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…

pink glitter publishing Emma Baird

The Kobo Experiment part one #amwriting

""My books are on Amazon, of course they are, but what if I stopped focussing on making Amazon the bee all and end all, and took a punt on life outside the mighty behemoth?

In the UK as in many other countries Amazon is blamed for destroying the high street and the old model of business. It’s a Darwinism type principle (only the fittest survive), but you could argue that too many regulators have moved too slowly to put the requisite checks and balances in place.

I use the site so moral objections come with that all-encompassing qualifier, “yes, but…” I buy from it, I sell books there and I read the reviews before I purchase things. A qualifier for the first part of that sentence—I try to sell books on Amazon.

It’s almost impossible these days without splashing out on Amazon ads, thanks to the algorithm changes they have made. Bear in mind this charge is on top of the commission Amazon takes on each sale.

Still, it is worth remembering that it’s easier to be a big fish in a smaller pond. Almost everyone agrees that if you want to sell books on Amazon, we’re now in pay to play territory. Advertise, or die; your book thrust into the seventh, eighth, ninth page of rankings. They’re the pages so few people bother with. (And dear reader, it is worth checking them out— the ranking is more to do with advertising spend than anything else).

One huge irony is that even if you make a book free (the first in a series so you can persuade people to then buy the rest of the books in that series) is you still need to advertise that book, as ‘free’ doesn’t give you the same visibility it used to.

Downloads of my books world-wide.

What if you hang out in the little ponds? My first e-reader was a Kobo. My husband, he of the intense research before you buy fame, reckoned a Kobo was a better bet than a Kindle. You could use it to get library books. I agreed. It’s lack of advertising (well, apart from books), the long battery life, the eye/head/mental health type screen are additional bonuses.

And, shock horror, Kindle and Amazon aren’t as widespread as you might think. Look beyond the US and the UK and you see a healthy e-book market that doesn’t just want the mobi. docs (Amazon only) but screams for epub files (what every other e-book reader uses).

To be clear, I don’t intend to take my books off Amazon–just to concentrate any marketing efforts elsewhere.  So far, a £3 promotion I ran on Kobo has resulted in more than 625 downloads of my free book in more than 40 countries. In the digital world, this is nothing but we small folks save the website address in our favourite buttons and update every day just so we can watch the number increase. The next step is to work out what can you get from a free promotion:

  • One, make sure there are links to all your other paid books in there
  • Ditto, a sign-up for a mailing list
  • Third, a teaser for the next book.

You can still use social media for a bit of ‘advertising’. But as a writer, I identify (as most of us will) as an introvert. Self-promotion on social media platforms—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al—makes me feel as if I need three weeks in a solitary retreat. One where I beg the universe to reveal my higher calling and release me from the grubby modern-day world of non-stop self-promotion.

So far, she has come up with—make white chocolate raspberry cake! The people want to eat cake! Closely followed by, still not cleaned that silver platter you inherited? Pity, your sister would have done it by now had she been given it. Be the best owner of a cat there has ever been.

cat sleeping on laptop

The best owners let their cats do this.

Apart from the latter the inner voice hasn’t been one hundred percent helpful.

My mission for the rest of 2019 is—not to bother with Amazon Advertising, work out what I can do on Kobo and share the results with you.

Jedburgh abbey

Borders country – inspiration for writers (and terrific places to visit)

Do you ever visit places because you’ve read about them in fiction? Writing can do that—conjure up places, educate you and inspire curiosity.. Years ago, I visited Rosslyn Chapel thanks to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and this year’s spring break featured a trip to Vindolanda.

Vindolanda, in case you haven’t heard of it, is the remains of a Roman army camp in Northumbria, what was the edge of the empire for centuries. I’d read a couple of historical fiction books by Adiran Goldsworthy that featured Vindolanda, and as I find the Romans fascinating I was desperate to visit.

VindolandaWhat a place… Northumbria is wild and rugged in places so picturing a Roman army in situ and their guarding of the fort and the nearby Hadrian’s Wall is easy to imagine. The remains of the fort and the surrounding villages are complemented by a museum, every artefact in there excavated from Vindolanda.

Preserved shoes

A remarkable set of conditions resulted in the find of the largest number of Roman empire leather goods in the world. (I know; in cold, damp England of all places.)

And Vindolanda is also famous for its collection of wax tablets—basically, cards people wrote on, from an invite to a child’s birthday party, to a letter to the commander from a soldier protesting at the injustice of a severe beating.

How does the past come alive? When people in those times write about their ordinary lives, and the curators of Vindolanda view the tablets as their most precious find. Rightly so.

Sir Walter Scott

Still on the writer theme, we visited Smailholm Tower, made famous by Sir Walter Scott. The famous Scots writer stayed at the nearby Sandyknowe farm when he was a child to recover from illness.

There, his aunt Jenny taught him how to read and the tower, by then unoccupied and derelict, stirred in him a lie-long passion for the history and ballads of the Scottish borders, from fairy tales to the legends of the Reivers. His second publication, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, tells many of those tales.

Tamlane figurine displayThe tower has lots of little models that enact some of those ballads and fairy tales, created by a local artist. (I wish I’d taken note of her name because I can’t find mention of her anywhere.)

I loved them, and my picture here doesn’t do The Young Tamlane justice. The ghost horses, the woman who sits on his cloak to save him from the fairy queen… again, powerful imagery.

Abbeys

The Scottish Borders are studded with the remains of abbeys, and we visited three of them.

In the 12th century, King David I thought their construction would impress and awe his English neighbours—look how wealthy and sophisticated we Scots are, kind of thing.

Mel;rose abbeyUnfortunately for the abbeys of the Borders, their proximity to the English made them easy targets in times of war. Of the three we went to, Jedburgh (featured image), Kelso and Melrose (left), the most intact one is the Cistercian abbey at Melrose and it’s awe-inspiring.

 

Old churches and abbeys fascinate me, especially when you consider the work that went into building them. And given what happened to Notre Dame this week, the abbey visits felt particularly fitting.

Food, glorious food

picture of woman with a glass of wine sitting in front of a ruined abbeyIf greed is your motto, Northumbria and the Borders offer plenty of choice when it comes to food and drink. We stopped off at a quirky place near Hadrian’s Wall for lunch one day, its walls festooned with beagle pictures and horse brasses. The Belter’s Bar in Jedbugh specialises in home-made beefburgers and the choice of toppings huge so we ate there twice.

And finally, the weather in Scotland hasn’t been great so far this year but on the final night of our holiday, it was warm enough to have that first drink outside. As you can seen from the background, drinking in the shadow of historical monuments adds gravitas to the occasion…

Pink Glitter Publishing logo

Instagram for #writers

These days, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you need advanced design skills to promote your books effectively. A lot of the author folks I see on Instagram and Pinterest with followers in their thousands and tens of thousands regularly post beautiful, professional images of sleek iMacs, instead of ancient, battered laptops as this writer uses, accompanied by meaningful quotes.

I’m flummoxed. My design and photography skills are crap, my marketing budget negligible and I keep muttering to myself, writer NOT designer. Different skill set!

Anyway, I’m trying to make smarter use of Pinterest and Instagram as they are thought to be more useful to writers than Twitter. I’ve come up with some ideas. Feel free to borrow them:

Hashtags—for many of you, this is stating the obvious but you need the writer or book genre related hashtags, such as #amwriting, #writerscommunity, #bookstagram , #romcom etc., even though the writer in me loathes hashtags.

An extract from your book—this is my favourite one as it gives you the opportunity to share your writing. I find an extract, copy it from the book, expand the font size to 16 or 18 and then use the snipping tool to make a screen grab, share it in Dropbox and upload to Instagram from there.

Screen grabs are great in general because you can do things such as copy one of your reviews on Amazon (a positive one, obvs), the words THE END when you finish a book and your dashboard on Kindle Direct Publishing or Kobo if you hit an upwards-soaring run of sales.

Hand-written notes you then photograph—another goodie. In 2019, few of us see other people’s handwriting. Mine isn’t brilliant, but it’s readable. If you can ask a question or make a funny point, even better.

Shameless use of your pet—okay, so then you attract likes and comments from the cat lovers, but I reckon many of them are voracious readers too. My cat, handily, likes to park himself next to my laptop. Endless photo opportunities with the hashtag #catsandwriters

Book covers, obviously—and you can share versions you’re considering and ask people which one they think is the best. Again, you can post them on Instagram via Dropbox. (You need to upload the Dropbox app to your phone to do this, and be aware that on a free account there are limits to how many devices you can put the app on.) When you pay a designer to create a book cover for you, it is worth paying the extra for promotional images which can be used on all the social media platforms. This gives you a library of images to use for one book.

Home-made covers—because I post most of my writing on Wattpad, I create home-made covers on Canva. Canva is useful in general for creating images and you can use it for Instagram and Pinterest posts.

Infographics—I’ve done one so far, but a list of points about writing (and particularly if you’re offering advice) works brilliantly as an infographic. If you label it well and edit the metadata, this makes it more likely to show up in Pinterest searches.

Videos. You can create home-made ones on Lumen5.com and they’ll offer you the option to download file sizes good for Instagram or Pinterest. I created mine from the blurb for my book on this blog.

Pictures of what you imagine your main characters look like, which works well on Pinterest for visibility.

Here are some of the examples of pictures I’ve used on Instagram: