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.

Highland Wedding #romcom

couple in wedding outfitsAh, the writer’s life… I’ve started the final book in my trilogy, the Highland Books. Called Highland Wedding, it’s a fascinating insight into the funeral industry… I’m kidding.

Highland Wedding is a rom-com starring the two characters from book one, Highland Fling. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Jack, will you marry me?”

Plenty of people are traditionalists. They believe, even though we are well into the 21st century, that it is still the man’s job to propose marriage. When I said to Katya I was thinking of proposing to Jack, she told me to go for it. The modern woman blah blah… before shuddering.

My best friend has a dim view of marriage, given her mother’s track record. And she hates the idea of being the centre of attention. As do I. Just not as much.

Jack and I live together and we share a cat—an old, grumpy moggie called Mildred. Not my idea, the name but her previous owner was an old guy who needed to go into residential care. The home didn’t allow pets (backwards of them) so we inherited her. I love Mildred. She thinks I’m okay and Jack she tolerates—just. This is the norm with cats. If dogs think they are human, a cat thinks it is God.

My point is there’s no need for Jack and I to get married—I just think we should. And I know our friends and neighbours in the small village where we live would be delighted. It’s a long time since there’s been a wedding in Lochalshie. Funerals are standard, but nuptials are few and far between. The only other candidates are our friends Stewart and Jolene, and Jolene point blank refuses. Katya says she reckons Jolene doesn’t want to tie the knot just in case someone better comes along. And with Stewart that bar isn’t high.

Back to my proposal… I’ve discussed it with Katya, sworn her to secrecy and chosen a date. A year—give or take a day or two—to the day we first got together, although we’ve known each other much longer than that.

The venue for where I pop the question? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the annual Lochalshie Highland Games and a rare sunny day in a remote village in the north-west of Scotland…

Summer sale – Highland Fling

advert for Highland FlingNeed some light-hearted, fun reading for your holidays? Highland Fling is now on offer at £1.99/$1.99 in a e-book shop near you… Or it will be once they put my price changes in place. I’ll be running the price promotion until the end of July.

Here’s a little excerpt:

That’s Christina the Dating Guru. Haven’t you heard of her?” Katya says.

Well, no. But then I haven’t needed dating advice for a long time. Ryan and I got together while we were still at school and we were together ten years so I’m bound not to be familiar with a dating guru. And what does that even mean?

Have you used her advice, then?” I ask, “and if so, does it work?”

Nope. I’ve just heard of her. An influencer and all that, and you’re not going to believe the weird co-inci… Oh, never mind. Her website address is datemate dot com. Look it up.”

And with that she hangs up. I tap out the name on my keyboard. Wow. This woman is all over the internet. She’s got a blog, podcasts, YouTube tutorials and everything. Curiosity piqued, I read through some of them. They include guides to using dating apps, what to do the first time you go out with someone so that they ring you back (guaranteed), the best profile pics to use and what make-up you should wear for a first date.

I’m half-way through an article about what will make you a sparkling conversationalist capable of capturing his attention and keeping it when someone clears their throat behind me.

Ahem. Not interrupting anything am I?”

I whirl around on my chair so quickly, I fall off and land in an undignified heap at his feet. I had no time to minimise the screen either, and the site’s header—a riot of hearts and stars complete with the tag line, How to Go from Dating Loser to Loved Up, flashes there. I’m about to get up when another thought strikes me—he’s got the Dating Guru’s portrait upstairs, and he’s caught me looking at her website! I’ve just signalled loud and clear that I sneaked upstairs and had a good nosey. I might stay here, face down on the floor and praying the ground will swallow me until he goes away.

Do you want a hand up?”

No, no!” I straighten up slowly, keeping my eyes on that calming moss-green carpet until the last minute. Heavens, I’d forgotten just how… divine Jack is. Last week, his hair was army buzz cut, and now it’s grown in a little. Still short enough to show off those eyes and cheekbones but the extra millimetre of length emphasises its bright copper colour. The eyes regard me with amusement. Or perhaps it’s irritation. I’d better check with him that it’s okay for me to use his office.

Er… I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow. Doctor McLatchie said I could use your house as the broadband connection is much better here,” I say, dismayed when he rolls his eyes and says, “She would”. Oh heck, didn’t the blasted woman warn him? And what right does she have to offer strangers the use of someone else’s home? I should have asked her to find me somewhere else to work.

He heads for the kitchen, asking me if I want another coffee.

Yes please,” I follow him through. “Though I can make them, least I can do…” I trail off. He hasn’t actually confirmed I can use his house as my office.

In the kitchen, sunlight makes a brave attempt at cutting through the grey clouds to bounce off the redness of his hair. He leans against the kitchen counter, one foot up and his arms folded—one of those guys whose face gives nothing away. Does he ever crack a smile? I remember that photo Katya and I saw of him online when he’d worn this wide grin, the upturned mouth creating a dimple on one cheek, and how lush the smile made him seem.

Now though, those dark eyes remind me of the stand-offs I have with Little Ms Mena when she and I argue over how much smoked salmon she’s going to eat. Who will blink first? My wretched imagination peels clothes off him. He lifts his arms above his head and the tee shirt disappears. Before I know it he’s in front of me wearing only that white towel, neatly knotted over a perfect six-pack torso. I blink twice to dislodge the image.

The face in front of me cracks, a tiny upturn to the corners of the mouth signalling amusement. The change in expression is welcome but (ye gods) did he just read my mind?

Flippin’ heck, I hope not…

You buy Highland Fling on Amazon here.

I need a new bum and other mysteries

Click bait title, hmm? I’m running an ad campaign for Highland Fling, attempting to educate myself in the mysterious world of keywords.

I plugged my romcom book’s details in the Google Adwords keyword planner and one of the suggestions it threw back was ‘I need a new bum’. Low competition for that one apparently, but between 1k to 10k searches a month and a bid range of between 14-17 pence.

I get it—sort of. The Algorithm Gods who now rule our lives have waded their way through the tonnes of data we willingly hand over and decided a fair proportion of people who buy romantic comedies also worry about the gluteus maximus bit of themselves. Therefore, as they type the words (or ask Alexa) ‘I need a new bum’, a link to a romantic comedy book appears and they decide to buy that instead.

At least I hope they do. I’d much rather the women of the world were distracted from their gluteal quest and decided to buy a book instead* of chasing snake oil or dangerous surgery. Last year, an article in a newspaper highlighted one woman’s horrific experiences when she underwent a filler operation designed to give her a curvier backside. And another story told of a doctor who went on the run after one of his patients died following filler injections.

Body dissatisfaction

Tempting as it is to snigger at those stories, it is part of an overall trend towards body dissatisfaction fuelled by social media. As a teenager I only had magazines, TV and film to worry about and that was bad enough. Imagine living with a constant stream of too perfect images you hold in your hand…

Talking of which… Instagram announced this week that it might phase out visible ‘likes’ for posts on the platform—i.e. the likes for posts will be private so there is less competition between people to get reactions. This doesn’t bother me. As someone who has a following of less than 80 people, I never get that many likes anyway. So if only one or two people like my self-congratulatory posts about my books and there is no display of it, who cares?

Instagram, like other social media platforms before it, gave rise to influencers—i.e. people with huge followings who were then courted by companies to promote their products. The most famous example are the Kardashians whose social media accounts are reckoned to bring them in millions of dollars.

Kylie Jenner

Kylie Jenner’s make-up company leveraged that popularity, helping to turn her into a ‘self-made’ billionaire by the age of 21. (Like many other people, I dispute the Forbes’ classification of Kylie Jenner as ‘self-made’.)

If the likes for a picture of a fashion influencer wearing a pair of trainers or new duds courtesy of Top Shop or the likes do not show up, how do those influencers ‘prove’ their worth? Will they still get the freebies and the bungs if others cannot see how popular a post was?

Anyway, back to keywords. Will ‘I need a new bum’ get me sales and am I cynical enough to try it? Here’s hoping and yes.

*Not least because it puts money in my pocket…

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 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: