When is a breakdown actually a breakthrough?

This is totally out of left field, so bear with me. I may be having a tiny breakdown, or a breakthrough, or just….a weird moment of hormonally induced panic.

So, here’s the thing.

A few things have been going on in my life for the past two weeks, big internal discussions and revelations and changes. One of those things has been my never-ending search for purpose. I’ve talked at length about my writing and starting my self-publishing journey, but I’m not sure that writing alone is it for me. It’s my joy, not necessarily my raison d’être.

For a long time now I’ve been really drawn to the idea of coaching. Life-coaching, I suppose; the kind that helps people transform and grow and find inner peace and confidence and do things that bring them joy. But at the same time, the idea of life-coaching has always struck me as a bit…embarrassing? All I think of is that scene from Friends where Rachel’s narcissistic school-friend explains her new job:

Melissa: I wanted to get out of [real estate] and do something where I can really help people, and make a difference.

Rachel: Wow! So what do you do now?

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That’s how I can’t help feeling about life-coaching. Like it’s a job people do when they think they are changing the world, but are actually just being a bit wanky and pretentious.

Nevertheless, my heart is being tugged towards a career of connection and transformation, so I’ve been looking into coaching courses, and wondering if I’m ready to financially (and time-wise) make the commitment.

But whyyyy?

But all the while, I’ve been asking myself this: ‘What do I want to coach people to do? Who do I want to coach? Why?’ For a while I liked the idea of coaching people like me, who are trying to juggle motherhood and finding their own purposeful, meaningful outlets beyond parenting. Maybe even writers, who need to get rid of a lot of mental (and physical) blocks to find the time and confidence to follow their dreams of writing.

I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe it would just occur to me as I trained and researched, and started coaching, perhaps. I’m not one of those people who has an amazing transformational story I can tell to demonstrate the benefit of coaching; I’ve changed, but internally; from the outside my life looks the same as it always did, even if I look at it in a totally different way.

Anyway, these are the things that have been mulling around in my head. So I did what I often do late at night, and asked my inner guidance system to reassure me and give me a sign. ‘I’ll know it when I see it,’ I told myself.

Breakdown?

Then today, I attended a mental health event at work. We had a guest speaker who talked openly about her suicide attempts as a teenager and her transformation from deeply depressed to becoming driven to inspire young people. It was a moving, raw and heartfelt talk.

But that’s not what did me in.

Afterwards, students and colleagues came forward with their own stories of depression, suicide attempts and bleak, black despair. There were so many more than I’d expected.

But that’s not what did me in, either.

When I got back to my desk, I logged into Facebook to share a post about the event with students, and I got side-tracked by a piece someone had posted about climate change. It was a really, really frightening piece. But not full of scare-mongering for the sake of it. I can ignore those. This was balanced and heartfelt, and basically made the point that, in the writer’s opinion, with the havoc we’re wreaking on the planet there’s no way many of us will make it to old age. That’s scary enough, but I have two little girls. Two little, innocent daughters. If I don’t make it to old age… What of them?

Ok, so that’s what did me in.

I suddenly felt overwhelmed with horror. I’m great at burying my head in the sand, but I couldn’t seem to stick it in for enough this time.

It was a tsunami of anger at people in positions of power and influence who should effing well know better, and at myself for not taking enough responsibility myself. I felt an avalanche of helplessness for not knowing where to start. I felt guilty for having chosen to have children, for bringing them into such an uncertain, indefinite world that I’ve not played a positive enough part in saving. And I felt absolutely terrified.

Just before I had my first baby, I had a dream where I was standing on a beach, watching a catastrophic tsunami slowly move towards us. All I could think was that I needed to be with my mum and dad, my brother and sister. We needed to huddle together. After my daughter was born I had another dream, but this time the sun was too hot, and the atmosphere was overheating. The end was imminent, and again, all I wanted to do was gather my family under my wing and huddle.

I recalled these dreams as I sat at my desk and had an unexpected cry, hoping nobody would walk in and see me. In an effort to combat the overwhelming fear, I started looking into groups I could join, or things I could do – anything­ – but it all seemed so hopeless and confusing and shouty.

So I went to the toilet and cried a bit more.

Tell me what to do

Then I came back to my desk, stared blankly at the wall, and said – out loud, like a madzer – ‘I’m scared. I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do.’

Nothing happened, until I realised that I had a blank email open on my screen, and that in the top corner was a little Microsoft lightbulb and a line saying: ‘Tell me what you want to do…’

And I stopped crying and laughed, because that was kind of cool. And then I realised that actually what I wanted to do was stop myself and others from feeling the way I did at that moment. I wanted to be able to take someone’s fear and guilt and overwhelm, and turn it into a positive, optimistic and hopeful plan that might even translate into real change in the world.

Heal yourself, heal the world and all that.

I don’t want to be the party-planner version of a life-coach. I want to help people feel like they have the power to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it may seem from the outset.

I want to help people do it without fear of not being enough, or of failing, and with fun and happiness and lightness. And swearing and smut, if you like – it’s your life, damnit.

So that’s my goal.

Changing the world, though. I mean, oof. I’ve got to start with myself, with my life. And you know what that bloody means, don’t you?

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I’ve got to dig out the re-usable nappies again…

How do you know if you’re ready to self-publish? Part One

Long answer below. Short answer: You probably don’t, and that’s okay.

When you’re going the indie route, you don’t have an agent reading your work and deciding it’s worthy of their time. You don’t have a publisher bidding for your book. You don’t have a team of people validating your decision to write the story you’ve written, or approving the quality of your work.

You are, in this respect, alone.

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But never lonely! So many people have trodden this path before us and if there’s one thing you can count on with authors it’s that they LOVE to share their experiences. Which is good news for us newbies!

I don’t actually claim to know any answers here, guys. I’m exploring this with you. But I am reading and researching and absorbing everything I bloody can, and by jove I’m starting to understand a few things. I’ve been jumping on and off the fence about publishing my first novel, Tilted, later this year and I’m tired of all the jumping. I’m tired, and like every other sodding Brit right now (for different reasons) I just want to know one thing: am I in or am I out?

Putting our totally normal and human insecurities and self-doubts aside, there seem to be four key questions any wannabe indie publisher should ask themselves before making the decision to go go go. But first, ask yourself:

Is it obvious you’re self-published?

Because if it is, then you’re probably not ready. Is your formatting shonky? Is your cover done in MS Word (and if your title is in Comic Sans then NO. BAD WRITER!) or very obviously home-made? Does your story actually work or is it full of plot-holes? Is your writing polished and accurate? It’s unlikely you won’t know the answer to any of these but if you don’t, then chances are you’re not ready yet. Research the market. Read and learn from other indie authors. Get eyes on the project. And not your mum/spouse/best friend’s eyes: impartial ones.

1. Is your story ready?

The question isn’t ‘is it perfect’, but is it ready. It will never be perfect. The story idea might be perfect, the hook impeccable, the characterisation sublime – but there’s simply no such thing as a perfect story. It’s too subjective and too abstract, and there’s freedom in that. What started out in your head felt mind-blowing, ground-breaking, akin to a spiritual revelation, possibly – but getting it out of your imagination and into something as restrictive as language is really, really tough. The thing you felt and the thing you read will never be the same, but it doesn’t mean that the finished product isn’t absolutely worthy of being published. And once it is published, it has a chance of finding its way into the hands of the one or two readers out there who actually will think it’s perfect.

So how can you tell if your story is ready?

–          Do other people like it?

–          Are plots tied together?

–          Does it have a satisfying beginning, middle and end?

Readers are crucial – beta readers, critical partners, editors, friends, family, colleagues—whatever. Just get your story in front of people and beg them to be kindly honest. Don’t just say ‘do you like it?’ Ask them if it made sense, if it flowed, if it dragged, if characters were logical and believable, if anything confused them, if they wanted to stay up all night reading it or could quite happily go several weeks between chapters… (that’s always a red-flag for me, though as most of my beta readers are working mothers it’s not exactly conclusive…or so I tell myself).

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A developmental edit – while pricey – will really help with this, but my advice to those starting out is to start with beta reads, then progress to a professional beta read when you’ve taken on feedback and made obvious changes. This is usually a lot cheaper than a full developmental edit and will give you a good, overarching sense of whether or not the story works, and if not why not. Then you can decide whether you need professional help or can go (almost) the rest of the way on your own.

Takeaway – your story doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to be a complete and compelling story.

2. Is your writing good enough?

Again, ask your readers. I remember my first ever reader – my dad – telling me in surprise, ‘it was so beautifully written!’ Looking back at that draft, it was gauche and clichéd and in need of serious editing—but that comment gave me the confidence that my writing had the potential to be beautiful.

I really believe you need an editor, though. Or at least someone who can perform the role of an editor, and I sense that it’s not as easy as it looks. I pride myself on my writing skills, and have even trained as a copywriter to really improve myself – but I’m still making basic errors and creating tangled sentences all the time. Sometimes I spot them, but mostly I don’t because you can only read your own work so many times before you just stop connecting with it. So pay as much as you can afford to get the best editor for your project.

And to be clear – you don’t have to be bloody Dostoyevsky. I maintain that Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the most annoyingly-written books I’ve ever read, but I’ve still read it at least twice because something about the story and characters unexpectedly grabbed me. And the woman knows how to pace a novel, fo’ sho’.

Of course a novel will survive the writing not being devastatingly profound and heart-piercingly astute – but it does need to be accessible and clear.

Takeaway – grammar, spelling and sentence structure are the bare minimum – make sure your writing is enjoyable (only readers can tell you, and ideally ones you don’t know) and if you can get a pro to hone it, all the better.

That’s the technical side of things; in Part Two, I’ll dig into the mindset stuff. Are you ready to handle the reviews? Can you live with yourself if you chicken out of hitting publish?

CAN YOU??

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Until next time, players.

What I’ve been reading: Lost Gospels, Funny Girls and Near Death Experiences

It’s been a crazy reading ride so far this year. I’ve decided to capture what I’ve been reading throughout the year and review as I go through a monthly book round-up. This one is a double-whammy so it’s a touch on the long side – usually they’ll be shorter! (But equally as weird – I flit crazily between fiction, self-help, spirituality and writing-craft books.)

It all started pretty normally with the newest release from Mhairi McFarlane – who writes the best down-to-earth, funny female characters and really sexy, brooding but ultimately lovely love interests. This one delves into the world of a floundering 30 something barmaid who comes face to face with the boy who broke her teenage heart – and he doesn’t remember her at all. I fully identified with the main character as we both own the same (ridiculous) pink fur coat. Huh. Good stuff though. I’d recommend her books to anyone – and this new one was as familiar and comforting as all of her others. (These are, by the way, absolutely cracking holiday reads. She is SUCH A FUNNY LADY.)

Then my dad recommended Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. I don’t think I’ve read any others by him (perhaps About a Boy? But maybe not) but I enjoyed it. It’s set in the late 1950s in Britain, and follows northerner Barbara as she moves to London to pursue a life of comedy television. The story spans many years and many of the characters involved in writing and producing a successful sitcom. It’s funny, but bittersweet. Very evocative of how I imagine the country was back then, the good and the frustrating, un-PC bad.

Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting! was next, and it was one that I’d been dithering over for a while. I’m glad I read it, it has kickstarted a whole chain of interesting and introspective events since! The premise of the book is that in order to change your life, you need to change the way you feel. It’s less about ‘thoughts create reality’ and more ’emotions and feelings create reality.’ It made me SO aware of my emotions, and through keeping a 30 day journal as recommended in the book, I’ve been shocked by how difficult it is to consistently maintain positive feelings in my body. It’s easy to think positively, but without the accompanying emotion, I’m not sure that thoughts alone have much impact. But when I’ve managed to get the feeling to align with the thoughts… Weird things have been happening in my life, guys, and I’m totally into this. Things just keep appearing when I need them (and for a while after reading this, the suddenly meaningful song ‘You Always Take The Weather With You’ by Crowded House kept following me everywhere, in books, radio, TV and in shops. Weird). Lynn’s writing style is a bit divisive – it’s very pally and chummy and a bit old school. What’s even weirder is that after this book her life took a bit of a weird twist and she slumped into depression, going on to write two further books all about how we are in some way being prepared on Earth for some other planet…. Earth Two, I think she called it. I won’t be reading those books. My intuition – which I rely on a lot for my reading choices – tells me to just…ignore those ones.

Anyway, through keeping my journal of positive emotion, I started noticing a lot of things that I would otherwise have ignored. One of which was a bible quote in my parish newsletter: “Knock and the door shall be opened, ask and it shall be given.” I have no desire to read the bible but something about this felt sort of apt given what I’d been reading, and it made me idly wonder what it would be like to learn about Jesus without all the….religion attached.

Idle thoughts can take you in strange directions, my friends.

I googled. And I Amazoned. To my surprise, my online delving finally delivered me to The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels. So, did you know that in 1945 an urn full of thousand-odd year old heretical gospels were dug up in Egypt? Because somehow, that passed me by. They apparently inspired the Da Vinci Code, and I do love a secret-text related mystery…. These gospels were more spiritual than the ones that made it into the bible (and therefore deemed heretical by the orthodox church.) Totally fascinating. Good historical book, this one. I felt enriched and also a little wiser by the end.

ANYWAY – getting back to normality with Indie Confidence – this deserves its own review. It was a great confidence boost and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of writing a book but lacking in direction or self-confidence, and particularly anyone wanting to publish themselves. It was balanced, personal and warmly written, and gave me back a bit of writing mojo. Another useful craft book was Erik Bork’s The Idea, which lays out the seven key elements of any successful idea. He’s a scriptwriter so a lot of the book is focused on scripts and movies, but it’s really translatable to novels. He explains everything with contemporary and classic examples (mostly films, though) and it has given me a lot to think about with my current WIP and future ideas I want to develop into stories. If you can crack the high-concept stuff at the really early stages then actually plotting and more importantly selling the story will be so, so much easier further down the line.

I’m just going to finish by touching on Proof of Heaven, which I’ve read three times now and find a lot of comfort in it. Like I said, I’m not religious. This is one of those books that presents a very spiritual concept in a way that doesn’t make you think everyone involved is a space-cake. The author is a neurosurgeon, who a decade or so ago contracted a really rare form of bacterial meningitis and went into a deep coma. His brain basically shut down. The chances of him dying were 97% and nobody, nobody in his situation had ever made a full recovery before. Whilst his neocortex was totally out of action, and therefore incapable of fantastical flights of fantasy and imagination, the author describes how he found himself in a totally different (heavenly) realm that felt more real than life on earth ever had. He attributes this to his consciousness expanding beyond his body and experiencing what life outside of our current reality is really like. He then went on to make a rapid and total recovery, astounding everyone. This book is SO INTERESTING.

It also has special meaning for me as I found this book in my grandad’s room a week after he died. I’d had no idea that he was interested in such things when he was alive, and I wish I could have talked to him about it – he had other similarly esoteric books on his shelf too. But I found it when I needed it, and like I said, it’s a very comforting view of existence.

In summary – if you want a giggle, read anything by Mhairi McFarlane. If you want to write books, read The Idea and Indie Confidence. And if you want to know what happens after you die… Dr Eben Alexander has you covered.

 

 

The newbie indie author’s guide to a great book cover

Just like we first eat with the eye, we also choose what to read with the eye. (I mean, what else would we choose with?) Basically, the consensus is that a good cover is essential to publishing success.

But ‘good’ is very subjective. What I really mean is ‘obvious and eye-catching’. Obvious in the sense that the cover accurately depicts the story within, and eye-catching enough to grab a readers attention even when the thumbnail is teensy-tiny – which it will be to people reading/buying their books on their phone.

Traditional publishing takes the cover-design stress away…right?

I confess that I’ve had a few moments of envy for people pursuing the traditional publishing route. Whilst it’s a much slower process (if you get representation and/or an offer on your manuscript in the first place) at least you will end up with savvy professionals who know their stuff, can zero in on your specific niche and genre, and utilise a whole marketing department to give your book the best chance of success.

Except…that’s not always true. I listened to a podcast months ago about a writer called Polly Courtney who got her books picked up by an imprint within the Big Six, and immediately started to regret it. The publishers were pushing her stories into chick-lit, a genre she didn’t think they suited, with covers that were chasing the zeitgeist of the day (at the time, the X-Factor/Pop Idol hype) and didn’t reflect the stories she’d actually written. In the end, I think she either fired them or broke out of her contract at the earliest opportunity to publish them herself, on her own terms. You can read about it/listen here on the Creative Penn site – I found it pretty eye-opening!

Doing the whole thing yourself might be more work, but at least you have complete control over the design and how it relates to the novel itself. Which leads me to:

Know your market – and market to them!

I know, here are some eggs, suck ’em. But this is actually something I’m struggling with when it comes to my novel, Tilted. I’ve had mixed feedback on exactly what genre it fits into. Initially in my mind it was kind of romantic chick-lit, but the themes in it make it less light-hearted. It’s got a fair whack of suspense, but putting a thriller-style cover on it would be misleading – it’s a definite romance. It’s not women’s fiction, either, thanks to my main love interest, Max, having his own point-of-view.

Romance would be the clear contender here, but the romance market is SATURATED with very similar cover designs: topless man, couple laughing at each other, suited man looking broodingly at his hands…..sigh. It’s hard to stand out in romance unless you can narrow it down.

This – in large part – comes from my desire to be different, and to produce something that feels authentic to me. Admirable traits, but totally useless if you want to sell books to busy people who just want to know: is this book the kind of thing I want to read? The only way they can possibly tell that in a hurry is if it has an appropriate cover on it.

The lesson I am learning (slowly, and probably the hard way) is that as writers our own personal design preferences will probably only hinder our progress here. The answer, clearly, is:

Hire a professional cover designer

They know what they are doing, they know the book cover market, and they have their finger on the pulse of current cover and design trends. They also – and this can’t be overlooked – know all the nitty gritty involved in designing something that works for books of different sizes/print styles/digital formats etc.

Designers don’t come cheap though, and from my research it’s about £150 – £400 for a cover, and that doesn’t always include print AND ebook. It can add up – BUT a cover designer can do add-ons like promo materials for ads and social media, which is pretty useful.

If your pockets don’t stretch that far, and you’re feeling brave though, you could:

Design your cover yourself – if you dare

There are some great tools to use. Software like Photoshop would obviously be spot on IF you have it AND know how to use it. If you don’t, though, then online tools like Canva are brilliant. Intuitive and free, and with some great pre-made designs to use as inspiration, it’s a good choice if you’ve got vision and creative flair. There’s a new Design School within Canva with video tutorials about how to get the most out of the deceptively simple tools.

I designed a few mock-ups for Tilted on Canva a few months ago, and if nothing else it got me really motivated about seeing my book enrobed in something other than a Word doc with the title and word count on it!

I came across a cover design course the other day, and whilst it’s a fair amount up front, I guess it’s a good investment if you plan to use the skills you learn on all the books you write. It still depends on you having faith in your design skills though, and besides, not everyone wants to. The course creator, a designer called Stuart Bache, also wrote a book on cover design for authors, so there’s another option if you’re really committed to doing it yourself.

If your design skills aren’t great, though, and you’ve got a little cash, then:

Split the difference and get a pre-made cover

This would be my preference, as you get the benefits of a professional cover design from as little as £50. Designers post their pre-made designs – usually fairly generic, but it’s surprising how many you can make work for your novel with a bit of squinting and open-mindedness! – and once you buy them, they take that design down so nobody else can use it and insert your own title and author name before sending it to you to stick on your book. Some designers will make small changes to the font/colour for no charge, but others ask for a supplement for any changes.

Some good sites include Rocking Book Covers, Coverquill, and the massive database The Book Cover Designer, which is comprehensive but terribly overwhelming. There are thousands of covers to choose from in the Romance genre, for example, and my mind melted around page 24.

Places like Etsy are also pretty good – and any decent indie author forum will have links to cover designers who offer pre-mades.

Personally, I’m still figuring it out. I’ve tried my hand at Canva, I’ve requested quotes from designers who never responded, and I’m half way through a conversation with a designer to see if some of her pre-mades might work for Tilted. I’ll get there, but it’s not the straightforward process I fancifully imagined it would be! Partly this is because I don’t fully know what I want it to look like myself, and lack confidence in where it sits in the market.

(In fact, if ever I could pass on one piece of advice to writers from my experiences so far, it’s…. KNOW WHAT GENRE YOU’RE WRITING IN FROM THE START. God. I hope I take my own advice next time around. Spoiler: I probably won’t.)

Whatever route you choose to go with your cover though, this is not an area you should overlook, at any cost. I’ve even seen advice suggesting that a cover designer is a better investment than an editor, because whilst your writing without a pro edit might be shocking, your book without a pro cover won’t ever get opened, at all. Bleak.

So, watch this space – my currently nude novel will be enrobed in something suitably gorgeous any day now. I won’t let it strut it’s stuff on Amazon’s storefront totally naked….

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Girl, Wash Your Face (and get out of your pyjamas while you’re at it)

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I’ve only recently got into audiobooks, thanks to a free trial of Audible, and I’ve gotta say, they’re a real game-changer when it comes to livening up housework/playing peek-a-boo, with the baby/drinking wine secretly in a cupboard.

My second ever audiobook was Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Wash Your Face, and I feel that for slightly flustered, confused and inadequate-feeling mothers everywhere, this book has a lot of appeal. It’s read by the author, and she’s got a great, conversational tone. You feel like you’re having a heart-to-heart with her after an inhibition-lowering glass of wine. Plus, she’s so honest. She talks about shaving her toes, for crying out loud, not to mention the many other oft-hidden aspects of being a woman, wife, mother, worker and all the rest of it.

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In Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis debunks a number of lies we’ve been told about how we should feel or what we should do, in the hopes that we will shake off the shackles of societal pressures and reclaim our authentic, glorious selves. Hollis is a Christian and refers to her faith frequently throughout, but in a way that I found relevant to people of different or no faiths. (I know a handful of people who instantly go on the offended offensive the minute the G word is mentioned, so I guess for those, this ain’t the book.)

She covers a really wide range of topics with easy-going humour and frankness, touching on sex, relationships, career success, grief, parenting and appearance and much in between. I liked the chapter on achieving your dreams, on being a good writer, and particularly the final chapter: The Lie – I Need A Hero.

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These books often find me at the time I need them most, and I finished listening to this book on a chilly Thursday when I’d spent the whole day at home with my baby, a day when I hadn’t fully bothered to change out of my pyjamas, merely throwing a jumper over my PJ top and scraping my hair back into a messy, unwashed half-bun. I’d managed some writing while Little Pixie napped, but I was doubting my abilities, second-guessing my future and I definitely stank of fish courtesy of a jar of absolutely gross-smelling baby food.

The final line of the book is the titular ‘Girl, wash your face!’ and as I heard that, I realised that’s absolutely what I should have done that morning. It made me determined to do several things:

  • Throw away all of my slobby looking pyjamas-slash-leisure wear, so that I am no longer tempted to pretend that I have actually changed out of my sleepwear. Opening the door to the postie in a pair of flimsy button-down jammies, or a silky nightie, is a line I am not prepared to cross.
  • Wash my bloody face in the morning! I might not always be able to stretch to a morning shower (sometimes I just can’t deal with the crying and whining and baby clinging on to the edge of the bath and screaming every time a droplet of water hits her) but I can splash myself awake, slather on some CC cream and pucker up with some tinted lip balm.
  • Move this body. Writing is not a healthy hobby when it comes to posture and exercise. I bought a book on beginners Tai Chi several months ago with the intention to start in the new year. However, we’re now into February and I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of the book, plodding through a chapter on how to breathe properly. I need to set aside some time to speed-read it so I can stop making excuses and get to the step-by-step actual Tai-Chi bit. Also – I’m weirdly craving some sort of boxing/kick-boxing class. This must be a passing phase – I didn’t really enjoy learning karate that much in my twenties. I think I just want to feel strong and capable (as though I’m not already, after three years of carrying a child in one arm whilst hefting washing baskets up and down stairs).
  • Give my writing the credit it deserves. I’ve come so far, and absolutely no good can come of doubting myself now. My instincts have always served me well (when I’ve followed them, anyway. Who knows what kind of yacht-owning, mega-wealthy influencer I could be today if I’d followed that urge to start a make-up review website back in the early-noughties heyday of personal web pages – anyone remember Moonfruit.com??)

In summary – if you are a woman, and you ever doubt yourself or are holding onto any resentments over your past, your body or your abilities, then this is a really uplifting, honest and inspiring book. Run a bath, pour a glass of wine and listen to it on your bluetooth speaker. We all need a bit of tough love and gentle truths.

 

What does it cost to self-publish your book?

Here’s the thing: I don’t know. I have yet to actually publish my first novel, Tilted, but I suspect that by the time I finally press ‘publish’ on Amazon, I’ll have spent close to £2000.

And that’s without any actual marketing.

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Yikes! I mean, the dream is obviously that your book instantly sells 500,000 copies, makes you a millionaire and that initial outlay is as insignificant a memory as the steam that wafted up from yesterday’s morning coffee. But I’m only a part-time fantasist, and I think it’s probably sensible to hold off from putting an offer in on the country mansion and assume I’ll make diddly-squat from my (wonderful, marvellous, you-should-definitely-buy-it-when-it’s-released) novel.

So, I guess the first question should be:

Can you self-publish without spending anything?

For sure. For sure. But you’d need one of two things:

  • A really good network of readers and fellow writers/editors/graphic designers who can make sure you’re putting out a solid, good quality product; or
  • The ability to be happy with turning out a potentially (and noticeably) sub-par product.

Believe me, I researched self-editing tools and techniques for hours. I attempted to design my own cover on Canva. I’ve sent my book to about 6 friends to beta-read for me, and received great feedback. I absolutely could have just considered that a job well done and published.

And maybe I would have, were it not for another two things.

Firstly, I’ve read a number of self-published books on my Kindle, and I can usually spot the ones that haven’t had a thorough edit a mile off. And it PISSES ME OFF. Even though I’m a writer, I’m actually not that inclined to cut my fellow writers much slack when it comes to sloppy mistakes like getting character’s names wrong halfway through the book, or poor formatting, or just bland characterisation and plodding plots. In a draft? No problem! But a book you’ve published for the world to read? Nah. I wouldn’t put up with them in a traditionally published book, so why should I have to with an indie book? In most cases, I’m paying exactly the same amount for them.

(Aside: I’m by no means suggesting my novel is perfect, or that readers might not find all of those flaws in it should they be so inclined. Also, I’m a really picky bitch when it comes to stuff like that, I can’t help it. It’s a curse.)

Secondly, I saw the impact that a professional eye could have. I paid for a professional editor to beta read Tilted for me when it was at the third or fourth draft stage. The advice she gave ran to 4 pages and covered marketability, characterisation, pacing and the kind of constructive feedback I’d been craving from my other readers who, understandably, didn’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of writing a good novel to identify the areas I was weakest on/nailing. Then I had a couple of sample copyedits done on my final draft and boy, is there room for improvement. I thought my manuscript was tighter than my toddlers fist when someone asks for one of her raisins, but there was so much scope to improve and tighten and refine. (For example, I used 3 words there that all meant the same thing – they would not have made the edit.)

How much does it all cost?

I guess it differs for everybody, depending on budget, time and whether you consider your novel to be a means to a financial end or not. I don’t. I’m lavishing treats upon my novel in the same way I throw gifts and food and clothes at my kids in the hope that they’ll thrive, without ever expecting to break even. (How do you break even on a kid? Hope they become Oprah, or something?) I love writing, and producing a novel is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. People spend a lot of money on their hobbies, right? This is my hobby.

Also, it’s a pretty public hobby – once my book’s out there, anyone can judge me on it. It’s like doing a dance competition in front of everyone you’ve ever known; you’re not going to want to do that without some lessons, spray-tan and a seriously distracting costume, ammiright?

So I’m anticipating that my costs will end up looking like this:

Beta read: 200USD (about £160)

Editing: c. £1450 (could defo get it cheaper if you shop around and aren’t fussy on the style of feedback you get (and write a shorter novel…!) but I found a great editor I connected with and went with my gut)

Cover design: I’ve budgeted £150, but you can get pre-made covers for a total bargain. I purchased one I plan to use for a future YA novel for £30 and it’s gorgeous.

I also purchased Scrivener a while ago which has made the writing process a lot easier, and might consider using Vellum to format the book, so that could run to another £200 or so.

Total – c. £2000

Is it worth the investment?

The answer to which has to be that you’ll never know unless you do it. Like I said, this book and any future books will be my creative babies, and even if they never earn me a penny back, I’ll consider them totally worth the cost.

Having said that, I’m hoping that by splashing out on my first novel, any future books will benefit from my increased understanding of the process, of what a strong edit involves, and hopefully a good stash of pre-made covers that I’ll snap up as I see them.

If you want to quickly start making out of writing, then maybe this feels like too big a hit. If I sell my book for £2.99 then I’ll have to sell 1000 copies to make back my money. I don’t know 1000 people, and don’t have any money for marketing, so let’s just say I’m not pinning all my hopes on it.

I’m still dreaming big, though. Miracles happen every damn day.

And it’s worth saying, too, that I saved up a pot of money for this exact purpose, which makes the decision to spend it a bit easier.

In conclusion

Unless you are an editor yourself (and I suspect they still need outside editing) I think that you have to spend at least a bit of money on your manuscript if you want it to be the best it can be. You don’t have to. But having read the ones that chose not to, I think I’ll always feel better having done so.

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Writing, parenting, everything: it’s only ever about the journey

I find it so hard to exist in the moment sometimes.  Especially when I’m writing or sleep training or staring at my boring white walls; I want the end goal now, damn it!  I want the novel finished, edited, enrobed in a glossy cover and out there making money for me!  I want my children to be sleeping through the night and not waking every few hours for no reason!  I want to be able to embrace the ‘dark walls’ trend without having to go through the ‘living-room looks like a bomb-site’ bit!

Who was it who said that being alive is basically just dying a little bit more every day?  I don’t think that was my brain, though I frequently think similar thoughts.  But it’s true; wanting the end goal in any situation is a bit like saying ‘I want to just get it all over and done with and do the being dead bit now, please, because all this bit in the middle is just a bit tedious.  I’m impatient, you know?  I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything.’

It’s a really weird way to live.  We all do it, but it’s fundamentally flawed.

I’m starting work on a new story at the moment, about a woman who wants to relive her teenage years because she felt that her own were such a disappointment, but when she does get to experience teenage life again, she realises it’s a total mind-fuck.  (That wasn’t the word I was going to use, actually, but it slipped out.)  Anyway, I wrote the outline this morning and then wrote the first couple of scenes, and then thought, ‘Ugh.  This is going to take a long time.  I’m still working on the first novel and I technically finished that two years ago.  Why can’t it just be done already?’

Then I caught myself.  What?  Why would I want the thing that I most enjoy doing to be over?  I love the act of writing. I love coming up with ideas and pulling almost-tangible characters out of thin air to go and live these adventures.  I bloody love putting words in people’s mouths.  I’d put ’em in yours, if I saw you.  So why on earth am I wishing it was all over already?

Then I realised that what I actually wanted was the freedom to keep doing it.  Even whilst I was doing it, I wanted to be doing more of it.  The money fantasy…it’s great.  It’s unlikely, but it’s a lovely dream.  But even if I never made a penny I’d still write, I just love the idea that someone one day might pay so that it can be all I do.  But it’s strange to fantasise about doing the thing you are CURRENTLY DOING.

I saw something on Instagram a while ago that captured that feeling of having a beautiful moment, and whilst you are still experiencing that beautiful moment (like a kiss in the rain, or a breathtaking sunset), you are simultaneously experiencing nostalgia FOR THE SAME MOMENT.

I guess what I’m basically saying is we are all screwed up and strange, wanting what we’ve already got but ignoring the magic of it at the same time.

I woke up the other morning and for a second, felt really excited.  Like something amazing was going to happen.  Then I remembered it was just a random Tuesday, nothing exciting was going to happen.  But THEN (I know, it’s a rollercoaster of emotion in my head before 9am) I told myself: No!  Something amazing COULD happen!  Anything could happen!  This is a brand new day, which you are alive to witness, influence and create, and damnit you SHOULD be excited!  Every morning!’

This was meant to be a few words to say: let’s all stop being so focused on the end goal and just enjoy the little moments, shall we?  They don’t all have to be amazing.  Having my hair pulled by my 6 month old isn’t enriching for the soul.  Scraping Babybel wax out of the rug isn’t invigorating for my well-being.  But in every moment, anything could happen.  Everything could change.  It might not.  But it could.

That’s what makes great stories.  That’s what makes great lives.

Off to peel stickers off my laminate wood flooring now.  #livingmybestlife

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