Why I’m Giving Up Writing for Grown-Ups

Georgina the Giraffe says write for kids!

Georgina the Giraffe says write for kids!

I read recently on Sally Jenkins’ blog about a writing competition currently being promoted in the UK magazine, Good Housekeeping. 10k advance and a potential publishing deal, don’t mind if I do. The two categories are Crime/Thriller and Women’s Fiction.

Well, I thought, I’ve written Women’s Fiction before – my first novel, Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes, falls in that category, and it has a bunch of nice reviews. As I’m in my plot-hole mire with the latest children’s book, I thought it might be nice to write in a different genre for a while.

Being in my January sludge, I struggled for an idea (I need a character, a theme, and an ending to start writing these days). But Hubbie came up with a neat Fairy Tale reversal story, so I began playing around with that.

And that’s when the trouble started.

Write what you know is advice often given to wannabe authors. And, for women’s fiction, I always reach into myself for a character, as I feel that’s the best way I can empathise and understand motivations and so on.

But, as I researched my new character, I realised it was becoming some kind of therapy session for elements of my life I wish I could change. Enlightening as it was about my own past, it didn’t make for a great novel.

So scratch that, I thought, I’ll enter one of the two novels I’ve finished. Baby Blues is a bit long for a Women’s Fiction novel, and is actually doing okay on Amazon, so I turned to Class Act. It never flew. My two Goodreads giveaways resulted in awful reviews. Perfect for a rewrite, yes?

Then I re-read the reviews, and they sounded very similar to a review I got on Baby Blues recently. In essence, Okay writing, but I HATE the leading lady.

“…the way Rebecca’s character was written made her quite unbearable.”

Ah, yes, about that. I never loved the leading ladies in Baby Blues and Class Act all that much either. My love was always for the leading male, or a secondary character. And, with the distance of a few years, it’s obvious. In some way, they’re both me. And I don’t love me very often.

I have no idea what makes me likeable. Hubbie can’t tell me (not in a way that wouldn’t be better suited to 50 Shades) and I don’t really have close friends. I don’t know how to write an amazing leading lady because I don’t really know any.

Perhaps that is why I’m enjoying writing the kids’ books. If the characters are based on me (and I don’t know if they are), then they’re not deep enough – the stories aren’t long enough – for people to hate them. But more likely they’re based around traits I see in my kids, in the children at school, and from the books I read and love. They’re stories of bravery and daring and magic. My women’s novels are about the hardship of being a grown-up!

So I think I’ll walk gracefully away from the real world and leave the grown-up story writing to those who can create more sympathetic characters. Tempting as a 10k advance is, I’m not going to win a competition with a bunch of characters no one likes (when they’re meant to!)

I don’t mind. Give me magic ponies and talking cats any day.

Five Hundred Followers

followed-blog-500-2x

Thank you!

I have reached a big milestone for me this week: five hundred followers.

I am always amazed when people want to subscribe to my random and sporadic blog and I am always so very very grateful.

A while ago I said I would run a giveaway when I reached this point. Unfortunately January is a crazy month for me, so for now I’m giving my books away instead!

Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes isn’t eligible for a giveaway, but the price will be reduced through a countdown deal from 30th January through to 6th February.

Class Act and Dragon Wraiths will both be free from 29th January to 31st January. (Links Below)

Chase away those January Blues and curl up with a romance or fly with dragons on me this weekend!

Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes Link

Class Act Book Link

Dragon Wraiths Link

Learning Characterisation from Humans Of New York

HONY Facebook Page

HONY Facebook Page

I’ve talked about the Humans of New York Facebook page many times before, mostly in passing. Today I wanted to discuss what an amazing resource the page is for writers.

For me, one of the hardest parts of being a writer is coming up with three-dimensional characters. When I start a first draft my characters are usually pretty vague. I know their motivation or I know the key story problem (Helen getting pregnant, Rebecca’s dislike of the upper class, Lucy’s need for a family and to fit in), but the character starts out as a hazy version of me at some earlier point in my life. They move on from that, and by the end of the first draft they become living, breathing, talkative people in my head. But I think one of the reasons I like my male characters better is because the starting point for them is more often men I know and admire or love, rather than versions of me. (There’s a lot of hubbie in Marcio!)

The problem now is that my novels are starting to have mirror scenes. I’m stuck with Finding Lucy because it starts with a death and a funeral – as does Class Act (although Finding Lucy came first.) Now, it’s unlikely many people will read both, as Class Act bombed, but I can see the reviews now. “Amanda Martin’s latest novel is dull and repetitive, with chunks lifted directly from her previous release.” Oh joy.

Similarly, the protagonists often have similar upbringings and backgrounds because I write more authentically when I can really live it (or have lived it!)

Brandon's Latest Post

Brandon’s Latest Post

So where does HONY come in? I’ve been editing Dragon Wraiths this week for one final time before entering it in the Chicken House/Times competition, after having had the lovely lady who proofread Class Act run through it. She pointed out the bits where I lose the sense of Leah being a teen (my editor has teenage kids, which is fantastic). But she also pointed to the bits where I evoke Leah’s backstory well, when she was in foster care.

I did a lot of research online for the care scenes, and the snippet of Leah’s time on the streets. I wanted it to be realistic but not sensationalist, genuine but not too gritty. A fine line. But then I read a HONY post yesterday which gave an insight into care in one paragraph. In fact it created a whole story and three-dimensional character in a couple of hundred words. Each HONY post does.

When Brandon Stanton (the amazing man behind Humans Of New York) was on his UN tour, the stories were beyond my ability to visualise, but now he’s back in New York the wealth of material is incredible. Not just for main characters. I think one of the reasons Baby Blues resonates with people is because all the characters have stories of their own. I chose not to develop the bit-characters in Class Act, because some reviews of Baby Blues said it was crowded with people, but I’m learning you can’t please everyone!

What Brandon shows is that a person’s whole life and character can be depicted in half a page. He has a way of getting under people’s skin to their very essence. He gets them to tell the core of their life story succinctly but with feeling. I read his posts to keep me grounded in the stories of the world, but also I read them to learn from a master.

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!

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 £1.54 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!

My 500th Post and a Giveaway

Wow!

Wow!

How exciting! WordPress has just informed me that my last post was my 500th post! That’s not bad going in two years.

I wanted to pen a quick line to say thank you to everyone who follows this blog, reads my posts, likes them, comments on them, shares them and generally makes the whole thing worthwhile.

When I started Writermummy two years ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing or what a blog was for. I only knew that if I wanted to sell books I needed an author platform. I’m not sure Kristen Lamb would approve of my blog in that role.

The blog has become my therapist’s couch, my sounding board, my coffee shop where I hang out and chat with friends. My safe place, where I can vent on pretty much any subject and find someone willing to give advice or at least a virtual hug. You guys can’t begin to know what it means to me.

So, it might not help me sell books (it certainly takes time away from writing new ones!), but my blog is my soul. To celebrate reaching my 500th post I’ve decided to offer Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes for free this weekend (even though I said it would never be free!) The promotion should be live around 8am GMT on 1st March. I wish I could offer cake, but that’s a bit more tricky.

Here’s to 500 more posts. Thanks for listening. 🙂