Winchester Writers’ Festival – Four Courses in One Day

So here I was – four courses in one day. Polishing your Manuscript; The Language of Crime; Whodunnit – How it’s Done and finally Reaching your Readers but before I talk about them, a word about the previous evening.

The Beauty of Small Presses

My friends and I went to the Meet the Editors Panel. It was an interesting discussion marred only by poor acoustics. It highlighted the incredible work small, independent presses do. There are so many passionate people in this field of endeavour and of the ones represented on the panel most did not draw a wage from their businesses.

They obviously had a skewed view but it chimed with my own experience. At a large publishing house you run the risk of being a product, at a small press, you are a writer. It’s a very important distinction. There are some quality presses out there, some very niche, some with wider appeal. Many started their businesses in the wake of the crash and we are now blessed with a proliferation of companies giving writers more choice than ever. I would urge you not to close your minds to small presses.

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Heart by Nghiem Vo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

While the previous day’s intensive, day-long course was immersive, today the four courses were each an hour long, providing no more than a whistle stop tour through the highlights of the subjects they were covering.

Press Releases

In a last minute change, I decided to swap Polishing your Manuscript for Publicising your Book with author and journalist Maria McCarthy. The key points to take from the talk were (a) ask for a copy of your press release for your files so that you can update it and use it again in the future (b) if you are asked to appear on TV think very carefully about what you are going to wear – stay away from patterns or anything that shows tan lines. Stick to bold, primary colours. Maria then talked us through what makes a great press release including the importance of the 5 Ws – Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Crime Readers are the crack cocaine users of books

Then it was on to the Language of Crime with author Helen Fields. This was an interesting talk with a standout handout – possibly the best one of the whole weekend. Helen talked about the modern crime novel which has snappy dialogue and is short on description. She described readers of crime as the crack cocaine users of books. As writers in the genre, you have to keep giving them their highs or risk them seeking them elsewhere. Readers are there for the thrill of the ride. We forget that at our peril.

Rollercoaster fun
Rollercoaster Fun by David Flood courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/XVT7zA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Next was Whodunnit and How’s It’s Done with Linda Bennett the Director and Commissioning Editor at Salt Publishing. I must have been flagging at the halfway point on a very hot day as I have very little recollection of the hour I spent in Linda’s company. My fault, I am sure, not hers.

Social Media Know How

Finally, it was on to Reaching your Readers with author M G Leonard. Wow it was hot in that room. It was late afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year and the room was packed. We were all wilting and frantically fanning ourselves just to get some air. For anyone to hold the attention of the people in that room in those conditions is testament to the force of nature that was M G Leonard. What a wonderful bundle of energy she was. Darting to and fro, looking, annoyingly, as cool as a cucumber, whilst flashing up a wonderful bullet point presentation on the screen behind her.

Social media keyboard
Social Media Keyboard by Animated Heaven courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain https://flic.kr/p/S7w8UL https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

The talk was packed full of useful stuff, funny and engaging. She also rivalled Helen Fields for the best handout of the conference although it came later by email. Her key points were that online is: a crowded marketplace, a shop window, a creative playground, a community hub, WORK, TIME CONSUMING and UNPAID [her capitals]. Her recommendations were: work out what presence you need to generate work or sell your product, figure out your strengths and use corresponding platforms, what are your criteria for success, track analytics where you can, review your presence online regularly. IS THE TIME YOU SPEND ONLINE WORTHWHILE? [my capitals].

It was a busy, tiring and informative day. With so much to take in, the beauty of the handouts came into their own. Nuggets of wise information and advice I will return to again and again as an aide memoire for the future. I would highly recommend attending talks by Helen Fields and M G Leonard, in particular, if you ever get the chance.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
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Ten things blogging has taught me

 

 

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Blog by Xiaobin Liu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

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Photo by Reynermedia courtesy of Flick Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ifBTMT https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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.

hello
Hello by Bob Fox courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/oVvMgg https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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.

Play nicely
Playing cubs II by Tambako The Jaguar courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/nnTzzq https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-flower-seller-cover-small
The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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 https://flic.kr/p/q44Tc4 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 https://flic.kr/p/5hkz6o https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 https://flic.kr/p/d8yRbh https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 https://flic.kr/p/s8DNC2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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”.

Smartphones
Man Woman Smartphones Restaurant by David van der Mark courtesy Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/y6sdfD https://goo.gl/OOAQfn

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?

helloworld
Hello, world by Dwayne Bent courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/c9BGhf https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 https://flic.kr/p/fsCwQ2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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
Freedom by Lauren McKinnon courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/pNL5v5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

Freedom2
Freedom by Josef Grunig courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3D7Ztx https://creativecommons.org/licenses/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.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Book Bloggers and Reviewers

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Heart by Nghiem Vo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

 

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 went live earlier this week and I am attaching a link below so you can take a look.

http://romanticnovelistsassociationblog.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/book-bloggers-and-reviewers-anne.html

My guest was Anne Williams from Being Anne http://beinganne.com

Book bloggers are a vital part of the world of books and Anne was a fab guest, giving us an interesting insight into her life as a book blogger.

 

Play Nicely

When you are running a business as an author your reputation is everything. A good reputation is a hard thing to achieve and an all too easy thing to lose. Here are my rules for using social media:-

Never go anywhere near Twitter or Facebook when drunk.

wine
Wine by Denise Mattox courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/9awPZB  https://goo.gl/SJe7gw

Never give in to the temptation to hit back at someone who has hurt you.

Never Tweet or Post when you are feeling cranky – the result is not going to be pretty.

doh
Do’h by Kai Chan Vong courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/5RgzQc   https://goo.gl/G16HP1

Always be polite.

Try to thank people for their RTs individually if possible. If you belong to a tweet group you should post a thank you to the group at large.

Remember you are your brand so self edit before you post.

Try to pay good things forward wherever possible.

pay-it-forward
Pay It forward by Eli Christman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/daHvRW   https://goo.gl/G16HP1

Never respond to criticism by trying to defend yourself.

Don’t post a reply to bad reviews. Take them on the chin and move on.

Don’t take yourself or others too seriously – social media is meant to be fun.

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Smiley-face by John Earl courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/aja781   https://goo.gl/YlJj77