The Ten Bonuses of Writing for a Living

Writing for a living—glamorous, well-paid, and sort of sexy and bohemian, right? Bohemian regarding the pay, certainly, but here are some of the reasons why I love being a writer…
1. You get to work for yourself, and most of the time your boss is kind, understanding, reasonable and supportive*.
2. You don’t have to go to meetings. (Well, not many of them.) When I lived in the office world, most meetings I went to were like the ones they show on the BBC show, W1A. Here’s a link to a clip for anyone not familiar with this most glorious of satires.
3. Your fingers get a good work-out every day. C’mon. We’re like pianists, our digits moving at double quick time over the keyboard.
4. As a copywriter, you get to find out a little about A LOT. This week, among other things, I dreamt up sales statements for cars (not bad for someone who knows SFA about horsepower, torque and HUD), dug into the importance of living wills, and entered the world of vintage Danish furniture.
5. Writing every day is great practice for what every copywriter really wants—to write novels (my own wee attempt is here). Yes, being forced to think up lots of different ways to make cars sound exciting, and vintage Danish furniture appealing hones those creative skills.
6. You can do it anywhere. So long as you have a connection to the internet, the world’s your oyster. If you want, you can become a trendy digital nomad.
7. Being praised for your work. This might not always happen—and sometimes the opposite occurs—but when someone says they love your stuff, your heart soars.
8. Doing what you love. Every. Single. Day. Hey, even those car statements. And those blogs about cleaning.
9. Reading. You can’t write for a living without doing a LOT of reading. Sometimes, it’s of the dull variety, but it’s always very varied, and I don’t know any writers who don’t also love reading too.
10. The money. That’s my little joke. My bad. Take it from me, kids. You don’t do this job for the moolah.

*You get the odd day when your boss is the BITCH FROM HELL.

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The Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-HumeThe Discreet Charm Of Mary Maxwell-Hume by Gordon Lawrie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s always great when a writer takes an intriguing character from a previous story (The Piano Exam) and further develops them, as is the case here with The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell Hume, a mysterious woman with many talents – not least music and the way she wears clothes!

This collection of stories about Mary and her efforts to better the city of Edinburgh (by committing the odd crime, but solving them too) is entertaining and laugh-out-loud in places. The book is peopled with fantastic characters and situations you will probably recognise in part. You might even find the odd reference to a certain Edinburgh department store familiar… Just the ticket for relaxing reading.

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Lessons from Launching a Book

Obsessively checking KDP every day is not healthy. And it makes you feel like the world’s biggest LOSER.

Double LOSER feeling – checking other people’s rankings, which also feels stalker-ish.

Your book will move positions on the rankings terrifyingly quickly. Watch it drop 50,000 places in a few days, for example…

Repeated use of keywords work. I used chick lit 2017 in the tagline and description, and my book appears near the top of that search result.

You definitely need a tagline (or sub-heading) for your book.

You should make full use of the book description and include keywords in there.

Borrow other titles in the same genre or vein for your keywords. Use authors who write similar stuff too.

The 99p promotion works. You’ll just have to do it a lot.

People will read weird numbers of pages through the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Libraries.

Selling outside the US and the UK is HARD.

After the first week, you will be selling your book to strangers. Unless you have TONNES of friends, they are going to be your biggest market.

You will start to bore yourself going on and on about your book on Twitter et al. Self-promotion is very un-Scottish and it makes you want to shut yourself in a darkened room, hide under the bed and pull a blanket over your head.

The Girl Who Swapped is available on Amazon.

Day and Night – a Review

Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery (Dottie Manderson mysteries Book 1)Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do love a good crime fiction novel – and particularly when it’s historical crime fiction. That gives you added bonuses. You get the time period of the Golden Age of crime fiction, but with modern considerations, such as detailed characterisation and stories that aren’t just plot-driven.

I enjoyed Night and Day a great deal. There are plenty of likeable characters that you feel you want to read more about, a plot that moves along well and lots of enjoyable period detail. (I, for one, love reading about what people ate and long to live in a time where the servants leave me out cocoa and sandwiches when I come in from a night out…)

Dottie Manderson is a gorgeous character – sassy, bright and modern (for the 1930s, that is) and very relatable. She’s partnered with a detective and you just know this is going to play out satisfyingly in a ‘will they/won’t they’ way. There’s a Cluedo feel to the whole story, and I love it for that.

A great read and I’m looking forward to catching up with more of Dottie, Flora et al.

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Mount! Review

Mount!Mount! by Jilly Cooper
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Contains spoilers!
If anyone ever tells you the difference between self-published books and traditionally published book is editing – refer them to the new Jilly Cooper novel.

My sisters and I all read the Jilly Cooper books when we were teenagers – Imogen, Prudence, Bella et al. We loved Riders, Rivals, Polo and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous.

Then, every few years more of the big bonkbusters came out – Wicked, Apassionata and more. Each book got progressively worse, but we kept reading them in the hope the old Cooper magic would come back.

As I got older, I started to find the politics in the books disturbing. Racial stereotypes abounded, and people who were left-wing or concerned about the environment were always portrayed as baddies – paedophiles in one book. A woman’s first loyalty was always to a man, never to her friends or even her children.

I bought Mount! to read while on holiday at the end of last year. It’s the kind of book that would never get you a book deal if you didn’t have the name and following already. Anyone giving feedback would say there are far too many characters – Jilly’s list of animals in the book goes on for several pages, for example.

It’s a cute Jilly thing to include mention of just about every character she’s ever created, but that obviously increases with every book you write. Mount is bursting at the seams with too many characters, and plot lines for so many of them.

Why didn’t an editor tell her to trim the numbers back?

I don’t mind silly plots, but a whole lot of them together makes a very bad book. I don’t mind an infidelity plotline either, but this isn’t the place for it. Cooper’s books are aimed at a mainly female audience, so why create an unsympathetic main female character who sleeps with her good friend’s husband?

There is a lot of detail about horse breeding and racing – too much. When you have detail instead of a plot, a book doesn’t work. Cooper’s acknowledgement at the end of the book is the longest thank-you note I’ve ever read. Clearly, she felt duty-bound to write about everything she discovered. A good writer or editor should make ruthless decisions about what to ditch.

Cooper always kept Rupert Campbell-Black, her hero of Riders and Rivals, faithful to his wife, Taggie. Given that he was such a playboy, that often felt unrealistic to me, but she was consistent with it. In Mount, RCB is unfaithful to Taggie – a mistake, I believe. Why change that now? It doesn’t feel like a thought-out plot line, more something thrown in randomly to add excitement.

Mount seems like a book that wasn’t read by beta readers, never mind an editor. It feels like a cynical publishing exercise – put out a book by a big name because it will sell regardless. Did anyone at Curtis Brown or Transworld Publishers do anything to this book, apart from proof-reading it?

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Storyworks Monthly Issue One: A Review

Storyworks Monthly #1Storyworks Monthly #1 by Stephen J Carter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Storyworks Monthly is an ambitious work. The author states at the outset that he wants to offer a cross-section of his writing, fiction and non-fiction, in multiple genres and story lengths. He’s modelled it on Smith’s Monthly and notes with amazement (as do I) that pulp fiction writers often produced upwards of one million words a year.
Storyworks Monthly is a collection of well-written and well-crafted short stories, novellas and the first part of a science fiction novel. The novella, Ship of Remnants, was far and away my favourite. The pacing was superb and I hope the author takes this story further, developing it into a full-length novel. There’s plenty of scope for that. There was also story about a retired Roman general that I enjoyed. Again, I felt this was a story and a character I wanted to know more about.
Stephen concludes with advice about writing, which is very useful for the aspiring novelist. He concentrates on how to structure a plot, starting with what you do at the beginning and taking popular films as his examples.
All and all an interesting and informative read.
Please note: I received a review copy.

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The Source – A Review

The SourceThe Source by James A. Michener
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set aside plenty of time for this read – it’s a lengthy tome. But you’ll be glad you did put in the effort.

I love this book. I use the present tense because I’ve just read it for the third time and I anticipate I’ll read it again and again. My first reading was when my grandmother bought it for me not long after I returned from a stint on a kibbutz. The second time was when someone bought the book for me after I lost the original – I gave it to someone and they never gave it back, don’t you just hate that?. And now I’ve re-read it for the third time.

The Source is a hugely ambitious novel, taking in the history of civilisation and religion. It starts with a fictional archaeological dig and it takes the form of a series of short stories related to each layer of the dig interspersed with what is going on in the present day. Primarily, it’s about Judaism, but it also includes the birth of Christianity and Islam (and all the schisms in between).

If you love history and you find religion fascinating, you’ll love this book. I’m an atheist, but the explanations at the beginning for why a group of people might have started to believe in some kind of greater being were wonderful. All through the book, you see the various religious, political, cultural and societal issues emerge, and their contribution to what happens next.

It’s also darn good story-telling. Each of the short stories that take place years apart (in some cases thousands of years) is actually quite a long short story, but I found myself wanting to read on every time, even though I knew what was going to happen because I was reading the book for the third time.

At times, the archaeological dig pieces feel a little heavy-handed, two of the main characters basically serve as mouthpieces for two different peoples. But the extended end piece pulls everything together terrifically. The book was published in the mid-1960s, and there are several predictions in it about what will happen in the future. See if you agree with what Michener’s characters predict…

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