-face channel, which is another reason I like it best of all. You’re not pushing anything at people – they choose to come and read.

However… the general view is that as an indie author, if you want to sell more than a couple of dozen books, you’re going to have to work a lot harder at marketing. And here’s where I stumble.

I should know what to do to market my book – and, broadly speaking, I do. But I don’t actually want to DO most of it. Marketing is my work; writing fiction is my pleasure – but when it comes to marketing my fiction, this starts to feel perilously like… work.

So to my light-bulb moment; maybe it had something to do with the fact that whilst in Florida, I visited the Edison Ford Winter Estates in Ft Myers and found out all about the inventor of… the lightbulb. I don’t know. I’ve been saying for years that I envy those fortunate people who are earning a living from something they really, truly love doing. You know those people, the ones who say things like, ‘I feel so lucky that people actually pay me for doing this!’ I want to be one of those people, but only if readers give me permission, by buying my books. And until and unless I get to that earning a living space (somewhere in the far distant future perhaps?) I don’t want to spoil the joy, by putting myself under pressure to market my book according to anyone else’s productivity plan, programme or structure, and by doing things that feel laboured or inauthentic to me.

I’ve decided I don’t want to work at marketing Singled Out. I don’t ever want to get up in the morning and think, ‘oh, no, I’ve got to do… today’, to publicise my novel. I don’t ever want to not enjoy marketing my book. I’ve decided that if this means I don’t sell very many copies, I will live with this. I just want to have FUN with every aspect of writing fiction. However many copies people buy, whatever nice things (I hope!) they say about my story – all these are wonderful bonuses, unexpected rewards for simply doing something I’ve realised I love doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these programmes and their relentless approaches pay off. I just don’t think I would enjoy doing things that way.

So once Singled Out is launched, you won’t be seeing much of me on the book promo sites or Twitter feeds. I won’t be doing blog tours, or pressing people I don’t know for author interviews. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be delighted to do any author interviews – I would! I just don’t want to push for these things.

Nothing will make me happier than if people leave positive reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I will be beyond delighted if they recommend my book to their friends and colleagues and my sales grow through word-of-mouth. I’d be thrilled to be asked to guest post on other people’s blogs. I’d love to do interviews or readings, panels at events and anything like that – weirdly I actually enjoy that kind of thing. If anybody wants to feature Singled Out anywhere, the answer will more than likely be a resounding yes! It’s not that I want to keep Singled Out a secret. I just want to get on with writing the next book and not let the joy of this first experience be diluted by a job-list of activities that I don’t really want to do.

In life, I’m a rules girl. I follow the rules. I drive as much as possible within the speed limit, I do what I’m told, I colour inside the lines. But perhaps, now I’m approaching the not-so-tender age of 55, I can afford to kick-back on my compulsion to do what other people say I should, and just plough my own furrow, for good or bad.

What do you think?