girl in the middle

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A quirky short story about a woman who discovers that not all heroes wear capes… some of them don’t even have a pulse. But they do have a name. Gerald.

I wrote a short story! girl in the middle And you can download it, for free, on whatever device you use.

Nook  ~ Kobo ~ Kindle ~ Apple

Now, don’t labour under the misapprehension that I wrote this during lockdown. No siree. All I’ve done during lockdown is watch Poldark (because… I’m really interested in 18th century mining?!), curse my sinuses and basically fall apart, in an orderly fashion.

Writing during this time has been like everything else during this time – a mixture of extremes. Either I’m feeling really creative and motivated or I can’t even muster up the enthusiasm to switch on my laptop. I wrote this story last year with the full intention of submitting it for a short story award, but being the success-driven, laser-focused, ambitious writer that I am, I didn’t get around to it ūüôā But I’m so glad I didn’t, because finding it now feels like perfect timing. A gift from past-me to present-me. When I read it again, I found myself laughing out loud and enjoying the quirky characters I created. So I thought, what’s the best way to get this out into the world? Self-publish of course!

Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve released anything and the stuff I’m currently working on is more contemporary and more comedy. That’s the thing with novels – there is sooooooooooooooo much time in between, where your readers probably think you’re dead or off spending your royalties in Mauritius. When really, you’re writing TWO new novels, submitting, waiting, writing, reading, editing, deleting and repeating until another year has gone by and you’ve nothing to show for it. So releasing a little story is a great way to remind people that you’re alive and still writing stories.

And people do love a free book! It’s a great way to discover a new author. Betwixt – my first short story – which is consistently in the Amazon Top 5, is flying off the virtual shelves at the moment. So it’s a win-win, I get to share a bite-size piece of creativity and readers get a free story.

So please share, read, download, whatever it is you crazy kids do and help me to get this story out there. At a very short and sweet 15 pages, girl in the middle is fun, free and uplifting – and we could all do with a bit of that right now.

 

Don’t @ Me

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Reading reviews can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. The warm and fuzzy feeling when someone has connected with your characters; understood what you were trying to do and are happy they bought a ticket to your show. The shock and anger when someone dismisses your work, casually labels it ‘boring’ or the real killer, ‘light reading’. Some authors choose not to read their reviews, which is completely understandable. But for a lot of us, this is the only kind of feedback we get and so we cross our fingers, keep one eye closed and dive in, hoping for the best.

Over time, you come to realise that your book is no longer your private property. It belongs to anyone who hands over their hard-earned cash to buy it and their experience of reading it is unique to them and something you have no control over. This knowledge has given me a certain amount of detachment from reviews. As someone once said, reviews are for the readers and that is as it should be. But does that mean that authors don’t read their reviews?

I remember when I published my first book, The Heirloom. I hoped that people would buy it, read it and with any luck, enjoy it. It took roughly two years to research, write and rewrite. As a newly, self-published author, it took a very long time to get off the ground. If someone had told me back then that people would not only read it, but contact me to say how much they enjoyed it, well, I would have felt like my dreams were coming true.

That’s why I think the recent discussion on Twitter, sparked by an author who said it was ‘rude’ to tag them, is confusing a lot of people. On a basic level, writers write because they want to share a story with the world. Now, they might not care what the world thinks about their story (I’m thinking of Sally Rooney who said in an interview that she doesn’t read reviews or let them hold any sway for her) and that is their right. Writing a book does not automatically lock you into a contract where you have to be open to everyone’s’ opinion on it.

However, this is social media. It’s where you come to interact with people and if you’re an author (especially a well-known author), people are going to @ you. I see that Sally Rooney no longer has a Twitter account, which is really the only way to go if you don’t want to be involved in the conversation. I also noticed that Gail Honeyman, author of one of my favourite books, has also been inactive on her account since 2017. Now, I don’t know the reason for this (she’s probably writing another amazing book!) but prior to that, she responded to everyone who tagged her.

Which makes me wonder about the other part of the tweet – how we are limited ‘professionally’. Does this mean that publishers preclude authors from engaging with reviewers? Perhaps that’s a valid point – but I’ve never heard of this being the case and it certainly isn’t for me. In fact, the more interaction the merrier. But I think saying ‘thank you’ or liking a tweet is hardly going to create any conflict of interest. Or is the author referring to negative reviews and the unwritten rule that authors should not engage in online spats about their books (are you listening John Boyne?!) Maybe that is what she meant – it is so difficult to have a nuanced conversation on Twitter.

But speaking of negative reviews – I think it’s safe to assume that most authors do not want to be tagged on those! I saw Erin Morgenstern had to ask people to refrain from tagging her in conversations about how they didn’t really enjoy her new book. That’s just …. shit, really. I don’t know why anyone would want to call an author’s attention to their negative opinion of their book. Where is that conversation going to go? Is the author supposed to apologise? Give up writing?? Of course not. I like to use Goodreads to write my reviews, but I’m always cringing that an author might see the negative ones. Yes, it’s my honest opinion, but I’m not going to draw their attention to it by tagging them.

The fact is, everyone is entitled to make their own boundaries and I respect that. Judging from the comments, most people don’t expect a response from the author anyhow, but it’s nice when it happens. I tag other authors when I’m in love with their book – you can bet your butt I tagged Gail Honeyman with a link to a gushing review on my blog and she said something along the lines of Yay! thanks and we all went home happy. But I have tagged one or two authors who haven’t responded, for whatever reason, and that’s cool too. Maybe we should just agree that it’s not rude to tag and it’s not rude to not reply. Simples.

However, I don’t like the idea of self-appointed spokespeople making sweeping generalisations on behalf of all authors everywhere. We have all taken different paths to this place and some of us see it as a validation of sorts when someone has taken the time to say, hey, nice work.

Neil Gaiman added his tuppence worth, giving credence to the belief that authors do not want to read their reviews. Again, it came off a little patronising and, as happens on Twitter, we all have knee-jerk reactions. Later, he qualified his comment with the following:

This just goes to show what I believe to be the crux of the issue. Most of us would struggle to get reviewed in the mainstream media. Our aim is to be read by regular readers, not critics. So yeah, of course we want to hear from those people! The day I have a bad review in the Times and someone tags me in it, maybe then I’ll understand the annoyance these writers feel. But you know what? Maybe I won’t, because I’ve had to grow a very thick skin over the years – something all those articles written by publishers and agents tell us we need to do if we want to be authors!

It sometimes feels like all of this advice for writers is being sent in the wrong direction. I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman, but he does not speak for all of us. Just like he didn’t speak for me when he said eBook piracy was ‘an incredibly good thing’. Illegal downloads are having a seriously adverse affect on authors trying to establish a career in the digital age, affecting sales and creating an environment where readers no longer see the value in paying for books. You cannot assume that everyone in this industry is on a level playing field. We are a diverse ecosystem and one of the most integral parts of it are book reviewers/book bloggers. Elizabeth Bear’s tweet was especially dismissive of bloggers who read/review/promote book reviews and naturally tag the author as an FYI.

Whatever the intention was (and I’m learning that your intention can be very much misconstrued on Twitter) it has again highlighted the amount of unpaid work bloggers do with little or no credit. Another tweet (oh my God, I’m spending so much time on Twitter!! Help!) from a book blogger laid out how much time it takes and commitment to keep a blog going and how a simple high five from an author can make it feel worthwhile. It strikes me that in a multi-million euro industry, the people who do all the work get the least reward. Authors receive tiny royalties, have to do their own marketing and bloggers work for the price of a free book.

Anyway, I don’t want to end on a bum note. No-one is forcing us to be here, we do it because we love it, but as in life, it only takes some small courtesies to make it better for everyone. Try to not to illegally download books – I know we’re all on tight budgets, but please borrow from a library instead and if you can, leave a review. Show book bloggers some appreciation by liking their reviews – yes they love books anyway but I can’t imagine having to read loads of books I didn’t choose and then promoting them and promoting other bloggers, all for free! And do tag authors – most of us are not guaranteed newspaper reviews or even book deals. So it’s a lovely boost when someone takes the time to review your book (just don’t share the negative ones with us – no good can come from it!)

As Rebecca Solnit said, a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. We need each other.

Betwixt – A gothic short story

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I love gothic novels. Everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Laura Purcell, Bram Stoker to Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I find the blend of dark romanticism, ominous characters, decaying grandeur, curses and the supernatural simply irresistible. My favourite novel as a teenager was Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Set on the desolate and uninviting moors, with its harsh climate provided the perfect backdrop for a gothic romance and reminded me so much of Ireland, that I felt strangely connected to it. I was also really drawn to the anti-heroes Heathcliff and Cathy – their willful nature, their intensity. But it’s the structure of the story and the supernatural elements that infuse it with a sense of mystery and fear.

I was less enamoured by my penchant for the macabre when staying at a friend’s cottage in the middle of the Irish countryside, miles from anywhere. It was the longest night of my life (I was supposed to stay there for a week. Plans changed!). Nestled (or buried – depending on how you want to look at it!) at the base of a hill , it was a traditional thatched cottage with dinky windows and a half door. The smell of turf almost knocked me over as we walked inside, but I tried to be cool with the gloom and the damp. And the fact that, despite it being the height of summer, inside was a million degrees cooler than outside.

That night however, I stopped being cool with everything when the noises started. Every creak made me jump. It didn’t help that the room was full of religious icons, leering over me. The distinct sound of a chair being scraped across the floor left me rigid in the bed. I had to risk my arm being snatched by who knew what to switch on the lamp. I gave up on sleep and sat in an armchair by the smokey fire until it was light enough to pack up and go back to civilisation. But not before my companion told me the history of the house, and how we were not the first to leave the place in a hurry.

This, dear reader, was the inspiration for my gothic short story, Betwixt¬†which is currently a number one bestseller on Amazon! I wrote it in 2015, before The Story Collector, as a little side project, so it’s a thrill to see it doing so well and garnering such positive reviews. Like all indie authors, I struggle to get my work promoted and break into new readerships. So I have made this short story permanently free on all platforms (Kobo¬†~ Apple) so readers can get an introduction to my writing before buying all of my books!

Betwixt is the perfect quick read for this time of year – it’s atmospheric and haunting and inspired by a true story (eek!) So download your FREE copy now and if you enjoy it, I would love if you could share the love by passing it on to a friend and/or leaving a short review. They make a HUGE difference to how books are ranked on Amazon, which in turn can really impact on an author’s career. True story! You can have all the PR in the world, but it is readers who have the greatest influence. So thank you to everyone who has made this book number one and to those of you about to read it, let me know what you think!

White Lies

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I read a great thread the other day on Twitter by author Leigh Bardugo about how, as authors, we tend to perpetuate the myth of glamour and success that surrounds the magical business of getting published. Take it away Leigh!

She goes on to talk about how we ‘big up’ the successful moments, but downplay (or conceal) the less attractive aspects, like having to make your own merchandise to bribe people with! But don’t we all do this in our everyday lives? Pretending that everything is rosy in the garden, whether it be your marriage, your job, or your house that looks lovely but is actually developing some scary cracks and is possibly built on an ancient burial site?? But that’s enough about me. Telling little white lies about your job is just an extension of that very human need to be seen as ‘successful’ or ‘having your shit together’. We pretend we’re earning more than we are or have a bigger office.

But there is something about the truth that liberates all of us. In recent times, more and more authors are opening up about the reality of publishing and what it really looks like, behind the headlines. Irish author Donal Ryan ruffled many’s the feather by revealing that his books earned him a mere 40c per book and that he was returning to full-time employing in order to pay his mortgage. (I wrote about it for the Irish Times here).

I think there is a certain amount of embarrassment – because all we tend to hear about are the big authors who get eye-watering book deals, then sell the movie rights and next thing you know, they’re featured in some home style magazine showing off their new castle. That’s what people expect will happen when you get a publishing deal, but it is the exception. Most authors just want to earn a wage, even a really tiny one, that means they can write full time. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case.

But we don’t want to let the side down, or reveal to our friends and families that actually, not all book shops will stock your book, that some people still won’t read your book even though you’ve given them a copy for free, that you have to work just as hard promoting your book as you did writing it and at the end of the day, most Irish authors earn somewhere between ‚ā¨500 and ‚ā¨5,000 per year (eek!).

Yet it seems a bit strange that authors are the ones left to gloss over these facts – as though we somehow have to protect the reputation of the publishing industry as well as our own! Well, not on my watch. Self-publishing is a great leveler and dispels you of any ‘notions’ (as we call them here) pretty early on. I’ve had to do everything myself, so signing with a publisher was a real privilege. But it’s not the end of the rainbow – there were still disappointments as well as unexpected gains. What didn’t change is the amount of effort I had to put into making sure people knew about my book.¬† There are so many jobs you have to do as an author that you can never invoice anyone for and I’m not sure any amount of wild success will change that.

I remember reading an article a while back (but for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name or find the link) in which a bestselling author spoke about a reading he was due to give at a local library for his new book. About eight people showed up; one was his wife and the rest were from a local retirement home. That was shocking to me – again because I just didn’t know that most really, really successful authors aren’t celebrities. Even New York Times bestselling authors. The truth is, nobody really cares! Apart from you, your publisher and probably your bank.

So yeah, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling the odd white lie to save face, but the constant pressure to present a false picture of your life or your career – which has only increased with the dawn of social media – is just really exhausting and serves nobody. And sometimes the most inspiring stories are the ones where you didn’t make it – like, how often do we find our own inner resilience perk up when reading about authors who were rejected zillions of times? Of course, the catch is, you have to then make it big-time for your sob story to resonate, but still. Knowing that nobody really knows what their doing can be the most comforting truth of all.

Value Your Writing

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was watching a documentary about Christie’s Auction House the other day (more unexpected research!) when they took delivery of a beautiful Constable painting. Three specialists inspected the piece, oohing and aahing over the quick brush strokes and immensity of the sky. Then came the real deliberations… how much was it worth? As they debated over how many tens of millions it might fetch, the documentary maker asked them how they arrived at such a price (¬£20 million). The specialists said that the price was based on how much previous Constable paintings sold for and how much buyers would be prepared to pay. It was staggering to me – it wasn’t so much to do with the actual artwork itself, but how the art world chose to value it. The artist is long gone and even if he were alive today, could not profit from these kinds of sales. Banksy highlighted this issue when he shredded one of his paintings that was resold at auction.

The way society values things can often seem completely unrelated to an item’s true worth. It seems to be more about ownership and the prestige that it brings, rather than investing in an item because it means something to you. The documentary went on to boast about Christie’s new operations in China, where they were basically teaching the Chinese the value of Western art (i.e. teaching them how to spend their millions lusting after the same limited number of artworks deemed worthy). It all seemed so fake and contrived to keep money flowing within the same circles. As my mother would say, money for old rope! These auction houses aren’t actually creating anything or adding value – they are making their money off the backs of artists who died hundreds of years ago, many of them penniless. I often think of Van Gogh and how he struggled throughout his life. Ostracised by the art world at the time, his paintings speak to so many of us now because of their individuality and unique style.

Anyway, what has all this got to do with anything? Well, I’ve been stressing over book sales recently – wondering if I could be doing more and getting frustrated with myself because OBVIOUSLY I’m not doing enough. Which has ultimately led to me viewing my work purely in terms of rankings, sales and reviews. Which is awful – nobody should view their work in those terms, yet it is a reality you face when you’re trying to make a living out of writing.

The problem is, it’s an extremely narrow view of how much your book is worth. I lost touch with how much value I gained from writing my stories in the first place – how much writing helped me through the ups and downs of life. My books have been an escape and a sanctuary. A source of limitless frustration, yes, but also a source of pride. Becoming a writer has been a dream come true. It has given my life a whole new meaning and purpose. Not to mention the joy of being read! One of my favourite reviews (which I should really stick on my fridge in moments of doubt) was from a reader who thanked me for following my passion and living my purpose. Now, what could be worth more than that? You can’t put a price on that kind of connection.

We are all creators, communicating our unique experience of life. Value arbitrarily placed on something by the outside world doesn’t always necessarily mean ‘better’. It might just mean they can find a buyer for it, or that it will sell with minimal fuss. The same applies if you submit a manuscript to a publisher – if they don’t think your book is commercial enough, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t any good. Market forces are driven by very different motives. Was J.K. Rowling’s writing any less impressive when she was writing in a cafe, unemployed and unable to get published? Were Van Gogh’s paintings any less vibrant and expressive when the art world had turned their back on him? The work is it’s own reward, its value is inherent, regardless of stats or awards. Your writing has value, whether you are published or not, whether your last book was a hit or not. So never skimp on the quality of your work – make it the best it can be, for yourself. Don’t follow the markets or compromise your ideas. Never stop dreaming. The process of creation, fulfilling your artistic potential, telling your story – all of these things are beyond price tags.

We all want to be successful, but I’m not sure that allowing the world to tell you how much you’re worth is the meaning of success. An artist’s career will always have peaks and troughs, but that does not reflect your worth or predict your potential. We should value our talent and keep writing (and stop checking the sales reports!)

Why Writers Are 100% My Type On Paper

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You know that old cliche – you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps?! Well, welcome to the book business my friend.¬† In the style of Joni Mitchell, I’ve looked at publishing from both sides now – well, three sides to be precise, a triangular perspective with lots of 90 degree angles.¬† I’ve gone from an unpublished writer, to self-published to traditionally published and I can safely say that the one rule of successful book publishing is…. there are no rules!¬†¬†I’m starting to wonder if the publishing industry is some form of collective insanity.¬† And it is the writer, the creative power at the centre of the… triangle, who has the least amount of certainty in this baffling equation of reader plus book, multiplied by publishing.

But wait, that’s just inside the triangle.¬† The real uncontrollable variables are all outside the triangle, like….. like a big circle encasing billions of little triangles (God I wish I hadn’t brought up geometry) that functions according to its own rules and agendas.

Let me break it down (and stop pretending I know anything about sums).¬† As an unpublished author, I clung onto the popular belief that published authors had it made, that publishers showered you with advances and follow-up deals for books you haven’t even written yet and that once your book was on the shelf, everyone would know of its existence and buy it.¬† It’s weird to be looking back on that time now, because I suppose it forces me to see how far I’ve come, which is not something I’m very good at doing.¬† I’m always chasing after the next rainbow – I guess it’s the human condition.¬† But it’s also a reminder of how much work went into becoming the writer I am now – which is the same for all writers.¬† So much work goes on behind the scenes, during the lean years when the only message you got from the outside world was, ‘getting a book deal is harder than winning the lottery‘ or ‘writing is a nice hobby‘.¬† At this point, a lot of writers think about quitting.¬† It seems utterly pointless and delusional.¬† A strange breeding ground for future authors, but one thing it certainly teaches us all is resilience and something else far more interesting (okay, two things, I told you I was bad at maths) PASSION.¬† It’s at this stage you find out whether or not writing is your passion, because if it is, it won’t let you go, so you may as well make the best of it.

Which brings me to self-publishing.¬† The best compliment I can give to self-publishing is that most readers hardly notice if a book is self-published anymore (I know this from my reviews).¬† It turns out the digital revolution was right; people don’t care where their stories come from, as long as they’re good.¬† The cream did rise to the top – all of the worries people had about rubbish novels taking over the world were unfounded and in the end it was the reader who shaped the self-publishing landscape.¬† Yes, it drove down the price of an eBook, which has had both good and bad repercussions (more anon), but it also introduced authors (who might otherwise have withered and died in a pile of their own submission material) to a new readership that traditional publishers weren’t targeting.¬† Turns out people wanted to read about vampires and spacemen and weird sexual contracts!¬† But I digress – the point is, self-publishing is brilliant, dynamic and offers better royalties than the main traditional publishers, but it does have its limits and this is where reality sets in. Your book is just one out of zillions of books published every year and the problem that needs solving is how to get noticed?

Cue traditional publishing!¬† The old school, tried and tested way of getting your book in front of readers, but even this approach has its challenges.¬† There’s no doubt that having your book published traditionally gives you (as a writer) the kind of validation recognised by booksellers and readers alike.¬† And for me personally, it was a huge vote of confidence in my writing career.¬† I’m no longer working in complete isolation and it feels good to have people who care as much about my book as I do!¬† But books don’t automatically appear on shelves, they need to charm the book buyers first and if you walk into any bookshop, you will see who has the most influence.¬† You’re still facing the same problem – how to get my book noticed in a crowded market.¬† This came home to me when I walked into my local Dubrays the other week, an auspicious occasion, because it was the first time I was going to see my book in a shop (that I didn’t have to hand-deliver myself!)¬† The windows were taken up with large displays for Anne Tyler’s new novel (like she needs the publicity – and now I’ve given her more!!) and as I walked down the centre aisle, all of the mainstream publishers had their new releases displayed like colourful fruits at a stereotypical French market. I had already heard of these books through print media and online thanks to their big promotion budget, and now they held prime real estate right throughout the shop.¬† So there is a lot more to this book business than meets the eye and each new deal is a giant victory for your book. (Like the fact that The Story Collector is now on promotion in all WH Smith stores in Irish airports – YAY!!)

So I’m still pushing, still trying to let people know that my book is good and it’s on the shelf.¬†¬†I’m very lucky to be with my publisher and have a wonderful PR person helping me, but the truth is, I am probably working harder to promote this book than I did on my previous two.¬† Then again, I have more to promote and that’s thanks to having a publisher, which has definitely opened more doors for me.¬† I just got off the phone from the arts reporter for my local newspaper and I’m constantly submitting articles to online publications and (gently) reminding people that my book is on promotion and on the shelf.¬† What’s that? Where can you buy it? Allow me to furnish you with those deets ūüôā

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Book Depository ~ Dubray Books ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’s ~ Waterstones ~ WH Smith

Amazon UK  ~ Amazon US ~  Amazon (paperback)

So what’s my point?

It’s non-stop graft, but you still have very little control over how well your book will perform.¬† You spend years in the Unpublished Doldrums, wondering if you’re any good at all or if you’ll ever make it, then if you hang in there, you might get to Self-Published Isle, a wonderful place where you make everything happen yourself but lack the support of industry insiders.¬† Then if you’re really, really lucky, you’ll get to Trad-Published Mountain, a mythical place where not all is at it seems, but the view is good and the bar is subsidised!

HOWEVER, after all of that and regardless of which route you take to publication, chances are your voyage will be scuppered by pirates (or as they should be called, copyright thieves).¬† The digital revolution has been such a wonderful progression for everyone who loves books, but the downside is the growth in illegal download sites.¬† Like the music industry before, books have lost their value for some and even 99p is deemed too high a price for a book.¬† A typical comparison when discussing this topic is that some people believe it’s normal to pay more for a cup of coffee than a book.¬† So after all those years of working on your craft for no income – the years of submitting and learning how to deal with rejection – the years of starting over with a brand new novel and putting the old one in a drawer – the years of being told it’s not commercially viable or ‘right for our lists’ – the years of promoting your author platform – more writing – more editing – waiting for a response – providing tons of free content to gain exposure – finally getting a deal – discovering you won’t be getting a six figure advance after all – more promotion – doing all of this before you see a red cent – some creep comes along, takes your new book and makes it freely available for anyone to download.

Because, as we all know, people in the arts aren’t really working; it’s not like a real job, so they don’t deserve a real income.¬† And the people who download your book from an illegal site aren’t really stealing, because they probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway. Or maybe they’re like the old me, thinking that published authors are doing quite nicely for themselves and anyway, the publisher will probably cover the loss.¬† Maybe articles like this in which author earnings are revealed to be less than the minimum wage, will help (and they’re the lucky ones, professional writers who got published and write full time).¬† For authors in Ireland, it’s even less (The ‚ā¨500 a year career)¬† This is what’s happening and finally the industry is starting to fight back, as in the recent case with OceanofPDF (The Times).¬† But is it too little too late?¬† Who knows.

All I do know is that, in the face of all this improbability, writers keep on writing and books are more popular than ever.¬† I see the enthusiasm of new publishers (like Urbane) to become a dynamic and exciting alternative to the Big 5, to give voice to new writers and offer readers something different from the risk-averse mainstream.¬† But this whole fallacy about ‘writers not doing it for the money’ needs editing.¬† We might not be motivated to write by money, but we would very much like to be remunerated for our work, thank you very much.¬† Even if it is a pittance, we’ve earned it! Fiction writers are real people¬†with very ordinary lives, trying to create something a little extraordinary that everyone can enjoy.¬† I don’t think the world owes us a living, but it sure as shit needs to protect our copyright and give us a fair share of the profits from our work (UK book sales for 2017 hit a record ¬£5.7 bn, read more here).

So on the one hand we have an industry that has been described as ‘exploitative’ by author Philip Pullman and on the other, a section of society that now expect to read books for free.¬† Even with my limited skills, I know that doesn’t add up.¬† And that is why writers are SOOOOO my type, because even though they are aware of this shit storm going on in the big circle around them, they sit down and keep plugging away at their story, in the hope that the pen will ultimately triumph over everything else.¬† Yeah, maybe we’re slightly deluded, but how else do you think books get written?!¬† Writers are dreamers.¬† They have to be, to imagine a place where words are not something to be stolen, but something to be cherished.

So You Want To Be A Writer…

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I sometimes wonder what kind of advice would have helped me five years ago, before publishing my first book.¬† Or if I would have heeded any of it.¬† With that in mind, here’s a little checklist for anyone starting out on their writing journey…

  1. Get a good chair.

    I have done my best to ignore this advice over the years and on the plus side, I now have personal experience of the adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice.’¬† You will be spending quite a lot of time in your chair, so try to invest a decent amount in it.¬† Having said that (cue adage number two) ‘sitting is the new smoking’.¬† So the current wisdom is to have a standing desk, or better yet, switch between the two.¬† Just try not to sit in the same spot for hours on end wasting time on social media¬† writing your book.

  2. It won’t happen overnight.

    We’d all like it to happen overnight, but chances are, it won’t.¬† Even if it looks like authors are coming from out of nowhere with huge success, just Google them.¬† You’ll see it’s probably their third book, or their first book after years of rejections and unpublished books.¬† The same goes for writing income.¬† It can take years to start seeing any kind of decent return on your books and it definitely takes more than one book to build a ‘brand’.¬† Remember, people are buying into you, the writer, as much as they are your book.¬† You’ve got to show them that you’re going to stick around, that this is your thing.¬† I know it’s frustrating when you see other people signing deals, but be patient, your time will come.¬† Really.

  3. Rejection is the stone on which you will sharpen your skills.

    Rejection tells you, in no uncertain terms, you have more work to do.¬† It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, but it might mean you’re not good enough yet.¬† Boy am I glad my first book got rejected.¬† There was a lot of good things in that novel, but in terms of my skills as a writer, it was unquestionably beginners level.¬† I learned so much from writing it and I learned even more from all of the rejections it garnered.¬† Rejection tells you whether or not you really want to become a writer, if you really have the commitment it takes to get better at it.¬† For a while, I thought I didn’t.¬† But the urge wouldn’t leave until I started a second novel (The Heirloom).¬† And when that didn’t get published, I published it myself.¬† It’s now in the top 20 bestseller list on Amazon US.

  4. Keep your eyes peeled.

    Everybody can list off the big publishing houses, but for new authors, it behooves you to become acquainted with the smaller publishers, the indies and digital imprints.¬† They are the ones who are better placed to take chances on new authors.¬† Off the top of my head, I can think of several writers who are getting deals right now with publishers like Bloodhound Books, Bookouture, Black and White, Orenda and of course my own publisher, Urbane.¬† It’s an exciting time in publishing with new platforms popping up all the time, like the crowdfunding publisher Unbound.¬† Keep in touch with the writing community online so you’ll be ready for opportunities when they come along.¬† Sometimes it’s all about luck, being in the right place at the right time (with the right book!).

  5. Write what you love.

    It can take a year or more to write a novel, so it may as well be a subject you are passionate about.¬† ¬†The research alone makes this worthwhile – I can’t imagine spending months reading up on a subject I’m not that interested in.¬† You will be sharing your life with this story for quite some time, so make it about something you LOVE!¬† Find your own voice and be authentic – you don’t need to imitate what’s already out there, create something new and original.

  6. There is more than one road to getting published.

    For some it’s self-publishing, for some it’s finding an agent, for others a traditional publisher.¬† There are authors who credit their creative writing groups and MA’s for their success, still more who claim that writing courses merely delay the inevitable – actually writing the book.¬† Everyone is different – I’m more of a lone wolf and that’s what suits me.¬† We’re all susceptible to looking at what everyone else is doing and wondering if what we’re doing is right, but I don’t think there is a right or a wrong, just different choices.¬† Find what works for you.¬† Just keep writing, don’t compromise and remember, if you don’t tell this story, no-one else will.

So here I am, 2018 with my third novel due for release in June.¬† Even typing those words is a bit surreal.¬† I had no clue what I was getting into all those years ago and maybe it was just as well.¬† Like most journeys in life, I think you need a healthy amount of blind faith starting out.¬† And a stubborn refusal to give up.¬† So that’s what I would tell my past self – keep being stubborn and don’t give up.¬† And don’t buy that crap chair.

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The Story Collector

Available to pre-order on Amazon

THE DEFINITIVE SELF-PUBLISHING CHECKLIST ~ For People Who Aren’t Very Organised and are absolute beginners.

The definitive

You just hit publish, right? ¬†That’s what all the articles say. ¬†Any idiot can upload a book in minutes. ¬†And yes, I suppose any idiot can, but it takes a very informed, dedicated, professional¬†and talented individual to upload a book that people will want to read. ¬†A recent Facebook post from a first-time author seeking advice made me realise how long I’ve been doing this self-publishing thang and how I’ve kind of taken for granted that everyone has¬†‘the knowledge’. ¬†There are so many blogs, articles and how-to books on the subject, and yet authors can still struggle with the basics. ¬†The first author asked what she should be doing in the run up to her launch and another suggested that while there is a lot of information out there, it’s almost overwhelming. ¬†Where do you start? ¬†Where does it end?? ¬†So in an effort to share said knowledge, I’m writing a blog with an impossibly long title, which will (hopefully) be filled with all of the essentials, while trying not to bombard¬†you with too much scary stuff.

  1. Make a publishing schedule. ¬†promo-calendar¬† ¬† ¬† So you’ve typed those blessed words, THE END and you’re mooching around the Kindle Direct Publishing website wondering where the publish button is. ¬†Whoa there Tex, what’s your rush? ¬†You’ve skipped the bajillion steps between finishing your manuscript and sending it out into the world for people to read. ¬†So roll back your wagon and follow step number one – create a publishing schedule. ¬†In my opinion, you’re going to need at least six months to get everything done before your book goes live, so first things first, DO NOT RUSH. ¬†This is not a race, unless you’re hoping to win a medal for the person least prepared to publish a book.

2. Polish your prose. ¬†Has your book been edited? ¬†Proof-read? ¬†Again, don’t rush out there and get the first editor you find on Fiverr. ¬†There are so many ‘professionals’ who are feeding off the self-publishing industry, so you want to find someone who has a proven track record. ¬†A great place to find all of the professionals you’re going to need is Indie Author Alliance Services Directory. ¬†At the very least, get some Beta readers whose opinions you trust and respect. ¬†It nigh on¬†impossible to view your work objectively, so you need other eyes to see the things you cannot.

3. Hire a designer. ¬†Again, you’re going to need time to find a good cover designer and depending on their work load, you might have to wait a few months in a queue, so best to get in early. ¬†Again, look for examples of their work. ¬†Don’t worry if you are on a budget, there are plenty of websites that offer pre-made covers that are really good value and you simply add your name and title. ¬†The Creative Penn is a great resource for self-publishing and offers a handy list of tried and tested book cover designers. ¬†This is just one list however, there are lots of designers out there and a great way of finding them is finding covers you like and checking out who designed them.

4. The Blurb. ¬†You know, there are two sides to every cover and the back can be just as important as the front. ¬†The blurb. ¬†This is often the last thing authors think about and run up a quick summary in a ‘that’ll do’ kind of approach. ¬†Do not do this. ¬†Think about it, when you’re buying a book online or in a store, the cover is the first thing to catch your eye, but the very next thing you do is turn it over to see what it’s about. ¬†This is your moment to hook the reader. ¬†A few carefully-worded sentences are all that stands between them popping your book in their basket or placing it back on the shelf. ¬†Spend time studying blurbs in your genre, Google ‘blurb writing’ and keep refining what you’ve written until you’re satisfied with it. ¬†It’s not a summary and should be written in the same style as your novel. ¬†As author Susan Kaye Quinn explains on The Bestseller Experiement podcast, ‘a blurb is flash fiction, only you don’t end it‘. ¬†Write a killer blurb, or you’ll only have your shelf to blame (sorry!)

5. Formatting. ¬†Before you can upload your book to Amazon or Smashwords, you’re going to need to format it. ¬†You could pay someone to do this for you, but if I can manage it, I’m pretty sure you can to. ¬†Everything you need to know is in this post by Catherine Ryan Howard ¬†on Writing.ie. It’s pretty old, but I’ve yet to find a more user-friendly, dedicated formatting article that explains things as well as this.

The big question, should you publish a paperback version, is something you need to decide for yourself. ¬†Kindle Direct Publishing have made it easier than ever to do this, and as soon as you upload your eBook files, it asks you if you want to make a print version. ¬†In my opinion, you have nothing to lose but the time it takes to configure your cover (or pay your designer to do this). ¬†My print sales are relatively low, but it’s good to give your readers the option.

6. Pre-order. ¬†You know you can put your book on Amazon for pre-order, meaning that people can see your book before you launch (yay marketing!) and also order it ahead of time. ¬†This will give your sales a bump on launch day and it also means that you can start promoting your book earlier and creating a buzz, while you’re still doing all of the finishing touches behind the scenes. ¬†Confession: ¬†I did not do this. ¬†I was in too much of a rush. ¬†So is this a case of do as I say and not as I do? ¬†Well, yes I suppose it is, but only because I want you to benefit from my mistakes.

7. Reviews. ¬†Reviews (1)If you are a new author, you will most definitely need the help of book reviewers/bloggers to review your book. ¬†Now is the time to start approaching them, as the most popular ones work to very tight schedules that can be booked months in advance. ¬†You’re probably starting to see that six months isn’t very long at all! ¬†But how do you find book bloggers? ¬†Easy, just type #bookbloggers into Twitter or Facebook or any social media platform and follow the links from there. The Indie View also provide an extensive list of bloggers, so if you’re still baffled by blogs, start there.

My best advice is to treat this like your typical manuscript submission process – find bloggers that are interested in your genre and contact them according to their book review policies. ¬†You can get more information on how to approach book bloggers here.¬†¬†Advance Reader Copies (or ARC’s as they’re known in the business) are essential if you want to have some reviews on your book’s page when you launch, so as soon as you have completed your edits and finalised your cover, start sending these out. ¬†As a self-publisher, I only sent eBooks for review and used the preview file from my Kindle publishing page, so I could send reviewers a .mobi version.

There is also the hugely popular NetGalley¬†where readers can request your book for free. ¬†This is quite an expensive option and it’s difficult to say if you will hit your target audience here (as opposed to approaching reviewers personally), but if you can afford it, it’s definitely a powerful promotional tool.

8. Author platform. ¬†If you haven’t already created an online presence for yourself, now would be a good time to start. ¬†Yes, it can be time-consuming to set up and to maintain, but not only do you need a profile that people can connect with, you also need a profile so you can interact with other people. ¬†The best way to get people interested in you is if you show interest in them. ¬†Blogging is a great way to let people know who you are, what you’re interested in and what you’ve got coming up. ¬†‘But nobody cares!’ I hear you cry. ¬†Well, you can start driving traffic to your blog from your Twitter account and Facebook. ¬†While there is no way of calculating how much your online activity will result in increased sales, it’s definitely the best way to connect with readers and other people in the industry, which can lead to further opportunities for you and your writing. ¬†If you come from a marketing background, you’ll have heard of The Rule of 7, which basically means that a prospective customer needs to see ¬†your product at least 7 times before deciding to buy, so being active online can only help!

9. Price. ¬†I have never given my book away for free. ¬†Ever. ¬†It’s just not something I would endorse – you might get lots of downloads but chances are that most of those people might never even read your book. ¬†I also subscribe to the wacky notion that people deserve to get paid for their work. ¬†The prevailing wisdom is that ¬£2.99 is the average price for an eBook. ¬†It might not seem like very much, but you get to keep 70% of your royalties. ¬†It’s really up to you to decide what price you want to retail your novel at and the beauty of being a self-publisher means that you can change your pricing and experiment with what works best.

10. Promotion – As with your ARC’s, you need to start booking promo spots as far in advance as possible. ¬†Book bloggers host author interviews and guest posts and there are lots of online eZines where you can submit articles (with links to your new release). ¬†It’s also worth trying traditional media, like local newspapers or radio stations that might be interested in ¬†your story. ¬†As for advertising online – most ad sites require that your book has a minimum number of reviews, so you might have to wait a while for that, but you can run a Facebook ad or a Goodreads giveaway to create some hype around your launch. ¬†(Caveat: ¬†Goodreads giveaways are for print books only. ¬†They are going to introduce an eBook version, but it will not be free, unlike the paperback giveaway).

And now that you have your own platform, why not run a giveaway on your own blog? ¬†Use Rafflecopter, the gold standard for managing giveaways and I promise, it’s easy to set up and use. ¬†If your book is part of Kindle select (which is absolutely worth doing) meaning that your book is sold exclusively on Amazon, you can start preparing your kindle countdown deal which you will be able to run 3 months after you first publish. ¬†At that point, you can make your book available for 99p (while retaining your 70% royalty rate) and give ¬†your sales another boost.

So there you have it, 10 practical ways you can prepare for your book launch. ¬†HOWEVER, if you’re reading this and you’ve scheduled your launch for tomorrow and haven’t done any or all of these steps – fear not! ¬†You have two choices here: ¬†go ahead with your launch and try to do all of these steps in hindsight or just postpone it. ¬†Trust me, unless you’ve done a fantastic job of promoting the launch of ¬†your book online, no-one will even notice. ¬†I remember when I published my debut novel, I sat at home all day, staring at the screen and wondering when the sales figures would start increasing. ¬†Seriously! ¬†That’s what I did. ¬†And ¬†you know what? ¬†Nothing happened! ¬†I had a handful of sales, but to my disappointment, the Internet didn’t stop what it was doing and congratulate me on publishing my book. ¬†Do you have any idea how many books are self-published every day on Amazon? ¬†Someone self-publishes a book every 5 minutes! ¬†The best chance you can give your book is to follow all (or most!) of these preparations ahead of time.

Final piece of advice, try not to get sucked into the marketing vortex to such an extent that you delay starting your next book.  The best way to sell your first book is to write a second.

Best of luck! ¬†You’ve written a novel, now go publish it.

A Party Of One

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The lovely Eva Green contemplating the futility of it all…… ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† classic writer pose

The other day I read a tweet about preparing for festival season. ¬†I assumed that it was related to Electric Picnic or Glastonbury, advising us to get our ‘festival on’ by donning the obligatory uniform of wellies, trilby and cut off shorts. ¬†But imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I realised the tweet was referring to literary festivals and directed at authors who want to start booking their summer appearances now. ¬†When did this happen? ¬†When did authors become a troupe of travelling minstrels and what happened to the idea that writing is a solitary pursuit?

Writer¬†Jason Guriel wrote a really interesting article this month¬†‘What Happens When Authors Are Afraid To Stand Alone?’¬†¬†addressing this shift from what was always seen¬†as an individual sport, to a community endeavour, and why he feels we are the worse off for it.

“writers have become more entangled than ever. Workshops, readings, book launches, conferences, artists‚Äô colonies, and other glorified mixers increasingly press literary types upon one another.”

It’s a controversial argument, but a very interesting one. ¬†Are all of these gatherings, talks, residencies and teaching gigs taking away from the one job we’re supposed to be doing – writing? ¬†As authors, we have been tasked with the job of getting our work ‘out there’ and I think the writing community has grown from that. ¬†But while many authors really enjoy engaging with the community, Guriel argues that if everyone is being pushed in the same direction, what happens to the independent spirit?

It is true that we need time alone to develop our own ideas – it’s hard enough not to be influenced by trends and seduced by mainstream ideas. ¬†In order to really create something truly original, we need to be alone with our thoughts and in order to do this, we need to guard our privacy. ¬†It’s nice to share, but writers need to keep a certain amount to themselves (namely, their selves). ¬†There is a risk that if you become too much of a spokesperson for your work, or a writing personality, the authentic voice of your work could get diluted. ¬†Not every writer is a loner, but they do tend to seek solitude in order to hear their own voice.

“Let‚Äôs not share. Really. Go off in your own direction way too far, get lost, test the metal of your work in your own acids.” ¬†Kay Ryan, poet.

When I began writing, the buzz words were ‘author platform’ and if you didn’t have one, you’d never make it. ¬†So I made it my business to build my platform, one blog/tweet/post at a time. ¬†I got to know the main players and believed that I was on the right road to success. ¬†But then, I would see a complete unknown, an outsider if you will, speed past me to publishing fame with no platform whatsoever. ¬†No social media accounts, no blogs, no ground-works to speak of. ¬†While I was busy networking and making connections, they were writing and submitting. ¬†So you see, there really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to being a writer, you’ve got to do what’s right for you and more importantly, what works for you.

‚Äú‚ÄėWhat is the role of the writer to her society?‚Äô was a question Wallace Stevens took up and his answer was: none,‚ÄĚ says poet Souvankham Thammavongsa. A writer‚Äôs real responsibility, she suggests, is ‚Äúto build a voice and to keep building that voice.‚ÄĚ This stands in stark contrast to the civic-minded suggestion that writers apply their bricks and mortar to some cloud-city of togetherness.

Then there’s the whole ‘totes awky momo’ when someone you’ve been palling around with (in the literary sense) asks you to review their book and you don’t really like it… what do you do then? ¬†I know book bloggers (unfairly) get stick for this all the time, but it’s not just bloggers who get caught in this web of networking that make it increasingly difficult to go against the pack. ¬†I’ve noticed even with online bookclubs, when there is over-whelming support for a particular writer, anyone who feels differently is almost afraid to speak up. ¬†I have seen people apologise for not liking a book!

“It becomes harder to file an honest review of a book if you‚Äôre always rubbing shoulders.”

Still, I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bath water (I think there are laws against that now anyway). ¬†I believe that there is more integrity in the community than this article suggests, but I agree that we do need to challenge the status quo and question the prevailing wisdom around promoting the writing ‘scene’ as opposed to the community.

Personally, I love the community I have found, particularly online because I don’t have to dress up for them! ¬†Pretty much all of the writing opportunities I have found have been through social media. ¬†There is great support there, people share information on all sorts of things, particularly in the indie community and it’s good to meet people who are experiencing the same things. ¬†I love when other writers talk about how difficult it is to stay sitting down, or how your writing can seem like genius one minute and drivel the next. ¬†I feel a sense of solidarity. ¬†But I don’t discuss writing techniques with these people. ¬†I don’t learn my craft by talking to authors, I learn by reading their books. ¬†I learn how they deal with different challenges in their writing between the pages. ¬†Talk, as they say, is cheap, but if you really want to further your writing career, read.

While you’re here, The Heirloom is just 99p on Kindle all this week. ¬†Eva Green said she couldn’t put it down*

*Might have made that bit up

The Failed Novelist

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Oh writers, what’s with all the judgement? ¬†And where is all the tolerance?? ¬†This week saw the anonymous letter from a ‘failed novelist’ in The Guardian¬†in which (what we assume) a female writer described her experience of trying to get published.

Years of work and emotional investment wasted, I finally gave up, to save my sanity.

But I’m scarred.

Despite having an agent and interest from publishers, in the end, a deal never materialised for a ‘bewildering’ number of reasons. ¬†It was stark, bitter and sad – all of the things you feel when you watch your dreams shatter. ¬†My first thought was, another one bites the dust and all thanks to the seemingly arbitrary process of submitting to publishers. ¬†She is not the first writer to give up and I’m sure she won’t be the last. ¬†To be honest, I would have given up too, if not for self-publishing, but more on that anon.

Reaction was mixed. ¬†It’s obviously a topic that exercised a lot of established writers who have been through the rejection process and got to the other side. ¬†Female authors such as J K Rowling and Joanne Harris offered¬†encouragement, telling authors never to give up, because the next book might just be the one to bring success. ¬†Also, not to view all of the hard work, countless manuscripts and years of honing your craft as a waste. ¬†But then came the riposte, again in The Guardian, from a male author, David Barnett.

Dear Anonymous, you’re not a failure. You’re a quitter.

Wow. ¬†That’s one hell of a back-handed compliment! ¬†Can you imagine reading that after ¬†writing such an honest and soul-baring piece about your¬†disillusionment with the publishing world? ¬†From a ‘successfully published’ author? ¬†Obviously a student from the school of tough love, it seemed this author was taking the opportunity to tell everybody about how brilliant he was at sucking up rejection and that ‘real’ writers need to embrace it, or how will they ever cope with bad reviews? ¬†I found his approach a bit predictable and dare I say it, ‘mansplainey’, but he did go on to make some very valid points.

Yes, there are those hip young writers who get picked up for a three-book deal on the basis of a single chapter ‚Äď but they make the news because they are the exception, not the rule.

It’s true, the papers love a six-figure publishing deal and can’t wait to tell us all about it. ¬†And why are they always the age at which I was probably playing drinking games and wearing a toga? ¬†He’s right, this is absolutely the exception, so indulging in the¬†Cinderella¬†complex¬†that you will somehow be spotted and picked-up by one of the big five (or is it six) is like sitting around waiting to win the publishing lottery, without having bought a ticket!

It is no one‚Äôs ‚Äúdestiny‚ÄĚ to be a published author.

Again, so true. ¬†Most author bios (including my own) talk about how we’ve been writing stories since we were kids. ¬†Just because you love (and have always loved) writing, does not mean the publishing industry will grant your wishes. ¬†They have their own agenda and a seemingly unlimited pool of talent to choose from. ¬†They might take on as few as one or two new authors per year. ¬†They might have had enough of girls on public transport, just as you’re putting the finishing touches to your story about a girl on a bus (or is she? ¬†do we really believe her??) ¬†A lot of it is luck and timing, the rest is hard work and resilience. ¬†But the part I can absolutely empathise with is the loss of control. ¬†If you want writing to become your career, it’s very difficult (and frustrating) to put your destiny in the hands of other people. ¬†It’s not like any other profession because the application process is a complete guessing game. ¬†And the waiting, great Odin’s raven, the waiting!! ¬†All of that time, wondering if you’re life is going to be changed, or if you dreams will be shot down by a rejection.

This is why the self-publishing revolution is the most important thing to happen to the publishing industry. ¬†Of course, it’s nothing new. ¬†Authors have been self-publishing for years (Dickens, Whitman, Proust, Potter), but the digital age has made it so much easier to reach your audience and to become a professional authorpreneur. ¬†In fact, numerous people mentioned self-publishing in the comments section, but some writers still see it as a failure greater than not being published at all. ¬†I find this attitude bemusing and to use one of Barnett’s words ‘entitled’. ¬†I’m sure there are many traditionally published authors who look down their noses at self-published authors (just like they are doing to this woman, who hasn’t kept calm and carried on in the face of rejection) and like to perpetuate the myth that there’s so much rubbish out there (which is equally true of traditionally published books). ¬†However, self-publishing is simply another avenue for authors to get their work out there, to build their audience and if successful, perhaps even sign with a traditional publisher for their subsequent books. ¬†Many authors have taken this route and become hybrid authors, using each platform as equally valid routes to market.

Most importantly, it gives the author some modicum of control over their destiny. ¬†Your book might still bomb, just as it might with a publisher, but at least you are not locked out of the party entirely. ¬†I know how she feels, but pursuing your dreams means being flexible and finding more than one way to skin a cat. ¬†Yes, failure is a part of the process and it can be the catalyst to push you on to fail better. ¬†But that doesn’t need to be where the story ends. ¬†I have a feeling this writer will be back, a little bruised but a lot more determined. ¬†I commend her for writing that article and for being so honest about her feelings. ¬†Obviously, it’s quite a while since Barnett has been rejected by a publisher, so perhaps he has forgotten how raw those feelings can be, when you’re just at the beginning of your career and feeling as though you’re going nowhere, while watching other people make it. ¬†It’s hard, let’s be honest. ¬†But he’s right; for most writers, this is the journey.

All in all, I think it’s a good discussion to have, because new writers need to be made more aware of what is actually involved in the process. ¬†We are blinded by the ‘supermodels’ of writing, who get those haute couture deals before the age of 21. ¬†We do need to ground ourselves in reality and the only way to do that is by taking the mystique out of the writing and publishing process, by having conversations like this. ¬†But we also need to respect each other’s journey and stop explaining to people how they should feel about something. ¬†One thing is for sure, being a writer is not an easy road to riches, fame or success. ¬†So yes, you do need to love it and most importantly, (as translated in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale) Nolite te bastardes carborundorum – Don’t let the bastards grind you down!