Being an author and getting the hell on with it

You know what’s so entirely scary about being an author? It’s not finishing the book. It’s not even reading horrible reviews about the book or convincing yourself that you’re the worst thing to ever happen to the written word and you must immediately fake your own death and never write again.

It’s the lack of control.

Once your book is finished, you have multiple rounds of edits, where the control lies with you. It is yours to mold and shape as you will, with guidance from agents and editors and beta readers and whoever else you trust.

But the power lies with you.

Once it’s out there in the world? All bets are off, mate.

You are not likely to be in control of the packaging of your book. The cover, the title, the blurb. You may have some say, you may have a lot of opinions, or you may just want the experts to do their job whilst being the tiniest bit unsure…

And then rankings, what can you do about that? Sales? You can yell about it on social media and bully your friends and family. You can arrange events and readings and workshops and competitions and the truth is:

Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you would have had a bestseller anyways. Sometimes you would have had a wonderful book that was beloved by the fourteen people who read it.

I say this not to upset you. I am a control freak. I want to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. That’s why I write books in the first place! It’s a way of creating the world, bending it to my will and making the things I want to happen take place.

So when I can’t be in control of how my book does in the big wide world? It’s painful. And frustrating. And it means setting myself up to fail.

I tell you this not to stop the launch parties or events or facebook ads, or hours talking to friends on social media. I tell you this to set you free.

Control what you can, write the book you love, be proud of it. Do everything you can for it, boost it and support it…and then let it go. If you’re very lucky, it will have built it’s own momentum, grown its own wings whilst you’ve been working. And if it hasn’t, it will paddle along like the happiest little goose whilst you work on your next golden egg.

(I know, I’m mixing metaphors, but a bird is a bird is a bird).

In the mean time, in the spirit of complete honesty, I’m writing this blog post because I cannot control the fate of my little book. I may have significantly fewer promotional events this year due to a certain virus, and obviously that is the right thing to do (though I certainly have not accepted it graciously *stamps foot about cancelled party*) so, let’s support authors who are releasing their babies into this weird time, and especially debuts who will have had so much excitement for this time! Celebrate and support and do what you can, because whether your little bird flies or not: you wrote a book!

Best friends and galentines day

I am so into crazy supportive female friendships right now.

I write this whilst watching Booksmart for the first time ever (yeah, I’m always behind on everything, don’t worry about it) and I am OBSESSED with this friendship. The support! The love! The overwhelming need to tell your bestie just how freaking amazing she is!

Which reminds me of a really similar relationship, the one that launched a thousand Galentines: Lesley Knope and Anne Perkins. The ultimate girl duo, who are there to support each other, push each other, drive each other mad and know each other’s kinks and needs.

Why don’t we tell our friends we love them all the time? Where is that ‘drunk girl in the club bathroom’ energy on a Tuesday morning?

Which brings me very neatly onto my newest book: The Book of Us.

It’s a book about female friendship, but that complicated, all over the place kind of friendship. The kind where you’re in awe of the other person and love them, but you also are a teeny bit jealous of how they shine? The problem that you want to be around them all the time, because you have the most fun, but you’re also stuck being the person you’ve always been.

When you’re part of an awesome duo, and things have always worked, there’s no space to grow.

When I first started thinking about this book, I was intrigued by the kind of friendships where one is the leader and one is the follower. Sometimes that’s comforting, it lets you push and be pushed, helps you to grow. But they’re pretty impossible to break out of.

The two movies that I always think of when it comes to those relationships are Beaches and Me Without You.

How hard is it, to love someone but also know they’re not good for you sometimes?

Lauren and Cassidy in The Book of Us are complicated people, capable of real cruelty to each other. Because often you’re awful to the people you love the most. And when you’ve got an intense amount of love and loss and distance to cover to get back to that place you once were, it can be ugly.

So this Galentines Day, if there’s a friend you miss, or have drifted apart from, or want to reach out to, DO IT NOW!

Intro to Content marketing for authors

Content marketing is an easy win for authors, and in many ways a lot of us are doing it already without knowing why it’s called that or what it’s for!

I came to content marketing after being an author, but it’s only this year I really started to put together the value for authors.

Quite simply, content marketing is putting content out into the world that could help people find you, trust you, and eventually buy something from you. It’s about building your brand and becoming an authority. But it can just be about being recognisable.

Blog tours

If you’ve taken part in a blog tour, congrats, you’ve done content marketing! These are excellent because they get your name out there on multiple sites, promoting your book and increasing recognition. If every blogger on the tour links back to your website as well (called a backlink), that’s building your website authority, which makes Google more likely to recognise that when they search for your book title, or your name, they mean you.

Sharing your knowledge

Okay, so blog tours are great because your book title and image will be around all over the place and hopefully more people will see it because it’s being shared by multiple people.

An example of some promo images I’ve been putting out there…

But when it comes to people googling your name or book title, well, the work’s already been done. So how do you reach those people who don’t know who the hell you are, or how much they’d enjoy your book?

You blog!

By blogging about things your audience are interested in, you’re more likely to find them! So if you’ve written a novel about a haunted house, writing an article like ‘Top 10 best haunted houses to visit in the UK’ or ‘Top books about haunted houses’ is likely to find you the right audience! (Also, you’d be mad not to add your own book to the bottom of that list!)

There are usually two responses to this recommendation:

How do I know what to write?

How do I know anyone will care?

Simple!

It’s called keyword research and it’s part of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This is basically how Google figures out what to list at the top of a search page, and how they can tell it was what you were looking for.

A simple way to start is just by researching your topics on Google. Then look at the recommended/alternate questions, or what it autofills with:

Already you’ve now got ideas for multiple articles based on what people are searching for: Top 10 haunted house movies, a review of one of the films, lists or reviews of top attractions, sharing your own haunted story…

As for how to get people to find you? There are a few best practices:

  • Make your title match the search query (if people are searching for ‘haunted houses’ make sure that phrase is in the title)
  • Be clear about what you’re writing (if it’s a list, use bullet points or numbers)
  • Have a look at what other people have written on the subject, can you add anything else? Have you got a new approach, or more information?
  • Share it on social media!

Obviously, on a professional level there’s loads more you can do, and there’s lots of tech opportunities and you can deep dive into keyword research and competition to get to the top of the listings, but from an author level, all you want to do is raise your profile!

Write for others

This one’s a no brainer but try to get written features elsewhere, whether that print or online. It doesn’t have to be a newspaper or magazine (although that’s excellent) – just being featured on a fellow author’s blog, or a bloggers page, with a link back to your site is helpful.

You reach potential new audiences and hopefully get a link back to your site. Whilst link building isn’t as important as it once was, think of it the way you would about a library book that’s been taken out hundreds of times: you’d trust that book, wouldn’t you? If so many people have found it helpful, it’ll probably help you too.

That’s what backlinks do for your website – they build authority.

Build a brand

This is one of the parts authors find hard – to summarise who they are and what they’re about as an author. After all, just because you wrote about haunted houses, it doesn’t make you an expert, does it?

So find out what you are an expert in! Or more than that, share what you’re passionate about! And try to link it to your book if you can.

Maybe you did research for your last book and visited some interesting places? Maybe you write in a specific way, or in a special place? Maybe a dream or a strange interaction sent you on your writing journey? Find out what it is that makes your writing interesting, and write about that!

If you’re interested to learn more about how content marketing can benefit you as an author, and get more into the nitty gritty of metadata, html and Google’s search algorithm, come chat to me on Twitter (@almichael_) because I’m a nerd about all this stuff.

And if you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!

Writing and Travel: exploring new places in fiction

So many of us love books because they give us an opportunity to enter a new world. Whether that’s a magical, alternative world or a country you’ve always wanted to see, fiction can take us there. I’d argue, in a way that non-fiction doesn’t.

Seeing characters you know experience and explore somewhere gives us an emotional insight as well as a practical one.

One of my favourite books (if not my absolute favourite ever) is Shadows of the Wind by Carlos Luis Zafron. It’s set in historical Barcelona and it’s so incredibly magic, so that when you go to Barcelona, you can see it in all the mystery of the book.

Places tie us in fiction. Whether it’s a comment about Kings Cross station platforms, or the description of a seaside resort you visited once as a child, fiction can make us feel connected through recognition.

So when the time comes to write books, it makes sense to take inspiration from the places you’ve been to, and the places you dream of.

My upcoming book, The Book of Us, was a mixture of these places for me. It’s a story about two friends going on the trip they’d always meant to do after university, but had never managed because they had a falling out.

In one instance I took some wonderful memories I had of touring Australia and put my characters in a surf camp on the Gold Coast. I visited Surfaris about 10 years ago and it was magic. It was my first time travelling alone, having to make friends and spending my time saying ‘Yes’. I loved surfing and always wanted to go back to surf camp. So I sent my characters there instead.

Another place featuring in the book is Seville. I set the book there and wrote it knowing that I was due to go in February last year. I came back and made a few changes, based on what I’d learnt and added in a few images that I’d loved. I would never have guessed how much Flamenco was being performed in the streets, for example. So I added that in.

I definitely found that using real experience made it more real. Which was why I was a little concerned writing about the third place….Finland.

Mainly because I’ve never been. I’ve chased the Northern Lights (unsucessfully) in Iceland. I’ve been snowboarding in some lovely places. But I’ve always wanted to go to one of those beautiful glass igloos. So I spent time researching as if I was going on that holiday myself! I can’t say it was difficult!

What books and places do you love? Are there any places you discovered through fiction that you went on to visit?

Your writing goals for 2020

Well hello there! Happy new year!

Are you thinking this is the year you write that book? Maybe you’ve been doing that for a while already, but you’ve got new goals a’brewing?

Or maybe, like me, you’re not entirely sure what your writing goals are.

So many writing goals are based on things we have very little control over – it’s not up to you if you get published, or get an auction over offers, or get an agent. All you can do is THE WORK.

So, is 2020 the year you do the work?

Here’s some things you can do this year to make it a successful writing one:

  • Keep writing! Anything at all. Short stories, poems, lists, reviews, morning pages, drunken scrawled notes on your phone app. Whatever it is, don’t stop writing!
  • Stop comparing yourself – I know, I know. It’s hard. We all say it, none of us do it. There’s bee a lot of looking back at the last decade instead of just the last year and there are so many authors who have achieved loads! Think of it as a long game! Whether you win this year, or reach those goals in 5 or 10 year’s time – you’re still going to be writing, right? So take the wins where you find them and keep going.
  • Enjoy it! If you’re not enjoying that form of being creative, then find something else!
  • Take a risk! Whether that’s writing something outside of your comfort zone or ordinary genre, submitting to an agent or publisher, joining a writing group, making new friends…who knows where it could lead?!
  • Be polite! The writing and publishing industry is small. If you get rejected, take it with a touch of class, thank them for their time and take whatever feedback forward. Onwards and up!
  • Read! I know well enough that if you’re doubting your writing ability, reading some excellent books can really make you feel particularly rubbish. BUT, being a reader is going to make you a better writer. Never met a great writer who wasn’t a passionate reader. The more you read, the more you naturally understand story, rhythm, character and what your audience wants.

Whatever your writing goals in 2020, I wish you quiet time, inspiration, support from the people who matter and excitement at those voices in your head. And for the love of all things holy, BACK UP YOUR WORK.

Happy writing!

Andi

What is The Book of Us?

I haven’t been quiet about revealing my new book. After almost a decade spent writing novels, this is the one I’m so incredibly excited about. I’ve spent the last two years working on it, and I remember the exact moment the idea struck.

I was hoovering my flat, (shocking in itself) thinking about these two best friends who had fallen out, and how they’d send letters back and forth to each other as they tried to rebuild their friendship.

Of course, as is the way of these things, that’s not what this book looks like at all any more. But it is about female friendship and trying to rebuild something once it’s been broken, and the years have passed.

It’s so easy to take those youthful friendships for granted, cemented by routine and consistency and knowing each others’ families and histories. It becomes harder to make friends as you get older, to truly commit to people and reveal who you really are. To have the same types of friendships you had when you were younger.

So what happens when that person you loved most in the world betrays you? What if you chose the wrong side? What if you spend ten years holding a grudge but they might not be around much longer to bear it?

The Book of Us is about two friends with their complicated, loving (and sometimes toxic) friendship. How it fell apart and how they’re trying to rebuild it before time runs out. It was inspired by movies like Me Without You and Beaches, where the relationship between two friends is more important than romance. Where sometimes jealousy and love and pride can form into something painful, but you can’t quite let go.

Sometimes you need to lose your friends to grow up, but sometimes you need to find them again to remember who you were.

It’s currently available on netgalley, and the story starts just after Christmas, so it might be the right time to get into it! Let me know if you’re reading with the #thebookofus on socials!

The responsibility of the author

In my class on Writing Romantic Comedy last week, we discussed recognisable tropes, and when they were comforting and when they veered into stereotype.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a trope. Give me a ‘hate-to-love’ romantic pairing, forced to share a room with only one bed in the middle of a storm in December – I will read the heck out of that.

But what about the romantic tropes that haven’t aged well? How do we walk the line between what romance is, calling out bad behaviour and not writing ‘woke’ characters just for the sake of it?

I guess it’s about perspective.

I’ll give you two examples:

There’s this guy who is head over heels for this girl, but she doesn’t know he exists. He goes back to the coffee shop she works at a couple of times a week, just hoping to get the chance to talk to her, and even if he doesn’t, just to see her smile and laugh with her colleagues makes his day feel a little brighter. He teases her, and she always bites back with something sarcastic, he takes it as a good sign. She might not realise he’s been trying to ask her out for the last three months, but he’s hoping eventually she’ll realise.

*

There’s this guy who is head over heels for this girl, but she makes him feel like he doesn’t exist. He goes back to the coffee shop where she works every day, he’s memorised the times she starts and ends her shift, eager to get to talk to her. He waits until she’s finished work and locking up, because he wants to talk to her alone, without any of her stupid colleagues who always stop him from talking to her, or insist on taking his orders instead. She flirts with him, she smiles and nods when he makes jokes, so she must be interested. She’s said no every time he’s asked her out, but he’s just not asking the right way, clearly. When he does, he’s sure she’ll say yes.

There’s a distinct difference there, right? At least, I hope so! The first one is how I met my soon-to-be husband. The second is the start of some creepy stalker story.

The difference? Misreading signals and ignoring the word ‘no’.

With so much focus on consent and power, along with a big focus in fiction right now on emotionally abusive relationships (See: Our Stop, The Flatshare, How Do You Like Me Now?) it’s important to remember to represent a good kind of love (if that’s what your story is about). If your romance is unhealthy, it’s going to be hard to get behind. Just because your leading man is hot, doesn’t mean he’s not a creeper.

A good way to check this is to see if the same dialogue and actions could be carried out by someone you didn’t consider an attractive male lead – does it still seem dominant and appealing, or does it seem forward and creepy?

There are so many of these actions in older books, films and TV that just don’t hold up now – look at so many of John Hughes movies. Getting a girl drunk and swapping her for a different girl with some guy. Making a deal in return for a girl’s underwear. Inappropriate touching without consent.

There’s so much creepy stuff that we just kind of accepted as part of the story. Luckily, I’d say we have a much higher level of expectation for what’s acceptable in life as well as on screen, but that means your story has to keep up.

Is your male lead strong and attractive, or is he bullying and obsessive? Is he rude and teasing, or is he negging? Is your female lead giving into her own desire, or is she being manipulated?

Consider whether the kind of relationship you’re giving your main characters is one you’d want your kids to be in. If it seems like an epic romance for your character, but if your daughter bought that dude home you’d kick him five ways to Sunday, it’s not woke enough.

What do you think, do writers have a responsibility to write good romance? Are there any examples of good or bad romantic relationships that have made you pause?