An interview with…Samantha Wood

 

Last week I went all out and brought you an interview with me. This week I’m talking to someone who isn’t me – and yes, I’m aware of just how that sounds!

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Samantha Wood. Her novel Bay of Shadows is available now and, spoiler alert, we share an editor…

Ok, so we can get to know each other a little better, do you have a specific genre that you write in?

Ooh, tricky one. My first book was a travel memoir, but this one is ‘gothic noir’, which sounds decidedly mysterious. My readers have called it a psychological thriller – I quite like the sound of that!

Do you have a day job? If so, how do you manage or schedule your writing around it?

I do have a day job, but I’ve been on long service leave for three months now so it feels like a lifetime ago. I work remotely for a company called Access Innovation Media – they provide captioning for television and live events so that the Deaf and hard of hearing can have access to content. I come from a Deaf family so it’s really special to be involved in the bigger picture, so to speak. (And I get to work from home in my trackies.) It’s a struggle to schedule my writing around full-time work but somehow I manage, even if it’s only a few words here and there.

Where do you write? Office, coffee shop, all of the above?

Well, I moved my office lock, stock and barrel into the garage – which also doubles as my pottery studio – but whenever I’m in Melbourne I love to haunt the State Library of Victoria. I think it’s the smell of all those old books – it is like catnip for us authors! There is so much inspiration in that beautiful place. I write most of my notes in coffee shops or outdoors – anywhere or anytime ideas strike.

What about notes? Are you old school – eg journals or manual notes – or new, ie digital?

I’m old school when it comes to notes. I also have a slight obsession with notebooks so have about six on the go at any one time. They all have different purposes: blog notes, marketing schedules, story ideas; they’re also a good way of posting my progress – or lack thereof – on Instagram for whatever project I may be working on at the time.

What made you decide to go indie?

I got sick of waiting! I’d finished the manuscript for THE BAY OF SHADOWS back in April 2016, did a big mail-out to publishers and agents alike, then waited. And waited…and waited. I got a few responses from different publishing houses saying they loved the story and would get back to me in due course. By November of that year I still hadn’t heard back from anyone so, on a suggestion from my wonderful editor, I went down the indie road, and never looked back.

What has been your biggest learning so far?

Absolutely everything! When I published late last year I had no idea about author platforms or marketing strategies – I didn’t even know what SEO stood for. The past six months have been a monumental learning curve and while it has been exhausting at times, it has been a wild ride.

Any regrets? Things you wish that you’d known or would have done differently?

Probably that I waited so long to do this, although having said that, nothing happens until the timing is right. I had the mind-set that being traditionally published was the only way to go, but going down the indie route has given me so much freedom to do things my way – from the cover design of THE BAY OF SHADOWS to the design of my website and my social media platforms; I don’t think I would have found my voice as an author if I’d secured a publishing deal from the outset. As someone mentioned to me years ago, “That’s my name on the shingle above the door,” and they were right. As an author I’m a brand so I know how best to represent myself. (And maybe I’m a secret control freak after all!)

What about your team? Do you use the same team each time?

I use the same team every time for one very important reason: they are AMAZING! Nicola O’Shea has been my editor for many years and apart from being one of the best editors anywhere, she is also a beautiful human being. Keith Stevenson does the formatting for all my books, and is also exceptional. They can both be found at ebookedit. Xou Creative did my wonderful cover design and I have all my proofreading done by Pauline at In The Garret Writing Services. My friend Mark Flores at Falcon Creative does all my video production.

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser, definitely a pantser. I wish I was a plotter – they seem to have it far more together than I do.

Your desk – messy or neat? Care to share a photo?

Ah, somewhere in between. See the insulation at the back is a lovely touch.

Coffee or tea…or something else?

Coffee – as my Instagram page will attest – so so much coffee.

Music? Or do you prefer to work in silence?

I love music but I’m so easily distracted that it has to be silence. I’d even started putting in my earplugs but that was the kind of silence that was so absolute that you start to wonder if you’re still alive! The garage is down the bottom of the garden so it’s really quiet down there.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on the rewrite of my next novel UNDER TEN THOUSAND STARS which is going back to my editor in August. I’ve had a couple of weeks away from it so I can’t wait to get stuck back in. Wish me luck!

Good luck…and thank you!

Bay of Shadows is available now on Amazon.

If you want to know more about Samantha and her books, you can find her here:

Samantha’s website

Samantha on Facebook

Samantha on Instagram

If you want to know more about Samantha’s team:

Ebookedit

Falcon Creative 

Xou Creative 

Pauline @ In the Garret Writing and Editorial Services – paulineprivate5@gmail.com

An interview…with me!

Over the next few months – or longer – I’ll be bringing you interviews with other indie authors or indie publishers. To get the ball rolling, I figured I’d interview myself!

 Ok, so we can get to know each other a little better, do you have a specific genre that you write in?

Absolutely…chick lit…women’s fiction…call it what you will.

Do you have a day job? If so, how do you manage or schedule your writing around it?

I do. I remotely work back to Sydney. I’m part-time, so 3 days a week I’m on spread-sheets and processes, and the other 2 days (plus whatever time I can grab on a weekend) I have for fiction. I make the absolute most of that time.

When I lived in Sydney and was working in the city 4 days a week, I’d get up at 5am and write for 45mins before I had to get ready for work – and then again every night. It all feels so much more balanced now.

Where do you write? Office, coffee shop, all of the above?

I write in my home office, sitting up in bed (promise you won’t tell my chiropractor), and also down at our local surf club at least one afternoon a week. Why wouldn’t you with this view.

What about notes? Are you old school – eg journals or manual notes – or new, ie digital?

For notes, I keep a journal that I write messily in. I’m in the process of organising my notes into bullet journal format (I wrote about that here) – and that, I think, is going to change my life #notexaggerating

What made you decide to go indie?

I’ve written about that before – you can find the post here. Essentially it boils down to creative control. Thinking about recently when I trashed my novel and decided to turn it into 3 novelettes, there’s no way a traditional publisher who had accepted my original pitch would have allowed me to do what I’m doing.

My next projects are a huge departure from what I’ve done before too – being an indie gives me the ability to take my career in the direction that I want it to go – for better or for worse.

What has been your biggest learning so far?

This whole thing has been a huge learning curve, but my biggest takeaway is that indie publishing is absolutely not about overnight success. I thought I knew that, but I’m not sure that I knew it…if you know what I mean.

Any regrets? Things you wish that you’d known or would have done differently?

No regrets. They don’t work (to quote Robbie Williams). The thing I wish I knew? Just how important an email list and social media platform is.

What about your team? Do you use the same team each time?

I do. I use Nicola O’Shea for my editorial work, and Keith Stevenson for formatting. You can find them at ebookedit. I also use the same cover designer – Jacinda May.

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser, although, for my next project (no spoiler alert) I’m going to need to learn how to plot…at least a little…

 Your desk – messy or neat? Care to share a photo?

I’m trying to be neat at present. My office is right near the front door, so visible to anyone coming into our house. Plus, I’m juggling partition with creative work, so need the clean lines of division. I even use 2 separate laptops. The one constant is my muse – Kali, @adventurespaniel

Coffee or tea…or something else?

Tea…or wine!

Music? Or do you prefer to work in silence?

I create playlists – or mixed tapes – for each project I work on. This really helps with re-writes. When I’m writing, though, I pop my headphones on and play anything from the classics to indie songwriters.

What are you working on right now?

The I Want You Back trilogy. I’m about to start the re-write and can’t wait to get stuck back into it.

What I’m working on…

After trashing my book (remember, I told you about it here), I’ve put it back together enough that it’s now gone off to my editor for a structural look-see. Rather than do a full structural edit, at this point it’s about working out whether I’m on the right track.

You see, what I’m doing with this one is splitting it into three short novels – almost novellas in length. They’ll each be around the 50,000 word mark – about the length of a Sydney commute. Because they’re three different stories occurring in the same timeframe, there are crossovers that I have to keep an eye on through the editing process of each.

Each character is not only telling her own story, but also giving her perspective into the story of the others. Confused already? You wouldn’t be alone. In drafting no.2 of this series (at the moment untitled, so I’m referring to it as Tiffany), I’ve already worked out at least three places where I Want You Back (Callie’s story) needs re-work and layering. Callie herself is still feeling a tad passive – so I suspect more will need to be made of her motivations.

Anyways, the plan is to release them all a month after each other – which essentially means that I’ll need at least two ready to go before the first is published.

Yes, that does put a certain amount of pressure on me. While I Want You Back is off getting the assessment treatment, Tiffany is being drafted. I’m giving myself just a month to do this.

What I’m discovering as part of this process is that in writing quickly, not only is my voice coming through more clearly, but I have less time to faff about and deliberate over whether I’m doing the right thing, or not being clever enough. I have less time to second guess myself.

Sure, it makes the reviewing process a nightmare, but as they say, you can’t edit words that haven’t been written.

As well as madly drafting Tiffany, I’m also building the story for Alice in my head and gathering ideas for the covers and titles.

These three books (or book-ettes) are sequels to Baby, It’s You, so not only do I want to keep the cover design the same, I also want to add that same feeling of light and fun to the cover.

In the month prior to release date of I Want You Back, I’ll run a special promotion on Baby, It’s You, as for the publication date itself? I’m aiming for September, but that will depend on how much work I need to do to get I Want You Back to publishable standard.

I’ll keep you posted on that one…

That time I trashed my whole book…

Ok, so last week this happened: I trashed my book. Yep, ripped it apart. I could say ‘Just. Like.That.’ for dramatic embellishment, but far more thought than that went into it.

It’s something that had been playing on my mind for a few weeks, but doggedly I kept writing. I had a schedule I wanted to keep and surely what I was contemplating was not something that I should be contemplating?

When I talked about it we were in a mini bus heading out to Trang An – it’s an eco tourism complex of limestone karst peaks and grottoes. You sit in a boat and get rowed through the caves and valleys. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list and, located not too far out of Hanoi, absolutely worth a visit.

Where was I? Yes, on the mini bus to Trang An and chatting to my girlfriend about the problems I was having with finishing I Want You Back. This particular friend is an avid reader – and has also been an early reader for me – so was the perfect sounding board for this particular conversation. Hers was an opinion I valued.

‘I’m just not feeling it,’ I complained. ‘I’m bored, and if I’m bored then so will my readers be.’

As she listened, I explained the problem. This story has been in my head since I finished Baby, It’s You. My heroine, Calliope Jones (Callie), used to go out with Jamie, the bad boy in Baby. (I can’t tell you more than that without issuing a spoiler alert – on the off-chance that you haven’t already read Baby.)He was the love of her life and she’ll do pretty much anything to get him back. I actually even had the tagline before I had the story:

Be careful what you wish for – you might just get it…

If I’d stuck with that premise I might not be in the trouble I am today. The thing is, like us, characters don’t live in isolation. Yet when I brought Callie’s friends in to join the party – Alice Delaney and Tiffany Samuels – things got out of control. They had their own story and wanted to be heard too.

Now, here’s where the confusion and awkwardness comes in. Alice, you see, was the subject of my first never ever to ever ever be published novel. It was always my intention to rewrite her story as the final episode in this little series of books, but somehow she forced herself in here. Alice also appeared briefly in Baby, It’s You

Ok, I thought. I’ll make this an ensemble cast and seamlessly weave all three stories together. It will be like something that Cathy Kelly would do. How hard could it be?

As it turns out, very hard indeed. More than that, it simply wasn’t working. I was writing third person – something that I feel removes me a bit from the head of my character – and the voice just felt wrong.

‘Maybe I should just write it as three books,’ I mused to my friend. There are quite a few people in the romance field doing that now: Anna Campbell is doing it very well with her regency widows series, Carole Mortimer does it very sexily with her Knight Security series, and I’ve just started reading some Kylie Scott as well.

Being the wise friend that she is, we talked it through, but she didn’t agree or disagree with me. This had to be my decision.

But, I had virtually finished and the book was due to my editor by the end of the month… WTF was I doing even thinking of making a change of this magnitude at this stage of the process?

It wasn’t until I was on the overnight flight home from Bangkok that I did it. I started again to tell just Callie’s story…and I’m telling Tiff’s story…and I’m telling Alice’s. Three shorter books, tied together, to be written almost together, and released at 2 monthly intervals.

I have no idea whether I’ve made the right decision. I’ve definitely made life tougher for myself, but part of doing this whole indie thing was making two promises to myself:

  • That every single book that I published would be the very best that it could be – and not finished for the sake of finishing
  • That I’d learn more about both the craft of writing and the business of it with each project – and that doesn’t mean taking the easy path.

In doing this, as crazy as it is, I’m honouring those promises to myself.

But then, after it had all been ripped apart – and before it’s all back together – I had to confess what I’d done to my editor…thankfully she understood and it hasn’t impacted her schedule too much.

All the words I’ve written are re-usable, just across three books instead of one. My mission is to now to get the bones back together for at least the first and part of the second so my editor can get an idea about what I’m trying to do…I’ll keep you posted…

How to seek permission to use song lyrics – and why you should…

I was well into the final version of Baby, It’s You, when I realised that I’d need to seek permission to reproduce a few lines from a song, One Crowded Hour, by Augie March.

When I was telling the guys at work about this, I got a combination of:

‘Really? It’s just a few lines!’

‘Really? I’d operate on the use now and ask for forgiveness later basis!’

I even got the:

‘Really? It’s not like anyone is ever going to read it to know….’ Ouch.

The thing is, if you want to use (commercially) anything by another artist, you have to seek permission to do so. That means discovering who owns the copyright and contacting them to ask permission – and being prepared to pay a fee for the privilege to do so.

When it comes to songs, that’s easier said than done. You might know who has performed it, but who actually wrote it?

The thing is, most performers don’t actually own the rights to their work. Instead those rights are assigned or licensed to their publisher. It’s the music publisher who collects the royalties and arranges the distribution of them. As a result, most songs will belong on one of the following performing rights databases:

You can search by song title, and will get the publishers name and contact details from this. This post has some great information in it and was a wealth of information for me.

What about the concept of fair use, I hear you ask. Despite watching every episode of Rake and The Good Wife, my knowledge of the legal system* is not comprehensive enough for me to risk it – and nor would I want to. Even if you’re just using a single line, it’s common for the music industry to say you need permission.

After all, even though Baby, It’s You was my first book, I was going into this venture with a view of eventually making a living from my writing. I had to, therefore, approach the transaction as as a business would. The way I figured it, to assume I would only sell a handful or a couple of hundred copies of Baby, It’s You would be like planning for failure. What if I sold thousands and then got a cease and desist notice from the publishers? This was one occasion where it could be far cheaper to request permission and pay the probably nominal fee than to deal with the consequences of not doing so.

Most important of all, though, those few lines i wanted to use were someone else’s creative product – and the artist responsible for those few lines deserves to reap the rewards for their work. Would I be happy with someone doing the same to me without permission or credit? No, I wouldn’t.

Song titles are a different matter. Except in a few circumstances, song titles aren’t usually subject to copyright. The official argument is because they are short and don’t represent sufficient originality of thought. How many CDs have you picked up with the same title? Books? Songs? Exactly.

Naturally, though, there are some titles that are iconic enough or long enough or original enough that you’d probably want to check it out first. In fact, to be on the safe side, I’d be checking all of them out anyway– but that’s just me. As an aside, I’m sure I read somewhere about how Taylor Swift placed a copyright on the term “shake it off”… Of course, if could be just an urban myth, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be testing it.**

Anyways, this problem – of obtaining permission – is not restricted to the indie author.

When you sign a publishing contract, most will have something in it stating that the work is entirely yours. The contract may have something in there about whose responsibility it is to seek permission for copyright owned by others. Usually, unless you’re important enough to have minions for this, it falls upon the author to obtain the appropriate ok, although most publishers should be able to assist you with the process.

So, how did I go with my request?

As I said earlier, I was looking to use three lines from One Crowded Hour by Augie March. Through the performing rights database I managed to find the name of their management – who forwarded my request to the publisher.

In my email, I told them:

  • That I was self-publishing a work of fiction
  • That the work would be available digitally on the Amazon and iBooks platforms
  • The lines I was wanting to use
  • I included the passage that the lines were in – for context

I requested they forward the request to the song’s publishers for approval, and also stated that as I had a limited budget, I hoped they’d consider my request for no fee.

They came back and also wanted to know the name of the licensee (that would be me as the author), the estimated RRP, and the number of units I hoped to sell. For this last one, I advised the number I needed to sell in order to break even. (As an aside, consider this one carefully – often there’s a difference between a fee for an estimated 1000 copies versus 100,000 copies.)

Permission was granted – for a cost of $200 – which I thought a tad steep. I was expecting maybe $50, or even $100.

In the end I decided not to include the lines and rewrote the passage. I was already over budget on the project and I don’t think the story suffered at all from the omission.

I’m coming across a similar problem in I Want You Back, but this time I’m choosing to write around the lyrics instead of quoting them. As much as I’d love to include something by Bananarama or Manfred Mann (you’ll need to read it to find out why) I’ll be resisting the temptation.

Have you ever used lyrics in your work? How did you go about seeking permission?

*which is, of course, why you should always seek appropriate qualified legal advice and not rely on posts like these! This post should NOT be relied upon as advice .

** and nor should you. This post should NOT be relied upon as advice . I already said that…right?

Marketing strategies – and why you need one…

Midway through last year I had a crisis of confidence. I’d already published Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry and was about to publish Wish You were Here. I was proud of what I was doing, but at the same time aware that no one knew my books were were out there. That had to change. I had to start getting my message out…but how?

Did I need to find an agent? Maybe start the run around of publishers again? Or, was there a part of the publishing cycle I was missing? There was: marketing.

The way I figured it, if I had a contract with a traditional publisher, they’d do some marketing for me, although as a newbie author, I’d also be required to do quite a bit of it for myself too. It followed, then, that if a publishing company had a marketing department, then I’d need one too.

Why invest in a marketing strategy?

Because I wanted to sell more books.

As I’ve mentioned before, this business of writing is, for me, a business. I do it because I love it and I do it because I want to be successful at it – and success for me is measured in terms of sales and, therefore, income.

Besides, what’s the point of writing a book that’s as good as I can make it, and spending the money on a great editor and a cover I’m proud of to have no one buy it?

What to expect from a marketing strategy…

It really depends on who you use and what you want to achieve. If you want to sell more books, a good marketing strategy should give you the tools and the information to help you do that.

I chose Mel Kettle, from Mel Kettle Consulting, to help me with my strategy. Mel and I had got to know each other (virtually) though various forms of social media and, despite having been in weekly fitbit challenges with each other for a couple of years, we’d never met in real life.

Mel broke my strategy down into 3 parts:

  1. What do I want to achieve?

First up was an introductory session. This was where Mel got to know me, my motivations, my background and my goals – all of which were important for the next step. Mel is based in Brisbane, so rather than do this by skype, we arranged to meet when I was on the Sunshine Coast last July. I won’t post the photos because I think I had dreadlocks…ok, I know I had dreads.

Anyways, this was the most challenging part of the process for me – it was also arguably the most valuable. Why? Although I’d said that I wanted to sell more books and be successful as a writer, when asked I had absolutely no idea what that looked like.

Mel asked me questions that I couldn’t answer – not properly. Questions like:

  • How do I measure success?
  • How many books do I intend to sell this year?
  • Next year?
  • The year after?
  • How do I see my business looking in 5 years time?
  • How much am I prepared to invest?
  • How much work am I prepared to do myself?

Answering questions such as these was a huge step for me. From this I was able to develop my business strategy to complement Mel’s marketing strategy.

  1. How do I want to achieve it?

The second part of the process was a brainstorming or planning session.

We worked through strengths and weaknesses; examined opportunities; and looked at where I tend to waste my energy (I didn’t tell her about my procrastiwatching, procrastibaking or Midsomer obsession…but I think she knew). We also identified issues that were obstacles to me achieving my goals. In my case these were summarised into just 2 areas:

  • Limited time – I work 4 days a week (sometimes 5) and they are long and full days involving me being away from home for over 12 hours a day (3 of which are spent commuting).
  • I have competing priorities – As well as my partition job, I also dabble in some freelance astrology writing, and maintain a content-hungry astrology blog.

The key take away for me was learning to prioritise the time that I have available, and committing to set aside a particular chunk of hours each week to focus on marketing activities.

  1. What do I need to do?

From this planning session we agreed some actions – some of which I could put into place immediately, and others that would require a little more thought and commitment. These were clearly outlined in a strategy document for me to follow.

We then agreed to catch up in three months to see how I was going against these actions. This too was a super valuable part of the process as it kept me accountable for my results.

Was it worth it?

Yes. Without a doubt.

Mel came up with ideas I hadn’t thought of, and simplified concepts I’d thought were too complex or time-consuming. Before writing the plan, she’d taken the time to understand me – and my goals – and tailored the strategy accordingly.

I’ve completed a number of the action items on the list, but others I’m yet to do. A few more will be appropriate for when I publish I Want You Back. Most importantly, the strategy Mel devised for me can also be used to grow my readership and email list on the astrology blog – and sell product through there as well.

The bottom line is that paying for a marketing strategy is a little like reading a diet book. It’s not enough to read it – and just having it won’t guarantee you success…you actually need to live it and commit to it. Nor will it bring overnight success – it takes time for improvements to be seen, but when they are, if you’ve been keeping a track of your sales before and after, it’s relatively easy to measure the impact of your strategy.

The way I figure it, I’ve paid for a tool – if I sit on my arse and don’t use or refer to it again, I’ve wasted the money.

When should you do this?

There are some marketing actions that you can do from the start – before you even have anything published. These are things like:

  • Creating a website
  • Creating a blog – and creating regular content for it
  • Establishing your presence on social media.

For other actions, it’s best to already have some books out there. Not only do you have something to measure your results against, but you can also spread the expense across each of those books – rather than attributing it to just one.

The biggest message though? It’s all very well having a marketing strategy, but you have to have something to market. Speaking of which, I have today’s word count to finish!

8 ways to beat writer’s block…

Exhausted and overworked

Writer’s Block.

noun. A usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

I’m at the soggy middle stage of I Want You Back. I’ve written the beginning, I’ve written the ending, now I need to work out how A will get to B…so to speak…and the words are having problems coming through.

My characters are still chatting away and jostling about in my head – as they do. The problem is, they’re chatting away and jostling about with other characters whose turn to come out and play hasn’t yet arrived.

Plus, their chatter and story is currently being drowned out by all the noise in my head associated with buying a house, selling a house, and arranging an interstate move. Next time I pronounce, ‘seriously, how hard can it be?’ remind me of this moment.

I know I’m being hard on myself – there’s a lot going on and perhaps I should give myself a break, but:

  • This is a business and commitments that get made have to be kept – just as they would be in any other business or if I had a book with a deadline to a traditional publisher
  • I am busy – as are all of us who are juggling writing with day jobs, kids and other responsibilities. As such I can’t afford to waste any of that precious time staring at a blank screen
  • I knew that we were moving when I set my production schedule at the end of last year. Any over-commitment is my problem.

I’m in this game because I like the process of creating – and (mostly) find writing fun. It got me thinking about what I do to keep it fun when the words aren’t behaving themselves.

1. Write a scene any scene.

When I’m stuck for words, I write a scene that’s completely out of order to where the manuscript is up to. Often the scene playing in my head is not the one that I set out to write, but there’s no way I’m wasting the limited time I have to write by trying to force a scene that isn’t yet ready to be written.

Because there’s always a lot going on in my life (and my head) I write this way a lot. It’s one of the reasons I love scrivener – I can easily move the scenes about when I work out where they need to go.

Writing in this higgledy- piggledy fashion certainly adds to the edit effort, but you know what they say: you can’t edit the words you haven’t written. Besides, we’re in this game because we like the process of creating – so

2. Finish at least one paragraph before you run out of words.

This is a little like the writer’s version of the rhythm method. Yes, I truly did say that. Anyways, my point is, leave a little behind. I’m making this worse, aren’t I? If you stop a few sentences from the end of your scene, you have somewhere to start in your next session that doesn’t require too much thought.

3.Write a blog post.

Aside from this site, I also have an astrology site (Jo Tracey Astrology), and and anyways – a site where I blog pretty much anything else: food, travels, rambles, thoughts, whatever.

I keep a loose schedule for astro blog posts, and a sheet of paper on my desk with a heap of word hints for blog ideas for here and for and anyways, so when the block hits, I get the juices flowing again with something from the list.

4.Watch good writing.

Ok, this could possibly be drawing a fine line between procrastination and research, but watching good writing (and I mean good writing) or something in the genre that you’re writing can help. Again this is about learning and inspiration – not entertainment. Oh, and set a time limit or before you know it you’ll be binge watching episodes of Lewis…did that come out loud?

5.Read.

Preferably away from the genre you’re writing. Sometimes the problem is that you can’t hear your voice over the voices you’re reading – especially if you’re reading something of a similar feel to what you’re writing.

I’m reading Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series at present. It’s cozy crime set in in 1920s London and country England. I’m reading it not just because I’m enjoying the jolly hockey sticks, and spiffiness of it, but because it’s so different to I Want You Back – which is contemporary women’s fiction set in modern day Melbourne and Hong Kong.

6.Go for a walk.

This is usually my fail-safe never fails to work option…except when I don’t do it – which I’m not at present. Somehow walking has the same effect as a moving meditation. Focusing on something else – being aware of everything else around you – clears your brain so you can sort out whatever plot or character problem that’s stopping you from moving forward.

7.Pull out your playlist…or pinterest board.

Playlists are to me an audible inspiration. I’ll listen to a song that I just know a particular scene has to feel like. I know that it doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but it does. Yesterday I wrote a scene that I’m hoping reads like Missy Higgins’ The Way You Are Tonight looks in my head.

Maybe you use a pinterest board or some other type of vision tool. Whatever it is, revisit it.

8.Interview your characters.

I went through a similar stage with Wish You Were Here. In that case my “block” was largely because I didn’t understand Max’s motivations. What did she really want, and what was she prepared to do to get it? Knowing her chart helped me answer that question, but so did a spot of free writing in her voice. Have some questions up your sleeve that could help, as could writing some back story that while never seeing the light of day will help you understand what it is that makes your characters react the way they do.

As the definition says, writer’s block is usually temporary – so take comfort in that.

Do you have any tips to beat the dreaded white page or blank screen?

Finding an editor – and how I found mine…

business dog typewriter

So anyways, I realised the other day that I haven’t contacted my editor yet to book in this year’s edits – not that I’m anywhere near finishing the first draft of I Want You Back just yet. I’ve found that if I set myself deadlines – much like I would have if I were contracted to a traditional publisher (remember, we talked about that last week) – I work towards meeting those. If I don’t have deadlines, I tend to drift rather aimlessly – and that isn’t good if you have, like I do, a production schedule to meet.

I was telling someone about it the other day and they asked the question I get asked more often than you’d think: how did you find your editor?

It’s a good question. To begin with, I had in mind a few considerations:

  • I wanted to work with someone who had worked on commercial fiction in the traditional publishing world
  • I wanted to work with someone who had worked with indie authors
  • I wanted to work with someone who had worked with chick lit/commercial women’s fiction
  • I wanted to work with someone who actually enjoyed reading chick lit and women’s fiction
  • I wanted to work with someone who I thought would also be in my target audience
  • I wanted to work with someone based in Australia
  • I wanted to work with someone who “got” my voice and my story and who could help me make it all come together
  • I wanted to work with someone who I could work with…yes, that does make sense…and who I could work with in the long term to improve my craft

Armed with this information I went looking:

  • I popped the search term “freelance editor” into Linked In
  • I put the request out on Twitter
  • I read the acknowledgement pages in books that I really enjoyed
  • I googled the terms “freelance editor” and “how to find an editor” and landed on the Freelance Editors Network.
  • I checked out the website for NSW Writers Centre (of which I’m a member).

Then I went through profiles, checked out their website links and made a list of people that I thought I’d like to work with. Then I emailed them.

Price was an important consideration, of course it is – self-publishing is a business, and businesses have budgets – but ultimately, ticking the boxes above were more important to me.

There you have it.

Who do I use? The delightful Nicola O’Shea from ebookedit.com.au. Now, excuse me while I get back to the business of writing – my deadline is now locked in.

Want to know more about the editing process? You might also like What To Expect From A Structural Edit and What To Expect From A Copy Edit

Why I’m an indie author…

depositphotos_52071409_m-2015

I gave my mother a copy of Wish You Were Here for Christmas. There’s something quite confronting about your mother reading a story where the occasional swear word is uttered and sex happens.

It reminds me of the story when my brother was really young and we were on the farm just outside of Bombala (in southern NSW) helping with the lamb marking. If you don’t know what lamb marking is, I’ll explain sometime much later. Anyways, my brother was wrestling this lamb that was almost as big as him – it was one of the early born lambs that season – and he said ‘F’n hell, you’re an idiot, lamb!’

We all went silent. Ummmmm aaaaaah.

Tearfully, my brother apologised, ‘I’m sorry Mum – I didn’t mean to say idiot!’

Given that Mum’s reaction to my potty mouth is usually something like, ‘ you’re better educated that that, Joanne,’ it’s fair to say I was concerned that Mum was reading my book. I even joked about redacting the spicy bits. As one of my sisters said, I can’t believe you used the word “cock”.’ Really? What else was I going to call it. Hi Leese…

As it turns out, Mum loved the book and said the sex was nicely done. I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing…in fact, I don’t want to know. I was, however, thrilled that she liked it – and was prepared to tell all of her friends that she liked it. She asked me, though, why I’d decided to self publish this book. ‘Surely it’s good enough to be published, Joanne,’ she said.

Yeah, I think it is – which is why I published it.

The thing is, after I self published Baby, It’s You, I made the decision to continue to self publish. I’m still not making a living – or anywhere near a living – from my books, but I’m proud of them, and I’m proud to be an indie author. It’s what I want to continue to do.

Why did I go indie in the first place?

I’d sent Baby, It’s You off to a few publishers. It got through the slush pile with one – who asked to see the first three chapters. Then three months later they asked to see the whole book – and requested that I not show anyone else while they were deliberating. Three months later the answer came back: sorry, like the story, like the voice, but not enough romance for us.

Disappointed, I repeated the process. Can we see the first three chapters. Sure. Three months later: we’d like to see the rest of the book – you’re not showing anyone else are you? After six months I got the same result: sorry, like the story, like the voice, but too much romance for us.

At that point I figured that if it was good enough to get through the slush piles and good enough to be considered for acquisition, the bones of a good story were there. It was then that I decided that I was tired of waiting. It was then that I decided that it was time to back myself and take control of the process.

What happened next?

A lot of research.

I sat down and worked out what it was that a traditional publisher would do. They’d hire a structural editor, a copy editor, a cover designer, and there’d be someone to do marketing and promotions. At least.

So that’s what I set out to do. Hire the same people that a traditional publisher would hire. Except for the marketing part – although, I’ve since done that too.

That means an investment?

Absolutely. Publishing costs money – especially if you want your book to be the best version of itself that it can be. When you’re publishing independently, you’re making the investment that a publisher would normally be making for you and in you. You’re also reaping a larger proportion of the royalties – assuming, that is, that you’ve done your marketing and sell books outside your immediate circle of friends.

If you’re with a traditional publisher, they hire the editors, organise the cover, and do your marketing (although many first time authors have been disappointed with the amount of marketing they’ve had to do for themselves). If you’re lucky you’ll be paid a small advance, and will be paid a portion of the royalties once their investment has been repaid. It’s basic business common-sense. If you’re successful, you have the support of the publisher for your next venture, and your next, and the one after that.

So why self-publish then? Surely it’s better to have someone do all of that for you?

The easy answer would be to admit that I’m a control freak. The longer answer is that as much as I love the creative process, I really enjoy the business of writing –  and I’m prepared to make an investment in my business.

I’m in this for the long haul, so the team I’m building around me is one I trust to help me achieve my publishing goals and to help me be a better writer.

Do I secretly yearn for a publishing contract?

Man, yes! Especially when I get great feedback about the books, but the sales remain slow – even though they are improving with each release. Would I go out looking for a publisher? Not at the moment – but I wouldn’t rule out doing that in the future. At this point I’m enjoying being the CEO of my writing career, although there’s no denying that I’d love to one day see my books in an airport – and have the instagram to prove it.

Can you keep the costs down by skimping on an editor and doing your own cover design?

In theory, yes, but would a traditional publisher skimp on an editor or a cover designer? No, they wouldn’t. And when you’re an indie, you’re your own publishing house. Just saying.

Is indie publishing for everyone?

No. You need to be prepared to be responsible for your business, treat your creative output as the product or assets of your business, and manage it in the same way as a traditional publisher would.

If you want to simply create and leave the business to someone else, then indie publishing is not for you.

Business Planning for Indie Authors…

businesswoman thinking

So anyways, one of my goals this year is to grow my writing business. Given that it is a business, it needs to be treated as one – and for that reason it needs a business strategy.

I began the process of this in the middle of last year and invested in some marketing consultancy. As an aside, I used Mel Kettle Consulting and she was fabulous. I’ll tell you all about why indie authors need marketing strategies and what to expect from the process in a separate post.

Part of the outcome from this work was an examination of my strengths and my weaknesses – and, most importantly, required me to talk about what it was that I wanted from my business. I have to admit, at the time I hadn’t thought as long and hard about these things as I should have. I threw some figures around, but hadn’t put a lot of science behind them.

Since then, I’ve analysed the data – and developed a longer-term plan. It’s one that has actions and dates and numbers attached to it. Of course everyone knows it’s not a strategy doc until it’s in a power-point presentation, but I consulted with my business partner (Kali, Adventure Spaniel) and we decided we couldn’t be faffed.

In building my strategy I looked at:

WHO I want to be: My vision

WHAT I aim to achieve

HOW I’ll implement the strategy in 2017

WHY I want to do this. What values are important

Ok, here goes:

Vision Statement

To be a financially successful independent author.

3 year Strategy for focused growth

  • Increase product offering
  • Increase independent income to day job levels
  • Begin speaking at conferences and workshops

My Priorities: 2017 in focus

1. Double the number of products offered for sale.

Currently I have 5 products for sale:

  1. Baby, It’s You (Amazon)
  2. Big Girls Don’t Cry (Amazon)
  3. Big Girls Don’t Cry (ibooks)
  4. Wish You Were Here (Amazon)
  5. Wish You Were Here (Ingram Sparks print on demand)

By the end of 2017, there will be 10.

2. Double business income year on year

Despite fiction being responsible for over 80% of my cost base, it accounts for just over 22% of my writing income – the remainder comes from freelance astrology commissions. This needs to begin to even out.

3. Increase email list- both astro and fiction lists

  • Double down on content offerings
  • Develop a calendar for blog posts and schedule in advance
  • Develop a schedule for newsletters
  • Marketplace for astrology list

4. Increase general brand awareness

  • Attend Romance Writers Conference
  • Draft list of potential speaking topics and begin actively seek out opportunities
  • Develop press releases for all new fiction
  • Begin developing networks in Sunshine Coast and Brisbane when relocated

Values – my WHY

Success, for me, is defined as living (or being) the following values:

1. Freedom

  • The financial freedom to travel, explore and create
  • The professional freedom to choose and pursue my projects

2. Independence

  • The financial independence to build my own income and success
  • The professional independence to work with teams of my choice

3. Make a difference

  • Fiction: To be known as an author whose books provide a happy ending and whose stories make a bad day feel better
  • Astrology: To provide readers with the tools to expand their potential and increase their good day ratios

Checking in…

I’ll check in on progress on a quarterly basis – sort of like my own mini-roadshow.

What about you? If you’re an author (indie or traditional), have you planned how you’ll grow your author business this year? What’s your ‘why’?

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