Like most writers, I’ve been writing in one form or another for as long as I can remember. Becoming a novelist was always the big dream, but I am, at heart, pragmatic. I didn’t study English Lit as I’d wanted to. I took my father’s advice and did science, so that I could get a ‘real job’. During the long years at university, I put my writing on hold – apart from the odd film review for student publications. When I got my first job, I went back to writing. At the time, the BBC ran a forum called BBC Get Writing. I learned an awful lot from haunting the Get Writing boards. The three most valuable lessons I took away from it were:
- Write often. I used to try and do their 8pm flash challenge at least four nights a week. It was good discipline to sit at the computer every day at the same time and just write about something. Anything.
- Good criticism is not the same as ‘I like it’. If someone tells you that something doesn’t work check and see if you agree. If TWO people tell you the same thing is wrong. Fix it. Yes, it’s hard to take. Suck it up.
- Submit. You’ll never get your work out to anyone if you don’t SEND it to them. If they reject it, refresh/reprint and send it out to someone else.
When the BBC Get Writing site closed (waaaah! I still miss it!), I did a couple of creative writing courses, which didn’t teach me much, but did link me up with Jen Hicks, who has been my critique partner for over 10 years now. Jen and I both have a gloves off approach to critiquing. We can be quite blunt to each other, but I love her work and I hope she still likes mine!
The next step change came when I joined the RNA. It was like I’d stepped off a sleepy country road and found myself on the dual carriage way. I learned a lot from lurking on their message loop. I still do. The publishing industry was just starting to change back then (around 2007). Ebooks were on the rise in the US, but weren’t considered to be ‘real books’ the UK yet. The indie publishing phenomenon hadn’t even begun.
The things I learned from the RNA were:
- Above all else, think about STORY. If your story is dull and flabby, all your lovely ‘literary’ sentences are just navel gazing. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for literary books with… um… less obvious…storylines. It’s just harder to sell one of those.
- Network. People are more likely to look favourably on a manuscript submitted by someone they’ve met, or even heard of. So network. Go to events. Join in the conversation on social media. Get out there.
- Learn about contracts. Know what you’re signing away.
- You’re going to write more than one book. Think of it as a career, not a big splash. This only works if you actually write more than one book. So… write more books.
My first contract was with Uncial Press, a small ePublisher in the US. They had a respectable track record and offered me a very reasonable contract. Their editorial input was superb. I learned a lot from working with Uncial and they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. My first book, Patently in Love was published in eBook format in 2012. I really wanted to be published in
print, but bearing in mind this is a long game, I decided ebook was good enough for me. That was then. Now ebook is the norm. What a difference 3 years makes!
Choc Lit started up around the time I was first submitting Patently in Love. I bought the first book Choc Lit published (The Importance of Being Emma by Juliette Archer) and decided that THIS was the publisher I wanted to work with, but Patently was too short (65K) for their submission guidelines.. More and more friends from the RNA signed up with them. I talked to them. I stalked Choc Lit on Twitter. I read and reviewed nearly every book they brought out. I joined their newsletter. By the time I wrote a book long enough to submit to Choc Lit (Doctor January), they already knew of me. Doctor January came out in ebook and print soon after. I finally had a book in print!
The things I learned since becoming a published author:
- Promotion is important. No one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists. Publishers will do a bit of marketing, but the bulk of it is up to you. Print bookmarks, give talks, talk to book bloggers and readers (I don’t mean bombard them with stuff about your book, I mean TALK to them). Be nice to people and they might buy your book because they like you. With any luck, they’ll like the book enough to buy the next one.
- The making of a bestseller requires a huge marketing budget, hard work or a huge dose of blind luck. Possibly all three. If the only one of those you can control is the hard work bit. Do that.
- Most novelists don’t make a huge amount of money. Don’t expect to give up the day job.
- Write the next book.
Please Release Me
My latest book, Please Release Me, came out in September 2015. It’s had some great reviews so far. A large part of the story is set in a hospice and deals with fairly heavy themes like grief and bereavement. Because I didn’t want to deal with such sensitive topics and get it wrong, I spoke to some people at Martin House Children’s Hospice. It seems only fitting that I’m donating half my royalties from Please Release Me to the hospice.
My website: www.rhodabaxter.com (@rhodabaxter on Twitter)
Buy Link for Please Release Me: myBook.to/PleaseReleaseMe
What if you could only watch as your bright future slipped away from you?
Sally Cummings has had it tougher than most but, if nothing else, it’s taught her to grab opportunity with both hands. And, when she stands looking into the eyes of her new husband Peter on her perfect wedding day, it seems her life is finally on the up.
That is until the car crash that puts her in a coma and throws her entire future into question.
In the following months, a small part of Sally’s consciousness begins to return, allowing her to listen in on the world around her – although she has no way to communicate.
But Sally was never going to let a little thing like a coma get in the way of her happily ever after …