Some of you may recall my previous blog post where I mentioned I was due to attend the Althorp Literary Festival this year, as a panellist on independent publishing as well as crime fiction writing. I am always very happy to participate in events like these because it is an opportunity to share my experience and hopefully inspire others to grasp at the opportunities now available in the world of publishing, following what we might call the ‘Digital Revolution.’ Althorp is a lovely place, very serene and beautiful, and I was blessed with some very fine company in the form of the Amazon KDP team in the UK and some other authors who have published independently through their platform (including Mark Dawson, Mel Sherratt and Dave Leadbeater), as well as catching up with Louise Jensen, who was a fellow panellist in a discussion about crime fiction writing and the road to becoming a bestselling author. It was lovely to be invited to an author’s dinner and an overnight stay at Althorp as a guest of the Spencer family, and it was kind of them to open their home and extend their hospitality.
There were plenty of interesting questions during the festival and it was great to meet some readers who had travelled to meet us, which was very kind! It’s lovely to hear from people who have enjoyed my books and it spurs me to complete my current ‘Work in Progress’ – thanks to all of you! It was also really helpful to share our different writing journeys to convey the fact that there is no ‘one size fits all’ and everybody has a chance to make their mark.
That’s what makes it such an exciting time to be an author nowadays. There are so many different options about how to publish your work and have your stories discovered by readers. Similarly, from the reader’s perspective, there has never been more breadth of choice available or mediums through which to read. For example, my mother suffers from glaucoma and, though she enjoys thumbing through her favourite copies of Daphne du Maurier, she also enjoys the convenience and accessibility of an e-reader. Whether an author chooses to go independent or to rely on a publisher to help them, the fundamentals are the same: we share a love of reading and of books. It is really that simple.
One of the themes that often comes up when I am giving a talk or participating in a panel discussion is what advice I would offer to aspiring authors. What have I learned in my (almost) three years in the business?
Well, here are a few general thoughts…
- Have a bit of self-belief
Working in creative industries can entail no small degree of self-consciousness. The very act of creating something brand new and then releasing it into the wider world for people to read and dissect is very nerve-wracking. I am a jibbering stress-ball of worry whenever I release a new book and it makes no difference that I’ve released six best-sellers previously. In fact, it creates an even greater sense of responsibility not to disappoint my readers and the fear of letting people down can be crippling.
That said, I try to remember that we can only be ourselves and that is the best any of us can be. As an author, I’ve been very fortunate to have a kind readership and thousands of lovely reviews, e-mails and positive feedback. However, it is impossible to please everyone and therefore it’s essential to adopt a realistic approach and try not to take it personally when people do not enjoy your work or, worse still, when they cross the street to send an unkind message informing you of the fact. Not everyone was taught rudimentary good manners, after all.
- Be your own boss
The publishing world is vast and sometimes a bit opaque to the layperson who is considering dipping their toe into its murky depths. My advice to counteract this would be not to find yourself being put off by the hoards of opinionated people who enjoy telling you what is best for you to do with YOUR career – be your own boss and do your own research. There are countless blogs, websites, books and people who offer their tuppence on how to write, when to write, how to publish, how to market…the list goes on. It is up to you to cut the wheat from the chaff, as it were. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, like me, then the Amazon Author Insights website is a good starting point, as is Hugh Howey’s blog, both of which provide ample insight and should save you a lot of time and effort.
- Be brave
There will come a time when you have to decide on the best course of action, whether that be pressing the ‘publish’ button on Amazon KDP, choosing the right editor for your work, deciding on a pricing strategy or marketing campaign or on the title of your book. Any of these decisions requires a degree of bravery and you might make mistakes. It is equally brave to accept when something isn’t working and make changes but the ultimate bravery comes in showing your work to others and accepting helpful critique to make your work stronger. Pride gets you nowhere in the long-run.
- Stay motivated
Sometimes, we all suffer from information overload and the prospect of continuing to reach for your dream can seem insurmountable or littered with obstacles. At times like these, my advice would be simple: reach for your favourite book, the one you read again and again, to remind yourself of why you want to be a writer in the first place. Then, cut out all the unnecessary bumf and negativity that is causing you to feel dejected and start afresh. If all that fails, whip out the Rocky IV soundtrack and think like Stallone!
- Be kind
Remember, however unmotivated or scared you feel, there is somebody feeling even worse than you. Therefore, be kind. Try to forgive when people express themselves badly or when other writers put you down to bolster their own ego. It will happen, as it happens in any walk of life, and the trick is to take it on the chin and run your own race. None of us knows what difficulties may lurk behind another person’s eyes and it costs nothing to take the higher road.
This is a distilled version of the message I try to convey when people ask me what attitude I take towards my career as an author. I focus on my stories and try to listen to the voice of my reader, whose opinion matters the most. Creativity comes first, business comes second, and courtesy above all else.
That’s all for now, folks! A big ‘thank you’ again for the invitation to Althorp, I had a lovely time.