Birth of a Book: Day One #amwriting

2013-12-04 11.56.49Today is an auspicious day – a good day. It’s the day when I finally begin actually writing my follow-up to Singled Out. Tardy but resolute, I’m starting work on my second novel.

I thought, as I’m going to be spending more time writing and less time blogging over the coming months (see what an optimist I can be), it might be interesting to chart the progress and (see what a pessimist I can be) the pain.

This is Ground Zero. There is nothing here except a pair of opening paragraphs flapping about in the breeze (a derisory 255 words), along with two pages of typed notes on the original idea (two years old), and two pages of handwritten notes (scribed whilst I waited for my my old PC and my new iMac to play nicely) on the updated idea. That’s it.

I’d intended to be so, so much further on by now, but, well, life… has got in the way. I call myself a writer, but I haven’t written anything new for two years  (for the purposes of this blog, I’m not counting marketing blurb, which I write pretty much every day). I’ve edited – that means the odd paragraph and a lot of pressing of the delete button – but not actually written.  Those two new opening paragraphs surfaced in March, but since then… nothing. Not a word.

I am ashamed.

But I will do better, and this is where it starts.

Whilst I wrote Singled Out, a writing buddy and I had a modest commitment to one another – that we would exchange 500 new words each week, on a Sunday evening. We reasoned that anybody, no matter how preoccupied or how busy they were, could manage 500 words a week. And we did it, both of us, with almost no fails, for month after month, as both her first novel and my own took shape. What happened of course was that we both wrote considerably more than 500 words on most weeks, because that 500-word commitment opened the floodgates. So we would either pick a choice 500 words to send, or send the lot. Difficult weeks would find me bashing out a desperate page late on a Sunday afternoon, but most weeks weren’t that dire.

My writing buddy and now very dear friend has invited me to take up the 500-word challenge again and I’m going to do it, because I’m tired of being a Writer Without Portfolio.  Stand-by, Suzanne. Shit-or-bust, you will get words this week.

The idea is, I’ll report back every week – short and sweet though, because I want to spend more time writing and less time blogging. Forgive me, but I want to get that next book out of my head and on to some paper. Either that, or stop calling myself… a writer.

Wish me luck.

I’m a little overwhelmed

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Every now and again, something, or someone, comes along and makes the sun shine a little brighter.

I don’t know Marcus Case, author of “The Bomb Makers” – at least, I didn’t until he commented on my recent Guest Author post on Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog that he was reading my novel, Singled Out. I always hold my breath when someone sticks their head over the parapet and admits to having picked up a copy of Singled Out on the strength of a blog post or a recommendation by someone else. Sales are still only in double figures (I’m close to that third figure, very close…) and every single reader – and their opinion and feedback – matters. I don’t know if that will ever change, but my guess is that sales would have to be deep into five or maybe even six figures before it does. Optimism, eh?

There’s always the possibility when someone fesses up to reading your novel, that they find as they dig into it that it’s not to their taste. What happens then? You might get negative feedback of course, but equally likely is that they’d just go quiet and you’d have to forget you ever heard from them in the first place. For as long as I hold my breath waiting on a reader’s opinion, there’s fear niggling away at the back of my mind. Will they like the story, or not? Will they get it? Will they want to tell me what they thought, either way, or will they evaporate into the ether leaving me with just one conclusion – that they hated it. Or perhaps worse, that they were indifferent to it.

This week I was lucky. My wait was short. Marcus Case ploughed through Singled Out in just a few days.

I only mention this as he has been generous enough to write the kind of 5-star review that stops an author in their tracks and then upload it to Amazon UK and USA and Goodreads. In his review, he makes some observations that no one else has yet made. They caused me to look at my story differently. I was struck by what he said, not just because he said a lot of very nice things; but because of what made me realise about my own writing.

This review made me walk a little taller. And it teased that still small dream, that one day those sales figures might, perhaps, possibly climb into that far distant five or six figure universe. Maybe.

So thank you, Marcus Case, for your review, and for making the sun shine a little brighter for me yesterday. Thank you indeed.

You said it! A first-quarter review of reviews

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxReviews are the life-blood of any novel. Readers… don’t ever underestimate the power you have at your fingertips, when you write a review.

15 weeks… 15 reviews… 76 stars

From the moment I clicked publish and saw my novel appear on Amazon on a real page, just like real books, where real people could click and really, actually buy it, I’ve been holding my breath. That’s what writers do, you see, as they wait to see what people make of their… baby.

But (so far…) whilst it’s been emotional, it’s been alright too.  In fact, it’s been pretty amazing.

It’s 15 weeks since Singled Out was published on Amazon (Kindle and paperback) and my first novel/baby has been fortunate in garnering a total of 15 reviews (so far…). That’s 11 reviews on Amazon.co.uk (four 4-star and seven 5-star) and five 5-star reviews on Amazon.com. Yes, that makes 16 in total, but I can’t double-count the review my big-hearted blogging buddy Dylan Hearn was kind enough to upload to both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Whilst sales of any self-published debut novel are inevitably modest – and Singled Out has, ah me, been no exception (so far…) – the kind words in those reviews have been exciting, heartening, and above all, humbling.

Presentation1So this 15/15 moment seems a good point to stop and thank everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read Singled Out – I hope you have all enjoyed it, and felt it rewarded you for those few hours of your time. And I want especially to thank those of you who then went on and uploaded your reviews to Amazon – and Goodreads.

Will you permit me to share some of the reviewers’ observations with you?

I know it feels suspiciously like self-promotion and, oh, it is. But no self-published author can survive without a little of this every now and again. So here, just in case you’re looking for your next read or something to take on your holidays, is a little reader feedback from those reviews on Amazon:

“From the first short chapter I was hooked! The story swings from gritty and tense to beautifully described locations that transported me right into the midst of a singles holiday…”

“With Brenda Bouverie the author has created a wonderful protagonist, very different from anybody I’ve read before. She’s a wonderful combination of the sensuous, with her love of food and drink; the steely, but with an underlying vulnerability that makes her a very special character indeed.”

“This is a scrumptious book for every sense! Mouth watering descriptions that evoke sights, smells and tastes so that you really feel you have been taken on holiday with everyone else to Turkey.”

“With well-drawn characters and a complex protagonist, this was a really enjoyable read that kept me guessing and gave me something to think about.”

“The writing in this debut novel is impressive with descriptions so rich, you’ll feel like you’re touring, sunbathing, and feasting on delicious meals in Turkey yourself. Mystery cloaks every page…”

“An impressive debut novel for fans of psychological suspense.”

“Excellently creepy.”

“Highly recommended.”

“An excellent blend of literary fiction and psychological thriller.”

“A definite page turner, I completed it in a couple of days.”

“I couldn’t put it down!! Gritty and compelling reading.”

“An enjoyable page turner. It’s got character, location, sex, drugs — but above all the writing is captivating.”

“Wonderful story from this author. Well-crafted, believable characters, great plot line, and a description of Turkey that makes you want to take your next vacation there.”

“Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys their thrillers to be a little dark and edgy, but with some warmth thrown in. Oh, and foodies. This is a great book for food lovers.”

“I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.”

“If you’re going on a beach holiday and you’re a lover of creepy, psychological thrillers, then this is the book for you.”

Are you still with me?

Okay, then it’s worth highlighting a few things people have said about the dark underbelly to this story, because it’s undeniably gritty, morally ambivalent and, for some, unsettling. In the interests of full disclosure:

“This is not, however, a book for the faint-hearted. The assault scenes in particular, while very well written, don’t pull any punches. But for me that’s as it should be. Horrible things should be portrayed as horrible. And it makes you all the more engaged in the search for who’s responsible.”

“But a caution to sensitive readers–the subject matter deals with sexual assault (that’s not a spoiler as the opening scene depicts this) and misogyny, sometimes in quite graphic detail. Normally I would shy away from material like that, but I felt comfortable in the author’s hands given the strong female lead who carries the novel, and the important message that’s unveiled.”

“Be warned ….there is a dark undertone to this story that can make one feel slightly uncomfortable (and it’s meant to), but the author deals with these scenes admirably, giving you enough to make you feel uneasy but not too much so that you want to stop reading – cleverly done.”

“I particularly enjoyed the ending – even when the ‘bad guy’ is discovered, there is still a dilemma to be faced. I’m not sure what I’d have done, put in Brenda’s place.”

“Pick it as a good read, but don’t be surprised if it also challenges and makes you think twice.”

There, now you’ve got the full picture.

In case it’s piqued your curiosity, you can find out more about Singled Out on this website here, and throughout my blog.  And of course, Singled Out is available to purchase on these and all other regional Amazon sites:

Blog posts coming soon(ish)…

  • Making a start on Novel Number Two – I need your help!
  • Marketing Muse: Promoting your book as holiday read.
  • Happy Endings: Should every story be tied up with a ribbon?

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!

*  *  * 

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

Are you trying to be a good writer?

… I mean, are you really… TRYING?…

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You know what it’s like when you’ve got an early start the next morning? Say, you’re going on holiday and need to be at the airport before dawn. You don’t want to be late and you need to be wide awake, so what do you do? You go to bed early. You squeeze your eyes tight shut even though it’s still light outside and you try to sleep. But every muscle in your body is rebelling against your attempts to relax. Your taut shoulders ache, your pulse races; you can’t get tomorrow’s to-do list out of your mind; you notice every little ring, ping and ding going on around you, the sounds of other people, engaged and connected – having fun whilst you try to sleep. The harder you try to sleep, the worse it gets.

If only you could get out of your own way.

It’s the same when you’re writing, as I learned – the hard way – when I began trying to write fiction. I’ve written business communications for my clients for decades. I know about syntax and language and I have a fair to middling mental thesaurus; so I knew I could throw sentences together. But writing fiction is a world apart from business communications. So I went on a few courses and I read books on how to write. Then I began to try to write fiction.

That’s when I learned that the harder you try, the more dreadful your writing gets.

To write, you need to stop trying and get out of your own way. Writing is communicating – and we’ve all done this since the moment we were born. We’ve learned how to use language to excite, to persuade, to apologise, to love… Stories too are nothing new to us. Stories have been the life-blood of societies and civilizations since time began.

We just need to relax and let them out.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for learning the techniques of story-arc, plotting, character development, pace and tension, show-not-tell and so-on. There’s plenty to learn and those who take the time to learn it will find their writing gets more compelling.

What I’m talking about is when you’re trying to put the very best words you can down on the paper; you’re looking up words you don’t know so you can include them; you’re taking a concise moment and working it to the point of exhaustion; you don’t appreciate the simple power of your own ideas, so you overdress them. In your efforts to show what a clever, intelligent writer you are, you embellish your sentences beyond the point of decency. It’s like dressing Amal Clooney using Dame Edna Everage’s wardrobe. Somewhere things have gone horribly wrong.

If you fear your writing may be in Dame Edna territory, here are three stylistic bloopers to look out for. If you spot these in your own writing, it probably means you’re trying too hard. I’m embarrassed to say, these examples are all my own, from early drafts of Singled Out:

Purple prose:

  • …In that moment she reached into his world-weary heart and lit a flame.
  • Her compliance, at once submissive and potent, raised his hopes and heightened his desires.

Ugh… just, ugh.

Overworked reflection:

  • Why had she brought this up? Why could she never resist prodding away at things? … It seemed distinctly possible that something untoward might have happened; but if it had… There was nothing to be gained from letting this idea gain traction; it would only frighten … blah blah…

And this is an edited version of the angsty original. I cringe… I cringe. In most instances, one or two notes of self-reflection are quite sufficient. Then, just get out of the way.

Overblown writing:

  • …She appreciated his overpowering physical form from a womanly perspective.
  • The more she struggled against the quicksand of niggling worries, the further it dragged her down.
  • The sun began its languid descent towards the gently undulating hills…

Classic ‘clever-arse writer’ syndrome. When I rediscovered these clunkers I nearly had to go find a sick-bag. Learn to recognise when you’re puffing up your sentences like this. If they make it into print, you may never forgive yourself.

I was fortunate to be mentored for a few months by the author of several respected novels. She worked over my early draft, ripping into the purple prose, angsty reflection and overblown turns of phrase – amongst many other things. I pared my writing down and down again and I learned to head these pompous clangers off at the pass.

Good writing comes from the heart. You don’t have to try and make it better. Invariably those purple moments detract from the power of your story. They ruffle the reader and interrupt the flow. Except for one or two notably pretentious literary writers, being a novelist isn’t about showing the world how clever you are.

You have to learn to let-go, relax and get out of your own way – and let your story do the hard work.

*** This post first appeared as a guest post on the Blondewritemore blog. ***

Am I allowed to blow my own trumpet?

SINGLED OUT is garnering one or two reviews – and they’re making me feel properly humble.

trumpetMy debut psychological suspense novel, Singled Out, launched on 1st February. There are one or two very fast readers out there and I’m thrilled that they’re already taking the time and trouble to leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Reviews are the life-blood of the indie author. Without them, we cannot hope to move beyond sales to our family, friends and few loyal blog followers. Reviews draw in readers from much further afield.  So I’m very, very grateful to those readers who have already left a review… and to any readers who, in due course, plan to do the same.

I hope it’s not bad manners or in horribly bad taste to do this, but I want to share one early review in particular with you. Will you indulge me? It’s from Carrie Rubin, author and fellow blogger at The Write Transition. She posted these generous words to Amazon.com and Goodreads. Happily, Amazon.co.uk appears to have tracked and reposted to the UK site too:

Singled Out explores the relationships that develop between a group of people on a singles’ vacation in Turkey. Brenda, a fantastic character and my new favorite heroine (such a cool lady!), forays out on her own for the trip while dealing with a personal issue she must come to terms with. But her life soon becomes intertwined with the others at the vacation resort, and she finds herself caught up in something she’d rather not be. What follows is a great combination of who-dunit and psychological suspense.

The writing in this debut novel is impressive with descriptions so rich, you’ll feel like you’re touring, sunbathing, and feasting on delicious meals in Turkey yourself. Mystery cloaks every page, and answers are doled out in a page-turning manner. But a caution to sensitive readers–the subject matter deals with sexual assault (that’s not a spoiler as the opening scene depicts this) and misogyny, sometimes in quite graphic detail. Normally I would shy away from material like that, but I felt comfortable in the author’s hands given the strong female lead who carries the novel, and the important message that’s unveiled.

An impressive debut novel for fans of psychological suspense. I look forward to more of this author’s work.

What else can I say, but Thank You, Carrie – I am immensely touched by your words.

One Lovely Blog – Reprise

one-lovely-blogMy new blogging buddy, the lovely Linda Huber has nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award. Linda, that’s One Lovely Thing – thank you!  It gives me a great opportunity to give a warm endorsement to Linda’s own blog, which you can find here. Linda lives in Switzerland and her blog is a lovely blend of life experience and writerly matters.

What she didn’t know when she nominated me, is that I’ve been nominated for One Lovely Blog before, back in September 2013 – I blogged it here. Call me indolent if you will, but with my book launch this week, and having just returned from holiday and needing to immerse myself in client work again, my time is – to say the least – a little squeezed.  Linda will know this, as I haven’t yet managed to get around to starting to read her book, The Paradise Trees, which really intrigued me when I read the blurb.  So I’ve decided, pretty much, to re-post my facts from their earlier appearance, with just a couple of changes. Given that a few people have joined me on the blog since September 2013, it’s quite possible this will all be fresh and new to you.  🙂

The One Lovely Blog Award requires I offer you seven facts about myself and nominate another [insert variable number of] recipients.  I’m happy to deliver the seven facts…

Seven facts about Julie (updated/refreshed from Sept 13):

  1. I started writing fiction around 5 years ago, having put it off long enough.  But I’ve been marketing/copywriting for business for years – mainly for technology companies.  It’s a far cry from psychological storytelling.
  2. My first attempt at a short story was a whimsical account of two people meeting on a singles night at a local pub. Called, ahem, Singled Out, it won Writing Magazine’s monthly prize in June 2010 and was printed in the magazine.  That earned me a lovely cheque for £250! Strangely, but only because it’s absolutely the best name for my novel, I’ve recycled that title – but this time it’s a very different piece of writing.
  3. Talking of unexpected income, I was once paid £250 to let actor Simon Pegg and his stunt-double tumble repeatedly down my stairs. Yes, it’s great fun offering up your home to be a sit-com location.
  4. I don’t drink tea.  Yes, that’s right.  I’m a Brit who hates tea. Even the smell of it makes me feel a bit queasy.
  5. I’m a paper-crafter. I love playing around with inks, rubber stamps and other crafty stuff, and seeing how much the people I care about enjoy receiving a hand-made card.
  6. I’m left-handed.  Apparently, that means I’m better at divergent thinking – whatever that is.  I’m good at brainstorming, but mind-maps are a mystery to me. Go figure.
  7. Be still my heart. There are only four degrees of separation between me and George Clooney.

Last time I Lovely Blogged, I added five of my favourite writing/writer’s quotes – and I reprise them here, just for fun and because I like them.

  • ‘Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve’ – JK Rowling in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
  • ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’ – Anton Chekhov
  • ‘Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings’ – Stephen King
  • ‘He didn’t want to please his readers. He wanted to stretch them until they twanged’ – Martin Amis
  • ‘It would have been nice to have had unicorns’ – Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

As for nominations… I know from last time that people sometimes don’t relish participating in blog awards due mainly, I suppose, to the time factor. You can check out my blogroll to see some of the many, many bloggers I admire. Following here are just three newer blogs (less than 1 year old) which I’m officially nominating as I think they deserve some exposure.  I’m saying nothing about these bloggers other than that they are interesting reads. If you’re curious – go check them out!

Nominees, if you want to take up the One Lovely Blog Award nomination, then I’m delighted to be supporting you.  If you don’t want to pick up the baton, that’s absolutely fine by me.