The one where I celebrate 5 years as a published author

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Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Today – Saturday 23rd May 2020 – is a very special day for me because today is the day I first became a published author. Happy anniversary to me!

My first full-length novel was released on 3rd June 2015 but my publishers at the time – So Vain Books (no longer trading) – asked me if I’d write a short story linked to the series that they could release ahead of Searching for Steven (now refreshed and reissued through Boldwood Books as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms). I was up for the challenge but ‘short’ proved to be a bit too much of a challenge and I actually wrote a novella.

The original cover, then two versions as indie releases

8. Callies Christmas Wish COVERAt the start of Searching for Steven, Sarah returns home to Whitsborough Bay for a weekend and helps her Auntie Kay, the owner of flower shop Seaside Blooms, prepare the flowers for a wedding. The brother of the bride, Nick, collects them and my idea for the novella was to tell the story of how his sister, Callie, met the man she’s about to marry.

Raving About Rhys, released on 23rd May 2015, acted as a prequel to the trilogy that So Vain Books were going to publish, introducing the reader to the world of Whitsborough Bay and introducing Nick as one of the main characters in the trilogy.

A few years later, an idea for a sequel to Raving About Rhys kept nudging at me and Callie’s Christmas Wish – a short novel – was born.

My publishing deal with Boldwood Books was for a combination of new books and those from my back catalogue. We made the decision to combine Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish into one full-length novel – Making Wishes at Bay View – to be released as book 1 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series. The full four-book series is available right now as an eBook on Kindle, Kobo and AppleBooks, as well as paperback and audio formats:

  • Book 1 – Making Wishes at Bay View
  • Book 2 – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms 
  • Book 3 – Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove
  • Book 4 – Coming Home to Seashell Cottage

 

Jessica 4 Covers

So much has changed in the five years since that first book was published. It’s been a half-decade of highs and lows.

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Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Lows:

  • My original publisher ceasing trading
  • Failing to make an impact as an indie writer
  • Many days of zero sales and limited writing income
  • Being rank-stripped twice by Amazon
  • Giving a talk as part of a creative writing event in a cafe in town and nobody attending except two friends, the boyfriend of one of them, and two passers-by the embarrassed owner dragged in off the street
  • Rejections when I looked for a second publishing deal
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Trying – and usually failing – to fit in writing on evenings and weekends around my demanding day job
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Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

But these were definitely outweighed by the highs:

  • Securing my first publishing deal – and having two offers on the table
  • Seeing my work out there for the first time ever
  • Having a launch party for my friends and family
  • Receiving great reviews
  • The support of the blogging community, some of whom have been there since my very first release
  • The Secret to happiness by Jessica RedlandWriting and releasing another five more novels as an indie writer
  • Obtaining a Masters in Creative Writing
  • Giving talks in my local libraries
  • Securing my publishing deal with Boldwood Books
  • Releasing another brand new novel – The Secret to Happiness – through Boldwood Books
  • Some amazing successes with the reissued Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series including Top 5 in the AppleBooks chart for Books 2-4 and #14 in the overall Kindle chart for Book 2
  • Officially becoming a UK and international bestselling author, with The Secret to Happiness reaching #11 in Australia and #9 in Canada
  • Holding the Boldwood paperbacks and audiobooks in my hands for the first time
  • Readers emailing me or contacting me on social media to say how much they’ve loved my stories
  • Readers telling me they’ve binge-read my entire back catalogue during lockdown and have valued the comfort and escapism my words have given them
  • Finally feeling like a ‘real’ author
  • Being able to resign from my day job to write full-time (two weeks left to go!)

Five years ago, I was wide awake at midnight, watching for Raving About Rhys appearing on my Kindle – a magical moment. I hoped it and the subsequent three books would be well-received but my dreams didn’t go much further than that. I’d written three books and a novella and I genuinely had no idea where that would take me. Would anyone want to read the ones I’d written? If so, would I be capable of writing more?

During those five years, I’ve had times when I’ve felt so low about poor chart positions, lack of sales, rejection and imposter syndrome that I wondered whether it was time to call it a day.

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But all good things come to those who wait – not easy for someone like me who is so impatient when it comes to their career – and they certainly did. I will be forever grateful to Boldwood Books for believing in me and making me one of their first twenty authors.

Happy five year anniversary to me and I’m so excited about what could happen in the next five years. Boldwood have helped me tick so much off my author’s bucket list in the nine months since The Secret to Happiness was published, who knows what other amazing goals they’ll help me achieve next.

A huge thank you to Amanda, Nia, Megan and the rest of the team and fellow-authors at #TeamBoldwood. You’ve made my five-year anniversary a very happy one. Cheers!

Big hugs

Jessica xx

PS If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up to my newsletter here: http://bit.ly/JessicaRedlandNewsletter

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The one where I took a big step in building the tomorrow I’ve always dreamed of

Boldwood Books posted this meme on their Facebook site yesterday and it could not have been more appropriate for me because, yesterday, I grabbed my opportunity to build the tomorrow I want. Yesterday, I resigned from my day job!

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I’ve always needed to fit writing around a full-time day job which has not been easy. Over the years, I’ve held some very demanding roles where I’ve barely written because extremely long hours and/or business travel has prevented it. And it didn’t really matter at first because, when I was writing my debut novel, it felt a more like a hobby. Could I learn how to write a book? Could I get to the end? Would it be readable? I never actually thought beyond that but, once I’d joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and received positive feedback from readers on the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), I began to imagine that there could be something beyond a finished manuscript loitering on my computer.

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Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay 

And there was.

Five years ago, I became a home-based HR Tutor.

Five years ago, my first book was published.

Five years ago, it was no longer a hobby.

Five years ago, I dreamed that I would one day be able to write full-time.

And five years later, it’s happening. Or at least it will be when I’ve served my four weeks’ notice.

And then I’m going to lie on a chaise while a scantily-clad Adonis drops grapes into my mouth while dictating my amazing new novels to a harassed secretary. Oh, wait, have I stolen a Little Britain sketch there?

What I’ll actually be doing is writing but I’ll be able to do it every day. And I’ll be able to do it during the day instead of late on evenings or across weekends like I’ve had to since I started writing. Which means I may actually have some time to spend with my immediate (household) family, extended family (post lockdown) and actually find time to exercise the lard off my rather enormous writer’s bottom!

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

I am so very grateful to the brilliant Boldwood Books and particularly my editor, Nia. Without my publishing deal with them, my dream would have remained just a dream. Their passion and enthusiasm has taken me from ticking over in the charts with a small number of sales each week to being an international bestseller who has sold 30,000 books (eBook, paperback or audio) through them since my first release in September last year. Wow!

I can’t help but smile at the words ‘international bestseller’ because, in my mind, that conjures up the likes of J K Rowling, Dan Brown, Catherine Cookson, Jackie Collins and Stephen King (picking from a mix of genres here). It’s not me! However, you are officially classed as a ‘bestseller’ if you get into the Top 100 on the Amazon charts and I’ve managed that:

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 02.20.52The Secret to Happiness – #9 in Canada

The Secret to Happiness – #20 in Australia

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – #20 in the UK

Eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!!

Leaving my day job is scary. I’m walking away from a decent monthly income. I’m leaving behind a career choice I made when I was eighteen (a loooong time ago!) My income from writing will be a small fraction of what I earn normally but that drop in income will be worth it for the joy of being able to spend time every day ‘making stuff up’ and finally getting a work:life balance.

To anyone with a dream like mine, keep holding onto it. It might not come to fruition quickly or easily. I’ve certainly had my fair share of rejection, disappointment, self-doubt, and more disappointment along the way. About eighteen months ago, I felt so down about things that I even wondered whether to give up completely. But I couldn’t not write. It’s part of who I am and I’d be lost without it. So I took a deep breath, tried not to cry too much about the many days with zero sales and the low chart positions despite the great reviews and keep believing that, one day, it would happen to me.

And it has.

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay 

Roll on Friday 5th June – my very last day. Each webinar run, each assignment marked, and each query answered will take me a step closer to living my dream.

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Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and believed in me along the way, especially my amazing husband, Mark, and our daughter, Ashleigh, who have always accepted that I have two full-time jobs and not a lot of time.

Thanks to my mum – my biggest supporter who tells everyone she meets about her daughter, the author.

Thanks to all those who have ever beta read my work (in alphabetical order) – Clare, Liz, Debbie, Jo, Mum, Nicola, Sharon, Sue and Susan with an extra huge shout-out to Sharon who has been my shoulder to cry on, my champion and an inspiration. Can’t wait to meet up and eat (lots of) cake when we’re through the other side. Yes, I know that defeats the bottom-reducing plan but needs must!

And, of course, a huge thanks to so many amazing bloggers and readers, some of whom have been around since the start, through my indie years, and are still with me now and others who’ve just recently discovered my work and have been so lovely and supportive.

Every single one of you have made my dream come true and I can’t thank you enough.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

If you want to read my uplifting stories of love and friendship set on the stunning North Yorkshire Coast, or find out more:

My books are available on Amazon, AppleBooks, Kobo in eBook, paperback and audio formats. You can find my Amazon page here.

You can find my Boldwood Books on Audible here.

You can sign up to my newsletter here.

 

The one where I become an international bestseller

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All writers have dreams and I’m no exception. Yet this week I achieved a dream that actually wasn’t even a dream. It felt like something so out of reach that I’d never even contemplated it for my wish list so I was astounded and thrilled when I became an international bestseller last night. Eek!

My new-found status comes on the back of a BookBub promotion in Australia and Canada. BookBub promote eBooks for free or bargain prices to their 10 million subscribers. The Secret to Happiness was offered for $1.64 in Australia and 99 cents in Canada. The promotion didn’t kick in until mid-afternoon yesterday but, once it started, it was so exciting refreshing the Amazon and Apple Australia and Canada sites to see progress.

It was particularly lovely for me to have a BookBub in both of these countries because I’ve visited both and it’s brought back fond memories…

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When I was 8, I visited Canada very briefly. And I mean very briefly as in for a few hours. My family went on a big holiday to the USA and took in Niagara Falls as part of that trip so we disembarked the Maid of the Mist on the Canadian side for an explore.

Twenty-five years later, I returned for my honeymoon and, this time, it was a few weeks instead of a few hours.

Hubby and I married in late September so we were actually in Canada this time 14 years ago. We decided to focus on British Columbia, starting in Vancouver.

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Whale-Watching on Vancouver Island

We spent a few days there, then caught a seaplane to Vancouver Island where we stayed for a few nights. After another night back in Vancouver, we took The Rocky Mountaineer up to Jasper. Such a beautiful place.

After a few nights there, we hired a car and made our way to Banff via Lake Louise where it started to snow.

The hills and mountains were all covered in snow and some of the roads to more remote lakes were already closed off ready for the heavy snowfall.

Our final stop was Calgary although we much preferred Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise.

 

We were hoping to go to Canada again for hubby’s 50th next year but he’s a keen photographer so wants to time it right for good photos, which doesn’t time right for school holidays. We may need to postpone a few years when our daughter has finished school. It’s such a stunning part of the world and the people are so friendly.

And there are lots of bears. We saw a few from the window of The Rocky Mountaineer which was amazing. Looking through the photo album, I noticed a bit of a trend of me having my photo taken next to stuffed or wooden carved bears. Good times!

Amazon Canada No 9 in Paid ChartBack to the BookBub promo in Canada, here’s a few stats:

Starting position #256,592 on Amazon Canada

Ending position #9 in the overall Amazon Canada Paid Chart

Achieved #1 bestseller in all these categories, some of which are slightly dubious but it’s Amazon’s algorithms at work and out of our control:

  • Clean & Wholesome Romance (hmm, not quite)
  • Holiday Fiction
  • Holiday Romance
  • Mashup Fiction
  • Sea Adventures (Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum me hearties!)
  • Sea Stories
  • Small Town & Rural Life

On Apple Canada, the top position reached was #7 in the overall chart and #3 in the Fiction & Literature chart.

Apple Canada No 6 in Paid ChartThank you so much, Canada. Yesterday was actually Thanksgiving in Canada. We were in Jasper for Thanksgiving on our honeymoon (it fell on 10th October) and, at that time, I had written about half of quite a poor novel. As we tucked into our Thanksgiving meal and celebrated with the locals, I never dreamed that 14 years later, my tenth book would make it to the top ten of the Canada charts! I am very thankful to the readers in Canada for helping The Secret to Happiness to soar so high.
AUSTRALIA

IMG_7132Twenty years ago, one of my best friends, Catryn, asked me if I’d like to go to New Zealand with her to visit her sister who’d emigrated out there. Yes please!

If we were going to travel to the other side of the world, we decided might as well go for a month and take in Australia and Bali too. Yeah, I know! Way too ambitious. In a month, we’d have only covered a small part of New Zealand or Australia alone, never mind both of them and Bali too! It worked out roughly at 10 days in NZ, 10 days in Aus, and 6 in Bali.

We spent February 2000 there and our trip to Australia was split between Sydney, Alice Springs/Uluru, and Cairns/The Great Barrier Reef. The weather was very inclement. It was overcast when we visited The Sydney Opera House and horrendous when we went to Uluru. You know when you see photos of people at Uluru and it’s a vibrant red/orange colour with a bright blue sky behind it? That wasn’t us.

Our trip took in a fairly nice sunset the evening before but our actual visit to the rock the following day was in a thunderstorm! We had to wear bin liners and negotiate floods as we made our way around the base.

Climbing the rock wasn’t an option as it was too dangerous. In some ways, I was quite pleased about that because I was having a moral dilemma about whether to climb or not. Part of me wanted to climb for the experience but a bigger part of me didn’t want to because I knew that the traditional owners wished against this in respect of their laws and culture. I didn’t think I had the right to over-ride that. I actually thought that the climb had since been stopped permanently but I Googled it and have discovered this will finally happen later this month.

We were actually lucky to get to Alice Springs and out to Uluru at all because the previous trip had been cancelled due to flooded roads.

The weather didn’t improve for a few days diving on The Great Barrier Reef either. The reef was all churned up and choppy and looked more like The North Sea than the stunning turquoise images we’re used to seeing.

It was an amazing experience, though, and I’d love to go back one day but take more time. Oh, and I wish I was as fat now as I thought I was when I was there. It’s scary how you can perceive your own body. I thought I was enormous. Hmm.

Onto my BookBub promotion in Australia. Being ten hours ahead of us, it was only late evening when I started moving up the Australian charts and I had a feeling it was going to be the early hours of the morning when it peaked and I’d miss it. I couldn’t stay awake, though. After retiring at about 12.45am, I awoke again around 3.00am and was thrilled to see I’d made it to #22 although I rose a little higher earlier today.

Amazon Australia No 20 in Paid ChartStarting position #174,463 on Amazon Australia

Ending position #20 in the overall Amazon Australia Paid Chart

Achieved #1 bestseller in even more categories, some of which are also slightly obscure:

  • Family Life Fiction
  • History (very random)
  • Holiday Fiction
  • Holiday Romance
  • Mashup Fiction
  • Parenting & Relationships
  • Sea Adventure Fiction
  • Sea Stories
  • Small Town & Rural Fiction
  • Travel
  • Women’s Fiction About Domestic Life

On Apple Australia, the top position reached was #26, and #7 on the Fiction & Literature Chart.

Apple Australia No 26 in Paid Chart
Thank you so much to all those readers in Australia who downloaded The Secret to Happiness and helped it get so high.

I cannot thank my publishers, Boldwood Books, enough for the amazing job they are doing in promoting and supporting all their authors. As I said right at the start, this wasn’t even on my radar as a dream so I am quite overwhelmed. It’s very likely the chart position will drop now that the promotion has ended but I’m thrilled to be able to say I got there and I have a million screenshots to prove it!

Jessica xx

The one where I anxiously await tomorrow’s book launch day

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Tomorrow will signal launch day for The Secret to Happiness. The final changes to the manuscript were made a couple of months ago so I’ve been building up to this for a while now although the last few days seem to have whizzed by.

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Image by Felix Lichtenfeld from Pixabay

This is my tenth release but the first with my fabulous new publisher, Boldwood Books. So far, The Secret to Happiness has been available for pre-order on Kindle, but it will be available in a multitude of formats from launch day:

  • eBook on all platforms
  • Audio – physical and streamed
  • Large print
  • Print on demand paperback
  • Available through all libraries

This is all very exciting because my other books are currently only available on Kindle so I’m hoping that a wider readership will be able to tap into them.

I haven’t received my physical author copies yet but look forward to that box arriving very soon and being able to sniff and stroke my book baby (I know, authors are weird!) I’m not sure there’ll be much to sniff about my audio copies but I will give them a gentle stroke.

In my fantasy life, I’m a super-successful author who’ll spend launch day spent relaxing on a chaise-longe, sipping on white or pink wine (not a fan of champagne or prosecco) and being fed cake and chocolates (grapes being far too healthy!)

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Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

In reality, I’m taking a day off from the day job of marking assignments, my drink of choice will be water and Diet Pepsi or Ribena Light and I’ll be dreaming about cake, whilst frantically refreshing Amazon every hour. My husband has already joked that I’m going to be an obsessive nightmare,  repeatedly panicking that I’m a huge failure and a massive disappointment to my publishers if my book doesn’t set the charts on fire. He’s right. I can feel the panic welling already!

Hubby and I are going out for lunch, which will be lovely, but that will be via the phone repair shop because I dropped my phone this morning and, although there’s not a scratch on it, I appear to have dislodged the screen and it no longer responds to touch. I suspect that this will be expensive.

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Image by annca from Pixabay

How am I feeling about tomorrow? I am what my 12-year-old daughter would call nervo-cited which is a mixture of nervous and excited. Despite amazing reviews on my other books, I’ve floundered in making an impact on the Amazon charts. It seems that those who find my work love it … but not that many find it.

Thirty-two NetGalley advance copy reviews would indicate that readers are loving The Secret to Happiness too which I’m thrilled about … but will that translate into sales and chart positions and take me one step closer to my dream of doing what I love and writing full-time? Desperately hoping that it will. I’m therefore probably more on the nervous side of nervo-cited as I have high hopes for this release.

There’s still time to pre-order The Secret to Happiness for Kindle for the bargain price of £1 by clicking here. A huge thank you to those wonderful reviewers who have warmed my heart with their amazing comments so far. It’s helped ease the nerves … a little bit, anyway.

Jessica xx

 

Everyone deserves a chance at happiness…

Danniella is running from her past, so when she arrives at the beautiful seaside resort of Whitsborough Bay, the last thing on her mind is making friends. After all, they might find out her secrets…

Alison is fun, caring and doesn’t take herself too seriously. But beneath the front, she is a lost soul, stuck in a terrible relationship, with body confidence issues and no family to support her. All she really needs is a friend.

Karen’s romance has taken a back seat to her fitness business. But she doesn’t want to give up on love quite yet. If only those mysterious texts would stop coming through …

When the women meet at their local bootcamp, a deep friendship blossoms. And soon they realise that the secret to happiness is where they least expected to find it…

 

 

 

 

The one where I talk about what World Book Day has made me think about

It’s World Book Day today and, if you or anyone you know has primary school aged children, then your social media is probably full of pictures of them dressed as characters from books. Some will be wearing shop-bought costumes and others will be be the result of hours of labour by a parent, probably late into the evening last night, sometimes to huge success, and sometimes not quite what they (or the child) had envisaged. Oops.

World Book Day 2019

This year, the munchkin is in year 7 – senior school – so it’s the first time in years when she hasn’t needed to dress up. I’m not particularly creative when it comes to costume ideas for World Book Day. My excuse is that all my creative juices go into my books and there are none left for making fancy dress costumes. I also very much come from the “We’re not spending loads of money on this so if it’s not in your wardrobe already or can’t be created from something in your wardrobe, it’s not going to happen” school of thought. What a meany, eh?

I’ve been trying to remember what munchkin dressed as over the years and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast most days so this is no mean feat. I’m pretty sure we did a few Disney Princess years – very easy – and we had a cute ladybird costume so she became the ladybird in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. She wanted to be Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one year although she refused to have her face painted. I do remember spending quite a bit of time making a golden ticket that year but the outfit must have been something blue or purple from her wardrobe. I’m pretty certain we’ve had Hermione from the Harry Potter books too. I think. Hmm. Told you my memory was bad.

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An actual picture of my memory. Seriously

17021935_10155145412889073_267558480815859199_nOne of my favourite costumes, though, was in her penultimate year at primary school. I did my usual “We’re not spending loads…” lecture and, after some sulking, she came up with the idea herself: Mia from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, inspired by the outfit worn by Anne Hathaway in the film. We plaited her hair the night before but, other than that, the outfit took very little effort. Unfortunately she split her lunch down her dad’s silk tie and it didn’t look too happy after I tried to hand wash it clean but, seeing as he works from home and never wears shirts and ties, I decided we could live with that sacrifice.

16797661_10155145412614073_3285221170789970766_oThis year is the 22nd World Book Day and, although it is aimed at children: “World Book Day is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own”, World Book Day is “celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading.” These quotes, along with a stack of fabulous information and images, can be found on the official World Book Day website. It’s been lovely seeing Facebook posts from authors celebrating their achievements and I couldn’t resist knocking together a quick post of my own, courtesy of a Canva template (shown at the start of this post) and this got me thinking…

I still have many dreams I want to achieve with my writing, including earning enough to make it my main job, but the first dream was simply to finish a book and see it published. I achieved that in 2015 and it’s a good reminder to myself that, whilst sales can be disappointing, high chart positions can seem elusive, news from publishers can seem slow, and rejections can be difficult, I wrote a book. Then repeated it 9-fold. Actually 10-fold but that’s the one doing the round of publishers. And I’m halfway through my current WIP with another two books started. It’s not that long ago since I wondered if I’d ever finish one. So I’ll raise my can of Diet Pepsi to World Book Day and feel proud that I turned my love of reading into a love of writing too.

Happy World Book Day to everyone, whether a reader, writer or both. Whatever genre you read, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, whether it’s eBook, paperback, audio or a combination, keep doing it. Immerse yourself in information, meet new characters, experience different worlds and keep learning.

Jessica xx

 

Time for a big hug!

Did you know that yesterday* was National Hug Day aka National Hugging Day? No, me neither! Well, that’s a lie because obviously I did know it is otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. What I should probably have said is that I hadn’t heard of it until it was mentioned on my local radio station that morning. There seem to be national days for everything and I suspected it was one of the many invented recently to jump on the bandwagon. But I was wrong. It’s actually been around since 1986! Yes, you read that right: 1986. The year that John McCarthy was kidnapped in Beirut, work finished on the M25, we piled to the cinema to watch Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and Nick Berry’s “Every Loser Wins” was the second best-selling single of the year in the UK (The Communards with the far more respectable “Don’t Leave Me This Way was number 1). That’s a long time ago!

I did some research and apparently it was invented in the USA by a bloke called Kevin Zaborney who felt that Americans didn’t express their feelings enough and should hug family and friends (and even strangers) even more because of the sense of well-being this gives. Awww. Nice idea. Here’s the munchkin and me having a nice hug on a holiday in the Lakes.

P1030342So on my blog today, I want to talk about hugs. But not the snuggling each other variety. I want to talk about the teddy bear variety. Afterall, the strapline of my blog is “Writing, Reading, Stationery, Life, Chocolate & Bears” and I haven’t yet devoted a post to bears.

You may or may not know that a collection of teddy bears is known as a hug. Isn’t that just adorable? And I have an exceedingly large hug. I’m what’s known as an arctophile which is the official name given to someone who collects teddy bears. I don’t think it’s as warm and fuzzy a word as it should be but it could be worse.

As a child, I liked bears. But I also liked dolls, lego, and colouring books so I wouldn’t say bears stood out as “my thing”. When I was in my mid-teens, I started to like bears more. I’m not really sure why. I had quite a few plush bears and I found myself drawn to them in shops. It became known I was a bear-fan and gifts started to become more and more bear-themed. When I bought my first house, my plush collection was huge and my house was strewn with teddy bear pictures, salt and pepper shakers and placemats. I drew the line at the rather scary teddy-bear vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought me, though. It looked more like a giant mouse in clothes and started to give me the fear so it disappeared!

P1060143It was only when I hit my thirties that I discovered that there was a world outside plush teddy bears and I started my journey to becoming a true arctophile. We probably all have at least one rubbish relationship in our past and Dave (name changed to protect him; not that he deserves it) was mine. But I’ll always be grateful to Dave for one thing; back in 2001 he introduced me to my first collectible bear. He took me to a gorgeous bear shop in his home town. I’d never heard of Steiff or Dean’s or any of the other bear companies but, as I gazed round the packed shelves, I was in awe. Gorgeous faces stared back at me with “pick me” eyes.

Then I looked at a price tag.

Oh. My. Goodness! £70 for a bear? £150 for a bear? £300 for a bear? What?????!!!!

But it’s only when you start exploring the world of collectible bears that you appreciate the history, artistry and materials that go into them and you get it. You really do.

P1060145I walked out that shop that day having fallen in love with a particular Dean’s Bear (oldest UK teddy bear manufacturer) called Scruff but there was no way I was paying £70 for a bear. We walked round the city, had some lunch, walked back towards the car park … and straight into the bear shop. Scruff became the first member of my collectible hug and I’m sure you can see why (although hubby is the photographer in the family; not me!)

I slowly added to the hug (with those prices, it’s not exactly a regular purchase). In 2002, I finally realised that the only value Dave brought to my life was that he’d introduced me to collectible bears and we parted company. Phew! I then completely changed my life. I packed in my job, moved back to the north, and opened a teddy bear shop. Obviously.

P1060142Being surrounded by bears and bear-themed products (stationery, cards, bags etc.) was a dream come true. The challenging part was not taking them all home to add to the hug! I was like a small child at Christmas every time a delivery arrived, particularly for collectible bears. You see, I had reps for the plush bears I carried (mainly Gund and Russ) but all my collectible bears were ordered from a catalogue which meant opening a Steiff, Dean’s, Robin Rive, Hermann Teddy Original or Merrythought delivery was a very special moment. I know it probably sounds really sad to anyone who isn’t a teddy bear lover but I’d line them up on the counter and gaze lovingly at them before finding a new home on my shelves and in my glass cabinets.

P1060144Quite often the shop would be empty and I’d stroll around and have a hug and a squeeze, or turn the head slightly on a collectible bear to make him even more appealing.

I hate to say it but I had my favourites. Sometimes the adoration was immediate but sometimes they grew on me the more I caught their eyes. I’d say to them, “If you’re not sold in three months, you’re coming home with me.” The only problem then was that I’d have a mild panic attack any time a customer started showing interest in them, hoping they wouldn’t leave the shop yet knowing that I needed to make the sale to stay afloat. Munchie (the fluffy one above) and Caramel (to the left) are a couple of examples although I promise that the names had nothing to do with the decision to bring them home, despite my sweet tooth!

P1060140I attended a bear-making workshop at a (sadly now closed down) teddy bear shop on Elvet Bridge in Durham. I made my first bear there. Meet Mark Elvet (named after my husband and the shop location). I made another one from the same pattern who I called Cinnamon Brown then I attended an advanced workshop where I experimented with spray-dying their noses. I called my bear Mustard Green. But I sold both of them. I wanted to keep them but I decided to experiment and see whether a customer would love my bears. They did. They sold. They joined new hugs. My only regret is that I never actually took photos of them. This was just before everyone turned digital so snapping away at everything simply didn’t happen.

When I closed the shop in 2005, a lot of the bears sold. It’s rare that collectible bears are reduced so the sale brought in a lot of interest. A few of my favourites may have slipped into the hug somehow pre-sale (no idea how that happened) and a few other unloved ones joined them when they hadn’t gone to new hugs by the time I locked the doors for the last time. They may have been unloved by the general public but they weren’t unloved by me!

Since then, the additions to the collections have slowed but there’s always room for one more. And another … and another. Because, let’s face it, bears like to hug and the more of them there are squeezed up close together in my bear cabinet, the more hugs they get from each other!

I know it’s no longer National Hugging Day but, if you missed it yesterday, celebrate it today instead. You’ll feel great 🙂

I’d love to hear from you about your hugs or your teddy bears. Please click on the comments box and share. I’ll do some more posts about bears and the shop over the year as well as writing ones.

* Slight confession: I planned to post this yesterday on National Hugging Day and I prepared the post during my lunch break at work … then somehow saved it to my work PC instead of my USB stick so I had to retrieve it today and post a day late!

The End of an Era

Today is 2nd January. Unless you’re celebrating a birthday, this is probably a fairly insignificant date for you; the second day in a row where you write 2014 instead of 2015, the day you awake with a hangover after too many New Year’s Day drinkies, or perhaps even the return to work after a Christmas break. But for many aspiring writers, 2nd January is one of the most significant days in their writing journey because 2nd January is the day they can apply to the RNA’s New Writers Scheme (NWS).

_MG_1520I’d post a link for the benefit of anyone interested but there’s no point because all the places will already have gone. You see, there are only 250 places a year and priority goes to those already on the scheme. However, each year, there are many who dip out. There are those who are celebrating the amazing news of a publishing deal and graduating from the NWS, those who’ve decided to dip out the NWS due to other priorities, and even those who’ve called time on their writing dreams. Hopefully the former are far greater than the latter.

This time three years ago, my writing journey changed course forever when I received the best email in the world ever: the one that told me I’d managed to secure a place on the NWS. This was a big thing for me. HUGE! Because I’d applied the year before and had missed out. It was 2011 and applications were via snail mail. I printed off the application form the moment it appeared online, completed it and posted it first class in the first post of the day. Except it took four days to reach its destination due to heavy snow blanketing parts of the country. And, by that time, the places had already gone. I was devastated. It’s funny how things turn out because 2011 proved to be a very challenging year for me. I was unexpectedly restructured out of the job I loved into a job I’d done before and, because I was the only experienced person in a new team that had been assembled, I ended up doing four jobs and working 14-16 hour days for several months. I had no time to write. I declared that enough was enough and left that job in the November and started writing again around my new job (which didn’t consist of silly hours). I resolved to try for the NWS again. To my relief, they’d changed the application system to an online registration of interest opening at midnight on 2nd January.

P1050687After a scary moment involving our internet going down and me making provisional arrangements to go to my in-laws just in case, the system came back on and I prepared my email and waited. The countdown was excruciating. Seconds ticked by like minutes and minutes felt like hours. Then my computer screen indicated 00:00 and I clicked “send”. Then panicked. What if midnight on the dot wasn’t good enough and it needed to be after midnight i.e. 1 minute past? I sent another email just in case. The organisers probably thought I was a right numpty sending two emails a minute apart but all I cared about was securing my place. And when I received my email later that day to confirm my place, it was worth it.

I’ve submitted a full manuscript for three years: 2012 and 2013 saw the submission of the same MS, ‘Searching for Steven’ as I made significant tweaks to it based on my feedback from my 2012 critique. 2014 saw the submission of the sequel, ‘Getting Over Gary’. This year I won’t be submitting.

It feels a little strange knowing that the deadline for being part of 2015’s NWS has well and truly passed and that the new “class of 2015” will have (probably) heard already that they’ve secured a place (or not). Before today’s deadline, it didn’t feel quite so real that I’d decided to give up my place.

So why did I give up my place? Securing a three-book publishing deal would normally mean graduating from the NWS and becoming a full RNA member. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for me. The RNA have rules about membership and one of these is that a publishing company must have been in existence for two years to be recognised by them. My publisher is new so isn’t yet recognised for full membership. I could have remained with the RNA as an NWS member for another year and become a full member in 2016 when So Vain Books will have been round long enough to meet the criteria but I made the decision that I didn’t want to stay in the NWS for another year when (a) I could release that valuable place to somebody else and give them the same opportunities I’ve enjoyed, (b) I could save myself the membership fee and put it towards a writing workshop instead, and (c) I’d still have the valuable support network of The Write Romantics.

_MG_6896The NWS and RNA have given me so much over the three years I’ve been a member. I’ve set up The Write Romantics with fellow-NWS member Jo Bartlett and the support, knowledge and encouragement from that group has directly secured my publishing deal. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll recall I got two offers. The first was from a US company who Jo encouraged me to apply to when I was about to give up and So Vain Books, with whom I accepted a publishing deal, were highlighted to us by Alys who’d spotted an advert. Jo submitted to them and secured a deal but I didn’t submit as I wasn’t sure my book was a fit. Jo spoke with the publishing director about my book and I was invited to submit as a result. I would never have received either of these deals without the WRs and I’d never have met the WRs without the NWS. And I’d never have  been part of the Winter Tales charity anthology of which I’m incredibly proud.

Two of the three reports I’ve received (the two for ‘Searching for Steven’) have been incredibly helpful and have helped shape it into the book that it is today (the one that received two offers!) The review of ‘Getting Over Gary’ wasn’t so helpful but I wonder whether part of that was because it was a sequel and my reader really needed to have read Steven first. Although I could have paid the extra fee and stayed in the NWS this year, I didn’t really want to submit the 3rd book in the trilogy and receive a critique that suffered because the reader was trying to read book 3 as a stand-alone book when it’s designed not to be stand-alone.

Good luck to all those who are continuing with the NWS and all the best to those who have secured a place for the first time this year (or maybe re-joined after a break). I think it’s the right decision to have dipped out this year and given my place to someone else although it’s a shame that this means dipping out of the RNA too. This doesn’t need to be forever, though, as I may well re-join when I’m eligible for full membership.

Thank you to all my readers, the organisers, and the RNA for playing a vital part in making my publishing dreams come true. I can’t thank you enough xx

A Tale of Two Contracts – Act II

_MG_5263Sorry about the tease at the start of the week. I couldn’t resist! Where were we? Oh yes, publishing deals being like buses. You wait nearly a year for one and two come along at once.

At this point, I hadn’t signed with the US publisher but I was close. I had to be honest. I emailed back the 2nd publisher (a UK company) and explained the situation and that I’d love to find out more but would understand if they didn’t want to pursue things. The Publishing Director was eager to chat to me and we caught up on the phone for about 30-40 minutes that evening.

What I was facing were two very different offers:

US publisher

  • Established (but only two years ago) so dedicated readership already
  • eBook only
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal
  • Launching summer 2015 with books 2 launched two months later and book 3 two months after that. Big pressure to have next books ready, even if the contract with them didn’t continue beyond the trilogy
  • Concern over wordcount reductions
  • Concern over the friendship theme; would I need to tone it down?
  • Writer community for all their authors with lots of support and guidance
  • Would set up a blog tour but marketing beyond that would mainly be down to me

UK publisher

  • Brand new with no track record in publishing books
  • eBook and print format
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal (once they found out more about the trilogy, they were keen to offer this too)
  • Launching spring 2015 (probably although could be summer) with a book a year in the spring (or summer) in order to maximise on marketing activities
  • Don’t want to cut any words at all – love the story
  • No issues over the friendship theme running alongside the romance
  • Lots of marketing activities planned because, of course, it was important for them to do what they could to make this a success
  • Lower royalties

When I write it like that, it does look like a no-brainer until we get to the last point of lower royalties which brought the indie debate back to the forefront of my mind: I’d earn far more by publishing that way but would I sell more copies just on my own? Probably not. Almost definitely not. I then reasoned that having my novel available in two formats – eBook and print – would surely mean more sales which would ultimately cancel out the lower royalties.

I asked lots more questions of the UK publisher on email the next day and all were answered in detail. I asked the US publisher to absolutely clarify the wordcount and theme issue too and was assured it wouldn’t be a problem. But there was still this niggle …

Initially my head had been saying to go for the originally offer from the US publisher – established, more money and they offered first, but my heart and gut were saying So Vain Books (SVB). On the Thursday evening after a day at work where my mind flitted back and forth between the two, I spoke to my husband. He’d been initially encouraging me towards the US offer and I was a bit concerned that he wouldn’t be as supportive if I said that I was leaning towards SVB. Unexpectedly, he’d changed his mind. He’d reflected on how I’d enthused about the conversation with SVB and how upset I’d been on Black Friday when I was so worried about whether the US offer would lead to me compromising my stories.

P1050675I ran it by my parents over the phone who felt SVB were the best option too. In my debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, my protagonist Sarah has some major decisions to make. She does this using colour-coded post-it notes stuck to her wardrobe door, highlighting the pros and cons. So that’s exactly what I did (any excuse to use stationery). This is my bear cabinet obliterated with my musings. Green for go (positive) and dark orange for stop (negative). As you can see, there’s pros and cons for each.

And, just to make absolutely sure there wasn’t anything I’d missed, I got my lovely colleague at work to coach me about the decision (thanks Joanna) and SVB came out on top!

So who did I go for? It’s probably not going to be a surprise after all that but I’m delighted to say that I have chosen to join So Vain Books, the UK-based publishers, and it feels absolutely the right decision.

I went to bed on Friday night with a churning stomach because my contract arrived in my inbox from my US editor and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty at letting them down. I know it’s business. I know that. But I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to let people down. It doesn’t sit with my values very well.

On Saturday morning I rose and had a shower. I’d made my definite decision to go with So Vain Books and, knowing that was going to be the case, I’d asked the Publishing Director if I could call her that afternoon to tell her in person. And if I had any doubts that I’d made the right decision, I turned the radio on when I came out of the shower and guess what song was playing? Carly Simon’s, “You’re so vain!” Now is that spooky or is that spooky? I’m a firm believer in signs and they don’t get much more significant than that! It was wonderful to make that call and be told that I’d made her day.

Emailing the US company was very hard but I was honest about the situation and, to be fair to them, I got a lovely email back saying I’d done the right thing to take time to weigh up the offers and that I had to do what was best for my career. It was a lovely email but I’d expected some reference to them being disappointed that they weren’t going to be representing Steven. Which just showed that it’s business. Always has been. Always will be. And that made me feel a lot better. But with SVB, it feels like it’s more than business; it feels like a partnership and I am incredibly excited about it. I’ll share my journey to publication on this blog as and when I can.

P1050687My parting words would be to say to any writer out there who’s still looking: never give up on your dreams. Believe in yourself and believe in your work. There are many options out there with eBooks and indie publishing so you can have the dream whether it’s via the more traditional route or by your own hand. For me, indie wouldn’t have been the “failure” option; it would have been my choice to not submit anywhere else and to take my future into my own hands. But my final round of subs reaped rewards and I knew that So Vain Books, in particular, could support me in a way I couldn’t support myself with regards to marketing so I’m absolutely delighted to be on board. A friend of mine makes signs. I got her to make me this one which fellow-Write Romantic Helen Phifer introduced to me. It feels very apt. It can be apt for you too.

Jessica xx

A Tale of Two Contracts – Act 1

P1050690Have you ever got something you really, really wanted? Something you’ve longed for years and years? How did it feel?

On my wish list for the past eleven years or so has been “to become a published writer”. My husband and I have often joked about this making us millions and us moving to a huge grand “author’s house” in the countryside but that’s not why I wanted to become a published writer. Don’t get me wrong, it would be very lovely thank you, but the real reason is the one I’d expect many other writers to cite: I have stories to tell and I want people to read them.

On September 1st, I took a step closer to my dream. I awoke on a dark Monday morning and checked my phone like I always do. Typically this results in cleansing my inbox of Groupon deals, Nectar points info and some freegle messages. But September 1st was not a typical Monday. Because sitting there in my inbox was an email from a US-based publishing house. And they wanted to publish my book.

I’d dreamed of this moment for a long time but this wasn’t quite what I expected. I’d imagined “the call” being exactly that; a phone call coming through on a dreary day and lighting my life. I hadn’t really imagined an email and especially not one with a “but” in it. You see, they wanted my book but they felt it was a bit long (it was 100k words) and wanted to know if I’d be prepared to cut it. I wandered round in a bit of a daze as I got ready for work. I didn’t feel excitement; I just felt a bit numb. Was it because I couldn’t believe I’d finally got the call? Was it because the call was an email? Or was it because there was a “but”? I’m not really sure.

P1050689I emailed them back saying of course I’d consider a reduction in words but how much and what sort of guidance would they give? Plus, would they be interested in the other two books in the series? The wordcount cut concerned me as I’d already cut my novel by 32k words and felt that it couldn’t lose much more without starting to lose the story. Cue anxious several hours (damn time delay!) before a reply came back saying that my editor loved series and would be delighted to offer me a 3-book deal and not to worry too much about the word cut as she loved it all so much that she was struggling to see where to cut words. Phew! Finally, excitement set in. Telling my immediate family was thrilling; especially telling my parents because my mum was beside herself. It was lovely to hear how proud they were of me for working so hard at my dream and never giving up. I also made an announcement on Facebook. I was away in a hotel with work and it was a joy to sit back and watch the likes and the congratulations messages flowing in.

A template contract was sent to me, I sought some advice on it, and several emails were exchanged about the content and size of books 2 and 3.

Then Black Friday hit.

I picked up an email from my editor to double check that all the books were about 100k and to tell me she wanted them to be 80k instead. A 20k reduction? One fifth? Twenty per cent? Look at it whichever way you like, that was a hefty reduction and I’d thought the word count didn’t matter. Especially as the offer was for eBook only where surely the size doesn’t matter quite as it does with paperbacks (and the costs incurred).

It got worse.

P1050686There are two threads in my stories; romance (obviously, given that romance is my genre) but there’s a secondary theme of friendship and it’s really important to me that the stories I tell contain both. My editor wanted to check there definitely was a romance in book 3 as it hadn’t come out strongly in my summary and she also said that the friendship had to be a background story with the focus being on the romance. I panicked. Big time. You see, before I’d had the offer, I’d made the decision to go indie. Part of the reason was that I couldn’t bear the waiting times to hear news from some publishers and part of it was so that I could get the control; tell the stories I wanted to tell, with the covers I wanted on my books, the pricing and timescales I wanted and so on. I knew I’d not be able to resist a publishing deal if one knocked on my door as a foot on the ladder to getting my name known but I also wanted to be sure the deal was right. And there were some alarm bells ringing that this one may not be quite right after all.

I emailed back and expressed my surprise at the significant wordcount reduction. I also outlined where the romance came into book 3 and asked it if it was ok. An email came back the next evening saying the romance was fine and not to worry about the wordcount. Again. But we’d been there before. My contract would be with me by Friday 19th September.

But on Wednesday 17th September, another email arrived. It would seem that publishing deals are like buses because this email contained another offer from a completely different publisher. This was a publisher who could offer me a deal for a print version of my book as well as an eBook but who presented a risk because they were new.

So what did I do? Come back later in the week and I’ll let you know!

Welcome to my world: The one where I hear voices … but that’s normal. Apparently!

Thankfully the voices in my head don’t tell me to steal or kill or anything sinister like that. Typically they tell me nice things like how they want to fall in love and with whom. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m a romance writer.

I’ve been writing in one shape or form for as long as I can remember. English was my favourite subject at school, I was drawn towards essay-based subjects at college and university, then my subsequent career in HR was most satisfying when it involved writing. That could mean designing an interview script, job advert, training materials or a staff handbook because, to me, it was all writing. Strangely enough, though, I’d never imagined making a career out of it. Until 2002. I was working as a Graduate Recruitment & Development Manager for Thames Water and the manager who’d recruited me would often comment that my business reports would benefit from being a little more, well, business-ey instead of reading like a story. “You should write a book,” he’d say. Nice idea. Lovely idea. But what the hell would I write about? The genre was easy; romantic comedy. But the storyline? Eek! Where would I even begin?

It’s a well-used phrase “write what you know” so I pondered on my relationships to date. I was single with some good and several disastrous relationships behind me but nothing interesting or juicy enough to form a plot-line for a book. And then something happened. Something quite unexpected and, for me, life-changing. I was at a bit of a crossroads in my personal life. I’d split up with my partner of two years although we still shared a house that we were trying to sell (hmm, that was fun!), I wasn’t happy at work, and I had a dream of moving back home to the north to set up a teddy bear shop but I’d been turned down for redundancy and, of course, I couldn’t do anything unless the house sold. It felt like everything was out of my control. I couldn’t plan. I couldn’t hope. A friend who is very into new-age thinking gave me a gift voucher for a clairvoyant telephone helpline. I can remember smiling politely and telling her I’d ring it at some point soon … then dumping it in a drawer. But one evening alone in the house in late 2002, something made me take that gift voucher out of the drawer and dial that number. What that clairvoyant said sparked an idea for a novel and, once it took hold, it was like the boulder in front of the cave of creativity had been rolled back and the glittering gems of ideas were all there for my taking.

You’re going to hate me now because I can’t share exactly what the clairvoyant said. Not yet. Why not? Quite simply, it’s because there’s no copyright on ideas and I’m an aspiring writer at the moment; not a published one. I think I’ve got quite a unique premise for my story and, whilst I will share the full back-story if (when) I get my big break, I need to keep it safe for the moment. Hope you understand.

So I’m not a published writer but I said this idea came to me in 2002. It’s 2014 now. What the heck have I been doing with the last 12 years! Truth be told, I did nothing about it other than bat the idea around my head until summer 2003 but, by that time, I had left my job, sold the house, said a permanent goodbye to the ex, moved back to the north and opened a teddy bear shop (dreams can come true!) I bought an old PC for the shop and, on quiet days, I started to write my book. Straight into the PC. No planning. No preparation. No idea on what I was doing! I met my husband Mark and shared my writing aspirations with him. He suggested I sign up to The Writer’s Bureau. So I did. And I realised I knew nothing about writing. Show don’t tell? What’s that?! I got some great feedback from my first few assignments explaining I clearly had a talent but it just needed honing with the “rules” of writing. So that’s what I spent the next decade doing.

Novel 1 was a painful process in many ways because I changed from 1st to 3rd person and back again, dabbled in present tense before reverting to past, ditched a major character, unexpectedly developed two major characters (and with them, the prospect of a trilogy of books), and basically had no clear idea of how to get from point A to point B. But I got there in 2012 and took a huge leap in my writing journey by joining the Romantic Novelist Association’s New Writer’s Scheme (NWS). It was with great trepidation that I submitted my manuscript (MS) as this was the first time anyone was going to read my work. The feedback was really encouraging but the biggie was that it was a biggie … far too many words! I managed to cut about 20k words but developing a couple of unclear plot points ended up back where I started. In 2013, I re-submitted the same novel to NWS and got even better feedback and some very clear direction as to what I could cut. I hadn’t been ready to make the cut before but I felt ready last year.

Summer 2013 saw another major step when I pitched to two editors at the RNA Conference and both asked to see my full MS. How incredibly exciting!

Since then, I’ve submitted my MS to both of those editors, some agents, and some other publishers. I’ve had some rejections, I’ve had a “near miss” (which I may talk about on another post) but it feels close. I’ve had a note from one publisher to say my work is very much under consideration and I know that I must be well into a process with another two because I have writing friends who’ve submitted later than me and have already heard that it’s a no. Assuming MSs are looked at in the order they arrive (it’s possible they aren’t), then that would mean I’m progressing … for now!

Other than the critique and the invaluable advice from the RNA online community, one of the biggest benefits I’ve had through the RNA is meeting other writers. I’ve been extremely fortunate to join forces with eight wonderful writers who cover a range of genres from Mills & Boon to supernatural to crime/thriller. We run a blog together http://www.thewriteromantics.wordpress.com and provide support and guidance to each other on all things writing (and often non-writing). I love being part of that blog but wanted to continue to increase my social media presence by running my own. I’ll talk about books, writing and life in general and, hopefully, one day share some amazing news that I can call myself an author!

Thank you for joining me today. Are you a reader or writer? What would you like me to blog about? Would be great to hear from you.

Julie

Mum, Wife, Writer, Brown Owl, Arctophile, Chocoholic