The one where I got 1,000 reviews. Woo hoo!

Ask any author and they’ll probably tell you that one of the scariest things about publishing a book is waiting for those first few reviews to come in. What will readers think? Love it? Hate it? Be completely indifferent?

Reviews are exceptionally important because they are our feedback from our customers. I read every single review I receive on Amazon and positive ones absolutely make my day. They’re like a warm hug, a thank you, and a dollop of motivation rolled into one. They inspire me to keep writing.

Negative reviews…. well, I’m sure you can imagine it’s not a warm hug I get from those. Occasionally (rarely) I might pick up something constructive from a negative review that makes me think, but more often than not, it’s just an angry rant and often feels quite personal. Cue tears and reaching for the chocolate.

At the start of 2020, I had a writing goal to get 100 reviews on one of my books. At that point, I already had about 95 on the original version of New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. When Boldwood relaunched it with a fresh edit and makeover in February, I knew it wouldn’t be long before that goal was achieved. The rest of the series – and the other books due for a makeover – all had about 30-45 reviews each so they were a little way off that goal.

What I didn’t have was a goal to get 1,000 reviews. Definitely not on my bucket list. Not a goal at all. Why? Because, just like a book of mine going into the Kindle Top 10, it felt like such an enormous impossible goal to achieve. Yet yesterday, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes hit 1,000 reviews.

All weekend, it had hovered tantalisingly close. On Sunday night, I went to bed with it at 998. Surely it would be 1,000 by the morning given the rate at which they seemed to be coming in? I logged in on Monday and it was still 998. Then 999. Just one more needed. I couldn’t wait to grab that screen shot with a clean 1,000.

I never actually got it because, next time I refreshed my screen on the afternoon, it had jumped to 1,002. I’d done it! I’d achieved another goal that wasn’t even a goal! Woo hoo!

This morning, at the time of writing, Carly is at 1,014 reviews/ratings. 72% of these (723 of them) are 5-star and 19% (192) are 4-star. So that’s 915 out of 1,014 reviews or ratings (91%) that are positive. I’m so proud of that.

At the lower end, there’s only one actual 1-star review (plus 11 ratings) and it’s a bit mean: “The main character is ridiculous. Her sister is destroying her business, etc. etc. etc. I made it through one-third of the story and just couldn’t make it any further. When the main character has you rolling your eyes, page after page, I refuse to continue wasting my time with it.” Ouch! So it clearly wasn’t for that reader although it’s a shame she didn’t read on as she’d have found out the reason why Carly accepted Bethany’s behaviour but time is precious and why spend it reading something that you’re not enjoying?

For 2-star, there are three reviews (plus 12 ratings) and a couple of them do make me laugh because the reason for the 2-stars is: “Thinking about Christmas and it’s only September. Well, I realised that only after I bought this book…” and “Well, I think it could be worse. Thinking about Christmas and it’s only August. Well, the book will sit pretty on my wife’s shelf and not get read…” What part of a book called “Christmas at….” with a snow-laden cover including a Christmas tree and a blurb which begins “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing…” would make them think that the book is anything other than a Christmas one?

Let’s ignore those, shall we? An enormous thank you goes to Nia, my editor at Boldwood Books for the amazing editorial advice which took a good book and polished into a fabulous one which, in the space of only three months has reached 1,000 reviews.

As for the reviewers/bloggers/readers who’ve shared the book love, I am forever grateful. Please keep leaving reviews for authors whose work you love and we’ll feel those hugs, that motivation and that inspiration to keep going.

If you haven’t read Carly’s story, there are a phenomenal number of listening/reading choices:

  • Download the eBook on Kindle, Kobo or AppleBooks
  • Buy the paperback from Amazon, the Waterstones website or order it via any other good bookstore
  • Buy the audio CD from any of the above
  • Buy the large print version from any of the above, or borrow it from your library if they stock it
  • Download the audio CD from Audible, Kobo, SCRIBD, AppleBooks, Libra.fm, or Chirp (USA only)
  • Borrow the audio version from your library via the uLibrary app or Hoopla in the USA and Canada
  • Stream it via Spotify, Deezer, AppleMusic and YouTubeMusic

Big hugs

Jessica xx

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…


It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.

For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…

As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitsborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?

Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?

A heartwarming, short festive story of friendship and family from bestseller Jessica Redland. You can find out what happens to Carly next through exploring her best friend Tara’s story in 
Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café

The one where it’s all a bit strange

There are some pivotal moments in recent history where individuals, depending on their age, can recall exactly where they were/what they were doing when they heard the event happened. Some examples include:

  • The shooting of John Lennon
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall
  • The death of Princess Diana
  • 911

But this is probably the first time in my lifetime that we can add an entire year to the list. 2020. The year where everything and nothing happened. We might want to forget it but we won’t be able to because the global pandemic has impacted on every part of everybody’s lives.

How much of an impact there has been will massively depend on an individual’s circumstances and their mental health. What I might consider disappointing/inconvenient based on my circumstances might have a tremendous impact for somebody else. Therefore, what I’ve written below is very much how I might view things but I do recognise that the events may fall into an entirely different category for someone else…

For some, the impact has been disappointing and inconvenient but not necessarily life-changing or devastating – the annual holiday cancelled, a birthday not celebrated in the usual way, missing face to face contact with friends and family, a new alien work environment based from home. 

For others, the impact has been more significant – job loss or reduced hours leading to financial worries, a holiday of a lifetime/ wedding/ anniversary/ big birthday cancelled, being kept away from a loved one in a care home.

And there are those for whom this year has been a tragedy – illness, cancelled operations, bereavement, not able to properly say goodbye to loved ones, businesses failing, acute loneliness and depression and, of course, exam results and the impact of that on college/university places or employment.

My immediate little family of three has been fortunate so far, falling mainly into that first category of a disappointing and inconvenient year: holidays, theatre trips, celebrations for my hubby’s 50th birthday and my birthday all cancelled. Zoom has been a weak alternative to meeting family face-to-face but we still have our jobs and we’ve both worked from home for several years so haven’t had to adjust to that. We have, however, had an unexpected family bereavement – not to Covid – and that was hard, not being able to rush round and give hugs. But we have been lucky and I count my blessings every day for that.

But today feels odd. Strange. Wrong. Because today I should be at my graduation ceremony.

I achieved my Masters in Creative Writing at the back end of 2019 but it was through Open University so ceremonies take place all over the country, with lesser frequency in the north. I’d hesitated as to whether to bother when the ceremony at the nearest venue to us – Harrogate – would be almost a year after graduating but hubby and the munchkin said I should definitely do it and they would be there cheering me on, as would my parents. When Covid hit, all graduation ceremonies were understandably cancelled for the foreseeable future. I have no idea when it will be considered safe to have an event like this again or how they will catch up with the backlog. Will there be any point in attending a ceremony two or three years after finishing? It feels like the moment has passed.

This weekend, I would also have started getting organised ready for our holiday over the October half term. At the start of the year, we booked a week in Portugal for May half term and a holiday cottage in Lancaster to be in easy reach of both Blackpool and the southern Lake District. Portugal was cancelled and, with Lancashire moving into a Tier 3 lockdown yesterday, that’s also cancelled. We had already made the decision not to go while they were Tier 2 as it made no sense to travel from a Tier 1 part of the country into a higher-risk zone, especially knowing we wouldn’t be able to do what we’d planned for our holiday anyway.

What am I doing instead?

I’m staying at home as usual, waiting for a courier to collect the swab kit for my Covid test. I was randomly selected and invited to do this as part of the research survey undertaken by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Dept of Health & Social Care. I agreed I was happy to participate and, yesterday, my kit and instructions arrived in the post.

Also in the post was a box of author copies of Making Wishes at Bay View from the print-run that has gone into The Works. A case of normality arriving alongside this strange new world.

It all feels very surreal. If someone had told me last year to guess why I wouldn’t be able to attend my graduation ceremony and what I’d be doing instead, I’d never in a million years have predicated this. Yet this is the new normal.

And seeing as ‘normal’ is different, is it too early to put up the Christmas tree this weekend? Yeah, you’re right. Maybe I need to wait until November. Ooh, 1st November falls on a Sunday. Could I…?

Sending hugs to anyone whose 2020 has hurt/is still hurting. Hang on in there.

Jessica xx 

The one where Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes is published

Carly's Cupcakes Tagline 2 Twitter

Today is the publication day for a brand new version of Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes through my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books. This story was originally a short novel at 46k words and an indie release from me in October 2017. The title hasn’t changed but it has a new cover and some fresh content.

What has changed?

Length: The story is longer by about 12k words

Perspective: It is now a 1st person perspective story instead of 3rd person like the original version

Story: The overall story is the same but I have added in more detail around Carly’s backstory with her best friend, Liam. There’s also more about Carly’s sister, Bethany, which explains why Carly keeps giving her chances despite her being a liability to the business. As a result there are lots of new scenes for the reader to enjoy

I love this book. It still touches on some emotional issues like all my stories but, being set purely in December, it is a little lighter and more romantic.

Carly's Cupcakes Tagline Twitter

Is Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes part of a series?

STARRY SKIES HI RESIt’s the start of two books which follow-on from each other and have an overlap of characters.

I would strongly encourage readers to read Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes before Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café which is currently available for pre-order here. This sequel was previously released under the title of Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Café but it has been freshly edited too and is significantly longer.

The owner of The Chocolate Pot, Tara, is good friends with Carly and their businesses are next door to each other on Whitsborough Bay’s Castle Street. Tara features throughout Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and reveals something about her past to Carly that readers find out a lot more about in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café. They’re also able to discover what happens next to Carly in Starry Skies which starts the same Christmas of Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes but takes place across a full year, front and back-ended by the festive season.

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Should I download it if I’ve already read the original? 

Yes please! It’s FREE so why not treat yourself to the refreshed version? Even if you’re not likely to read it again, I’d still encourage you to download it … just in case. I’m hoping to get near the top of the Free Kindle Chart too.

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Screenshot 2020-08-13 at 16.39.17At the time of writing this, it had already made it to #313 but, just before posting, Amazon’s chart positions updated and it’s shot up to #73! I hope it will go even higher which should then increase awareness of me as an author among new readers who may then discover my other books. So you’d be helping me a lot if you download this. Thank you so much.

It’s also grabbed several number one slots in the free chart, 3 of which are listed above, although free books don’t get the coveted orange bestseller flags.

 

With New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms at #66 in the overall Kindle chart at the time of writing and a #96 position for Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, I’m thrilled to be able to declare something I never thought would ever happen:

I HAVE THREE BOOKS IN THE TOP 100 KINDLE CHART AT THE SAME TIME!!!!

WOO HOO!!!!!!

Thank you to everyone who has made this possible and an enormous thank you to my brilliant editor, Nia Beynon, for her ever-insightful feedback to shape my work to be even better, and to Ellie Foot at Boldwood Books for the gorgeous graphics.

Where can I find out more?

If you’d like to know more about Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, I’ve pasted the blurb below and you can read a post on Boldwood Books’s blog about what to expect from the book here.

Hope you enjoy your Christmassy trip to Castle Street. I loved writing this book and hope you love reading it just as much. You can access it for FREE on Kindle here. It is going to be available for free to Kobo and AppleBooks readers too but offering a book for free from publication day rather than as an offer down the line is a little more complicated so it hasn’t materialised on all platforms on the same day.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…


It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.

For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…

As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?

Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?

A heartwarming, short festive story of friendship and family from bestseller Jessica Redland. You can find out what happens to Carly next through exploring her best friend Tara’s story in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café.

This is a new and updated version of Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes which has been previously published.

What readers are saying about Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes:

’Pure Christmas magic! Mix in some fairy lights, snow and sweets and you have a perfect holiday tale.’

’It is a feel-good story that lets you escape into a beautiful setting.’

’My first Christmas book of this year and it will be hard to beat.’

’This well-crafted story was a quick and engaging read that captivated, entertained, and squeezed the heart.’

’This was the right story at the right moment: uplifting, heartwarming and engrossing.’

’I can’t begin to tell you how much I love Jessica’s books’

’Jessica Redland can’t put a word wrong, her books are a real pleasure to read, so well written and you feel as though you are part of the story.’

’Another absolutely fantastic read by a truly fantastic author.’

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The one where I look back on an unusual May

I always think there’s something extra special about the start of a month being on a Monday – fresh week, fresh month, fresh start. Lovely.

And as we step into June, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on May because it’s been an unusual month with a few disappointments but, oh my goodness, what a delicious set of delights. Which is perhaps a little odd considering the whole of May was spent in a COVID-19 lockdown.

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Definitely not me celebrating my birthday                                               Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

 

DISAPPOINTMENT – I hate to start on a negative but the month started with a disappointment. I’m a May Day baby and I really didn’t respond well to a lockdown birthday and had a little strop about it which actually surprised me as I don’t really both much with my birthday. I tend not to work, I love gifts, and I like to go out for a meal with my husband and daughter to acknowledge the day. The fact that we couldn’t go out made me unhappy and my reaction was to ignore my birthday rather than have a half-hearted non-event. I made a ‘no gifts’ rule and sort of regretted that when the day arrived …. although I then broke it by ordering myself a stunning Lucy Pittaway print for my office. I can’t put it up yet because I can’t get it framed but it will make my heart sing when I can. And, actually, I might have ordered two. Well, there was 25% off and it would have been rude not to!

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 22.17.16DELIGHT – I worked in the day job on my birthday but I took the following week off – a much needed break after working some extremely long hours since the start of March. When I returned to the work as a home-based HR Tutor, it was to a big delight because I handed in my notice. I really enjoy my day job but to write full-time is a dream come true and, whilst I will not be matching the income from the day job, I will be doing what I love and finally have a work:life balance; something I haven’t had for well over five years. Six days and counting…

DISAPPOINTMENT – There’ve been a couple more disappointments. Like so many people, there were plans in place which had to be cancelled in May – a shopping and theatre trip to Leeds to see Sister Act with the munchkin and a family half-term holiday in Portugal.

IMG_7561DELIGHT – I’ve missed my fortnightly meet-ups with my very good friend and fellow-author, Sharon Booth, but we had a lovely virtual catch-up this month and it was so good to see her/speak to her. Last week, I also caught up with a really good friend who I met when I was on TSB’s graduate programme in the mid-90s. We haven’t seen each other since I had my daughter (who will be 14 in December) so it was great to see/speak to her online too although that’s a lot of years to try and catch up on! One of the things that has come out of lockdown for a lot of people is reacquainting with old friends and that’s definitely a delight.

 

DELIGHT – I’ve received lots more delights this month with readers getting in touch with me. I’ve had tweets, emails and messages on Facebook from readers thanking me for writing my books which they say have seen them through lockdown. Every single time I receive a message like that, it humbles and astonishes me. I’m so grateful that (a) my stories have helped provide escapism during these challenging times and (b) that they’ve thought highly enough of them to take the time to find me and contact me. How lovely is that? Thank you to everyone who has made contact in May or prior to that. It really is so kind and thoughtful of you.

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Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

DELIGHT – And the month of May finished on an absolute delight. One of the things that many readers have been saying is that they’ve binge-read my entire back catalogue. My fabulous publishers, Boldwood Books, have re-released five of my books (two shorter ones were packaged together as one to make it a four-book series release) and I’ve signed a contract with them for my remaining four but, for now, those four are out there as indie releases. I can therefore log into the author information on Kindle and see how many eBooks have sold each day and how many pages have been read.

Prior to the re-release of the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, I had a steady but not impressive number of pages read and eBooks sold. Nothing to make me particularly visible in the charts. Nothing to write home about. Nothing to make me feel I could ever do this full-time. But the re-release, the promotion on these books and the lockdown scenario have steadily boosted sales and pages read of all of my books. This morning, my Kindle stats told me that I had well over 1million pages read during May from readers borrowing my four indie books on Kindle Unlimited (Bear With Me and my three Christmas books). Eek! I have never come close to that before. I had a look back at the same month from last year and we’re talking just shy of 197k pages and that was for nine books, not four! And even if I just go back one month and look at April, pages read were 443k so they have more than doubled in one month and increased nearly six-fold in a year. Wow!

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For years, I’ve felt invisible. I’ve felt I was failing. I always believed in my ability to write but I just couldn’t seem to make an impact. And now it’s happened. I cannot thank my publishers, Boldwood, enough for helping get my name out there and to all the readers who have bought or borrowed my Boldwood and my indie releases. Because of you all, I will be a full-time author this time next week. If I didn’t have writer’s bottom, I’d be doing a happy dance round my office right now! I hope to make you proud with more time to write and therefore more uplifting stories to read.

I know that June is going to bring a couple more cancellation disappointments but hope it brings another box of delights too. Hope it also brings delights your way.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

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The one with the unusual Easter

Welcome to Whitsborough Bay

When I was a child, I loved Easter. It signalled two weeks off school – yay – and a huge stash of Easter eggs. I’d receive eggs from my parents, grandparents and all my aunties and uncles. Nom nom! They’d sit on the sideboard in our study at home (an internal garage converted into a room which was always cold – perfect for chocolate storage) tantalising me with their shiny foil promising chocolatey deliciousness. I don’t remember doing Easter egg hunts and I don’t remember there being an Easter bunny. Perhaps these are newer trends or perhaps our family simply didn’t embrace these traditions.

I attended Sunday School back then so I was always very aware of the real meaning of Easter. On Palm Sunday – the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday – the churches in our town would unite for a service in the Parish Church in celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem prior to his crucification then reseurrection. This was preceded by a parade up the high street by the uniformed organisations following ‘Jesus’ on a donkey. I was a member of Girlguiding from Brownies through to Rangers and would join the parade each year. We weren’t permitted to wear coats as our uniforms needed to be displayed proudly. Brr! I can remember spending many a parade shivering, blowing on my icy cold hands, desperate for the parade to end so we could get into the warmth of the church – only to discover the church was just as cold! I can also remember the hilarity of trying to dodge the donkey droppings as well as the couple of occasions when the donkey emptied its bowels in the church. Luckily there were flagged floors rather than carpets!

Choc & Books - Series & Secret

After I left home, I had many years Easter egg-less. It never felt right treating myself to one so I only got one if I had a boyfriend at the time. I remember one boyfriend buying me one when we were at university. It was a Cadbury’s creme egg one in the shape of a juggler where his tummy was the hollow egg and the juggling balls were two normal sized creme eggs and several mini ones. I was meant to take it home to eat over the Easter holidays but he gave it to me far too early and I couldn’t resist. By the time term ended, I’d eaten the entire contents but had pressed the foil back into the plastic moulding so it still looked untouched. Was that naughty of me?

When my daughter was little, I organised the occasional Easter egg hunt for her and some friends in our back garden or in the house if the weather was bad. We’ve done a few Easter crafts over the years but Easter has never really been a big thing in our house.  We’ve never decorated the house. It’s never been a time when we’ve got together with the extended family for a big celebration. My husband and I are both self employed and home-based so the long four-day weekend doesn’t mean the same as it did when I was in paid employment. More often than not, we’ve had to work over part, if not all, the weekend. And, because we live in a popular seaside resort descended on by hoards of visitors on bank holidays, we’ve always made a conscious decision to stay home all weekend to avoid the tourists and the traffic snarl-ups, promising our daughter a day out the following week instead.

Easter Bunny - Secret Only

This year, the residents of the UK (and many other countries around the world) have spent Easter in isolation and, for many, this will have been the first key family occasion since lockdown started. Families have been unable to meet. There’ve been no trips out. No parties, no picnics, no big family barbeques. National parks, heritage sites, and attractions are shut. Coast and countryside have urged visitors to stay away, stay home, stay safe with police positioned at key entry points into tourist resorts, turning away those who seem to think that they’re special and none of the rules of isolation apply to them. Businesses that normally embrace Easter as the start to the ‘season’ have no idea when – or even if – their ‘season’ will resume. And, of course, there are those working tirelessly in the NHS and caring roles, the other emergency services, in supermarkets, factories, and transportation who are trying to keep our country running under extremely challenging circumstance. My love and respect to every single one of you.

Churches world-wide have been closed and services have been online or individually held at home. My mum is the organist for her village church and she’s played during Good Friday and Easter Sunday services conducted via Zoom. She’s embracing the technology although said it was slightly odd when she finished playing and the singing continued for another half verse. The joy of the time delay!

For my immediate family of three, it has been like a ‘normal’ Easter bank holiday weekend where we’ve stayed at home and my husband and I have worked, while being very aware that everything about this weekend is not ‘normal’ at all.

Christmas at Carlys Cupcakes CoverI’ve been working non-stop since we isolation hit without a single day’s break. I knew this weekend would be no different but I made a conscious decision to take four days off from the day job. I know I’ll regret this when I see the queue of assignments waiting for me to mark when I log into my work email tomorrow, but I needed a break from marking. I’m on the first edits of another of the books from my back catalogue that Boldwood Books are going to re-release – Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – so I’ve spend the weekend so far working on those. It therefore feels a little more like Christmas to me than Easter right now!

And I’ve been eating a very large Maltesers Truffle Easter egg which I broke into at 10am on Saturday. What do you mean, that’s not a healthy breakfast? Ooh, and I tried a creme egg yesterday for the first time in years. They’ve always been a favourite but I’d boycotted them after Cadbury’s changed the chocolate recipe. I think I’ll be boycotting them again. Very disappointing.

How was your Easter? Would you normally have spent it with family? Did you do anything virtually instead? Does the Easter bunny come to your house? Did it when you were a child? I’d love to hear about your Easter traditions and what you did this year instead.

Stay safe everyone. Love and hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

 

The one where I went to a Christmas Masquerade at a Castle … sort of

IMG_7545I had a lovely day out yesterday with my good friend and fellow author, Sharon Booth, visiting the Christmas installation at Castle Howard. We’ve started an annual tradition (does twice count as a tradition?) of visiting a stately home each Christmas. Last year we went to Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington which was beautifully-decorated and very impressive, but Castle Howard – a much bigger stately home – exceeded all expectations. Wow! Just wow! I think we may be back next year. Or maybe do both????

Castle Howard is a grand estate in North Yorkshire situated off the A64 between York and Scarborough and, given the size and grandeur, it’s not surprising that it took over 100 years to be built, starting in 1699. With 1,000 acres of rolling gardens and parkland, there’s plenty to explore on full-day visit. As it was bucketing it down and blowing a gale, Sharon and I did not explore the grounds but we did enjoy our wander around the house. The photos above were taken on a much nicer day a couple of years ago!

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I’ve been to Castle Howard before, several times, but have only explored the house once at Christmas and that was many years ago when the munchkin was small and we took her to their Father Christmas experience (highly recommended and very magical but you need to book as soon as the dates are released in September each year). This was before they did the installations so it was lots of flowers, candles and dressed trees but nothing like the Christmas Masquerade.

I cannot recommend the Christmas installation enough. It is absolutely stunning. Every room offered a new treat and, as we moved along corridors and up staircases between rooms, the statues were adorned with colourful masks and vases displayed baubles, feathers, birds and more masks so there was always something to look at related to the theme.

I was worried that, without flash, I wouldn’t take any decent photos (photography is allowed but flash-free). However, I was quite pleased with what I managed to get.

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Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom

The first room elicited a huge “oooh” and we just continued with the “ooohs” and “aahhhs” every step we took. What imagination the team have to have pulled this together. Apparently plans start about a year in advance, although they had less than two weeks to actually build the installation. That’s quite astonishing when you see it as you’d think it would take months to put it up. It takes me more than a full day to put up my Christmas decorations at home so two weeks to achieve this? Serious respect to everyone involved.

Rooms carried the theme of a famous masquerade character such as Harlequin, Pierrot  and Colombine whilst others carried the general masquerade theme. There were costumes, masks, and wigs all cleverly displayed with lighting. And the colours! Wow!

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The New Library

Sharon and I both adored Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom and dressing room but our favourite room was The New Library which is used as an office. We’d both have happily stepped over the rope, grabbed a book from the shelves, and settled in front of the fire until security forcefully removed us. Despite the high ceilings and large dimensions of the room, it managed to feel so cosy and welcoming.

I loved the upside-down Christmas tree – such imagination – and marvelled at the 25-foot one in the Great Hall.

I was super impressed with the river and bridge in The Long Gallery and had to stop to pose on the bridge. Beautifully-dresses masked mannequins showed off their finery.

We ended our tour with a visit to the chapel which is very ornate and lovely for a rest and some contemplation.

IMG_7558When we’d finished contemplating (and resting our feet), it was time for lunch and, of course, cake. Nom nom. I had the last slice of lemon sponge and Sharon chose a Victoria sponge. It was very delicious and … dare I use that word that so many people hate? …. moist!!!! As you can see, I was halfway through it before I even thought to take a photo.

All too soon, it was time to head home and we were just in time to catch the land-train back to the entrance. We had the entire two-carriage train to ourselves and, my goodness, was it cold. With open sides, a gale blew right through it but it was still a lovely journey. We were also only just in time for Sharon to catch her train from my local station. Seriously, the poor woman was dashing across the tracks on one side as the train was pulling in the other! Far too close for comfort!

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If anyone is thinking of visiting Christmas Masquerade at Castle Howard, then definitely do. They are open until 23rd December and again before New Year.

You can find out more about the installation, dates, and prices here.

It’s got great access for anyone with mobility challenges and we saw several visitors moving around in wheelchairs so don’t let any mobility issues put you off as most of the exhibits can still be accessed.

IMG_7513Oh, and I found a bear! Unfortunately he was part of the installation so I had to leave him where he was.

I’m already curious as to what next year’s theme will be. Hopefully if we do go back, we’ll manage a less blustery day. And apparently it’s good to avoid Tuesdays as that’s when they get most of their coach trips. Good to know!

Have a great week and good luck with any final Christmas preparations.

Jessica xx

 

The one where my daughter still believes in Santa

IMG_2727I have a daughter who will become a teenager six days before Christmas and she still believes in Santa Claus.

IMG_5766I can’t remember how old I was when I discovered – or perhaps was told – that Santa didn’t exist. It’s the sort of thing that I would imagine my older brother would have spoiled for me because it’s the sort of thing a big brother would do to his younger sister, but I don’t specifically remember it being him. Or maybe it was. We used to go Christmas present hunting around the house when Mum and Dad were out. We found gifts in the bottom of their wardrobe, in the attic, and one year we even found them in the bottom of the wardrobe of the caravan in the back garden. So maybe it was the finding of the gifts that kind of gave the game away. Sorry, Mum!

IMG_2734What I do remember is that I was definitely still at primary school when it happened.

My husband and I hoped that Ashleigh would make it through primary school still believing in Santa. We thought that there was more chance of her doing this with no older siblings to set her straight. There were a couple of moments where friends told her Santa wasn’t real and we would simply ask, ‘What do you think?’ Her answer was always that she didn’t believe her friends and she’d give some evidence as to why she thought this was the case.

She started senior school last year and we were convinced that, as Christmas approached, she’d declare that Santa didn’t exist. But she didn’t. Again, she was challenged by friends but she didn’t believe them.

IMG_2875We thought there was no way she’d still believe in Santa this Christmas but she still does. Her evidence is that she got a desk one year and there was no way that we could have stored it and made it without her seeing and hearing it. Bless her. There’s that much crap stored in our garage that a flat pack desk added to it would not be noticeable. And, as for making it, that was hubby’s delightful task on Christmas Eve.

So this Christmas she will have turned thirteen and she still believes in Santa. We’re actually quite thrilled by this because we have a very special holiday planned this year. We’re off to Lapland to see “the real Santa” just before Christmas and actually fly out on Ashleigh’s birthday. I didn’t think it would be quite as magical if she didn’t believe but, because she does, it will be all the more special.

IMG_5694What do we do after Christmas? Should we tell her the truth or let her come to her own conclusions?

I was concerned about her being bullied or laughed at for still believing and she admits that she has had some girls laugh at her at school but stuff like that just washes over her. She has always been fiercely independent and believes what she wants to believe, never influenced to follow the crowd. Who is therefore being harmed by her continued belief?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether we should break the news to Ashleigh or let her find out when she’s ready, no matter when that might be. I know what I think but I’m curious to hear your take on this first 🙂

Hope you have a fabulous December.

Jessica xx

 

The one where I talk about my lovely London trip

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At the end of last week, I had a very busy and very exciting few days in London. There were so many highlights but I nearly didn’t make it, thanks to our delightful train network.

Hubby dropped me off at Scarborough Train Station on Wednesday morning to catch the train to York where I’d connect to London. I was confronted with this…

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Whilst the new trains are lovely and the staff are delightful and often full of good humour, the actual service run by Transpennine Express is shocking. So many of the journeys I have made lately have been cancelled or running late. Apparently there was no conductor for the service so it was simply cancelled and no alternative provided other than the next train an hour later; far too late to make my connecting train to London.

I’m very lucky in that hubby works from home and I knew he wasn’t working on a deadline so I called him on the car hands-free and he had to turn around and come back to collect me. Our dog was in the car so we had to arrange to drop her off with his parents rather than dragging her to York and back (an hour each way). Just as well we did this because, whilst my London train was thankfully running on time, it took hubby nearly three hours to get home again. There’d been an accident on the main York to Scarborough road and both lanes were shut so there was a massive diversion in place. I actually made it to London fifteen minutes after he got home which is ridiculous.

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Me with my editor, Nia. No idea why I’m leaning like that!

I had a lovely afternoon in London, meeting my editor, Nia, and the CEO and Founder of Boldwood Books, Amanda. I’ve spoken to Nia on the phone several times and have had a Skype conversation with Amanda and Nia but nothing beats meeting them face to face. What a lovely lunch we had, talking about the first few months of The Secret to Happiness being out there, and marketing plans for 2020 and beyond. Every day, I am so very grateful that I submitted to Boldwood and my manuscript was chosen for representation because they really are an absolute joy to work with.

My hotel had a room with a view, ha ha ha! I posted this image showing Fenchurch Street station on Facebook and one of the Write Romantics, Deirdre, really made me laugh by asking “what’s that on the roof – ectoplasm?” Certainly looks like it!

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On Thursday morning, I had a very quick swim, jacuzzi and steam room before wandering over to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

I’ve been to London many times over the years and this is the second time I’ve been to this area but I don’t think the sights of London will ever bore me. I love all the history amongst the modern. It was a bit chilly by the river, mind.

Usually I find London several degrees warmer than the north but not last week. Brr.

After my walk, I took the tube to Kings Cross to collect my very good friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth. I was early but Sharon’s train was running late so that gave me a great excuse to wander around the shops at Kings Cross and the ones at St Pancras over the road. How gorgeous is this Lancome Christmas tree? When you get up close, each light is shining through a bottle of perfume. That’s a heck of a lot of bottles of perfume!

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As well as meeting Boldwood, a massive highlight for me was having seven out of ten of the Write Romantics in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve managed six before so maybe one day all ten of us will get together. (From left-right on the 2nd picture below, it’s Jackie Ladbury, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer and Sharon Booth). Helen J Rolfe is in later pictures and I’m afraid I didn’t manage to get a picture with Deirdre Palmer as we weren’t sat together.

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We joined RNA members for a talk with bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella, who has just released another book in her shopaholic series after several years’ break. It was interesting to hear how she became a writer and more about her stories. Sorry about the poor pic but we were on the back row!

I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic film and am looking forward to Can You Keep a Secret? released soon. I’ve read several of Sophie’s books including that one.

After the talk finished, all but one of the Write Romantics gathered in my room for Prosecco and I grabbed a quick drink with them before changing and heading to a drinks reception with Boldwood.

This was an opportunity to see Amanda and Nia again but also a third team member, Megan, who is the Publishing Executive. Several of the Boldwood authors were gathered and it was so wonderful to meet them in person.

(L-R is Beth Moran, Amanda Ridout (BW), Lucy Coleman, Emma Murray, Diane Saxon, Jessica redland, Nia Beynon BW) and Fay Keenan). Megan (BW) was taking the pic.

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Next was the RNA’s Winter Party and Industry Awards. I’ve never been to one of the RNA’s London parties so this was a first. I had been looking forward to catching up with a few people I knew on social media but had never actually met but it was busier than I expected and, despite doing a few rounds of the room after the awards ceremony, I couldn’t see them! It doesn’t help that I’m vertically-challenged so trying to spot people in a roomful of people isn’t easy at the best of times but, when the lighting is dim and the room packed, I don’t think I stood much chance.

IMG_7344The highlight of the party for me was seeing two wonderful bloggers – Anne Williams and Rachel Gilbey – being nominated for the Best Blogger Award. Rachel reviewed my very first book and has read everything I’ve written since. I’ve been on several blog tours arranged via her Rachel’s Random Resources role. Anne has been a wonderful supporter of my work too more recently and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before. Anne won and I was pleased to be able to congratulate both of them and get a photo of them together.

One of the Write Romantics was heading off home soon but the remaining six of us decamped to Pizza Express and had a lovely evening, catching up on all things writing and non-writing. Helen J Rolfe is the one on the right on the 1st image above. And I had to show my pizza because, whilst you may not be able to see, it had potatoes on it. Yes, that’s right, potatoes on a pizza! And it was delicious.

It was pouring when we left but that didn’t stop us getting a couple of photos outside The Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn’t that a lamppost gorgeous? It’s like something out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I kept expecting Mr Tumnus to appear at any moment!

A huge thank you to everyone who organised the Sophie Kinsella talk and the Winter Party as I know how much time and effort goes into coordinating events like this. Thank you so much to Boldwood for organising the pre-event drinks and to all the Boldwood authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to chat individually to everyone during our short time together and then for not being able to find you to say goodbye.

My journey home was a bit fraught. I only had six minutes to make my connection in York and we were about 25 minutes late. However, so was my connecting train so I did manage to catch it. One time when I’m grateful for the poor service!

IMG_7295Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

 

Some useful links:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Boldwood Books

Anne Williams’s ‘Being Anne’ Blog  

Rachel Gilbey’s ‘Rachel’s Random Reads’ Blog

 

The Write Romantics’ Amazon Pages (including those not in London):

Jo Bartlett

Sharon Booth

Jackie Ladbury

Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne)

Lynne Pardoe

Helen Phifer

Jessica Redland

Helen J Rolfe

Rachael Thomas

Alys West

 

 

The one where I talk about my journey to my brand new, shiny publishing deal

On Tuesday this week, I announced the thrilling news that I’d secured a 9-book publishing deal with Boldwood. I’m so excited about this but it wasn’t that long ago when I could have given up…

Warning: long post coming up but I wanted to share it for any writers who might be struggling, to show that it is worth waiting.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Towards the end of 2018 and moving into the start of 2019, I have to admit that I was feeling pretty low about my writing. For ‘pretty low’, read ‘big, fat failure’. Serious thoughts of giving up on this writing malarkey swirled around my mind frequently and I even hit the point where I struggled to find the motivation to put fingers to keyboard. Not good.

What happened? I had rejections. But I’d had rejections before and had never felt like this so what had changed?

If I look back to 2013 when I sent my debut novel, Searching for Steven, out into the world with the objective of making friends with publishers and agents, I didn’t have any major expectations. I hoped, of course, that I would secure a publishing deal but I really didn’t have a clue whether Steven was good enough or not. He was my first book-baby and I was very proud of him, I’d had some superb feedback from beta readers and a couple of really positive critiques from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, but this was publishers and agents. Would they feel the same?

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

Quite a lot of them didn’t. Between September 2013 and June 2014, 12 agencies and 11 publishers said no. Actually, not all of them even took the time to say that. I’d expected to be hurt by the rejections but, instead, I viewed it as a process. Rejection? Ok, fine, knock them off the list. Who’s next?

And then I got bored.

It was taking so long to hear back and I had a book sat there ready for release with a sequel nearly written and a third in the pipeline. Why not get them out there myself? I was waiting to hear from three more publishers and, if they all said no, I was going to indie publish. Guess what? Two of them said yes! It would appear that publishing deals are like men or buses…

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Publishing deals are like buses … Image by Philipp Reiner from Pixabay 

Having two publishing offers on the table was a very happy dilemma. I could have gone for an eBook-only deal with an established USA-based publisher or with a new UK-based publisher producing eBooks and paperbacks. Oh my goodness! A paperback? What author doesn’t long to hold their book-baby in their arms and sniff it? So I chose the UK-based one.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

My publisher had great plans and lots of contacts in the publishing world. They were going to do well, weren’t they? Sadly, no. Between May 2015 and August 2016, a prequel novella was released through them, followed by the trilogy. Steven’s launch came with enthusiasm, passion and marketing support. The others were left to fend for themselves. Things clearly weren’t going well for my publisher and, after an email exchange following Daran’s release, the owner admitted that it hadn’t worked out and they would ultimately cease trading. I secured my rights back and, across late 2016 and early 2017, my husband designed new covers and we re-released them.

Being an indie author brought many positives, mainly around decision-making, but it also brought many negatives. My biggest challenge was that writing wasn’t – and still isn’t – my main job. I still have a day job and writing has always had to fit around that. To be a successful indie author, I needed to spend a lot more time promoting my work and that simply wasn’t time I had; or at least it wasn’t if I wanted to work on new material too.

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If my workload was a pile of mattresses and I was a van… Image by Luisao Pepe from Pixabay 

Charlee and the Chocolate Shop CoverOver the next couple of years, sales of the series and a new release, Bear With Me, trickled along but I had many days of zero-sales which are very disheartening. In Christmas 2017, I released two Christmas books and was quite astonished at how well they sold. I now have four Christmas books (although one of them is a sequel to Raving About Rhys) and, despite being mid-June as I write this, they’re still selling. It seems Christmas is popular all year round!

9. Christmas at The Chocolate Pot Cafe COVERWhen I say my Christmas books were selling well, we’re not talking huge numbers. We’re not talking the sort of income that could match my day job and allow me to write full-time. We’re not talking impressive chart positions. When I started this journey, I’d have been happy for any sales, but now I wanted more and I realised that the only way I was going to be able to find a wider readership was to secure a publishing deal again. The thing was, I’d already been burnt. Could I risk lightning striking twice?

At the RNA’s July conference last year, I pitched my work-in-progress, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, to four publishers. All were very enthusiastic and wanted to see the full MS when it was ready, but there was a mixed opinion as to where they saw the book going. Two of them wanted me to move down a more cosy romcom route with it and the other two wanted me to have a more emotionally-driven story which was what I’d intended. One of the publishers who wanted cosy asked me to send her one of my finished books so she could get a feel for my world and my writing. It wasn’t for them. I decided not to submit to the other publisher who also wanted cosy. This wasn’t a difficult decision because the two who wanted emotional were so enthusiastic, one of them appearing absolutely convinced it would be a fit. It wasn’t. They both rejected the final MS. And I didn’t take that news well.

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Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay 

When Steven received his rejections a few years back, I never shed a tear, but I cried bucket-loads each time Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was rejected. Why? I think it’s because it felt more personal this time. When I tried to secure a publishing deal for Steven, I honestly didn’t know if he was good enough. With Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, I knew I had a great story. My beta reader feedback was that it was the best thing I’d ever written and that was very much at the forefront of my mind. If Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was my best work and these publishers didn’t think it was good enough, where did that leave me? Had I been kidding myself for all this time that I could actually write?

Having a support group around you is so key as an author: writing friends who understand the highs and lows as well as friends and family who aren’t connected at all and can be completely objective. My wonderful writing friend, Sharon Booth and my writing family, The Write Romantics, were there for me to encourage me to keep going. Outside of writing, my husband, Mark, and my mum have been so supportive too. They believed in me and I just needed to get that self-belief back.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Realistically, I was never really going to give up because I have stories to tell and I can’t not write them. It’s part of me. It’s who I am. So maybe that’s another reason why rejections were harder. When I wrote Searching for Steven, it was simply something I fancied having a go at. I had no thoughts of ever publishing him. I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever even finish him. Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was my tenth book, though, and I’d very much defined myself as a writer several books back. It felt like the publishers weren’t rejecting the book; they were rejecting me.

Objectively looking at it, there were so many positives in their comments. Every single rejection – and I received five in total for this MS and 3 rejections from the same group of publishers for one of my back-catalogue books – talked about how good my writing was, how warm my voice was, and how much they loved the setting. It’s just that the book wasn’t for them. I needed to hang onto that positive feedback and accept that the story might not speak to every editor who read it. But it would speak to someone…

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Somebody would love my work. Surely???? Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay 

I’ve always been a great believer in things happening for a reason. Those rejections, although hard, were because the right publisher for me hadn’t opened for business yet.

In January this year, I spotted an advert on Facebook for a new publisher called Boldwood who’d be open for submissions on 1st February. I’d already been stung by joining a brand new publisher but I checked out Boldwood’s website anyway, just in case. Words and phrases like “publishing reimagined” and “developing authors’ careers” and “working in partnership” leapt out at me. The credentials of the team were impressive too. They’d had proven success elsewhere; something my previous publisher had lacked.

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I sat up till midnight so that I could be the first to submit to Boldwood as soon as 1st February arrived. Then I panicked later in the day when I saw a Twitter announcement from them saying they were now open for submissions. What if my midnight submission hadn’t made it because their inbox wasn’t open for business? So I submitted again.

On Friday 15thMarch, I received the email I had longed to receive: Many thanks for submitting to us – I really enjoyed Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye. What a gorgeous read! … Are you free next week at all for a phone call? 

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Somebody with much more athletic ability than me jumping for joy! Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Eek! Of course I was. We scheduled a phone call for the following Wednesday so I had a nerve-wracking few days. Surely it had to be a publishing deal if they wanted to speak to me, but what would it look like?

I never in my wildest dreams imagined the offer I received: a 5-book publishing deal but they were interested in my back catalogue too so would come back with a proposal on that. A few days later, I had the full 9-book publishing deal, with potential plans to take on the whole back catalogue depending on how things went. Oh. My. God!

So, to any writers out there who are struggling with rejections, hang on in there. Things happen for a reason and perhaps that publisher wasn’t right for you. Perhaps no publisher is right and the indie route is for you? Perhaps a hybrid approach? An agent? There are so many options available to writers these days that it might take a while to find what’s best for you and it might take several false starts, but keep believing in yourself and your writing.

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Be like this sloth and hang in there! Image by Minke Wink from Pixabay 

Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye will be released on Tuesday 3rd September under a brand new title: The Secret to Happiness. I’m honoured to be part of the team of authors at Boldwood and look forward to developing my career with them as they continue to reimagine publishing. I have a feeling it’s going to be a wonderful partnership.

What’s that saying? The best things come to those who waited. Well, I waited, and good things came!

There’s no cover image finalised just yet, but you can pre-order The Secret to Happiness on eBook here.

Jessica xx

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Good things come to those who wait! Image by Amit Karkare from Pixabay 

 

The one where I have a very long rant about Amazon spoiling my Christmas

analytics-3268935_640Something really scary happened to me on Monday 14th December. At 5.19pm, completely out of the blue, I received this email from Amazon:

Hello,

We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N4AO78S 

Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies you have used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services you have employed for promotional purposes.

Please be aware, any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level action.

If you have any questions, please email us at kdp-sales-rank@amazon.com.

Best regards,

Amazon KDP

 

Certain key phrases leapt to me from the screen:

attempting to manipulate sales rank

sales rank will not be visible

may result in account level action

Searching for Steven NEW COVERWhat???!!!! What the heck did any of that mean?

I clicked onto the link they’d provided and it took me to my debut novel, Searching for Steven, on Amazon.com. Yes, that’s right, on Amazon.com rather than my home market of Amazon.co.uk. Weird. And even more weird is that:

  1. I had only sold ONE eBook in the USA in the past 90 days and that was nearly 2 months previously in late October. I repeat ONE copy. In 90 days
  2. I had a little over 1000 pages read in the USA in the same period. That’s the equivalent of 3 people reading the book in its entirety

There had to be a mistake, right? So I emailed the address given and nicely asked them to explain what this meant. They replied that same day with this:

 

Hello,

We do not sponsor or endorse any 3rd party marketing services. You’re welcome to promote your book through third-party websites and other services, but we encourage you to monitor the tactics they use to promote your books.  You are responsible for ensuring that no tactics used to promote your book manipulate the Kindle publishing service and/or Kindle programs. 

We advise against using any sites that “guarantee” a return on your investment. We support our authors’ efforts to promote their books worldwide, but at the same time, we work to prevent any manipulation of the Kindle publishing service.

If you have any questions, please email us at kdp-sales-rank@amazon.com. 

Best regards,

Amazon KDP

Amazon.com

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Did I have questions? Oh yes. I still had all the questions I’d asked in my first email that hadn’t been answered:

  • What are you talking about?
  • Have you seen my sales figures?
  • Surely if I was manipulating sales or pages read, there’d actually be some sales or pages read?

I begged them – literally begged – to explain what was going on in words that actually made sense.

So they replied in the early hours of Tuesday and, is it just me, or does this pretty much say exactly the same thing as the others i.e. nothing that makes a shred of sense? Computer-generated jargon that has ignored all of my questions:

Hello,

We detected that purchases or borrows of your book(s) are originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, your sales rank will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

While we fully support the efforts of our publishers to promote their books, we take activities that jeopardize the experience of our readers and other authors seriously. Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions.  We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.

You may email us at kdp-sales-rank@amazon.com  with any questions.

Best regards,

Amazon KDP

Amazon.com

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So I wrote to them yet again – with questions – and they responded that evening with this even more aggressive email which basically told me I was STILL engaging in manipulative strategies but they refused to give me any information about this. There was no offer to get in touch with further questions. Case closed. Verdict: guilty…

Hello,

As we previously stated, we still detect reading or borrow activity for your books originating from accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services. You are responsible for ensuring the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions. We cannot offer advice on marketing services or details of our investigations.

Please be aware we will not be providing additional details.

Regards,

Amazon.com

 

Cue another email from me begging them for some help and I received no response.

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This is what rank-stripping looks like. There’s no information below the average customer reviews

After the first email, Searching for Steven was immediately rank-stripped across all the markets in which Amazon operates, all of which offer my eBooks. What does this mean? This means all visibility of my book was lost because I was no longer featured in any Amazon charts. It didn’t mean that Searching for Steven couldn’t be found; it just meant that someone would need to specifically search for the book by title/author as it wouldn’t come up in any other sort of search. And yes, the irony of the book title and this situation is not lost on me!

So where did this leave me? Nowhere really. Amazon had made a massive administrative mistake based on some faulty algorithm yet their aggressive, threatening emails were all computer-generated and the system was clearly set up to spit out 4 barely-different emails then shut down any correspondence after the final version.

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This is the same book without the rank-stripping. As you can see, there’s information below the star ratings showing where the book is in the overall and individual charts

I turned to the closed Facebook page of the Romantic Novelists’ Association hoping that there’d been some sort of technical glitch and loads of members were in the same boat as me but it appeared I’d been singled out for Amazon’s super special Christmas gift. I am very grateful to one member, though, for pointing me to a blog run by a writer called David Gaughran who champions and supports writers and investigated several cases well over a year ago where this has happened to other writers. The emails were exactly the same but the scenarios different. In those cases, they were all participating in promotions – absolutely legitimate ones – and the spike in sales on the back of that seems to have been what generated the scary email. Not in my case. I hadn’t promoted Searching for Steven since I participated in a blog tour to celebrate his 3-year-book birthday in June last year and, as already stated, sales were pretty much non-existent. You can read his blog post here.

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David responded to a comment I posted on his blog, asking for more information, and immediately contacted Amazon on my behalf using different email addresses that should help escalate the situation. All we can do was wait. And wait. And wait.

Back in December, how had this sorry tale affected me? It was pretty horrific. On the Monday night, after the first email, I couldn’t sleep. Would you be able to if you’d been accused of a crime that you didn’t commit and the punishment was already dished out (the rank-stripping) before you had a chance to plead your case? On the Tuesday night after the final ‘we’re not giving you any info so get lost’ email, I didn’t sleep either. Or on Wednesday night. By the Thursday, completely exhausted, I couldn’t stop crying all day and I only managed to get a bit of sleep that night thanks to David stepping in and a belief that something might happen after I’d had no joy.

You might think it’s not something to cry over but, believe me, it is:

  1. I was losing sales and pages read. Granted, not many because (a) it was Christmas and I had 4 x Christmas books out there which were the main sellers at that time and (b) I had barely any sales of that book anyway, particularly in the USA, although I did have a trickle of them in the UK and a steady 500 average pages a day read in the UK. These sales were likely to  disappear, though
  2. Sadly, I do not sell many eBooks or have that many pages read so I cannot afford to lose this visibility
  3. I secured an audio deal for Searching for Steven and the Thursday of my horrible week was the release day. It should have been a happy day yet I didn’t see the point in doing any promotion of a title that could be removed at any moment and felt far too emotional to ‘celebrate’
  4. I felt like I’d been found guilty and locked up but nobody would tell me what my crime was or allow me to defend myself despite being completely innocent. I mean, let’s face it, if I was going to do something to manipulate sales, you’d think I’d actually trigger some sales. Going from zero to zero isn’t exactly yelling criminal mastermind, is it?
  5. The threat of having my books removed (this is what “account-level action” means) hung over me. Amazon have the power to do this whenever they want
  6. The emails take the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach with a bit of ‘and by the way, we don’t care if you’re innocent because our algorithms tell us you’re up to mischief so you’re black-listed for life and there will be consequences’ thrown in for good measure. I’m back in the playground at school being bullied again. Or work. Take your pick as bullies lurk everywhere

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With all this hanging over me, I couldn’t concentrate on work

This all came at the end of a dire year for me writing-wise. Sales had started to look up in late 2017/early 2018 after I released Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Charlee and the Chocolate Shop. From selling hardly any eBooks and having very few pages read, the Christmas books got immediate attention and, whilst sales were still very low, they were steady. Hurrah! And this had a knock-on effect on the non-Christmas books suggesting readers had enjoyed my Christmas offerings and were seeking out other titles.

Then something happened in the spring of 2018. Sales dropped through the floor and so did pages read. My income from writing – which was never particularly good anyway – plummeted and, despite bringing out 2 x Christmas books in the November, this made little impact in November although December did see some recovery (not a patch on last year, though).

I write under a pen-name and the “real” me has a Kindle. I would regularly receive emails from Amazon promoting Jessica’s books but, cninciding with this plummet in sales, these seemed to stop. I have since had one for my novella, Raving About Rhys, but none with any my Christmas books on. Something strange is happening.

Alongside the plummeting sales and lack of promo was review-gate; the much-publicised situation where Amazon went through their system over a few months and removed all of the reviews that certain readers/reviewers has placed, accusing them of creating false reviews. Some noticed, complained and had reviews reinstated. Some probably haven’t noticed. Some will have spotted it and not have the energy to fight it. I lost up to 20 reviews during that time. As a struggling indie writer, this is a massive blow, especially when they were predominantly hard-earned 5-star reviews. I completely get that there are “rogue” practices out there and there are authors who pay for reviews. It’s right for these people to be stopped … but not to the detriment of those whose reviews are honest and genuine.

Then in early October, I think it was, a very successful author threatened me with legal action. All I’ll say about the situation is that it was very upsetting, especially as I was completely innocent again. Thankfully it went away, but it left scars.

And, on top of that, I had several rejections from publishers. They’re what we call ‘positive rejections’ i.e. they love my writing, my world, my voice but the story is not for them. I got a stack of rejections when I sent Searching for Steven out into the world and none of them hurt. These ones floored me.

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It was so frustrating being told I could contact them … and getting no response

I think you can probably see why Amazon’s accusations and subsequent sanctions tipped me over the edge. As Christmas approached, I felt mentally and emotionally drained. I had never felt so low and started questioning whether any of it was worth it. As an indie writer who still works full time because the writing income is so low I can’t afford not to, I struggle to make an impact on the charts but my love for writing and the amazing reviews I get have kept me going … until last year. For a few weeks there, publishing and me are not friends. I was hoping could find my optimism over the Christmas break and rise above all the crap that 2018 presented me. Something you love doing shouldn’t be so traumatic, should it? Sadly, that didn’t work and, if I’m honest, the Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company ruined my Christmas. I smiled, I laughed and I pretended everything was okay but it really wasn’t. They’d broken me.

The New Year arrived and clearly they weren’t going to respond to David’s chase email so I emailed ‘Jeff’; a general Amazon email address. I was thrilled when Jeff responded the day after (4th January 2019):

Hello Jessica, 

I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.

I understand you have a question about Sales rank manipulation issue.

This issue requires input from another team. I’ve forwarded your email to them and someone will reply within 2 business days. 

Thanks for using Amazon KDP !!!

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Yes! At last! A human was going to deal with it. There was hope. So I waited two business days. I waited three. I waited several more. On 10th January, I chased Jeff again. And on 23rd. And on 30th. Jeff had obviously decided to blank me too.

So, on 4thFebruary, I emailed the 2 x addresses that David had used and tried a different tack; not forwarding the history on email in case fwd emails were getting kicked out the system.

On 7th February, they finally responded with this email:

 

Hello, 

We’ve restored the sales rank of your book and it will become available within the next 24 hours. 

Please review your account or any promotional services that you may have paid. You’re responsible for ensuring that no tactics used to promote your book(s) manipulate the Kindle publishing service and/or Kindle programs. 

 

No apology. No explanation. No offer of compensation for the inconvenience and stress. Just a factual statement and another telling off. Seriously. And by compensation, I don’t mean money but it would have been nice for them to do some promotion for me or even offer me a Prime deal.

I should have felt relieved but I was actually really angry that day because this is not how businesses should be run yet it happens all the time. I get that I am insignificant to Amazon. My limited sales make little financial impact on my life so they’re certainly not going to make an impact on Amazon’s billions but imagine if thousands of ‘little people’ are being treated in this way, with automated threats and no explanation. How many people are feeling low and have nowhere to turn?

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I was very grumpy that day. And if I was a cat, this is how I’d have looked!

The ranks have remained in the week that has followed and I’ve had no more threatening emails but I know it could happen again any time and that’s very scary. If anyone else is in this situation, please leave a comment. If you’re struggling, I’ll give you the email addresses I finally got a reply from. If you found a better way of resolving this, please let me know in case it happens again.

That’s the end of my story. It’s not a happy ever after. It’s not happy at all but it is an end … for now.

As an independent author, I am eternally grateful that Amazon exists. It has meant I can get my books out there without a publishing deal but a company that is so enormous that it has to operate on algorithms and automated responses scares me. There surely needs to be a ‘human’ way to have contact and get mistakes rectified without putting someone through what I’ve been through.

Jessica xx