20 August, 2015

Draft One - Check!

Nearly two years after I started, I have finally finished the first draft of a new novel, under the working title of Matthew's List. I cannot tell you how happy and relieved I am about this! The time pressure was getting pretty intense...

Some of you may recall that earlier in the year I blogged about my decision to scrap all 40 000 words of my first draft and start again. It was absolutely the right decision for all the reasons I gave at the time, but it was tough. I'd started the novel when I was pregnant with my first baby and reached 20 000 words when he was born. It took me six months to get back to it, at which point I thought it would be better to start again. To start AGAIN some months after that felt like a necessary but backwards step. Now, finally, 95 000 words later, I have a finished draft - days, or a couple of weeks at most, before Baby Number Two is due!

It's been hard to make myself write, especially these last few weeks as I've grown bigger and more tired. The impulse to lie down when my son was having a nap was overwhelming. But plenty of writers have overcome much more difficult obstacles and, with my husband and in-laws giving me the occasional extra hour to write by looking after Digory, I wanted to push on. Until a few days ago I didn't think there was any chance I was going to finish. Suddenly, on Monday this week, I realised I was almost there!

As with all my first drafts, it's terrible. There are unnecessary scenes, plot holes and a plethora of inconsistencies. I need to simultaneously add tonnes of details and slow scenes down, AND cut out a lot of waffle and speed things up. But that's OK. That's what my initial drafts are like. I am more of a natural editor than a natural writer and getting a complete manuscript in the first place is always my biggest challenge.

I have no idea how long it will take me to get back to writing - to even read through what I've written (there hasn't been time to re-read anything as I've worked on it!) It could be months. It could be years - although I hope not! Now though, I have something to go back to. I've missed short story and flash fiction writing very much, but it was worth the sacrifice just to have written that final sentence.

07 August, 2015

The Best 21st-Century Novels

It's only in recent years that I've started reading books published in the last decade. With centuries of amazing writing behind us, it always seemed I had too many other things to read first. I realised, however, that to write modern fiction, you do need to read it too! And I've read some brilliant books published within the last few years. For example, I've just finished reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which was short-listed for the Booker last year and was a fabulous read.

So, I was interested to stumble upon this article on the BBC website listing the best novels of the 21st-century... so far. Only 14 years in to the century I hope we haven't peaked! Several dozen book critics were polled as to what they thought the best books published since 1st January 2000 were. 156 books were mentioned and a Top 12 drawn up.

You can get a better feel for each book from the article, but here they are in list form:

12. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
11. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
10. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
9. Atonement - Ian McEwan
8. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk  - Ben Fountain
7. A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
5. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
4. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
3. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
2. The Known World - Edward P. Jones
1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

I have to confess I've only read two of these - White Teeth and Gilead. I have seen the film version of Atonement and I have read a different book by Jeffrey Eugenides, but I've also not even heard of some of these titles. Have you read any of them? Should I? I'd be particularly interested to hear if you've read the number one book - not only nominated the most times, but mentioned as the critics' number one choice the most times as well.

What do you think the best books of the 21st-century have been so far? Off the top of my head, some recent books I've enjoyed a lot have included One Day  (David Nicholls), Room (Emma Donoghue), Perfect (Rachel Joyce) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver).What have I been missing out on?

30 July, 2015

Sales Figures, Royalties and Expectations

Expectation vs. Reality?
Last week I received my latest sales report for The Art of Letting Go from my publishers, Thistle Publishing. Sales figures and royalties are given several months after the fact, and so these were the figures from February to April this year. I was pretty excited about receiving this report as I knew it would include the figures from when my novel was on promotion on Amazon and was in the Bestseller lists on Kindle.

Until I receive the reports my only way of estimating the number of books I've sold is by using NovelRank - an independent website that uses Amazon ranking information to estimate the number of sales for any book you care to track. What I hadn't realised was that NovelRank is mostly accurate when you are selling a small number of books a week/month. At higher levels, the data can be pretty far off. So, where I thought I'd sold a few thousand books - and was darned happy with that - it turns out I actually sold closer to the 10 000 mark worldwide. I probably don't need to tell you that I'm even more happy with that! I can't believe nearly 10 000 people have paid money to read something I wrote. Not only that but I also received two more reviews - both 5* - which takes me up to 62 reviews of 5* out of 102 in total. A good day!

When I mentioned on Facebook that I had sold over 9000 copies of my book, I was interested to see one of the first comments was about how much money I must've made. I've found that people are uncommonly interested in  how much money writers make. I would never dream of asking a nurse, or plumber, or accountant... or anyone, really... how much they make from their job, yet people often ask me outright about my income from writing (this particular person didn't ask, to be fair - he was just being encouraging!). Maybe the myth of the rich writer is why one recent survey found 'author' to be the most desirable profession?

I remember one of the first blog posts I read from the successful author Martyn Beardsley made me laugh because he was describing how he'd blown his latest royalty cheque on a chocolate bar and a newspaper. This particular set of figures might afford me a little more than that, but I'm certainly more towards the confectionary end of the market than the private jet end. I suspect over 99% of authors receiving sales reports this week worldwide will be in the same boat. Most of us will probably never reach the threshold even into having to pay tax just from book royalties. I wonder what other expectations people have of writers that would take a hard knock from reality?

21 July, 2015

Adaptations Better than Books?

Whenever a book is adapted into a play/film/TV programme, there are always people who loved the book and hate the adaptation. It's rare that an adaptation receives even close to universal praise (the recent film of Gone Girl being an exception). It must however, be much less usual for somebody to love an adaptation and dislike the original book(s). This happened to me recently, has it happened to you?

I love listening to cosy crime on the radio. Poirot, Marple, Peter Wimsey... they are my friends. Even the Paul Temple stories which are terribly-written and badly-acted will do when I need something to listen to. I've particularly enjoyed Agatha Raisin stories in recent years, and so I thought I'd read one of the books by MC Beaton - Something Borrowed Someone Dead. It was dreadful.

In cosy crime I can deal with a ludicrous plot and I still enjoyed the bizarre character of Agatha Raisin herself, but the writing was truly bad. I was amazed and disappointed - MC Beaton is a best-selling author. The book mostly consisted of very short scenes each containing a single conversation, over half of which were pointless. The dialogue was unrealistic and often stilted, the prose repetitive and the storyline managed to be both drawn out (through the pointless scenes) and rushed (through the constant scene changes). It wasn't completely unenjoyable, just unbelievably badly-written.

If you look for reviews online, you will see I am in a minority. Something Borrowed Someone Dead averages over 4* on Amazon. However, I was interested to see from the 1* and 2* reviews that many people were disappointed for the same reasons I was AND that most of the unhappy reviewers were long-time readers of Agatha Raisin who thought this particular book was nothing like all the previous ones and nowhere near the standard they usually are. A couple of reviewers said they were afraid first-time Agatha readers would be put off. They were right. I shan't be reading MC Beaton again, but I will return to the radio version I'm sure.

What are the best and worst adaptations you've come across? Ever preferred an adaptation to the original books?

14 July, 2015

One Year - 100 Reviews

After several weeks of not receiving any new Amazon feedback for The Art of Letting Go, I have just been given my 99th and 100th reviews! They were 4* and 5* as well which is even better. It comes at a special time for my novel as next week it will be one year since publication.

I'm not sure what I imagined the first year of being a published author would be like. Not like this I don't suppose. After landing an agent, then struggling to get a traditional publishing deal and deciding instead to take a risk on a new type of deal, it has been an interesting year. I guess as a child I would've thought being published involved book signings and literary festivals and award ceremonies and, quite possibly, days spent writing in tiny clifftop cottages overlooking the sea. I don't suppose I would've expected to spend most of the first year changing nappies and singing nursery rhymes. Life is both more mundane and more fabulous than the dreams of a child!

After my book was published in July I sold a good few to people I knew and, gradually, to strangers as well. My minimum aim was 400 copies, which I might have crept to eventually. My true aim was 1000, which would've been harder. Then Amazon decided to promote my book in February and things took off. I sold many more copies than I was aiming for and even, briefly, made it to be the Bestseller in Women's Literary Fiction. The Art of Letting Go was also in the Top 10 most-read Kindle books in February.

Since then sales have gradually slowed down again, although I have also been promoted in Australia and India in the last three months. I know of four book groups who have read it together as well. As with everything, however, the reaction to the book is more important to me than the cold, hard numbers. So here are some cold, hard numbers illustrating the reaction!

Amazon Reviews
5* - 60 reviews
4* - 19 reviews
3* - 12 reviews
2* - 7 reviews
1* - 2 reviews

Average rating: 4.3 stars

I don't think this is too bad for my first year of my first novel. It's not a perfect piece of writing and it's certainly not a perfect piece of plotting! Reviewers have told me that it is "absurdly entertaining" and gripping, and that it's the most boring book they've ever read. It is both apparently slow to get started but gets better, AND starts well but tails off. The ending is both great and a "bit of a let down". People are both eager to read my next book and would never read something written by me again. Which means, of course, I am both delighted and disappointed, but not in equal measure. 60 five star reviews is OK I reckon (and some of them were better than I could've dreamed up myself!)

So, as I head into my second year, with my novel having sold much better than expected, I am looking forward to seeing where it takes me. I am currently trying very hard to finish the first draft of another novel before a second baby arrives and it's back to only nappies and nursery rhymes again for a few months at least. Whether the words THE END or the baby arrives first is still a close race!

Thank-you to everyone who has cheered me, encouraged me, bought and/or read my book and left reviews. If you've read The Art of Letting Go and haven't yet left a review on Amazon or Goodreads, please consider taking five minutes to do so.