The one where Seaside Blooms has done blooming well

This week, New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – the second book in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series has dropped out of the UK’s Kindle Top 100 after nearly four months. Oh. My. God! FOUR MONTHS!!!

This is the first book I ever wrote and was my debut release in June 2015 under the title Searching for Steven. It shifted about 2,000 copies through my original publisher then as an indie author after they ceased trading. It wasn’t setting the world alight but I was fairly pleased. After all, when I wrote it, I had no plans to become a published author; I simply had an idea for a book and wondered if I could write one.

When Boldwood Books took on my back catalogue and we did a fresh edit on Searching for Steven and re-released it as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, never did I imagine that I’d be able to add another zero to that sales figure or experience four months in the Top 100, peaking at #14.

I have to be honest and say that it did dip out of the Top 100 once during that four months when, on 20th August, it was only as high as #101. But that’s pretty close isn’t it? I’m allowing that.

I’m thrilled to have gathered 234 reviews/ratings on Amazon, 92% if which are positive. Of course, you can’t please all the people all of the time and I have a few scathing negative reviews including this accolade:

Ouch!

And this 1-star review from someone who definitely didn’t like the main character:

Also ouch!

But so many people have loved this book and gone on to read – and love – the rest of the series. And I’m so very grateful to those who have shared their love in a positive review.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can download it here for Kindle. It’s available on Kobo, AppleBooks and in paperback and audio formats. You can borrow the audio version from your library if they have the uLibrary App or you can listen to it on Spotify. And, if you’re in Australia, it’s on a special offer on Kindle until the end of September as part of Kindle’s Monthly Deal.

I’m so proud of this book. It was a wallflower in the shadows for a long time but found its sunflower moment under Boldwood and took that moment to shine. Sometimes reader love can bloom when you least expect it!

To anyone struggling to make an impact – whether that is in writing or any other aspect of your life – hang in there because your moment to shine could be just around the corner.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

From those who loved it…

The one where I celebrate another special anniversary

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A couple of weeks ago, I shared a blog post celebrating five years as a published author and I’m being a bit greedy and sharing another one because it’s also a special anniversary today – 3rd June 2020. As it happens, this should actually be my anniversary for five years as a published writer because my first book – a novella released on 23rd May 2015 – was not originally part of the plan.

3rd June 2015 was the publication day of my very first full-length novel, Searching for Steven, now re-edited and re-packaged as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms.

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My husband had my debut novel and novella covers printed onto canvas with this gorgeous message. The middle one is on my office wall, above my desk – a reminder of the day when life really did change for me

This was such a momentous occasion that I held a launch party for friends and family in my hometown of Scarborough. I was so excited about it but it didn’t quite go to plan…

IMG_0584A cock-up at the printer meant I had no paperbacks which made me cry. A lot. A book launch with no books? Hmm.

The day itself was very hot and muggy and the function room that should have been fine at that time of year was unbearably melting. My hair was plastered to my head and I had no choice but to expose my arms as the lacy shrug I’d bought to go with my outfit made me too hot.

My sister in law made an amazing cake and I completely forgot to cut it and hand it out.  I promise it wasn’t a deliberate ploy to keep it all to myself! Although it might have been a bonus that I did have lots of cake to eat afterwards.

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One of the few photos that got taken – after everyone had left!

My husband was on photography duty but got so tied up speaking to friends and family that barely any photos got taken so I have very few pictures from the event. I had to put my dress back on the follow day and pose for some photos in the garden.

I did my best to circulate round the room but the hours flew by and I didn’t get to speak to half the guests which made me feel awful and, even five years on, I still feel guilty about it. Mind you, I still feel guilty about guests I didn’t have a chance to speak to at my wedding and that was nearly fifteen years ago! This is something I might need to work on. As the song says, let it go!

As a result of circulating, I was too late for the buffet and didn’t get anything more than a mini sausage roll and a few crisps. Soooo hungry.

I made a speech and forgot what I planned to say including forgetting to thank my SIL for the amazing cake. My daughter (eight at the time) got overwhelmed by it all and burst into tears mid-speech which didn’t help with my recall!

So it definitely didn’t go to plan. But it was still wonderful because it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. After all, I will never have another debut novel.

I’m so grateful to everyone who travelled to Scarborough to share my special day with me, to those who placed orders for books, and to my publisher at the time who was so gutted for me about the books cock-up that they sent me a teddy bear in the post. She knew how to cheer me up! They also got the printer to cover the postage of sending my books out to everyone after they finally turned up.

Earlier this year, I’d briefly wondered whether I might have another launch party to celebrate the release of Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – the start of a new series – and five years as a published writer. Then a little virus started circulating and quashed any further thoughts of that. I will have a special celebration this weekend, though, as I mark my last ever HR assignment and deal with my final student query then hang up my tutor hat to become a full-time author.

new-years-eve-3894621_1920It’s been five years since my first novel was published but eighteen since I had the idea for it and seventeen since I started writing it. Good things come to those who wait and, my goodness, that’s been a lot of years of waiting, Happy anniversary, me! Cheers!

Have a great week.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

 

 

 

The one where it’s a double publication day

Jessica Redland FB CoverI’m very excited today because it’s not just publication day, it’s DOUBLE PUBLICATION DAY!!! Woo hoo!!!!!

The second and third books in my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series are both released today following on from book 1’s January release: Making Wishes at Bay View.

This is NOT a new series but, instead, a refresh/re-edit/re-package of an existing series. As I explained with Making Wishes at Bay View, this could mean:

  • Some superfluous detail has been removed to tighten a scene
  • Some additional detail has been added to extend a scene
  • Tweaks to the flow of a conversation
  • Slight adjustments to the way a character reacts to something
  • A couple of removed scenes
  • A couple of new scenes

But let me look at this in relation to each book.

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, book 2 in the series, replaces Searching for Steven. New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms CoverOut of the four books, this one has been given the biggest refresh. The story is still exactly the same, as are the characters, but this was the very first book I wrote and my writing has developed since then. I wrote it between 2003 and 2013 and it was first published in 2015 but, when I came to read it again, I could tell it was my debut by the way some of my sentences were structured, for example, so those parts have been tweaked.

The main adjustments are:

Updating of technology – It’s amazing how much can change in a short space of time, quickly dating technology in a book. References to internet dating have changed to online dating and talking about Apps. Conversations on email have become conversations via Messenger or WhatsApp and I had to massively re-think a couple of issues caused by my main character, Sarah, using an old mobile phone and why. Curses on you, rapidly-advancing technology, for ruining perfectly good plot points!

Sarah’s relationship with her mum – It’s clear that Sarah has an amazing relationship with her Auntie Kay yet her mum (with whom she also has a brilliant relationship) was barely mentioned near the start but became quite important later on in the story. There are therefore a couple more scenes involving Sarah and her mum which give clarity to that relationship

Andy – I don’t want to say too much about this and give spoilers away but for anyone familiar with the original version, I’ve cut down the detail about when Sarah and Andy first met as it wasn’t moving the story forward. There’s also a plot point regarding an old university friend, Matt, which has been dropped completely as the reason it was in there was already covered by something else and my editor and I agreed that I didn’t need that double-emphasis. Cryptic or what?

There are loads of subtle tweaks and changes throughout the whole book but these are the changes of substance.

Finding Hope at Lighthouse CoverFinding Hope at Lighthouse Cove, book 3, replaces Getting Over Gary. This was my easiest edit of the four books as very little has changed. I can’t pinpoint anything in particular that has been added in or has been removed. The main focus was more insight into how my main character, Elise, feels in certain situations and tightening up a few scenes here and there.

 

So what does this mean for the reader?

As with Making Wishes at Bay View, it’s completely up to you whether you read these new versions. If you’ve read and loved the series and would love to immerse yourself in the lives of Sarah, Elise and Clare and play ‘spot the difference’, be my guest. The characters and stories are the same, though.

If you’re partway through the series, your understanding won’t be affected at all by switching to the new versions.

And if you’re new, why not start at the beginning and hopefully fall in love with the setting and all the characters?

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove are out on eBook on all platforms now, on paperback, and on audio format from your library if they subscribe to the uLibrary system.

They will be released as audio versions on 17th March when book 4, Coming Home to Seashell Cottage will also be released on that day in all formats.

Thank you so much to the brilliant Boldwood Books for my gorgeous covers and all the editing guidance and support in bringing these two books to re-publication.

Jessica xx

Jessica 4 Covers

Want to know more?

Here’s the buying links and I’ve pasted the blurbs to the whole series below them:

Making Wishes at Bay View

Kindle

Kobo

Audible

Paperback

Also on Apple

 

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms

Kindle

Kobo

Paperback

Also on Apple

 

Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove

Kindle

Kobo

Paperback

Also on Apple

 

Coming Home to Seashell Cottage

Kindle

Kobo

Also on Apple

 

Making Wishes at Bay View (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Book 1)

Never give up on a wish for a happy ever after…

Callie Derbyshire has it all: her dream job as a carer at Bay View, finally she has found the love of her life. Everything is perfect.

Well, almost.

Ex-partners are insistent on stirring up trouble, and Callie’s favourite resident, Ruby, hasn’t been her usual self.

But after discovering the truth about Ruby’s lost love, Callie is determined to give Ruby’s romantic story the happy ending it deserves. After all, it’s never too late to let love in again. Or is it?

 

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Book 2)

Sometimes love can bloom where you least expect it…

For Sarah Peterson, it’s time for change. Coming out of a dead end relationship and having had enough of city life, she just needs to escape and have a fresh start – a new job, a new home and a new lifestyle.

So when her Auntie Kay unexpectedly offers her the opportunity to take over her flower shop, Seaside Blooms, the timing could not be more perfect. She could escape to the beautiful seaside town of Whitsborough Bay, start a new chapter in her life – and learn how to run a business!

But, as she packs up her life in London, she isn’t prepared for the discovery of a clairvoyant reading that’s been missing for twelve years. All of the predictions have come true, except one: she’s about to meet the man of her dreams. Oh, and his name is Steven…

As she prepares for the biggest move of her life, Sarah can’t help but wonder if Seaside Blooms could a new beginning for love too?

A warm, uplifting novel of love, friendship and destiny from top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland.

New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms is a new, revised and updated edition of a novel previously published as Searching For Steven.

 

Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Book 3)

When it feels like everything is against you, sometimes you just need a little bit of hope…

Married to her childhood sweetheart for over twelve years, Elise feels like starting a family is the next natural step. However her husband, Gary, has other ideas…

Suddenly single, Elise is completely heartbroken and struggling to start over on her own. But when she’s enlisted to be bridesmaid to her best friend, Sarah, she has to put on a brave face, put her own feelings aside and find a way to get over Gary. Fast.

So when she meets handsome, recently-divorced, Daniel, she thinks he could be just what she needs. But why can’t she shake the feeling that he must be too good to be true?

Will she ever be able to take that leap and trust again?

An uplifting read of love, loss and finding yourself from top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland.

This book was previously published as Getting Over Gary

What readers are saying about Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove:

‘This book is a thoroughly entertaining rollercoaster ride full of emotion. One moment I would be laughing, the next reading through eyes blurred with tears, this story really has it all!’

‘For anyone who has or is facing difficulties in life, reading this may give you a strength you never knew you had and that little thing called hope. A truly captivating, highly enjoyable read’

‘Jessica Redland clearly has a knack for writing and is able to successfully hook readers into her story’ Elle’s Book Blog

 

Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Book 4)

For Clare O’Connell, home is where the heart aches…

Since the age of sixteen, Clare O’Connell has lived her life by four strict rules:
1. Don’t talk about Ireland
2. Don’t think about Ireland
3. Don’t go to Ireland
4. Don’t let anyone in

And so far, it’s worked well. She’s got a great career, amazing friends, and she’s really happy. The future is all that counts, isn’t it?

However Clare is about to realise that you can run from the past, but you can’t always hide from it…

When her boss insists she travels to Ireland for work, Clare finds herself drawn back to the village of Ballykielty – the home of her family, and the home of her secrets. The one place where vowed never to return to again…

With the door to her past now wide open, the first three rules have gone out of the window. Will Clare stick to rule number four?

Can she be brave and face up to her family and the demons of her past? 

An emotional novel of family, friendship and dealing with your past from top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland.

 

 

The one where two of my books get a fresh look and a new identity

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Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

When the idea for my debut novel,  Searching for Steven, came to me, I had no idea whether I had the ability to turn it into an actual book. I enjoyed writing but writing a book was a bit different from writing the questions for a job interview, a case study for a role play or a training course; all part of my day job as an HR Professional. With a lot of false starts, many hours poring over self-help books with my highlighter poised (shh – don’t tell anyone I do that!) and thousands of abandoned words, I made it. And not only had I got to the end of a book but I’d developed a trilogy. Woo hoo! Highly unexpected and very exciting.

A publishing deal followed (after many rejections in case that sounds like it was really easy to secure) and a home for the trilogy was found. My publisher asked if I could pen a short story as a sample of my writing, introducing potential readers to the fictional world of Whitsborough Bay. An idea came to me for the perfect prequel to the series, but I tend to think big when it comes to plot ideas and it became a novella instead of a short story.

Raving About Rhys was released in May 2015, a couple of weeks before Searching for Steven but it was deliberately written as a standalone novella and could be read before or after Steven.  The other two books from the original trilogy – Getting Over Gary and Dreaming About Daran were released in March and August 2016 respectively but, not long after, it all went a bit wrong. My publisher ceased trading and I needed to quickly re-release them as an indie writer, each with a speedily-designed new cover. Once we had more time, each had another new cover designed. Hubby and I never really liked the cover for Raving About Rhys but I was a bit stuck for ideas so we decided to live with it. Within 18 months of being released, Raving About Rhys had had three identities!

Raving About Rhys tells the story of Callie Derbyshire who works in Bay View Care Home, and loves her job, mainly because she adores the residents. Her favourite resident – even though she knows she shouldn’t have favourites – is Ruby, a woman in her mid-eighties with a colourful past and a grandson who may or may not be a figment of her imagination. Out of the many characters I’ve created across my books, Ruby has remained my very favourite (don’t tell the others in case they stop speaking to me!) She’s funny, mischievous and has a fascinating dynamic with fellow-resident, Iris, who she swears is not her friend.

8. Callies Christmas Wish COVERAlthough Raving About Rhys was a complete story in novella format, Ruby stayed with me over the next couple of years so, last year, I decided to write a follow-up. Callie’s Christmas Wish picked up a few months after Raving About Rhys ended and, as well as letting the reader find out whether Callie’s happy ending stayed happy, it revealed the secrets to Ruby’s past. But Rhys was about to get his fourth identity and, this time, it would be more than a change of cover…

Half of my amazing nine-book publishing deal with the fabulous Boldwood Books comes from my back catalogue. Across 2020, the original trilogy will be re-edited, re-titled and re-released but as a four-book series starting with Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish combined into one story.

The brand new title for this combined book is … drum roll please …

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I absolutely love the new title which combines the name of the care home where Callie works with the strong theme of wishes that I originally had. Funnily enough, I toyed with changing the titles of each book in the series last year, wondering if I should go for something a bit more commercial. I came up with a couple of reasonable(ish) titles but kept trying to incorporate ‘care home’ into the replacement title here which just didn’t work. It never entered my head to simply use ‘Bay View’ even though I frequently refer to Bay View Care Home as Bay View throughout the book! I think you can be too close to your own work and it’s lovely to have the objectivity of an editor who can stand back and see different things.

Raving About Rhys is temporarily still available on Amazon but, once that has been linked with Making Wishes at Bay View, he will disappear from sale and only the combined version will be available. Callie’s Christmas Wish has already been unpublished in preparation for this change.

Business Card FRONTAs for the story, what’s changed? Very little. When I wrote Callie’s Christmas Wish,  I needed to incorporate some backstory from Raving About Rhys for the benefit of anyone who hadn’t read Rhys first. Combining the two books meant all of that needed removing because it wasn’t needed anymore. The story itself hasn’t changed at all and we still have the same fabulous cast of characters, including a real treat of a couple more scenes between Ruby and Iris which I loved writing. There’s a bit more detail around the friendship between Callie and her colleague, Maria, and a couple of tweaks to Maria’s storyline but it’s otherwise the same two stories and characters brought together under one book.

So do you need to read Making Wishes at Bay View if you’ve already read Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish?  It’s entirely up to you. If it’s been a while since you’ve read them or you loved the stories so much that you were going to revisit them anyway, you might want to read the fresh version. I know my mum will and so will my sister-in-law, Sue, who has read the whole series several times!

As soon as the cover is finalised, Boldwood will do a reveal and the ARC version of Making Wishes at Bay View will be made available through NetGalley.

Screenshot 2019-06-18 at 09.41.35It’s currently available on pre-order on Amazon here. It’s going to be £1.99 for eBooks across all platforms but Amazon have priced it a little under that at the moment at £1.59 and will adjust this to £1.99 when the other platforms have it up for pre-order and Amazon’s systems price-match. Therefore, if you want to bag a bargain and grab the new version at a slightly cheaper price, zip on over to Amazon right now! As well as other eBook platforms, it will be available on audio and paperback again. I’m thrilled that the same narrator from The Secret to Happiness, Lucy Brownhill, will be recording the whole of the new series so, if you enjoyed that, you’re in for an absolute treat as she’s sticking around. Yay!

The other three books in the series all have brand new names and we’re in the process of editing them too so, if you’re new to my writing and are thinking of buying the series, you might like to hold fire until 2020 when they’ll all be edited and re-released through Boldwood Books. Title reveals coming later.

Hugs and good wishes.

Jessica xx

Here’s the blurb:

Never give up on a wish for a happy ever after…

Callie Derbyshire has it all: her dream job as a carer at Bay View, <i>finally</i> she has found the love of her life. Everything is perfect.

Well, almost.

Ex-partners are insistent on stirring up trouble, and Callie’s favourite resident, Ruby, hasn’t been her usual self.

But after discovering the truth about Ruby’s lost love, Callie is determined to give Ruby’s romantic story the happy ending it deserves. After all, it’s never too late to let love in again. Or is it?

A heartwarming and uplifting novel of finding love and friendship in the least expected places from top 10 bestselling author, Jessica Redland.

This book was previously published as two novellas – Raving About Rhys and Callie’s Christmas Wish.

 

The one where I celebrate National Teddy Bear Day

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Today is National Teddy Bear Day; a day that celebrates the history behind the teddy bear. Do you know the history? It’s quite a fascinating story.

Stuffed animals had been around for some time and this even included stuffed bears with Steiff including a bear toy in its 1894 catalogue although it was more reminiscent of a grizzly bear than the cute and cuddly teddy bears we think of today. So how did a stuffed grizzly bear – possibly a bit scary-looking – morph into what we more commonly know as the teddy bear today. It was actually the result of a bit of clever marketing in the early twentieth century…

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My Steiff Paddington – a wedding gift from hubby – and a gorgeous reading artist bear

The president of the USA at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt (in office from 1901-1909). In November 1902, Roosevelt visited Mississippi to work on a tricky political situation around boundaries between Louisiana and Mississippi. Roosevelt had a reputation as a rugged hunting/shooting/fishing type so, to help him relax between difficult negotiations, a bear-hunting trip was organised on 14th November (yeah, I know, but do bear in mind [excuse the pun] that we’re talking nearly 117 years ago and these things were viewed very differently back then). Anyway, it was all going a bit wrong and, as the day drew to a close, the President hadn’t been successful. Keen to end the day on a high, the hunters chased and stunned a small black bear and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it. Argh! But don’t panic. It does end well because, even though it obviously didn’t bother him to shoot one of these beautiful animals in the wild, he refused to shoot a captive animal and demanded they, “Spare the bear!” So the bear was cut loose. Hurrah!

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One of my many bear-related ornaments

News of fair play was all over the papers and a cartoon by Clifford K Berryman appeared in the Washington Post with the clever caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” which linked to his political reasons for being there as well as drawing the line against killing a captive animal.

A Brooklyn-based Russian couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, were shop-owners and fans of stuffed bears. Delighted by the story, Rose made a jointed bear from soft fabric and put it in the shop window alongside the newspaper cartoon. It sold immediately and so did many replicas. Rose called the bear ‘Teddy’s Bear’ and it’s alleged that Morris wrote to the President asking permission to use the name, receiving a hand-written note giving his permission. Aww. I love that.

IMG_6868The story goes that Roosevelt wasn’t a very sentimental person (possibly not surprising given the “rugged man” image) and didn’t actually like teddy bears, but the publicity did him no harm and the teddy bear as we know it now went from strength to strength.

I could go on and on about the history of the teddy bear because I personally find it interesting about how any product gets developed and has such amazing longevity, but I’ll stop there for now. If you want to read a little more about National Teddy Bear day and see Berryman’s cartoon, click here.

As followers of this blog will know, I’m an arctophile which means I’m a friend/lover (collector) of teddy bears. I love real bears just as much and I hope to go and see polar bears in the wild for my fiftieth birthday in a few years’ time.

IMG_6866As a young child, I had a teddy bear: the aptly named Big Bluey because he’s big and he’s blue. He was a Christening gift and he sits in my office watching me write. His fur is a bit squashed and he’s been repaired at the seams a few times but he’s not doing too badly for a 47-year-old.

I was probably in my mid to late-teens when I really started to really like teddy bears. I don’t know what specifically prompted it but suspect that it was Forever Friends bears being everywhere at the time. I absolutely adored them (and still do).

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Bear Coasters

Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of bears and bear-related gifts from friends and family: stationery, ornaments, tea-towels and pretty much anything you can think of. The scariest gift was an upright vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought from a craft fair. It was a bear in a dress (the dress covered the upright part of the cleaner and the head rested on the handle) and I’m afraid I don’t have photographic evidence of it but it was definitely scary although it gave all the family a good laugh.

My fascination with proper collectible bears didn’t come until I was in my late-twenties. I’d heard of Steiff but had never seen one. My boyfriend of the time took me into a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it changed my life. At first I was astonished at the price tags. Used to paying £10-20 for a plush teddy bear, prices started at an eye-watering £50 and that was for a small, cheap one. I left the shop muttering that I wouldn’t pay that sort of money for a bear … but returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about a Dean’s bear called Scruff who’d caught my eye. I winced as I handed over £70 but that little bear has bought me so much joy and has lasted way longer than a pair of shoes or a handbag of that price might have done.

IMG_6498My collection grew and then I took my interest to the extreme when I packed in a well-paid job as a Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, moved from Reading to my roots in North Yorkshire, and opened a specialist teddy-bear shop of my own. (The boyfriend was no more at this point).

I ran Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire (not the one in London) for nearly 2 years and it was such a joy to be surrounded by teddy bears and bear-related products every day. I had some wonderful regular customers who shared my passion, but also had some shockers:

  • The woman who allowed her daughter to urinate on my carpeted floor instead of taking her to the public toilets then made out it was all my fault because I hadn’t let her use my staff toilet (which I had no insurance to let customers use and would have meant clambering over my stock and past my safe so that wasn’t going to happen)
  • The many occasions where I arrived on a weekend to find somebody had vomited in my doorway so I had that to swill away before opening up
  • The seemingly lovely man who distracted me by asking me to get a large bear down from the top of the display shelves, saying he’d return later with the cash. In the meantime, his accomplice slipped behind the till and tried to empty it. Fortunately I’d locked it but that didn’t stop him stealing my mobile which was on a hidden shelf below the till
  • The local woman who made it her mission to go around all the independent shops and tell them they were going to fail because all independents did sooner or later
  • The parents who’d send their kids to “play in the bear shop while mummy goes on the tanning beds” in the shop opposite
  • The various others who’d damage or shoplift

Ooh! I just had an unexpected rant there! Back to National Teddy Bear Day…

I met my husband a couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad. We met online and, as we lived a couple of hours away from each other, our first date was in the small market town of Helmsley. I took a small jointed teddy bear with me and decided that, if I liked my date, I’d give him the bear to remember me by. Yeah, soppy. I did like him and I did give him the bear although I was gutted to discover recently that he’d completely forgotten this! Rude! The bear – Hermann (named after the German manufacturers) – became our holiday bear, going away with us on all our holidays with a little backpack we got off a cheap doll. Hubby knew Hermann was our holiday bear but had completely forgotten how he came to be in his possession. Men, eh?

When we married, we had a Cherished Teddies bride and groom on the top of our cake and plush bears on the top table.

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)Bears have remained a strong theme and influence for me. My book, Bear With Me, is inspired by my experiences of having a teddy bear shop and learning how to make artist bears, although you don’t have to like teddy bears at all to enjoy it as the teddy bear shop (called Bear With Me) just happens to be the setting; bears aren’t the main theme.

In every book I write, I ‘plant’ a bear. It is usually there to give the protagonist comfort and is often a reminder of the past. Sarah in Searching for Steven turns to her childhood bear, Mr Pink, for comfort. Elise in Getting Over Gary hurls her bear, Marmite, across the room because he was a gift from her husband who has just betrayed her. In Callie’s Christmas Wish, a musical bear is a valuable link to the past for octogenarian, Ruby, and, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly gives her sister a bear purchased from Bear With Me to convey a special message. A picture I bought of a bear and the words ‘Be Brave’ inspired part of the storyline for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. These teddies and collectible bears certainly have some power!

IMG_6881Some people don’t get why a grown adult would love teddy bears but I can’t see my interest ever waning. I don’t buy many plush bears anymore, tempted though I might be, as I don’t have the room. Over the years, I’ve given about 20 binbags full of teddy bears to charity. I find it so hard to say goodbye but I tell myself that they’ll go to loving homes! I have a cabinet in the office full of collectible bears and a few others spread around the room. It’s not possible to feel down when surrounded by their pudgy faces and outstretched arms, waiting for a cuddle.

IMG_6876My plush bears have certainly given me comfort over the years and, as I say, they’ve changed my life. If I hadn’t bought that first collectible one, I wouldn’t have opened a bear shop, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I probably would never have finished writing my first book.

Happy National Teddy Bear Day. Why not give your teddy a cuddle and thank him or her for being there for you over the years?

Jessica xx

 

 

The one where I talk about my dedication to my dad

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Authors usually dedicate their books to someone. My first was for my husband and my second for my daughter and my subsequent ones were dedicated to someone whose relationship with me had some connection to the book. For example, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes features two sisters so that book was dedicated to my four sisters-in-law (as I couldn’t have chosen between them or I’d have started a war, especially as my SILs on my husband’s side of the family are twins!)

The Secret to Happiness was launched today and I dedicated it to my dad, Peter. There’s no specific link to fathers in the book but, having previously dedicated one to my mum, I felt that it was dad’s turn.

When my debut novel, Searching for Steven, was released, I had a launch party for friends and family. They spoilt me with bottles of wine and flowers and one friend bought me a Troll Beads bracelet with a book charm on it. This started a tradition of buying a charm each time I released a new book and, along with a few other charms representing my life and writing, the bracelet is now full.

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I wanted to mark the launch of The Secret to Happiness in some way. On a recent trip to York, I visited my favourite shop – Stonegate Teddy Bears – and an artist bear by J&P Mohair Bears spoke to me. Well, not literally as that would be a little weird, but I connected with him. I’m an arctophile – collector/friend of teddy bears – and I have built up quite a collection over the years. The bear is adorable and he was definitely the perfect launch day gift to myself.

It was only when I got home that I looked at the bear’s name tag. Guess what he’s called? Peter. Same as my dad to whom I’d dedicated the book. How spooky is that? Clearly it was meant to be.

Jessica xx

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 blush as another award comes my way!

What’s this? Three blog posts in the space of a week? Goodness, me, that’s unknown!

I promise this is only a short one. I’m delighted to say that the final part of my Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, Dreaming About Daran, has just won a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award too! And not just that, but he’s won a PREMIER award which is for “exceptional high evaluations from Chill readers”. Wow! Just wow!

See here for the announcement on Chill’s website.

My boys have done me so proud. I know you shouldn’t have favourites so, shhh, but Daran is my favourite of the series. Congratulations Daran and thank you to Pauline and all the Chill Readers. I’m ever so grateful.

Jessica xx

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If you’d like to know more, here’s the blurbs for all the books in the trilogy and the buying links:

Searching for Steven (winner of Chill With A Book Readers’ Award)

What if you already know your future… but not the path to take you there?

Searching for Steven NEW COVERWhen Sarah Peterson accepts her Auntie Kay’s unexpected offer to take over her florist’s shop, she’s prepared for a change of job, home and lifestyle. What she isn’t prepared for is the discovery of a scarily accurate clairvoyant reading that’s been missing for twelve years. All her predictions have come true, except one: she’s about to meet the man of her dreams. Oh, and his name is Steven.

Suddenly Stevens are everywhere. Could it be the window cleaner, the rep, the manager of the coffee shop, or any of the men she’s met online? On top of that, she finds herself quite attracted to a handsome web designer, but his name isn’t even Steven…

During this unusual search, will Sarah find her destiny?

You can download Searching for Steven here.

Getting Over Gary (winner of Chill With A Book Readers’ Award and Cover of the Month Award)

How do you move on when life keeps throwing surprises at you?

Getting Over Gary NEW COVERElise married her childhood sweetheart, Gary, straight out of college, and they’ve been happy together for over twelve years. Elise is now desperate to start a family, but Gary doesn’t seem to share her enthusiasm anymore. Arriving home early from a party, she discovers why: Gary’s been keeping a secret from her. A very big secret.

While her own marriage appears to be falling apart, being a supportive bridesmaid for her best friend, Sarah, isn’t easy. Especially not when Clare, her nemesis from day one, is one of the other bridesmaids. If she’s going to get through it, she needs to put her own feelings aside, find herself again, and get over Gary, fast.

Could recently-divorced Daniel be the tonic Elise needs, or is he full of secrets and lies too? Is his hostile, but strangely attractive brother, Michael, the genuine article instead? And why do the good guys like Stevie turn her down?

But then Elise discovers she has a secret of her own and getting over Gary suddenly becomes the least of her worries…

You can download Getting Over Gary here.

Dreaming About Daran (winner of Chill With A Book PREMIER Readers’ Award)

Where do you go when it’s your own past you’re running from?

Dreaming About Daran NEW COVERSometimes, you can run from the past, but you can’t hide. Since the age of sixteen, Clare O’Connell has lived her life by four strict rules:

  1. Don’t talk about Ireland
  2. Don’t think about Ireland
  3. Don’t go to Ireland
  4. Don’t let anyone in

And so far, it’s worked well. She’s got a great career, some amazing friends, and she’s really happy. The future’s all that counts, isn’t it?

When her boss insists she travels to Ireland to repair a damaged relationship with a key client. Clare finds herself drawn back to the village of Ballykielty where she comes face to face with the one person she’d hoped never, ever to see again.

With the door to her past now wide open, the first three rules have gone out of the window. Can Clare stick to rule number four?

You can download Dreaming About Daran here.

The one where Steven and Gary win awards

All Awards Logos

Hi there. Remember me? Very, very intermittent blogger? I’m sorry I haven’t been around much. I will endeavour to rectify that. But I’ve said that before, haven’t I? Oops!

This is just a quick post to announce the great news that Getting Over Gary won an award. But when I looked back over the blog, I realised I’d neglected to say that Searching for Steven won one too. Double oops.

Award LogoThey have both won a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award. This is given to independent releases. A group of prolific readers are asked to review the books against the following questions:

  • Were the characters strong and engaging?
  • Was the book well written?
  • Did the story / plot have you turning the page to find out what happened next?
  • Was the ending satisfying?
  • Would you recommend to someone who reads this kind of story?

Those who fulfil all these criteria will be awarded a Chill With A Book Readers’ Award. Bear With Me won one last May so I wondered whether the trilogy would be able to follow in Bear’s footsteps.

The answer, so far, is a resounding YES! Searching for Steven won the Award in February 2019 with some amazing reader feedback:

I enjoyed this so much that I have since read the other two books in the trilogy. Well written and feel good. The characters were brilliantly formed.”

I enjoyed this one, a nice little love story well written and with a decent plot.”

Award Logo with Steven

Hot on his heels, Getting Over Gary won an Award this month with this lovely reader feedback:

“I loved this book.”

A really enjoyable story well thought through with plausible characters.”

 

Award Logo wth Gary

Dreaming About Daran is waiting for his opportunity to be read so watch this space for news as to whether he scores the hat-trick for the trilogy and makes it four out of four. He’s my favourite of the trilogy so I am hopeful he’ll have his own little Award too. Fingers crossed!

A huge thank you to Pauline who runs these great Awards and all my readers. You can read more about them here.

Best wishes

Jessica xx

 

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