Dear Newbie Indie Author…

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Dear Newbie Indie Author at the start of your journey….Panic not. Though everywhere you turn there are rules, and experts, and advice, and do’s and don’ts. Remember that all those who are further along than you, were once where you are now. If I could give any advice to me when I was a newbie indie author, it would go something like this;

  • Attend a course, workshop or conference. Something that fills you with wisdom and ambition. Something that makes you dream and hope and long to get your words out into the world. Something where dreams are balanced with a hefty dose of reality and an honest account of how hard it is likely to be.
  • Remember that Rome was not built in a day, so neither will your author platform. Be aware of it, learn about it, but don’t panic about it yet. It will grow with you, in time.
  • Be brave. But only when you are ready. There is no rush and no reason to change your personality or try to be something you are not. Tip your toes in the water with a Facebook author page, or a Twitter account. Play around with things, lurking around the edges until it feels right to dive in.
  • Don’t feel like you have to be on every social media site, stretching yourself too thin, whiling away precious hours by attempting to engage with them all. There is simply no point. Choose two or three and make sure one is your blog/website. Give these your attention, and enjoy them. Think of them as your own little projects, little mini businesses. Little acorns that will one day grow into Oak trees!
  • It’s fine if you are just talking to yourself. Everyone starts off like that. It’s not a waste of time! Think of it as practice. You can be uninhibited, knowing that barely anyone is there. Practice your voice, try things out, have a giggle. By the time your audience has grown, you will be far more comfortable in the role.
  • Make your blog whatever you want it to be. Some writers just blog about writing. That’s fine. Some blog about other issues, political, social, personal, and that’s fine too. Some blog weekly, some once in a blue moon. It’s all fine. Do what its comfortable for you. A blog is for your writing and writing should always be fun. If it doesn’t feel fun, don’t force it. Try something else.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. We’ve all taken different paths. There will always be writers with more money to spend, more contacts to enlist, more gift of the gab, more luck, more everything. But you are the only one who can tell your story in your way. Hold your head up high and try not to play the comparison game with anyone.
  • Don’t get eaten up with jealousy. When you see others succeed, be glad for them and then try to work out how they did it.
  • Don’t expect your family and friends to rush out and buy your book. Don’t expect many of them to understand what the hell you are doing. Find fellow writers to help you through the frustration and elation that is to come.
  • Remember that the only way to succeed is to never, ever quit.
  • Remember that success means something different to everyone, and only you can decide what it means to you.
  • Be prepared to be work hard, to treat writing like a job, to put in the hours, to find time for promotion and writing, to try new things when nothing is working, to feel like giving up, to want to bang your head against the wall, to want to throw your laptop out of the window, to scream at people to just please buy your bloody book and to go to bed and not be able to sleep for the ideas, thoughts, doubts and frustrations whirling in your head.
  • Be realistic. Dream big with your feet still on the ground. Keep your day job and be proud of it. Write because you have to, because the ideas and the words and the characters are too big to contain in just your head alone, and because you want to share them, to let others feel like you do. Write because you love it, because you live it and breathe it, because it excites you and makes you feel like you are living more than one life. Don’t write to get rich. Don’t write to impress anyone. Write because there is no choice not to write.
  • Know that you’ve got to put the work in to see the results. That inevitably and eventually, you reap what you sow. Little steps sometimes take you further than big ones. Sometimes the only way you realise how far you have come is when you stand still and look back to where you started.
  • Don’t spam people. Don’t become a robot hitting everyone who follows you with a buy my book link or plea. Engage with them. Forge relationships. It isn’t all about you. Don’t follow other people just so they follow you back. Think about why you are following them.
  • Don’t play the numbers game. Likes and follows mean nothing if people are not engaged with your voice and your style and what you have on offer. It’s not about the amount, it’s about the quality.
  • Don’t only post an update when you have a book out. Build an audience. Give them something to read, debate, join in with and get excited about. Then ask them to buy your book.
  • Be proud. You’re doing something some people only dream of. Do you know how many people say they would like to write a book, but never actually do it? You’ve done it. You’ve proved yourself and realised a dream. That’s pretty cool. And be proud of going indie. It’s not an easy road. But it is an incredibly creative and innovative one. Who knows where it might lead? Who knows what skills you will require? What contacts you will make? What friends you will find? What effect you will have on those that read your work? Who knows where you will be one year, or five years, or ten years from now? The possibilities are endless so dream big and work hard. Don’t moan, don’t back out, get on with it, and make it happen.

(Credit to Pranam Gurung for the image.)

Please feel free to comment and share. What advice would you give to a new indie author? What do you wish you had known in the beginning? Anything you would do differently?

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Interview with Author Harriet Springbett

Last week I read and reviewed a beautiful and unique YA book, called Tree Magic. I came across this book in a Facebook group I am lucky enough to be part of, and the front cover and title immediately caught my eye. It sounded just my sort of thing. (If you follow me on Instagram you might have an idea of how obsessed with trees I am!) You can read my review of Tree Magic here. Author Harriet Springbett kindly agreed to an interview, which you can enjoy below. Tree Magic comes out in paperback on the 1st of March, and is currently only 99p for the ebook on Amazon. Grab it!

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1) Can you tell us what inspired you to write Tree Magic?

I was sitting under a weeping willow tree in my garden, writing the start of a novel about Rainbow, a teenager who didn’t fit in. A recent storm had uprooted a nearby sumac tree and I found myself wishing I could stroke its branches back into shape to rebalance it: we hug trees to make ourselves feel better, but who ever makes trees feel better? I started to wonder what it would be like if someone could communicate with trees and help them in this way. As Rainbow was under my pen, she became the one to be blessed / cursed with this gift.

2) Did the plot come first, or the characters?

Definitely the main character. I’d already written a short story about Rainbow, and a member of Lumineuse, my writers’ group, said she was such a vivid character that she could almost see her beside me. The plot grew organically from Rainbow, her gift and her problems. This was a deliberate approach on my part, because the previous novel I’d written was plot-led and I’d found the writing experience too restrictive.

3) The story is told in both past and present tense – why did you choose this approach, and how difficult was it to pull off?

The tenses are intrinsically linked to the characters of the two protagonists: Mary wants to forget her past so the present tense represents her best, whereas Rainbow is like a tree, with roots into her past. It wasn’t a question of ‘pulling it off’, because it was natural rather than being a storytelling device. I was warned that publishers wouldn’t like the tense-mixing, but I believed it was too essential to change. In fact, my publisher (Impress Books) never questioned the tenses.

4) Are any of the characters based on people in real life?

No! Part of the fun of writing stories is creating characters. I’m a detail hoarder, and I jot down lots of rubbish that amuses or interests me, which may then produce a character (or not). For example, the other day I was running with a friend who’d bought a new pair of trainers. I noticed that the underside of her trainers happened to match the colour of her T-shirt, and found myself thinking about the kind of person who would do this deliberately.

5) Did you have to do much research into trees, or did you already have some knowledge in that area?

I love trees. I grew up on a Dorset farm that had 10 acres of woodland and a stream, and we were always playing in them, making tree houses or fixing rope ladders and swings to them. We had our own trees in the way other children have pets. Tree Magic doesn’t have technical details about trees, so I only needed an everyday knowledge, which my childhood and a tree guide provided. However, I did research details for the habitats and characteristics of certain trees, such as the symbolic silver maple.

6) This is your debut YA novel, can you tell us what is coming next?

I have already finished another YA novel called Red Lies, White Lies. It’s a thriller with a 17-year-old protagonist, set in France, and has no magic realism. A beta reader said she couldn’t put it down – but I really should make time to seriously hunt for an agent. I love the writing part of being an author, but I’m not very good at sending out my work. I must confess that I have begun to write another YA novel when I should really be trying to find a home for Red Lies, White Lies.

7) Do you read a lot of YA yourself? If so, what are your favourite YA books?

I didn’t intend Tree Magic to be a YA novel because I hadn’t read much YA fiction. When it was placed runner-up in a competition, the judge told me that with a little rewriting I could target the YA market. An agent who rejected it mentioned YA too – so I researched the YA market and rewrote it for younger readers. I only really started reading YA a short time ago – and I’m seriously seduced by what I’ve read. There’s a refreshing liberty in YA writing. I loved The Sun is Also a Star for its ‘science versus intuition’ approach (a little like in Tree Magic). I was shocked and impressed by Orangeboy. I adored the protagonist in Wing Jones and thought A Monster Calls was beautifully written. I could go on, but I’d better stop there.

8) Can you tell us about your writing and publishing journey so far? What have been the highs and lows?

The lows were the rejections. I originally sent Tree Magic to about 10 agents, was rejected by all of them and concluded that the story was rubbish. I left it in a drawer for years before learning that this rejection rate was normal, and that small publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Long live small publishers! The highs were firstly getting my manuscript accepted by Impress Books (though I worried for ages that they’d change their minds) and then the whole editing process with them. They are wonderful. The weirdest moment was when I read the blurb my editor wrote. My immediate reaction was ‘that sounds like an exciting book’ and my second was ‘it’s your book, you idiot.’

9) What advice would you give to new writers just about to start the journey into publication?

Don’t be put off by rejections. You must keep searching for a home, but make sure you get readers and other writers to critique your story first. Writers’ groups are invaluable for this. Also, I wish I’d written more short stories before launching into a novel because the experimentation, feedback and rewriting loop takes less time than with novels. Short stories help you to find your voice.

10) What have you learned so far about promoting your book?

I didn’t realise that book promotion and publicity would be so time-consuming. Getting started can be scary, so it’s wonderful if you have a publicist to guide you. If you’re not careful, it will eat into your writing time, so you have to sum up your courage and push yourself to be proactive while still remembering that the writing is what’s most important.

11) Describe an average writing day for you

I exchanged my full time job for part time work in order to have writing time, so this motivates me to sit down every morning and write until lunchtime. Most evenings I run or cycle – this is my problem-solving time, when I run through scenes in my head and visualise characters’ reactions. Of course, my friends don’t believe me when I say I’m working as I run! I don’t write at weekends, because I want to live fully, spend time with my family, do sport, see friends etc. Inspiration comes from interacting with real life, from watching and listening to what’s going on in the world, so it’s important not to shut yourself away all the time. It also means I look forward to getting back to my computer on Monday mornings.

12) Finally, tell us three interesting facts about yourself

This is the most difficult question. OK: when I was 22 I did a Raleigh International expedition in Chile and then hitchhiked 5000km from the south to the north. My ideal holiday is an itinerant trip with a bike, a tent and good company. And I’m (distantly) related to Thomas Hardy.

More about Harriet Springbett…

Harriet Springbett lives in France with her French partner and teenage daughters. She grew up in West Dorset and qualified as a manufacturing engineer before realising she preferred people to machines, and words to numbers. She moved to France in 1995, where she studied French and then worked as a project manager, a freelance feature writer, a translator and an English teacher. She has always written in her free time.

Her debut YA novel, Tree Magic, was published by Impress Books in ebook format in January 2017. The paperback is due out on 1st March. Harriet writes every morning and blogs on writing and cultural events at Harriet Springbett’s Playground of Words and Thoughts. Several of her short stories (Quark Soup, Shingle & Sand, Ami Entends-tu?, Big Bones…) have been placed and shortlisted in competitions or published in magazines such as The French Literary Review.

Links;

Tree Magic page at Impress Books: http://www.impress-books.co.uk/impress/tree-magic/ Tree Magic on Amazon.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tree-Magic-Harriet-Springbett/dp/1911293001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485160742&sr=8-1&keywords=9781911293002 My Blog: https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/HarriSpringbett/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarriSpringbett

 

Changing Perspective

Last week I explained how my beta readers have shaped the direction of my next novel Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. (Beta Readers: How and Why? I mentioned how some of the issues that have been addressed thanks to my betas were pace, showing rather than telling and point of view. So today I thought I would talk a bit about point of view and perspective in storytelling.

It’s a subject that can prove quite divisive. I know I was shocked the first time I realised not everyone loves first person viewpoint! Apparently, some people really despise it! Obviously, it has its limitations. Here are some of the disadvantages of climbing entirely inside the head of just one character;

  • you only get the viewpoint and opinions of one character
  • this can limit the amount of information and back story the reader receives
  • other viewpoints are neglected, including the potential scenes between other characters when the narrator is not present
  • it gives the story one voice, the narrative voice of the character telling the story which can be a bit restrictive
  • if the reader dislikes or does not connect well to the first person viewpoint, it can really deter them from the book
  • it’s a very personal way to tell the story, and can impose biased and subjective viewpoints which may grate on the reader
  • it runs the risk of becoming boring and/or repetitive
  • there is a danger of relying too much on ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’

Now I am not ashamed to admit that I LOVE first person. I think this may have something to do with how obsessed I get with characters. It’s character over plot for me all the way, hence why The Catcher In The Rye is still my favourite book ever. If I like a character, I don’t mind being inside their head one bit. Anyway, these are the reasons I think first person can be a really effective way to tell a story;

  • it allows the reader to fully connect with the protagonist/narrator
  • it’s much easier to gain sympathy and empathy from the reader
  • easier to construct a consistent style and voice
  • can make it easier to explain/justify a characters motivations and behaviour
  • can be much more emotional, drawing the reader in
  • it brings a vivid sense of immediacy to the story
  • done well, can be extremely powerful

But how do you know which is the best perspective for your story? There is also alternating points of view, which can be done in first or third person. Then there is the authorial third POV where the narrator is the all seeing eye of everything and everyone.

I think every author has their preferred perspective to use, but it is important to think about the story being told and what will best suit its needs. I know for a fact I am way too tempted to use first person. I did so with The Mess Of Me; a YA drama written in a tell-all, confessional diary style. We climb inside Lou’s head and never get to see through the eyes of any of the other characters. I could have explored third person, and jumped from character to character, but there was a reason I didn’t. As well as being about body issues, family drama and first love, The Mess Of Me is a story about those people we sometimes have in our lives, yet do not really know. eg Travis, Leon and Marrianne, for Lou are all deeply involved in her life and the drama of the story, yet are all as good as strangers. The story needed to revolve around her mind set and emotions in order to get this across. So it just had to be first person.

The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was a different matter. I originally wrote and rewrote this story in third person. Yep, you got every character’s viewpoints, and there are a lot of characters! The action jumped around all over the place. But it didn’t work. I didn’t feel close enough to my two main characters, protagonist Danny and antagonist Howard, and the more I rewrote it and got into their mindsets the more I realised that this was their story. Truly, this book is about their warped and dangerous relationship. So I changed it to first and boy did it work then. I must have worked with a constant smile on my face! You see I knew them both so well by this point that it was a piece of cake to climb into their heads and write from their POV. I used alternating POV from both characters in the first person. You get to examine their twisted relationship from both their views. This is a fantastic way to make first person narrative more interesting and varied.

With the sequel, This Is The Day, I wrote it in third person to begin with and then again switched it to first, but this time using alternating perspective from five characters. This was fun to do because I got to really explore the motivations of the characters who were introduced in the first book. And I think it worked; it was the best way to put the story together.

So, as you can see, there was a growing tendency and fondness to using first person narrative. I had found my comfort zone and made myself extremely comfortable! I forced myself to break out of this warm little zone with This Is Nowhere. (And I would strongly recommend forcing yourself to break away from the familiar every now and then.) Third person. It had to be. But with the chapters zipping back and forth from the past to the present. However, I still stuck to one point of view, Jake’s. This was not intentional at the time but now I can see why it makes sense. Jake’s story is the unpicking of two mysteries; what happened to his mother in 1996 and who he is. The other characters didn’t really need a say in this, although their behaviour and secrets helped pave the way for the climax where Jake discovers the truth about everything. I also think this was the best way to tell the story. Third person worked with jumping between time frames, as we got to see the young Jake and how his mind worked then, helping us to understand the person he was in the present. Other characters perspectives would have made this way too muddled and complicated.

Tree Of Rebels. Uh oh, I was back to the first person again. You see my problem? I really do like that comfort zone!! This book is still awaiting a final rewrite so I will not pass judgement on it yet as there is still work to be done and decisions to be made, but at the moment is feels right to leave it in first person.

Which brings us up to the two latest works. The unexpected rewriting of Elliot Pie, and the quickly thrashed out first draft of A Song For Bill Robinson.

Before I started writing Elliot Pie, I knew it would be written in the first person viewpoint. I think this was because he had been in my head for so long by that time, I knew him inside out, knew what he thought and felt, and how he looked upon the world. It was scarily easily to climb inside his mind and allow him to tell his story. But there are lots of other characters of importance in this story, and there was no way Elliot could know everything about them. I had to switch to third person whenever an adult character stepped into the plot. There was no real intention to do this; it just sort of happened. So, all of Elliot’s chapters were in first person, present tense. Very YA. Very Catcher In The Rye. And all of the adult’s were in third person, past tense. Which felt very grown up and evolved. It actually surprised me how smoothly writing that way became, especially as I had sunk so deeply into the first person comfort zone.

I was initially happy with this, and thought, that although different and challenging, it worked. I told myself it was good to try something a little bit different!A little bit brave.

While Elliot Pie was with another beta reader, I thrashed out a first draft of a YA drama called A Song For Bill Robinson. This is based on a book I wrote but never finished aged sixteen. It was written in third person back then, so it seemed apt to write it again this way. I was also feeling confident after the third person narrrative in Elliot Pie had gone so well and become so enjoyable. Third person, multiple viewpoints worked best for this latest book because again, there are so many characters and so much going on, it really would not work in first person. And also, a bit like with Jake in This Is Nowhere, I didn’t really want to climb into these people’s heads. I felt a bit of distance was needed.

When I received final feedback from betas on Elliot Pie, there were several issues, some of which I discussed in last week’s post and some of which I will probably mention another day. But what dawned on me more and more as I went through them, was how many of them could be solved by changing Elliot’s narrative to third person. Which is what I am currently doing. Just to see how it works.

So far, it’s working. It suddenly feels more adult (it is to be aimed at adults) and I do feel relieved to be out of his head. It gives me as an author a whole new perspective on the story, on his character, and on the best way to tell this story. I noticed there were many problems with writing his parts in first person. For instance, he was rambling too much, daydreaming, going off on tangents, all of which slowed the pace down, and may have proved dull for some readers. However, writing his parts in first person initially have helped me truly understand his character, which I really hope shines through when it is all completed.

The moral of the story today is this; sometimes as a writer you want to tell a story in a certain way, for whatever reason. But sometimes, you have to stand back, take a look and admit that it may not be the best way to tell it. This may concern other things, such as structure and pace, but if your story is not working out the way you hoped, maybe changing the narrative perspective is worth considering.