Ten Little Stars by Emma Baird

Ten Little Stars – A Freebie for You

Ten Little Stars by Emma Baird

Your incentive to join my mailing list.

While I try to figure out how to add an email sign up pop-up to my website (it a) has to be free, and b) incredibly easy to do) this week’s blog is an invitation to you, dear reader, to join my mailing list.

On the goals list I set for 2018 way, way back in January of this year, I wrote ‘mailing list’. This, the gurus of self-publishing who all sell far more books than I do, promise me is a must-have. You can promote directly to readers, it doesn’t depend on a pigging algorithm which could change any second (a la Facebook, a la Amazon) and it is still the best return on investment when it comes to marketing, even though three billion things have happened since emails first arrived on the planet.

Apart from bull-dozing my family into handing over their email addresses (and I won’t even bother asking on the premise they’re unlikely to report me to the Information Commissioner for breaking the GDPR rules*), this will not be an extensive list. But you’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m keen to get to the end of the year and say, “Well, EB, you ticked off a lot of the stuff on that list. Round of applause and a glass of fizzy wine for you.”

Ten Little Stars

One is also supposed to offer an incentive to join the list, a freebie the price you pay to someone to hand over their precious email address. Sadly, my killer white chocolate and raspberry cake isn’t the kind of thing I can hand out this way. A pity, because that cake is the bomb. Instead, my freebie is Ten Little Stars, an e-book collection of short stories. Some of them focus on characters who exist in my books and add back story to give you a better picture of them. Others are ones I entered into competitions—one’s a winner and the other was highly commended.

Another thing I promise is that I’ll keep the content less sales and more chatty. No-one likes sales bombardment or bombardment by emails. I unsubscribe rapidly whenever whatever mailing list I’ve signed up for—wine, self-publishing and cats all feature—gets a little too enthusiastic with their postings.

So, if you’d like to join my mailing list in return for a free collection of short stories, email me at pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com. As I’m not yet ready to embrace auto-responders, I’ll be emailing you back to say thanks individually, so it might take a little longer than usual. If you want it, I’m happy to hand over the recipe for that cake so you too can embrace its delightful deliciousness.

And of course, the usual rules apply. I promise not to sell your address on, I’ll use it only for the purpose of sending out MY newsletter and I will guard your address as carefully as I take care of my beloved and incredibly spoiled cat. Promise, cross my heart and hope to die.

Thank you!

*Here’s hoping, hmm—or Christmas will be very awkward. 

This week I’m… #writerslife #amwriting

This week, I’ve:

Found out more about the Tudors… My friend bought me a couple of tickets for events at the annual Aye Write festival, a reading and writing festival that takes part in Glasgow every March/April. We’re both big Tudor fans; the fact that none of them were nice people and some of them downright dreadful doesn’t deter us.

portrait of Mary Queen of Scots

The first talk was by the historian and broadcaster, Kate Williams, discussing Elizabeth and Mary, the rival queens. Throughout her life, Mary was betrayed by those around her—from her half-brother, the lords at court, her husbands and finally Elizabeth herself. Kate Williams pointed out that Mary adopted many of the same statesmanship practices as Elizabeth and yet they didn’t work in Scotland for various reasons. The historian felt her mother’s sending her to France as a young girl was the first mistake, and if she had a time machine Kate Williams said she would have gone back to the 16th Century and stopped Mary going to England after her lords revolted against her.

Henry VIII

The second event focused on Henry VIII and the men around him, where writer Tracy Borman argued the king wasn’t “the one dimensional monster” he is often portrayed as. I’m not convinced, but her talk was fascinating and I loved her suggestion that Henry’s father was a long-lasting influence on his son. Fact fans—Henry VIII died on what would have been his father’s 90th birthday.

Friends, I’m not terrible cultured. I love book events because they are… er, short. Yes, and thought-provoking too but my focus isn’t required for too long and I have been to few book launches or events that I haven’t found worthwhile. I like hearing a writer read his or her own work as it adds something special to the experience. Some years ago, I heard the late author Andrea Levy read from The Long Song and it was spine-tingling.

Bird-watching in the Levengrove Park. So far, no-one’s told the weather spring is upon us. The daffodils have poked their heads out only to find themselves battered to bits by wind and rain. However, on Sunday the rain and winds took a well-deserved rest, and I took myself to the local park nearby for a bid-watching session organised by the local rangers. Since taking up bird-feeding last year, I’ve discovered a new-found appreciation for the birds of this fair island, whose numbers have nose-dived in recent years. As usual, humankind and its greedy acquisition of everything around us, is to blame.

Book sales

And finally, I’ve saved the best bit for last—selling books. In the last week, I’ve sold 107 copies of Ten Little Stars. Some qualifiers dear friends; the book is free. I paid £3 for a promotion deal on Kobo*. But I think any writer will tell you, the currency of readers often feels more precious than hard cash. I’m not that altruistic. My long-term aim is to be able to write full-time and make an income from it. I have four books for sale and only one of them has made me money so far. My years of not selling fiction don’t discourage me—visibility is my main problem—but the 107 sales in one week are gratifying. The Kobo dashboard tells me the bulk of them are in Canada (home of Kobo), but I’ve sold in 19 other countries too—from Latvia to Turkey, Australia to South Africa, the Philippines, the UK, Spain and others.

I’m one year older this week. Inside, my eighteen-year-old self survives though she objects to the wrinkles and grey hair, and sometimes pipes up, “Still, Emma? You keep doing this and have yet to get the message it doesn’t work?” To celebrate, Sandy and I went to Inverary for the night, travelling through snow-topped hills and past sun-danced lochs, ate sublime food at the Inverary Inn and drank wine. As birthdays go, it was hard to beat.

*Dear other writers—Kobo promotions and ads are three hundred times easier and more effective than Amazon ads.

Food in fiction #amwriting

When you love food as much as I do, it’s not surprising it turns up a lot in my writing. As a freelance copywriter, I pounce on jobs that have a food element to them—I’m currently writing a lot of copy about mushrooms for one client, and I’ve written and edited a few books about diet and lifestyle.

In my other blogging life (I’m sorry to say I two-time you, dear reader, with another blog), I create a lot of low-carb recipes for those who want to follow that way of eating. But where I get the most pleasure writing about food is in my fiction. There, I create the best versions of chocolate cake, cheese-topped pizzas, crisp, triple-friend chips, risottos and more. Call it food porn if you will, especially as I often write about the dishes I don’t eat that often what with the type 1 diabetes getting in the way.

Anyway, here are a few examples of the dishes I have featured. If I’ve done this properly, once you’ve finished reading, you’ll find yourself desperate for cake/pizza/risotto or whatever. Two of my favourite food writers are Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, whose descriptions of often very simple dishes are mouth-watering. If I can write about food half as well as they do, I’ll be delighted.

Pizza and chips

From Highland Fling: When the pizza arrives, I’m not sure what to do. Should I eat it with my fingers or a knife and fork, or do we just dig in and rip it apart with our fingers? Ryan was funny about sharing food. He hated me taking chips from his plate and if I ever asked for a taste of anything he was eating, he would sigh, spear up a tiny bit of it with his fork and dump it on my plate. The pizza comes with chips wrapped in fake newspaper and a garlic dip.

You go first, Gaby,” Jack says, and I pretend lady-likeness. My mum once told me that when she was a teenager, girls weren’t meant to eat very much and especially not in front of men. Jack watches me spear a chip with my fork. He shakes his head and tips half of them onto my plate, dolloping spoonfuls of garlic dip on top and handing me the slice of pizza that is most generously covered in melted cheese. Oh heck. This is doing nothing for the campaign I wage where I persuade him Kirsty’s his one true love. I count up the chips he tipped on my plate and realise it’s not half the portion, more like two thirds.

He gave me two thirds of his chips, Katya. My best friend gets it straight away. Jeez, Gaby. He’s a keeper.

From Highland Fling: I grin at Ryan. Chips are our nemesis. He ordered them. I didn’t, therefore the chips are solely, exclusively Ryan’s. Last time I nicked chips off a man, he gave in with good grace. I move the bowl towards me and he yanks it back before remembering himself. It is pushed, begrudgingly, back. I adopt the same beaming smile and dig in, ignoring the tic in his jaw as I bite into and swallow chips number four, five, eight, ten, the last used as a stick to swirl through garlic mayonnaise, scoop up the biggest blob of it and plank it in my mouth.

Cake and chicken wings

From Highland Fling: Pink icing, the exact colour of the Blissful Beauty branding, holds together five layers of dark sponge, the lot covered in a ganache that sparkles with edible silver glitter. The chef has studded the top of the cake with stars made from white chocolate and piped a perfect BB in whipped cream on the top. We pick up the cake forks in unison, waiting for someone to fire the starter pistol.

Katya breaks the cake stand-off, using her tiny fork to scrape off a ginormous helping of cream and chocolate ganache. Mhari and I follow her example, and the three of us are silenced as smooth, rich cocoa flavoured with hazelnut, vanilla and what might be brandy hits the backs of our throats.

From High Heels and Pink Glitter:

Still sniggering to himself, Ryan headed back to the kitchen. There was a packet of coated chicken wings in the fridge that only needed heating up in the oven. He tipped the lot out onto a roasting tin and then decided one was not enough. He added the second packet to the tin and shoved them in the oven. He’d once been at the flat when Matt and Jamie embarked on a drunken discussion about the amazingness of chicken wings, and whether the ones you got from the supermarket could ever match those from KFC or Wetherspoon’s. Conclusion? No. The discussion had lasted roughly 15 minutes.

Seafood and fish

From Artists Town: I’m gonnae try out a new dish of the day today,” Mick said. “Would you two taste it for me?”

The dish he presented to them looked beautiful, reminding Daisy of the food you got in French restaurants. When she told him this, the grin he gave her split his face in two. The dish was seafood crepes, thin pancakes folded over a creamy sauce with prawns and scallops and garnished with watercress in a balsamic dressing.

Daisy took a generous forkful. It was as delicious as it looked, and she didn’t need any encouragement to take another mouthful.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Daniel blushed faintly and then shrugged. He grabbed two thick slices of the bread that had been made in the shop that very afternoon and buttered them thickly. He added in the cheese savoury filling (a blend of grated cheese and home-made coleslaw with chopped onion) and added in an extra spoonful of mayonnaise and some sliced tomatoes. The poor girl |looked so thin after all.

From A Sandwich At The End of the Night: Years ago, when Cate lived in London fish and chips had been a weekly treat on a Friday night. Her cabbie father would pick them up for the family at the end of his shift, if he wasn’t working too late.

She recalled those happy Fridays. “Catey gal I got fish and chips!” he would chirp as he came in. By that time, the minutes they had sat in a cab added up to ten or 15, and they were soggy. Cate never minded. She and her mother received those newspaper bags of sodden fish and chips gratefully. As an only child, Cate had been a daddy’s girl and that smell – fried fish and potatoes – reminded her strongly of her father and Friday nights.

She remembered vinegar-saturated batter and chips. Warm and steaming in the newspaper, she loved the starchiness of the batter and the taste of potatoes off set with tongue-tingling acidity. Even the mushy peas were a welcome addition to post-war rations lack of variety. With a liberal helping of salt and malt vinegar they made the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips.

Characters and what they look like #amwriting #Scottishromance

I don’t know what my characters look like. That sounds daft, I know, but my idea of them is vague. Rough height and the space they take up is there, but the rest is hazy. Eye colour, hair texture, shape of face and all those other physical characteristics refuse to make themselves known.

It was interesting, therefore, when a graphic designer created a cover for me for Highland Fling. I described the male love interest as resembling Jamie Fraser, aka Sam Heughan, of Outlander fame, but I still didn’t know what he looked like. And as for my protagonist, I knew her heart and head but little else.

cover picture of Highland FlingAs you can see from the cover, Enni Tuomisalo of Yummy Book Covers fleshed them out for me. If you read Enni’s blogs on cover design, she explains the ‘rules’ of chick lit design thoroughly. Illustration is most commonly used, as photographs unless in the hands of an arty designer will scream self-published (though props often work well). But another rule is that faces aren’t shown—unless the book is turned into a successful film or series and then the cover is re-released with the actors’ faces in place.

‘No face’ rule

Enni has drawn my heroine with her back to us—a common convention in chick lit because of the ‘no face’ rule. Why is this rule in place? The argument is that romance readers want to imagine the main character themselves. Seeing their face imposes someone else’s interpretation of the character. And if you’re writing chick lit in first person as I tend to do, then I want my readers to be able to imagine themselves as my main characters. Easier if they don’t have a picture of what her face looks like.

And the male character? Again, it’s common not to show his face. Years ago, I remember watching the TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s Riders book and being disappointed with the actor who played Rupert Campbell-Black as he looked nothing like I’d imagined. Many of the books that do choose photos for front covers use ripped torsos with the head cut off—perhaps for that reason. Put your own blond, dark-haired, red-head interpretation on top*.

Enni’s cover shows a rough approximation of my main characters and I’m delighted to find out what he looks like. That isn’t contradicting all I’ve just said because as an illustration and one in the background, he’s still vague enough for people to let their imaginations run free.

Highland Fling is due out summer 2019. To keep up to date with launches and giveaways, please consider joining my mailing list – pinkglitterpubs@gmail.com. Thanks!

*One thing I’m conscious of here is the lack of diversity on covers. White men and women—and usually young and very glamorous ones—dominate, which must alienate an awful lot of people.

My Cover story #amwriting #writersworld

D’nah! The big reveal—may I present the cover to my next book, Highland Fling, coming soon to an online book store near you…

cover picture of Highland FlingAnd behind every cover, there’s a story. Literally, of course, given that this is a book, but I’d like to share with you the story of Enni, Eric and me, a weird and wonderful coincidence the universe in her wisdom gave me. Blessing be upon you, mamma.

Firstly, Enni. So, there I am on Wattpad, bumbling along posting up stories, attracting a few followers and reads (though nothing like the numbers the popular guys and gals get), doing the odd thing that gets attention (hello Wattys2018) and creating my own niche genres such as plus-size vampire erotica*. All in all, Wattpad isn’t all it promised from the outset. I think about leaving and concentrating my efforts elsewhere.

Graphic design

And then I find myself a new follower who starts adding a lot of comments to my stuff. Highland Fling’s protagonist is a graphic designer—so is my new follower. Highland Fling includes a character from New Zealand—my new follower is also a Kiwi, albeit an adopted one. She fills me in on the practicalities of graphic design. My Kiwi slang is right in parts, wrong in others. She tells me outside of Auckland, the nickname for Aucklanders is Jafas. I leave it to your superior imagination to guess what the acronym stands for. You can leave your answers in the comments if you like, though please use stars for the F-bit.

Fast forward a bit, and the Wattpad commenter and I take our conversations off Wattpad and onto email. Reader, I have done this a lot over the last six or seven years and I heartily recommend it. I’ve done this with folks I’ve met through LinkedIn (hello Eric, Gordon, Russell and Ann-Louise!), Upwork (hello Caron, Sharon and Jenni!), and now Wattpad. My new NZ friend is thinking about setting up a side hustle as a book cover designer and she volunteers to use my book as her guinea pig. She’s read it too, so unlike most book cover designers, she knows the story inside out. She sends me the cover and I’m overwhelmed. What a stroke of luck.

You can find her website at yummybookcovers.com

Beta readers

My other stroke of luck is Eric, of LinkedIn fame. He volunteered to beta read my story; and he’s a retired editor with many years’ experience. I told him not to get too bogged down in correcting my dodgy grasp of the English language because I didn’t want the task to take up too much of his time, but he did so anyway. A professional editor read over my book and offered tonnes of useful suggestions**. Eric tells me he’s thinking of a side hustle too offering beta reader services, and if you are in the market for such critiques why not give him a shout? Eric’s beta reading service will:

  • offer feedback on your plot and characters, and opinions on clarity
  • make suggestions for plot developments you might want to consider
  • tell you the words and phrases you overuse, and pull you up on cliché use
  • point out which physical actions your characters take are impossible.

Blessing be upon you, mamma universe again.

*My most popular book on Wattpad to date. Who knew? It’s here, if you’re interested…

**Writing this with him in mind, and worrying about my terrible sentence construction habits.

Book + Main and plans, plans, plans

Books + Main on Emma Baird's blogPlans for this year included smarter social media use—y’know, instead of that jumping from platform to platform, creating accounts left, right and centre, updating all of them in fits of enthusiasm and then tumble-weed for weeks at a time.

Reader, that was me. Not any more; I now have a spreadsheet. Yes, yours truly has come up with the super-sad spreadsheet which outlines what platforms she will use and when. Lord, it’s a thing of joy. I’m tempted to upload it here so you too can marvel at it. It’s the Marie Kondo approach to organising my butterfly brain and getting rid of the clutter.

Honestly, I keep opening this spreadsheet and gazing at it, awe-struck. A double bonus is that I recently found out how to do strike-through font in Excel, so not only do I have my list but I CAN CROSS THINGS OUT WHEN I’VE DONE THEM.

So, bye-bye Pinterest and Google+, cheerio to random log-ins to accounts* and hello Book+Main and scheduled postings and checks. Book + Main, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a new platform specifically designed to connect writers of women’s fiction and romance in particular, with writers. It seems the ideal place to be. It’s predictably pink and hearts-like in design, but there we go. For the moment author accounts are free and you can showcase your work there.

I’ve posted up what they refer to as ‘bites’. Book + Main’s creator reasons book blurbs rarely give you a feel for the writing, whereas an extract will. Unlike Amazon, the writer gets to choose the extract so it doesn’t have to be the first few pages. I’ll report back—hopefully with news that my account has taken off, I’ve been bitten thousands of times and my book sales have soared.

I love the new and shiny, and every time I embark on something new, I tell myself this is going to work—hooray! As Winston Churchill once put it, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

I embrace that saying fully.

*time wasting, social media’s main role in my life so far.

Patreon – Supporting Creatives

This week, I decided it was about time I became a Patreon. For those of you who haven’t heard of the business, Patreon offers artists, writers and other creatives payment through a voluntary scheme where you can sign up to pay the person regularly.

YouTubers, podcasters and bloggers often use Patreon, and Patreon subscribers get extra material such as additional audio content, Q and A sessions with the creator and more. I’ve been listening to The Creative Penn podcast for two years, and I’ve learned a lot from Joanna Penn and her guests.

The podcast is aimed at indie publishers, but it doesn’t concentrate on the marketing part of the business. Marketing is crucial for any self-publisher, but entire podcasts on the subject become dull after a while. They target a certain audience too—the people who have enough completed projects to market, when many of us are looking for advice about creating covers, finding a good editor, creating the right author mindset in the first place.

All aspects of writing

Joanna’s show talks about many aspects to writing—from growth, to protecting your intellectual property, scaling up your business and the craft of writing. Every podcast begins with news about the publishing industry which is always fascinating and useful.

Joanna is known for content marketing. Her podcast is a prime example. The aim behind content marketing is creating a relationship with audiences—in the hope they buy something from you, eventually. My two years’ free listening to the show needled my conscience. If you enjoy it and use it, pay for it…

I listen to a lot of podcasts and many of them are also Patreon-modelled too. So far I’ve ignored the pleas, though occasionally I unsubscribe, deciding that if I’m not willing to pay, I shouldn’t listen. The same applies for online news sites that ask for subscriptions, such as the Guardian. As I’m too mean (and also poor) to pay, I try not to read them.

Advice for diabetics

I’d love to make one of my blogs Patreon supported—the Diabetes Diet one is the more likely candidate as I write this with a doctor and we have useful advice to offer. (In contrast, this blog is a collection of witterings, the majority of it irrelevant to most of you.) But the Diabetes Diet website would need a design overhaul first, and some thought put into how you work a blog for Patreons so they get more than your average viewer. The idea is something to consider for 2019.

One of Joanna’s oft-repeated messages is the importance of multiple streams of income, so you aren’t dependent on one pay master. I have multiple streams of income; it’s just that none of them make me big sums of money. On the other hand, a varied working life makes me very happy. Picking the hours I work or don’t is another bonus. If I weigh up money versus happiness, I come down hard in favour of the ‘h’ word.

On a separate topic, the week kicked off well when my sister sent me a link to a Wikipedia page that mentioned me. My alma mater’s notable alumni included Emma Baird, author. (It’s an awfy wee school.) Whoop, whoop.

Burns Night Book Group

The Fatal Tree book coverFittingly, given the literary connection, the January meeting of the book group I belong to took place on Burns Night. Bring on the haggis…

In deference to the vegetarians in our group, I made Felicity Cloake’s version of a veggie haggis which uses split peas, pearl barley and vegetables to add flavour to the oatmeal. All Spice and plenty of black pepper made it taste authentically haggis-like. For the neeps and tatties bit I went with the BBC recipe here mainly because it meant I could prepare the dish the day before. Haggis can be dry, so a creamy whisky sauce makes it more palatable. To continue the Scottish theme, the menu included smoked salmon, mackerel, a punchingly strong vintage cheddar and a Strathdon Blue with biscuits.

The Flash World

And the book? I chose Jack Arnott’s The Fatal Tree, as I read it last year, enjoyed it ever so much and wanted to know what others thought. The book is based on the real-life story of Jack Sheppard* told through his girlfriend, Edgeworth Bess. Sheppard was notorious for his repeated jail breaks in the 1720s, a period of history when crime rates soared through the roof as tends to happen when differences between the rich and poor yawn so widely. The book also featured the real-life characters, Jonathan Wild, the Thief-Taker General and a rank bad jin as we say in this part of the world, and the playwright John Gay, who wrote The Beggar’s Opera said to be based on Sheppard, Wilde and the Whig politicians of the time.

It explored the rich, underground world of London, social inequality, gay subcultures, criminality and poverty. I loved the canting vocabulary used throughout—the slang terms of the so-called flash world, the underworld of the time. Others, though, found it slowed their reading. The book included a glossary at the back but when we read the book many of us found it didn’t take long to get used to the language and work it out for yourself – Romeville for London, the flat world for ‘normal’ society, phiz mongers for portrait painters, caper merchant for dancing teacher, hempen widow, a woman whose husband has been hanged, and so on.

Our book group doesn’t spend most of the evening on the book—when you’ve all been friends for years and for some of us (me), the book group represents the bulk of our social lives so the night is an opportunity to catch up—but the consensus was… mostly in favour.

Thanks to the language and the descriptions, A Fatal Tree is terrifically atmospheric and something you can easily imagine being adapted for TV or film. Jake Arnott’s book, The Long Firm was televised some time ago. Last night, we spent some time trying to think up who could play Edgeworth Bess, Jack Sheppard, Jonathan Wild et al. If you’ve ever played the casting game with one of your favourite books, it’s much harder than it seems.

All in all, a great book and a great night.

Did you celebrate Burns Night? And can veggie haggis ever be as good as the real thing?!

 

*Co-incidentally, this week’s news included the story of man who fled the UK, and was then found guilty in absentia of the man-slaughter of his date. He has since handed himself into the authorities in Georgia. His name? Jack Shepherd.