A few weeks ago I was asked to write a couple of articles to help promote my new novel. I was daunted by the prospect but keen to give it a go nevertheless. I sat down to write and came up with five articles in total. I was amazed. And then I realised I had my blog to thank.
For eighteen months now I have been blogging at least once a week. It was only when I needed to write those articles I realised how many transferrable skills blogging had given me. I could write to deadlines. I could write focussing on a chosen topic. I could write to a set length. I could structure an article with a beginning, middle and end. I could write headlines. All skills I learnt from blogging.
Don’t hold yourself back by thinking you cannot do something. Jump in and have a go.
As writers in the digital age we have a lot of transferrable skills – some we may not even recognise. Experimenting with different types of writing can lead to wonderful new opportunities but it also makes us better writers.
Poor Essex, woefully misunderstood, maligned by those who have never visited, routinely laughed at and made fun of. If it was a character in a novel it would have you rooting for it from the first page, the underdog who would fight off its naysayers and emerge to capture the hearts of all, the hero of the piece by the end of the book.
Anyone familiar with TOWIE could be forgiven for thinking that Essex is nothing more than tanning salons, nail bars and nightclubs full of loud, image-obsessed people. We have our fair share of the latter and Essex people are often loud and proud but that is not the whole story and as a writer, I’d like to tell you why.
Look beyond what you think you know and you will find an Essex that has so much more to offer – ancient market towns, beautiful villages, rolling countryside and lovely beaches. It is the perfect mix of town and country.
Is it any wonder then that I use my home county as a source of inspiration for my books including The Flower Seller and White Lies? Both of these books are based in and around the fictitious market town of Abbeyleigh, the inspiration for which came from Colchester (Britain’s oldest recorded town) with a nice dash of Saffron Walden thrown in.
I love the fact that in Essex, you can be in the centre of a vibrant, urban environment enjoying all the mod cons of modern life one moment and in the next you can be in the heart of the countryside. It really does have the best of both worlds. And for those who think any form of ‘culcha’ stops with the tube line, there is a vibrant music and arts scene to enjoy. For a writer, that contrast between worlds brings with it an endless source of ideas.
Essex is also blessed with a varied and interesting coastline. The genteel, almost Edwardian, feel of Frinton on Sea, gives way to the Kiss-Me-Quick culture of piers, rides and slot machines at Clacton and Southend. While West Mersea is a hub for the sailing fraternity and the oyster fisheries.
I love nothing better than taking my dog Willow for long walks along the county’s beaches, mulling over my plots while Willow frolics on the sand and I pause to watch the kite surfers.
But it is not only the landscape of the county that inspires me, the people do too. Down to earth, hard-working and funny, Essex people take no nonsense from anyone and if someone asks for their opinion they’ll give it to them straight, no messing. We may have a predilection for bling and Prosecco but there are worst vices to have.
Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t think you know Essex because of what you’ve heard and seen – there is so much more to my home county that is just waiting to be discovered. Why not find out for yourself and pay us a visit?
1. To create a schedule that works for you and your audience
Posting regularly is the key to a vibrant and engaging blog but your schedule has to be realistic. Too busy and you will never meet your target, too little and no one will visit.
2. To respect and meet deadlines
Once you have a deadline, even if it is a self-imposed one, it is hugely satisfying when you meet it and great practice for when someone else is setting deadlines for you in the future.
3. To come up with interesting headlines
You have created what you hope is an interesting blog but how do you get anyone to take a look? You need to cultivate the art of writing good headlines. They have to neatly sum up what your blog is about but be punchy enough to catch the eye.
4. To pick illustrations that bring interest and colour to your blog
Pictures paint a thousand words…..you can create great copy but without some pictures to break up the text your readers will quickly lose interest. Photos that add life and interest to your piece – quirky, arresting or funny images are best. I use my own photos or Flickr Creative Commons for my blogs. If you are using Flickr Creative Commons always remember to add a credit to the person who took the photo, add the link to the photo on Flickr and acknowledge the licence under which you are allowed to use it, linking to that as well.
5. To write to a set length
Blogs can be any length but too short and you will leave readers feeling unsatisfied, too long and readers will not finish the piece. For me the Goldilocks length is around 500-600 words. It’s long enough to get your point across but not so long that you start to ramble.
6. To learn how to structure an article
Articles like stories need a beginning, middle and end. You usher your readers in, explaining what the post will be about, you get to the heart of the issue and then you give them your conclusions and leave them with something to take away.
7. To learn how to promote
Putting your blogs out there is one thing, getting people to read them is something else. Leaning how to promote your blog is key. Pointing people to your blogs via social media and using your own website brings readers who may not have found you otherwise.
8. To learn how to interact with others
When people take the time and trouble to comment on your blog, be sure to check in and thank them or answer any questions they may raise. It’s basic good manners but it also gives you a chance to interact with your readers. I have met (in a virtual sense) some lovely people through blogging and have discovered some wonderful new writers.
9. To learn presentation skills
Make your blog as attractive and user friendly as possible. White writing on a red background or red writing on a black background may look funky but you try reading a long blog like that. Your eyes will tire and you’ll give up however good the writing may be.
10. To play nicely
Okay – I didn’t need to learn this skill but when it comes to blogging, as with all social media, it is a handy thing to remember. Be supportive of other bloggers, encouraging them when they are down, celebrating with them when are up. Liking, commenting on and following other people’s blogs makes you part of a wonderfully supportive network and you never know they might follow you back.
We all lie to ourselves occasionally. ‘I’m happy as I am.’ ‘He loves me.’ ‘I love him.’ ‘I’ll work less hard.’ ‘I’ll make more time for me.’ Sound familiar? We are all guilty of it but the biggest lies we tell are often the ones we tell ourselves and that’s the brutal truth.
Catching ourselves in the act is, of course, never easy, particularly if the lies are long standing ones. Ironically it is often easier to spot when others are doing it. You meet a friend for coffee and listen to her latest dramas – work related or romantic and think: ‘Her life would be so much better if she would just go for that promotion and/or dump him’. You might even offer some gentle advice to which your friend will smile serenely and say, ‘I’m happy as I am.’
Being that honest with yourself however is tough. Sometimes we have lived with our own lies for months, if not years. They have become a part of us. They are a comfort blanket to shield us from a cold, harsh world. They are our friends or so we think.
In reality, the lies are holding us back, trapping us in the safe yet restricting surroundings we feel most comfortable in. Beyond those boundaries another world exists. One where you can be yourself without compromise or deceit. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Getting there, however, is the tricky bit. Fessing up is never easy however good it may be for your soul.
In my novel White Lies it is only when the three main characters face up to the reality of their situations that they are ready to start over and become the people they have always wanted to be.
Frequently the lies we tell ourselves are a protection mechanism to shield us from an unpleasant reality or to stop ourselves facing up to a problem we need to tackle.
People shy away from change because we like to cling to the familiar even if ultimately it is making us unhappy but it’s through change that we learn and grow.
Picture a pool of stagnating water – dark and murky, choked with weeds. Not a great image, is it? Now picture a babbling brook, flowing freely over pebbles, gushing and gurgling, giving life, enhancing life. Which would you rather be? Stuck convincing yourself that nothing needs to change or taking your courage in your hands and becoming a better version of you.
Owning up to a lie is the first step in the right direction. Only when you have done that can you begin to see there are other choices available, new directions you can take.
Honesty is the best policy
Don’t sell yourself short. Be your own best friend. Have that conversation with yourself. Honesty really is the best policy as your gran used to say.
Change is scary but it can be exhilarating and life-affirming too so be brave.
And the next time you hear yourself say, ‘I am happy as I am’ you may actually mean it.
Ever wondered what a fiction editor at a popular women’s magazine does? Here’s your chance to find out.
I am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. I am also a member of their blogging team. At the end of last year I was invited to launch a new monthly blogging series on the RNA blog interviewing book bloggers and reviewers.
The latest in the series featured my interview with Karen Byrom who is the fiction editor at My Weekly magazine. I am attaching a link below so you can take a look.
In my earlier blog which you can read below I spoke about the lead up to the Winchester Writers’ Festival one-to-ones. Each meeting was fifteen minutes long. Fifteen. Positively ages if you are waiting for something, gone in the blink of an eye if you are enjoying something. It’s a funny old thing, time.
The one-to-ones on the first day were held for some reason only known to the organisers in a large, windowless room. At least I think it was windowless, perhaps very heavy drapes were pulled. It was so gloomy in there it was depressing. It reminded me of battery farming. I truly pitied the poor agents who had to sit in there for hours on end. I think I would have gone out of my mind. What a perfectly awful and depressing setting. I’m guessing the person or committee who chose it didn’t have to sit in it.
The one-to-ones on the second day were held in a different building, the waiting area was large and airy, the room we met in had windows (yay!) and whether it was my imagination or just the cohort of agents who attended that day, the atmosphere seemed lighter, happier and more energised.
I was struck, once more, by how young most of these women were – and they were predominantly women. Terrifyingly glam with faultless make-up, great hair, classy clothes and fabulous shoes, I couldn’t help wonder if somewhere in the country is an agent school, like an old fashioned finishing school, where they go to ‘get the look’. I was also struck, in a far less positive way, by the dearth of ethnicity.
Having met many editors at trad publishers I know this demographic is mirrored there too. This article is not about to turn into a rant about gatekeepers but when the people in charge of directing a large chunk of the industry are all cut from similar cloth is it any wonder that we have so many books that look and read the same, cookie cutter style? Heyho, a topic for another blog methinks.
Tales of meetings were swapped amongst the writers in corridors and classrooms, in the loos and at breakfast, lunch and dinner, like war stories. Those who had done well were congratulated, those who had faired less positively were consoled. Comments were picked over, endlessly analysed and debated. Facial expressions dissected and bad experiences, even if collected third or fourth hand, were recounted and passed along.
I heard examples of unprofessional conduct from some agents ranging from bored expressions and lack of interest to monosyllabic conversation and general apathy.
In fairness, it was hot in that soul-destroying room on the first day but still if you have put yourself up to take part and meet with however many wannabes you should be prepared to at least be professional and put your game face on even if you are bored to tears by most of them. Remember a lot of miles had been travelled and a lot of money spent to sit there in front of them. Boundless enthusiasm throughout the day would have been impossible for anyone, common courtesy should not have been.
One particularly mindboggling comment delivered to a friend of mine was ‘You cannot write about something you haven’t personally experienced’. What?! I have three murders in my current work in progress.
How did I get on? I won’t name the agents I met with but the two on the first day were wonderfully friendly, warm and engaging on a personal level and complimentary about my work. Ultimately, neither were interested in taking things forward and that was cool. So much of writing is subjective. Our conversations were polite but a little stilted and finished before their allotted time.
Stand out comments for me were ‘What are you even doing here?’, ‘You should keep doing what you are doing, you’ll make more money indie publishing’ and ‘How does someone so glamorous write something so dark?’. I was heartened by the candour of the first and the kindness of the second (remember it was dark in that room!).
On the second day, in a far more suitable room, I met with two more agents. The first had clearly engaged with my writing style, fired questions at me ten to the dozen and our conversation zipped along with no awkward silences to the extent that we started nudging into the next meeting. A business card was handed over, a request to see the whole manuscript delivered. I left feeling energised from the encounter.
The second meeting was, unbelievably, even more positive. This particular agent had also clearly read the work I had submitted in forensic detail, her conversation was littered with the names of my characters and various plot points. On the desk in front of her, my covering letter was covered in handwritten comments, arrows, lines, stars and double underlining. Normally an expert at reading upside down I sadly could not decipher the unfamiliar handwriting. This conversation, too, went beyond its allotted time. It felt as though I was chatting with an old friend. How strange when we had only just met and in such artificial circumstances. A second business card was produced, another exhortation to send the whole manuscript when I had finished my edits.
Perhaps it is possible to find an agent at the writing equivalent of speed dating. I’ll let you know how it goes.
What a strange and unnatural device the agent/editor one-to-one concept is. Speed dating for writers. I wonder whether agents love them or hate them? I guess, as with normal speed dating, should you be lucky enough to ‘find the one’ you love them, if you have to spend hours chatting to people you really would rather not, then you’ll be less enamoured.
Winchester offered the chance to have four such meetings of fifteen minutes in length because I had booked the Thursday-Saturday package. There was a large list of agents, editors, writers, tutors and other book related luminaries to choose from. At the time of booking a little biography is available on each person and of course there is the tool of social media to find out more.
I had two one-to-ones lined up each day. I was interested to see what their approach would be to a predominantly indie author. A month before we had been called upon to submit a covering letter, a synopsis and a sample from our latest work – either one chapter, two or three depending on the personal preference of each agent.
I was going into it with open eyes, hoping, if possible to secure representation for my diversion into crime writing having made great strides in building myself a platform as an indie romantic/women’s fiction novelist already. I perhaps had less riding on it than most. If it didn’t work and nobody bit (in the nicest sense) I could always indie publish – a process I am now at ease with.
You are asked to gather five minutes before your scheduled appointment in the corridor outside the room in which the meetings happen. You register and, name duly checked off the list, you take a seat.
All crowded together, sitting in a narrow corridor, it is amazing how you pick up on the tension of others and it feeds into your own emotions. I was reminded of stories of crowd hysteria. I now have a better understanding of how those instances can occur. Through emotional osmosis almost, I began to feel nervous. I hadn’t felt this way since I last took an exam and I guess that is what it is like – an examination of your writing and a potential job interview all rolled up into one. That is a lot of tension to carry.
Being a stationery junkie, I was in my element. There were a huge array of folders, notebooks, bags and plastic wallets on display. Pens were fiddled with nervously, clicking on and off, papers rustled. There was a lot of avoiding of eye contact, quick smiles and fidgeting. A few random attempts at conversation quickly dwindled away. Everyone practised the art of silently rehearsing their elevator pitches. Overriding everything was the babble of so many conversations, which on occasion lifted to a deafening roar, going on in a confined space just over our shoulders.
Held in the waiting area, ready to be called to our respective fates, I was reminded that writers come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and nationalities too. Some looked like a wardrobe had fallen on them – I could only hope their work was better put together than they were, some were dressed to the nines and looked like they were going to a wedding or a funeral – which, to continue the speed dating analogy, I guess they were. Some looked so young I hoped their mum or dad was close by to offer support if their dreams were crushed.
There was, apparently, an agony aunt on hand to assist those whose egos were subjected to a nasty dose of reality.
I gathered later from discussion with one of the tutors that the agony aunt had been introduced because in previous years a large number of would be writers had emerged from their one-to-ones sobbing into their manuscripts and everyone had felt that “something needed to be done”. I wondered if the more ‘direct’ agents had been whittled out and not invited back. In some ways I hoped not, the school of hard knocks teaches us far more than polite but ultimately hollow comments can ever do.
I was therefore in two minds as to whether this was a good idea. Being criticised comes with the territory of being a writer. You simply have to toughen up because no one, be they Shakespeare or Austen, Tolstoy or humble old you and me, is universally loved. It struck me a little of the nanny culture that decrees that every child in school should win a prize. We are all special snowflakes, I grant you, but we can’t all hack it as professional writers.
In the waiting area, it was our turn to walk into the lion’s den. Wardrobe woman tripped and nearly fell, leaving her looking ever so slightly more disheveled than she had been before which was saying something, the young girl next to me looked petrified as if a firing squad was waiting for us inside and behind me I could hear a chorus of nervous coughs as throats were cleared.