Finding Rabbits Where Rabbits Didn’t Oughta Be

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I’ve been lost in a time warp this week trying to complete the research for part of my historical saga. The period in question is post-Napoleonic Brittany. I love doing my research – as a form of escapism it’s second to none-but of course the danger is that it’s easy to get lost in it; to disappear into a time-space continuum never to be heard of again.

So far I’ve read a Balzac novel relevant to the period, with the aid of a monumental Larousse dictionary; I’ve Googled ‘til my eyes popped and I’ve pored over maps until I could find my way around blindfold – which is just as well in view of the eye-popping hindrance.

My dilemma with research, as with life, is knowing when to stop. I have a feeling that only a small proportion of my Brittany research will feature (since it’s not the main locus of action)and yet it is essential to the storylines. Furthermore as and when (being positive this morning)the saga reaches its adoring public I worry about those readers whose faces become empurpled as they choke over their 3.5 minute boiled egg, who miss the 6.35 to Paddington and sacrifice a whole tree to produce, at one and the same time, a treatise on French currency and a refutation of my use of Louis d’or when everyone who isn’t a gibbering imbecile knows that Francs were the dosh of the day.

Fantasy and Sci-fi authors need to create a great story in a believable world for their readers. The historical novelist has to create a great story in a world that is believable and open to scrutiny by hawk-eyed readers ready to pounce on historical inaccuracy.

Historical novelist Bernard Cornwell wrote that whilst he knew there were no rabbits in Arthurian Britain, he wasn’t aware that snowdrops didn’t feature either until a kind reader pointed out his blooper. I’m not sure I am made of the stuff that can tolerate that level of nit-pickedness.

And yet, to be fair to my future history-savvy readers, I too have felt angst when reading of rabbits where there should be none; of reading words and phrases that were a few centuries premature – so who am I to moan?

So, back to my original conundrum – when is enough enough?

Seductive Synopses

Something from the motivational conference I attended earlier this week must have snuck into one of the spare rooms in my brain because I have shifted some work this week. For the first time ever I chose to put writing above the day job so I got a real feel for what life might be like if I ever give up the day job.

In line with my policy of trying to get a couple of articles accepted every month I have a queue of pieces all waiting in their allotted folders to be fully developed. The basic idea is there together with notes and research material. To get them all placed I sent out a half-dozen pitches and whilst I was at the conference two came back as acceptances…well one had a laconic “let me have a look” but ever the optimist I take that as a yes. Writing those two articles kept me full at it until the witching hour on Tuesday.

But the big thing this week was a nibble from a publisher and very pleasant it was too. In a rush of enthusiasm, on spec I had submitted a 150 word general summary of the book The Uncertain Coast via the publishers’ website. Just in case you’ve forgotten the Uncertain Coast is an illustrated light-touch history of the towns and villages lost to the sea on the unstable Holderness coast and of some of the people who lived in them. On Wednesday the publishers came back and asked for a full synopsis.

Yikes – this presents something of a problem. They want details of word count, how many photos/piccys, chapters and chapter summaries, markets and market sizes, hat and shoe sizes – no I made those up just to check you’re still awake. The problem is I simply don’t know. I’m about a third of the way through the research and have just the first chapter written plus two others.

I’m not great at planning out a structure, chapters and content before I’ve completed the research. When I judge I’ve got all the material I can access together, then I start to fit the pieces and the book evolves. So collecting up some emergency rations – fruit, energy bars and sport water – what? Who wrote that? My emergency rations come in the form of choccy, cashew nuts and a fruity red wine. I went into conclave with my co-author i/c photography and we knocked something into shape. I was elected to turn that something into a persuasive, seductive come-and-buy-me to the publishers.

I’m currently on version 5, weary, wordless (well almost) and most telling of all, I’ve realised that seduction is not my forte.

Y’all have a good weekend now.

And Now For Something Serious…

I attended a motivational conference yesterday run by two guys who have developed their own approach to motivating and inspiring people to be the best they can be. They have written books about their approach and whilst their methods do not include torture, bribery and blackmail (they’ve always worked for me) the books have zoomed off the shelves in numbers – although not quite Tony Robbins’ level …yet. They also provide consultancy and coaching to individuals and businesses using their motivational weapons.

I attended the event because, as a writer of mainly non-fiction, I wanted to see how the authors managed this aspect of their marketing platform and, if truth be told, now and again the motivation department does need a bit of a kick up the butt.

So here are some observations that might be useful for any of you looking to promote your book(s). With some adaptation and a bit of imagination the approach holds good for both fiction and non-fiction.

1. The event was free; held in the conference centre of a very popular UK theme park with free entry into the park. This encouraged delegates to bring spouses/kids who hit the rides whilst the delegate attended the conference. Some delegates plus family had booked in to the hotels at the Park for the weekend – so good for theme park biz too.
Learning point– make sure sponsors and others who support you get something out of it too.

2. Publicity for the event came through social networks, especially a LInkdIn community and through word-of-mouth.
Learning point – tap your networks and those of your sponsors/supporters. If it’s free – they will come.

3. The back-of-room book sales area was well managed and spacious. All the books they had written (same book but targeted at different markets in effect) were on display as well CDs and all were offered at half the normal price (the reason will become clear later). Early sales were slow, lunch-time sales were the heaviest and after-event sales were slow because most delegates wanted to hit the rides in the theme park.
Learning point – timing is everything and white-knuckle rides will always win over book sales.

4. Although the two guys were the main speakers, they shared the platform with a couple of others as supporting acts. There were also individual and groups of clients/ex-clients giving testimonials.
Learning point – share the power and the glory; share the fame or the pain.

5. It takes good public speaking skills and confidence particularly where there is a large audience.
Learning point – practice makes perfect but if you’re truly terrified, don’t do it.

6. The whole event was videoed and delegates were asked to do short pieces to camera giving their views about the books and the conference itself. These went up on a website later that evening.
Learning point – keep the memories alive and show those that couldn’t be there what they missed.

7. The content from the main guys was short, to the point and included information about their latest book due out in September (hence the price-cutting of the books). If I had paid to attend I would have felt short-changed.
Learning point – be generous with your time and material and go easy on promotional stuff – leave that to the back-of-room sales department.

8. The atmosphere was informal, relaxed and fun but not happy-clappy. The audience was invited to participate in fun no-hassle exercises .
Learning point – interaction with the audience, whilst scary builds atmosphere, relationships and your fan base.

9. It ended mid-afternoon with plenty of time left for those rides!
Learning point – if there are other attractions/opportunities on offer give your audience time to savour them.

So those are the thoughts of this newly refreshed, reborn and highly motivated blogger and now I’m off to bed.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Why is it that when I’m away during the week doing the day job, when I get to the weekend there’s a more than usual number of “must-do” jobs around the house and garden? These “must-dos” are not tasks that I’ve let slip (well not many really) but are things that have cropped up during the days I am away such as a delivery that I’ve planned. I explained to the courier when and where to bring it only to find that he washed up three days too early and seemed to have left my precious parcel with everyone and his dog in the village. By the time I finally tracked it down it was, shall we say, well handled!

And another thing…have you noticed that the whinge factor of my posts is on the rise? No? Well it’s just not fair. Pay attention please. I’ve been blogging since January this year and over the weekend I took a trip down blogging lane to revisit some of them. Over the weeks I noticed how they’re beginning to sound whiney. Too hard, too difficult, too much work, not fair, no-one will buy my wares blah blah blah. It’s a dangerous thing this increasing whinge factor – for one thing it exacerbates my rheumatism – have whinge will twinge sort of thing – but more seriously whinging raises the victim spectre. Poor me; all I ever wanted to do was write but “they” won’t let me. They insist I pay my mortgage; they insist I write something worth publishing; they say that unless…Oh get over yourself woman.

So there’s going to be a few changes around here. This blog is going to be less about writing, the writing process, Kindle and all the other writing/publishing nibbly-pibblies (bring back “Blackadder” please). Instead it will be more as I originally intended – notes from the coast and will probably not even mention the W word, the K word et al.

If this is not to your liking and you follow this blog (what wonderful refined taste you have) I’ll quite understand if my future musings are not your thing and you decide to “unfollow”. However it’s only fair to warn you that I am the neighbourhood witch and I know where you live.

If You Publish, They Will Come – Ha!

I’ve been tied up with the day job this week so have had little time to blog but did catch up with my Reader items plus read a book that I wish I’d found six months ago – more of that to come.

The posts that go into my Reader have one thing in common – their authors are working their butts off getting their books in print and promoting them. My own efforts look particularly feeble by comparison. If hard work, perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness count for anything they all deserve spectacular success.

It’s clear that being an accomplished writer is just not enough if you follow the self-publishing route. You also need to be entrepreneurial in spirit, a great salesperson not afraid to blow your own trumpet, inventive, think-on-the-hoof type, publicist and self PR and probably much more. It’s not enough to say “all I want to do is write” unless of course you’re happy for your pearls to languish unseen in the bottom of a drawer.

I suppose I was naive when I published Time for Your Life. Actually no I wasn’t naive I was just plain stoopid. I think somehow, somewhere I had this computation that the book would almost sell itself. Perhaps I have this subconscious arrogance that tells me “cream rises”. Whatever delusions I was suffering under they were put to flight with a vengeance when I read “Self-Printed – the Sane Persons Guide to Self-Publishing” by Catherine Ryan Howard (she blogs as Catherine Caffeinated). This book is an account of how she came to self-publish her own non-fiction and what worked for her in marketing and selling. She’s very clear that the book is about the way she did it and makes no claims for it to be the only way but her sales figures speak for themselves. She also is a very funny writer.

Well what an eye-opener. I think I can claim to have made every mistake possible and the really really really irritating thing is that what she writes just makes total sense if you are going to self-publish. At least it does to me…now. Grrrrrrr!

So I’m wondering if there’s some spore or virus that is released into the atmosphere when a writer is about to self-publish that unless you are really smart completely blinds you to the work that lies ahead turns your brain into a soft gooey mush and sucks out any last remnants of practicality and common sense – just for good measure.

Or is it that I have a very active self-deception gene? Please tell me I’m not alone.

Have a good weekend – I’ll be back next week.

What Can You Do with a Belgian Chocolate Mousse (BCM)?

Ha! Gotcha! You only looked at this post because of the title didn’t you? (Note to self it does go to show how a title can draw in the readers). Well, although BCM has a role in this vignette, I confess I’ve deceived you, it’s only a rub-on sorry I mean walk-on part.

Over the weekend I treated myself. It was what I call an anticipatory treat – I was anticipating the arrival of a cheque which would help to make the month go a bit further. So I wandered into WHSmith (a newspaper, book and stationery chain)for a browse. Browsing is my second favourite occupation; my first is lying on the sofa thinking beautiful thoughts whilst eating WeightWatchers Belgian Chocolate Mousse in an effort (as some of you may remember from earlier posts) to rediscover the lost territory of my waistline.

In WHSmith I headed for the magazine sections – something for everyone here from topshelf tit fetishers to solve-while-you-shit sudoku puzzlers. However, I was looking for something specific and found it – a regional countryside mag. I scanned through it and there it was – my article, my photos and my name. Ah Heaven! I get such a buzz from seeing something I’ve written actually make it to print. It’s even better than taking a WW Belgian Chocolate Mousse and smothering…well, let’s move on.

I’m basking in this admittedly minor glory when Inner Crit pipes up;
“that sentence is a bit clumsy;should’ve put a full stop there not a semi-colon”
But for once I have the upper hand. It was good enough for the editor (lovely, lovely man that he is) so up yours inner crit – go back to sleep.

I’m not normally so brash as to bang on about a 1000-word article and a couple of photos (I’m quite shy and retiring really…honest) but this is a milestone for me. Apart from the book (which somehow feels like a different thing altogether because I published it) this is the first bit of my work to make it to the world stage – well UK stage – all right then Yorkshire stage…as part of my second-time-around writing career. It’s the first piece that a third party has looked at and given the green light to. (I know, I know, prepositions-end of sentence and all that jazz)

There’s more in the pipeline so I hope I get free copies of the mags otherwise I’ll be spending a fortune on buying them.
Can you imagine what I’d be like if something I wrote truly went global?
Unbearable – who said that?

A Tale of Two Editors

One aspect of the feature and article writing I do is research –not just subject research but also market research. At the moment I don’t receive many commissions so I have to pitch most of my work to an editor, once I think I’ve found the right market for it.

Four months ago I sent out two pitches. One went to a specialist magazine, the other to a more general one with a countryside theme. Both have about the same circulation figures although different reader profiles. I read back copies of each mag; I obtained their writers guidelines, followed them to the letter and even phoned up to make sure I’d got the editor’s name correct – they do seem to change fairly frequently.

Editor no.1 – the generalist replied to my email within a week.
Yes he was interested and could I supply photos?
Yes I could, how did he want them?
Email and at 300dpi minimum.
OK. Good – job done. The proofs came through ten days ago and the article appears next month.

Editor No. 2 – the specialist magazine
When I phoned in to check his name and email I actually spoke to him. He said: ”I’ll look out for your pitch coming through my email.”
Great. Six weeks later not a peep from him. Do I/don’t I send a reminder?
I wait ‘til the eight week mark and then send a polite note –“ hope you got the pitch, wondering if you have been able to make a decision?”
Sixteen weeks later still nothing.

I assume that the guy is not interested – fine. I understand :-
– the pitch might not have suited – either through content or style;
– the editor might need to take all submissions to an editorial panel and that slows down the process;
– the concept of “busy” and “overwhelmed with emails”. When I had a “ proper” job 50 emails a day was not unusual and I’ve had clients who topped the 100 per day but still managed to answer them, however briefly;
– the pitch might not have reached his desk…but did lightning really strike twice?

Truly I do understand all of that but what I can’t get my head round is complete silence. I cannot believe that with the electronic bells and whistles that abound these days, it is impossible to send a quick, automated “thanks but no thanks” email.

The question is what do I do next? Shall I be passive and leave it a while longer – but how long? Or shall I start again, find another potential victim and revamp the outline? Should I send him a free copy of my book Time for Your Life – there’s lots in there about managing emails and other “stuff”?

There is some small irony here, in that this specialist magazine, without naming names, is aimed at newbie writers and is packed full of good advice about what to do and not do when approaching an editor with a pitch. What it doesn’t tell you is what best to do when your pitch appears to have fallen into a deep black hole.

Kindle Revisited

My exclusive 90-day deal with Kindle Prime for Time for Your Life will soon be up and I thought now might be a good time for a bit of reflection.

The original idea for Time for Your Life was to start to build up a library of articles and e-books on my business website http://www.thecoachingcorner.co.uk to support my coaching activities. I never expected to sell many copies – just as well really as it turns out.

The book garnered 3×5* reviews on UK Amazon and 1×5* on Amazon.com (Thank you Gwen Bristol) but I have sold very few copies through Kindle. On the other hand I have negotiated three-year licence agreements with a couple of companies for it to be available to the staff via the company intranets. This alone has more than covered my costs and will keep me in jelly beans for a good few months. Both those agreements came about because I sent free PDF copies to Human Resource Directors and two of them got in touch with me. The next step is for it to be available as a PDF via an on-line training and personal deveopment resource website: http://www.glasstap.com. This will expose the book to a completely different market.

I also had some picture postacards printed with the front cover of the book on one side and message/address space on the other. These I sent out to my past and present individual coaching clients. As far as I know none of those has resulted in any Kindle sales but I have sold PDFs.

So what have I learned?

1. Publishing an e-book takes very little time if you have the tech skills or the right people behind you. However marketing an e-book and getting sales takes a very great deal of time. I haven’t put nearly enough time into marketing. I had a marketing plan but seriously underestimated what time it would need – particularly finding, getting and keeping active on different book forums, blogs etc.

2. Pricing an ebook is a bit of a thorny question for me. I didn’t do enough homework on prices and so, in comparison with other books that appear to be of similar content, Time for Your Life may look pricey. £6.00 as opposed to the £1.99ers. Perception is all here. I have a view that if something is offered for sale at what seems to be a very low price then I have very low expectations of it and am more likely to pass on it. I also hold to the belief that you can always lower a price but if you start low and then try to go up in price, you pretty soon piss off a section of your customer base.Maybe I need to review these beliefs…I’m not sure.

3. I’ve mentioned this in other posts but for non-fiction it still may be better to bite the bullet and go for hardcopy publishing. I’ve been asked so many times for a hard copy or “proper” book as many have called it. I think this is an issue of disposable v for keeps.

4. I’m not totally convinced of any advantage Kindle Prime offers for this type of book other than the % rate. With hindsight I would have preferred to have offered the book from the get-go in as many ways/formats as possible.

So just something to chew on this Friday morning. I’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts/experiences – perhaps between us we should put an ebook out on the definitive way to self-publish.

Anyhoo – signing off for the weekend which is predicted to be warm and sunny – so have a good one.

A Journey Back in Time

First a bit of back story. Some thirty years ago I lived and worked a hill farm in the Yorkshire Dales. If you don’t know this part of the world and you like wild spaces you should visit. The Dales are a series of river valleys flowing, more or less northwest to southeast in North Yorkshire. Tourism and hill farming are the main occupations.

I was married at the time (although he was more conspicuous by his absence), so I ran our small farm. Now the dale where I lived was extremely traditional. There were things that womanfolk did and did not do. They did not run a farm but they could act as helpers when required. This usually meant standing in a gateway in the freezing cold as sheep or cattle were being moved; flapping your arms, to prevent the animals getting through the gap, all the while not knowing your better half had stopped for a gossip with the neighbour who just happend to be driving by.

Women did not drive around in a battered old Landrover – they made an appointment with their better half to drive them where they needed to go. If it was not convenient they were permitted to take the one and only bus and, on return, walk the mile home, down an unlit rough track, laden with enough stuff to feed an army – because of course, only womanfolk could unravel the mysteries of the kitchen stove. They did not go into a pub on their own and when accompanied by said better half they were permitted to enter through the beery portals,they could only sit in the room on the right because the snug was men only.

However, they did participate in the church flowers rota, the school run and the women’s institute to say nothing of the endless cleaning, washing and cooking – all of which was done with a smile on their lips and murder in their hearts. As I said it was, at that time, a very traditional place.

As a woman to whom rule breaking came as naturally as breathing I was, at different times, an oddity, a misfit, a hippy on the hill and a woman “as wants a good seein’ ter”. As far as my sisters-in-strife were concerned, I was a potential Jezebel who, never having her own man around, might well be tempted to borrow one of their lusty specimens. Despite all this we rubbed along together and after about three years I even managed to get a “good morning” out of most of them without them doing the three Hail Mary’s stuff. Mostly I think, I provided the occupants of the snug with a source of amusement as they watched my new fangled farming ways.

What none of these lovely people knew was that I also wrote a Saturday column for one of the larger regional newspapers in which I described life and the people in the Dale. I used a pseudonym so I felt safe doing so and was always careful not to be too specific. Now we come to the crux of this tale and a warning to all of you writers out there who garner material from “real” life.

It happened that one autumn I needed to take some stock down the dale to the local cattle auction. This was most definitely a men-only event – legitimate women i.e.wives – avoided the place. Nevertheless, needs must and so I turned up with some half dozen young cattle that I couldn’t afford to keep over winter. My farming neighbours were out in force that Saturday and the auctioneer made the most of the event by reminding everyone repeatedly that there was a lady present.

My turn to bring the animals into the ring arrived. The idea was that the seller walked the beasts around the ring – showed them off as it were – for buyers to assess. The whole process was generally an occasion for banter, ribaldry and back-chat. A couple of my neighbours had ringside seats and as I walked past them I could hear them commenting:
“that one’s got a good arse on”
“Which beast or t’lass?”
“I could mek summat of that”
“Aye well, it’d bed down nicely”
At each sally, they nearly pissed themselves laughing. I got a bit fed up of this and delivered one of my well-known devasting ripostes:
“Bugger off and die, fuckwit.”

In my next Saturday column I wrote about this event (in much more refined tones) but perhaps a tad less carefully than usual. The following week I found myself on the receiving end of even more peculiar looks and there was a stronger than usual air of disapproval that trailed after me. After a particularly hard day I nipped into the pub for a sandwich and a drink and felt umpteen pairs of eyes boring into my back as I sat at the counter chatting to Colin, the landlord.
“What is it this time?” I whispered and, in reply Colin pulled out the Saturday paper, much mangled and thumbed over and showed me my own column. He said simply,
“You’re blown.”

My neighbour took it particularly hard. Ever after, if he saw me talking to anyone, he would sidle up and whisper:
“Watch what yer say. She’ll be puttin’ it all down and it’ll be in t’paper.”

Why am I telling you all this? Because yesterday, finding myself in the vicinity of my old stamping ground I made a detour to see how it had changed. It hasn’t much – except that the Acropolis Coffee Bar has lost its red formica-topped tables and has been somewhat gentrified since my day. However, after my tour I had a coffee there and was musing about the old days when I became aware of a thin, prune-faced man dressed in the famers’ Sunday best – check shirt, waistcoat, twill trousers, Barbour coat and wellies – looming over me.
“Aye, it is you” he said with a certain grim satisfaction, “Thowt so.”
To my eternal embarrassment he then announced to the coffee shop as a whole
“Tha needs to watch what tha says to thissun. She’ll tek it down in writing and ‘old it aginst yer”.
He coughed himself silly – my old nemesis and neighbour.

Who says “fame” is transient?

Alternative Reality

A flare-up of wrist and elbow joints over the weekend meant that I had a quiet and somewhat introspective time. I got to thinking about some things I want to change about my life and that led me down memory lane to remembering changes I tried to make in the past. Some of these came off with a bang and some just fizzled out with a whimper. It has sometimes felt like I take several steps forward, make some progress and then end up back where I started. How come?

I think there are a couple of issues that create barriers to change. One I’ve written about before (here) is the infamous inner critic – that nagging nattery serpent in the head that hisses its poison. Listen to it too much and you end up believing the carping and criticism and so end up back where you started.

However the other issue is how our beliefs about the way the world works and how we relate to it – our mental models if you will – wield so much power. A mental model in this context includes for example, all the images, assumptions, stories that we carry around in our heads. It is our take on reality.

If when making a change in life, we do not change our mental models to dovetail with and support the change then we will always do what we have always done and receive the same results. Changing our mental models opens up new opportunities and possibilities.

When I’ve struggled to sustain a change I’ve wanted to make in my life I think its because I’ve not recognised this enough. In other words, I’m trying to do something new and different but I’m doing it same old, same old.

For example, I made a decision to spend more time writing. I even set a target of 3 days for the day job and 3 days for writing. I started off well but it’s slipped. I didn’t really think through in detail how this new reality will look, feel and sound; what the true implications are; what I will gain and what I will need to give up. With hindsight I can’t believe I was so dumb. Now I feel frustrated and trapped to some extent by the day job which is encroaching on my writing time.

On the bright side however, writing is a great way of creating an alternative reality. So, over the weekend I did just that. I’ve written it all down and by describing it in detail somehow I’ve breathed life into it. I plan to record my successes however small and in that way begin to build up a body of evidence that shows me I can live in this new reality and so helps sustain the change.

The beauty of creating an alternative reality is that it is in fact only one of a myriad possibilities. The way things are at the moment is not the only way life could be. As the saying goes – I may not be able to direct the winds but I can adjust my sails…as often as I want.