Publishing my Ebook

So, this week will see me publish my first ever collection of short stories as an Ebook! How exciting is that? It’s taken me a long time to get to this point and I’ve amassed such a collection of writing that it seemed only right to share some of them with the world. So, on Sunday 1 July The Memorial Tree and other short stories will be available from Amazon at the very reasonable price of £1.99. It’s taken some preparing, so here’s how I’ve planned the first Ebook in my publication journey…

Stories
Obviously one of the first things I had to do was choose which stories would work in a collection together. Initially I was looking at three sections with varying lengths of story – flash (under 1,000 words), short form (1,000-3,000 words) and long form (3,000+). I had at least 2/3 of each, but it began to seem quite unwieldy and there was no real central theme tying them all together.
In the end, I looked at a selection of my favourite stories – the ones that I felt were really worthy and close enough to ‘publishable’ as they would ever get – and found that they had a lot in common; they all explored loss, remembrance and nostalgia. It shouldn’t have surprised me, given my preference to kill off my characters (see this post here if you didn’t already know this about my writing!), but it was nice to see that link thread its way through all of the stories.
There’s only one new addition to the collection, and that is the sequel to the title story – The Memorial Tree. As I shared recently there was always a line in this particular story that niggled at me, suggesting there was another narrative that was waiting to be told. So, to end the collection I decided to write it. If you want to know how it goes, you’ll have to buy the book. 😉

Cover
© Luke GleadallI had no idea how to tackle this, but I’m fortunate that I have a very tech-savvy fiance who is quite creative when it comes to images and photography. He was already familiar with a couple of the stories and their imagery, so I gave him a brief, explained the theme of the book and left him to it, wondering if his vision matched my own.
Then, on his day off from work he put together this beautiful cover for me. I think it perfectly demonstrates the themes and has the added bonus of visually representing three out of the seven stories. I’m really pleased with its simplicity and colour palette, but I hope you like it too! After all, the cover has to convince an audience that they want to read these stories over the wealth of other material out there!

Launch
Now, this was the one thing I neglected to consider when I set out to publish an Ebook. Writing the stories is within my comfort zone; convincing people that they want to pay money to read them is definitely way out of it!
I’d promised myself that publishing the Ebook would be my ‘Quarter Two’ goal for the year, so it was originally on my radar to publish in mid-June. But, as usual, life got in the way and things got pushed back a little. Still, I don’t want to start the second half of the year attempting to catch up with a goal I’d set at the start of it. So, I’m making do with a condensed launch that will see the release happen on 1 July.
As such, here’s all the important information you need to know about the release of my first collection of short stories…

  • Subscribe to my Enewsletter list before 30 June  and you can enter to win a FREE copy of The Memorial Tree and other short stories
  • Pre-orders will be available on Wednesday 27 June – to coincide with National Writing Day (when else should you celebrate writing a collection of short stories?)
  • Official release date is Sunday 1 July and the initial price will be £1.99

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I’d love it if you could support me by purchasing a copy of the Ebook – and hopefully you’ll enjoy it enough to leave a lovely little review on Amazon to help other buyers make their choice.

Here’s hoping that my first collection won’t be my last!

 

Tackling the Competition

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Writing competitions. If you write and want to get your work published this is one of the first routes into authorship. There are some writers who excel at applying their material to the various competition topics out there, others still who tend to focus on particular genres or types, and then there’s me. I’m great at identifying opportunities that different competitions offer, in fact, I have a list of the ones I’d like to enter for the next six months sat above my desk as I type this. Yet, despite my superb organisation skill I still struggle to ever write something that I can submit.

But, not anymore. I’m determined to write at least something for as many of them as I can. My target is 50%, and considering there are an impressive twenty-eight competitions listed and I haven’t yet got a solid entry for any, I’d better get started! Here are a few of the techniques I’m going to use to help prompt my efforts:

Take it from the top
          If ever I’m struggling with a competition theme I know all I really need is a first line to help start me off. Problem is, I usually don’t have one. So I’ve got a nifty way to negotiate a way around this issue: I borrow someone else’s line.  Photo by Thijs van der Weide on Pexels.com
It’s simple enough – just go to a book on a shelf and pick any line from any page. Usually I’ve determined a page number and line number already, so I don’t end up in the land of procrastination by searching for the perfect line for a story I have no idea for. But, if you’re so indecisive and can’t even decide on a page or line number, choose the date – page 11, line 6 for example; or the year – page 20, line 18. So long as you pick a different book every time, you’ll have a unique first line.
After that it’s just a case of matching it to the competition theme. With a first line and a genre, I usually find the story is already there waiting and it’s just a case of teasing it out. Often my mind automatically link these things together and, suddenly, a narrative appears.
Tip: Don’t keep it as the first line, it’s just a prompt. Make sure to edit it out if you submit; you’ll likely find the resulting story needs a new opener anyway.

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Read all about it
          One thing I like to do is to find a news story that fascinates me and think of a character who might have been influenced by it. What was their part in it? How did it impact their lives? What if they’d reacted differently – would it result in a different news story?
The great thing about this is being able to delve into a character that already has a story written. I know what happened, now I just have to figure out what this character’s part was in it and how they felt about it. This leads to a really strong character piece that often has a believable quality in the story because it’s taken directly from life.
Sometimes I try to limit myself to stories that link with the competition theme: so if it’s travel story I look in the travel section of the newspaper, or a story about weather I search for storm related news. But, you don’t have to do it this way: sometimes the most interesting stories comes from the unexpected places.

Start with a secret
Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.comI love a story with a secret. Even better if it’s one I never saw coming. So if I have a particular competition theme that’s troubling me I brainstorm what secrets I can associate with it. Summer Garden? What if it’s a hidden garden, only certain people can access or see? Or is it a location for some illicit liaisons? Even more worrying, what if someone is planting poisonous plants in this garden to commit a murder?
All of a sudden there are lots of stories to tell, and plenty of ways to tell them – do you tell it from the point of view of the gardener, or the lover, the murderer or the victim? What if you could tell it from the perspective of one of plants?

Just jump in
          Finally, if I think that I’ve got enough time I just put my butt in the chair and write. Usually it’s only loosely related to the competition theme, and typically if it is related it’s probably something that a hundred other writers have already tackled. But, if I keep writing and follow the thread that each word and sentence produce I’ll eventually come up with something that makes me raise an eyebrow and think, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.
Once I’ve got that tiny germ of an idea I run with it and see how far I can get. It takes up the most time, but it’s produced some of my favourite pieces of writing and ones that I’ve been praised on by some of the readers. Sometimes, though, I can forget how fruitful this method is. I just need to trust my own imagination and let myself explore the possibilities before I settle on a story idea I can be really proud of.

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Do you have some techniques or methods for tackling competition themes? Share below in the comments, or tweet me

You can also follow my writing journey and be notified when I publish if you sign up to my Enewsletter.

 

From one story to another

It appears that my blogging challenge has fulfilled its purpose: I am writing again.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Yesterday I sat down and drafted a short story I have had on my ‘explore this‘ list for some time. It is a sequel to a story I wrote in 2015 called ‘The Memorial Tree’, which came 2nd place in a Culture Shots competition for employees of The University of Manchester. The Memorial Tree will be included in the short story Ebook I’m currently planning, it’s less than a thousand words long and if you’d like to check it out before my publication you can do so here.

However, there is a line in this story that I knew led to a sequel as soon as I’d written it:

“Perhaps one day soon there shall be another tree growing next to this, but it shall not be I who plants it.”

As I was going over the text for the Ebook I was reminded of my intent to write the story this line has to tell, and finally I have. It may only be a first draft right now, but as I wrote it I could feel the passion for it rise in me. Amazingly I even shed a tear or two as I wrote it; because I feel for these characters – as brief as their stories may be – and I am responsible for crafting a lifetime of emotion for them.

This is what I wanted. I needed to rediscover my mojo, my muse, my passion. Drafting the sequel to The Memorial Tree has demonstrated that it’s still there and I am able to access it. The commitment to write a blog post every day was just practice to get back into the habit. Sometimes that’s all we need to pick up where we left off. This is what I’ve wanted to do all my life – writing is who I am at the core and I’ve neglected this part of myself for too long. Time to get my butt in the chair and just write, because I can now recognise my love of writing and what it brings me. Writing energises and enriches me, and somewhere along the line I forgot this. Not anymore. Now is the time to be dedicated and persevere in order to achieve that dream of being a published novelist. Watch this space!

Alternatively, if you’re interested in following my writing journey and being notified when I publish:
sign up to my Enewsletter.

Blog a Day in May

So, I did it. Every day this month I have shared a little something with the world through this blog, writing each day and committing to a challenge that I wasn’t sure I’d accomplish. Yet, here we are. I persevered even through the failure of my laptop hard drive, using my ‘phone as a substitute, and I learned a number of things throughout the month:

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.
On days where I opened up the screen for a new post and I had no idea what to write, I turned to places like Pinterest for inspiration. I often took the first thing I saw and ran with it, but this scenario didn’t occur as regularly as I assumed it would from the beginning. In the end, I simply wrote about life that was right in front of me as it happened. And I think it helped me make sense of the world I’m living in, allowing me to voice a few of the thoughts that usually race around in my mind never to be released.

I surprised myself.
Many days I wrote more than I intended. What started as a quick visit to make that day’s mark on the blog usually developed into a solid diversion from whatever I had planned immediately afterwards. Cups of tea went cold. The dog got restless. My fiance had to be patient, unable to press play on the series we were watching because I ‘just have to finish this’. The words sucked me in and while I’d only have thought to write a sentence or two, my over-writing self kicked in and it became a post fat with text.

I enjoyed it.
It sounds odd to state it so blatantly; as why would I start the challenge if I didn’t think I’d enjoy it? Well, I committed to it because I wanted a way back into the blog. I wanted to be writing something everyday and I was struggling with fiction. I wanted, in essence, to have written. It wasn’t about enjoyment or attracting an audience: it was a challenge to see if I could write everyday – and I can. Not only that but I’ve proved to myself that I like it. The passion for it is still there, lurking in the shadows waiting for me to put in some legwork to coerce it back into the light. Writing isn’t the chore I had labelled it.

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My current blogging corner

I reconnected.
I haven’t blogged for so long I assumed I would have fallen out of favour and off the radar. But no, I recognised many of the user handles that have been liking my posts, and even reconnected with one or two via Twitter. I’d forgotten the camaraderie that exists online, but I’m grateful for it. So, thanks goes to you – the audience who have travelled this month with me through these posts. In many ways the simple act of knowing there are people out there reading is reassuring; this is something that my current fiction is not rewarded with.

I want to keep blogging…
After all this, the challenge has encouraged me: I want to keep on blogging. Probably not everyday – but regularly; once a week perhaps. It’s time to rejoin the #MondayBlogs tribe again methinks. And I’m smiling just thinking about it, even though I have no clue what the next blog post will be about.

Being a Planner

I am an excellent planner. I can plan almost anything and I adore it. The issues arise when I have to stop planning and actually start doing. In which case, I’m pretty good at small persistent action…unless I have to stop to re-plan, which happens a lot. Because, well, let’s face it, it’s always easier to plan to do something rather than actually do it.

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This is the current case with my writing. I’m still “planning” to release an Ebook of short stories by the end of the month, although I have no clue how to put together an Ebook or how long this process takes. That’s because I’m still only planning it. I have, I am pleased to say, identified the stories I’d like to include and am in the final stages of tidying them up to send to a friend to check over. After that, well, I’ll need to put some more thought into that because I really have no idea what happens next.

I know I’ll need a cover; my lovely partner has agreed to help with that given his skill in Photoshop etc. He’s already got a pretty good idea once I showed him an image of what I thought might work and the themes that run through the stories.

I am aware that the text will need formatting in the right way. I’m not sure what that is either, yet. And I need to do some research on what platform I might use to create and distribute the Ebook.

I’m beginning to think it might not be achievable in a month…unless, of course, I plan it well. And planning is within my skillset, as I said. However, once I’ve planned it, then comes the hard part: doing it. So I know I need to plan out small, consistent steps to help me accomplish my goal, and that if I do genuinely want to get this Ebook out by the end of June then I need to do that which I plan. I have to commit. I have to stay motivated. I have to remember why it is that I started all this in the first place.

Planning is all well and good, but it’s only acting on that plan that will ever see your dreams come true.

Past, Present and Future Selves…

Do you ever look back on the person you once were and acknowledge just how far you’ve come?

Three years ago if my laptop had died on me in the middle of a job application I would have reacted with frustration and fury, and riled against the world and how unfairly it treated me – confessions of a egocentric child-woman anyone? Now, I can take a breath, shrug my shoulders and walk away.

In the past I would have worked endlessly to put my application back together, even though I knew the job was beyond my current skillset. I would have let everyone know the inconvenience this situation had caused and how dedicated I would have to be to overcome it. I would have pushed through my exhaustion and stress and succeeded in putting together an admirable application, given the circumstances.

Then, I would have crashed. Probably been in bed for a week or more and not even got an interview for my troubles. And I would have regretted the attempt, because the job to which I refer is such a big, lofty dream role that, even now, I am not sure I am ready for it.

Today, I see this calamity as an opportunity to step back and accept that I prefer to be relaxed and happy rather than furious and stressed. While there is a smidge of disappointment I will not apply for the job after all (because I can now recognise it is too much work to scramble together in two-days), I am not so disappointed that I will be forced into action. Any responses I put forward would not be my best, and I’m aware that the probability of me getting the job in the first place is slim. So I’m choosing acceptance over panic.

This job is a job for me in five years. I already know that. It’s an amazing role, but one that I would be too unsure about my current skillset to really excel at. I don’t feel it’s defeatist to admit this, but I’m taking the laptop meltdown as a sign that it’s not my time yet. The me of five years from now would do the same, and she would approve of my choice to put my wellbeing first and instead enjoy the freedom that comes with relaxation and calm acceptance.

What weekends should be for – enjoying sunshine, walking and dog-shaped company.

Risks & Opportunity

Can it be true that the scarier the opportunity, the more rewarding the result? And if we never take risks does this mean we shall never experience glory?

I’ve adopted a phrase of late that has empowered me to do a lot of things I would otherwise have held back on. It’s also helped me deal with the consequences when my actions haven’t quite worked out as I’d hoped.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Usually the worst is so far fetched and unlikely that it is immediately dismissed and I feel more confident moving forward. Typically the worst doesn’t involve death or maiming, or even damages to people or property at all. So, not all that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Another quote I’ve sometimes fallen back on in times of panic or melancholy or downright fury is this:

Will you care about this in five years time? Or even in three, or one, or even a month?

How many times have I shaken my head when I have asked myself this. I couldn’t even tell you what I may have been angry about last week, never mind a year or more ago. Most of the trivial matters I deal with in my life are completely inconsequential, even to the future me who may have experienced them.

So, yes, I’m going to step into the realm of opportunity where things might be scary – but what’s the worst that could happen? I fail, or at least learn something from that failure to take forward one day. And yes, I’m going to permit myself some risk because I’m not so naive as to think that glory is an easy thing to find. I know that there will be frustrations down the road and that, although there may be moments that seem to be defining, I’m likely not going to remember them once the risk has paid off.

Leadership in Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently, mostly for my Museum role: what is it, how can you identify it, who has it? etc. But it occurs to me that, although it’s primarily a corporate application, leadership should be present in the writing world too.

leadership-fotolia_10647934_m-300x199For me leadership means the ability to create an inspiring vision for the future and motivating people to create that vision. A leader can grow and maintain relationships, adapt well to change and is committed to a set of values they believe in. They own their responsibilities and aren’t afraid to admit when they’ve made a mistake – in fact, a good leader should be able to use that mistake as a learning opportunity to improve for the future.

But, when your passion lies in writing – essentially a solitary passion – how can you demonstrate leadership? Is there such a thing as leadership in writing? Or are there limitations to how you can lead in the writing world?

I suppose in order to identify leadership in writing, you must first recognise ‘writing’ as a business rather than a past time, and a business it is an increasingly successful one. The Publishers Association recently reported that the publishing industry as a whole in the UK was worth £4.4bn, with Ed Vaizey (UK Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy) commenting that “the publishing industry contributes £10.2bn a year to the UK economy.”* So, a business it most definitely is. However, as a business the writer is a cog in the machine, rather than a leader, and I want to know what it means to be a leader as a writer.

Inevitably, because of the business of writing, the leaders of the field could likely be well-known, popular authors who have led the way in publishing their work and selling to a high number of readers. So, in this case, who should I look up to as a leader in writing? J.K. Rowling? Stephen King? James Patterson? What about Jane Austen or Alexandre Dumas? Does the author I pick have to be in the here and now, or can they be someone from long ago whom I now admire and see as the figurehead for the ‘perfect writer’. Is that what leadership in writing should look like: the ideal of what a writer should be? If that is the case then I suspect what it comes down to – as in  most cases of leadership that we want to aspire to – is who do we admire as writers ourselves?

Identifying who it is I admire in the writing world is a far more difficult question than I thought. There are a few who come to mind immediately – Joanne Harris, Rosie Garland, Stephen King – and some that I admire not necessarily because of their books but because of their spirit – Kristen Lamb, for one. But what is it about these writers that draws me to them? What qualities do they have that I admire? Is that what leadership in writing looks like for me?

Kristen Lamb is a great example here – because I have already stated I admire her for her spirit rather than her books. That’s not to say that her books aren’t significant, but I will have to admit I’ve never read her books, only her blog – and it’s through the blog that I began to see a leader emerge. It’s enough for me that she describes herself on her website as ‘Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi‘: confidence and humour, two aspects of her personality that I am immediately drawn to, right there. I used to read Kristen’s blog posts like a bible, nodding my head at her observations and surprised at how humble she often came across; not tearing other people down with criticism, but often sharing it by admitting she was guilty of the same things. Somehow whilst imparting her wisdom and making me smile, I felt empowered. I’d read each blog post and think ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can be a writer’.

 

So, for me, one aspect leadership in writing is certainly empowerment – I need to feel empowered to believe in something bigger than the single writer sat alone in a room. I want to belong, and I want to feel welcomed. The community of #MyWANA (We Are Not Alone) that Kristen created exemplifies what leadership could be in writing and her about page sums it up: “Kristen has dedicated her life to helping writers and artists reach their dreams and achieve the impossible.” Yes – THAT – that is what leadership is all about.

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Via Wikipedia

But what about the more traditional authors I admire, like Harris, Garland and King? How do they demonstrate leadership in writing? Joanne Harris is active on social media (Check out her #Storytime on Twitter), she engages in issues in the news and doesn’t believe in the confines of ‘genre’. Having met her a number of times as part of the Huddersfield Literature Festival, I also know that she is incredibly supportive of her local community. That she isn’t afraid to be herself, doesn’t apologise for it and has a high sense of moral rightness, those are the things I admire about her.

 

Rosie Garland then? Another author who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and, if I might be so bold, have met up with from time to time to discuss writing. She’s certainly a mentor for me, of sorts. She had a tough path to publication (some would say life) and is consistently reminding aspiring authors to carry on believing in their dream. Her readings are spectacular, which possibly comes from the fact she has an altar ego, Rosie Lugosi: The Vampire Queen. For me she is a leader because of her guts and perseverance through adversity: I can’t imagine Rosie refusing a challenge just because it takes a bit of work.

 

As for Stephen King, well – duh – he’s Stephen King! Who wouldn’t admire the body of work that he has out there in the world. Not to mention he’s the author of ‘On Writing‘, which is recommended for budding writers across the world. There’s also something about his writing itself, a quality that I don’t think anyone else I have read has come close to capturing. For me, his characters are real people; my imagination hasn’t just conjured them up, they exist on the page and I can see them as clearly as if I was recalling an actual memory. It’s this somewhat unidentifiable quality that puts Stephen King ahead of many writers in my search for leadership: because he has led, certainly in the horror and psychological thriller aspects of writing, for many years. His name appears sixth on the top twenty writers (living or dead) named by UK residents in a survey by the Royal Society of Literature in 2017, beaten only by J.K. Rowling as the other living writer who appears second on the list.*

In essence, what I view as leadership in writing is my own personal preference. But, it’s made me think more about what type of writer I want to be and want to be seen to be. Writing today isn’t always about being behind a closed door. As an author you have to get out there in the world somehow and create a ‘following’ – be that on Twitter or Facebook or through personal interactions. In order to be a leader in writing you have to be willing to put yourself out there in the world and allow people to make a judgement. The type of writer I want to be is one who is inspiring, motivating and dedicated. I want to be a positive role model to other writers out there, but at the same time I don’t want to be an icon placed on a pedestal – I want to be me, I want to be able to live to my own expectations and decide for myself what it is I represent. And, of course, there is a side of me that wants fame in only that way that being a recognised name around the world can be. If I am to aspire to leadership in writing, and I want to know one day if I have succeeded, then these should be my goal posts. At least for now.

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What about you? Do you have authors you would consider leaders in writing? And what does leadership mean to you when it comes to writing?

 

* Taken from The Publishers Association, 31st May 2016
* From Literature in Britain Today, 1st March 2017