The Worried Writer Ep#63: Wendy Heard ‘Be A Little More Punk Rock’

Wendy Heard is a thriller author with two novels out from Mira in the US. Hunting Anabelle, a serial killer thriller, and The Kill Club.

She co-hosts the Unlikeable Female Characters Podcast in which feminist thriller authors discuss female characters who don’t care whether you like them or not.

For more on Wendy Heard and her work, head to wendyheard.com or find her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

For the Unlikeable Female Characters Podcast head here or search on your preferred podcast app.

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IN THE INTRO

I offer words of empathy and encouragement to everyone at this scary time, and remind you to be kind to yourself. It’s quite possible that your brain won’t be able to be creative at the moment, and that’s okay.

I also give a writing update. I wrote ‘The End’ on the fourth book in my Crow Investigations series, The Pearl King, and worked on my forthcoming non-fiction book Stop Worrying; Start Selling.

LISTENER QUESTION

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

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INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: Wendy Heard is a thriller author with two novels out from MIRA in the U S Hunting Annabelle, a serial killer thriller, and The Kill Club. She co-hosts the Unlikable Female Characters podcast in which feminist thriller authors discuss female characters who don’t care whether you like them or not.

Which sounds amazing! Welcome to the show, Wendy.

Wendy: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited.

Sarah: Well, I’d love first, if you don’t mind, to hear a wee bit more about your podcast, unlikable female characters. What can listeners expect from that?

Wendy: Yeah, so we’ve been at it for just over a year. It’s three authors, it’s Layne Fargo, Kristen Lepionka, and me, and we talk about just how feminism or a lack thereof shows up in fiction and in popular media, we talk a lot about different characters that are in the mainstream and some that aren’t. Right now we’re exploring different tropes. Like the archetypes of different types of women. Like for example, one that everyone knows is the femme fatale.

Um, and we’re exploring… We just… Actually our one that went live today, it’s called the hysterical woman. And we did a little dive into like, hysteria in antiquity and the archetype of the hysterical woman. So we tend to just kind of dive into that in fiction,

Sarah: That’s fantastic. And how did the show come about?

Wendy: Well, we, we were mad about something!

Sarah: All the best ideas!

Wendy: We were mad about something. Um, it was like when we started emailing each other and then one thing led to another and we thought it would be fun and it’s something that women authors get asked about a lot is the likability of their female characters.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked about that.

Sarah: Um, it’s certainly something that author acquaintances have been asked about. And also I have had an editorial comment occasionally along the lines of ‘she doesn’t seem very likable here’. And that makes my hackles rise.

Wendy: Yeah. And it’s, it’s such an interesting thing, likability, like what is that?

And so we kind of wanted to explore that. Like, what is it to be likable and unlikable? Um, and also, you know, it’s that thing where you want to reclaim a word a little bit. Like, is it so bad to be unlikable? Like what is unlikable anyway? Does it just mean. Autonomous. Does it just mean with agency? Does it just mean like a person who has a consistent personality that doesn’t change their personality to adapt to those around them, which is something that women have been taught to do.

So is it someone who’s unhelpful to the men around her. She doesn’t help them feel better about themselves all the time, you know, what is it? So we’ve been ex… we thought we’d be exploring it for a little while and we’re still exploring it about a year later. So there’s a lot to unpack there.

Sarah: And as you said, as you alluded to at the beginning, an awful lot of material as well.

Wendy: Well, and it’s this thing where, you know, we have, I mean, there’s so much, but it’s, do male characters, do male authors get asked about the likability of their characters? Like is Jack Bauer likable? Right? Like, did he have to worry about that?

Like he has a mission to accomplish, but like is he likable? Is he nice? Like, is that something that male authors get asked about their male lead characters, right?

Gosh. Yeah.

And is there some like thing with men where they’re like, ‘she’s not likable. She’s a bad ass assassin!’ you know, ‘she kills men’.

Like, okay, well settle down. You know, what else is there?

Sarah: Absolutely. It’s a wee bit like the strong female character thing. That can be a bit of a trap in that. You know what again, what does strength mean? And if you’re kicking ass, that’s fine. You’re a strong female character, but it seems quite a narrow.

It’s a narrow definition, isn’t it?

Wendy: It’s coded. Right? It’s like when men say like, ‘I love strong women, but I just don’t think blah, blah, blah’. You know? It’s like, it becomes a sort of like first part of a nasty sentence, right?

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, fascinating. Well, I am definitely going to be listening and I will obviously put a link in the show notes.

Wendy: Oh, well, thank you.

Sarah: So let’s go back to the beginning. I’m going to ask the usual question, I’m afraid. You’ll be glad to hear it’s not about likable female characters. Did you always want to write?

Wendy: Yeah, I have. Um, I have always gone back and forth between writing, visual art and music. I have a degree in painting.

I thought I was going to be like a a fine artist and I had also started out writing books like right out of college. I took a gap year and I was like, I’m going to write my first book. So awful, but I was like, I was hoping to be like a female Kerouac is what I was hoping. Like I went on like these awful road trips and like wrote these terrible, painful, novellas. That shockingly, nobody wanted to publish. I can’t imagine why. and then, yeah, and then I was in college. I got a, I got an art degree, so I kind of stopped writing and I’ve been playing the guitar since I was seven. I started playing classical guitar as a kid. So I never really was sure which of those three art forms I would sort of land on as my permanent this is what I will hope to do professionally, but it just kind of worked out to writing. And I do miss painting a lot. I haven’t had as much time for it. I definitely don’t mean to like set that aside completely.

Sarah: Well, I’m sure. I’m sure you haven’t. That’s the great thing about writing and I imagine painting is that it is something that you can do… It’s not an Olympic sport. You can do it, which is great. And what led you into writing serial killer thrillers and am I, am I sort of characterizing them correctly?

Wendy: No worries. Yeah. I definitely did not intend to write these kinds of books. I thought I would write literary fiction when I first started writing.

And, you know, it’s actually kinda, it was actually kind of a hard decision because I have a lot of English teachers and professors in my family who are quite… I did not feel necessarily very supported, writing genre fiction, and I don’t have that situation where I have like a super proud family.

You know, some authors have that, like family. I have a friend whose family comments on all of her author posts on Facebook and they’re like, you know, ‘go get ’em honey!’ you know? I think they, they think it’s cool that I’ve published, but I definitely feel self conscious about the type of books that I’ve ended up writing.

It’s just. I don’t know. It’s like sometimes, no matter what you try and sit down to write, a certain type of book comes out. And I have a real love for like commercial pacing and I love mystery and danger and like all those dark things. And so. It’s just the type of story that I enjoy figuring out.

It’s almost like, writing mystery, it’s like you’re playing chess against yourself, you know? Cause you have to set up what’s gonna trap your hero and then you have to try to get them out of it. And I have this thing I love to do, where I’ll write my main character into a corner, but I won’t plot out act three so that I’ve truly lost as the main character and I really have to figure out how to get out.

And I honestly don’t know how they will. That’s really fun, you know? And I kind of fell in love with it. But yeah, I definitely didn’t intend to. And I find things about the genre a bit limiting and frustrating sometimes. So it’s definitely not the only genre I ever want to write in.

Sarah: Mm. Well, that’s fascinating. And I’m nodding away, because I very much had the same sort of, um, I hope you won’t mind me saying hangups about I wanted to write, you know, I thought I was going to write literary fiction. I kept trying to, and I did a masters and I realized that I was really trying to please everybody else. And it was when I sat down and wrote something just for me that I wrote a readable book.

And so, yeah, sorry, just nodding away, total agreement. But I, I also think. Have you, you know, you said you have always enjoyed sort of mysteries and so on, and I did wonder about you picking the sort of darker side of fiction. And I think that reading dark or scary fiction can give us a sort of catharsis and also lets us explore maybe our fears, but in a safe way.

And I just wondered whether you think that’s true of writing it as well, or if that’s true for you.

Wendy: Wow. So I’m, so this is one thing I really wanted to talk about with you because this is something I’ve really enjoyed about your podcast, is being able to unpack these types of emotional components to writing and like, why we do this.

So I wanted to tell you this. So when I was researching Hunting Annabelle, which is a very psychological, like the main character has a neurologist for a mom, a neurosurgeon, and sees a psychiatrist. And the book is, it was a lot of psychological, and psychiatric research because he has some very specific mental illnesses that I had to research to get right.

Anyway, so I was interviewing a clinical psychologist, and she started talking about anxiety and dark fiction and she said one treatment she recommends for anxiety is to either go on a roller coaster or watch something really scary or read something really scary because she said, what happens is your body gets stuck in the first part of a stress cycle, like of a running away from the enemy stress cycle, and you have, it really helps your body if you help it finish the stress cycle.

So watch something where there’s a resolution. Let your body go through the whole cycle of anxiety, and then at the end you’re done. And so she said, here’s some things I suggest. And then she said, for writers of it, she always thinks, and she said this, and I’ll never forget it, she said it’s the familiar darkness, but this time I’m in control.

And so she said it’s.. For writers it’s going into a place, an emotional place that feels like a familiar, scary place for whatever reason, but taking control back and now you get to write the story, which I found really kind of like, I was like, can’t wait to tell you this!

Sarah: Oh, that’s amazing. And that really, really resonates as well.

Thank you for sharing that. That’s really interesting. And I also, I’ve never heard, I haven’t heard the completing the kind of fight or flight reaction in that way, which again, that makes so much sense. Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Wendy: Yeah. Shae said it’s like you start spinning and you’re that person, you have a brain that doesn’t know how to stop on its own.

Whereas most people can feel anxious about something, and then their brain knows how to, once that threat has passed, that anxious moment has passed, they know how to just move on. They don’t need help finishing that cycle.

Sarah: Oh gosh. And so is, did it resonate with you when you were, when you heard that, is that something that you’ve kind of experienced with exploring the darker side?

Wendy: Actually, yes, because I realized… I have a real problem, like I don’t like to sit down and write a scene unless I can finish the scene. It makes me really unhappy to like leave a scene halfway. I know people who can do that. They can just drop pieces in and then like I’ll come back to it. But I really can’t. I have to finish the scene.

And when she said that, I was like, that makes sense. That’s probably why I really hate, I find it really uncomfortable. Like, I don’t know about you, but if I start a book, I’ll just read it straight through. I will binge the book until it’s done. I don’t like to feel like it makes me feel uncomfortable to leave partway through and I have anxiety, you know?

And so that really made a lot of sense to me cause I’m like, yeah, that’s probably why I will obsessively watch a whole season or read a whole book or listen to the whole audio book while I’m doing everything, right. Cause I need to finish that cycle. I don’t know how to finish it on my own.

Sarah: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, absolutely. Another thing that I was thinking about in terms of of writing darker things is something that a lot of us struggle with is a kind of fear of judgment when we’re writing. And you know, you can have that feeling of, Oh, is this a bit too far, or is this a bit too emotional? Or, you know, is this too soppy or whatever?

And I, I, it occurred to me that maybe writing in this sort of darker genre, did you ever have a fear of judgment of, that’s too much, that’s too horrid, that’s too, uh, too revealing. You know, that kind of, Oh, everyone’s going to think I’m a sick puppy. Is that something that you’ve ever struggled with?

Wendy: I still struggle with it. I mean, I still wish that I had a different name at work than I do in writing. I didn’t, you know, I didn’t really think about this like, I did not think this through. But yeah. You know, it’s not, it’s not my favorite thing when people find out that I write books that I know in person, because then the next thing is, Oh, what is it called? And I’m like, it’s called The Kill Club. You know? I don’t love, I don’t love that. It’s embarrassing, a little bit, like I do feel a bit ashamed sometimes, but I mean, at the same time, anyone who knows me, it makes perfect sense. So it’s really just that like out and about. I don’t know about you, but like, it’s already hard trying to reconcile your various identities.

You know, you’re a mom, you’re a, you know, a worker, you’re a writer. And it’s like those are all parts of you and it’s hard to sometimes reconcile them with each other. So yeah, it is. It is difficult. I do feel embarrassed about it, and I do feel. I didn’t feel with Hunting Annabelle totally free to like unpack the full darkness of that story until I got it agented and my agent was like, we’re going into act three and you’re going to go all in.

You’ve got to stop worrying and just go in. And so I actually did like rewrite the last third of that book. Because she did feel like I was censoring it a little bit. Yeah. So I’ve had to be told like, you’ve got to go. And then after that I learned how to just like stop worrying as I’m writing and be like little more punk rock.

With The Kill Club, I kept having to tell myself, you’re going to have to be a little more punk rock if you’re going to write this book well. Like you’re going to have to just stop caring what people think and just write the story. But it’s not easy. I don’t know if it’s easy for you. It’s not easy for me.

Sarah: No, not at all. Not at all. I was going to say I think, I imagine whatever the genre is cause we write in different genres, I think there is that fear of judgment. There’s that fear of embarrassment. And the first couple of years or the first year after being published and meeting really lovely, supportive, kind folk at the playground gates picking up my children from primary school or whatever, and then chatting, and then they would say something about, Oh, you’ve written a book, or I’ve heard you’ve published a book. And, and the full body cringe of just embarrassment and shame and, there’s no real logical reason for that, you know.

Wendy: I try to like, it’s like emotional nudes. It’s like if you have naked photos out in the world that were taken of you when you were like 20 and those photos are just everywhere, and you know the second someone Googles you, they’re going to see you naked. That’s kind of what it feels like.

Sarah: So right! They are a snapshot of a, of a moment in time as well. You know, the book that I wrote in 2012 I wouldn’t necessarily, well I wouldn’t write it the same way because I’m a different person and it’s a different time. So it is also like say a sort of snapshot.

That’s a really, really good way of putting it. So your debut came out in 2018 I believe? So all of this kind of exposure, if you’ll forgive the term, it’s still quite new. It’s still early days really. I’d love to hear about your path to publication and kind of how that, how that all went for you.

Wendy: Yes. Well, you already know about my terrible early writing. Writing these awful, very self-congratulatory, novellas. Like I used to write them on trains. I just can’t, uh, but that was like 20 years ago. Right? So

Sarah: You were allowed!

Wendy: Yeah, it took a long time. I mean, I did set it aside a few times. I’d write something, set it aside.

I really picked it up back again in earnest in 2010 after having put it aside for like a good five years. And then I really was like, we’re doing this. Like, we’re doing this, we’re doing this. And I wrote, I just started writing. And I think I wrote, from 2010 to 2016, wrote four books. They didn’t get published and then Hunting Annabelle was the fifth that I had written since I had been back. So I’ve written a total, I think Hunting Annabelle is like my seventh book that I’ve ever written. I submitted it to agents for a while and it didn’t get picked up, and then I broke, this is kind of interesting, I broke a lot of bones. This sounds weird. I took a fall and then I took another fall, so I ended up with a broken wrist and a broken hip on the same side of my body, so I could not use the left side of my body for three months. So like, if you could imagine I couldn’t wheel a wheelchair because of my broken wrist, but I couldn’t use crutches because of my broken hip. And I was like stuck in the house alone for like three months.

And I rewrote Hunting Annabelle. And I put it back out to agents and then it got picked up. So that was the version when I was like… So that’s what you said, it’s like a snapshot, like there’s a reason it was a dark story. I was in a really dark place when I was re-writing that book. Like that was a very hard time.

I was stuck alone inside for months, and I could only use one hand. So I actually like rebroke my wrist writing Hunting Annabelle. I had it in a cast and I, they gave me like a soft cast and I told them, you’re going to want to put a hard cast on this cause I can still type with this thing on. They said, just be careful, you’re fine.

But I have this weird pain thing where I don’t feel things. I have like a very strange pain tolerance thing. And I did a rebroke my wrist writing Hunting Annabelle and had to have it reset and now there’s a plate in it.

Sarah: Oh my goodness. Well, that’s full on. I was going to say, you are very rock and roll. You definitely win the Worried Writer punk rock writer award, but ouch! My goodness.

Wendy: After all that, when Hunting Annabelle finally got a book deal, I got the largest tattoo I can’t explain to you, my whole back is like covered with this tattoo that I got. Cause I was just like, we’re going to get a, we’re going to do a very punk rock celebration of this extremely punk rock thing that happened.

Sarah: Oh well when you, when you were sharing that you’d written a few books before you got your, got your agent and got your deal, I was thinking wonderful, again, thank you for sharing that cause I always want people to know it’s completely normal to have to write a few books and seven is like the average number.

So I was thinking, Oh, look at that, Wendy’s bang on average in her number of books, and then you went all punk rock and broke your wrist and your hip and rebroke your wrist and not average at all. So

Wendy: I should tell people that every time they send me a bad review of Hunting Annabelle, it’d be like, do you know what I did for this book?

Every time someone tags me in a bad review.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. Oh my goodness.  So you got your agent, you worked on it editorially with her and rewrote it, and then you got the deal with MIRA. So that must have felt amazing.

Wendy: Yeah, that was really great. It was very surreal and you know, it was, it was awesome. It was a very, like, I don’t know if you’ve ever had those moments where it’s such a big thing that you can’t react. And my agent was like, this is a really good thing. This is a big five book deal. This is exciting. And I was like, yes, it is. I know. But it was just at the end of such a long road that I think the most overarching emotion was just relief.

Like, because for so long it was like, Oh, she’s trying to be a writer. I wonder when she’ll give up, you know, kind of a feeling. So I was like, thank God, at least this happened, you know?

Sarah: Absolutely. No, I totally relate to that. So it was a two book deal or..?

Wendy: Yeah, it was a two book deal. I’m off it now, so I’m going back back out on submissions.

So it’s like starting over, right? I mean, I think people think that once you publish once, it’s just like a dominoes, right? No. Like you finish your book deal and, you’re back out on submission like the first time, right? I have a third book coming out. It’s a young adult, so I’m starting a new young adult brand, and that’s with a different publisher, so like, I’m not, you know, I’m not saying like it’s, nothing’s going well, but I’m just, I think people should know that like, just because you’ve published one or two, I mean, each time it’s like being freelance, who knows if you’ll sell another one.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. And I coped with that reality very poorly. How are you coping with that?

Wendy: Not too good. Actually. Yeah. Cause we see these like success stories of people who just seem like: it is dominoes, right? It just, it looks like that from the outside.

Sarah: Absolutely it does. And there’s no sort of set career path. There’s nothing, there’s an awful lot of smoke and mirrors. And so all you can do is compare the outside of other people’s success and generally only a handful of successes because those are the ones that we hear about. So it really skews it. But I, I definitely found the uncertainty and the knowledge that my, my writing career was in other people’s hands, and that I was going to have to go through the whole submission, rejection, and I could write a book, I could spend a year writing a book, and then…

Wendy: Nothing.

Sarah: Nothing. So yeah, I, I coped poorly, so much empathy.

Wendy: How are you doing now? How do you handle it now?

Sarah: Well, what I did, which I know isn’t for everybody, but I put my business brain on and I went hybrid. So I do independent publishing, alongside it, alongside traditional, and it changed my life. I am now a very happy, very happy writer, and I can also support my family.

So for me it was absolutely the right decision.

Wendy: I think that’s a really interesting, yes, I love that because I think you’re right. Like I was talking about this with my, actually my friend Layne who, we do our podcast together. We both talk about this like. We’re both career women. You know, we, we’re, we’re type a, like, we like to get stuff done and it is really frustrating to think about writing a book for a whole year.

It doesn’t go because that’s not what publishing is looking for. Is there something else we can do with these lost books? Like, or is that just too much time spent marketing to be worth the return? I mean, that’s because I have a lot of friends who self publish and it is like many, many hours. That’s like, I have a friend who it’s like she has a full on degree in marketing, I mean, right?

Sarah: I, yeah, I’m, I’m definitely still figuring marketing out, but I don’t spend any, I don’t spend a great deal more time marketing for my independent books than I do for my trad books. Cause there’s still a certain amount of marketing you have to do. You know, unless you, again, unless you’re one of the real headline success stories, lead titles for a publisher. So, but yeah, I mean, I’m fully aware that it might be skewed for me now because I’ve got used to doing it. So what I really like is that you can do the marketing that works. When you’re doing marketing for your trad published  books, there’s lots of sort of raising awareness, there’s lots of things that you can do, but you’re not really sure how effective they are and so on. Whereas with the books that I control myself, that I published through my own imprint, I can put an advert on those and I can see that that advert is converting and that I’m making sales from it.

And so, funnily enough, I don’t really mind spending the time to set that up because I know it works.

Wendy: Yeah.

Sarah: And I see the results. So that’s how I kind of see it really is that now I’m in control.

Wendy: I think we’re all really interested in… I think it’s important to talk to people who want to be authors about the different models, you know? You don’t have to choose between self-published and traditionally published. You can, you can, like, I have always thought that I have a thing where I want to write speculative stuff and I want to write like weird, speculative stuff. You know what I mean? Like I have just like the desire to write about like historical vampires sometimes.

Stuff that it’s not going to get picked up by anybody. Right? Like, so I have always thought, eventually I’d love to do a second brand. Either under a different name or same name, different brand, like you know, maybe it’s find a little tiny imprint who would be willing to let me do my, my weird ones.

Sarah: Or start your own imprint as we were just saying, because that’s, I mean, that is the other thing about it that’s really helped me is that freedom that I don’t have to wait for permission from anybody to write whatever I want. Yes, I know, I know that if I write something really off brand and maybe more niche, I’m not going to make much money doing it, but no one gets to tell me that it doesn’t get out in the world? That I’m not allowed, that it doesn’t go out in the world.

And that has been very, I mean, just hugely empowering. So yeah, I love it. Anyway, I won’t derail this. You got me started, and I’ll go on like this!

Wendy: No I think that’s good, and I think it is like, I think, I don’t know about you, but there’s a reality check moment in publishing traditional books where, so like behind the scenes if it’s okay for me to like quickly… but like, let’s say I want to go on submission for a book and I have to send my agent a number of ideas and she’ll pick the one that’s the most, that’s the most viable, you know, for example, I just as an example, a podcast thriller has kind of hit really hard: Sadie, and there were a couple of big ones. Yeah, so anyway, there’s like a, there were like three big ones that came out in the space of a year and a half. So if I had been wanting to write a podcast thriller, unfortunately that space is a bit crowded, right? So not that there’s any, not that your agent is sitting here, uh, censoring you and policing you, but your agent’s job is to try to sell your books.

And so he or she is going to take a look at the ideas you have. You’re going to run ideas by them. What should I write next? You know, and they’re going to say, okay, how about, why don’t you write up a pitch for like these three? I’d like to see a little bit more info on these three. So you put going to put a pitch together and they’re going to say, okay, I think this one’s your best bet and you know you’re going to send it out and like she’s going to find, try to find an editor that is interested in books like that, and then that editor might be like, yeah, I am interested in books like that, but I’d actually really need it to be like this. The idea that you’re just writing a book and selling it is not the reality of being a working writer.

You’re really, or if you’re writing a book on like a two book deal, and you already have a book deal, but they have to hear your proposal. I have a friend who went through seven, seven proposals before they picked one for her book two.

Sarah: Oh boy.

Wendy: You know, I mean, it’s just like you don’t, you got to tailor it to your editor’s taste, to what your imprint is looking for.

If they have another book similar coming out that same season, you’re going to have to pick another project. It’s not just I write the book I want and I put it out there. So as you’re saying, I think having an outlet for that freedom of creativity, it sounds really appealing.

Sarah: And you can also move more quickly as well, because as you say, with the traditional route, like say you’ve got your agent, and then it goes into submission, and then if it gets picked up, the lead time, as you know, in traditional publishing is very, very… it’s quite long, you know.

Wendy: Forever! My young adult book comes out in about a year and I got that book deal like over a year ago. It’s like a two and a half year lead time on that book. It’s fine. It’s just how it is.

Sarah: And that’s why it’s not generally viable to, you know, to make a full time living with trad only. Even if you make it, you know, even if you have a really good advance because of all that time lag. So, yeah, so I definitely, well I highly recommend it!

And in terms of writing the second book, again, sort of, we’ve talked a wee bit about that kind of pressure, realizing that there’s still more rejection and submission to go and so on. How did you find writing the dreaded second book?

Wendy: The second book is really tough, so you’re writing it and you’re marketing your first book, and you do not know what the hell you are doing. Marketing your first book. I mean, you’re doing everything and nothing at the same time. Like you’re doing all the stupid things you shouldn’t be doing, wasting your time, and you’re not doing the things you should have been doing in retrospect. You know, it’s not, there isn’t a blueprint for how to market a book. Yeah. Everyone has, you have to try on a couple of different books and publishing as very little like leeway for failure. If your first book doesn’t hit, it’s very difficult to get people on board with similar books coming out after.

So there’s a lot of pressure on that first book to hit and to do pretty well. So that pressure you’re feeling on your first book, while that panic you’re feeling of not knowing what you’re doing, especially for somebody who likes to know what you’re doing, and then trying to be creative and write the second book, that’s the right followup, that’s in a similar world, but something really fresh and exciting and to do it in like six months, right, is a whole hell of a thing. I thought writing The Kill Club was going to actually kill me, but I had my aforementioned tattoo artist tell me something that I never forgot, which was, he said, sometimes I do my best work when I’m under pressure though, because I can’t overthink it.

And I was like, all right. All right. And that did help me get through it. Actually, just remembering that line, I was like, all right. All right. All right. Because I kept thinking, I’m not going to do good work right now. I’m too stressed.

Sarah: And also sometimes, I mean, people work on their book that gets them a deal, a lot, and usually for at least a year. And then if you’ve got a short, a shorter time to write your second book, there is also that anxiety that you just don’t have enough time to properly percolate and do a good job, but it’s not true. You know? Writing under pressure, writing quickly does not equate to writing poorly.

Wendy: In some ways it does. Like there’s a lot of stuff, like at the line level in The Kill Club, there’s a lot of things at the line level I wish I had more, had more time to change. It was my first time writing under deadline and I think, I think it’s, it’s like I wrote a total of eight books at that point. Only one of them got published, so I kept thinking. What if the one I’m working on right now is like one of the former eight do you know what I’m saying? Like maybe I could only do it once. Maybe I don’t have another good book in me. Maybe that was like a fluke. I think I hear people think that a lot.

Sarah: Oh yeah, no, definitely. That’s very familiar. For some reason we don’t equate writing those books beforehand with practice, as we would perhaps when you were learning to paint or learning the guitar as a, as a child. You know, it would be like playing a guitar piece really well for the first time and saying, well, that’s it then. I will never be able to play like that again. That was the one time.

But somehow with writing, that’s what we do. It’s, it’s very odd. But yes, you’re definitely, you’re definitely not alone!

Next off, I really wanted to delve into the kind of nitty gritty of your writing process and your kind of how you fit writing in around work and all of that.

But, we chatted about this a wee bit before we came on air, but I am aware that we are currently, we’re chatting during a global pandemic.

Nervous laughter…

Wendy: Everything’s fine, everything’s normal!

Sarah: Everything’s fine. So. I don’t mind at all if you want to share your usual process for writing and getting writing done, or if you want to chat about how it’s affecting you now I don’t mind.

But I just wanted to acknowledge for the listeners that this is when we’re recording it. So if we sound slightly manic…

Wendy: Unhinged …

Sarah: Unhinged! That’s why!

Wendy: Yes. Well, okay. So. I have, I feel like we need to hear more authors say this, but I have a full time job. Most people, it’s like, it’s almost a matter of, admitting failure to say I have a full time job because it makes you seem like you’re not a real writer or you’re not one of the chosen few or something like that.

But I have a mortgage and I live in Los Angeles. So unless I’m about to start selling four books a year and someone’s going to bestow free healthcare upon me, I’m going to continue having to have a full time job. So I have this full time job and I have a kid. And so writing is something that has been fit into the crevices of that.

So anytime my daughter is in, she does competitive gymnastics, which is kind of a new thing, but she does that, and I’ll write in the parking lot while she’s doing that, or on the weekends, I usually wake up at five or six and write for a couple hours before she’s up and she needs me. If she’s on a play date or if she has like a friend over or a sleepover, I’ll take advantage of those hours to write. So writing has become sort of the thing I do instead of hobbies and instead of social life, that’s just the reality of it. You know, you can’t do everything and you have to choose what’s most important to you. So I try to have chosen writing as the thing that’s most important to me right now.

Although I can sometimes go too hard. I forget that it’s also work and that my brain needs breaks and that I, I do tend to work really hard and burn myself out. So my new goal is to like allow myself to not burn out. And if that means I have to sleep in until 6.30 on the weekends! That sounds crazy, but like for a long time, I’m waking up at five o’clock on the weekends cause I’m like, that’s valuable work time I could be doing. And eventually you kind of run, you kind of wring yourself out and you start losing some of the love for it.

So I’m trying to, I just released a book a few months ago, so I’m trying to now, I dunno, reclaim a little bit or let this be a season where I’m just writing and being creative and I’m not as hard going so hard with promo. So it’s like cyclical, I guess seasonal few months before your book comes out, all you’re doing is promo. I mean, you’re just, there’s no creativity. There’s just all promo, right?

Sarah: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Were MIRA very good and supportive with that?

Wendy: Yes. They’ve been great. I have a publicist that I absolutely love working with. My editor has been amazing. I’ve had two editors and they’ve both been wonderful, so I’ve had nothing but good experiences and I’ve met a lot of really awesome writer colleagues through that imprint, and I’ll be really sad if we don’t get to keep working together as colleagues, you know, just because I think I might end up on submission elsewhere. We’ll see. But I still feel like there’s so much that you have to do as the writer.

I mean, if you’re that mid-list author who’s… Unless you’re, like you said, in the top 1% 5% right, where they give a, they give a huge, a huge advance, they’ve got a lot of money invested in this, and they’re going to make sure it hits list. Unless you’re that person, you’re doing a lot of your own promo.

You know you’ve got to hustle. You’re getting out there talking to book bloggers, you’re on Bookstagram. You’re trying to maintain your social media presence in three different places. You’re having an author newsletter. You’re, I mean, you’re doing interviews, you’re doing like little think pieces. I mean, everything, right?

Sarah: Yeah, it is. It’s a lot. It’s very overwhelming. And I don’t know if you found this, but I find it quite hard to write when I’m very outward facing.

Wendy: Absolutely.

Sarah: Kind of, I need to feel like everything’s safe and private when I’m writing because I’m pretending no one will ever read it.

Wendy: That’s right.

Sarah: So that’s tricky too.

Wendy: And then release season, I think there was one month where I had like seven essays, that I wrote in one month. Right. So it’s just like, when am I going to write? Like I’m writing, you know? Right.

Sarah: Yeah. No, that’s really tricky. But I’m, I’m glad that you had a positive  experience with MIRA. That’s really great to hear. Again, not everybody does have a positive experience, regardless of the publisher for various reasons. So, that does sound positive overall, but there’s still something about… it’s something you want for so long, and then you step through that doorway to the magical land of the published, and it’s another set of steps. It’s another…

Wendy: That’s right. That’s a great way to describe it. That’s perfect.

Sarah: But it’s very hard to come to terms… I found that emotionally difficult to come to terms with a wee bit. I still didn’t feel like a real writer and that was a struggle.

Wendy: Yeah, what’s up with that? I still don’t feel like a real writer.

Sarah: Imposter syndrome. It’s so hard – just kicks us.

Wendy: You think if I just can do this, and I think that’s what keeps… What keeps killing us because once you’ve published and then you’re like, well, I didn’t get a starred review. I didn’t get into, I didn’t get a review on the New York Times, or I didn’t get, I didn’t hit the list, or I didn’t hit this list, or I didn’t get the Amazon orange banner or whatever.

I’ve heard all the things that people hold themselves to, right? Like, I didn’t get invited to this conference or I haven’t been invited to this thing, like a goodreads choice, like whatever. I didn’t get this award. Like there’s such…

Sarah: It’s endless isn’t it?

Wendy: Yes. I can’t imagine a world in which I could ever accomplish the things I would need in order to feel like a quote real writer.

Sarah: Yep.

Wendy: Again, unless you’re that unicorn. Who, that  one person who like for example, Casey McQuiston who wrote Red White and Royal Blue. Did you read that one?

Sarah: I heard of ii, but I haven’t read it.

Wendy: Okay. It’s like, that’s like a perfect example. Like she hit every list. She did everything. I mean, you know.

Sarah: Mmm, but I mean, I think one thing about doing this podcast that’s been very healthy for me is that I’ve spoken to people who I consider unicorns and they still are filled with self doubt and imposter syndrome.

Yeah. That has really helped, but that’s it. Nothing else.

Wendy: That’s true. I have friends who have had all those things. I have a good friend. She’s like the, so successful, I mean. She’s just like huge. And if you talk to her, she’s like, well, I’ve never gotten a starred review. I’ve never, you know what I’m saying?

Like, I haven’t hit the New York Times, but you’re selling crazy. Like your books are everywhere, like you have a book deal every time you want it. You know? It was like, you think you think that it would be, but no, you’re right, still.

Sarah: So from imposter syndrome to just our old, our old friend self doubt.

So obviously title of the podcast is Worried Writer. Do you ever have sort of struggles or creative block when you’re actually writing? And if so, what do you do to keep going?

Wendy: Very much so. Extreme so. I like. This last one, this debate of like, what am I going to write next for my adult book to go on submission?

You know, it really has to be perfect. Do I want to pivot at all and change my brand up a little? It’s a good time to do that if I’m going to, cause I had a two book deal with Mira and now I can change it up if I want to a little bit. And so, um, then at the same time, that self doubt that comes with not already having something promised.

I have found that it’s been very difficult to write, and it’s not the first time I’ve dealt with that. I’ve dealt with writer’s block a lot. I don’t know anyone who’s struggled with it more actually. Um, it’s a real problem for me. I think sometimes it takes me a long time to be able to just sit down and to get up enough confidence to even just sit down and start writing is very difficult.

Unless, unless someone has me on a deadline, in which case I’m just like, it’s like homework. I’ll force myself to do it. But if I’m not, if I don’t have a deadline, if I don’t have a book deal with a deadline, I can get inside my own head and I’ll really struggle to write at all. Everything seems wrong. I keep hearing all the criticisms that people might have or that might cut like, I don’t know, just get in my own head so bad with it.

How do I get out of it? What is my solution? You know what? I think sometimes I just have to be patient with myself and just like give myself space and time to feel excited about the project again because once I start feeling excited about writing something, then I’ll do it whether I’m upset or not, you know?

If I’m excited about it and I can picture it in my head and then I start getting sucked in, then self doubt won’t get me, you know? So I try to like use playlists a lot. I’ll try to listen to songs and be like, okay. What’s the perfect song for the scene? What’s the perfect song for this character? And I’ll listen to it and that will help me get excited about it again and be like, okay, I can really picture this.

Okay, I can write this and I’ll start feeling a little more confident again.

Sarah: Oh, that’s fantastic advice and thank you for sharing that as well. I don’t wish it on you, but it’s always very reassuring to hear that we’re not alone in our self doubt.

Wendy: That’s very true. It sucks. I feel bad for all of us that are struggling.

I can’t…, and it’s funny, I hear my friend Layne’s voice in my head being like. How many mediocre men are out there just writing because they’re like, this is amazing. I’m going to do this. You know? Be like that guy. Just believe in it. Believe in yourself.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, absolutely, and another thing that I’ve been, that I’ve been working on is I, I’m not going to say what I actually say because I tend not to swear on this podcast, but I say it’s just a … book.

It’s just a swear word book. And I, I mean obviously that, you know, I enjoy a bit of swearing for stress relief, so apologies if that offends you. But, for me, I just… Just that, that thing of it, it just, that really helps. So it’s not a very evolved mantra, but it kind of helps me to remember that it is just, it is just a book and it’s not life or death.

It’s just a story. That’s it. You know? And if I wrote a really bad story, if I wrote a bad book, the sky isn’t going to fall in, you know, it’s fine. I’m not hurting anybody. It’s fine. And so that’s been my recent thing of just trying to you know, leaven the weight of it a wee bit because as you say, when we get in our own heads, it can really feel like the most important thing, because it’s important to us. But nobody else cares!

Wendy: I used to write really bad poetry and like little stories when I was a teenager and I never worried about if they were bad because I wasn’t ever going to show them to anybody. So it was just like, and that energy is the energy that you really have to take into a first draft and just write the thing that makes you happy or that makes you feel something and then clean it up later, fix it later, and make it, make it friendly for public consumption later.

But I think, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this being on deadline, but when you’re writing on proposal, there really isn’t a first draft. There’s no time for that raw first draft, and then to totally rewrite it, I mean, you’re in four months deadline for a whole book, you know? So you’re like. There is no like write for a few months, take a step aside, consider it, then rewrite it.

There’s none of that. There’s like your, your editor’s going to see your first draft and that is a totally different reality that can really get to people.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely. And that reminds me, I meant to ask you earlier about your writing process.

Wendy: Oh yeah.

Sarah: So you mentioned the third act there, which made me think that maybe you do some outlining or some, some structural work. How do you, how do you write?

Wendy: Okay. I’ll try not to geek out on this too hard, but I write in four acts. I’m really fascinated by acts and by chunks in a book and like their function. I started out writing with Save The Cat, which I still use quite heavily. It’s a screenwriting outlining tool in case, I’m not sure how widely in use Save The Cat is in the UK.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s pretty well known. Well, certainly the people I’ve spoken to, it’s pretty well known and the Save The Cat Writes a Novel came out not so long ago, which is great. Yeah.

Wendy: Jessica Brody, she has classes you can take on a platform called udemy udemy.com. She has a save the cat outlining class you can take for like 20 bucks or less. It’s like a self paced course. Really recommend it if you, if, if you’re a writer interested and just curious to like kind of see what this, how this works.

So I do that. I like to use those story beats and I started using some other tools where, so like the mid point of the story, there’s act 2a, and there’s act 2b, and in traditional outlining, you outline all of act two, but you kind of consider that those two have slightly different functions, but in a four act structure, you really consider them like two really different pieces. And so breaking the book up into four equal parts, like ish, I’m not, I’m not super, you know… give or take, but just like considering that the book has four parts, there’s the setup in act one where you’re kind of laying all your tracks for your train. I think of it as like a rollercoaster, and then an act 2a the first half of act two to the mid point. You’re kind of climbing up the hill to that midpoint.

And then the second half of act two, you’re going down the hill and it’s like a crazy rollercoaster. Everything’s falling apart. And then act three it’s of course like the big climax where all the stuff that you’ve, all the little clues and character flaws and all these things you’ve laid in kind of all come together to have a new and surprising conclusion.

So I really like that. It helps me when I feel stuck because I know what kind of thing needs to happen now. I can go back to my outline and be like, this is the time like I know what the next plot point I’m working toward. And this is the time when we should see these types of things happening. So it’s, it’s almost like writing a haiku where if you’re saying, I only have five syllables to work with, instead of I can do anything I want, it kind of helps me focus and that helps me a lot.

Sarah: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, and I’ll, I’ll put the link in the show notes to the book and to the course as well. That’s a great tip. Thank you. I cannot believe how quick the time has gone. So before we finish, I’d love to hear what are you working on at the moment, or what’s next for you?

Wendy: Oh, this is exciting. So I just turned in my final copy edits, everything, for my young adult book She’s Too Pretty To Burn. That comes out at the end of March, 2021, I think it’s March 30th. And I am now working on… I have an option with that contract. So I’m working on an option book for my young adult. Right now I’ve got a project where it’s a teenage girl who’s faking her own death and going on the run.

It’s really fun. And then I have an adult book in the works that I’m playing with that’s like a airbnb locked in the woods, bad things happening, type of thriller. So I’ve got two projects. Who knows if those will ever become books, but those are my two current works in progress.

Sarah: So you’re staying right there in the darkness is what you’re saying.

Wendy: I know! I’ve always wanted to write about faking your own death. I just think that’s so fun. Imagining like how you would do it with passports. Like how would you do with bank accounts? But it’s a teenage girl. I’m so excited. I hope I get to write that book.

Sarah: That does sound fantastic. And where can people find more about you and your books online?

Wendy: Yeah, so all the social medias, all the socials. I’m @WendyDHeard. That’s like D as in David. Wendy D Heard, and then my website is wendyheard.com.

Sarah: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Wendy. That was great.

Wendy: Thank you so much for having me. This was really, really fun. This is maybe my favorite interview I’ve ever done. It was really enjoyable.

Sarah: Oh, thank you so much!

 

 

The Worried Writer Episode #62: Writing In Uncertain Times

This month is a ‘just me’ episode. I know that everyone in the world is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and I just want to say that I wish you well wherever you are, and hope that you are safe, healthy, and coping as well as is possible in these scary and uncertain times.

I did think about taking a podcast break, as I do feel a wee bit wobbly and kind of like hiding away at the moment, but I also wanted to speak to you and send my good wishes. Please do let me know if there is anything in particular you would like me to cover in the next episode and whether it is helpful for me to continue with the show at this time. I won’t be offended if not!

So, in today’s show I had planned a just me episode in which I was going to chat about the self publishing live conference in London and everything that I learned. Unfortunately, my husband and I made the tough decision not to attend – I have asthma and so does my son and my anxiety was too high to go. Shortly after, the virus situation escalated and I felt like we’d made the right decision, but it wasn’t an easy one.

There is a replay of the show available for $30, so if you want a day’s worth of presentations from successful indie authors like Mark Dawson to give you some motivation, I’m sure that will be great. I’m going to watch them myself this week as I could definitely do with some help with motivation at the moment. Head over to Self Publishing Live 2020 for more information.

I think, like many of us, I’m struggling to focus. I’m doing better emotionally since the official lock down as the clear directions are better than the uncertainty and continual weighing up of activities and whether they are risky or not. But I’ve also felt quite panicky and have been finding sleep tricky.

Honestly, my brain and emotions have felt a bit like being back in the midst of grief from when I lost my mum. I mean, nowhere near as bad, but similar. And it actually makes sense. I think we’re grieving for the loss of the way life was and for all the plans we had for the immediate future. As well, of course, as worrying about friends and family who may be ill or vulnerable or struggling.

Since recognising this, I’ve been kinder to myself and have been using some of the techniques for getting stuff done that I used during that previous, awful time. Rather than expecting a full eight hour focused work day, I’m prioritising tasks like writing and this show, and then allowing myself recovery time to read or nap or do a cross stitch.

I’ve also cut down on my news consumption and try to check it twice a day and only on the BBC website. Back when this all began to escalate, I was compulsively reading about the virus and all the news and speculation and it was doing me no good whatsoever.

I’ve also been focusing on gratitude for everything I have, including my lovely patrons for this show…

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonAs ever, huge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-five audio extras.

LISTENER QUESTION

I answer a question about taking character inspiration from real life from Rebecca M.

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on Apple Podcasts (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on Apple Podcasts

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

The Worried Writer Ep#61: Terry Lynn Thomas ‘You Have To Sit Down And Write’

Terry Lynn Thomas is a USA Today bestselling author with two historical mystery series. The Sarah Bennett mysteries are set in California during the 1940s and feature a misunderstood medium who is in love with a spy. The Cat Carlisle series is set in Britain during World War II and the first two books are called The Silent Woman and The Family Secret.

The third book in the series, The House of Lies, comes out on 4th March 2020.

For more on Terry Lynn Thomas and her work, head to terrylynnthomas.com or find her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

 

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonAs ever, huge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-four audio extras.

LISTENER QUESTION

I answer a question about how to practice writing from Alex Jovanovich.

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on Apple Podcasts (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on Apple Podcasts

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: Terry Lynn Thomas is a USA today best selling author with two historical mystery series. The Sarah Bennett Mysteries are set in California during the 1940s and feature a misunderstood medium who is in love with a spy. The Cat Carlisle series is set in Britain during world war two and the first two books are called The Silent Woman and The Family Secret.

Welcome to the show, Terry, and thank you so much for joining me.

Terry: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Sarah: Well, could you just kick things off by telling us a wee bit about your latest release, which I believe is coming out… This week as this show goes out!

Terry: March 4th it releases. The book is called The House of Lies.

It’s the third book in the Cat Carlisle mystery series, set in world war II in the United Kingdom, actually set in a fictitious village in the North. It’s called Ribbonby. I made it up, had a blast, and. I should differentiate between my historical mysteries, because they’re not necessarily about happenings in the war.

There’s intrigue, but I mean, it’s fictitious based on my research. These are pretty much classic mysteries. I like to think of them as a cross between Faith martin meets Agatha Christie. I don’t write as well as Faith Martin or Agatha Christie, but that’s who I’m shooting for! So the third book in that series will be out March 4th, and we follow Cat Carlisle, who is a reckless woman with a feminist attitude, and she’s right there during world war II speaking up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.

Sarah: Oh, that sounds fantastic. It sounds like my cup of tea. I’ll have to check them out.

Terry: Thank you. I’ll send you a copy.

Sarah: Oh, thank you. So we’re actually speaking, through the magic of smoke and mirrors, we’re actually speaking a few weeks before this podcast comes out and a few weeks pre-publication. So I just wondered, how are you feeling?

Do you get pre-publication nerves?

Terry: Oh my gosh, I get them around January. I think a lot of writers have what we call imposter syndrome, so I have to deal with that. You know, you’re worried that the reviewers won’t like it and your readers won’t like it, and there’s just so many things to worry about, but I try to focus on getting the book out there to the readers that will like it.

It’s such a fine line to say, buy my book, buy my book, like everyone else. But really I want a commitment from my reader. It’s like, I want to give you a story and I would like you to read it. And if I’m lucky you like it. If you don’t like it, you know, God bless, move on to the next thing. You know, I have this thing, I started #ReaderLove, I’m sure other people do it too, but it’s really all about the readers. And when I sit down to a blank screen, I’m thinking, my reader’s not going to like that sentence. And I go back and fix it. I mean, really, that’s why I have a job and it’s very important to me.

So this year my focus and one of my goals is to really engage with the people who like my stories and engage with them about things that aren’t necessarily related to my writing. And when I think of it that way, it helps the pre-publication nerves because as you probably know this, and I’m sure other authors who are listening do, but on pub day, I’m checking my Amazon ranking every five minutes and checking facebook every five minutes.

And you know, there’s… I’m a digital first author, so it’s not like I’m at a book signing with a bunch of people acting like I’m not nervous and drinking champagne, right? But I love it and it’s fun. And even though I’m nervous and worried, I still love the process.

Sarah: I think that helps. So do you find that experience, knowing how you’re going to feel on the day and knowing that you do love it and knowing that you will hear from some readers and you’ll feel, you know, better and buoyed up by that – does all that really help now?

Terry: So this is my sixth book that’s coming out, and I think that every release day is different. And I think writing is so interesting because you have a set of hurdles and you get past, and then there’s a new set of hurdles. And so by the time the book releases, I’m onto the next set of hurdles with a different book.

And, I’m just… I get up in the morning on release day and, and tell myself that I’m just going to enjoy this and I have no expectations and then I’m not disappointed. But of course it’s, you know, it can be nerve wracking. I could flip a switch and get crazy nervous if I wanted to. It’s… Make the choice not to.

Sarah: No, that’s great. That makes me feel less alone. I definitely relate to that.

Terry: It’s funny how we all connect on social media because writing is such an introverted, solitary thing, and I think a lot of us are introverts, and so we love social media, and my sister is now on social media and she’s like, wow for an introvert, you’re very active on your Facebook page, and it’s like, it’s perfect.

Sarah: It’s behind a screen. I’m in my pyjamas. There’s nobody physically with me. It’s great.

Terry: Since I started writing full time, I have more pyjamas than street clothes.

Sarah: Me too. So I’d love now to go back to the beginning.

It’s the usual question. Did you always want to write?

Terry: Always, but I didn’t, you know… Don’t be an artist, learn to type. I’m dating myself, but what we were, what I was told is get a job, learn to type, writers don’t make any money. And so I was a court reporter. I’m from the U S and then I spent the bulk of my career as a litigation paralegal working in the legal world.

Always knowing I wanted to write, always had written, you know, novels and screenplays, got an agent, nothing happened, burned them, burned all that stuff. It’ll never see the light of day. And then my husband, we lived in San Francisco and he offered for me to move with him to Mississippi, which is in the Southern United States.

Different culture. And he said, if you move with me, I’ll buy you a horse and you can write full time. And I said, okay. I mean, okay, what do you say to that? And so I started taking it… I started writing in earnest in 2006 and I made a commitment to sit down and write every day. And I wrote the Sarah Bennett mysteries.

And these are the books that I love. Kind of like your ghost, your ghosty books, you know, The Secrets of Ghosts and The Language of Spells and The Garden of Magic

Sarah: Thank you so much!

Terry: I love those books of yours. Love Susanna Kearsley. And I also used to really love those books, like the Ace Gothics from the 1950s and 1960s where the woman’s in her nightgown running away from the castle.

I love those books. And so I set out to write the Sarah Bennett books, which kind of, they’re kind of modern Gothics I would say. And then I wanted to write something different, and I love British mysteries, and I predominantly read British authors and watch British television, and I thought… Midsomer murders I love!

And I just thought, I’m going to write what I love. And so I wrote a novella, the Cat Carlisle novella. And I responded to a submission call on Twitter and I submitted it to HQ and they said, no, thank you. And then a couple months later, Hannah Smith wrote and said, can you turn this into a novel? And I said, sure.

And I did it, you know, I, and it was like, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do it in three months, and I’m, this is what it’s going to look like. And I did that. And, she really pushed me to get clear about my vision and what I wanted to write. And so the book released in April of 2018.

So fast forward two months, my husband and I are camping in Colorado, the book comes out, no big deal. I didn’t expect a big deal. You know, I had no expectations. Right? So we come down the hill from camping and my Facebook is full of my friends saying, you’re on the USA today bestseller list. Couldn’t believe it! It’s like it was just one of those pinch me moments and talk about imposter syndrome. It took me a year to put USA today bestselling author on my Facebook page because it was… because I was like, it’s, it’s spot 132  – does that count? And they’re like, yes, yes, it counts. Go to your Facebook page and add that you’re a USA today bestselling author.

So that book has been great, and I’ve had so much fun with Cat Carlisle. You know, she’s just so, um… I’m big on social justice, and people say, well, you’re a feminist, and it shows up in your writing. And it’s like, well, it’s not about feminism per se. It’s about being fair. And people that aren’t treated fairly, and since I’m a woman, of course, you know, it’s a feminist slant, but there’s other people that are marginalized, that should have their say too. So it’s fun to put Cat Carlisle who is reckless and does not follow the rules of British society. And she’s married to someone who is very well connected and she just, when they say Cat, when they say Cat don’t do this, she turns around and does it and she’s so much fun to write. So I’m really excited for this third book. It was fun.

Sarah: I love that you write from the heart and write from your passions. I was going to ask you what led you to writing in your particular genres, and I was going to ask if you found it easy to pick a genre. And I love that you were saying it’s what you are loving, it’s what you would love to read.

And, and I also love the Gothics, by the way, who is it? Nine Coaches Waiting by…

Terry: Mary Stewart.

Sarah: Mary Stewart. I love Mary Stewart.

Terry: Oh my gosh. And I love The Ivy Tree, and Touch Not the Cat.

Sarah: Oh yes. So good. So that’s great to hear because I always, I always say that people should write what they love, book of their heart, do what they’re passionate about, so I love hearing that.

But in terms of it being historical, do you have to do a lot of research there, and if so, is that something you enjoy?

Terry: I love research and I love getting lost down the rabbit hole. But once again, to make the distinction: my job, for my style of mystery is to have my readers know what it felt like to live during this particular time.

I think that the generation who lived through world war II, especially in the UK, were heroic and brave, and there were the people up in the airplanes and my God, the women in the resistance and all those heroes that just… Your heart breaks at how brave and courageous they were, but then it was the sacrifice of the ordinary people who didn’t maybe make it into the newspapers, but that kept their chin up and with their meagre rations and carried on.

And so my goal is to really make people know how the world worked at that time because I don’t want us to forget. And it’s really nice to spend 300 pages with people who do not have cell phones.

Sarah: It’s quite handy when you’re writing mystery as well.

Terry: Right. Right.

Sarah: There are so many things and you think, Oh no, if you’ve got a mobile phone, then you would just get out of this situation…

Terry: In five minutes! And also mistaken identity mysteries are so much fun in that era because you can move to a town and say, I’m Sarah Painter, and no one has a way of knowing back then. You know? So it’s just, those are, that’s a fun thing to do.

Sarah: So let’s now delve into the nitty gritty of your writing process because I’m still obsessed with how authors spend their time. Do you write every day or keep business hours? Do you aim for a particular word count? What’s your process?

Terry: Well, let me say that I’m obsessed with the way people do it too. I mean, I just, I really want to know it cause you, you wonder if you’re doing it right. You know, it’s like, am I doing this right?

You know, am I missing something? Because you’re working home alone and I’m a very goal oriented person and that’s just how I, that’s my personal marker. So I definitely write a thousand words a day, Monday through Friday. Sometimes it’s two. You know, two is nice, a thousand’s great, you know?

So I get up in the morning and resist the urge to get on social media. I often wake up at four or five and I get my words done. You know, I do two 45 minutes sprints. If my neck and wrists aren’t bothering me, I might do three. And I, um, I get up and I do my words and I feel like I’m finished for the day.

I keep my head in my story, I think about stuff and what’s going to happen tomorrow. And I’m writing notes and marketing plans and stuff. And then I generally walk – I try to write for 45 minutes and then go walk a mile with my dogs. And that kind of clears the cobwebs. And then I come back and do another 45 minutes.

I just try to really stick to that and then I give myself permission now and again to get up and say, Nope, I’m bingeing something on Netflix today. You know, that happens, but I try to reserve the weekends to hang out with my husband. He’s a musician, so we’re both artists. And, you know, he’s really supportive.

It’s carving out the time. My, my whole writing career changed when I, when I was working full time, I got up and wrote from four to six every morning and I was really tired all the time. But it was worth it because you just… It’s the words, you just have to sit down and write. You have to sit down and write and give yourself permission to write bad prose, but keep going.

You know? So that’s my, the main thrust of my process is to write every day. Now you’re going to ask me if I’m a plotter or a pantser, a discovery writer.

Sarah: I am!

Terry: You want me to answer?

Sarah: Yes, please! So are you a discovery writer?

Terry: I wish I… I admire discovery writers. I, and I also listened to Joanna Penn’s podcast and I’m like, I am going to try to do what those discovery writers do. And I just, I can’t do it. I tried. I am an anal retentive plotter. I work from a very, very, very detailed outline. I generally, and I give myself permission for the outline to change, but my writing struggles happen for me when I’m doing the outline.

It takes me a month. Of working four or five hours a day. I generally do it long hand. I spend a week on the premise line, that one sentence, I mean, that’s like the hardest thing, and then I sit down and I work on that outline and I, that’s when it’s like, this isn’t going to work. I know this isn’t going to work and I can’t see how I can make it work.

And so I move on to the next thing. Character sketches or my storyboard with my scenes and you know, I just, I really put my blood and guts into the outline. Then when I sit down to actually compose and write my prose – I’m knocking on wood right now, god willing – it flows, you know, because I’ve done so much work with the outline and when a sentence, when a scene doesn’t work and it’s just like this doesn’t work. I realize I don’t need the scene or it’s not, it’s not doing what I needed to do. And out it goes. And now, I mean, I’m working on my seventh book right now and I, definitely can feel that the outlining, it’s getting better, that doing that is getting better. And I just realized I’m just going to suffer through the outline, having my suffering happen with the outline, and then my sentences can come from a place of joy, you know?

Sarah: Absolutely, I mean, that’s fascinating to me but I really truly believe that we all… We all outline in a certain way. We all do all the parts of the process, just at different times. And yeah, I suffer through the terrible first draft because I don’t plot at all and I don’t know what’s going on. And then I have to do so many rewrites. And I’m always cursing it and thinking, Oh, I wish I, I wish I could outline this to start with and, and get the pain then, but you get the pain at some point. That’s just how it is. It’s just hard

Terry: And it’s so subjective and it’s so individual and you just really, you just need to do what works for you, because… Another thing that I struggled with when I made the decision to write full time is, you know, Americans, we have a 40 hour work week and executives on the move put in 50 hours. I mean, we work, you know, I don’t know what the climate is in the UK. I imagine it’s similar. And as an author writing too much is an issue of diminished return. If you, if you burn yourself out, your words won’t be pretty anymore. And it’s, sometimes I do my 2000 words and I think, you know, I could slip another session in and then I think, no, I’m going to be excited for tomorrow. And that’s something I’ve had to tell myself because I came to this job late and I most certainly do not want to burn out. I am not.

I’m going to do it because I love it. You know? I feel like I’m finally old and I have a job I like, I’m going to treat that as a treasure and I’m going to enjoy it. I think it’s really important.

Sarah: That’s fantastic. That’s such an important thing to say, and I think you’re right, that there is a culture of, of working hard, working long hours, but what you were saying there as well, what you hit on there is writing… Working hard for a writer doesn’t always look like what we think of as working. So if you’ve got 2000 words done in the in the morning, and it’s gone well, so you’re all, you know, you’re done. That’s because you did that incredibly intense, focused, hard, creative work. I don’t want to be rude about an admin task that doesn’t use quite as much brain power, but maybe that equates to six hours of admin work or something – which we do as well, I’m not, not putting it down, but it doesn’t look the same. From the outside, they look the same – you’re typing on a computer. And also we do stuff. You know we’re thinking, aren’t we, all the time thinking or watching Netflix to get refill the creative well, and that’s all a part of what we do. It’s all part of work. It just doesn’t feel like it all the time!

Terry: Because it’s so much fun! Do you keep a notebook by your bed so when you wake up in the middle of the night, you can write down your ideas and stuff?

Sarah: I do. I do write, I write notes in notebooks all the time, but I don’t often do it in the night anymore because whenever I used to do that, I would wake up and think: very important note, I must write it down and then the next day I would look at it and I had no idea why it seemed so important. It would be, you know, things like avocado dinosaur question mark, you know?

But yeah, I do. I do make notes at other times. Do you find you get ideas in the middle of the night?

Terry: I do. And I write them down and there are times, I’ve solved problems  – you know, writing mysteries, it’s all about the plot. I have to just… And people are very sophisticated. And I really have to bring my A game to these mysteries that aren’t Gothicy ghost stories because mystery readers are extremely sophisticated and they will rip you.

I mean, you know, they’re there, they’re watching, and I owe it to my readers to give them a good, honest story. And if I, my job is to trick them, I’m going to trick you. And when I get reviews that “I had no idea”. I have done that. I have done my job. That’s my goal.

Sarah: So I know that – we were chatting just before we hit record – I know that your, your recent titles are published by HQ digital, is that right?

Terry: Correct.

Sarah: So what was your path to publication? Was it smooth sailing all the way?

Terry: I finished the first book I ever wrote that was, I thought was publishable, was my ghost story called The Spirit of Grace. And I took it to the, uh, RWA conference in San Antonio in 2014 and I pitched the, you know, you go through all the agent pitches and every agent I talked to wanted a full, and I sent it.

And the universe works in a very mysterious way because I also had… I heard from people, but I never got the emails. I had Yahoo, and I never got emails from people. And then this one lady from Black Opal books called me, you know, and she said, did you not get my email? We’d like to publish your book.

And I just, I said, I’m just going to go for it. The little voice in my head said, get your book out there. I was thinking maybe I’d self-publish. And they signed a three book contract for the Sarah Bennett series. I got my rights back to those books and the second two books in the series weeping in the wings, and I’m sorry, it’s called The House of Secrets, and the third book is now called The Drowned Woman. Those are with HQ now. And they revamped and redid them and gave them a boost. And they’re doing, you know, they’re, they’re happy with HQ. I still have the rights to the first book, the Sarah Bennett series that’s out in audible. That’s available at Amazon.

And so I had those books, and then of course, the Twitter… I responded to the Twitter submission at HQ. I needed the editorial support from a traditional publisher. That just works for me. I have a lot to learn still, and I am so impressed with these editors that I’ve had that just, I would never have thought of making the corrections that they, you know, and they really push you.

And you get this editorial, your structural edits back, and you think, Oh dear God! And then you just sit down…

Sarah: When you stop crying

Terry: Right! And we’re never going to be able to do this. And then you just sit down and you just  and when you’re finished, it’s . It’s amazing, the transformative process of the novel.

But for me as a writer, it’s just been so awesome to be able to do that. And, so I’ve been happy with HQ and that’s where I am right now.

Sarah: It’s such a fantastic way to learn isn’t it? I definitely agree with you. I feel the same way. I’ve learned so much through working with amazing developmental structural editors.

It’s really tough, but it’s. Yeah. I can’t think of anything else that I have done, apart from writing lots of course, practicing, that has brought on my ability to write a book or, or know what goes in one.

Yeah, completely agree. So I’m afraid the time has come. The title of the podcast is the worried writer, so I’m afraid I’m going to delve into your struggles with writing.

Terry: I have a list.

Sarah: Wonderful. Do you ever suffer from creative block and is there any part of the process that you find most difficult or when fear is most likely to strike?

Terry: Fear comes… I have a niggle of fear that I need to deal with pretty much every day because I’m a, I’m a creative who, who writes stories for the food, you know, and stuff. And, but I really – I kind of hinted that I finally have a job I love – I really feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I didn’t quit my day job easily. It was a long, hard decision. And I just feel like as long as I sit down and write well, and like you were talking about in your interview with Meg Cowley of saving for the lean times and you know, just working hard. You know, I can let that fear go.

I worry that I’m, you know, I’m not a USA today bestselling author. It’s like, that’s not me. You know, people say, aren’t you so excited? Oh my gosh. And it’s like, no, I have like, what happens if, you know, what happens if, and I don’t even want to say it out loud, but there’s so many ifs, you know, you’re, you’re really only as good as your next book on some level.

I mean, you can’t… You can’t rest on your laurels when you write a really great book and turn it in, you have to start writing the next one and you have to have the, you know, I’ve got premise lines for 20 more mysteries. I know that I, I’ve saved them and I have an idea file and I know what’s going to happen and I keep a murder book and I know if I want to kill someone, they go in my murder book and you know, and I’m afraid no one will like my books. And, you know, I try hard and it’s so hard to, you know, to take the reviews with a grain of salt. I’m grateful for reviewers, but I am better off not reading my reviews. And it’s not fair to only read the good ones if you’re going to read them, you gotta read the good ones and the bad ones. So I’ve just decided that I’m not going to, I’m just not even gonna go there because I’m too sensitive.

And I worry that I’m not doing it right. As I said, you know, the process, and it’s just so funny that, I mean, I love it so much, but there’s just so much worry about it. You know, there’s plenty to worry about. There’s plenty to worry about. It’s just the job,

Sarah: The worries just keep on changing, don’t they? That’s… Whatever, you know, before you get published, you worry about, will I ever get published? And then you get published and there’s a whole new set of worries. And as you were just saying there, the, the sort of imposter syndrome, you don’t… because the USA today best selling thing happened to you, it immediately doesn’t feel real. When it happens to somebody else, it’s got a different sheen to it somehow.

And so, yeah, absolutely. You’re very much not alone, but it is tough. And it’s also genuinely tough in that this business is so uncertain. You know, that thing of: will I get another contract and then this, my dream job could be over and I’m nodding away here, because I just empathize so strongly with you with that. That’s definitely how I felt and it was hellish. So, yeah.

Terry: And I also think,  you know, that’s the thing about writing. If you do it, you get better. The results are tangible, whether people like your stories or not. I see myself get growing and getting better as a writer, and I don’t think that ever changes, but I believe that your readers expectations go up, as your writing gets better, and then what if I can’t meet their expectations? That’s another thing, another thing I can worry about!

Sarah: We’re so grateful for readers, but then we don’t want to let them down. So tough. And so do you have any sort of strategies, I mean, as you were just saying, it’s really a daily thing of conquering fears so that you can get your work done. Do you have any particular strategies that you use, when maybe these worries are coming up a bit too much and it’s stopping you from working? Or is there anything that you’ve developed or that you do to help you keep going?

Terry: I started writing… The habit of writing the first thing when I get up in the morning and when I’m struggling out of sleep and I’d get, make my coffee and I sit on the couch, um, and I just write the words and that really helps because I’m, I’m in that state of mind of just getting out of bed and I get my work done. I get my work done and I find that I hit the sweet spot. But I, you know, when I… I made a list of stuff that I wanted to, you know, cause I know how you do your podcast and I, I made a little list of what I know, and this is kind of what I can, it’s kind of what I draw on and what I know about writing.

And this is not a business for the faint of heart. I mean, if you want to sell your stories, for money, you know, you have got to toughen up. And most of us, I’m really sensitive and I think most artists on some level are because that’s how we’re able to do our art because we’re sensitive and you have to be able to take the constructive criticism.

The House of Lies is up on net galley right now. And one reviewer, she gave me a good review, but she said that she thought the pacing was a little slow and I thought, okay, good. I’m making a note of that. And the book I’m writing on now, I used to do 2000 words scenes. I’m going to write 1500 words scenes, and I’m going to get to it.

This is what needs to happen. And I’m, I’m going to tighten up my writing a little bit and see, I can always add words and I can always fix it when I edit, but I can, that’s, that’s good information. You know, you have to be able to take that information and work with it.

And reading, of course, you know, we all  know to read. And I’ve, I have discovered and fallen in love with audio books. I love them. I listened to them all the time. I just, when I’m in the car… we listen to music a lot cause I said my husband’s a musician, but, I have repetitive stress issues. So it’s hard for me to hold my Kindle and a book sometimes. I save my wrists for my writing and, that allows me to read and write and so many great books available at the library, and then the authors get paid. And, you know, I subscribe to audible and, and I also think this is kind of a strange thing, but. I want people to buy my books. So I buy people’s books.

I buy books, you know? It’s kind of the give and take thing, you know? It’s just really important. People always say, well, why don’t you go to the library? And I do, but I also buy books. I’m I, I buy, I buy those Kindle books. And when my friends books go on sale on BookBub, I have a hundred books to read before them, I just. You know, I buy them.

I think that it’s normal to, that self doubt is normal and you need to figure out a way to push through that. Whatever it is for you individually, you know, for me it’s to, you know, not worry so much of reviews and find your tribe. It’s important to find your tribe.

There are so many wonderful writers groups, on social media and in various organizations. I think it’s important. And I think giving myself permission to fail. I mean, I might write a bad book. Everybody’s going to write a bad… I mean, it’s like it might happen, you know? It’s just, I might write a dog of the book, and that’s okay too. You know? It’s just live and learn and know that it’s…

Sarah: It is just a book. It’s just a book. That’s what I keep saying. Nobody died. It’s just a book

Terry: Right. And the career trajectory might not be straight up. It definitely won’t be straight up. You know? It’s a tough business. It’s really a tough business. You know, not for the faint of heart.

Sarah: Definitely. We’ve been talking about, we’ve been alluding, we’ve been mentioning, the business side, the publishing side, along with the artistic side and something that I struggle with, I mean, I’m getting a wee bit better at it, but I still struggle with balancing the marketing publishing business side with the writing side.

How do you manage that? How do you balance it?

Terry: I struggled mightily with it because everybody wants to check Facebook every five minutes and my Amazon ranking every five minutes. But I read this really wonderful book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. And you know, who thinks that we shouldn’t… No one should be on social media at all, and as you know, that’s not feasible for authors because we need to reach our audience. And I love engaging with readers. I love engaging with readers. So I write in the morning and then I curate my social media. I post on Twitter some, um, I do something on Facebook and Instagram. I do about three hours a week and that’s it.

And that’s what I do and I have to definitely resist that addiction, like to reach for my phone and who’s on Facebook right now? It’s it for me, that book really resonated because I am addicted to Facebook. I mean, I can easily sit there and scroll through Facebook and it’s like: I could be doing something so much more fun than scrolling through Facebook right now. So you really have to curate and, and I’m there to connect with people. And I go through notifications and I answer every comment, I do my level best to respond to every person who comments because I like that and I want to engage with them.

And you know, and then there are times when you have to say no, and learning to say no is a thing.

Sarah: That’s very true. I’m just the same. I want to respond to all comments. And my husband was saying, I can’t remember, maybe the last year, he said, you know what, there’ll come a time when you really can’t, you can’t respond to everything.

Because I was, I was upset that I’d taken ages to respond to something because I’ve just not seen it. And then I just felt really rude, you know? And he said, you gonna have to let go of some of this. You know, you’re going to have to cut yourself a break on this. And I said yes, at some point I can see that maybe, if I was successful enough, that might happen, but until that moment, I’m going to do my level best. If somebody has taken the time to interact with me, to say something nice, to read my books and whatever, and reach out to me, I want to respond. It’s just how I am. So I’m totally with you on that.

Terry: And I’m not necessarily committing to doing it within 24 hours.

Sarah: No, no, that’s important.

Terry: It might take a week or it might take two, not likely, but you know, you never know!

And, and I think that’s really important. I think readers have a lot of choices, and when they buy your book, they’re buying a piece of you. And I think it’s just important to really connect. I think that’s the part of the joy that’s part of the job I love.

Sarah: Absolutely, exactly, I love it. It’s not a hardship at all, but you’re right. I think taking, allowing, there to be a wee bit of buffer. Like it’s okay if you don’t respond immediately so that you can batch it into your social media time, rather than continually reacting and being dragged out of your deep work. And I love that book as well, by the way. It’s fantastic, it made a big impression on me as well, that importance of sinking into our work and prioritizing that. Yeah. Amazing.

Terry: Very important

Sarah: But the time has just flown by, so…

Terry: I know. I was so nervous. I was so worried.

Sarah: Oh, were you? Oh, you were on, brand. I’m always on brand.

Terry: Yes, yes. You are always on brand and I’m not worried now – I could go another hour easily.

Sarah: Oh, fantastic, that’s great. I’m so pleased.

Terry: It’s so funny because writers are so introverted. But when you go to a writer’s conference, it’s so much fun because you know everybody’s talking and having cocktails, and then you know, when they go home, they’re shutting the curtains, then they’re not going to be talking to people for a week. Right?

Sarah: It is! We’re all let out for a minute, and we all just talk a mile a minute!

Terry: But there’s so much to say, and it’s always so nice to connect. So…

Sarah: No, it’s another great tip is definitely to find, go to a conference, find a writing group, find, whether it’s online or in person, find that, like you were saying, find your tribe. It’s such a great tip. So just to finish up, what are you working on at the moment, or what’s next for you?

Terry: Oh my gosh. I am so excited about this. I have a new series. I will tell you that it features a 62 year old protagonist. And she is an attorney. She lives in San Francisco, and I am, I am over the moon about this series. The book is just flowing. I’m just so tickled about it. It kind of is like that show The Good Wife and then that UK show The Split, which I love. It’s that kind of a tone. I will say it’s that kind of a tone. I wanted to write a more sophisticated protagonist. My protagonists are, have progressively gotten more sophisticated through each series, but I think I’m looking forward to writing an older woman, you know, who… Older women have their own struggles and women in their sixties will tell you that they feel invisible, and I intend to tackle that in this series.

Sarah: Fantastic. Well, there are certainly, I don’t think, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that there aren’t as many older female protagonists. So that’s great news and I love the sound of it – can’t wait!

Terry: Thank you.

Sarah: So just to finish up, where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

Terry: They can come to my website, terrylynnthomas.com and they can sign up for my mailing list and I don’t send out newsletters very often. I will send out an email when one of my books is 99 cents, when I have a new release, or when I have something fun to give you. So, follow me there.

I am on Facebook. I have a “Terry Lynn Thomas-Author” page  (@terrylynnthomasbooks) , and you can find me on Instagram at terrylynnthomasbooks. And I do love to put my pictures up on Instagram. And you can find me on Twitter @TLThomasBooks.

Sarah: Wonderful. Well, I should put all the links in the show notes, but thank you so much for your time. That was great!

Terry: Thank you!

 

 

The Worried Writer Ep#60: Meg Cowley ‘I Love My Readers!’

My guest today is USA Today bestselling fantasy author Meg Cowley. Meg has two epic fantasy series The Books of Caledan and The Chronicles of Pelenor, as well as an urban fantasy series Relic Guardians.

We have a great conversation about independent publishing, reader support, writing in series, and consistency, as well as self-doubt, mental health, and the importance of self-care.

For more on Meg head to megcowley.com or find her on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

THANK YOU!

This is episode 60 of the podcast, which means it has been running for five years – huzzah! I’m really proud of myself for keeping it going every month without a break – through good times and bad.

Thank you so much for listening, and for all your messages, questions, reviews and support over the last five years. I really appreciate it.

Become a PatreonAs ever, huge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of twenty-three audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

This month I’ve been working on the fourth Crow Investigations book and rewriting the messy draft of my non-fiction branding, marketing and selling book for authors.

I’ve been suffering with imposter syndrome over the last week or so, wondering ‘who am I?’ to write a book on branding and marketing, but I also know that sharing my personal experience (and lessons learned) and viewpoint is perfectly valid. The self-doubt struggle continues and I know that it will never go away.

SAVVY WRITERS EVENT

Past guest of the show, Tracy Buchanan, is running a one-day event in London on 9th May 2020, aimed at published authors (both indie and traditional).

Participants will get the chance to attend an advanced writing workshop with one of two writers, crime writer Sophie Hannah or women’s fiction author Amanda Prowse. There will also be a panel offering advice on marketing and mindset with industry guru Sam Missingham, HarperCollins editor (and previous guest of The Worried Writer!) Phoebe Morgan, and the Bookseller editor Phillip Jones. Plus a networking lunch and agent one-to-ones.

Head to www.savvywriters.co.uk/savvywritersfest for more information.

LISTENER QUESTION

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

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Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Sarah: My guest today is USA Today best selling fantasy author Meg Cowley. Meg has two Epic Fantasy series of The Books of Caledan and The Chronicles of Pelenor, as well as an urban fantasy series Relic Guardians. Welcome to the show Meg and thank you so much for joining me.

Meg: Hello, thank you for having me, at last – it’s taken us a long time to schedule this!

Sarah: It has, I’m so excited. Thank you so much. So just to get us started, I was hoping you could tell us all a wee bit about your latest series or release.

Meg: Sure. So I am penning the final book in the Chronicles of Pelenor series, which is an epic fantasy filled with magic, dragons, intrigue, betrayal and deliciously morally grey characters and a smattering of romance.

So yeah, I like writing complex multi viewpoint epic fantasies. And I write stories set in the same world at the moment. I’m just continuing that. I’m due to finish it next week and I can’t wait because it feels like I’ve been writing it forever!

Sarah: That must be exciting but is it a wee bit nervy finishing as well?

Meg: Yeah, it is. It’s scary because you have a lot of expectations from yourself and your readers. You don’t want to disappoint anyone. So I have absolutely had massive stresses thinking ‘oh my God, this is… Is it going to be good enough? Can I manage this?’ But in the end, I’ve just had to push through it and think well, even if the first draft is terrible getting it written is the hardest thing and then I can edit it to make it pretty! But it’s going alright so far.

Sarah: Fantastic. I’d like to rewind a wee bit. I know that you are a proud and successful independent author and I don’t know if you know that I went hybrid a couple of years ago and I just love it.

I love it so much and I want everyone to know what a fantastic option it is, but I also was wondering: was it an easy decision for you? Did you start out as independent?

Meg: Yes, it was a really easy choice. I wrote my first book – I won’t bore you with the details of how that came about just same as any writer.

Love to write, decided to write a book and actually did it! Looking into the publishing options because once I wrote it I wanted to get it published of course, and it was quite black and white really. I looked at the options trad versus indie and indie just… It was the thing that suited me the most so I’ve gone the indie route. I have no regrets about that and I’m a really really happy indie author.

I think it’s allowed me to have the control and the financial freedom to make a career out of this which I had always dismissed because I never thought it would be possible and it’s just blown me away that life has changed so much in the past few years and I would not have been able to do that had it not been for independent authoring.

Sarah: That’s fantastic and you mentioned the sort of control there and obviously the finances. I’ve also discovered it’s a way to actually have a viable business which is fantastic. Are there any other things that you particularly like about being independent or if you were chatting to a listener perhaps who was maybe thinking oh traditional is the only way?

Is there anything that you would say to them to encourage them or do you think it’s something that some people just aren’t suited to?

Meg: I would say to ask yourself ‘what do you want from this?’ I think traditional and independent and hybrid and anything in the spectrum really – it’s all valid. There is no right answer there is no wrong answer but you have to know what you want from it and understand how to get that.

So for me, I wanted creative control and I wanted financial success. Indie was the natural choice for me. However, if you want literary acclaim, you want your book on shelves in shops where your rabid fans can go, and have release parties and pick your book off the shelf, trads probably best for you.

And that’s fine. It’s just that wasn’t for me. So I would say just ask yourself what you really want and how you can achieve that and see where on the spectrum you might be.

Sarah: I absolutely don’t want to sound as if I’m trying to push everybody to go indie, but I always want to say…

Meg: Just do it! Do it!

Sarah: Yeah! Having started in trad…

Meg: I’d say don’t dismiss it. I think people have a notion of what indie is: its sub-quality, people just popping stuff up on Amazon and that’s not the case, you know, the true indie author is an incredibly discerning avid reader who wants to tell fantastic stories that are worthy of being published and being read and being loved by readers.

We’re all the same at the end of the day. We all start off as readers who love stories and some of us want to tell those stories too, and it doesn’t really matter how you get to that reader. The reader doesn’t really care as long as they get a story that is satisfying.

Sarah: Honesty listeners, I am just nodding and nodding at Meg because I just agree so much! it’s about getting… As you say the readers are what matter, but in terms of of trad…  I think a lot of people expect certain things from traditional publishing that you just don’t get unless you are a lead title or a ‘lightning stikes’ success or a celebrity author already. So things like ‘on the bookshelf’ you might not get those things. You might not get distribution and bookshops. So I think it’s really important, whatever you decide, to educate yourself and go in with your eyes open, whatever you’re doing. But I mean, I’ve followed your career, since I heard you on Joanna Penns podcast back when you were doing coloring books!

Meg: Gosh, yeah, that was a long time ago!

Sarah: I know! And I loved listening to my interview, so thank you for doing it. And I was… I felt like I was listening to a kindred spirit in terms of – or certainly what I was aspiring to – in terms of your work ethic, your production, your business sense. It was very inspiring to me.

So thank you and I’ve been really impressed ever since really, with your rate of production, and you’ve become a mum in the meantime!

Meg: It’s been a rocky few years, so I’m suppose. I’m quite pleased with what I’ve managed to do despite everything that’s happened.

Sarah: Oh, honestly Meg from the outside it just looks like you’ve done this ridiculous amount of amazing work. So absolutely hats off to you!

Meg: It looks like I’ve got it together. Excellent, I’ll take that!

Sarah: So, now I want your secrets you see, so could you talk me through a sort of typical writing day if you have such a thing? And things like productivity – do you keep business hours? All of that good stuff!

Meg: I think life has changed a lot in the last few years, like I’ve said, so I’ve had to change everything and keep changing everything and the only constant has been change – finding out what’s working and constantly evolving. So it used to be that I would just work 60-hour weeks and I loved that because I’m a workaholic, you know, writing was a hobby before it was a job, so if I wanted to do anything it was write stories, great. Having a child? Can’t do that anymore. And well it’s been a rough few years. So for the past probably three years now, I’ve had various health problems and then had my son and then struggled with post natal depression quite a lot. So it’s been a struggle to have any kind of steady routine.

Right now, my son goes to daycare. It was three days a week, last week he started going four days a week. So this is kind of a magical, almost normal place that I feel like I’m getting back to now. I have four consecutive days a week where I can write which is incredible and already I’ve noticed that my productivity shot up just from having that constant block of time where every day is the same, you know, I put my bum in the chair and I work. So Monday to Thursday I’m working. I write in the mornings, I do other things in the afternoon – marketing… I’m an illustrator as well, I illustrate fantasy book covers. So I do that in the afternoons and evenings. So morning is really writing words, creative time, and the afternoon is everything else and then Friday through Sunday I’m in mum mode which… Nothing gets done. That’s fine because I devote that time to my son.

Sarah: He’s very young at the moment isn’t he so it’s that phase. You know, it won’t last!

Meg: Yeah, in years to come I will wish he was as needing and…

Sarah: Speaking as someone at the other end of it you absolutely will. I’m sorry it’s annoying but there you go.

Meg: You can’t live without them and you can’t live with them can you?

Sarah: I know. Everyone says enjoy every second and then you think yes, but that last minute went on for about a week!

Meg: Yeah that does not apply to the sleepless nights, but most of the rest of it is fine!

Sarah: No it’s hard. So I was going to ask you about being a full-time author and also juggling parenthood with writing. Obviously you’ve touched on that there in terms of the importance really of getting those days that are the same and getting that chunk of time that you can then dedicate…

Meg: But even that has to be sensitive – last night I got no sleep. We have a sick toddler, and I just couldn’t sleep. So this morning, to be honest today my brain is just running on about 10% capacity and I did my writing in bed. And do you know what? Got my 3000 words written which is a miracle. But today I had to take that step back and say it’s okay. Today’s not going to be one of those ‘you get everything done’  kind of day. So it’s like I have my routine but it’s also flexible and accommodates self-care as well, which I find is really important right now because it is so easy to use up energy you’ve got and burn out.

Sarah: I’m so glad you said that because again, you know, I’m big on the productivity and I always want to learn how to do more, but I’m so aware that… Again speaking to people, or people listening who maybe are in the same situation, the last thing I want anybody to think is that they are failing if they are not on it a hundred percent all the time. Like you say, that being kinder to yourself and saying, okay well today I’m going to write in bed and it’s fine if it’s complete and utter rubbish because I’m brain-dead.

Meg: Yeah!

Sarah: That sort of thing is so important to say so thank you for sharing that.

Meg: We have a culture of busyness don’t we so if you’re not busy, then you’re not doing it right! Why are you not busy? We should all be so busy all the time doing all the things. And it’s taken a lot of time to unpick that and go ‘hang on. No, that is complete BS’.

Sarah:  Absolutely.

Meg: I am at my best when I am happy, I’m healthy, you know. My energy is full when my creative well is refilled, when I’m fulfilled. I’m going to get more done rather than completely whipping myself all the time going more, more, more and just being so brain dead and sick of it all that it’s not even worth doing it because it’s not fun. And what I’m producing is not good.

Sarah: No, and burnout is a real thing in our industry, isn’t it? So it’s very wise to to pay attention to that and as well as it’s just good for you.

Meg: Yeah and learning about what kind of person you are because some people, they can pump out all those words day in day out and do that and that’s absolutely fine. That’s their natural rhythm, and for a long time I’ve tried to be one of those people and… There must just be no upper ceiling to this, if I just work harder I’ll be able to just write all the words everyday.

It’s taken a while and it’s been a bit of a bitter pill to realise, in the first instance. Now I’m fine with that. That I am not one of those writers and my pace is my pace and that’s fine.

Sarah: Absolutely. I mean, I’m far slower than you and I’ve also been trying to come to terms with what is my pace while also making sure that I am pushing myself a wee bit and not just falling into a kind of ‘och, that’s all I can do’. Like a self-fulfilling limiting belief if you like. But it’s so hard to work out where that should be!

Meg: 100% Yeah! It is just trying to work with yourself rather than against yourself at times.

Sarah: Absolutely. And in terms of the… I love what you said about the cult of busyness as well because one area again that I still struggle with a wee bit is: I love running a business. I love I love I love it. I love all of it and but I do get really overwhelmed because I could fill every minute of a 16-hour day with doing all the things and so yeah, I love the fact that today you said you felt rubbish, but you wrote in bed. So, you know your most important thing – writing the words – you prioritised that and you got that done. And I think that’s a really good tip. That’s so important to sort of emphasise that you cleared out, you know, the less important things. So is that something that you’ve come to when trying to balance the marketing, the business, the writing?

Meg: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve realised that it comes down to several core things for me as a business. So I take off my creative hat that loves creating these worlds and crafting stories and I put on my business hat and I think ‘what’s achievable? What do I actually need to be doing?’ So basically unless I am writing great stories, marketing my books and reaching readers. I don’t need to do it.

Like I don’t *need* to do it, you know, the core tasks are writing great stories and marketing and reaching readers. Like that’s it. There is nothing more to my business that needs to be done. I might have a million things on my to-do list like, I need to update this reader magnet and then oh my website needs that tweak and don’t forget to do your author page. Actually, do you know what? It’s just it’s just clutter and it clutters your mind just like it clutters your to-do list and I found that minimizing is one of the most helpful things that I’ve done over the past few years and it’s taken me about 3 years to get there from having the full page to-do list that just never gets done and then carrying over and carrying over from one week to another and just drowning under the weight of my own inadequacy because you know, I’m a failure. I can’t even do my own to-do list! What? And then realize that most of it doesn’t need to be done. So okay cross it off. And I work on that basis.

If it’s not… Obviously, I’ve got my client work as well at the moment so that you know, that is not something that gets crossed off! But ultimately, you know writing is the first thing, it’s the most important thing for me. If I get up and do that with a clear head in the morning and it’s done, I don’t need to worry about it and then the rest of the day I am concentrating on my client work and the other things that need to be done. And I’m ruthless about crossing off anything that can wait, or anything that’s not essential.

I’ve started to work with a virtual assistant and I occasionally subcontract things to her that I *could* do, but she could also do just as well. And that helps offload some of the things from my plate, and my time, and my stress to someone who is equally as capable of doing them.

So I’m really just learning to manage a realistic workload and work with the energy that I have and the type of worker that I am just to try and maximise what I can do but also in a way that promotes self care and you know avoids overwhelm and burn out basically so minimising has been key.

Sarah: And in terms of celebrating successes or celebrating what you are getting done, is that something else that you’ve been incorporating?

Meg: Trying to? Yeah, I am a workaholic. I am very goal-oriented. I’m conscientious I push myself. I’m incredibly self-critical that is just who I am as a person.

It’s how I’ve always been. If I wasn’t getting an A* it was not good enough and I used to beat myself up for it which I realise now was incredibly damaging but it’s very hard to stop doing that. So it’s a gradual work of unpicking that and actually stopping, when I’ve done something cool, to think  ‘well done! That’s really cool’.

Like a sales Milestone or finishing a project or looking at my figures, my financial figures for the month, and just actually taking them in and going ‘wow you did that. That’s really cool’. So I am trying to be better about congratulating myself and treating myself when I do achieve something good, as opposed to just breezing on through and setting the next goal and going to meet that!

Sarah: Well I wanted to touch on that since we were saying just before recording that I’m exactly the same. And again I know that we won’t be alone and I hope that it might be hopefully comforting. Or maybe a wake-up call if you are listening and you find that you end each day with a list of things you didn’t achieve or you breeze past things… Take it from us, it’s not good for you. And you need to start rewarding yourself and recognising things.

Now, onto the writing side of things. Now the title of this podcast is the worried writer! So I’d like to delve into your struggles with creative writing if I may. Do you ever suffer from creative block?

Meg: I wouldn’t say that I suffer from creative block, but I am definitely guilty of imposter syndrome insofar as there are definitely points on the process where I think ‘who are you kidding?’

Any moment someone is going to find out and they’re gonna haul you off to a day job and make you work for the man because this is obviously a sham. I’ve got very good with just telling that voice to shut up and I carry-on. I don’t really get writer’s block per se. I outline and plot a lot, so I find that really helps me overcome… Any time I don’t know what I’m writing next, I go back to the plot and it you know, it informs me and I can move forward. The thing that I’ve really struggled with is my mental health to be honest. I didn’t really write much in the Autumn, having trouble with post natal depression again, so that was a rough and frustrating period.

But I just had to step back and sort of work on my self-care and not beat myself up too much for having to delay my book launch – the book that I am due to finish next week, I should have had published in November. So it’s obviously frustrating that that didn’t happen but it is what it is, ok move forward, and what’s the next best thing that you can do? So that’s that’s been the biggest struggle that I’ve had over the past few years is just struggling with mental health through illness and antenatal depression, post-natal depression that sort of thing really. Yeah. It’s just a constant every day, just trying to see on the bright side and do the best that I can.

Sarah: I think that’s… Again, it’s so important to say that or to recognise that what we do… You know, we can’t always just push through with a work ethic because what we do goes on in our heads.

Meg: Yeah, we can’t work in isolation.

Sarah: Yeah, and if our head isn’t quite right for whatever reason then no amount of willpower is going to sort that out and that can be a hard…. That’s really really tough. So I’m so sorry…

Meg: Ah, thank you. I feel like a year ago. I wouldn’t have been able to talk about this. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact there’s nothing to be ashamed of in this and that actually, to open up a dialogue and to accept that we all face times where we struggle is a really really valid and necessary thing, because we all need to support each other through tough times when necessarily we don’t want to talk and open up about it because we feel like there’s a stigma. I feel like it’s really important especially in the industry that we’re in we often work alone, we often work long hours in isolation, socially cut off, and that is quite a challenge in itself. And then you have adult life, and all the things that that has, and I just find that I can’t work in isolation. I have to have emotional wellness to be able to write.

Sarah:  Absolutely

Meg: As much as writing is a solace, I can’t be a crying mess and get my words done because I can’t do it.

Sarah: No, I’m the same – if my anxiety is bad then I can’t write

Meg: Yeah. So again working with yourself. And being forgiving.

Sarah: Exactly. And then there’s also… Again, it’s you just don’t know, I don’t know about you, with mental health and how I react to it in terms of creativity. It can vary again, you know, there can be… I can’t write with anxiety, but with grief I found that writing was – I mean not initially but after a little while it was – an escape, is still an escape and really good for me.

Meg: That was the same for me.

Sarah: I felt guilty going into it as if I was… You know, I shouldn’t be able to write as if that meant that I wasn’t grieving properly or something. So if you can bear to talk about it and you can bear to examine it and kind of air out those worries, it can help.

Meg: No, absolutely. I’ve done some of my best writing when I’ve been upset or angry but at other times I could feel like I was just not…

Sarah: Total shutdown!

Meg: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got to work with yourself and not beat yourself up about it.

Sarah: Absolutely and I know also you mentioned there that you do lots of planning and plotting. Now, I don’t at all – I can’t. I’ve tried and I’ve never… This is my first series that I’m writing. Now I know you have been writing series and I’m used to the terror of when I’m writing a book, I’ve got no idea what happens…

Meg: I could not do that!

Sarah: And now I’m writing a series, and I’ve got no idea what happens. So my question for you is what tips do you have for me for writing a series? Or how would you reform me?

Meg: Plot it! Plot it all! Plot everything! I have only got worse and worse as the years have gone on. My three-point plot has evolved to a five-point, to a seven-point. Now, I use a 23-point plot for each viewpoint that I have. Its chronologically ordered and everything’s in beats, and I cannot survive without that structure. Depending on what I’m writing, it might be as little as a sentence for a chapter, or it might be as much as I have to write five thousand words of planning for that chapter before I can then write that chapter.

For me knowing what I’m going to write gives me the faith to trust myself, and delve into the creative process and lose myself in the flow because I know I’ve already figured it out. I can’t write myself into a corner because I know where I’m going. But it’s not flawless and it’s not perfect. Sometimes I have to tweak the plot, sometimes I have to go back waste a bit and go off in a slightly different tangent, but plotting for me works. So for me, I would say plot everything but if that doesn’t work for you, then that’s equally fine. I have huge respect – I don’t know how you do it, but wow! I wish I could just sit down and write, that would be amazing, but that’s just not for me.

Sarah: No, it’s very inefficient, I don’t recommend it! I’m always getting stuck and going down wrong ways.

Meg: I think the thing that I do if I get stuck is I go back to the last point that it worked at, and I go from there. That’s always been my go-to and whether it’s plotting or whether it’s writing if I get to a bit where I’m stuck, I’m like ‘right, where did it last work? Where do I need to get to? Am I going down the right path? Oh no, so this character wouldn’t do that because…’ Then it usually goes forward again. Sometimes have to go sideways or backwards!

Sarah: That was something I was going to ask about- when you’re plotting or outlining, brainstorming, do you get stuck then? Because that’s when you’re obviously working out all the stuff that’s going to happen. Do you get stuck then at all or is that just skipping through meadows?

Meg: Oh, I wish! I wish!

Sarah: Sorry!

Meg: I had a sudden mental image of running through fields of wheat! Possibly only UK listeners might get the slight political reference there! No I do get stuck on the plotting phase. But again I start with a very vague idea and it might be as simple as ‘main character makes a deal with such and such to kill the king’ and that’s the entire thing for the whole book. And then it’s filling in the pieces. Ok, well what if this happened here and what if this comes out and it’s gradually just building that jigsaw and making sure everything fits. Is it all in order? Yes. Okay. I’ll put it on my beat structure. Are there any beats that are missing. Oh, yeah. Okay, what could happen here? This beats in the wrong place. Let’s switch that about.

It’s just like a giant puzzle. It’s my favourite part of the whole process and it’s actually very annoying to then sit down and write a hundred thousand word book when you’re like ‘I’ve already figured this out’. The plotting is genuinely my favourite point  – it’s like chemistry. It’s a formula of putting it all together and making this beautiful construct.

But yeah I absolutely get stuck and I have to go away and think, I go back to the last point that works. I put myself into the character’s shoes. What would they actually do? Am I doing something that’s true to them, that’s true to the plot.

It’s about approaching it from different angles for me and just checking – it’s almost like testing I guess that it’s bulletproof. Does this definitely work? Is this logical or am I just writing what I want to write but actually it’s a bad story because it’s not what the characters will actually do.

So I guess kind of stress test it in various angles and eventually fill in all the gaps and it works 90% And then I tweak it as I draft as I need.

Sarah: That’s fantastic. And you mentioned beats there and – do you have any particular resources where you learned about beats and story structure and things or is it something you’ve just picked up? Anything you’d recommend I guess?

Meg: Kind of Frankensteined as I’ve gone. So my 23-point beat structure is probably the combination of four or five different structures with my own bits thrown in that I’ve picked up over the last four or five years and I don’t even really know where I’ve got them from. I chat with friends and we talk about things and they you know, we send each other spreadsheets, because we’re cool, with beat structures on them. I guess I’ve just found something that works for me and adapted it.

There’s plenty of material out there on beats and I would just say go and read through them and some will resonate better than others or some parts will resonate better than others and take what works for you because as much as there might be a formula for writing a story, the way that you do it is entirely up to you, and again working with yourself and to bring the best of your own writing out, I found that this is the one that works for me.

Sarah: I think that’s a great tip –  that idea that if you read a structure book and some of it makes sense or some of it resonates, that it is completely okay for you to kind of cobble together, as you said, your sort of Frankenstein’s, your own version. So I think that’s really really worth saying.

Meg: I think when you get into it you feel like you… If you read a book, you must do all the things that the book says because the book is right. And then the further you get along the further you think well actually it just doesn’t work for me. So I’m just gonna make it up on the fly.

Sarah: Yeah, when I’ve attempted plotting when I was trying to learn how to do it. I definitely read a lot of things and I tried to apply them but because it didn’t really work with my own process, but as you say I would try and slavishly follow that particular formula or method because I was looking for that…

Meg: The Magic Bullet!

Sarah: Yes, I was!

Meg: The Magic Bullet, yes. And the secret is there is no magic bullet, unfortunately, but the closest you get is finding what works for you and being able to apply that as much as you can in the lifestyle that you have.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely and I think you’ve sort of answered this probably in terms of your elaborate and detailed plotting and outlining. But again, I want to pick your brains a wee bit more on writing series. Does that help you in terms of keeping all your details? Do you keep a story bible or anything like that or is the fact that you’ve got all these outlines does it for you?

Meg: I should keep a story bible – I’m on book four now, and I keep looking back through 300,000 words of the past three books going ‘oh, I did I do this? Have I forgotten anything?’ I need to get better at series for sure. I do make sure I wrap up all my plot holes, but I definitely need to improve how I plot series and how I record because it’s just – especially in the current sleep-deprived state of my life – there is too much information to hold in my head like I used to be able to do. So. Yeah, I definitely need to get more more down onto paper. But the series for me is I guess it’s like a nested three or four act structure – the series is the three or four act structure and then each book has a three or four act structure and then the structures inside that have… And so on and so forth.

So it’s about just making sure that the books within the series are complete story arcs. That’s really important – nothing annoys me more than reading a book that is not a complete story. Cliffhanger is fine, but it still has to be a complete story and then the series as a whole wraps everything up, and all the foreshadowing through the past few books sort of come together. That’s really satisfying to do and I like to make sure that I tick all those off.

Sarah: Yeah, definitely and I’m I’m sort of keeping a series bible, but I need to get better at it. So it’s kind of comforting to me to know that you haven’t got it completely sorted, yet!

Meg: Well, I’m writing in the same universe and, well the same world, and I’ve only done almost two Series in it so far, but I’ve got like 5,000 years of history there – Tolkien sort of scope.

I really need to start writing it down, but it’s such a big job. I just don’t have the time to do it. So I need to figure that out probably sooner rather than later because it’s only going to get more and more and more that I need to write down, the more and more that I write.

Sarah: Well, maybe you’ll just have to get your VA to do that. Get your VA to create a story bible.

Meg: That’s not a bad idea actually. I might beg some of my fans – does anyone want create a world bible? That would actually be pretty cool.

Sarah: It would! It would be amazing. So another thing with writing a series, I always panic, I always put a lot of pressure on myself and I fret a lot about letting readers down. And I’m finding that even harder with a series because… It’s a series! Is that something that you struggle with at all?

Meg: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve really struggled with that, this book 4 because this series has just been incredible to write and the reader feedback I’ve received has been amazing. People love these books and and it is humbling.

It is also terrifying to think that I have all these people invested in the mad delusions of my brain. Yeah, that’s scary. But I really really take heart from my readers, every word of encouragement from them really really heartens me. I actually printed out… I know your listeners won’t be able to hear, but you can probably see over my shoulders there’s a photo frame and a few weeks ago, I did a reader survey on branding. I really really value my readers feedback in everything from from stories to my branding, everything, and there was an empty comments box at the end and I just you know, the usual anything else to add, and they wrote the most lovely things. You know, you have the most amazing mind, thank you for sharing yourself with us, don’t ever stop writing, your series are you know one-click buys for me, I love everything you write… And I printed them out and put them next to my writing chair because it was just like, every time I feel like I’m not good enough or that I’m going to let someone down, I read those, and I think, I can do this. These people are counting on me. They believe in me and I can do this, and that’s just been really really heartening to think that I’ve got all these people cheering me along. I love my readers. Genuinely. They’re amazing.

Sarah: That’s wonderful. That’s such a good tip as well. I’m stealing that tip!

Meg: Every nice review you have, every really lovely one that fills you with warm fuzzies, if you’re feeling down, go look at them. Print them out, stick them in a book and go read them when you’re feeling like you’re struggling to do this and you’re not sure how you’re going to manage it because it’s just it’s just lovely.

Sarah: So obviously you’ve got your next, your last in series, is coming out, or you’re finishing up on that. What are your other plans for this year or or the next few months? Or would you rather not say?

Meg: In 2020… Can I swear on this podcast?

Sarah: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, I’ll put a tag on it.

Meg: 2020 is the year of getting my – together. So this is the first year that I will have vaguely full-time, so four days a week. I know what I’m doing as far as people I guess can know what they’re doing in that I can write good books. I’m confident of that. I can sell good books and hopefully support my family doing that.

That’s that’s my ultimate goal. That’s why I do this. I love stories, but I also want to provide for my family doing this. I don’t want to have to go back to day job and this is the first year where I really have the chance to do that.  I won’t be having any more babies. I am hoping I won’t have any more life-threatening illnesses or situations to deal with hopefully, hopefully I’m praying that 2020 will be a straightforward smooth year where I can actually show The Very Best of myself and what I’m capable of and I feel really motivated to just go out there and try and have no limits and say yes and just be the very best that I can be.

So I want to get this series finished. This closes a really important but sort of dark chapter of my life and go on to my next series which will be set in the same world. I’m already working with my readers to sort of brainstorm what they would like to see as well as my own ideas. So yeah, I’m excited to have fun writing great stories meeting more great readers and just hopefully having a fulfilling healthy year full of self-care.

Sarah: Well, I love your goals for this year. I particularly love again as we’ve said in this in this interview that how self-care is up there. So just to finish up – where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

Meg: So I’m on Amazon Meg Cowley, my website megcowley.com. I’m on Instagram @meg_cowley and that’s pretty much it. Again I try to minimise, so I do the bare minimum of what what is fun and what is achievable.

Fantastic. I’m definitely

Sarah: making notes as we speak. So thank you so much for your time. I’ll put all the links in the show notes.

Meg: It’s been lovely to chat. Thank you so much.

 

My 2020 Writing Goals

This is my fifth year of setting my goals in public. Which means it’s the five year anniversary of The Worried Writer podcast next month – meep!

I love setting goals and making plans, and sharing them with others is a great reminder that I’m not alone (as well as adding accountability!).

In case you’re interested, the previous posts are here: January 2016, January 2017, January 2018 and January 2019.

As in 2018, I swapped goals and progress with writer friends on a regular basis throughout 2019, and that was very helpful. I highly recommend finding an accountability partner or joining a writing accountability group on Facebook or similar.

I loved my Passion Planner last year but fell in love with this Paperblanks diary and, whoops, bought it… I may end up getting a Passion Planner in a month’s time, but I am going to use the new diary (in conjunction with my bullet journal/notebook) to start and see how I get on.

I also need to get used to using a more sharable system now that my husband has joined Siskin Press full-time (see below).

So, 2020…

WRITING

  • Write books 4 and 5 of the Crow Investigations series.
  • My next standalone book. I lost my way with this when the tone changed from fantastical to gothic, but I still love the idea and lots of what I’ve written, so I really want to finish it.
  • Finish my non-fiction ‘selling/marketing/branding’ book. I’ve finished the first draft, so this will be a rewriting/editing task.

 

PUBLISHING

My publishing goals next year have too main branches. One is to continue with releasing new books, and the other is to work on being a better publisher. This means spending time working on the business, not just in the day-to-day. To spend more time on launch strategies, marketing, and branding. To work on advertising and to work out how to scale up.

It also involves making the most of the intellectual property I already have, which will include making sure that my books are available in as many different formats as possible and that their availability in libraries and physical bookshops is better.

I am also going to be working with my agent to hopefully sell foreign rights for the Crow series. Audio rights have already been picked up by Quest in the UK (for the first three books), so I know that licensing subsidiary rights for an indie-published series is definitely possible. I’m not sure what that will involve, but I will keep you posted along the way.

So, here’s my goal list for the publishing section. It includes only the things I have direct control over, so not my hopes for my next standalone novel. I am hoping that my agent will like it, and that it will go on submission to publishers. While I love running Siskin Press and want to make smart business decisions, I’m also keen to remain hybrid as I think there are certain opportunities which traditional publishing offers and I’m not ready to put all my eggs in one basket. Plus, I don’t see it as an ‘either/or’ choice, but am just very grateful to have the opportunity to choose the best path for each book.

  • Non-fiction book in March
  • Crow book 4 in May
  • Crow book 5 in November
  • Omnibus edition of the first 3 Crow Books
  • Workbook and large print edition of SWSW
  • Print and large print version of The Secrets of Ghosts
  • Audio of TFC (rights have been licensed)
  • Audio of Crow 4 &5 either licensed or do myself

OPERATIONAL

Learning how to work with my husband on Siskin Press. Working out planning and information-sharing strategies.
We tried a shared whiteboard in the office, but we both kept forgetting to look at it! Next we’re going to experiment with project management software such as Asana. I think it will be easier to get into a rhythm now that he is full-time and not just working with me on a Monday.
I’m also keen to make sure that he gets tasks and projects that he enjoys and are challenging and interesting.

COMMUNITY

  • Continue WW podcast and patron-only audio extra monthly.
  • Attend SPF Live conference in March, the 20Books conference in Vegas in November, and other events to be confirmed.
  • Continue cafe writing sessions with author pals and do at least one writing retreat.

HEALTH & HAPPINESS

My walking improved this year (after grief wiped me out) but it’s still not back to my pre-grief levels I’m also aware that I need to work on getting a better balance of moving around (and taking time off!) to make sure I don’t burn out.

  • Build up walking so that I’m doing at least three miles every day.
  • Yoga/stretching every day (five minutes is fine, but the regularity and frequency is important, I think).
  • Time off and time out. Need to quantify this properly…
  • Artist dates. Yep, I failed on this (again!) but will add it to the list. I know the secret – to book them into the diary – so I should actually do that!

MEASURING SUCCESS

It’s really important to know what you consider success, otherwise you will always be chasing an elusive idea and never knowing when you have achieved it. It’s also really important to celebrate success along the way and to remember that, cliche though it might be, the journey is the important part, not the destination.

I’m awful at this and am trying to get better. Setting out clear definitions for success, helped, and recognising my tendency to move on immediately from any achievement or to consider it ‘not that good or important’ because I did it. By definition, if I managed it, it can’t be that great. I know. I have problems.

A case in point is the achievement of hiring my husband, Dave, from his job. It was the huge goal. The marker of ultimate success. It was the ‘why’ behind my biggest, most scary and exciting financial goals. And then I achieved it and, within minutes, I was moving onto the next goal. Or, more accurately, I was panicking about keeping things at this level and wondering what level I ought to aim for next.

I was chatting to a friend, and she asked what we were doing to celebrate and I said ‘um…’ She knows me well, so made me promise that we would go out for a meal or open a bottle of fizz, or something to mark the occasion. I’m happy to report that we did and it was lovely.

Something else I’ve done for next year is to set different levels of income goals. Obviously, Siskin Press is now the sole provider for our household income and, with that, comes fear. It also puts income in the ‘essential’ bracket rather than the ‘nice to have’.

I have set a minimum goal – which is what we need to live on. I have this as a yearly amount and have worked it out as a monthly figure, too, so that I can see if we are on track. Another great thing about being indie is seeing exactly what money is coming in in two months time, as Amazon sales figures are updated daily and they pay two months in arrears. There is also a great royalties estimator in the dashboard, so I can check to see the money that is due very quickly and easily. This means we will be able to see a financial problem coming, so we can take action to mitigate it.

Next, I’ve set an income goal. This is about double the minimum income goal, so is pretty ambitious and exciting. And then, because I’m incorrigible (and like to test myself and continually reach) I’ve set a third ‘stretch’ goal. This is a wildly exciting figure, but one I know is theoretically possible (there are certainly plenty of indie authors earning this amount).

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

Money goals are something that motivate me. Not because I’m especially materialistic or because my lifestyle requires a high income (we live in a small house, run one very old car and have modest needs and tastes), but because money represents success to me, and because it means security and freedom. Those last two values are extremely important to me.

You may well have a different key motivator and I urge you to work out what that is, then to quantify it, and use it when setting your goals. Be honest with yourself and write down what you TRULY desire and the REAL reasons behind that desire. It honestly makes a big difference.

Another exercise which can be helpful is to think about the life you want and, again, not in terms of owing a particular item or having an external measure of success like ‘I want a film option for one of my books’ but in the sense of ‘what does my successful life look like day to day’. Really imagine it. Where do you live and what time do you get up and what do you spend your day doing and how does your week look and your year?

Do you travel lots or work in a co-working office space with other creative types or in an office in your garden or in bed? Do you spend your money very carefully and frugally so that you are always saving for the lean times and aren’t under much financial pressure to produce books or do you want a life with the thrill of essential deadlines and a production schedule of six books a year? None of the answers are wrong, but you must be honest with yourself about what sort of life and working life and business model you actually want.

Don’t push forward for the sake of it, I guess is what I’m saying, to myself as well as to you.

I would love to hear your goals for 2020. Feel free to share them in the comments below if you would like some encouragement and accountability.

I find it so encouraging to know that we’re all thinking about the same things and working on our writing and publishing goals. It is a niche industry and not something that most of our friends and family will have much experience of, and it can feel lonely or a bit surreal, so it’s really great to belong to a community like this.

Thank you and very best wishes for a wonderful 2020!

The Worried Writer Ep#56: Vanessa Lillie ‘Enjoy The Good Moments’

My guest today is Vanessa Lillie whose debut thriller Little Voices is out this week from Thomas and Mercer.

We talk about dealing with reviews and being read, and how Vanessa transformed from a free-writer to an outliner.

Vanessa has fifteen years of marketing and communications experience and enjoys organising bookish events in Rhode Island, where she lives. She worked as an editor for a publisher, before leaving to concentrate on her own writing.

For more on Vanessa head to vanessalillie.com or find her on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonHuge thanks to everyone supporting the show on Patreon. Thank you so much!

Join our growing Patreon community at The Worried Writer on Patreon.

I love creating the podcast but it takes a significant amount of time (and money) to produce. If you want to help to keep the show going, please consider becoming a patron. You can support the show for just $1 a month! If you pledge $2 or more, you also receive an exclusive mini-episode that I put out in the middle of every month, plus instant access to the back list of nineteen audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

This month I’ve been battling with the third Crow book. I said I was almost done and I thought I was, but the ending keeps moving away from me. This is partly because there are scenes which are in the wrong place (or I’ve realised there is a better, more exciting way to order them) and that takes lots of thought and weaving together and rewriting, and partly because the ending itself got a wee bit more complicated and I needed a few more chapters than I expected. It’s nearly done, though, which is very good news as it’s due out in November!

SPEAKING

Also, I did a talk for the lovely folk at the Borders Writers Forum. If you’re a member of the group and have tuned in today, hello and thank you, again, for having me. It was so much fun and I have great writerly chats with people after the official Q and A had finished.

One thing I wanted to talk about was somebody said that a person in their life had said something about ‘why write?’ because there were enough books in the world and every story had already been done, or something similar.

I realised this was a doubt I dealt with a long time ago and had actually forgotten that I’d once had…

So.

There is nothing new. No new ideas. No new stories. And that doesn’t matter. The execution is what matters and, crucially YOUR VOICE. Nobody else has your POV and so your book most definitely hasn’t been done yet.

Also, who cares? Who gets to say ‘enough books’? Who has that authority? It’s not like writing books hurts anybody. This is not life or death, this is just telling stories. Who on earth has the right to tell you that you’re not allowed to tell your stories?

Also, yes, there are loads of books which have been written in the past and they are valuable and wonderful, but they are products of their time. Books written now are products of this time, this moment in history. That’s important, too.

Finally, and most importantly, think of a book that was just the right book for you at just the right time. Something you loved with a passion, something you fell into at a time you needed to escape. Think about that book and how you felt the first time you read it. It might be one you’ve gone back to many times in your life as a comfort read or one that you only read once, but it transformed your world during the time you spent in it and you are eternally grateful.

Now imagine that the author who wrote that book let self-doubt stop them. They will have felt the same fears, have heard the same arguments, they might have let that stop them and you would never have had the magical experience of reading it.

Now go a step further. There is somebody out there who needs the book that is currently inside you. You don’t know them and they don’t know you, but you are connected by this need. The book inside you is the one story, the one voice, the one moment that will give them that same perfect experience. If you don’t write your book, that reader won’t get to read it when they need it.

It’s a thought which I found massively inspiring and helpful and I hope you do, too.

PUBLISHING

In more practical news, I’m not sure I mentioned it before but I have hired my husband out of his job one day a week and he’s doing lots of stuff to free up my time such as editing the podcast and the transcription of the interview.

This links to my overall business plans, but also to my mission to write as many of the books I have inside me as possible before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Remembering that this is my purpose, my ‘why’, is very motivating, and I highly recommend delegating stuff to other people as soon as you can afford to do so. This could be paying someone to do your cleaning to free up writing time or, if you’re indie and running the publishing business side, delegating operational tasks such as book-keeping.

LISTENER QUESTION

I had a great listener question on Twitter from Joanne Mallory about branding. Thank you!

It has inspired me to dedicate a whole episode to marketing and branding for authors next month.

If you have any questions about writing, process, procrastination or the business side of things such as marketing or publishing options, email me, leave a comment on this post, or find me on Twitter.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

I’m still trialling the full transcript of the interviews (see below). I want to make the podcast more accessible for those who prefer (or need) to read, rather than listen. I would love to hear what you think! Do you like the full transcript or do you miss the ‘selected highlights’ of the old format?

RECOMMENDED

Vanessa is a reformed free-writer, and she recommends the following books to learn how to outline and structure a novel.

Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas

Save The Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

 

THANKS FOR LISTENING!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

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Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT