Three of the authors on the panel (including myself) have had Amazon best-sellers and we all wanted to pass on help and advice to aspiring authors, and to give readers an insight into what being an author is really like!
A couple of people who couldn't attend the event asked if I could report back, so here it is! Sorry for the delay – I’ve been typing like mad to finish my next book, and yesterday typed those wonderful words ‘The End’. More news on that soon...
Anyway, our aim was to entertain and answer questions about what it takes to write a best-seller, and with a lively panel (the Cheshirati have been likened to Loose Women) and a great audience I think we all left on a high. Thanks so much if you came along to the event, I hope it was informative and you had fun. We loved the questions and feedback.
Here (in brief) are some of the topics we chatted about – there was lots discussed (often veering way off topic – until Cath fixed us with her ‘look’ before getting us back on track with a scary question), and it’s impossible to include it all. I was also busy answering questions and joining in the debate, so had gaps in my scribbled notes. Hopefully you will enjoy reading these highlights though.
Cath Bore (who writes crime) hosted the evening, Nikki Ashton (romantic comedy), Caroline James (contemporary fiction), Victoria Johns (erotica/new adult), and myself were on the panel.
For Victoria who’s always been an avid reader, it is about escapism. Nikki is a romantic who likes to put a smile on people’s faces, Caroline had always wanted to write but never felt she was good enough – until taking the plunge 5 years ago and self-publishing, and for me writing is a bit of an addiction (which got worse after a competition win), I can’t not do it!
Indie vs Traditional
Nikki and Victoria are both indie authors, Caroline and myself have dipped our toes in both! It was agreed that one wonderful aspect of being an indie author is the control it offers – book titles and covers (both vital elements of any book) can be experimented with and changed, along with the categories and meta-tags on Amazon. Whether you are indie or traditionally published though, good editing is crucial. A traditional publisher will provide this, but for an indie author it’s important to find the right editor – somebody who is good, reliable, and ‘gets’ you and your voice. Indie publishing is no longer seen as a last resort – it’s a conscious choice, selected for a variety of reasons. This could be for example because it leaves control with the author, the fact that a book crosses genres, is challenging in a way that means a publisher may not be prepared to take the risk of publishing it, is similar to other books that a publisher already has, or an author may not want the pressure and deadlines that may otherwise be imposed. There are pros and cons for both. I love my publisher, other authors on the panel loved their independence.
Getting your books out there is getting increasingly challenging. A presence on social media is important, but it was agreed that the effectiveness and approach needed is changing all the time. It’s more important than ever for all authors (not just indies – agents and publishers will do background checks on how active an author is on social media and whether they have a website) to spend time on networking. You need to build a good relationship with readers, authors and bloggers. We chatted a bit about the importance of reviews, Victoria (who published her first book in 2016) commented on the difficulty in finding reviewers willing to read ARC’s. Two wonderful bloggers/reviewers I know were in the audience (Joanne – My Chestnut Reading Tree, and Jill - Jill’s Book Café) and were able to provide a great insight into what it’s like on the other side of the fence. The message was clear – don’t demand, do be nice and remember the personal touch. A lot of reviewers these days are being wooed by the big publishers, and paperbacks, chocolates and parties are on offer. Be a real person and not just a demanding author plugging a book – enter into conversation and build a relationship.
It’s also very important to balance time spent on promotion/networking and time allocated to writing. (I love chatting online, particularly when I've hit a tricky bit in my book, but I set myself strict word-count targets each day to make sure I get the book written!)
Caroline has been inspired by events such as the Appleby Horse Fair, and by celebrity chefs she's interviewed such as Keith Floyd, and she stresses the importance of actually ‘being there’. These days it’s easy to find information online, but ‘feel’ is important and you can’t beat actually experiencing places and events if you’re going to write about them. After a brief discussion about the importance of also making sure what your characters do is plausible and possible it led on to…
Writing the ‘hot’ bits
The ‘heat’ level varied between the authors. Nikki and Caroline both like to leave a lot to the readers’ imagination. I have written erotic novels, as does Victoria, and we have both read other erotic books for research. Being in the mood, being able to keep it real, and making sure what you’re writing about is physically possible were all discussed!
Writers' Groups and Beta readers
The idea of a writer’s group terrified Cath, but Caroline found the one she joined very helpful. It was agreed that you need to find the right one for you, which will develop your confidence. Neither myself, Nikki or Victoria have been in a group, but we all agreed on the importance of having a ‘sounding board’. Our Cheshirati group gives us the opportunity for ‘author’ talk and support – and for me it is these individual links rather than a formal group that works best. Nikki and Victoria now regularly walk together – and thrash out ideas! Beta readers were touched on – if you can find somebody you trust, they can be a great help. Similarly some agents/editors/publishers will give ongoing feedback prior to the final edit. It’s important though to trust your own instincts on what is right for your book, and to find somebody who understands your writing style, voice, and sense of humour.
Fitting in Writing
Most authors have to fit writing in around day jobs and families. How do they do it? It can certainly help if you can learn to write anywhere. Victoria commented that she actually found it easier to write when she was on holiday – the change of environment inspiring her. Nikki could work with a soundtrack, Caroline needs peace and quiet and her routine, and I vary depending on what stage of the book I’ve reached! At the end of the day, it comes down to individual choice, but the one thing that was agreed on was that it was about prioritising. This could mean working through the night, or setting aside a chunk of the day. If you really want to write that book, then you can. It can be quite a balancing act, but if you want to write to make money then you do need to view it as a business.
Some authors also need to switch the internet off, whereas I must admit what works for me is interspersing short periods of concentrated writing with dipping into social media and the internet – the only danger is it can lead to ‘faffing’ rather than writing! One gentleman in the audience did ask if authors could be mildly obsessive – I do tend to agree, but I think the word that was chosen in its place was committed!
Can you do it yourself?
Some people are capable of editing, designing book covers, and formatting a kindle book themselves (Amazon supply a good free booklet on formatting) – most of us admit we aren’t experts at everything. It was agreed that it’s important for all authors to come across as professional and produce the best product they can. These days it’s relatively easy to find people to help – but the importance of recommendation and word of mouth was raised.
The various Amazon imprints were discussed, along with the traditional publishing route and digital first imprints (and the need for an agent if you go down some routes). These days there are various options and it’s about finding the right one for you. It was pointed out though, that if you want to get rich quick then writing a book is not the solution!
Also a big thanks to Mike and the staff at the library for hosting us, providing refreshments and putting up with all the chat which meant it was quite late by the time they managed to lock the doors!
Caroline James’ new title is ‘Jungle Rock’ - which fans of 'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here' will love. CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE
Victoria Johns releases ‘Finding Love’ on 18th November. This is book 4 in The Soul Sisters series, and is available to pre-order now. Be one of the first to read a copy - CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE
I’m delighted that ‘The Holiday Swap’ is already an Amazon bestseller – at the time of writing it’s in the top 30 (and has been a #1 in two categories). It has also been #11 in the Kobo chart (and has been #1 in two categories). Thank you SO much to everybody was has already bought a copy – I am now off to lurk in our local shops and see if I can spot any copies of the paperback! If you've not yet grabbed your copy CLICK HERE!