It’s the Hook not the Book

I promised an update on my recent submission to the literary agent I met at Winchester last summer. She emailed to say she would like a chat over the phone. We subsequently spoke for about 30 minutes. She did not want to take the novel I had submitted to her. She felt it did not hit all the beats of a crime novel and whilst she had enjoyed it and thought the pacing, structure, characterisation and plot were all great, it was not stand out enough to be a break out novel in commercial fiction.

She said if I wanted to write an out and out crime novel she was certain I could do it she just wasn’t sure I wanted to which was very perceptive of her. I love writing about relationships. I particularly like writing about relationships when people from very different walks of life meet and sparks fly. I do not want to shift my focus away from that to hit the beats of a narrower brief.

Narrow by Claus Zurbig courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Whilst I was initially disappointed I quickly bounced back (you have to in this game!). Her words, however, got me thinking. In the trad world it is all about the hook and not the book. If the hook is strong enough that the marketing people can run with it you’re in and anything that does not hit that sweet spot is out, labelled as too much work. It’s all about the hook. A great hook can carry weaker writing across the line. That’s a fact of life in this modern world.

Hook by Jasleen Kaur courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Which leaves writers with a dilemma. It’s a choice artists have always had to make – do you chase the money or do you follow your love of your craft. It’s why Hollywood actors do one big picture for the studios and two independent films for themselves.

The competitive part of me wants to write the hell out of a crime novel now just to prove I can do it but crucially my heart wouldn’t really be in it. I write what I like and I wouldn’t want that to change that.

If you are lucky enough to write what you like and it also hits the sweet spot with the marketing people congratulations. You’ve hit the motherlode.

For the rest of us, I am pleased to say there is a silver lining to this tale. Indie publishing. Indie loves books that have hooks as much as trad publishing does but indie isn’t so narrow minded – cross genre, mash up or niche, indie welcomes them all and if you can devise a half decent marketing plan you might even find an audience as has been the case for me.

Indie gave me a home when no one else would and still does. Indie continues to cherish and reward me. Best of all, indie allows me to be myself and write what I want to write. Who can really ask for more?

book heart
Heart by Kate Ter Haar courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

White Lies Romance Finalist

I was delighted to discover that White Lies has been named a finalist in the romance category of the Rosie Amber Review Team book awards. I’d love it if you would vote for me.  Click on the link and scroll down to the Romance section.

You can vote for White Lies until Friday 15th Dec. Many thanks. Ellie xx

White Lies

White Lies Romance Finalist

I was delighted to discover that White Lies has been named a finalist in the romance category of the Rosie Amber Review Team book awards. I’d love it if you would vote for me.  Click on the link and scroll down to the Romance section.

You can vote for White Lies until Friday 15th Dec. Many thanks. Ellie xx

White Lies


Changing the Storyline of your own Life

Realising I was suffering from burnout I underwent a digital detox for a week. Feeling rejuvenated as a result, I took some time to step back and think about all the things that had led to my suffering from burnout in the first place.

All of the projects I am involved with are long term undertakings that will take time and effort over a number of months if not years to complete. As a perfectionist, I want to tie things up in a neat bow and then walk away. Sometimes that just isn’t possible and that’s a hard lesson to learn for a perfectionist to learn.

Long road
Long road by Ozzy Delaney courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

If you are an indie author running your business you don’t have a boss telling you it is time to leave the office. You are the boss and the office is probably the kitchen table or, if you are lucky, a desk in the spare room. The only person who can make you walk away is you.

Human beings are not machines. We cannot mechanically perform the same duties and tasks over and over without a break. Whilst we do not possess an off switch in the traditional sense our minds and bodies do have an emergency off switch they can throw if it all gets too much – we get ill and then we have no option but to slow down and recover.

Duracell Bunny
Duracell Bunny by Skim-milk courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I know what it is like to suffer from a series of colds, barely getting over one and then coming down with another. My immune system was under performing because my natural resources were stretched too thinly. It was my body’s way of saying enough is enough. Heeding the warning signs and acting on them is one thing. Far better, however, to not be in that position in the first place.

We all get ill, of course but feeling run down is usually something we can do something about. Prevention is better than cure so they say.

None of this is groundbreaking stuff but occasionally we all need to be reminded of the basics.

If you want to feel more contented and fulfilled you have to structure in down time. You then have to ring fence and protect that down time as ferociously as you would protect your writing time. There have to be limits. I will work for two hours and then I will take an hour off to recharge my batteries before I move on to something else. It takes discipline to put limits on the time you give each project or part of your day but ultimately it is the only way to get things done and still have time for yourself.

Enjoy the silence
Enjoy the Silence by Thomas Leuthard courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

It took a while to get used to my new routine but as I did so I began to feel more at ease with myself. A sense of fulfillment even began to creep up on me and amazingly I got more done than I did before. With less time I was more focused and because I was not stressing as much about lots of different things at the same time I was more present mentally for the task at hand. What I had thought would be a necessary but ugly compromise was slowly turning into something more satisfying. Who knew?

Every person will have different priorities. The timetable that works for me won’t suit anyone else. It takes time and effort to develop the structure that works best for you but if long term sustainability is the outcome, it is surely worth the effort?


Fear of Missing Out

FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – is a thing. Who knew? Apparently it has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

checking phone
Let me check a few things first by Johnny Silvercloud courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Are you suffering from FOMO?

Do you compulsively check your social media updates to see what your friends are up to?

  1. Do you feel compelled to join your work colleagues at every after work event?
  2. Do you over commit so as to attend every party/barbecue/impromptu get together?
  3. Do you check Rightmove and other property listing sites not because you have any intention of moving house but because you want to see what others have got?
  4. Do you binge watch the latest box sets so you know what everyone else is talking about?

If you answered yes to the above, chances are you are suffering from FOMO.

Wikipedia describes FOMO as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social angst is characterised by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.

Man Woman Smartphones Restaurant by David van der Mark courtesy Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Is it any wonder therefore that most of us feel exhausted most of the time?

Human beings are designed to have periods of action and periods of rest. If our rest time is dominated by our digital devices the quality of that rest time decreases. Whilst interacting on social media isn’t physically demanding, mentally and sometimes emotionally it can take its toll. Even if we are not aware of it our bodies will react to what we are reading, writing or seeing. Anger, frustration, joy and laughter all create a physical reaction. We have already put our bodies through a tough day. To then spend the evening and sometimes even the night too dancing the digital dance leaves us feeling over stimulated. Is it any wonder that so many people complain of not being able to sleep properly? Our minds are still wired and busily processing all of the images that have been teeming in front of our eyes.

We have reached the point societally where Mums ignore and do not interact with their children as much as they would have done in previous years because they are instead interacting with their phones. Couples are going out to dinner and checking their devices instead of actually talking to one another.

Don’t get me wrong, computers, iPads and phones are wonderful things but they are meant to enhance our lives not dominate them to the point of destruction. We are in danger of diluting our personal relationships with children and spouses and wider family members for the sake of our relationship with our phones and by extension our relationship with our friends and followers. Which do you think is more important?

Hello, world by Dwayne Bent courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Disconnecting in the short term – a digital detox – is perfectly possible but what about in the long term? Spending time on our phones is a habit. We do it through the fear or missing out and often from boredom. Interestingly, we often feel less fulfilled as a result. The nagging thought that we are “wasting time”, the incessant comparing of ourselves or our lives to others often leaves us feeling inadequate and dissatisfied. Perhaps it’s time to kick the habit.

Limiting the time you spend on your phone or other devices is the answer. As with breaking any ingrained habit the best way to draw back is by doing it over a number of weeks. Don’t set yourself unrealistic targets and don’t beat yourself up if you fall short. Persevere however because the results will be worth it.

A whole new world of possibilities will open up for you together with the time and space to reconnect with your old world – the people who physically share your life. In turn this will lead to you feeling more connected than you ever did previously, you will also have a greater sense of fulfillment and contentment. What’s not to love about that?


Digital Detox

digital detox
Digital Detox by David Lytle courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

So I started with the best of intentions on my digital detox. My expectations were not set unrealistically high. I would take a week out – seven days but it would not be a complete shut down so far as my devices were concerned. There were still urgent emails to deal with regarding my next book release that could not be ignored and a couple of other deadlines that were immovable. Beyond that, however, freedom lay.

Freedom by Lauren McKinnon courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Interesting choice of word freedom and yet it had been on my mind a lot. Because I was feeling burnt out I was also feeling trapped – imprisoned by my commitments. An ailment of modern life given that most of the commitments were generated by my own fair hand and things I had entered into willingly.

It was therefore definitely time to step back. The first morning when I would normally be checking social media and scheduling blogs I removed myself from all my electronic devices and went and sat in the sun lounge. I had breakfast overlooking the garden and enjoying the birdsong and the sunshine.

In the background I could hear my iPad chirruping away with updates and alerts. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs I could feel my attention being pulled back to the world of social media which was merrily tweeting and facebooking away without me. What if the notification was not a standard one but an important one? Shouldn’t I check just to make sure?

I resisted the temptation – recognising it for what it was – a craving for my usual fix. Instead I struck a deal with myself that I would check the various platforms and emails during the lunch hour but would only respond if it was absolutely necessary. For one week, the world could do without me.

For once, I got ready for the day without the burden of buzzing thoughts. I arrived at work early and relaxed. At lunch, I limited myself to a few minutes of checking the platforms and emails. With my new mindset, I decided nothing there could be classed as important. With some satisfaction, I shut them down and read a book. The evening was more of the same. One quick check then freedom. That word again. Suddenly I had an open space mentally and physically to do other things.

The rest of the week continued in the same vein. I felt better almost instantly and that feeling multiplied as the days went by. It was as close to going cold turkey as I am ever likely to get. And I learnt two important lessons during my digital detox week:-

  1. I didn’t miss the whirl of social media
  2. The wheels did not come off my career by taking a few days out

So, if you are struggling with burn out, give yourself as complete a break as it is possible to have. You will feel better for it.

Freedom by Josef Grunig courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

You cannot however dwell in a digital free cave in the long term unless you are happy to ditch the writing career. Nowadays I do not realistically think you can have one without the other. You also do not want to end up back where you started in burnoutsville so what to do?

At the end of the week and with the headspace to actually sit and think I devised a fresh approach which I will share in a blog soon.

In the meantime, if you have been suffering with burn out please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.


One Pair of Hands – That Burnout Feeling Part Two

One Pair of Hands – Ellie Holmes

Over the years I have got good at juggling: family commitments, the day job, my writing…..the list goes on as I am sure it does for all of you too.

Every now and then I have added more on to the end of the list. When you migrate from writing to indie publishing, suddenly there are even more plates to spin.

If you are not careful you can get sucked into a whirlwind of activity and find that you are running just to stand still and paradoxically you aren’t actually achieving half as much as you did before.

If I had been on the outside looking in, it would have been obvious that I was straying into dangerous territory but we do not often have the luxury of looking at ourselves like that, do we?

A few weeks ago the blindingly obvious became, well – blindingly obvious and I hit a wall – emotionally and mentally.

Everything had become a slog, I was no longer enjoying what I was doing. Worst of all, I wasn’t even writing any more because I was too busy to write. How did I go from being an indie author to an indie author running her business who was too busy to actually write anything? The ludicrousness of the situation would have been funny if it were not so sad. I should have been living the dream but the dream was in danger of becoming a nightmare.

Frustration by courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

With no choice but to step back and think things through it became clear that I was suffering from burnout.

Examining all of my commitments I concluded that I could not easily shed any of them and there were still only twenty-four hours in a day last time I checked so what was the answer?

If I could not change the commitments and I could not change the amount of time available to me, the only thing left to change was my attitude and approach. Arguably, those things are the hardest of all to change but if I wanted to put the enjoyment back into what I do, I did not have a choice.

The one thing I was yearning for was to live my life like a normal person, if only for one week. Define normal? Don’t eat breakfast with one hand and schedule tweets with the other. Don’t spend your lunch hour answering indie business emails and checking stats. Don’t leave one desk to come home and sit at another. Sound familiar?

I wanted to give it a try, to take a holiday from my writing self but did I dare? The commitments were still there, piling up around me, could I look away and relax knowing they were all still waiting for me?

digital detox
Digital Detox by David Lytle courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I am a conscientious perfectionist. I give myself the hardest time of all. Asking myself to sit on my hands and not get on with stuff is the ultimate punishment. But this was serious. I decided to go cold turkey. Well, sort of…

I will let you know how I get on in subsequent blogs but if you too have suffered with burnout at some stage in your career please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.