Sunday, 19 October 2014

Riding the Rejections

Whilst aiming for your dreams, you can often get knocked back. My dream was initially to write a novel (that, I managed okay), and then to become a published author. The submissions went out, the rejections rolled back in. Rejections at any level are tough to handle… and the path to publication is seldom an easy one!  

A writing friend recently confided to me: “I know that the submission process is subjective, but I really feel disheartened. (You've been there, you know the feeling!) It's as though you just REALLY want someone to give (your novel) approval after all the hours you’ve sat tapping away.”  

I have been submitting my novels to agents and publishers for over 5 years now, I daren’t think how many rejections I’ve had so far. I have actually stopped counting to save my sanity! But the love of writing and the belief in my stories has kept me going. And finally, I have just been offered not one but two publishing deals – I have accepted with Harper Impulse, part of Harper Collins! This is such fantastic news and I’m still riding high. I had already been working on this piece about rejections for my blog, and I feel it’s even more important to share it with you now. The writing I found the easy part, but submitting  - aaarrgh!  

My experiences along the way helped me to learn, focus and develop. So here’s some hints and tips which I hope might help other aspiring authors who are feeling the knocks out there:

1.)    FOCUS YOUR SUBMISSIONS: Find out who’s looking for clients. I must have wasted so many early submissions on picking some big agency I fancied out of the Writers’ and Artists’ year book, sending a general submission, and getting a standard slush pile reply.  Try and submit to publishers/agents who are openly seeking writers to represent, and check they are interested in your genre. A good tip is to see which publishers and agents are giving 1:1’s at writing conferences. (Check out the Winchester Writers’ Festival, the Festival of Writing at York, the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference if you write romance, and there are now many literary festivals and events around the country). Your local library may have more information. If you can’t get along in person, at least have a look at what’s going on, and who’s there! Up and coming agents  are usually keen on debut writers - keep an eye out on the Bookseller “Rising Stars”, or agents who have left a bigger agency to set up on their own. Also, keep an eye on who’s judging writing competitions (and enter some, appearing on a  competition shortlist is a great thing to mention in a covering letter), and look out for articles on agents and publishers in the writing magazines. (Check out Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum.) If they are being proactive in seeking out and supporting writers, then they are bound to be more open to reading your submission. And don’t be afraid to go ahead and submit direct to publishers who state they will look at non-agented submissions, for example Carina UK, Harper Impulse for romantic fiction, Choc Lit, Bookouture, obviously check if it’s your genre they publish.  These are mostly digital first; as a debut author it’s a great way to get out there, get a platform, and professional publishing and marketing for your work.

2.)    BE PROFESSIONAL/RESEARCH: Research publisher/agent guidelines for each submission, check exactly what they are, and tailor your submissions. Try and get an individual’s name and have a good reason why you are submitting to them ie do they represent someone you feel you write similarly to, or the genre you write in? Have you heard them speaking, followed them on Twitter or Facebook, listened to their advice, met them at a conference. Think through your pitch, your covering letter, work on your synopsis. Don’t rush it, and equally don’t make your submission too long-winded (for a covering letter or e-mail no more than one page of A4) or gimmicky, just make it enthusiastic, describe your book with passion and a little about yourself, try and think of a single sentence that would inspire a reader to pick up your novel and read it, and consider briefly what’s unique about your work. Test out your letter/synopsis/first chapters on someone you trust, a writer friend or avid reader whose opinion you respect might be ideal. Blowing your own trumpet is sometimes hard, us writers are often shy types, spending hours at home with our heads in our laptops, but we have to sell our stories and market ourselves as a writer.

3.)    FIND A FRIEND (OR A FEW!) Writers are a supportive and friendly bunch. Try and seek out other writers/writing groups in your local area/genre. Again literary events/book signings/conferences are ideal places to make new friends and get some support. Writing can be quite an isolating activity, and much as our friends and families try and support us, it’s quite a unique activity. Another writer can really understand what you are going through. I’m not sure if I could have kept going through all the rejections without the support of my lovely RNA Northumberland group.

4.)    DEVELOP A THICK SKIN: Easier said than done, I know! A rejection will always hurt and give you that horrid sinking feeling. And the self-doubts creep back in. Am I any good at this? Will I ever get published? Am I delusional?  Yes, learn from any critical comments, especially if the same things are being said from various parties, but remember it’s often a  matter of personal taste. It’s like getting someone to fall in love with you – an agent or publisher needs to fall in love with your story. (I have had that response so many times – you write really well, but I just didn’t fall in love/feel passionate enough about it .) Take the positives, learn from any critical comments, pick yourself up, brush yourself down, have a cup of tea, piece of chocolate cake, glass of wine, hug, and carry on.

5.)    KEEP WRITING - DON’T GIVE UP! WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH THE TOUGH GET GOING. Perseverance is everything. The only sure thing you’ll know if you stop trying is that you won’t get published. If it’s worth it to you, you will find the energy/time/effort/bloody-mindedness to keep going. Remember why you started writing in the first place. Also give yourself a bit of TLC if you need it - I sometimes used to leave off the submissions for a few weeks, when I was feeling particularly sore after rejections and just get back to the writing. Then, I was soon re-inspired and ready to go again. And, KEEP WRITING! Book One might not be the one that gets you published ( I was on my fourth by the time I got a book deal), so keep going, even when you are submitting one book, get busy writing the next. You’ll be learning your craft, developing as a writer. And agents and publisher like to know you aren’t a One Trick Pony, that you have more novels in you, more stories to tell.
Let me know if you have any tips for handling rejections, or experiences too.
I'd love to hear from you.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Dreams Can Come True!

Wow, it’s really happened! Ten years writing, more than five years submitting, three completed novels and one in the pipeline, and I’ve only gone and got a 2 book publishing deal with Harper Collins! 

I am working with the wonderful team at Harper Impulse, a fantastic romantic fiction imprint, getting my debut novel  “The Torn Up Marriage” ready for publication. I have my very own editor. I will have someone design a cover for me. I am still pinching myself as I am writing this. I am just so chuffed that at last real readers will be able to get hold of my books, and I hope you will enjoy my stories. 

Sheer determination and perseverance has got me here – as well as hopefully writing some half-decent books! It’s been a long road, and a steep learning curve. But I’ve always loved the writing, spending lots of time with these make-believe people in my head, creating dramatic stories, and using stunning settings inspired by my home county of Northumberland. 

Well, I have been enjoying multiple celebrations with friends, family, my writing support network - I’ll never say no to the bubbly stuff. This really is a dream come true for me – an ambition I’ve had since I was about 12!  

I’ll keep you posted on what happens next. And my publication date!! Woop, woop!


Monday, 11 August 2014

Blog on the Beach

Hi All! Been away a while from the blog, all go, but all good!

Today I’ve had a wonderful, windswept, walk on the beach near Bamburgh, with my spaniel Meg, in the name of research. It’s been on my mind to set the next novel bang on a wild Northumbrian beach, and though I should probably be editing and working on the last novel, it’s been whirring away in my thoughts. So I decided to get out there and live it, in the name of dog walking, armed with a camera, a scrap of paper and a pen.
The dregs of Hurricane Bertha were beating away at the shore, sending up mists of spray and the wind stole my breath, but it was great. The elements were bashing my senses, and floating the dog’s ears at right angles to her head - not that she was bothered. It gave me plenty of inspiration.
It’s fantastic and exciting when a setting is just perfect for what you want, and I really wanted a beach location with a sense of escape, and isolation, yet the promise of change, of things to come - and a very handsome next door neighbour enters the frame of my imagination and we’re off.

My mind is now mulling on the details of the plot and the back stories for these characters, who I can already picture. I’d love it to be a story that makes you laugh and cry, and I hope I can do it justice. Writing is wonderful and a bit crazy, hours are spent in make-believe worlds inside your own head, but the roots have to be in real life and real emotions. It’s challenging and exciting, and I love it. Well, I’d better go get back in my head and make this story something special!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Q & A Guest Blog on A Book and Tea

Hi All,

This week I'm featuring on the lovely A Book and Tea's Blog - having a chat about my writing journey and giving a few tips for other new writers. Pop across and take a look:

Monday, 26 May 2014

Castles, Cake and Dreams

Hello! Just how important is the Setting of a story? And how much does it affect whether you choose to read a book? Are you drawn by a Cornish Romance, a countryside escape , some city pizzazz, or something exotic and faraway? 

“Hold Tight to Your Dreams”, my latest novel, is set in a stunning Northumbrian Castle. It places you in such a historic setting, yet it’s a modern Romantic Comedy. The story is about Ellie taking a chance on her dreams of running her own Tea Rooms (oh, yes, plenty of cake), leaving behind the city and her dull office job… and of course, being a romance, falling head over heels with the rather gorgeous estate manager.
I live in the amazing countryside of Northumberland UK, rolling hills, big open skies, farmland, moorland, and just a few miles away from the most stunning sweep of golden sand with a Castle towering over the beach at Bamburgh. There are castles inland too, nestled away in a valleys, or the focal point of market towns such as Alnwick. Castles, castles everywhere!
So this amazing county colours the settings of my novels. Like Ellie, I want you to as a reader to discover somewhere new, quite different, and somewhere that will soon begin to feel very special. Don’t you ever feel that you want to stop – step out of your everyday life, give up the safe but dull job? Turn a hobby you love into a career? Reach for your Dreams? 
As a writer I’m trying to do that too – reach for my dreams. I have always loved writing, but only now am I trying to make it into a career. Writing stories which explore our relationships and the ups and downs of life, hopefully to be published one day soon – fingers crossed! – so that readers can enjoy them too. 
I love how a story fits with its setting. And how the setting is not just a backdrop but can also empower the plot. It can give you a sense of getting away to somewhere new as a reader, like you’ve landed on holiday in your head. Even better when there’s a particularly hunky male in residence there too! 
And then of course, there’s the essential cake; chocolate, Victoria sponge with strawberries and cream – all in abundance in the Castle Tea Rooms, and the smells of scones baking; raspberry and white chocolate anyone? 
Where would you like a story or novel set? Any ideas for an inspiring location? Or would you like me to welcome you to the wonders of Northumberland and Ellie’s Tea Rooms? Please comment below! I’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Writing - A Juggling Act

So here you are, you just get your laptop set up, when the phone rings, there’s a pile of washing that’s starting to look like Everest, work’s just e-mailed and needs a reply, and the dog’s looking at you, wagging his tail, for his morning walk. Sound familiar? Not to mention demands from the kids, your parents, your partner. And so it goes on… life just keeps getting in the way. So how the hell do you get time to write a whole novel? Well, that very much depends on how much you want to.

Life is demanding and often seems to conspire to get in the way of our dreams and ambitions. But if you want to write that book, short story, or whatever it is in life you’ve set your heart on achieving, you have to steal back some time. And most of all, you have to really want to do it.

For many years now, I have wanted to a) Write a novel, and b) Get a novel published. I’ve managed the first, three times in fact, and I’m still working away at getting published (that’s been harder than writing the novels, honestly). So how have I got this far? Juggling! Realising that I had to let some non-essential things slip – sorry Mum, the house probably has a layer of dust, and to organise my time better. Multi-tasking is a great way to snatch some writing time, like when you’re waiting to pick up the kids, take a pen and paper or your laptop with you. Today, I’m writing this blog in a coffee shop whilst waiting for the car to get serviced.

 So if you’re a new writer struggling to find time too, here’s a few tips and suggestions on how to steal back writing time:

Find what works for you:

I’m not an early bird, but I know writers who’ll get up at the crack of dawn to write before they go to work, and then there’s the late owls, scribbling away past midnight – not me either. I work best between about 9 and 1pm and I can write several thousand words when I’m in full flow. I tend to block my writing like this. It won’t be every day, and that suits me. The “day job” days, I just don’t have the energy or the right mind set when I get back in. So find what works for you. Many authors do feel the need to write every day, and like that commitment. We’re all different.

Beware the Time Stealers:

The phone: It really is okay to turn it off or put it on answerphone for an hour or two.

Social Media: Twitter, Facebook and the like. Helpful as they may be to promote your writing, and for networking – you can easily find yourself drifting off to other websites/blogs and feel you’re doing something productive but an hour (or two) can soon go by. Allow yourself time to develop your social media, but after you’ve written a set target of time/words.

Family/friends: (Sorry guys!) Treat your writing as though you are going to work. Set aside time to do this and let your friends/family know. You don’t have to ignore them forever – we’re not talking neglect here! Just make some writing time, so they know this is important to you, and that they are not to disturb you – especially for older children (oh, and husbands!).

Don’t be too hard on yourself/Allow yourself “Time Out” - just not too much!:

When life gets really hectic, I’ve learnt not to over pressure myself. For me, having time out for family/work commitments means I’m eager when I do get time to write and I don’t tend to waste that time. So don’t guilt trip yourself, that just ends up stifling your energy and creativity. When my kids are back from university, I know the house’ll be noisy and hectic and I’ll want to spend time with them. I know I’ll not get much done creatively, as I need a quiet atmosphere to write. So I’ll make the most of having them around, maybe do some research, jot down ideas, but not expect to write much at all, and then I’ll get back to it with renewed energy as soon as I get the chance.

What if you get stuck? You’ve got the time and it’s just not happening?

I think this happens when we expect every word we write to be perfect. It won’t be. So either do a bit of brainstorming; write down (just as single words/headings/jottings) anything that comes to mind about that next scene you’re on, or the dialogue you’re trying to write, letting you mind wander freely and it’s amazing what it comes up with.

Or just try and write the next few lines to get you started, and if they’re no good edit them later. Sometimes I even jump to a scene I really want to write, even if it’s not the next in the book. I can fill in the gaps later. A writer friend’s favourite quote: “Don’t get it Right, get it Written!”
Also, it's wonderful how chocolate and a cup of coffee can really get you in the right frame of mind! I'm in the mood for writing.... delighting. Has to be sung as per the Nolan's anthem.

Most of all Keep the Faith, and Enjoy it!

Writing a novel can feel a bit like a Marathon. You’ll never be able to keep it up unless you enjoy what you’re writing. So get enthused by your subject, write about what you love, and write because you love doing it, then your writing time will seem like a special “Me Time”, not a chore. And hopefully, that positivity will rub off on the agent/publisher you want to impress, and your book will shine.

Do you have any tips you can share on how you manage your writing time? I’d love to hear from you?

Good luck! Happy juggling!

Monday, 10 March 2014

What Is Love Anyway?

Trying to capture love in words… 

Some task, hey?  As a “Romance” writer that’s what I feel I do, or try to do, and not just “romantic love” but all shades of love. 

Love is… complex, beautiful, devastating, amazing, frustrating, crazy, scary, erotic, sensual, tender. It can take you to the moon and back, or make you hide under the duvet.

Love is… a verb, a noun, an adjective -  to love and be loved, a loving touch, the love of your life, endless love, enduring love, unrequited love. 

Did you know the Greeks have at least 4 words for love? Spiritual love, passionate love, mental love (like friendship) and affectionate love (family). So how do you try and capture all that and every nuance thereafter? Romantic love, friendship, family love – those strong bonds, a Mother’s love -that can be fierce and protective like a tiger.

And where there is love and passion, there will also be grief and pain and loss. Therein lies the story telling. Powerful emotions that touch us all, how we act and react to them, they are part of life’s journey. For what is a life without love? “Life without love, is no life at all” Leonardo da Vinci. Even the most unromantic souls amongst us are touched by love, they might just recognise or express it differently. 

It’s our unique, individual experiences of love that make it so intriguing, which means there are so many stories to tell, to create. I’m sure my husband sees love in a very different way from me and that’s okay, we are all different. We see the world in different ways, and so there are endless stories, variations, emotions. Yet in the end we are all human, we can recognize and empathise with these feelings too.  

And so, here I am, trying to capture love in words.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Hello and Happy New Year! Here’s to a fabulous 2014.

A New Year…  A time to think about your dreams and aspirations. A time to refocus. My aim this year is to keep writing and do my utmost to get published. I also want to take part in the Edinburgh Great Run – a 10 miler; it’ll be a bit more of a challenge than my usual 3-4 miles jog. So I’m going to need determination, willpower, and to keep training and working hard.

I intend entering several writing competitions this year too - any way of getting my work out there, getting it noticed, and hopefully getting that break. Richard and Judy’s Bestseller Entry has already gone off! So fingers crossed. And I’m going to keep on submitting my work to agents and publishers. I don’t want to waste any opportunities at all.

So what are you hoping to achieve? Where are your dreams taking you this year? Bear in mind that just taking steps to try and get there is a real achievement in itself. It may not always work out as you hope or imagine, but you’ll be working towards that goal.

My latest novel, which I’m busy editing at the moment is a Romantic Comedy called “Hold Tight to Your Dreams” which seems quite fitting. It focuses on having the courage to strive for your dreams.

Good luck! And have a very happy and healthy 2014.