In November, my UK publisher and I broke up. Which explains the delay in the publication of Telegram Home. All three books are now with a new publisher. Fifteen Postcards will be rereleased in May, The Last Letter in June, and then Telegram Home in July.Read More
New Zealand’s First Crime Writing Festival - Rotorua Noir
The last weekend of January 2019 saw dozens of crime writers descend upon Rotorua for New Zealand’s first crime writing festival.
The brain child of Craig Sisterson and Grant Nicol, the festival, coined RotoruaNoir, not only attracted authors from around New Zealand, but from around the world. Extraordinary authors such as Alex Gray from Scotland, Lilja Sigurðardóttir from Iceland, and Kati Hiekkapelto from Finland attended, together with Michael Robotham from Australia and New Zealand’s favourite crime writer, Paul Cleave.
RotoruaNoir follows on from the successful Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, and NewcastleNoir. And it didn’t disappoint.
Sold out three months before the event, the programme was filled with panels covering all aspects of the crime genre - small town settings, overseas influences, historical accuracy, police procedurals, genre blending, debut authors, and the launch of a new thriller by Josh Pomare.
I was invited to be part of the Genre Blenders panel, together with Tina Shaw, Jude Knight, and our panel convener Darise Bennington. Sadly Brynn Kelly couldn’t join us due to ill health. They say preparation is the key to success, and Darise had us all on a Skype call before the event discussing how we wanted the panel to go, some of the questions she should ask and to talk over key points of our panel discussion. I cannot stress how valuable that Skype session was. If you are ever invited to convene a panel, for anything, take the time to prep your panel. It makes a world of difference!
The event was utterly amazing, and invaluable. The amount of work that must have gone on behind the scenes to make it happen must be unfathomable. Full credit to Craig and Grant for pulling off an extraordinary event.
Meeting some of my favourite authors, both local and overseas, was a highlight. Reconnecting with old friends was fabulous. And making new friendships the biggest takeaway of all.
When Craig and Grant have recovered from the 2019 Rotorua Noir festival, and draft up the next one, buy your tickets straight away, as this is one writing festival you won’t want to miss.
It seems crazy that another year is almost over.
I’ve now been a published author for three and a half years. With four books under my belt, and another two almost ready for publication in the new year, it feels a whole lot longer!
This year I was asked to join the organising committee for the NZ Book Festival, which came with its own challenges and excitement. The Festival turned out to be my best one yet, sales wise. Due to another exhibitor pulling out at the last minute, I had to lengthen my stand to fill their space in addition to mine. I’m pretty sure that worked in my favour. I’m also a firm believer in engaging with the public when they walk through the door. That might have helped too.
The week before the NZ Book Festival, the NZ Herald ran a great article about the Festival and the independent author scene in New Zealand.
And I didn’t just appear in the NZ Herald this year. The New Zealand Society of Authors interviewed me about being more nimble, as an independent author, for this magazine. The article was a wonderful piece detailing the ability of independent authors to take control of their careers, and finances.
After the Christmas break, and before school goes back in February, I’m also attending New Zealand’s first crime writing festival - Rotorua Noir. And I was honoured to be asked to sit on a panel at the festival - Genre Blenders. So I’ll be spending some of my beach time thinking about that panel and the extraordinary authors I’m appearing with. What an honour!
So although 2018 has been hectic, with the release of Doctor Perry, which hit #1 in the Horror Charts overseas; and appearing as a panellist at Murder In The Library; and helping with the arrangements for the NZ Book Festival; and still being a mother and a wife, and a volunteer at school, it doesn’t look like things are going to slow down in the new year!
Adding to my plate this year, was the excitement of helping my husband launch his first non fiction book - 81 Lessons From The Sky. We quickly followed that with 101 Lessons From The Sky, and just last week, we launched 51 Lessons From The Sky. So he now has three books out, helping to ensure pilots make it home to their loved ones. I’m so proud to be able to help him launch these incredibly valuable resources.
So now I really just want to say, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to you all.
Take care. Drive safely. Exercise. Eat well. Read lots.
Love Kirsten xxx
For most authors, BookBub is considered the pinnacle of promotion. Both independent authors and traditional publishers apply for BookBub's coveted promotion spots, and most authors get knocked back, many, many times. I've heard of some authors being knocked back over sixty times!
Back in October 2017 Painted was accepted by BookBub for an international deal, one which excluded the United States. That was when Painted reached #2 in both the UK and Canadian horror charts, and #1 in the Australian horror charts. What a wild ride that week was. You'll all remember the screenshot showing Stephen King in #1 and me at #2, and then Stephen King at #3, #4, #5 and #6! In case you've forgotten, here's a handy screenshot I took...
And now Painted has been accepted for a worldwide Bookbub promotion, today - 9th June 2018. In preparation, Painted has been discounted to 99c/99p across all digital platforms. So now I'm the author constantly pressing the refresh button on my MacBook Air as I wait for the promotion to start. Refreshing the BookReport screen, hoping to see the sales sky rocketing... an author can dream right?!
What will be more interesting this time round, is to see if there is a flow on effect on the sales, and page reads, of Doctor Perry. Doctor Perry is currently enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, which means you can read it for free if you are enrolled in Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, and I get paid for the pages you read. It's a surreal feeling seeing the page reads climbing for Doctor Perry, knowing that somewhere in the world people are, in real time, reading my words. Will the Bookbub promotion for Painted have an impact on the sales/page reads of Doctor Perry? That's my hope! Conventional wisdom would suggest that if a reader liked the author's horror novel, they would probably go on to read another horror novel by the same author. Fingers crossed. I'll let you know if that's true!
So watch this space. I'll report back after the next week, to tell you the results!
You can of course follow me over on BookBub in order to receive the notifications for when any of my books are on sale, or when a new release is launched.
Doctor Perry may have prescribed champagne for the ebook launch, but Bloody Mary's might be better for the official launch in June!
Doctor Perry is finally live and available on Amazon. I pulled him kicking and screaming from the deepest parts of the Amazonian rainforest, and thrust him into a low cost retirement home in the heart of Florida, and from there he's been a very busy boy...
A book is never a solitary endeavour. To start with it is, but then you involve beta readers, or ring someone for advice - like your friendly paramedic or consulting doctor. You muse aloud about the 'what if's' and the 'what about's' whilst walking the children to school... our conversations have at times been quite entertaining! Then there's the editor who fires back four pages of notes, and that was just for the last seven chapters, and the waking up in the middle of the night to jot down key plot ideas without turning on the lights. I might one day post a picture of some of those scribbles! And the online friends who read the first ten or so chapters and were quite clear in what needed to be amended.
I may have written all 77,000 words of Doctor Perry on my own, but I couldn't have done it without the help of so many people, both directly and indirectly.
Now Doctor Perry is in your hands, to read and to review. After all, reviews (as well as coffee) are the lifeblood of authors. A short snappy review on Amazon and/or Goodreads is essential to visibility.
Now here's something a little bit special, if you work in the medical industry - as a doctor or a nurse or a hospital orderly or a carer or similar, post a photo on my Facebook page or via Twitter, showing you at work (remembering important privacy issues first though), and I'll send you a free ebook version of Doctor Perry to read.
Thanks everyone for your support.
Happy reading (and reviewing)
My second horror novel, Doctor Perry - a medical thriller, is now available for preorder on Amazon.
It's taken a few months longer than I had initially planned, but good things take time! And Doctor Perry will be open for appointments on the 26th April, so preorder your copy HERE.
And because I know some of you prefer your books via Kobo, or iBooks, Doctor Perry will be available on those other platforms later this year. A paperback version will be available in May 2018.
Thanks everyone for your patience while I piece together this latest novel. You'd think it would get easier, but no, it still seems to take me bang on eight months to get a novel done!
No rest for the wicked, it's back to my keyboard to work on Telegram Home - the final instalment in the Old Curiosity Shop series. Sarah Lester awaits her fate...
I've been to Italy twice now, once on a school trip in 1992, where I was mostly interested in eating gelato and eyeing up the good looking Italian boys, and then again last December, where I finally appreciated the abundance of art and culture which Italy is famous for. And I'm more than happy to go a third time, should the need arise.
After Painted was published in June this year, I could never have anticipated that of all the Amazon platforms, my horror novel would take off in Italy. Don't get me wrong, it has done well in the other Amazon markets, but the success in Italy has taken us by surprise.
The French translation rights for Painted have been negotiated, and I'm hopeful that the French version will be available in time for Christmas this year. Now it looks like we need an Italian translation. That's something we'll be working on in the coming weeks.
Launching a standalone book is so different to launching a series. When Fifteen Postcards and The Last Letter were published, I knew I was writing a series and that I could tempt people to follow me to hear about the next instalment. But what about writing standalone novels? How do you get people coming back for more? How do you keep the momentum going?
As a starter, we decided we could increase my reach by actively targeting smaller markets, and having Painted translated into different languages will achieve that. Greater reach equals more sales, which results in more reviews, which results in more sales. Hopefully.
Secondly, write a good book to start with and hope that people want to read the next one. That worked for Stephen King, and still does. There are horror writers out there who don't write series and they seem to manage it just fine.
And finally, write another book. Which I'm doing. Slowly. I'm 15,277 words into book #4 so far - another horror. Although I also have 60,000 words of The Ruination of Art sitting on my hard drive waiting for me to return to my Florentine based novel. That needs about another 60,000 words written. Probably now would be a good time to finish that one! I must have subconsciously known Italy was going to be good for me! I started The Ruination of Art after I finished writing The Last Letter, so it's been percolating for a while now.
The goal was to publish one book a year. We've decided to contract that slightly, and I'll aim for one book every ten months. With a husband, two children, and a cat who thinks that they are a puppy, ten months is a comfortable time frame, although I did manage to write Painted in the space of eight months, So maybe it'll be one book every eight months. We'll see. Should I be required to travel to Italy to run a promotional book tour for Painted, I'm sure my writing would speed up. It's amazing how many words I could do sitting at the window of a Tuscan farmhouse, sipping my chianti, admiring the landscape as I ponder how my next novel may end...
I've found a small villa for sale. It might be a little out of my price range this year, but next year, maybe, so I'd better get back to my writing...
Yes, I can now shout it from the rooftops!
PAINTED has been published!
Available at all online retailers.
It is entirely true when I say that PAINTED wouldn't be the book it is without a barrow full of help from some amazing friends and family, and from strangers. From people who chose to join the Launch Team over on Facebook, and acted as Beta readers and ARC readers. They really are amazing people. Thank you.
I tried following all the launch plans littering the internet. Launch plans written by authors and experts with a lot more experience than I have. And here are my key learning points:
- You need a plan. You cannot wing a proper launch.
- You need to write that plan down. Do not rely on remembering everything. You will forget something. Trust me.
- You may have only just started your Man Booker Prize winning novel, but start prepping your launch now. Don't laugh, this bit is true. Start nurturing the bloggers, the media contacts, your launch team, now. Massage them, wine and dine them, tempt them with tantalising snippets from your work. You can't turn up begging on their doorstep three days before the launch and hope for some media. That's not the way it works.
- Pay for help. "Oh but I've got no money." Yes well, that may be true. But put some aside for all the things you're going to need - a great cover, an editor, formatting software, Amazon advertising, inclusion in catalogues, membership to various society groups - Alliance of Independent Authors, Society of Authors, Society of Horror Authors etc etc.
- Are you still following that plan? Step-by-step?
- Newsletter swaps - these need to be organised weeks in advance. Start working on those now. Yes, even if you don't have a firm date for your launch. Make contact. Write those contacts down in a master list somewhere. Same goes for blog sites, review sites. You cannot wing this part. Be like the Avon Lady, and know the best doors to knock on.
- If you are doing paperbacks, get them into your hands before the launch. It makes marketing so much easier if you can take photos of those bound beauties. It also makes it easier to tempt people to review your book by offering them copies. Media sites like to give away copies if they're going to put in the effort to interview you. This is a marketing cost. Be prepared to shoulder this cost.
- Don't try to do everything, all at once. You need to space out your energies, or you will burn yourself out. Trust me.
- Your launch team is your best asset. Don't ask them to do too much. Reward them. And be grateful for the effort they put in on your behalf. They didn't have to do it. Don't underestimate how important they are to your success.
- And as Rachel Hunter said, "it won't happen overnight, but it will happen".
You can buy PAINTED from all online retailers now
CLICK ON THE BOOK COVER BELOW
The feeling of happiness after you've finished writing a book!
Today I typed the words "The End". They were words number 77,070 and 77,071 respectively. And whilst those words are there, at the end of my manuscript, this is not the end of the road.
I will toast the completion of PAINTED, with a glass of Pinot Noir, and the smug satisfaction that it all came together nicely in the end, over seven months. Before 11.30pm last night, I had no idea how it was going to end, not properly. I'd mulled over some ideas in the shower, like always. Some ideas had come half formed as I drifted off to sleep. Walking round Cornwall Park listening to podcasts delivered others. But the end, the last few paragraphs, were as elusive as the winning lottery numbers.
But at 11.30pm last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, with my rescue cat sleeping awkwardly on my shoulder (I know, she shouldn't be on the bed, but she doesn't know that), the ending came to me as clear as my newly installed double glazing. I turfed the cat off, turned on the lights, and wrote a page of notes. Today, the paragraphs appeared on my laptop as though someone else were writing them.
And so now I'm done. But not really. Not by a long shot.
Today the final chapters were emailed off to Beta Reader #1 - an English friend living in Australia. Three of the earlier chapters were emailed off to Beta Reader #2 - my American friend residing in Washington D.C. Between them, they make sure I don't fill the book with adverbs or colloquialisms only Kiwi's understand.
Also, the first 5,000 words were sent off to a proof reader, with a request for her to quote on proofreading the whole 77,071 words.
Tomorrow I will read PAINTED through, from start to finish, to pick up any inconsistencies, or loose ends.
And then there's the formatting to do, the book to load, and the launch to prepare for.
I think I'm going to need more than one glass of wine.
So, if you would like to be part of the launch team, please message me, and we'll arrange some arc copies to come out to you for review, and as a thank you for your assistance in spreading the word. Looking forward to hearing from you and thanks for all your support so far. x
Last week Fifteen Postcards hit #2 on Amazon. Not just in one category, but in two.
Before that happened, I woke up to Fifteen Postcards being #36. And boy was I happy! Next time I looked it was #10. Then, when I was at the supermarket, it hit #4. By the next morning, it had hit #2.
For someone who was happy with her book bubbling consistently around 300, what did that do to me?
As a starter, I broke out the champagne. Then we broke out the really, really good wine. The wine we'd been cellaring for years. The sort of wine you want to drink before you die, and before it goes off, but the occasion normally never presents itself.
We know someone who died before they could drink all the good wine in their cellar, so we invited friends over, and celebrated the hell out of that #2 ranking!
How did I get there - to the dizzying heights of #2? To start with I was perplexed, but then a number of ducks came home to roost. My publisher had changed my Amazon categories. They'd also asked me to give some love to my blurb. Remember, Fifteen Postcards was published in May 2015, and it hasn't had much love since then. So the blurb was updated, and I updated all the Amazon Author Central platforms, and there are many. Why Amazon doesn't extrapolate that out automatically is a mystery to me.
But my publisher did one other thing. They promoted me to readers of Jodi Taylor's books.
Jodi is with the same publisher as I am, Accent Press in the United Kingdom. I haven't met Jodie yet, but I know her fans are incredibly loyal, and it was through their love and support, that my books almost hit #1. And what a ride. And I am grateful. If it wasn't for Jodi's incredible writing, and her loyal fans, I wouldn't have hit the highs I hit. Sure, changing the categories, and giving my blurb some love helped, but Jodi helped more.
So, if your books are languishing, have you thought about your relationships with other authors? Maybe not someone with the clout of Jodi Taylor, but maybe link up with someone else, cross pollinate, share the love, and the workload, and that may just be the key.
Be Atlas and shoulder the load. Go out to bat for one of your author friends. Help each other.
And thank you Jodi, and Accent Press. Last week was a wild ride. xxx
Or, not all reviews are created equally...
Reviews are the lifeblood of an author. We clamour for them. We beg for them. Amazon tells us we need them. Bookstores ask for them. Magazines print them. Newspapers rank them. Bloggers give them, sometimes begrudgingly, and hopefully honestly.
But not all reviews are created equally. And just having Amazon reviews is not enough for some bookstores or libraries to agree to stock your baby.
Authors tend to pounce upon any review as mana from heaven. The crumbs the reading Hansel's and Gretel's of the world have left us. Stumbling across a fresh review on Amazon sends an author's endorphins through the roof.
Goodreads, another treasure trove of reviews and ratings. Even ratings are gratefully gathered around an author, lovingly coveted and caressed.
Of course the Everest of reviews are by those illustrious literary journals which pepper the world. Or decades old newspapers, whose opinion's are eagerly read by their adoring subscribers and discussed over long meals and expensive bottles of pinot noir. Those reviews are considered the gold class of reviews.
Reviews in women's magazines. Sniffed at by highbrow literary journals, but read religiously every week by the biggest regular consumers of books, women. I don't sniff at those reviews. They are gold.
Reviews by celebrities. Even Kim Kardashian has started asking for book recommendations via her Instagram feed. Reece Witherspoon has a book club. Emma Watson is about as much of book vigilante as you'd expect from her decade of playing bookwork Hermione. She has her own book club too. Oprah started it all. The Richard and Judy Book Club. I'd donate a kidney to be reviewed or profiled by any of these bookish celebrities.
But some of the best reviews, the most considerate and considered, are by the associations and societies within which we operate. The various organisations who exist to support authors writing within their particular genre - Romance; Historical; Horror; Crime; Thriller etc. Reviews which are done by reviewers who understand the genre you are writing in. From the genre you are trying to market to the world. They get you. They understand you. They are gatekeepers though. They want the genre to be full of great works worthy of the title "Romance" or "Historical" or even "Erotica"...
The Historical Novels Society is one such gatekeeper. And in their February issue, Issue #79, they published a review of 'Fifteen Postcards'. You can imagine my response. I opened the link hesitantly...heart in my mouth, palms sweating...and here's the review:
"Kirsten McKenzie has written a very unusual novel: part time travel, part historical, and part antique review. Sarah’s adventures in other times and other continents, linked together by the postcards and the antiques, are well researched and entertainingly written. The twists and turns are a little frenetic, and the reader can sometimes feel as if they are running to keep up. At times the plot is somewhat convoluted and a little unbelievable, but Sarah is an engaging heroine, and the need to know what happens next overrides these minor inconsistencies.
OVER THE MOON. Thank you Historical Novels Society. And yes, I've since asked them if they would be interested in reviewing The Last Letter. I now await patiently for them to respond. They don't always say yes to reviews.
So far Fifteen Postcards has done pretty well on the number of Amazon reviews front. Somewhat annoyingly, they don't collate all reviews across all platforms, so I have to traipse around the various country sites checking for new ones... Here's a snapshot:
So next time you read a book, take a moment to write a review. Just a few words, no spoilers. I'll give you a quick guide on what you could say:
- Did you like it? YES/NO
- What did you like most about it? PLOT/RESEARCH/CHARACTERS/THE END
- Who else would enjoy it? HISTORY BUFFS/SPORTY TYPES/NEW MUMS
- Do you want to read a sequel? YES PLEASE/THANK GOD IT ENDED
- Was there anything the author could improve on? EDITING/LENGTH/KILL MORE PEOPLE
- Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
Your taxi drivers are very polite.
Your streets are bustling.
You love books.
Thanks for having me.
Kirsten McKenzie, Author
On the 18th February, I flew down to Wellington for the inaugural Kiwi Book Feast with six other New Zealand authors. The concept being that sharing the costs involved with a launch, and sharing the publicity, and the work load, would make all the more impact. And it did.
Having seven diverse authors all marketing the Kiwi Book Feast to their own networks was far more effective that slathering the city with posters and tweeting into the ether...
For an inaugural event, it was a learning curve, deciding on the run sheet, the catering, the venue, the date, the time, the authors, the layout. A hundred different decisions. For an event we hope to repeat around the country - with future books, some new authors possibly, who knows, it's a fluid thing.
Potentially a library or a bookstore may have been a better location, although holding it in a bar ensured fantastic food, a flow of beverages, and a dedicated sound guy, and a stage. So there were plenty of pluses!
We had a lovely bookish Wellington crowd, and plenty of Twitter personalities turned up to support us, which was fabulous. And I was blessed by two friends flying down from Auckland to surprise me. I should have worn waterproof mascara...
We were also all very grateful to the support given to us by the New Zealand Book Council. They've just launched their beautiful new website. You should go and have a look at it - NZ Book Council Website
Ten things you need to know for a book launch, anywhere in the world:
Sensible shoes. I sat down once, for about 10 minutes, over the four hours of the event.
Cash - have a float. $10 notes, $5 notes. Just enough to provide change if everyone only pays with $20 notes.
Have a display which is sympathetic with the content of your books. Historical? Have a couple of vintage props. Western themed? Horsey type props. Science Fiction? Not sure where you'd get your hands on some space junk, but maybe cobble something together!
Extension cord... I have battery powered lights which I tuck in the side of my suitcases, but I did note that one of our authors came prepared with a multi plug and an extension cord. Pack it.
Mailing List Sign Up Sheet. I've put that in bold, because I didn't have one. I must pack this into my book display suit case. That's this weeks job. Pack some pens too. Practice signing your book.
Price List - People don't like to ask the price of your books. They like to see clear signage showing the price of one book, two books, or the complete set. Make it easy for them.
Books. Self explanatory. But also book type things that can be slipped into your books, or into handbags. Nothing bulky. A bookmark, a postcard, all with your book and contact information printed on them.
Don't sit behind your table. I know lots of people feel more comfortable doing this, but I'm more a stand to the side, or stand to the side in front of the display. Its easier to engage. Easier to pass the book to a prospective customer. And on the topic of your table. Buy a table cloth. If you can't afford a table cloth, use your top sheet and iron it first.
Dress to impress: You're trying to portray that you are a professional, that you're serious about your writing. You don't have to go all Annie Hall, but maybe think beyond your usual old jeans and t-shirt. At the first two NZ Book Festivals I went with a long skirt and a velvet jacket. At the Kiwi Book Feast I wore smart jeans and a white cotton shirt, with a brooch. I felt smart and comfortable. The brooch was a nod towards the vintage theme of my books. Something to think about.
Smile. Smile and engage. Ask the people at your table about the weather outside. Ask if it's improved, or if the rain has finally arrived. Weather is a very safe topic. It's an easy opener. Even if you're shy you can say "Has it stopped raining today?" or "Isn't it a lovely day for being out and about". Give it a go. Relax and have confidence in your work. That'll flow through to your own personal confidence. Good luck.
NEVER EVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER...
ALWAYS JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER...
IT'S WHATS BETWEEN THE COVER WHICH COUNTS...
With the publication date of my second book, 'The Last Letter', looming, now comes the trickiest part of publishing. The cover design.
Writing the book was easy. Editing the book was fairly easy. Choosing a cover for the book? Not at all easy.
So far, we are up to draft #3, and I'm hopeful draft #4 will be the final version.
Before signing a contract with Accent Press, I'd paid for a cover design through the website Design Crowd. To this day, I still love their version.
Accent Press advised that this image wouldn't work when its shrunk down to Amazon icon size. So, after signing my first publishing contract with them, they proposed this cover:
After some discussion, revolving around a cover with less blood, we agreed on the fantastic cover which now appears in your bookcases.
And now we move onto the process of choosing a cover for my second book, 'The Last Letter'.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the story takes you back to New Zealand, India and England. With a splash of Roman antiquities, Maori carvings, and a hint of Spitfire pilots in WWII.
My publisher is based overseas, so understandably their knowledge of the appropriate use of Maori imagery wasn't as up with the play as mine. Especially when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of stock images of Maori carvings and taonga (treasure) available on the Internet. And while I did adore the first cover they designed, after taking advice from two trusted Maori colleagues, I had to veto the use of the Maori carving, which in essence, is the depiction of someone's ancestor, a high ranking chieftain by the looks of it.
So then we toyed around with the idea of a greenstone necklace, a Roman statue, pocket watches. I've now realised that pocket watches are synonymous with time slip novels, and adorn almost every cover out there. The designers at Accent Press then came up with an image of a hei tiki (tiki), which I loved.
After much discussion on Facebook and Twitter, it was roundly agreed that the balance of the two images was out. Do you agree?
So it was sent back to the designer, who tweaked the colour balance, removed an errant watermark off the tiki's hand, and deleted a random full stop at the end of the tagline. This was the version that came back:
Almost there. Almost, but not quite.
I compared a printout of the draft cover, with the cover of 'Fifteen Postcards', and was struck with the fact that my author name wasn't in the same position. Which, to me, looked peculiar. What do you think? Is this just my OCD, or do you agree that the author name needs to be in the same place on both books, and on the future third book in the series? So it was sent back for more tweaking!
My publisher is in the business of selling books, and they know which covers work, and which covers don't. I'm hoping to have the finalised cover back this coming week, ready for 'The Last Letter' to be released on the 1st of November, my birthday...
So there you have it. Choosing a cover is by far the hardest part of this whole process. So if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to writing another book in the meantime!
On the 15th March this year, I opened my email and found this:
Is there anything more exciting than the iconic image of the penguin from Penguin Random House? Well yes, a publishing contract with them would be more exciting, but I digress!
Now I'm not being greedy, I have a publisher, Accent Press, a fine publisher based in the United Kingdom, who I have just signed a second publishing contract with, but when you've grown up reading Penguin books, that little logo brings back so many happy memories.
I had written a short poem celebrating my beautiful mother, and Penguin had selected it for inclusion in their Mother's Day anthology, 'Thanks Mum', and I was so proud, and I couldn't tell anyone about it!
I'm not known for my secret keeping ability, I'd make an appalling spy, but I didn't want to tell anyone as I wanted to give Mum a copy of the anthology for Mother's Day, so this was a secret I kept. And it ate away at me. I told my husband, swearing him to secrecy. I told my hairdresser, and swore him to secrecy too. And that's it!
Finally Mother's Day brunch rolled around, and I presented Mum with her own copy. There were tears. So now I can share it all with you. And now I can also legitimately say that I have been published by Penguin...although they didn't use my surname...
THE SEQUEL TO FIFTEEN POSTCARDS IS COMING.
In late May I signed my second publishing contract with Accent Press, a publisher in the United Kingdom. The contract was for the sequel to Fifteen Postcards, titled The Last Letter. And now the work begins...
Now my manuscript is in the very capable hands of my editor, David Powell, and he'll massage it into something far better than what I sent him.
When I say he'll massage it, he'll make a few thousand notations down the sides of the pages, correcting grammatical errors, and querying a myriad of issues he'll no doubt discover in the 131,000 words I wrote.
Then we'll spend several weeks sending the document backwards and forwards across the Tasman Sea, via email, until we are both happy, and then the final product gets sent to the UK for my publisher to typeset, and massage into book form.
In the meantime, I'll also be sent a draft of the cover for approval, or comment. That may go back and forwards a couple of times. I suggested some concepts this time, and now I wait to see if those meet with favour on the other side of the world.
It's a scary thing putting your creative efforts into the hands of others, who then have the power, and the signed contract, to do with as they please! But this is the way of authors who have chosen not to self publish. There are pros and cons with both sides of the coin. I've chosen this side.
It's not a free ride, either way. Even authors with one of the big five publishers have to do their fair share of the marketing. Blog posts, guest posts, book signings, media articles, radio interviews, library visits, book club attendances, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, yes, even Google+. Don't forget LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram. I've drawn the line at Snapchat - there is only so much time in the day, and my family would like me to speak to them at times.
There's all this, and...you still need to write the next one!
Today I emailed off the first draft of my second book, The Last Letter, to my editor.
When I say I emailed off my first draft of The Last Letter, I actually mean I emailed a version of my manuscript where parts of it are version eight, other parts are version six. Some chapters, mainly the later ones, are versions three or four. Some sentences, nay, whole paragraphs, have gone through so many edits, they bear no resemblance to the very first draft I wrote.
So when I say I've emailed off my first draft of The Last Letter to my editor, what I really mean is that I emailed off the first version of my manuscript that someone other than myself will read. A scary thought. Exciting, and terrifying too.
About twenty minutes after I hit the send button, I started thinking about all the things I could have done to improve that first draft. What about the Raja? Will how I've left things at the Old Curiosity Shop make the readers happy? Thoughts tumbled over and over in my mind, querying my attention to detail, my historical accuracy. Did I have enough tantalising tidbits about antiques? Have I done justice to India? To New Zealand? To my characters and their hopes and dreams?
But, in the immortal words of Queen Elsa (from the Disney juggernaut Frozen), I have to let it go. It's out there now. My editor will tell me, in his gentle manner, whether what I've written is good enough, or whether I need to brood over it for a period of time before I send it back to him. And somewhere along the line we'll go through the manuscript page by page, line by line, where the annotated word document flies through the internet at various speeds, correcting comma's, tenses, removing Americanisms (which tend to creep in), and various other issues.
And so I wait. And in the time it will take my editor to read my 131,000 word manuscript I'll attend to my social media platforms, which I have left forgotten in the corner while I tried to fill plot holes and create characters who pushed their way off the page.
Thanks for your patience everyone. This will now very much be a case of watch this space!
On the 17th July 2014 I received my first rejection letter. It was from a small publisher in Scotland. I was surprised I wasn’t more upset, which may have been because even as I submitted my unsolicited manuscript, I was aware there were some factors against me being published by that firm. One being that I’m not Scottish, despite my surname. Two, I don’t reside in Scotland, or even near Scotland, not even in the same hemisphere. I presume publishers like their author’s to live nearby. Three, and perhaps the key point here, it was an unsolicited manuscript.
Yes I had researched which publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts, and the type of books they normally published before I picked them to send my manuscript to. The firm that rejected me only publishes a tiny number of books per year, and I don’t really blame them for not wanting to take a risk with a new author, who has written a cross between the Antique’s Roadshow meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, with a hint of The Far Pavilions, all wrapped up as a love story!
The rejection lead me to research famous authors who had been rejected before going on to literary success, and I found this amazing site:http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/
My all time favourite movie is Gone With The Wind. The fated love story between Rhett and Scarlett, and the inordinate amount of time she wastes on Ashley, tore me apart. I still want to give Scarlett a good slap for her stupidity. But I never knew that Margaret Mitchell was rejected by 38 publishers before she found one to publish Gone With The Wind, which went on to sell over 30 million copies.
What I am trying to say is, there is still hope! One rejection is one rejection closer to being published. If that makes sense!
17 July 2014
Fifteen Postcards is currently at 104,426 words as I embark on the hardest part to date, the ending. Whilst I’ve been writing this story I have at times been suffering from, what can only be described as, Writing Envy.
Now Writing Envy is not the envy you feel when you read a particularly fantastic piece of prose, where you think to yourself “I’ll never be able to write anything that inspiring”. No, not at all. Writing Envy is all to do with being envious of the dedication other writers have! Envy of the space they use to do their writing in. Envy of the tools they use to write with.
At times, I have honestly felt that I am a lesser writer for drafting my manuscript solely on my MacBook. I vary from writing in the study, writing at the dining room table, writing on my lap in the lounge, and I’ve even been known to write on the deck in the sun.
Should I have a writing space? My envy of other writers and their dedicated and inspiring writing spaces makes me think so. But then I also have an eight year old and a five year old, who clamour constantly for my attention, and if I hid myself away in the study, who knows what mischief would be created in my absence!
I love typing on the computer, but I do feel bereft. Inside I feel that I am missing out on some fabulous writing secret that all the best authors know, but which they don’t share.
Tonight, whilst researching some minute detail for a tiny inconsequential plot point, I stumbled across this fabulous post on Flavorwire.com : The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors
And there I found the secret. The secret is that there is no secret. At least twenty of the world’s most famous authors all did it differently. Pencils, ink pens, ballpoint pens, typewriters, note pads, computers.
Of those, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used a Parker Duofold pen. That made me recall that for my first Valentines Day with my fiance (now husband), he gave me a standard Parker ballpoint pen and had it engraved with my name. For our fifteenth wedding anniversary last month, I received a sterling silver Tiffany’s ballpoint pen, and a notepad, and I’ve been using it. Its not a secret weapon, but it has made writing faster, as I’ve been jotting things down at work, for entering into the MacBook later. Better use of my time. And that is probably the secret to better writing too. More writing, and, well, to be honest, less Candy Crush..
11 September 2014
This is a blog entry I originally wrote for the blog of Tom Williams, author of the Burke series, Cawnpore, and The White Raja. You can access his blog here: http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.nz/
An Expert in Antiques?
Fifteen Postcards has just been published by Accent Press. A novel incorporating three continents and traversing two centuries: historical fiction written from a modern perspective. I like to describe it as a blend of ‘The Far Pavilions’, with a touch of ‘The Time Traveler's Wife’, rolled together with a smidgeon of the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. But I haven’t always been an author.
Nine years ago I was working as a Chief Customs Officer with the New Zealand Customs Service. It was a career I adored, and one I appeared to be particularly good at, according to my performance reviews and peer feedback. Then unexpectedly my father died, leaving my mother a widow without an income.
My brother and I quit our jobs. Someone needed to run Antique Alley, the business my father started in 1971. My brother worked full time, whilst I went part time, as my first daughter was born six months after Dad died. The timing was brutal.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ states that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill requires practicing, correctly, for around 10,000 hours. I’ve roughly estimated that since my father died, I’ve worked in the shop for 5,616 hours. I don’t work full time, and I’ve had two children in the past nine years, but I do know that I now have roughly 5,000 hours of additional knowledge of antiques. With that, I thought I had enough knowledge to sit down and write a novel about a girl who works in an antique shop. So I did.
I sat down, with my MacBook one day, and started writing, with no idea of where to go, or how the story was going to evolve. Who it was going to involve, or what the future plan for my writing was. But damn it, I knew antiques, I liked writing, so it shouldn’t be that hard, right?
First off, I started writing about postcards. One of Dad’s passions. He collected them personally. We sell them at the shop. I know that real photo postcards are more collectable than others. That Tuck’s postcards are highly sought after. And that... That’s when I stumbled. What else did I know about postcards? Highly embarrassing, but I had to turn to Google, to the library, to the reference books at work. Those 5,000 hours may as well have been 5 hours, or five minutes watching the Antiques Roadshow for all I knew about postcards. Fortunately William Main had published an exquisite book titled ‘Send Me A Postcard’ which had somehow appeared on the bookshelf at home. Fate? Google is great, but nothing beats a beautifully illustrated piece of research. And so it continued.
Green stone adzes (axe heads), made by the early Maori in New Zealand? I’m a New Zealander, born and bred, albeit with a British passport as well, I know everything there is to know about Maori adzes. Ah, no. Just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, I knew nothing. A research trip to Auckland’s world class War Memorial Museum proved how little I knew. These are just two tiny examples of the level of research I did for my novel - the one which was meant to be easy because I knew at least half of all I (thought) I needed to know about antiques.
I can hear your readers asking why I bothered with all that research. Surely ‘Fifteen Postcards’ is a fictional account of Sarah Lester’s life in her antique shop in London. It’s not an autobiographical account of Kirsten McKenzie’s life in an antique shop in Auckland. I’ll tell you why. Because my father would have known.
My father was a walking encyclopaedia of back stamps, and hall marks, of fakes and reproductions. He knew gemstones from glass with barely a flick of his eyepiece. He would have been mortified if I’d placed a Victorian dining chair in a Regency setting (I didn’t). I also expected that people who read historical fiction probably knew as much, if not more, about some of things I wrote about. Given that my father won’t ever read my book, I didn’t want to upset the readers who will. It was embarrassing enough when my editor David Powell highlighted that I’d used the wrong currency to describe when Sarah is counting her coins in her bedroom suite in the Savoy in London. His words are burnt into my brain when he gently pointed out that Sarah probably wouldn’t be using George V coins. But that’s what editors are for, and I am eternally grateful.
I wanted every description to not only be beautifully written, but I wanted them to be accurate. That ormolu on the edge of the table? I needed the reader to be able to see it as it was then - in 1860s India, not how its presented in some poorly funded TV commercial for tea bags.
So instead of pumping out an 80,000 word novel in a few months, I wrote a 130,000 word novel over a period of one and a half years, edited it, had it accepted for publication by Accent Press, where it was edited again (and again) and here we are. I’m writing a blog piece for another historical fiction author, one who understands and appreciates the quest for historical accuracy in his research for the Burke series.
I leave you now to carry on with my next manuscript, where I’m immersed in colonial New Zealand just prior to the outbreak of the Maori wars in the 1860s. Wish me luck.
16 July 2015