Reviews, Revisions and RSI

The coveted snippets

The coveted snippets

Septembers are shaping up to be crazy months for me. It doesn’t help that this is the second year in a row that hubbie has been between contracts in September, so added to the usual mayhem I have an extra child at home to feed and worry about 🙂

September marks the return to routine, but is exacerbated by a new school year – new lessons, homework, after school clubs, teachers, expectations – and the fact that my son’s birthday is three weeks in. Even though we opted for the easiest party ever this year, at a soft play centre, so no food prep, no painting giant sharks or making decorations, we still had invites, party bags and presents to sort, and sibling grief “when is it MY birthday?” to contend with.

I buy for all the family, as I know my son’s various requests best, so I have the added stress of sourcing gifts for grandparents and aunties. The party was a blast though – the first I’ve actually been able to enjoy – and he’s as happy with his toys as a four-year-old who watches too many TV adverts can ever be.

Cheeky monkey

Cheeky monkey

September is also my chance to return to writing. As I discussed in my previous post, that wasn’t as straight-forward as I’d hoped, after discovering my old manuscript was dire. I decided to stick with it but I’m more re-writing than revising, and the going is slow. Thankfully the story is coming together, with some help from my shelf of craft books. I don’t think it will hit my Christmas deadline but, as I’m hoping it will form part one of a trilogy, it’s more important to get it right than get it out.

That’s particularly the case after Class Act’s rubbish launch (I struggle to give it away!) To boost morale (and in the vain hope it might help Class Act sales) I ran a free promo for Baby Blues a couple of weeks ago. I had a whopping 8,000 downloads, mostly in the US. And while it didn’t result in as many residual sales as I’d hoped, It has led to some lovely reviews. I finally have enough reviews in the US to get the little snippets next to my rankings. I was disproportionately chuffed!

The final thing that’s made September crazy is my knitting obsession. I’ve moved on from cats to monkeys, at my son’s request. I can’t read patterns so I’m making things up as I go. It’s extremely liberating, after all that loom-banding when one tiny mistake resulted in a pile of bands instead of an amazing creation. The downside is, apparently, knitting gives me shocking RSI. My hands are numb, my wrists swollen and my arms sore. Gutted. To find a satisfying hobby away from the iPad, and then to have to keep stopping from pain is so frustrating. But I daren’t risk not being able to type!

Anyway, a rather prosaic update. I just wanted to say I’m still here, still alive, still plugging away, and shocked that September’s nearly over already. At least I’m never bored!

Searching For The Next Novel Idea

A book of ideas

A book of ideas

I’ve decided to park Finding Lucy for now, as I need to start writing now to get back into the swing of things and the draft needs far too much analysing to write anything more on it yet. So today I ran through my scribbled list of projects looking for inspiration. I didn’t find it, even though the list is rather long!

Current Drafts:
Finding Lucy (needs too much work)
Bonds of Love (ditto, plus has overlap characters with Finding Lucy)
Annie and Phoebe (about a Georgette Heyer novel that isn’t in public domain, so a no go for self-publishing)
Dragon Wraiths part two (don’t have the energy to pick through the hot mess of the last few chapters)
Alfie and the Arch (don’t feel qualified to write kids’ fiction at the moment)

Pencilled in Sequels
Sequel to Two Hundred Steps Home (don’t have energy to re-read the 200k original to pick up the story thread)
Sequel to Baby Blues following Ben and Sharni (isn’t grabbing me, lots of cultural research required)

Totally New Ideas
The Pudding Club (an idea that floats around every time I catch up with my old colleagues – a novel or play written just through dialogue at regular catch-ups. Bit worried my friends will try out work out which one is them or take offence.)
Dad Starts Dating (a YA about a girl whose divorced parents start new relationships – based on personal experience; I worry I would end up offending my mum!)
Colony on Jupiter (YA? – one of the dream stories I actually wrote notes on rather than immediately forgot. A bit like the TV series 100, although my idea predates watching it, but where the space station is a functioning community with shops, school etc)

So far NONE of these is remotely grabbing me. I want to write something with a bit of pace; I’d love to write a series, to help sales and because I loved spending a whole year with Claire last year, and I’d love to write something fantasy/sci fi, even though that’s considerably out my comfort zone.

But a) I worry that straying from the stye of Class Act and Baby Blues will be a mistake (although I can’t give Class Act away, so there isn’t much to break) and b) I’m really not sure I have the imagination to pull it off without plagiarising something. It’s no coincidence that my characters are loosely based on me: my biggest fear is stealing someone else’s idea/style/world. I found it happened a lot with Dragon Wraiths, whereas it was easy to imagine the settings for Class Act and Baby Blues.

I feel like when I can’t decide on a new book to read, which ironically is also a problem I’m having. I have three or four good novels half-finished on the kindle and have reverted to the failsafe of Harry Potter just to keep reading. It feels like I poured all my creativity into loombands and knitting and art in August and now I’m empty (and have RSI!)

Arrgghh. Writers out there, where do you get your ideas from when you’re stuck? How do you choose your next project? I have been working on old manuscripts for so long I’ve forgotten how to start something new, and I’ve never started something without a glimmer of an idea from a dream or a character or an idea how the story ends. Maybe it’s time to get an early night and hope I remember my dreams!

Art in August #14 – Book Covers

Proposed new covers for Class Act

Proposed new covers for Class Act

I released my fourth novel, Class Act, at the beginning of June and to say the going has been slow is an understatement. I have struggled to even give the book away. When I ran a free promotion the numbers were a quarter of those for Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes. I put it down to having no reviews and didn’t panic.

But now, with a couple of good reviews (and a couple not so good!) I am running a Giveaway on Goodreads and still getting a fraction of entries compared with the Baby Blues Giveaway. I’ve decided that the cover and blurb must be failing me.

I’m not surprised. I mocked the cover up last year, when I decided on a new name for the novel (it’s working title was The Real Gentleman, as the novel was written as a modern day Georgette Heyer style romance) and I do like the design, especially the bold red paperback. Unfortunately the current cover doesn’t give anything away as to genre, all it does is explain the ‘act’ part of the play-on-words title.

I love the pastel covers of Joanne Harris books

I love the pastel covers of Joanne Harris books

So I’ve spent this week, in between making loomband pets and ignoring the children, looking at images on my favourite site istockphoto to find something more in the woman’s fiction/romance genre. I know that half-naked bodies is what the genre seems to dictate, but that really isn’t me. Besides, the novel isn’t at all raunchy, and I don’t want to set a false expectation.

When I designed the cover for Baby Blues I used the books of Joanne Harris as my inspiration. Her pastel covers are lovely and she is an author that I admire greatly. It also gave me a style that fit within my capabilities using Adobe Photoshop, as I don’t know any cover designers and my experience of hiring freelancers as an author hasn’t always been successful.

Another Joanne Harris

Another Joanne Harris

As I couldn’t find any images relating to the theatre and acting, I decided to focus on the two other ‘themes’ that I feel run through the novel: art and daisies. These are the covers I came up with (I only had an hour before little lady got bored, so I know the font doesn’t stand out well on some of them).

As an aside, these are all based on composites from istockphoto and I haven’t purchased the rights to use them yet, as they’re only mock ups. I will purchase the final image once I’ve made a decision.

So, do any of these stand out? And, for those of you who have read the novel, do any of these fit within your experience of the story? Do these set the right genre? I feel they’re all much more in keeping with Baby Blues (although I have had at least one reviewer say the title and cover put them off that novel! I guess it’s difficult to win without a big budget marketing department to do customer research!)

Once I have some feedback I hope to make the change and extend the giveaway, so hopefully I’ll see immediately if it makes a difference!

What Others Think

A brief moment of co-operation

A brief moment of co-operation

My whole life seems to be ruled by what other people think of me. Apparently that’s a personality trait of Highly Sensitive People, a category I discovered through one of my blog followers from Setting the World to Rights. I took this online test and, unsurprisingly, scored very highly. At least it’s nice to know there are others who are so sensitive to noise etc and it’s not just me being difficult or highly strung.

This week has been all about other people’s opinions. First I got a one-star rating on Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes – but with no review to tell me why. I don’t mind one-star reviews – in fact I expect them, because most of the time I don’t rate myself as a writer – but I worry what people think and I want to know what they hated.

The same is true of my next two novels. Class Act is with an editor but only one other person has read it and I’m really worried the story is weak and is going to get terrible reviews. Unfortunately I can’t find anyone else to read it and give me an honest opinion, so I’ll have to wait for the public to tell me (assuming they do! Reviews are hard to get: I’ve had 4,000 downloads of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes on Amazon and still only have 8 reviews.)

My poorly knight

My poorly knight

The children’s book I’m in the process of writing is even worse, because it’s aimed at a target market I have no personal experience of. I love reading MG fiction myself, but I’m not 7-12 and when I was I was reading either Mills & Boon and Sweet Valley High or Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I have no idea if the language is pitched right or if the story is authentic and entertaining to that age group. And I really need to know: I need external validation to make up for a lack of self confidence.

Parenting is the same. Yesterday I kept both children home from nursery/school. The youngest had a sky-high temperature and couldn’t go to nursery. The eldest complained of also feeling poorly. She only had a slightly raised temperature and on a normal day I would have taken her to school. But we were all feeling rough and I didn’t want to do the school run with poorly kids. I also foolishly thought if they were both home I might be able to rest as they would entertain each other.

But I did feel bad, so I wrote something on Facebook about having slightly-poorly children home and how they seemed to be instantly better once I’d called them in sick. Some friends came back and said ‘relax, enjoy the day with them’ (!!) while others said, ‘I send my slightly-poorly children to school’. In both instances I felt awful because a) I wasn’t enjoying having them home and would have preferred to be by myself, writing and b) I was a soft mama for not sending them both in to school (like I normally would!). By trying to get a second opinion all I got was a feeling that I was doing it all wrong.

Not so poorly girl

Not so poorly girl

As it turns out we’ve all learnt something: my daughter has learnt not to say she feels poorly just because she wants to stay home from school: a poorly premenstrual mummy and cranky ill brother don’t make good company; and I’ve learned that having two ill kids at home is different to having two happy, healthy children. Because even though they were well enough to play, they bickered and fought and cried and whimpered and had tantrums ALL DAY. Poor hubby walked into a maelstrom when he got in from work. I’ve got just one home today and he’s happily watching TV while I work. Much better.

I know I’m in good company, both with other parents and other writers. We all care and so we worry about getting it right. These posts on parenting – Mother’s Guilt and None of Us are Perfect – could have been written by me on a different day (and you can see I wrote an essay in the comments on both). And I know most writers struggle to appreciate their own writing. In fact, as I’ve been working on my children’s book I’ve been reciting to myself, “Just keep writing – Every first draft is sh!t,” over and over and over. But of course, I still need a second opinion!

The It’s-All-Shit Stage of Writing

I just want to sleeeeeep

I just want to sleeeeeep

I’m currently going through what I’m coming to recognise as the I’m-feeling-low-because-I’m-editing-my-book-and-it’s-shit phase.

Symptoms include sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time. Eating comfort food and then wondering why I have no energy and my wobbly bits are a bit wobblier. Feeling emotional, crying and wanting to hug my kids loads (look, someone loves me, look I created these amazing people, I did something right.) Checking my kindle sales figures and despairing that I haven’t sold a book in three days (damn you, new kindle sales graph). Checking Goodreads and Amazon for new reviews and seeing the new critical three-star review as confirmation that I can’t write, even though I have five star reviews and even the three star review isn’t that bad.

I know this will pass. I went through it with Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (less so with Dragon Wraiths because I edited it for a competition deadline and the urgency pushed me through the pain).

I know the editor will come back with some great suggestions and, even if the novel is currently a steaming pile of poo, it can be fixed. I know I’m stressing because I’ve discovered paragraphs – okay even whole chapters – that need work. I’m stressed because Kristen Lamb recently wrote three posts on the evils of flashbacks and my novel has two and, try as I might, I can’t think how to write them out.

I know my book doesn’t have enough pace and conflict and humour. At 85k words (when my previous novels both came in at 110-115k words) I’m worried it doesn’t have enough of anything. Right now I’m 50% through final pre-editor line edits. I’m averaging more hours sleeping than working every day. (Today’s work day = 1 hour school assembly, 1 hour editing, 2 hours’ time wasting, 2 hours’ sleeping.) I want to abandon editing and get back to my children’s book, only that’s a steaming pile of poo too.

Flatlined sales chart

Flatlined sales chart

Even though I know this will pass, I do worry that the more books I write, the more craft advice I read, the more I work at this writing thing, the harder it is getting to come up with good ideas. The idea for Dragon Wraiths – my favourite (although flawed) book – came in a dream and the words flowed. Not without effort, but mostly without doubt. I wasn’t trying to write someone else’s book, I was writing my book. Now though, especially with the children’s book, I’m trying to recreate the brilliant middle grade fiction books I adore to read. And as a result I can’t seem to come up with a story and I don’t have faith in myself to just write and see what happens. Being stuck in the editing doldrums with Class Act is not helping!

As with my paintings, the more I try to be a professional the more I feel I’m losing the part that made it fresh and fun and exciting. I wonder if your third complete novel is a bit like the third year in a relationship, when the heady romantic days have settled into a comfortable routine and you have to work a bit harder at the compromises? Or maybe authors feel like this about every book. Certainly Matt Haig said The Humans is the book he is most proud of, the “one I will never be able to write again.” (Facebook) and he’s written LOADS of books! (I thought he also said it was the only one he enjoyed reading, but I can’t find that quote on Facebook…)

Writing, like parenting, is full of highs and lows, successes and doubts, and the best mantra you’ll ever hear, even though it doesn’t help at all at the time is, “This too shall pass.”

Let’s hope so.

Reasons to Smile

Smiling Knight

Smiling Knight

The blog has dried up since I started on my SSRI medication. Not only have I spent the last week feeling sick (and now have another bloomin cold. Grrr) I’ve found that I don’t have the constant stream of voices in my head, worrying, analysing, stressing, debating random subjects. I walked the dog yesterday and all I thought about was racing the large rain cloud that was hiding behind the house when I ventured out without a coat. Normally my brain switches into ‘blog-writing mode’ as soon as I start walking. Now? Nothing.

I have wondered whether to force myself to think of something to write, like I did last year when I was keeping up with the daily blogging challenge but, having decided not to worry so much about it this year, it feels foolish to write rubbish just to tick a box.

But today I have something to share. Following on from my free promotion for Baby Blues, I have sold some books. That deserves being in bold: I’ve never sold more than a few books a month since starting on my self-publishing journey. I don’t do enough marketing or work hard enough to get reviews. I know this. In my mind I’ve decided to get three or four books under my belt, pay someone to design me a gorgeous set of matching covers, and then go large on marketing and promotion (as both children will be at school).

So, waking up this morning to have sales of Baby Blues in double-figures over night, to have reached #2794 in PAID ranking on Amazon.co.uk, is like winning the Pulitzer Prize. The book is only ÂŁ1.54 in the UK – you can’t buy a coffee for that – so it isn’t about the money. The ranking, though? That feels great. I don’t know what happened, whether I made it onto an Amazon email or something, but it shows that visibility is the key.

The writing blogs tell you the importance of spending thousands on structural edits and line edits, but I’m starting to think a decent cover and some marketing is probably a better use of cash! Mind you, when I start getting terrible reviews I might change my mind… For now I’m enjoying my reason to smile.

Celebrating Success and Searching for Motivation

Achieving great rankings

Achieving great rankings

My Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes promotion ended this morning and it couldn’t have gone better. I had around 2,500 downloads and reached some great numbers in terms of ranking:

#8 in the Romance category on Amazon.com

#10 in Contemporary Women’s Fiction on Amazon.com

#39 on overall free downloads for Amazon.co.uk

#15 in Contemporary Romance on Amazon.co.uk

Now I know these numbers don’t mean a great deal. The majority of people who downloaded the book won’t read it, even fewer will leave a review. However to get that many downloads in two days, when the book only has one review in the US and none anywhere else (and virtually no promotion other than a few tweets and status updates) gives a little ray of hope that at least my blurb and front cover are okay (Though hubbie tells me the title makes people think the book is depressing.)

I see free promotions as more of a banner advert, getting my name in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise discover me and my writing, than a way to get new readers. I know myself that I download dozens of books I’ll never read. Time will tell whether it works as a strategy, but if nothing else it’s a nice feeling to see yourself on the first page of the bestsellers! 🙂

Making it on the first page!

Making it on the first page!

It also makes me see the benefit in loading a book up for preorders via Smashwords. If I could sell enough copies in the weeks prior to release, then that splurge of sales on day one of release would do wonders for initial rankings. Of course, I have to finish my next book for that to happen and, boy oh boy, am I struggling. I’m still tired and scattered from the medication, and I just can’t seem to pin myself down to the hard graft of revisions. I know if I’m not careful weeks will turn into months and, like the box of kids’ things waiting for me to sell on ebay, it will become an insurmountable task to get back to work.

I wanted to get my first draft to the editor by Easter, so I could take the two weeks off to clear my mind, ready to work on the revisions when they came back, and give the children my attention during the school holidays. Ho hum, that gives me five weeks to add thirty thousand words and fill all the plot holes AND get it to Beta Readers. Hmmm some mountains are too high. I think it might be that which is freezing my mind. Needing to work around the school holidays is adding a new dynamic to my already-fragile motivation! Oh well, every mountain is climbed one step at a time. I just need to write ten words today and it will be twenty tomorrow.

But first I might walk the dog!