The digital nomad life!

Here you see me (just) pretending to be a chic, hipster digital nomad*… sitting on a balcony in Crete tapping away on my keyboard as I put together the finishing touches to Highland Heart.

It is a treat to be able to sit in the sunshine and type. Even if cheapskate me didn’t bother splashing out the extra twenty quid on a glare-proof screen for my laptop when I bought it six years ago. *Sighs.*

And in Crete, factor in slathering yourself in insect repellent as well as sun cream. Those beasties are vicious. And they hone in on wherever you are unprotected. *Squirms from a bite in a delicate place.*

It is fitting to be a writer in Crete, seeing as the early Minoan populations that lived there were among the first in Europe to read and write—writing systems referred to as Linear A and B, mainly developed to help them document the sheer amount of olive oil, wine, honey and crops those civilisations had.

The writing system is thought to date back to the second millennium BCE.

But yes, dear chums. Highland Heart is now on pre-order on Amazon and is out October 10th, when I hope it will spring to the top of the charts and make me a goodly sum of money. Sprint? I’d settle for a gentle stroll so long as those sales figures always head in the upward direction. It’s the follow-up to Highland Fling and the third book, Highland Wedding, will be published in time for Christmas.

 

*Two weeks away from home a year do not make me a digital nomad.

Writing #romcoms and in series

End of September, Emma B, I said to myself. Book one in the Highland Books series, Highland Fling was released in June. I plucked a date out of the air and promised that was when I’d release book two to keep the momentum going.

The best laid plans of mice and men… However, I have put the cover, description and other meta date on Amazon and specified a release date on 10th October. It’s now available for pre-order here. Do you thrive under pressure? I’m about to find out just how much I do. Or don’t.

Highland Heart – the blurb

Anyway, here’s the blurb…

Highland Heart by Emma BairdAn absent boyfriend and a charmer close by—who would you choose?

We booked every room in this hotel,” he said, and the anticipation-already at fever pitch-heightened. If she held a hand out now, her fingers would shake.

He took her hand, his own warm, solid and enveloping. “We’ll sneak up there. Before anyone notices. I’ll order room service.

The follow-up to Highland Fling, Highland Heart follows the story of Katya and Dexter—lovers who met at a magical village in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, but who begin to drift apart.

She wants him; he wants her but there are thousands of miles between them.

Meanwhile, there’s a new dude in town. Zac is fun, flirtatious and determined to seduce Katya. The trouble is, can she resist? Especially as Dexter seems to be throwing himself into his work as marketing manager for a big reality TV star and her brand-new make-up company on a mission to take over the world.

And what about his relationship with Caitlin, the reality TV star he works for? Is it one hundred percent professional or are those photos that keep popping up in her Instagram feed as innocent as he professes?

Village shenanigans, an eccentric cast of lovable characters and a catch up with Gaby and Jack of Highland Fling fame, Highland Heart explores what happens once the initial spark wears off.

Reviews

Reviews of Highland Fling from Amazon.co.uk

It’s a great mix of funny moments and that ‘does he like me’ awkwardness. This book is full of witty dialogue, quirky characters you just know you’d recognise if you met them, and scenery that comes to life, making you want to hop in your car and go there.”

Took only 4 nights to devour this book, and I loved every page. The story and characters were very credible, in that the lead man is somebody I wouldn’t mind the “love guru” setting me up with. A great funny romantic read, ideal for holidays or a rainy day in.”

Reviews of Highland Fling from goodreads.com

A hilarious book full of quirky characters and deliciously super awkward moments. Gaby was easy to relate to and her love interest definitely swoon-worthy 🙂 Made me want to visit Scotland.”

The ‘deep’ series

I’ve finished Highland Wedding, the third book in the series. From everything I’ve read about successful indie publishing (and it works well if you’re traditionally published too), a ‘deep’ series is the way to go—i.e. five plus books.

My own reading preferences back this up. I’m happy to keep reading in a series even if I didn’t particularly enjoy the latest book in that series because the characters and settings are familiar. It’s not as much effort as emerging yourself in a brand new world.

I feel this with the author Lindsey Davis who writes crime fiction set in Ancient Rome. Most of the time I can’t work out the crime and I lose track of characters but I keep reading the books because the main characters appeal to me.

Crime is the easiest to write in a series because you can use a ‘fresh’ crime for each book and put the development of the main character (the detective or whatever) on a slow burn. I wish I could write crime. That and thrillers are my favourite ‘relaxing’ genre to read—nothing like escapism through psychopaths and the people chasing them, hmm?

What do I do for my Highland romcom books though? Highland Baby? Highland Divorce? Highland Tinder (or Gindr for that matter) and concluding with Highland Funeral? (The latter might not be a barrel of laughs.)

Anyway, a bit of thinking to do.

Location, location, location…

A rare sunny Sunday in Scotland—extra bonus points as it’s a bank holiday weekend too. We took ourselves to the Drovers Inn in Inverarnan for a late lunch, which got me thinking about the locations I used for Highland Fling set in Scotland as the title alludes.

20190825_152843185946377.jpgI made up the village Lochalshie, but it is loosely based on Arrochar which is located at the head of Loch Long and surrounded by hills. Please visit if you ever get the chance as the views will take your breath away.

Every good village has a pub and I romanticised mine, turning it into a community hub and making it the best place to get a wood-fired pizza in Scotland. Sadly, pubs are dying out at the same time as the UK’s drinking problem continues apace. A weird contradiction, hmm? But the decline is for a number of reasons but people staying in their own homes drinking supermarket booze and watching Netflix instead of going out is one theory. And the younger generations aren’t drinking as much as the baby boomers and the Gen X-ers.

rose wine and a pint

We Gen X-ers. Making up for the Y and Z lot…

Still, again I modelled my pub (the Lochside Welcome) on the ones that still exist in some of Scotland’s more touristy places such as The Village Inn in Arrochar, the Winnock in Drymen, and the Falls of Dochart Inn (below).

FallsDochart

The Falls of Dochart Inn, Killin.

And finally… behind the happy pictures can lie a very different story. We’d just finished our late lunch at the Drovers, and I’d sent Sandy off to snap some pics of the front of the hotel when a loud crash and the squeal of brakes sounded nearby. Close to, traffic accidents are visceral, shocking things. Your heart sinks and your hand goes to your mouth as you bargain with the deities, luck or fate. Please, please, please let whoever be okay…

A car had pulled out of the Drovers too quickly, another coming the other way hit it and a biker travelling along the road had no way of avoiding the cars. Cue—bike on the road, man down.

Luckily, he wasn’t injured badly and no-one in the two cars got hurt. Communities come in all shapes and sizes. Motor-bikers are one such and watching them rally round warmed my heart.

They pulled over, they got his bike up off the road and took pictures of it. They stopped and waited to see if he was okay. They shook their heads at the car driver who’d pulled out without due care and attention. And they said to themselves, there but for the grace of the universe and all that…

We took the motorbike up to the Drovers because it was such a beautiful day. As it was roasting hot, I elected not to wear the heavy leather trousers. It could have been me on that bike with only a thin non-protective layer between my skin and hard tarmac. Lesson learned? You betcha.

Clothes in women’s fiction

Black trackie bottoms (elasticated waistband a must) scuffed trainers and a hoodie that has seen much, much better days… My writer/home worker’s uniform is far from glamorous.

But one of the joyous bits of being a writer—and particularly if you write women’s fiction/chick lit—is living vicariously through your characters. Mine get to wear all kinds of beautiful outfits and shoes. I find myself on fashion websites seeking out the dresses, shoes, skirts and tops they might don. It’s even more fascinating when coming up with men’s clothing. Traditionally, their outfits veer towards boring but I love to make my men hyper stylish. I reward then with loud check print skinny-fit suits, silk bomber jackets and brogues polished to within an inch of their lives.

I wrote this scene some time ago, having Googled male fashion and found the outfit on Top Man…

Kelly twisted awkwardly in her seat to see who had attracted their attention. Oh, God. Nate Walker. She turned away quickly before he could catch sight of her.

Leon, his eyes still glued to Nate who had managed to pull off skinny chino shorts and a sleeveless pink hoodie over a white long-sleeved tee shirt, noticed the sudden move. “Do you know him?” he asked, awed.

Yes, he’s a rude arsehole,” she muttered. “And he’s straight.”

In that outfit? Kelly, are you sure? Ooh, he’s coming over…”

To her chagrin, Kelly realised she had been spotted. Nate had made his way over to their booth. “Hi Kelly. How are you?”

At least he looked faintly uncomfortable and the exaggerated politeness of the other day had gone.

Fine.” She bared her teeth in bad imitation of a smile.

Er… listen, sorry I was a bit rude the other day. Family problems. I wasnae in the best of fettle.”

As Leon and Martin were practically panting beside her, Kelly nodded quickly. “Apology accepted.”

Anyway, having made my last heroine, Gaby of Highland Fling, as scruffy as I am, I wanted to make Katya, who stars in Highland Heart, the stylish, well-dressed woman I’m sure lurks deep within me. So, here’s an insight into her wardrobe and what she would wear…

The Vampire’s Wife

Vampire's Wife dressI’m OBSESSED with this brand. Their dresses are out of this world beautiful, all styled along the same lines—slender bodices, a defined waist, high necklines and those voluminous sleeves. One day, one day I will own one and I will wear it do the housework in.

AUBERGINE_FIG_VELVET_7673_1024x1024As a fan of the big bag—all the better to carry around all your medical equipment, reading material, make-up and a couple of bottles of diet coke, I love the idea of matching your bag so precisely to your dress. This silk velvet version is a beauty, isn’t it?

Victoria Beckham

paw19_jk_ovr_51005a_black_2_3bcbb597-b9c6-4bdd-80e0-e148be2272e0_750xI’ve also a sneaky fondness for Victoria Beckham’s clothing line because of its simplicity and the exquisite tailoring. I’d give Katya this contrast sleeve biker jacket, and probably the trousers and polo-neck too. A word of caution though… VB’s clothes only go up to a size 16, which pisses me off. Honestly, any eejit can design for tall, skinny models. A few less small sizes, the 6s and 8s, and a few more bigger ones, the 18s and 20s would vastly improve the range.

Levi’s demi-curve jeans

Jeans aren’t a favourite of mine—it’s the non-elasticated waist thing—but I do own a pair of Levi’s demi curve straight leg jeans and they fit brilliantly. So Katya gets to wear them far often than I wear mine, dressing them up with heels or cork wedges, dressing them down with a pair of Converse boots.

Jimmy Choo’s

AW19_CROWNJEWELSAh, the shoes! It’s a women’s fiction cliché that shoes at the end of skinny, long bare legs often turn up on the cover of chick lit books. As someone who spends 90 percent of her life in flats, I do own some fabulous heels. But as Katya is fictional and doesn’t need to worry about walking too far in anything or how much that strap is going to rub the front of her foot, she’s like those women in Suits marching about the smart NY Pearson Spencer Litt office in their male fantasy cliché pencil skirts and sky-high heels. And we might as well go all out femme with this pair of Jimmy Choo heels that look wearable for precisely five seconds.

 

 

hands holding wedding ring

Picture inspiration for a Highland Wedding

Beautiful wedding dresses, hunky Korean male models and delicious rice dishes… I’m writing a new book and I’ve put together a board on Pinterest with pictures to inspire me.

I don’t consider myself all that visual, but this time Googling what things look like has been terrifically helpful. First off, I wanted an attractive man to serve as a secondary love interest so I typed in Korean male models. (Research—so hard!) I picked these two delightful gents and now I picture them when I’m writing the scenes my character appears in. I’ve called him Hyun-Ki in my book—partly because it sounds so close to ‘hunky’.

Kim Sun Wang - male model

Antonio Berardi wedding dress

Next, I needed a wedding dress—the kind of thing you might find in a designer shop where the dresses on the mannequins never have a price label on them. I found this Antonio Berardi version. Isn’t it absolutely beautiful? I particularly like the high neckline and the asymmetric hem. And as for the train—a thing of beauty, no?

My characters go to a Korean restaurant so in the interests of research I looked up recipes, stumbling on the gorgeously-titled bibimbap—Korea’s national dish. It’s a mix of rice and veggies, topped with strips of beef, a fried egg and spicy sauce. You use chopsticks to break the yolk and mix it in to the dish along with the sauce.

If you’d like the recipe, it is here. And I’ve included the picture of the dish I made, which was the not-as-pretty as the BBC food version one.bibimbap - rice, beef, veggies and a fried egg Gochugang sauce isn’t widely available so I used sriracha instead, which is super spicy so you don’t need as much.

As my heroine’s intended looks like Jamie Fraser of Outlander fame (or Sam Heughan the actor who plays him), I needed pictures of Jamie/Sam for my board too, and found plenty of lovely ones.

 

Finally, I looked up wedding cakes. You can find amazing cakes online, but I decided my home-made one topped the lot.

You can see my Highland Wedding board on Pinterest here.

Top 10 Procrastination Tips for Writers

HIGHLAND FLING – NOW ON AMAZON

So there I am, firing up the laptop and full of enthusiasm. I’ve a chapter to update or a blog post on the joys of cleaning (I write a lot of these). Whoop, whoop. Can’t wait to begin…

But first there are endless procrastination activities I can employ to delay the writing bit.

Here are some of my favourites:Highland Heart by Emma Baird

  1. Looking at the cover of Highland Heart (the book I’m writing at the moment) and phwoar-ing at the vector Dexter (dark hair and sunglasses) on the front cover. Tragically, I do this a lot.
  2. Checking my sales of Highland Fling on the Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard twice a day. And that’s me exerting gigantic amounts of willpower; otherwise I’d look every few hours.
  3. Watching cat videos on YouTube. No need to explain that one, eh? Here’s a fab one. No, no, no need to thank me.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjRs_WT8VzM
  4. Checking my viewing figures for my stories on Wattpad. See number two for other examples of pathetic cravings for external validation.
  5. Wandering the house looking for the cat so I can interrupt his busy sleeping schedule and tell him he is the loveliest diddly-dumpkins in the whole wide world.

    For the love of all things holy let me SLEEP

  6. Doing housework. No, really. If you are under the illusion that I’m a clean freak (see the reference to cleaning blogs above), I’m not but if housework delays that moment of putting pen to paper, I embrace it.
  7. Updating my writer chums with long, detailed emails about my progress on the Work In Progress and exchanging moans about book sales.
  8. Researching stuff. Does anyone else get this—where a random question strikes you and you think to yourself, ‘Aha! That’s the first thing I’ll do when I go online. Find out the history of the Medicis.’* And then you vanish down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia, emerging hours later with more knowledge than you’ll ever need about Renaissance Florence.
  9. Checking your social media accounts. “I need to do this,” you tell yourself, “for professional reasons and not because I’ll get sucked into whatever is trending on Twitter and get caught up in conversation threads for hours on end.”
  10. Pacing the floor because steps. If I stay in front of my laptop for too long, my entire body will seize up and I’ll be rushed to A&E where the doctors will need to perform emergency surgery to unbend my limbs. Better walk about a LOT then.

*Triggered because I’m watching Medici: Masters of Florence on Netflix at the moment.

How to fail at book marketing

Sorry about the click bait title. Over the last few years, I’ve worked out selling books is—to use that old cliché—the hardest bit of the book journey.

Writing and publishing is the gentle 5k run bit. Selling is the marathon. Scrap that, it’s an ultra marathon. That horrible hard one people run in the African desert where most participants drop out long before the finish.

Anyway, here are the bits of branding and marketing I’ve made a spectacular mess of…

Self-promotion via social media

It’s free! You can reach thousands, no tens of thousands of people.

In theory, yes, if you’ve managed to add tonnes of folks to your platforms. And your skin is thick enough not to cringe when you upload yet another self-promotional post. You guys!!!! So EXCITED for you!!!! My book is out next week. Pre-order now. You guys are the BEST. XXXX

And seeing as millions of people are online trying to do the same thing, your voice drowns out in the all the noise anyway.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Concentrate on a few platforms, keep the messaging consistent and find a better way of engaging the people I think want to read women’s fiction.

A website

Cool. I’ve already got a blog. That will be the best place to promote my stuff, right? Do as I did. Start your blog on a different subject, change direction half-way through so now you have half your followers who signed up expecting one thing, and the other half expecting something else.

Try to craft blog posts that cater to both. Always a winning strategy, hmm?

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: When I decided the focus of my blog was to be books and writing, I’d have set up a new blog and started from the beginning. Then I could have targeted the audience I wanted more effectively.

The cover sells the book

Yes it does. Most of my books have beautiful covers (see left). If people spot them in the first place. Amazon’s too crowded for visibility these days unless you pay for adverts, the cost of which have risen to ridiculous levels in the last six months because, guess what, everyone else is advertising too.

Put yourself EVERYWHERE

I’m on every single online platform in the world (feels like). Proper authors have virtual assistants who do this kind of thing for them. They make sure all links work, keep newsfeeds up to date, check notifications, respond to queries etc., etc.

As I don’t have a VA, I wrestle with remembering passwords, if I’ve priced my book consistently across all channels and which promotion I’ve tried to implement on what book and when. The admin of social media accounts is what they will make people do in prisons for punishment in years to come.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Scale back my social media accounts to the ones I think work for books. (Pinterest? Instagram and an active, engaged Facebook group perhaps?) I’d also write out checklists for the books’ admin and schedule social media time so it was consistent but not a procrastination tool.

Hope a plea for reviews at the end of a book is enough

Most authors will agree with me–it stings like mad when people you know read your book and don’t review it… (That’s if they read it in the first place instead of just buying it out of obligation.) Anyone who doesn ‘t work in the freelance world, which is what anyone who writes a book does, might not know how crucial reviews are nowadays. Make allowances for them.

Think TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Yelp and Uber. Without reviews, you are invisible. Review begging is everywhere. From restaurants with signs on the door, to podcasts that end with a plea for the listener to review them on iTunes, it is common. Even if you would rather your dentist removed your wisdom teeth, remember everyone else is at it too.

It is also worth remembering that the proportion of readers who review a book is much, much smaller than the number who read it.

WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY: Focus on finding plenty of advance readers who are happy to read the book ahead of publication and review it as soon as the book comes out. This can’t be the condition they read the book, as that is unethical. However, if they do like it with any luck they won’t mind leaving you a review.

Flit from one thing to the next

See above. Ooh, this bright new shiny thing will work for sure! Tries new thing. Fails. Out there, services for authors have sprung up like weeds in the last five years.

From publishing services, aggregators who distribute your book to channels you’ve never heard of, to software that promises to analyse Amazon for you and reveal the mystery keywords that will help your book reach the heady heights of front page listings. Then, there are the gazillion (expensive) courses that focus on marketing and selling.

Throw plenty of money at your books and sure, they will sell. What is someone with limited disposable income to do? What’s worth paying for? My thoughts are covers, editing and proofreading and a small budget for ads. Other than that, I’m sure other things work. I just don’t know which ones.

Not knowing when to give up

You will never sell enough books to make an income. You’ll be lucky to break even. Say, someone said that to me six years ago. They guaranteed their promises. At the time, I would have given up.

Now? No, not at all. I love writing and creation. Last week, I spent a few hours wrestling with the plot of the latest book I’m writing to make it flow better. When I’d finished, the glow lasted the rest of the day and into the weekend.

If you make your goals teeny-tiny—sell enough of a book to pay for what I spend on covers, editing and proofing—achievement looks much more do-able.

Small things convince me to continue—the number of people who downloaded my freebie book. Strangers’ reviews. And some not so small either, such as last year when one of my books got long-listed in the Wattys (151,000+ entries).

Keep calm and carry on…