Tag Archives: readership

J.K. Raises the Bar

It’s been said a thousand times how J.K. Rowling and her seven Harry Potter novels have rejuvenated children’s literature and young people’s desire to read.  But what’s not talked about enough is the effect J.K. Rowling has had on authors.

Look at the events last week in London.  Fans camped out for three days to catch a glimpse of their favourite author, and the cast of the record-breaking franchise.  For the first time ever, a film premiere was held in Trafalgar Square, truly marking Rowling’s unique achievement.  Harry Potter is huge.  Beyond huge.  But it’s more than action films, and an excuse to dress up in long black robes.  The story is amazing.  Say what you will about Rowling, and her unorthodox interactions with the world and the media, but in my opinion the woman is a genius.  The stories themselves are so intricately layered, neatly-crafted jigsaws, with key pieces scattered right the way across the series.  On coffee shop napkins, and in council houses without central heating, Jo Rowling invented a world, and filled it with every intricate detail.  She created an incredible, over-arching story, but also managed to segment that story with individual all-encompassing adventures.  She penned characters who have become household names, icons, ‘Gods’ even if you believe the current Twitter trends!

Today the final movie in the franchise officially opened, and I returned home from seeing it, to notice that 4 different characters from the film are trending on Twitter.  (Interestingly, not one of them Harry himself, begging the question, has that name been removed from the trends because it’s just too popular and obvious?!)

And as I return home, having left behind a world where wands have opinions, and stone statues form a guard of honour, what I feel is INSPIRED!  For so long now, my ‘end goal’ has been getting published.  To be quite honest, as soon as the hurdle of getting myself represented by an agent was conquered, publication has been the next obstacle ahead.  And the longer it’s been there, the more it’s seemed like ‘the end’.  Getting published seemed so hard, that I felt like it was my finish line, the thing in the distance I will always be aiming for.

And yet, that really shouldn’t be the case.  Because I ought to be looking for more.  As an author growing up in this day and age, J.K. Rowling should be my inspiration.  I’m proud to be British, and I’m proud to be an author, and I guess for a long time J.K. has been raising the bar for British authors.  Asking us to look to her and truly see what we are all potentially capable of.  We can create worlds that people won’t just buy, but love.  Worlds they will conjure in their heads, and revisit time and time again.  Characters who will grow to be as beloved as family.  As familiar as their closest friends.

But J.K.’s bar isn’t just appreciation.  Look at the legacy Trafalgar Square.  Her bar, her legacy, is world domination.  A story that can change millions of lives.  A tale that can touch people young and old, from every background.  A tale which has seen her become the world’s first billionaire as a result of literature.

Today shouldn’t make the end.  It should mark the beginning.  Because for us authors, J.K. Rowling has been the flagship.  She’s blazed the way into people’s hearts, and reminded the world that even in this day and age, when a book is no longer necessarily made up of separate pages, a story CAN capture the world.

The world needs more Potters.  More Hogwarts.  The stories don’t need to be about wizards, and the settings don’t need to be schools, but that should be where we take our personal inspiration.  Our desire to suceed.

So … today I am an unpublished author.  But my goal is publication … or rather, my goal isn’t JUST publication.  My goal is to BE that person that everyone always mentions when you say you’re trying to become an author.

‘Oh, so you’re trying to become the next J.K. Rowling?’

‘Hmm … well, yes actually, I am!’    After all, that scene last week in Trafalgar Square was pretty bloody cool 😉

C-C xxx

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Getting Over The Writing Hurdle

I’m constantly thinking up stories.  As in literally every day.  If I’m working on a book, then that story plays out in my head throughout my day.  It’s there in the background, so that whenever I have a solitary moment – working out at the gym, or walking for the bus – the story picks back up in my head, and I carry it on.

If I’m not working on a project at the time, I find my head filling with new ideas.  I’ll toy with an idea for an hour or two, a day maybe … and if it sticks, write it down … if not, I start again.

So the stories are always there … and yet that doesn’t mean they automatically translate onto my computer screen.  Because sometimes I take my stories too far …

This has been my writing hurdle with my current book ‘Mercury’s Child‘.

I spent too much time thinking about the story before I began to write.  And I got too far along the story!

You see, I write books in the same way I read them.  I want to know what happens next.  I invest in my characters, and want to know where they’re going … and so the problem with thinking up too much of a story before you get it down on paper, is that you don’t want to be writing the first part of the story.  You want to be writing the later parts!

With Mercury’s Child I laid all the groundwork in my head, and couldn’t bring myself to write it all down, because I was worried that my impatience to get to the newer parts of the story – they parts I didn’t know yet – would translate into my written word.

And so for months and months I dawdled.  At first I had excuses – it was the end of my ski season in Whistler, and I wanted to make the most of the skiing and socialising.  Then I returned home, and there was the obvious excuse of catching up with friends and family who I hadn’t seen for years.

But now I have no excuse.  I’ve been back home exactly 1 month, and I’m still yet to start work.  I’m spending weekday after weekday waiting for my grown-up friends with their grown-up adult jobs, to leave work and come and play with me, and I’m getting bored.  Now, if I’m really an author, I ought to be using all this spare time productively.  And there are only so many magazine writing competitions I can enter in one month!

So I finally got started.  I’m happy to admit that the first couple of days were a struggle – trying to make sure the start of my book remained as exciting and full of promise as the idea had when I first came up with it, despite my desire to fast-forward through the story until I got to a point where I felt like I was still being creative.

But the reason I’m writing is that I got over my hump!  I got over the writing hurdle, and I’m back in a zone where I feel like I’m using my imagination again.  And once I got the first three chapters of Mercury’s Child down, I could go back over them with fresh eyes, and actually add in new snippets.  New ideas, which made me feel like I was actually using my imagination, and that I was injecting those things that I had been worried would no longer be present in the first parts of my story – excitement and intrigue – properly into it.

Obviously whether I’ve been successful is a subjective judgment, but in just four days, I’ve managed to pen twelve thousand, five hundred words.  The first of my six chapters is on the blog – have a read, and let me know what you think.  And if you want to read more, let me know, and I’ll post another chapter 🙂

So I guess my message today is that everyone has their hurdles, and for every writer, the challenges present themselves in different ways.  But from my experience, the only way you get over a hurdle is by gritting your teeth, and hitting it face on.  At first it might be tough, but once you’ve got something on the page, you’ve created a framework that you can go back and tweak.  And trust me, the tweaking stage is far easier, and far more fun, than the initial ‘laying the framework’ phase – so just get that first part over and done with!

C-C xx

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I’m an Honorary Chick!

Huge thanks to 4 Chicks and a Muse, for finding the story behind how I got into writing inspiring enough to make me an honorary Chick on their blog! You might remember that a few weeks ago the Chicks wrote a response, ‘An Author, A Writer, What Am I?’ to my post ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!‘.

Each week the girls post a personal  ‘Chick Story’, focussing on how women in the arts discovered their passion, and I feel very privileged to be the focus of this week’s story.  Thank you girls 🙂

Check out my story HERE, and feel free to tell me, and all the Elementary Circle readers, how you discovered your passion in a comment below 🙂

C-C xx

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The Year Ahead ….

Following on from my post about how you need to be a blog reader as well as a blog writer

I’ve just been reading ‘The Becoming Year’.

Initially I came across the blog post ‘SVP and I, Volume 1‘ a collection of stupid comments from Abigail’s former boss, which I noticed in a link she posted on the very amusing, Freshly Pressed,  ‘Post It Notes from My Idiot Boss‘ both of which have definitely inspired me to write a second installment of my ‘Tales of a Starving Artist‘ very soon, however it was actually the description of The Becoming Year which caught my eye.

Abigail describes her blog as ‘A thirty year-old gal with scraps of creativity and an abundance of judgment, I’ve quit my career as a leadership consultant to pursue my original dream of becoming a published author, becoming thin, and becoming kind. This is my story. This is my year.’

As I explained just a few days ago in ‘Inspired ...’ I’m coming out on the bright side of a bit of a mope-slash-panic about returning home after two and a half years travelling without a book deal, and have to say I found Abigail’s opening paragraph really inspiring.

I LOVE nice ‘neat’ blog frameworks, where you follow a year in someone’s life, or someone completing a specific challenge, from start to finish, and am kind of envious because my own blog has ended up as a bit of a mish-mash of my personal opinion and my fiction writing!

However, I definitely think I can apply some of her thoughts to my own life at the mo.

In just over a month I return back to England.  And I think what’s going to help me feel like I still have some structure in the haphazard unstructured world of being an author, is by giving myself definite targets.  Obviously there are some targets which I can’t have too much input on.  For example, for now at least, with my novels ‘Flicker’ and ‘The Dream Navigator’, I’ve essentially done all I can do.  I wrote, finished, edited and re-edited both novels, until they were in a condition which my wonderful agent, Lucy Dundas at Peters Fraser & Dunlop, deemed publisher-worthy.  And unfortunately (because this is the bit I’m really awful at!) now I just have to sit back and wait!

However, while the ball on those two projects is now firmly in someone else’s court, that doesn’t mean I have to sit around twiddling my thumbs!

And so … I’m going to take a leaf from Abigail and The Becoming Year, and set myself some targets for the year.  Now I know it’s not the start of the year … however I for one definitely need to learn to be a bit less rigid and precise about stuff (as you may have noticed from my extremely strict approach to writing a novel!! – ‘The Secrets to Finishing a Novel‘)

Also, yesterday was my Dad’s 66th Birthday.  (He died just over 8 years ago)  So it’s a particularly memorable day for me …

By my Dad’s 67th Birthday I hope to achieve the following …

  • Obviously I’d love to get a book deal … but that’s one thing I can’t directly influence.  Though I can obviously work as hard as possible to pursue that particular dream.
  • I’m going to take a Screenwriting course (have been looking at 8 week intensive courses at the New York Film Academy … give me a shout if you’ve done one of their courses!)
  • I’m going to turn My Ten Future Lives into a screenplay … because, without revealing too much about the plot, it would work really well as a film … possibly better than a book.  (Characters change from imaginary life to life, so the same actors could play a variety of characters 🙂 )
  • I will finish my new book ‘Mercury’s Child’ … which is currently just a lot of notes!  It looks like I might be having a rather cruisy few months back home over the summer, after a winter working 70 hour weeks as a nanny, so I’m aiming to have MC finished by the start of September … which would be when I’d be flying out to New York.  If all goes to plan, four months seems to be how long it takes me to write a first draft.
  • I’ll still be keeping this blog, and using it to learn about the life of an author, and share my observations with you guys
  • In a year’s time, I’d like to feel more like writing is my ‘career’ … which is a very loose ambition, I know … but I think that embodies how unspecific ‘writing professionally’ really is …

In previous years, when my ‘year’ has been strictly regimented by school and university semesters, I’ve always had very specific aims.  And yet, I think my main aim for the year is just that I feel I’ve truly made the most of it – whether that’s (shock horror!) by taking a third ski season (rather tempting at the mo, when I know how much writing I get done working as a nanny).  I want to look back, this time next year, and feel I’ve made some steps firmly in the right direction.

Only time will tell how large those steps are …. but I guess the main message should be that I haven’t been deterred from my overall aim.

To be a career author –

To be able to look my best friend’s parents (who have been my adoptive family since my parents died when I was 19) in the eye, and tell them them that I don’t need to ‘look for a career’ because I’ve genuinely found one!!!

No doubt over the coming days, weeks and months I’ll find other aims to add to this list, and I’ll keep you posted on them, but right now, these are the things I want to achieve in the coming year 🙂

And as for Abigail’s other aims … what girl wouldn’t want to be a bit thinner in a year’s time 😉

C-C xxx

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Blog Etiquette

In the words of fellow blogger Jennifer Aaventura I’m doing my ‘homework’.

It’s Saturday night, and technically, I’m at work.  As I’ve mentioned many a time, at night I may masquerade as an ‘author‘, but by day, I’m very much a nanny! And tonight I’m babysitting … So with my two wards safely tucked up in bed, I’m doing some blog homework.

I’m very new to the world of blogging, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that true membership of this international club is two-way.  You can’t just receive comments, subscriptions and ‘likes’ … you have to give them too.

And so every couple of evenings I try to take a few hours to read the work of fellow bloggers.

Like I said, I’m very new to all this … but I’ve already begun to form some blog etiquette, which I think I would recommend to other bloggers.

1) If anyone posts a comment on my blog, I try my best to reply to it personally.

2) I try to check out the blogs of everyone who likes, subscribes or comments …

This second one is proving to be a bit of a slow process, as I’m sure anyone who has ever been Freshly Pressed will tell you … I have over 400 ‘virtual presents’ to write thank you notes for …. and whilst I *think* I’ve now replied to all the comments, I know I still have a lot of blogs to check out.

But the thing to understand, is that neither of these tasks is a chore.

For a start, the ‘blogosphere’ (a word I’m still not too sure I like!) is a sociable place FULL of potential, as I mentioned in my post ‘ The Writers’ Network‘.  What better place to commune with fellow authors, readers, publishers and agents?  What better way to gain tips, insight, inspiration and feedback, from a forum that isn’t just made up of your friends? (see the Writer and Her Sidekicks)

Back when I lived in Vancouver (I now live in a small mountain village) I used to attend a weekly Writers’ Group … and whilst it’s obviously great to have feedback on your own work, I also loved reading and critiquing other peoples’ work … especially when that work was something so departed from anything I would ever write.  It reminded me of uni … in a good way!

Reading other blogs broadens your mind.  I like to think of WordPress as a kind of huge free magazine.  Some of the blogs I have read in the past weeks have been far better than any magazine articles or newspaper reports I have picked up.  And just because none of us are being paid for the stuff we write on here, shouldn’t diminish the value of our words.  The thing with WordPress, is I’m inspired to look at blogs on topics I wouldn’t necessarily pay money to read about … and yet often these are the articles which interest me the most.

Secondly, by taking the time to get to know the readers of your blog, you can begin to understand your readership, and perhaps tailor what you are writing to those readers.  You can join in with discussions, present your take on something, or simply offer them a whole host of new readers by adding a link to their blog on your blog … just like this!  Here is the link to the original post by Jennifer which inspired me to write this – Blog Surfing, One Peace at a Time.

Finally, think of it in dating terms!

When you are getting to know someone, those in the know encourage you to ask questions.  It’s great to talk … but everyone enjoys talking, which means it’s also important to listen!  Which means, in the blogosphere, it’s not just a question of blogging, you also need to read too … otherwise the relationships you forge with your readership will only be a temporary one!

C-C xx

PS If you’d like me to check out, and comment on, your blog – please post the link below!  I’m still struggling to trawl through all the comments on ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!’ so it would be great to have links for reading all in one place!!! Thank you 🙂

 

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Getting Represented

In my first proper blog post, ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!’ I brushed over the process of getting an agent.

No, it wasn’t painless … but a year and a bit on, I think of it like I do my driving test.  Something which felt impossible at the time, but which, once successfully achieved, you push to the back of your mind, eclipsed by new worries and challenges … like REALLY learning to parallel park, and getting your first novel published.

However, I am very aware that a lot of the people reading this blog are yet to be able to refer to themselves as ‘represented’, and many of you have asked me exactly how I went about finding my lovely agent Lucy.

In order to properly answer this question and give it some ‘expert’ clout … rather than it simply being my own personal anecdote, I asked my agent Lucy Dundas, of Peters Fraser and Dunlop to chip in with some comments on how to get your work noticed in the slush pile.

So let’s start with Lucy’s comments …

Number 1 – Research.  The biggest thing as an agent is to be addressed directly. Letters sent to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it may Concern” drive us mad. If an author isn’t intelligent enough to find a name within a company, then we don’t hold out much hope. If someone has done their research, found out who to direct their letter to, it just proves how much you want it.’

Number 2 – Give us what we ask for. If an agency website says we only accept 3 chapters, synopsis and covering letter, please please please don’t send a letter asking us if we want to read your full mss….please don’t send us your full mss and PLEASE don’t send three random chapters from different parts of your book. Make it the first 3 sequential chapters with a synopsis saying where the book goes from there.

Buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – it has loads more information on agents, publishers, newspapers, foreign rights etc etc and is a great insight into our world.’

So those are Lucy’s main points.  Mine really stem from there.

Adding to Lucy’s point about research, make sure the agencies you are approaching, and the particular agents at each agency, specialise in your kind of writing.  Look at the other authors they represent, and the other books they have worked on.  There’s no point sending an amazing adult book to a children’s agent, etc, because they wont bother with it, no matter how amazing it is.

Secondly, be professional.  That obviously includes the ‘knowing who you’re writing to’ point that Lucy made.  But in my opinion, if you want to come across as a good client, do so right from the beginning.  Be organised with your work.  Present it well – footers with your name, and the name of the book.  Page numbers.  Make it easy for them to print out and read.  You want to encourage them to read it, not confuse them.

Thirdly, play the game!  If the agent asks for three ‘random’ chapters, make sure they are your three favourites. Don’t just lazily send off the first three chapters, if you know you have action-packed central chapters which better display your ability.  You want them to read more.  So pick the good’uns, and polish them!  Whilst an agent WILL do edits, and spelling errors aren’t the end of the world, it makes sense to present your manuscript to an agent in the best possible state you can.  It won’t be the finished state, but you may as well do as much work on it as you can.  The agent will only read it once, so make that one time worth it.

Finally, be persistent.  Maybe some people DO get signed the first time they ever send out a manuscript, but I bet you the majority of signed authors approached a fair few different agencies before they found their match.  I happily admit to sending out letters to American and Australian agencies as well as British ones, and to also submitting myself to a couple of publishers which accepted unsolicited manuscripts.  And my persistence paid off.  Publishing isn’t affected by odds.  Your book doesn’t come with a tag saying ‘she contacted 500 agents before it got signed, and 200 publishers before we published it’ … so go for it.  As long as you tailor each letter and application for each agency, and chose agencies who really are likely to want to represent you, then why not cast out your net as wide as you can?  It’s your time, effort and (postage) money!

If you really believe in your work … then commit to it!  You need to be committed to persuade someone else to replicate that commitment.

C-C xx

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The Life / Writing Balance

In my recent post ‘The Writers’ Network’ I explained how blogging can provide a new social network for writers.

Interestingly some of the comments on the post extended this new society to an actual social life.  As if talking to other writers online is the closest thing a writer might have to a life of her own.

The idea of a writer not having a real life of her own angers me.  As I explained in ‘Writing from the Heart’, it’s important to know and understand the things you write about.  So how can a writer convincingly write about the exciting lives of her characters, if she herself lives a rather mundane existence?

For me, becoming a good writer has meant understanding people.  And that involves communicating with, and engaging with, people from all different backgrounds and in all different situations.  In order to have the imagination to create a full range of characters, and empathise properly with those characters, I feel like I need to truly understand the world around me.  As a result I often feel like I’ve lived a hundred lives.  I’ve tried anything and everything … possibly one of the reasons why I’ve adapted so well going from Cambridge Law student to professional babysitter! Every adventure is two-fold.  Not only is it interesting and exciting for me as an individual, it’s also useful for me as a writer.  I’ve stood on both sides of the fence – the served and the server –  and as a result I understand life ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people write their first novel in their mid-thirties.  However I was 25 when I finally committed Flicker to paper, and I think the reason I did so at such a relatively young age, is because I feel I’ve had more than enough life experience.  The adventurous and constantly-changing way in which I live my life has equipped me with the knowledge and empathy to write from various different perspectives on a number of different subjects, which has proved particularly useful, particularly where books like ‘My Ten Future Lives’ where the characters’ situations change with every chapter.

In my opinion the traditional image of an author as a loner, trapped in a room, able only to socialise through her pen is out-dated and unrealistic.  Just because I can write, shouldn’t mean I can’t talk to people … and vice versa.

Personally I like to think of myself as a rather bubbly and sociable person, who also enjoys writing, and I hope that this personality shades my writing rather than hampering it.

The idea of the loner writer is a rather romantic one.  As if she puts her all into the book and has no time for a life of her own.  However, it is more than possible to have a life, and dedicate your time and energy to writing a book … it’s simply a question of understanding your writing.

As I explained in ‘The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger’, everyone writes differently depending on the nature of the task.  I also find that within each ‘discipline’ of writing, I work differently according to the task.

Take, for example, the administrative side of writing a novel.  As I will explain in more detail in a later post, it’s important as an author to present your work in a user-friendly manner.  And this involves headers, footers and page-numbers.  Compare this side of writing to expertly selecting the perfect words for the opening paragraph of your novel, and you can hopefully understand the different mental demands of various tasks.  Labeling my pages uses 2% of my brain power … finding the perfect words, maybe 92%.  And then there’s re-reading and editing.  The more often you have revised a piece of work, the less attention you need to pay it.

And so, with this all in mind … it’s actually possible to be rather sociable, and still find time to write!

When I’m writing prose, I know I need to be alone … whether that privacy is offered by four walls, or simply by my laptop headphones.  Similarly, I need to have relative focus when it comes to my initial edits.  I’ll perhaps play music I know well, or a tv show I’m not captivated with in the background.

But in the later edits, where I’m simply skim-reading for mistakes or repetition, and when it comes to numbering my pages and making everything look neat and tidy, I don’t need anywhere near my full attention on my computer.  And so these activities don’t require me to be a ‘loner’.  In the same way that I’m sitting writing this blog post whilst half-watching a movie with my boyfriend, and contributing (all but half-heartedly) to a conversation with him and one of our friends, a lot of writing tasks don’t require my full attention, and so I have adapted my life to include ‘laptop’ moments.

It’s not gospel, and probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but knowing when I can fulfil tasks in a sociable manner definitely helps me feel a lot less like a loner writer.

Finally, the other thing which keeps me sane is knowing when NOT to write.  As I mentioned in The Writers’ Network, I’m between books.  And three novels into my writing career, I understand my habits well enough to know that I need to take a decent break in between projects.  I need to switch character perspectives, in order to write convincingly from that new point of view … and whilst I’m not exactly lazy during the gaps (as perhaps best evidenced by this blog!!) I definitely take a proper break.  Which leaves more time for that life part of the life/writing balance …

Two years in, and it seems to be working for me … what about you?  Have you found the perfect balance?  Are your coping methods different to mine?  Or are you the stereotypical loner writer?

As ever … discuss!! That’s the whole point of the blog 🙂 Get social with the rest of the internet’s aspiring authors!

C-C xxx

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