What to write about?

What to write about?

I haven’t had much motivation to write recently. I’m sitting here, trying to write something, just to get myself back into the flow of it. I’ve been mentally planning some scenes and I did manage to write a few pages of the second novel last week. But I’m just not feeling it.

When I’m not trying to write, I see things all the time that make me want to write. But when I’m sat here, in front of a blank screen, I can’t remember any of the ideas I had. So I’m just going to see what comes out…

Two months ago we had a death in the family. That’s nothing new, you might think. Death is an inevitable part of life, we all live with the knowledge of our own mortality, and the even less appealing mortality of our loved ones. I have the good fortune to come from a very very large family, many of whom, admittedly, I’ve never actually met. Their ages span from 80 right down to 6 months. Again, that’s fairly standard for most families. But I have no living grandparents or great aunts/uncles. The age difference between the oldest and youngest of my generation is 30 years (there’s 38 of us) – I’m the 3rd youngest, I think. So I’ve grown almost blasé about death. I’ve been regularly attending funerals since I was a child.

But this most recent death had a profound effect, not just on myself but, on everyone. This was, the head of my maternal family. My mum’s eldest brother. He was a man who enjoyed life to the full. He cared about everyone, kept in touch, and was generous to a fault. And at 84 years young, he was in good health. His death was a tragic accident, that knocked the stuffing out of everyone that knew him.


Me and my uncle at my 30th birthday party (2007) Goodnight AWS. X

His funeral, dare I say it, was the best wake I’ve ever been to. We all felt a little guilty that we had such a good time, but you know what? That’s totally what he wanted. He’d already planned it. The church was absolutely packed, with many mourners having to stand at the back – and this was a big old church – though we do have a huge family, even we wouldn’t fill the whole church by ourselves. He was a well loved man.

Something good came out of it though. We all realised how short life is. It’s as though our generation looked at our parents – his siblings – and realised that they won’t be with us forever. And we realised the importance of taking time to spend with each other. To enjoy each others company and to live life as fully as he lived his.

And you know what? I think he’d pretty happy to know he’d inspired that.

With social media, it’s so easy to keep in touch, see what people are doing and, if you’re a bit socially awkward like I am, keep people at arms length. But don’t mistake leaving a comment on Facebook or favouriting a tweet for real interaction. Get off the sofa, put your phone on silent and go visit someone. Have a cup of tea with them, ask them about their day. And treasure them. You can always catch up with emails, you can do that personality quiz later, and those cat videos aren’t going anywhere.

But the people that matter to you, they’ve got an expiry date. So make the most of them while they’re here.

Well, that was a bit morbid, sorry. But at least I wrote something!


Determining the purpose of writing

Determining the purpose of writing

I wrote a post a few months ago about the changing face of publishing although my experience is very limited, it didn’t take long before I realised that the dream I’d had of getting a publishing deal was based on a bit of a myth really, much like getting a record deal for a musician.
Securing a deal doesn’t make you a success, it takes a good product that captures the attention of the public, followed up with a great public presence that makes the national media want to talk about you. In short – it requires a successful marketing campaign.

I was so excited when I got my publishing deal for Inspired By Night. I thought I’d made it. I did! I was completely naive. As I thought about it, I acknowledged that I was with an independent publisher, which was akin to an indie record label. I realised quickly that my publisher was utilising the opportunities afforded to self publishers – ebooks and print on demand, mean there are no expensive upfront costs. But with no marketing budget and no physical product to distribute through book shops, sales are very low – but then multiply those sales by a vast number of titles and it’s probably worth their effort. But for each individual author, selling maybe 30 books across print and ebook feels like a complete waste of time.

Book sales are inspired by a public presence, but for the average self published author or independently published author, that means trying to maintain a social media presence while juggling a full time job. Writing is merely a hobby – not a living – and the excitement experienced getting that first deal, the belief that this was the moment when you became a professional writer and no longer had to go to work every day, very quickly fades.

I always wanted to be an author. Even now, my career aspiration revolves around seeing my book on a billboard in a London Underground Tube Station. That feels like the ultimate arrival!

See, this guy is living the dream!

I don’t want personal fame, I don’t want to be recognised in the street, but I would like to be able to slap the words “New York Times Best Seller List” across my website, and I wouldn’t even mind joining the girls on Loose Women for a little tongue-in-cheek chat about Steven Teller’s credentials.

I got my royalty statement recently. I asked for a breakdown of the sales and the payment figures because it felt awfully low.
Turns out I earn 18p per sale. That’s 10% of the amount my publisher earns. Makes you wonder why any of us are bothering… it certainly can’t be to earn a living at those rates.

So… Self Publishing?

I’m giving serious consideration to self publishing. While I appreciate that there are certain benefits to having a publisher take on my novel, in terms of potentially opening doors to other publishing companies, to go with another independent publisher would completely undervalue the amount of work that has gone into writing my second novel.
I’d love to find a traditional publisher and agent – After all, I wouldn’t mind earning only 18p per sale if my publisher was working hard to generate sales. If they’d sold a million copies I’d have earned £180,000. But as it happens, I’ve personally spent a small fortune myself, generating those few sales, so my total royalties (less than £20) only cover about 10% of my expenses.

I suppose what it all comes down to is, why am I doing it? I always wanted to write, but until I wrote Inspired by night, I had no faith in myself. I didn’t believe I was capable of writing a novel and the dream of earning a living as an author was one of those whimsical things I referred to in the past tense…

I always wanted to be an author…!

But I have a taste for it now and since I had some minor success with my first effort I feel justified in losing evenings and weekends in pursuit of the end of a second novel. There’s no nagging feeling in the back of my mind that says “I have no idea why I’m even wasting my time doing this.” But there is a question about what I;m going to do with it when it’s finished.

I have belief in my writing now, thanks largely to some wonderfully positive reviews for Inspired. I am more excited about this second novel and I want people to read it. I’m not sure I even care if it makes money, I just want people to read it. As I see it, there’s two ways to make that happen – control it myself and make it widely available as I see fit. Or try and find a traditional publisher who will throw some marketing behind it.

I’d love to hear from anyone that has experience of both sides of the coin here. I know little about traditional publishing. Maybe that’s not all it’s cracked up to be either…?

You Just Have to Write

You Just Have to Write

A few weeks ago, during International Book Week, I went to a Q&A with Neil Gaiman at Liverpool University.

I’m probably one of the few people left on the planet, that hasn’t read any of his work (although I have seen Coraline), and yet listening to him speak had a particularly inspiring effect on me. (As well as prompting me to add all of his books to my TBR list).

He read from his book of short stories and then he sat down and worked his way through a pile of questions that had been collected before the event. There was of course, the usual question asking for advice to aspiring writers (and the accompanying mirth at his response “write”).

It wasn’t really the answers to his questions that inspired me, however. It was the vast body of work he had created. Not just his full length novels for adults, or his short stories, but there’s the children’s books and the scripts for TV and film. Don’t get me started on him co-writing with one of my absolute favourites, the late, great Terry Pratchett. He even wrote one of my favourite modern Doctor Who episodes (The Doctor’s Wife).

I left the auditorium and sat with my friend and fellow author, Mark Murphy, in a nearby bar and I thought about all the various things I’ve written over the years. The illustrated children’s book, The Moggins, self published as Helen Anne, my full length Adult Romance, Inspired by Night published by Xcite Books as L. E. May and the current project: a comedy Sci/Fi novel, which I hope to publish (self or otherwise) as Helen P. Stephens.

I always imagined it would be sensible to use different names, for a variety of reasons, to differentiate the works. But there’s a lot of effort that goes into maintaining different identities – especially on social media.

I had approached each project as a separate stand alone piece of work, but they all form part of my writing experience and I made the decision to pull it all together. It’s not just changing by name, but claiming ownership of everything I’ve ever written and made available to the public.

I made The Moggins available for Kindle but I’m having the illustrations redesigned, to reflect the changes I’m making to my public identity (I had originally wanted to avoid confusion between myself and the much more renowned children’s author Helen Stephens, who isn’t me). As soon as they are ready I’ll be updating the current book and looking into print-on-demand options, along with finally getting round to writing the follow up story.

I just want to write. And what I’ve learned from Neil Gaiman, is that to be a writer, I have to write.

Free ebooks and the changing face of publishing

Free ebooks and the changing face of publishing

I had a sobering thought this morning. I was on Facebook and read a post from someone detailing all the free books she had downloaded from the Kindle store.

I had a little moment of sadness. As a consumer Amazon is great, everything is cheap, there’s bargains to be had everywhere. And as a reader, the promise of downloading more Ebooks for free than I could possibly ever read in my lifetime is a treat indeed.

Then I thought; what will happen when authors realise that there’s just no point in writing. It’s not a sustainable career option, one cannot make a decent living from writing novels anymore.

I thought, what will readers do then? When no new novels are being written? I had a ridiculous, almost satisfied feeling, rather like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Yes, while readers delight in getting free books now, not caring at all that this free books model is hugely undervaluing the time and effort that authors have taken in writing their novel, what will they do when this model collapses and there are no new novels?

But then I realised: with so many free books available, even if no one ever writes another novel again there’s still more than enough books to last several lifetimes.

How depressing.

The average employee works 1440 hours a year and earns £26500.
I spent 500 hours writing Inspired by Night and earned a sales royalty of £14.90. No advance, no other income associated with the novel. I’ve spent at least 10 times that amount on marketing.

I work full time (earning massively below the average wage), and my spare time is spent on the, apparently thankless, task of novel writing.

918 people downloaded my novel, when it first came out, but only 38 of those people paid – the frankly bargain price of £1.83 – the other 880 got it free and will probably never read it.

Still. We write because we love it, right??

The Amazon way has created a monster. Traditionally published authors are competing with a seemingly unlimited number of self published authors. Some who take it seriously and some that don’t even seem to bother with proofreading. Inbetween that is the rise of independent publishers that basically use the self publishing tools to publish other writers. They own the novels but the author is still the one doing all the publicity, with no budget and no control over running sales or special offers.

Getting a publishing deal now is probably easier than it’s ever been. Which massively undervalues the skill that has gone into writing.

I realise that I’m published by one of these independent publishers. I’ve benefitted from the current model. I’ll never know whether my novel was good enough to attract an agent and get it in front of a major publisher, because I didn’t have the self confidence to believe it was good enough. But on the other hand, this show of faith by Xcite has given me the self belief that I can write novels worthy of publication, which has made me spend another few hundred hours hunched over the keyboard writing another novel.

If I’d written Inspired, published it myself and sold ten copies, I’d have left it at that. I wouldn’t claim to be an author. I’d have got the writing bug out of my system.

But this way has lead me to think I’m good enough to be published, I’m thinking about getting an agent – as if that’s as easy as saying ‘hey, you can be my agent’ – I’m dreaming about traditional publishers, being interviewed on This Morning and touring branches of Waterstones doing book readings to my legion of fans.

And maybe that’s still possible. Or maybe the current print on demand and ebook model means independent publishers are just less fussy about what they put their name to and in real life I’d be buried under a sea of rejection letters from agents.

I would love to be a full time author but sadly, while the market is saturated and the public demand more for less, it’s likely that, despite being a published author, it will never be my full time career.

Christmas Blog Tour Book Blitz

Christmas Blog Tour Book Blitz

I’ve been really busy at work recently and while my writing and promoting Inspired is always in the back of my mind, my day job has to come first because it’s the thing that puts food on the table.

I launched a Kickstarter campaign this week for a new venture so I’ve been preoccupied with making my campaign video and writing press releases.

So where has that left Inspired by Night, or my current work in progress?
Well it occurred to me that a big chunk of Inspired takes place at Christmas time. So what better time than now to do a bit of promo?

I love Christmas. There’s something so romantic about it. I’m not the most girly of women, but my word, do I get giddy over tinsel and fairy lights?!

I think that’s why some of the more romantic elements of Inspired take place at Christmas. The decorations, the roaring log fires, there was definitely a little influence from White Christmas in the back of my mind as I was writing.

I’m always dreaming of a white Christmas

Anyway, knowing that I had a lot of stuff going on at work I turned to Lola’s blog tours to help me do some promo.
It was all very easy and straight forward to arrange, I spent a week chipping away at a bunch of interview questions, top ten lists and other stuff and sent it all over with a few choice excerpts.

My blog tour is taking place from the 8th December (which just happens to be my Mum’s birthday).
I’ll be posting links to the blogs as they appear.

I’ve never done anything like this. I don’t know whether blog tours have much impact on sales but over on Goodreads Lola was highly recommended. If you’d like to sign up as a host on my tour click the banner above.

I’ll share my experience afterwards, but so far the preparation towards it has been fairly simple.

Has anyone else done any blog tours? How would you rate them in terms of the impact on sales and did you plan them yourself or use a service?
Let me know below.

Fantasy & Sci-fi rock my world (repost)

Fantasy & Sci-fi rock my world (repost)

This post was originally written as a guest post over on minology.co.uk – it’s been updated for reposting here…

I watch a lot of TV. I’m a big fan of nerd dramas: Arrow, Agents of Shield, Smallville, etc. I love fantasy worlds, where there’s a universe created for the story. Maybe other stories are part of the universe, sometimes they cross over.

In Agents of Shield there was a direct reference to incidents that occurred in the second Thor movie and I had myself a minor geekgasm.

I’ve been a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels for many years and I love that characters drop in to each other’s novels all the time, the settings are the same and over the years I’ve managed to conjure up my own mental image of what Ankh Morpork looks like, the state of the Mended Drum and how the Librarian keeps order up at the Unseen University.

Fantasy worlds are great because you have so much freedom to create things that suit your story and no one can argue with it.

I was watching 24: Live Another Day and after living in London for several years I could see the anomalies of distance – there’s no way someone’s getting to Camden in 10 minutes, not in London traffic – but in a fantasy world, there’s no possibility of such criticism because no one can get out a map and check.

I love fantasy because, isn’t that what we want from the arts? The suspension of reality? To lose ourselves in a little bit of fiction?

Map of the Headlands, The Will (From Minology by Mark Murphy.)

Map of the Headlands, The Will (From Minology by Mark Murphy.)

Of course the downside of made-up worlds is that it can take a little while to get your head around where things are. You can’t possibly contextualise where the castle is in relation to the hero’s little cottage, or where the local pub is in relation to the hospital (in places like Ankh Morpork those two really should be close together).

A new world

The second novel in the minology series by Mark Murphy has just been released through Netherworld Books. For me, when I first read Minology, that familiarity stood out. Yes, The Will is a new world, the Min are a new race. But the human body is as familiar to me as, well, the back of my hand.

The towns have new names but they’re cleverly chosen to be representative of the body parts in which they’re located and it’s easy enough to visualise where the Luglands is in relation to the Heartlands.

It’s a new world that is instantly memorable and recognisable and when faced with a new world series, isn’t it refreshing to have some sense of familiarity with it already?

Go check it out, I promise you won’t be sorry.