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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

Emma Baird

Shoes and women’s fiction #amwriting

Mary Janes with cat detail on front

My lucky shoes – sort of

Ever noticed how often shoes turn up in women’s fiction—and specifically on the front cover? I’ve treated you to a picture of my favourite pair of shoes (to look at, not to wear as they are murderously uncomfortable) that incorporate one of my other great loves.

So what is it with shoes and women’s fiction? Let’s start by blaming Cinderella, the only woman in the kingdom whose feet fit the delicate glass slipper and endear her to the prince. (And thus cementing femininity to the owners of small, slender feet.)

It isn’t women’s fiction, but the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy clicking together the heels of her shiny red shoes is another enduring image. Did you ever covet those red shoes if only for the promise they might magically transport you from one place to another. And that must be a metaphor shoe manufacturers all over the world seek to exploit. Wear our shoes and you too will be lifted instantly from your dull world and your mundane existence.

Carrie Bradshaw must take a bit of the blame too. Sex and the City famously featured an episode where the fictional heroine was robbed of her Manolo Blahniks* at gun point. And it is that theft, rather than the bag or the money that bothers her the most.

Chick lit tends to run with the assumption we are all shoe mad. It’s not a huge leap. I called this blog High Heels and Pink Glitter when I started it and I even mocked up a chick lit book cover using that too-common image of bare legs and sandals. I have plenty of acquaintances who love shoes, even just to look at if not to wear. In my many years of wearing high heels, the decorative value is hugely disproportionate to any wearability. The only heels you can walk in are block ones of not more than three inches and wedges. Even then, I don’t advise you to travel far by foot.

But yes, the assumption is often there that a heroine’s adoration of pretty, delicate, impractical foot wear is shared by us all. Here are two:

“Paris is a heaven for all woman’s obsessions: hot men, great chocolates, scrumptious pastries, sexy lingerie, cool clothes but, as any shoe-o-phile knows, this city is a hotbed of fabulous shoes.”

Kirsten Lobe, Paris Hangover

“Besides, I’d seen a really nice pair of shoes yesterday in the mall and I wanted them for my own. I can’t describe the feeling of immediate familiarity that rushed between us. The moment I clapped eyes on them I felt like I already owned them. I could only suppose that we were together in a former life. That they were my shoes when I was a serving maid in medieval Britain or when I was a princess in ancient Egypt. Or perhaps they were the princess and I was the shoes. Who’s to know? Either way I knew that we were meant to be together.”

Marian Keyes, Watermelon

It isn’t a trope that is going to vanish soon, but women’s fiction that veers toward the comedic or romcom often turns it on its head by featuring heroines who prefer sneakers, Birkenstocks or trainers—the comfy stuff most of us wear 99 percent of the time.

Here’s my own take on it from Highland Fling:

“I made a token protest and gave in. It was always better not to argue with my friend, who is the oldest of four sisters and well-versed in giving orders. Besides, the dress was fabulous—a mustard floral frill skater dress she’d matched with a deep purple and silver crochet cardigan. The belt was silver too, so as predicted it matched perfectly. I argued in favour of my Converse trainers to give my outfit a fierce edge and lost. No, she said. For such an occasion, high-heeled cork wedges were the only options.”

 

*By the way, two years ago Marks and Spencer’s created a lookie-likey version for a mere £35… You’re welcome. 

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.