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The Worried Writer Ep#57: Branding For Authors

This month is a ‘just me’ episode in which I discuss branding for authors in response to a listener request.

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 twenty audio extras.

WRITING UPDATE

I finished writing the third book in my Crow Investigations series and I’m cautiously pleased with it – huzzah!

It’s called THE FOX’S CURSE and will be out on the 26th November. I love the series branding created by the talented Stuart Bache at Books Covered, and think he has done another wonderful job on this latest instalment.

 

 

 

RECOMMENDED

I’ve been doing lots of research on author branding and marketing and here are the resources recommended in this show:

David Gaughran

Derek Murphy: www.creativindie.com

Creating Your Author Brand by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Dean Wesley Smith and the ‘Magic Bakery’

The Six Figure Author podcast

 

 

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.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[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#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.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[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

 

The Worried Writer Ep#55: Emily Royal ‘Keep At It!’

I have a great interview for you today with a dear friend of mine, historical romance author Emily Royal. Emily has written several novels and is impressively prolific, but 2019 is her first year as a published author. She has gone from submission hell to having several books out in one year, so there is lots to dig into, and I’m sure you will enjoy her story.

Emily’s books include medieval romance – The Sins of the Sire – and a Regency series, the London Libertines, which starts with Henry’s Bride. Book two, Hawthorne’s Wife, is out on 3rd September.

For more about Emily and her work, head to emroyal.com or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

THANK YOU!

Become a PatreonMassive 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. You also get instant access to the backlist of extra episodes (there are eighteen now!).

 

WRITING UPDATE

It’s been a busy month with more summer holiday fun, a family trip down south and lots of drafting on my third Crow Investigations book.

I have also been sorting through all of the notes I took at the publishing conference in Edinburgh. One of the many things it’s made me think about is my branding as an author. I have been trying to work out what my ‘promise to the reader is’ as although my books tend to have a wee bit of magic in them, they do span different genres such as supernatural thriller, women’s fiction historical, and urban fantasy.

There was a brilliant session from Derek Murphy (CreativeIndie) and he spoke about the importance of working out how you want your readers to feel when think of you/your books, and how that is linked (or should be linked!) to the way you present yourself (your branding)

MINDSET

As I mentioned last month, one of the most important things I got from the Edinburgh conference was a mindset shift. It could perhaps more properly be described as a mindset confirmation. Doing this author thing is a wee bit odd, and stepping outside the traditional route and running it as a business is another step away from the usual… Much as I love it, I hadn’t realised how and uncertain I still felt.

Physically being in the same space with hundreds of talented, successful, businesslike authors and small publishers, was transformational. It confirmed that I’m not alone in doing this (or delusional!). It was amazing to hear from people who are extremely successful, who I would like to emulate, but it also helped me to recognise the success that I have enjoyed and the things that I have achieved. Since I’m pretty rubbish at doing that, it was really helpful!

Another great tip I got from the conference was a reminder on the importance of working out your core ‘why’ for writing. People spoke unselfconsciously about their ambition for their writing and publishing, about financial and other goals, and about their core values and reasons for writing. It was another reminder that I’m on track for my core goals, and confirmed that my heart and head are in alignment.

It also reaffirmed my commitment to being a hybrid author, with some projects done through my own publishing company and some with other publishers.

I know that many of you are aiming for the traditional route, and may prefer not to deal with the business side at all, and that’s completely fine. For me, though, it’s an exciting and creative part of being an author, and I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity and control.

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.

 

RECOMMENDED

I give a shout out to some lovely folk on Twitter, including humorous suspense author Bill Cokas. I throughly enjoyed his interview on Paul Teague’s podcast, Self Publishing Journeys. I’ve recommended Paul’s podcast before (especially if you are interested in the nuts and bolts of running an author business), and this interview with Bill was great.

Also, long-time supporter of the show, Clare Sager, has started a podcast called Confessions of a First Time Author.

 

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?

 

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.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[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 [00:00:09] Emily Royal writes historical romance in both the medieval and Regency periods. Her debut novel The Sins of the sire came out in March this year and was swiftly followed by Henry’s Bride, Book One in the London Libertines series. Now, full disclosure, Emily is a close friend of mine. and I am thrilled that she is finally being rewarded for all her hard work and tenacity. Welcome to the show. Emily and thank you so much for joining us.

 

Emily [00:00:40] Oh hello Sarah. It’s so good to be here at last. After so many years of rejections and rejections and rejections it’s great to be here and I’ve been a bit of a fan girl of your show for ages, so it’s lovely to be on the other side of the microphone.

 

Sarah [00:00:55] We got here! I’m so glad, too. Before we get into your twisty path to publication which I’m very excited about,  I was hoping that you could just kick things off by telling us all a wee bit about the London Libertines series, because I believe Book 2 is actually going to be out quite soon.

 

Emily [00:01:18] Yeah. Book 2 should be out in a couple of weeks time. Just doing final tinkering on the format. So yeah the London Libertines series, I suppose you could describe it as Jane Austen with sex and dark stuff. There is a set of romances which currently is set in the Regency period but I suspect as the years progress it will move into Victorian. Set mainly in London but also in the country and country states and everything. And the heroes are unashamedly alpha males, so you could say it’s a bit bodice-rippy. But the heroines are all misfits in one way. So the heroine in the first book she’s quite plain, she’s awkward, she’s gawky, she’s intelligent and she speaks her mind, and she’s a bit of a social outcast. In the book that’s coming out in a couple of weeks time, Hawthorne’s Wife, the heroine is a complete outcast who’s afflicted by a childhood trauma and lots of horrible things happen to her and she has to overcome it. And actually in the third book the heroine is recovering from a mental breakdown. So it’s actually quite dark stuff. It’s interesting to put it in a regency setting, so it’s not your typical frothy sparkling romance with glittering gowns, it tackles some quite horrific issues sometimes.

 

Sarah [00:02:42] Excellent. And as I mentioned in the intro, we’re pals, so I do already know your path to publication story, having lived it alongside you a tiny wee bit, but it’s so inspiring. Especially since your debut year is such a busy one. Would you mind talking us through your path to publication?

 

Emily [00:03:12] Yeah. So how long have you got? I’ve been tinkering with writing for a couple of years. If we go back to kind of 2013, 2014, which is, yeah, five-six years ago, I’ve been writing for a couple of years and I think I ended up having three books that were really really rough and overly long. I remember telling you ‘I’ve written a book, Sarah, and it’s a hundred and eighty thousand words long’ and you kind of burst out laughing and said ‘yeah, you’re going to need to cut it down’.

 

So I had these books and I stumbled across the website for the Romantic Novelists Association, and on their website they talked about this new writing thing which they have. Where there’s a limited set of unpublished authors who can join the association so they get all the benefits of the magazine and access to seminars and conferences etc.. But with that comes a full critique of a novel. And I thought, yeah yeah I’m gonna have some of that. It’s massively oversubscribed so the slots are like T in the park tickets they get oversubscribed within about two minutes of the beginning of the year beginning. So it was March 2014 so I already missed the boat, but 2015, I stayed up at 2 minutes past midnight on the 1st of January and got in. And I got this critique in June of that year and it was really really positive and it was quite scary because that was the first time anyone had ever read anything I’d written because I just had you under the bed and didn’t even show it to my husband and kids, I was terrified of it. But it was really positive, so I though ‘brilliant brilliant’ and I started submitting to agents. And I got agent interest in September of that year which, for me, those three months submitting and getting rejections was just forever, but actually looking back I think that was pretty quick.

 

I got signed at the end of the year and I thought ‘Oh this is it. This is it. I’ve made it, I’m going to get a three book deal, I’m gonna get books in Waterstones.’ And now I look back and think you naive little fool! I just knew nothing about the publishing industry. So fast forward three years, nothing happens. I went through two books with my agent. I had periods of submissions to publishers, waiting to hear, lots of rejections, lots of radio silence. I can remember being stressed waiting for emails back from my agent and publishers, and every time my phone pinged it was like ‘yes, yes, check it!’ and it was an email from the Carphone Warehouse with an offer for a new phone and I just turned into a complete obsessive with this thing and it just stressed me out so much. And then I got to the end of it, and the second book failed to get a deal. So this was at the end of 2018, beginning of 2019, so a long time, and my agent and I decided to part company. So yeah, that was long and tortuous.

 

But during that, what I did was I just carried on writing more books. And what I did was the first book that my agent couldn’t get a deal for, I started submitting that to smaller publishers, and I finally managed to get a contract for that. That took about six months, and that book’s actually not out yet. But I got a deal for that middle of 2018. And then the second contract I got actually came out as a result of a Twitter pitch, which was a book that my agent looked at it and just went ‘No I’m not touching that, that’s way too dark, way too violent’. And that was that the Sins of the Sire. And I chucked it up as a Twitter pitch, May 2018, just really to see whether I could write a half decent tweet, whether I could do an elevator pitch. I didn’t think anything would come of it, but I got a ‘like’ from an editor at a publisher called Tirgearr which is based in Ireland and I’d heard good things about them, they’ve got quite nice covers and some of my friends published with them. I sent in the book and I gave full disclosure, I said ‘look, this book is way too violent and I’m sure it breaches all of your guidelines, but just out of courtesy here it is’. So I was quite blunt about it. Didn’t think anything of it. And I heard back from them a few weeks later and I didn’t even open the email because I just thought it was gonna be a rejection. And about two to three hours after I got the email, I came back into my hotel bedroom because I was actually away with work, had a couple of beers, thought ‘let’s see why they’ve rejected me’ and this email actually says we’re actually quite interested, what else are you writing? And they offered me a contract, which was a bit of a shock!

 

[00:08:03] And then the third contract was absolute lightning fast. It was just after I’d parted company with my agent beginning of 2019. My agent was based in the States and I wanted to have closure on publishers in the States, but there was one more publisher I was really interested in because they had great authors on their list who are topping some of the some of the charts, authors who I admire, who I fangirl over, so I thought I would kick myself if I didn’t at least chuck it at them and see what they thought. So I chucked it at them and then two days later I got an e-mail saying can we talk? I got back home that night and she phoned me up and then three or four days after they offered me a three book deal!

 

[00:08:44] So actually that one took a week to get a three book deal on that book and yet everything else has been years and years and years. Sorry, that was a long ramble!

 

Sarah [00:08:53] Not at all, thank you for sharing that. It’s an absolute head spinner how much things have changed and turned around for you. And there was that long torturous waiting period while you were agented, and I know so many folk listening will be able to empathise with that hugely. That glacial pace of traditional publishing and how it can go like that… Slow, slow, slow, wait, wait, wait and then fast!  It is so normal, unfortunately. The rejection and the submission process and getting an agent doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, but when we’re going through it we feel as if we’re failing or that it is a bad sign. So I’m so grateful for you being willing share it, because I think it’s really helpful for other people who are either going through it or looking to start submitting or whatever. So, in terms of speed, you went from effectively nothing, to, I believe several out this year?

 

Emily [00:10:28] Yes. So this year, I’m probably gonna have five books out, which is completely insane. It’s like I was sat with my engine idling for three years, getting really stressed, and then wallop I’m up to 100 in half a second. I still haven’t quite recovered from it.

 

[00:10:50] And there were so many lows during those three years. I can remember just being absolutely gutted and heartbroken with some of the rejections and the close ones were the worst. I mean, I had one where a publisher from a pretty half decent imprint was showing lots and lots of interest in my book. It was the first book that my agent tried to submit and actually then my agent really came into her own. She was really interactive and there was loads of communication and they were talking about careers, and three book deals, other projects, where is my career going, blah blah blah… And she was like ‘No, no, this is really positive’ and then it fell at the last hurdle. The editor really wanted it, but they just said no it’s the wrong timing, we’re not we’re not taking it. And that went from being just on the brink of this massive high, and I just plummeted off a cliff. I look back and say what was the worst day of my life. It probably wasn’t, it sounds quite melodramatic, but that was a low. And then for this to happen, particularly with the DragonBlade contract, as I kind of blinked and it happened. It was like, you look away and that’s when the unicorn just trots in front of you…

 

[00:12:07] Yeah it’s insane. It’s not this process of, it takes you six months to get an agent and it takes you a year to get a contract and a year to get another contract. It’s not a straight line, it’s up and down and all over the place it’s backwards and forwards and, yeah, it’s completely mental this industry.

 

Sarah [00:12:24] Having just been through that, is there anything that you wish that you could go back and tell yourself or what advice would you want somebody listening to hear if they are going through the same submission hell?

 

Emily [00:12:39] Actually the advice that you gave me, Sarah, was along the lines of just keep at it, you’re getting closer. And the only way to make sure it never happens is to give up… Just carry on, just chalk it up to experience and write another book, the market goes up and the market goes down, tastes change, it’s all a matter of timing, just keep at it and you will get there. And I remember looking at you thinking ‘Yeah well it’s all right for you because you’re on the other end of it’ but it is true. Just keep at it. Be true to yourself sounds like a cliché but just carry on writing what you love.

 

[00:13:19] The only way to get a deal is to just keep it keep writing books. You’re not going to build a career on one book. So even if you get a deal you’re going to have to write another book at some point, so you might as well crack on with it while things are out on submission. So long as you’re getting decent feedback so that you can see where the issues are, but you can see what’s good about it, what needs to be done,  then you’re always going to be learning and you’re always going to be getting that bit closer.

 

Sarah [00:13:47] I think that’s excellent advice, and I do think your advice to keep on writing – if you can – while you’re going through the submission hell is really a super-good tip.

 

Emily [00:13:59] I think the reason, or the main reason I got the DragonBlade contract is because when we were chatting she did say well we would like to have books in series and relatively rapid release, and because I’d been writing and writing and writing during this desert period, I already had three books which were drafted, and I think that was one of the things that swung the deal. So, yeah, keep at it.

 

Sarah [00:14:24] If it’s okay with you I’d like to go back to the beginning a wee bit and ask that very common question, did you always want to write?

 

Emily [00:14:32] Yeah I did. I never really liked English at school, so I didn’t like English language. I didn’t like having to read a book that you never would have read in the first place and having to analyse the characters. So I was never really good at that, but I was a hopeless romantic at heart and I always loved little romantic stories and occasionally we would do creative writing in English and I’d do little medieval romances with little drawings of girls in pretty dresses and everything. I’ve obviously got a lot darker since then… But I do remember saying to an adult when I was about 10/15 years old saying I’d love to be a writer and I’ve got some ideas for romantic stories’ and they just turned around and said to me ‘Oh yeah I’ve got a friend and she’s actually good and she’s not never got published so you got no chance don’t do it.’.

 

[00:15:17] [Laughter] The look of horror on your face! Slight digression. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the TV show Lost, when they crash on this kind of weird magical bizarre island? And there’s a character in there who is my favourite character called John Locke, and he’s a bit of a misfit in society. He’s disabled, he’s kind of the typical mark for con men, so he’s not valued in society but actually in the island he really comes into his own. All throughout his life in the real world people say to him you can’t do this you can’t do that. And he stands up and says ‘Don’t tell me what I can’t do’. And actually that really struck me when this adult said to me you got no chance. I thought don’t tell me what I can’t do.

 

[00:16:07] But that kind of festered and lay dormant in my mind until thirty odd years later. So I always wanted to do it. Actually that’s one thing I think that drove me forward during this kind of three years of horror of submissions, I though someone told me I can’t do this,  I’m gonna prove them wrong! So it’s almost like a 40 year grudge that drove me through it.

 

[00:16:31] I have always wanted to be a writer. But then when kind of adult life and you think the responsible thing to do is to get a job that pays a regular salary. I did that and actually I love my job. I love my maths and everything that I do, but this thing lay dormant and it’s kind of the creative side I think which is my release from all the mathematical stuff I do during the day. So yeah.

 

Sarah [00:16:54] And I was going to ask what led you to choosing a historical romance and whether it is easy to pick a genre. But you’ve just said that your very early stories were quite romantic. Was it very simple to choose that genre?

 

Emily [00:17:07] It was yeah I had what I read when I was beginning to write the romance stuff I was reading a lot of crime not quite dark crime stuff. And there always seems to be this stigma with romance. If people ask me what genre I write and I say romance, you sometimes see their eye twitches a little bit as if to say ‘Oh well that’s kind of rubbish, cookie-cutter type stuff’. And they don’t realise that romance is a fantastic genre and it’s everywhere, it’s all about emotions and everything. So, I think I kind of held back a little bit earlier on, just because I thought people don’t value romance, but actually people do. There’s just a little bit of snobbery associated with it. But it was really easy to do romance and the historical romance, just the whole thing about knights in shining armour although now my knights are always a little bit tarnished.

 

[00:17:59] Yeah it was easy and it was it was natural. I am by no means a historian, so it’s not like I do hours and hours of research, but I do enough so I’ve give a flavour of the period. It’s authentic in terms of the period, and the flavour and the ambience.

 

Sarah [00:18:26] So people can really get into the story and not be thrown out of it – enough detail to anchor them in the story.

 

Emily [00:18:34] Yeah. You don’t want a Regency heroine picking up her mobile phone.

 

Sarah [00:18:40]  [Laughs] Not unless it’s a time travel one.

 

Emily [00:18:41] Wibbly wobbly timey-wimey time travel stuff.

 

Sarah [00:18:47] We’ve mentioned the fact that you have a really crazy year of publishing. I know I’ve said this to you personally many a time that you are having quite the introduction to being a published author. But it’s also true that you’ve always been incredibly productive in terms of your writing. And I admire it and I really want to learn from you. So while I’ve got you on the show I’d love to hear more about your writing process. So things like you know do you write every day and keep business hours Monday to Friday. What’s your routine?

 

Emily [00:19:28] I have to fit it around the day job which pays the bills. When I am actually drafting I do try to get myself in the zone, as it were, and I do try and be disciplined to write something every day. So if I’m in the throes of a draft and it’s all plotted out, it’s all good to go, I will aim for about two thousand words a day. Often I don’t reach that I then say to myself if I can make a thousand, which if I’m really concentrated I can probably churn out in about an hour of real concentrated writing. And if I’m really at full pelt, I can do five thousand a day but that’s normally if it’s a day off or if it’s a weekend. But I do try and make sure I’ve just put something in everyday, so at least every day I’ve moved forward even if it’s only by a little amount. I always feel that I might lose my touch if I don’t write, so I force myself to write a bit every day.

 

[00:20:27] In terms of how I do it. I plot like mad to the point of obsessive compulsive disorder. I have to have it all plotted out. And then I will blitz it through from start to finish. So in terms of plotting, I see it like a painting. I’ll kind of start fleshing out the story with big blocks of colour, with the themes and the character profiles, just to get some ideas. And then I’ll start fleshing out some of the detail by, say if I’ve got fight scene in Chapter 22, I might talk about who’s fighting who, what weapons they’ve got, whether there are any other characters witnessing the fight getting involved, what they say, ideas for dialogue. Eventually, once I’ve done that, I’ll have a whole mass of bullet points which just cover the scenes. Probably about 10 or 20 bullet points describing each scene. I’ll then colour code it, I mean I’m so obsessive, I will colour code it red for the heroine’s point of view, blue for heroes point of view, green for anybody else. Just to check whether the switches are happening at the right time, so that you haven’t got twelve chapters in one point of view in two lines in another. And that normally ends up being about 20 pages of A4. Then I lay it all out in front of me. Then I’ll do my character profiles with little spider maps. So the heroine on one side, hero on the other, with lines interconnecting all the other characters in between them. Once I’ve got that it’s good to go. And then I basically sit down and blitz through the first draft and just hide under a rock and write and write and write until at the other end a first draft is spat out.

 

[00:22:09]  I love things like the National Novel Writing Month that happens in November where you aim to write fifty thousand words in a month. Because that’s like one thousand six hundred and sixty six words a day, which is quite doable if you sit down for an hour a cup of coffee. So I tend to use that as my month for really focused drafting a book. It works really well for me because I just I love plotting but I know there’s some people who just the thought of plotting in advance just freaks them out.

 

Sarah [00:22:42] But it works for you. Do you have any other tips for writing regularly or for producing lots of books? Do you have any other tips for productivity?

 

Emily [00:23:10] Things like writer’s block. Some scenes I find really easy to write and others I find really difficult and I’m sure a lot of a lot of people find that. And a lot of people say to me ‘just leave that and go into an easy scene’ but actually I can’t do that. So one of the reasons why I do go from start to finish is I know that if I have got a difficult scene I just have to push through it. It’s like climbing a mountain, you might get a real difficult part and you think well you’ve got to do that halfway up or otherwise you’re never get to the top of the mountain. So I’ll just push through it, even if I think it’s gonna be rubbish, because at least then I will get to the other end.

I overwrite a lot, and I do know that if I’ve got scene which is difficult I’ll overwrite even more, so I just think just chuck words at it and eventually you will end up with something that can be edited down. And I always find, and I’m sure a lot of people find this as well, is that when I’m writing something I think it’s gonna be rubbish, it’s going to rubbish, but I keep saying to myself you think it is but actually when you look back at it with a clear head it’s never going to be as bad as you as you think it is. So I try to switch off the little devil inside me which says ‘you’re rubbish, this sucks, you suck, everything sucks, the world sucks’ and just push through that. And what I was saying before about forgetting submissions and cracking on with the next book, because you’ve almost always got something out on submission, so I try and switch off from that and just plough through the book. Arguing that whatever happens with the book that’s out on submission, I’ve still got to finish this book and I’m writing now so I force myself to do to do that.

 

[00:24:44] Oh another thing I do that stops, in terms of research and things you might if I’m writing something I’m not sure whether it’s absolutely historically accurate or I feel I need a bit more to make it authentic. I won’t stop and research and look up I will add in square brackets and capitals and ‘check the bit of history/add in a little bit of history here’ and then go back to it later on. That helps to keep the flow going of writing. So if you’re unsure about your facts I will always just stick a little note or comments. I always find that if I get interrupted when I’m writing that really causes problems. I stop and have to get back into it.

 

[00:25:27] Word races a great. I am I am super, super competitive, so as soon as someone says to me ‘right we’re going do a world race’ and we kind of connect on Facebook or something,  think ‘right, I want to get more words out than the next person’. And I set the timer on my iPad and I blitz it for half an hour and that really helps out an awful lot words because then I’m just determined to get the words down and not worry about how perfect they are. And that really helps. Short bursts. If I try and set races for myself, I might think ‘right, I managed a thousand words yesterday, let’s see if I can do fifteen hundred in the same space of time.’ So I compete with myself as well.

 

Sarah [00:26:12] That’s a good tip. I meant to ask you this before when you were talking about outlining. Have you got any resources or books that you’ve read about outlining and so on that helped you to learn how to do it? Or is it just something that you’ve developed and naturally?

 

Emily [00:26:31] Yeah it kind of just happens. But in terms of ideas, I carry around a notebook in my handbag. And if I do get an idea and sometimes it might be in the middle of a in the middle of the meeting or in the middle of the office, I’ll pick up my notebook and excuse myself and nip into the loo and just scratch out a few little notes. So if ideas pop in, I make sure I write them down. I dream a lot as well, so I wake up in the morning and write down lots of dreams. Actually loads of the scenes in the book Hawthorne’s Wife, a lot of that came from a dream.

 

[00:27:16] So yeah, I’m constantly writing out lots and lots of notes of ideas that might be good for novel. I’ll often use ideas from stuff I’ve written in the past, I mean there’s one thing I wrote a kind of young adult thing which is the first thing I ever wrote, which is just awful, it’s never going to see the light of day, but some of the ideas from that I’ve been able to poach for future novels. So I tend to have a whole mass of random ideas and then I’ll start ordering them into plots. But it’s just a system that’s really kind of come naturally, although I am aware of things like you have to have a change of pace. You can’t have it all at a fast pace or slow pace, you need to have ups and downs and dark things and you’ve got to think about obstacles for the characters to overcome, so I’m kind of aware of that in the back of my mind, but I don’t set out to follow any specific structure which is outlined in a book about writing I just kind of get on with it and tinker it and massage it into shape. And I do find critique buddies and another pair of eyes, sympathetic understanding eyes, is good as well. Because if all my critique buddies come back and say ‘look that really doesn’t work, please change it’ then I will change it.

 

Sarah [00:28:26] Oh that’s fantastic advice. And you handwrite your outlines and you type your drafts. Is that correct?

 

Emily [00:28:35] The notes are all handwritten. When I actually start plotting things out with the bullet points, I will then type that so I can cut and paste scenes.

 

Sarah [00:28:58] Excellent. Now as you said earlier, you’ve really had quite a launch into being a published author – so many deals and so many deadlines! How are you feeling having finally achieved this dream? How is the difference between writing for fun and for external publishing deadlines?

 

Emily [00:29:18] Yeah. When I got the publishing contract that’s when reality struck. Before I got published, it was like ‘oh that’s the dream, isn’t it wonderful isn’t it happy and like I’d have unicorns and rainbows stars flying out of my ears when it happens’. But then when it happened, I actually felt quite low two days afterwards because it was like ‘okay this is no longer a dream’. I’ve actually got to got to stand up and do something and step up to it and treat it as a business and take a professional approach to it, as opposed to an airy fairy this is my dream. That actually was a bit of a shock.

 

[00:29:50] In terms of marketing, that just seems to be some form of dark art which hopefully I will learn when I enter the non-Muggle world later on. But, yeah, writing to deadlines I’ve never actually had to draft to a deadline, yet, because I already had these three books done, which was which was quite good. That will be something I’m gonna have to do next year, I suspect, certainly if DragonBlade are interested in more books in the series. So it might be you have to ask me that in a year’s time.

 

Sarah [00:30:36] How have you found being out there as an author, having your work read widely and that side of things because I found that incredibly terrifying. How have you found it?

 

Emily [00:30:48] I think having Emily as a pen name, I can detach a little bit from it. So if you do see a bit of a stinky review, even if it gets personal about the author, you think ‘oh they’re talking about somebody else, I’m not her today, I’m me.’ And when I step into Emily’s shoes, hopefully she’ll be able to cope with it. I actually find it more scary having my books read by people I know, because then they look me in the eye. And it’s people who know me and think yeah I can see which aspects of you are in that book. Whereas if it’s a complete stranger, it’s just like a book they’ve liked or not liked. So in that way it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but yeah when you start seeing reviews coming up on Amazon or GoodReads it is a bit of a daunting thought. I think because they’re strangers and we’re all detached and it’s all online, you’re not standing in a group of baying readers who are chucking things like you physically it’s not quite so horrific.

 

Sarah [00:31:55] And has anything about the experience surprised you – either in a good way or a bad way?

 

Emily [00:32:04] I think it was a surprise how quickly I came down from the high when I got the deal, because then I did realise that I’ve got to take a professional approach to it. I did burst into tears the other day. I got an email from someone – I just had a really bad review on Amazon – and I got an email from someone that came through from my newsletter. A complete stranger. Just to say lovely things about the book, saying they absolutely love it. They talk about the characters and said I’ve fallen in love with the character and I was like ‘blimey, that’s a complete stranger’ has actually opened up their email and sent me a note to say they love a character which has come out of my head and I didn’t realise what a rush that would give me and what a warm glow inside. So that that actually is amazing when a total stranger gets in touch.

 

Sarah [00:32:51] Brilliant. I’m just going to spoil your wonderful, positive answer, now, as I do want to ask you whether you ever suffer from creative block. You were saying you’re good at writing down ideas and you’re extremely prolific, but do you either suffer with creative block or self-doubt, or are there any parts of the process that stop you or freak you out?

 

Emily [00:33:22] Yeah, I’m always terrified that my work is rubbish, terrified that it sucks. Even if someone says something nice, a little voice in my head says to me they’re only saying it just to be nice, just to shut you up, because they don’t want to tell you that it sucks and tell you why. Because it’s less effort to say I like it than it is to say ‘I absolutely hate it and this is why’. So whenever I get an e-mail back from my editor I’m always thinking she’s going to tell me this sucks she’s going gonna say ‘why on earth to be offered you a contract you’ve written a load of absolute rubbish woman’. So I’m constantly feeling like that. I got an email from her about the second book. She got halfway through and actually she stopped with her edits and said I would like you to change a few things. And she was really complimentary, she said ‘your writing is lovely, but there’s just a couple of structural issues, don’t worry it it’s quite common with a new author’. But I interpreted that as ‘this book sucked so much, I got one hundred and sixty pages in and just gave up, what on earth are you doing, let’s check it back at you and hopefully you’ll go away we never have to publish this pile of absolute rubbish’. So that’s the biggest problem I have is a massive lack of self-confidence. I have imposter syndrome. I go into groups where there’s other authors and I think they’re probably looking at me thinking ‘what’s she doing here? She started writing later tonight, she’s only just started, she writes bodice rippers’. So, yeah, massive lack of confidence.

 

[00:35:00] It’s something I’m always having to struggle with. What I do is occasionally, I kept the initial e-mails that I got from my agent, even though we parted company I’ve still kept her initial email, from editors who’ve come back, the critiques from the New Writers Scheme. I kept those and I read those and say ‘yes, at that point somebody did say that they liked my writing enough to actually come out and tell me and go to the effort to tell me and offer me a contract or representation or something’, so I keep going back to that, and go ‘no, there was a point where people did actually think this was okay so just carry on’. So, yeah, it’s just dealing with that lack of self-confidence is a really difficult thing to do.

 

[00:35:47] I will often click open a good review and have a look at that, but it’ trying to focus on the good reviews not the bad ones. But even the bad ones I’ve had a really bad review which said this was one of the top five worst books, I absolutely hated it and I was crushed when I read it. And then part of me thought was a pity it wasn’t the top worst book I’d like to know what their worst book was because actually I would probably quite like it!

 

[00:36:13] But again the fact that it’s brought out such an emotional reaction in someone, that they feel compelled to log into their Amazon account and write about six paragraphs of why they hated it, that actually make me think it’s kind of done what I wanted, because it’s elicited an emotional reaction. And I did say to myself way back when I started I didn’t want to write books that were kinds of middle of the road I know because I like emotion and dark stuff is going to be Marmite, it is going to be love it or hate it. And I would rather have a mixture of five star and one star reviews from people where it’s really pulled out an emotional reaction than a whole mass of three stars of people saying ‘oh, it was all right’.

 

Sarah [00:36:52] And I remember that!

 

Emily [00:36:58] [Laughs] I know, when my first ever one star review came through, I said ‘this is what you said you wanted, you wanted ones and fives’.

 

Sarah [00:37:07] It’s so tough. And, again, thank you so much for sharing, because I do think most of us, if not all of us, feel the same way. So thank you again for sharing that. I think it’s a good strategy, definitely, trying to focus on the positive, on the positive reviews or positive feedback you’ve had. But, as you said it’s really difficult to force ourselves to believe it. Believe the positive. Listeners can’t see, but I was nodding away when you said that because that’s the crux of it, is that it’s very difficult to believe that positive feedback.

 

Emily [00:37:57] You do think are they just being nice to placate. Actually sometimes I’ll look at some of my favourite books and look at their reviews and think ‘yeah, it obviously wasn’t for them, but actually that’s an amazing book’. It does make me think at least I’m in good company. Yeah. We’re not gonna like the same thing. It’s just hard when you put your heart and soul into something and someone really hates it to the point where they have to tell the world just how much they hate it. It’s always gonna be tough. I’m hoping I will be more immune to it as the years go by.

 

Sarah [00:38:37] Well I can’t believe it, the time has raced by, so I will just finish up by asking what are you working on at the moment or what’s next for you?

 

Emily [00:38:48] Right. Well yes, book two in the London Libertines Hawthorne’s Wife should be out beginning of September. Book 3 which is called Roderick’s Widow, I think that’s scheduled to come out in December and that’s with my editor at the moment. I’ve plotted out book four in that series as well and I’ve got some embryonic ideas for books five and six, at least who the characters are going to be and what the main themes are. So I’m hoping to have book four written by the end of the year maybe and full drafts for five and six, and then hopefully I’ll have a chat with my publisher to see if I want to take this on. I’ve got two more medieval romances which I drafted ages ago which I had submitted a couple of times and got good feedback. So I might actually maybe self publish those because that’s something I’d like to branch into. I think once I’ve got just got a bit more experience of being an author, built up a few more newsletter subscribers, and just got a bit more of an idea about what the marketing thing is that I might actually give that a go myself.

 

Sarah [00:39:55] Fantastic. And where can people find out more about you and your books?

 

Emily [00:40:00] Oh right. I’ve got a Web site which is www.emroyal.com. I can be found on Twitter @eroyalauthor and on my website there is a link for my newsletter, as well.

 

Sarah [00:40:19] Fantastic. I’ll put all the links in the show notes but thank you so much for that, it was lovely to speak to you.

 

Emily [00:40:26] Thank you, Sarah, it has been so wonderful this chat to you.

 

The Worried Writer Ep#54: Paul Tudor Owen ‘This Is Something I’ve Wanted For So Long’

My guest today is debut novelist Paul Tudor Owen. Paul is a Guardian journalist and his literary crime novel, The Weighing of the Heart is out now from Obliterati Press.

We discuss Paul’s path to publication, how to fit writing around a day job, and the benefits of joining a writing group.

You can find out more about Paul and his book at Paul Tudor Owen.

Or find him on Obliterati Press or Instagram.

 

 

THANK YOU

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WRITING UPDATE

At 50BooksEdinburgh, finally meeting fellow podcaster and Worried Writer guest Paul Teague in person!

I’m still working on the third Crow Investigations book, but July was mostly taken up with family holiday stuff and conferences!

I went to the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) annual conference in Lancaster University and the 50BooksEdinburgh publishing conference.

I did a talk at the RNA conference (all about overcoming fear, self-doubt and procrastination) and I was appropriately ‘on brand’ ie. TERRIFIED. It was a wonderful experience, though, and I met so many kindred spirits and lovely writers.

The 50BooksEdinburgh conference was a life-changing, mindset-altering, incredible, overwhelming, inspiring event. I’m going to take a few weeks to sort through my thoughts and impressions, and will give a proper overview in the next episode.

At both events, I got to meet listeners of this podcast, which felt amazing. If you said ‘hi’, please let me take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ (again!). It was lovely to meet you!

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?

 

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.

 

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH PAUL TUDOR OWEN

 

Sarah [00:00:01] My guest today is Guardian journalist and debut author Paul Tudor Owen. Paul’s first novel The Weighing Of The Heart is literary crime fiction and was released in March 2019 by Obliteratti Press. Welcome to the show Paul and thank you so much for joining us.

 

Paul [00:00:18] Thanks very much for having me on. I really appreciate it.

 

Sarah [00:00:22] Well just to get started I was hoping that you could tell us a wee bit about your debut novel. Did you always intend to write literary crime fiction and am I describing it correctly?

 

Paul [00:00:33] Yes. The novel is set in New York. It’s about a young British guy living in New York and he splits up with his girlfriend and moves in as a lodger with two elderly ladies in an opulent apartment on the Upper East Side. And there are all these priceless works of art on the walls all over the apartment. And he and the young woman who lives next door steal one of the works of art. It’s an ancient Egyptian scene and after the theft, the stress of it begins to work on him and the imagery of ancient Egypt, the imagery from the picture starts to come to life around him and it’s not clear to the reader whether that’s really happening or whether that’s that’s just in his head. So it’s literary fiction and there’s a crime at the heart of it. I think that, you know, I don’t know whether the author is always the right person to say what genre a book is. And I’m quite happy for the reader to make that come to that conclusion. And I’m also really aware that people like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan always really annoy everybody when they write a book that’s blatantly science fiction and then they claim in every interview that it’s not science fiction at all. So what I’d say is that any readers of crime fiction please read it. I think you’ll enjoy it. Readers of literary fiction. Go for it. People who like books about New York ancient Egypt arts basically the more the merrier.

 

Sarah [00:02:22] Absolutely. As you say, genres are kind of labels so that people know where to put things on the bookshelf and in the store. They are a marketing construct and convenience.

But congratulations on becoming a published author. That’s great.

 

Paul [00:02:51] Thank you. Thanks very much.

 

Sarah [00:02:53] And it’s it’s a long and twisty path for most of us so I would love to hear your path to publication story.

 

Paul [00:03:01] Yeah no absolutely, it’s definitely taken a while for me. I think I first started trying to write fiction when I was in my early 20s and I managed to get an agent at that time and I finished a book. He sent it out and no publishers were interested. And then I was sort of going back and forth and I was working on other ideas and eventually around about sort of 2011 I started writing this current book and I think once I’d written the first couple of chapters I just really felt like, you know, very confident really that what I was writing now was much better than anything that I’d written before. And so I went back to the agent with what I’d written but sort of by this time he’d taken the other book to publishers and they hadn’t been interested and I think he’d sort of lost interest really. So I kind of was faced with a choice you know. You’re usually told as a as an author especially when you’re starting out you really needs an agent and if you have one to do everything you can to keep them. You know I think there’s a lot of truth to that. However I just felt like this was not going to result in this book getting published. So I sort of cut ties with him very amicably and I set about sort of starting to try to find another agent. And it was such a different process by that time because I think when I when I was in my early 20s trying to find an agent I’d been posting things out you know I would have been printing out page after page, stapling these bundles together taking them to the post office just so time consuming. And I remember the night when I just tried to find another agent I just basically after work I went to a secluded spot and I got The Writers And Artists Yearbook and I just started going through from A and emailing it to everybody, and I think that evening I got about halfway through the alphabet and there was a lot of interest. there was a lot of interest quite quickly. So that was that was really great. That felt very heartening. And then so I guess for the next couple of years I was kind of working with a really great agent,  Maggie Hanbury, who I’m still working with now. But when she came to to send it out, again we didn’t have much luck with publishers. And one of the reasons was that at the time another book about art theft in New York had just come out. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and it was a massive hit. It was everywhere and a lot of these publishers were saying well we really like your book but it’s just too similar to The Goldfinch. And so once again, the kind of momentum really slowed at that point, and we were talking to one small publisher at this time but around this time I got a job in New York. I worked for The Guardian newspaper and I got a job in their office in New York. And so at the time I was moving now which was March 2015 I was talking to this small publisher and she really didn’t like the ending. And you know not to give anything away but she felt that the ending should conclude in a sort of what I felt was quite a heavy handed manner. And so we went back and forth over this and I don’t know if if you’ve found this but sometimes when somebody points out a problem and you set about… Well first of all you try to figure out whether you agree that it’s a problem. Often it turns up something that even if you didn’t agree with the original problem it turns up some issue that you agree that does need to be solved. So while I was in discussion with this publisher I kind of came up with an alternative ending and I actually really preferred the alternative ending and I thought it was it was it was much better. But by this time the publisher had lost interest. So I’d just moved to New York and started a new job and I think really then for the next year I didn’t do anything on it. Life was just too busy and too complicated and it was only really about a year after moving to New York that I sort of came back to it and I spoke to my agent and they said that they didn’t feel that they could continue to send out because they’d sent it out to a few publishers already. And I just said them ‘Okay I’m just going to send it out to small publishers.’ And so again I went through the writers and artists yearbook and also the one and in the US which is it’s called something like the writers market. And I just started at the beginning and started sending out chapters to all of them, really. All the small publishers and the response was really good. And I think that the writers who are sitting at home waiting for agents to get back to them and thinking that they need to have an agent in order to go that further steps towards publication. I think it’s true if you were if you want to get published by HarperCollins or if you want to get published by Penguin or Faber like it probably is true but to be published by a small publisher I don’t think it is necessarily true. And two or three were interested and we talked to them and in the end I went with Obliterati who are a brilliant small publisher. They set up a couple of years ago. The whole purpose is to get books that they think are brilliant that have not had a chance elsewhere out to the public. It’s two guys running it. I really respect what they’re doing. And yeah. And that’s been a really great process. So that was about, I guess that was about a year and a half ago or a year ago when I signed with them and around the same time my wife and I were talking about whether to stay in New York or come back here and we decided to come back. So that was really exciting time actually because we were coming back and I knew the book was going to come out when we got back to Britain and you know it felt like I was finally going to achieve this ambition and do something that I wanted to do for so long.

 

Sarah [00:10:05] Well thank you so much for sharing that. As I said at the beginning, most of us have got this twisty path filled with close but no cigar and rejection and things but I’m always so grateful when and other authors are willing to share it because it’s so important that everyone knows that that’s just normal. That is absolutely the usual experience, because when you’re going through it… I mean you had that tenacity, you know, you kept on going you might have a wee break at times because of life will you get a bit too ground down with it. but you come back and you try again. Is there anything that you wish that you could go back and tell yourself? Is there any advice you would give to other people in the same situation or anything you wish you could have known?

 

Paul [00:10:57] This is a sort of impossible one but it wouldn’t be really it would have really helped me a lot to know that in the end I was going to get there because I think you know there’s definitely periods where you feel like, God I’m putting so much into this I’m putting so much time so much of my sort of creativity into this and maybe it’s just going nowhere and maybe I should really be using that time and effort for something else. So you know if there had been a way to let myself know that you will make it, that would have would have meant a lot. Obviously that’s impossible. I mean advice for other people you know it’s so it’s so different for each person and each person’s set of responsibilities; their job, their family life. So you know I suppose anything I can say, anyone with kids for example would just probably say what you’re saying is impossible. But what I found was that if you want to do it, you have to cut something else out. You have to not do something else in order to do this. Otherwise he’s just not going to get it done. So I think when I when I started off in my 20s like what that meant I guess was not going out at my friends or not watching TV in the evening or whatever. Just making time to do this. And I suppose now it’s more that sometimes I’ll stay behind after work and work on my book for a couple of hours. Quite a lot, I’ll try and spend Saturday and Sunday in the day working and I think that’s it really you just have to carve out that time. And it’s not it’s not easy you know.

 

Sarah [00:12:51] I’m very impressed that you sometimes work on your writing at the end of a working day, because when I was in journalism I wanted to write fiction desperately but I know that I felt as if I had used up the word part of my brain by the end of the day. So I’m very impressed that you managed to do that.

 

Paul [00:13:57] I didn’t really feel like that, I felt more like I was in a very productive state of mind at work… And also, the kinds of deadlines that we’re working to, there’s a lot of pressure to work very quickly and it was better if I just carried that on.

 

 Sarah [00:13:57] Yeah that makes a lot of sense. And I’m going to be fair to myself and also say that I was bringing up two small children at the same time, so that’ll be it as well!

 

Paul [00:14:04] That’s so impressive.

 

Sarah [00:14:07] Oh well, it took me a wee while,  but I wanted to say about the journalism as well… So was non-fiction your first love, or did you always want to write fiction?

 

Paul [00:14:18] No I always wanted to write fiction and I think I remember actually having a chat with one of my lecturers at university when I was just about to graduate and talking about this, and it was really clear to me, you know, that it would be very very difficult to make a living from writing fiction. And so I was thinking about what what I could do instead that would satisfy some of the same sort of creative impulses. And in the end, they’re not that similar in some ways. I mean for me, anyway. I work in news. Our main task is really to get information across to people as quickly and as clearly as possible. And I think writing fiction you’re doing numerous things at once, you’re building the characters, you’re working on the architecture of the plot, maybe you’re doing something interesting with the structure, you’ve got to think about the dialogue. You’ve got to do all those things simultaneously and you know, sometimes, you don’t want to get information across clearly and quickly to a to a reader. Sometimes you want to do the exact opposite you want to withhold information from a reader and have them gradually realize it or only realize it at the end. And I think in some forms of journalism like a creative non-fiction as they call it in the US or longform magazine journalism I think in those forms of journalism people are using some of those similar techniques but for me, news reporting and news editing which is what I’ve done as a career it’s quite different in those ways to writing fiction.

 

Sarah [00:15:55] Yeah absolutely. And so were there any resources or books or courses or anything that you used to help you study writing fiction and help you transition from non-fiction?

 

Paul [00:16:08] I haven’t done any formal creative writing courses. I mean I do remember even sort of as far back as do my A Level English, that I was always thinking about how these authors were doing were creating the effects that they were creating, why they were choosing to do it that way. And I feel like looking back I was trying to teach myself essentially and it was the same at university where I was studying American literature and American history. And so you can see the influence of some of the books that I studied at a level on this book like The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro one of my favourite books has an amazing unreliable narrator.

And I’m definitely doing some of the same things in the Weighing of the Heart, and then the Great Gatsby we also studied, and I think I’m sort of looking at the same idea of the corroded American dream as Fitzgerald did in The Great Gatsby and I deliberately put in some nods to The Great Gatsby in the text because I thought it was pretty obvious how influenced I was, and I just wanted to make sure that the reader knew I wasn’t trying to like pull the wool over their eyes.

 

Sarah [00:17:23] It’s like ‘I know, I know I’m influenced by it. Look!’

 

Paul [00:17:30] But I have been in writing groups where you read to each other and give feedback and I’ve found that very useful, and the most recent one actually was when I was in New York and I hadn’t written anything for about a year and I really wanted to get back into it and I wanted to start a new book. And I joined this group run by an organization called Gotham Writers. The class was was fairly simple. It was basically there were about 15 of you and the facilitator comes up with a word or a phrase and you have 10 or 15 minutes to write basically whatever you like on that subject or based around that subject. And it was just exactly what I needed really because it just forced me to write and it kind of sparked off creative ideas. I really enjoyed it, there was such a variety of work from all the other people. One really stuck in my mind where I think yeah the subject was lemon or lemons. and at these classes a lot of stuff that people read is sort of blatantly autobiographical, and so this one just really came out of the blue. So the guy said that his story was that his narrator was on a date and he kissed this girl and her lips tasted of lemons and it was really disturbing because it reminded him of when he was a baby and his grandma leaned over him when it was in his crib and she was sucking on a lemon cough sweet and it fell off her mouth and it fell into his mouth as a baby. And this is disturbing. So he left the date and as he walked home a truck hit him and killed him. And the truck was full of lemons. Brilliant! A jaw dropping story. So it was really great, hearing everybody else’s stories as well and talking to them, and they gave you a glass of wine and a bite to eat. The whole thing was a total bargain actually that was really good.

 

Sarah [00:19:49] That sounds good. And so now that you’re not in a writing group which feeds you wine, what’s your routine or process now? Do you aim for a particular word count per day or writing session? And do you plot books in advance? Or is it too soon to say…

 

Paul [00:20:08] I work shift work so I often have to work at weekends and what that means is that then I have a day off in lieu in the week and that’s actually pretty good for me really. So for example today I had a day off and I used it for quite a bit of writing. So what I tried to do is get as many of other chores responsibilities and tasks and things out of the way, so that I have as long a block of of time to write as possible because I just find that the more you can immerse yourself in that world the more new ideas will will spark off. And I usually work in the kitchen and try to have as much natural light as possible. The one thing that has really changed my life recently as a writer is you know on your phone you can get it to and to read out anything that’s on the screen. So what I do is when I’ve been working on a chapter and I feel like it’s in quite good shape and then I’m going somewhere else and going to do something then I put on my headphones and have the phone read it back to me. And it’s really brilliant because it really puts that kind of distance between you and the writing so that you are able to appreciate it as I as a reader rather than as the writer. So today for example I was doing some work and then I had to paint the bathroom floor so I loaded up the chapter so that I’d just been working on onto my phone and I just listened to it as I was painting and you really come to view as the reader. But I just oh it’s going to and I was going to play you a bit if if if that’s all right so you can hear what it sounds like because people do think it’s kind of ridiculous when they hear what it sounds like. But anyway it works for me. Oh I’ll play you a bit.

 

Phone [00:22:26] ‘Sooner or later everybody comes to New York and I was no exception.’

 

Paul [00:22:45] You can see that they haven’t quite mastered human voice yet but I think that that they’re getting there, and perhaps part of the the way it’s kind of stilted and everything is actually quite good because it’s so clearly not my voice in my mind that I can almost see them as a reader.

 

Sarah [00:23:06] And of course it’s going to read exactly what is there as well. So I think from a self-editing point of view it’s going to be useful even if it’s just picking up and repeated words so that kind of thing.

 

Paul [00:23:16] Oh yeah totally.

 

Sarah [00:23:17] Because you know you’re in when you’re reading your own stuff you read what you expect to see don’t you. Yeah yeah. And that’s a really interesting tip I’ve not heard that one before. So well done, that’s a first. So this is the Worried Writer, so I’m afraid I will delve into any struggles that you’ve ever had. So do you ever suffer from creative block?

 

Paul [00:23:39] I think one one thing that I do find that’s good from journalism is that if I can usually get from A to B in writing even if I’m so stuck on how to do it or you know not doing it in a particularly beautiful or elegant way. But I can just get from A to B and then move on and come back and improve it later. And I think that probably comes from the sort of pressures of journalism and just having to do it. So that’s really good. But I am very easily distracted and it’s not always great trying to work at home, you know, I’ll go and water the plants to tidy something up or sort my books out or or whatever. There’s that cliche isn’t there about writer’s homes, that they are very tidy because the writer who claimed that they were spending the day writing has actually been sort of pottering about tidying everything up.

 

Sarah [00:24:39] (Laughs)I can’t possibly comment on that.

 

Paul [00:24:43] So when I was when in New York we only had a very small flat and so, you know, it would have been pretty antisocial of me to try and take up all the space writing and our office was in this, I dunno if you know this corporation called WeWork, which is this coworking office space company. So basically you you sign up and you can then go to any of the WeWork offices around that city or around the country, whatever you’ve signed up for, and the Guardian’s office was in a We Work office. And what it meant was that if I had booked rooms I could book rooms and in other We Work offices around the city. So what I would do was go to a different one each time, like on a Sunday say book a room in a We Work and and then go in and it was great actually because I really got to explore the city and work in lots of different places and you know the book’s set in New York and the new book I’m working on now is also set in New York. So it was great to feel immersed in New York and to be seeing the sights of New York out of the window as I was working.

 

Sarah [00:25:57] That sounds perfect. And in terms of the experience of being a debut novelist because as we were saying in the path to publication, it takes an awful lot of grit, and you have to really want it and you work and you get rejected and it’s the dream and then it finally happens and has it been all you hoped for or have there been any sort of unexpected stresses or has it just been joy?

 

Paul [00:26:24] I mean it’s been brilliant in the sense that this is something that I’ve wanted for so long and I felt so great to have achieved this ambition. The book launch for example I just felt really fantastic to be finally presenting myself as an author and you know people’s responses have been so good both in terms of people who have read it who hadn’t read it before and really really positive and also just you know my friends have been really really supportive and really happy for me and that’s all been absolutely brilliant.

 

Sarah [00:26:59] That’s great.

 

Paul [00:27:00] I mean you know Obliterati my publishers are a small publisher. And I think that it’s probably a different experience for me than it is if you are signed to one of the the big publishing houses. You know I think when it comes to marketing and promotion you know, Obliterati are working very hard but they are a small company and I think that one thing that I’ve found and we’ve found is that it’s much more effective for me to do everything personally than for them to do it. They the results are much better and it feels like the personal touch is is what’s needed you know whether that’s contacting podcasts like yours or literary festivals, newspapers, bloggers, bookstagrammers. It all seems to work better if it comes directly from me. And you know what one example is is bookshops getting it in bookshops. So I’ve been you know going around up into almost every bookshop in central London and persuaded them to stock it. And you know it works. It works to turn up, to show them the book, to tell them a bit about yourself. It does work. There’s only one bookshop that hasn’t taken it which is Hatchards in St Pancras. So Hatchards if you’re a regular listener to this podcast please please reconsider.

 

Sarah [00:28:29] That’s great that that worked so well.

 

Paul [00:28:31] Well yes. You feel a sense of achievement, but it’s very time consuming. You know it’s hand-to-hand combat to get it stocked everywhere. And I’m doing it. But it’s takes me a while.

 

Sarah [00:28:48] I was going to ask you about the kind of balancing of and because you’re definitely not alone, regardless of the size of your publisher, in having to do the lion share option. And that was something that I was happy to do and I am still happy to do, but it does have a time attached to it.

 

 [00:29:10] Again I don’t know how you feel but I also had to kind of adjust… As happy as I was to be finally like ‘out there’, as an author, I also kind of had to deal with a wee bit of imposter syndrome and sort of self-doubt, with regards to the marketing and promotion side. Have you struggled with anything like that or are you just very confident and happy to go into bookshops, as this sounds?

 

Paul [00:29:31] Having spent three years in New York. I sort of channelled my inner American and I just thought how would an American handle this? Just go in and say look here’s my book, it’s brilliant, you won’t regret it.

 

Sarah [00:29:45] It’s great, put it on the shelf.

 

Paul [00:29:55] It is sort of going against your nature as a British person. And I think for example I’m like tweeting and putting posts on Instagram like every day. And I think that my friends are probably getting a bit sick of seing it, you know, but I’ve just got to do it because if I don’t do it nobody is going to do it. You know so it’s my only choice really.

 

Sarah [00:30:21] It’s definitely part of the gig, yeah. in terms of kind of going forward, do you have any strategies in mind for making sure that, I mean you want to do everything you can to make your debut a success which makes perfect sense, but going forward do you have any strategies for kind of making sure that promotion and marketing and kind of the business side don’t totally take over your writing time?

 

Paul [00:30:48] Yeah I mean that’s that’s totally totally it. Really I think the time that I was using for writing I am now using a lot of it for, like 90 percent of it really, for marketing. I think that I have just kind of resigned myself to maybe for this whole year that’s going to be the case, because when a book comes out you’ve only got a short window to really make it, to make it count really. So I feel like I’ve just got to this year throw myself into that 100 percent. And I’m still you know I’m still making some time for writing the new one and I’m still trying to keep up with sort of making notes and I’m just keeping the idea going in my head. But if at the end of the day I’ve spent this year promoting The Weighing of the Heart and trying my best to to make it as successful as it possibly can be. I think now is the only time that I could do that and I can come back to the new book in the future and the more successful The Weighing of the Heart has been, the stronger the position the new book will be and once it finally gets to that stage.

 

Sarah [00:32:13] Was it a one book deal with a Obliterati Press or will you be submitting your new book when the time comes?

 

Paul [00:32:23] It’s a one book deal and they get first refusal on the next one.

 

Sarah [00:32:28] Yes, okay. So I was going to say what’s next for you but I’m assuming it’s this second, also New York set, book.

 

Paul [00:32:36] Yeah. That’s right. So that the next one. It’s. It is still set in New York but it’s gonna be set in the 1970s when New York was a sort of crime plagued hell. And I think that that was the kind of New York that I first fell in love with through films like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. New York felt so exciting but also so gritty and I really wanted to sort of you know I really wanted to sort of conjure up that New York in my writing. So it’s set in the mid 70s and it’s about a sort of failing newspaper journalist in New York who it starts looking into conspiracy theories about the moon landings and he starts meeting these conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landings were faked and as he gets drawn into deeper into the world he sort of finds himself against his better judgment starting to believe some of their paranoia. So that’s the that’s the basic premise.

 

Sarah [00:33:51] Excellent. Just to finish up, where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

 

Paul [00:33:58] Sure. Well if you if you go to the Obliterrati web site then you’ll see all about the book and the other books they publish. Or you can find it on Amazon. My own website is Paul dash Tudor dash Owen dot Tumblr dot com.

 

Sarah [00:34:38] Well I will put all the links in the show notes. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time. It has been lovely to speak to you.

 

Paul [00:34:48] It’s been fantastic. Thank you very much for having me on.

The Worried Writer Episode #53: Aileen Erin ‘It’s A Craft’

My guest today is Aileen Erin, author of YA Paranormal and Science Fiction. Aileen has a BS in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas.

After working in commercial editing in Los Angeles for a few years, Aileen moved to writing novels. Since then, she’s hit the USA Today Best-Selling list twice, has shifted nearly five hundred thousand books in her Alpha Girl series and sold 1.5 million books to date.

 

We talk about publishing options, the pressures of success, and Aileen gives her tips on writing. I love that she emphasises that writing is ‘a craft and that craft can be learned.’

You can find out more about Aileen and her books by going to aileenerin.com.

Or find her on Facebook or Instagram.

Check out her publishing company: Ink Monster.

THANK YOU

Become a PatreonMassive thanks to everyone supporting the show. 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. You also get instant access to the backlist of extra episodes.

 

WRITING UPDATE

The launch of The Silver Mark: Crow Investigations Book Two went really well. At one point, The Night Raven and The Silver Mark were hanging out at the top of the paranormal suspense chart, which felt great!

Also, more importantly, I’ve heard from fans of The Night Raven that they like the book, which is a massive relief. I really didn’t want to let anybody down with a disappointing follow-up. Phew!

I’m now busy working on the third Crow book. I’ve shelved my other book, for now, as the deadline is pretty tight and I’m also thinking about what else I might need to cut out in order to focus on my fiction. I’ve got so many ideas and plans and not quite enough time and headspace. Which, to be clear, is a wonderful position to be in and I’m delighted!

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

As I did last month, I’ve put a full transcript of the interview (below). I want to make the podcast more accessible for those who prefer (or need) to read, rather than listen. It’s pretty time-consuming to do, so I would love to hear what you think!

 

RECOMMENDED

 

Save The Cat by Blake Snyder

Freedom – internet cancelling app

Jim Butcher’s ‘path to publication’ story.

Lani Diane Rich’s Worried Writer episode featuring her ‘claim your awesome’ speech!

 

LISTENER QUESTION

If you have a writing, productivity or publishing question that you’d like me to tackle in a future episode, please get in touch via email or Twitter or leave a comment on this post.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

 

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.

 

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH AILEEN ERIN

Sarah [00:00:03] My guest today is YA paranormal and science fiction author Aileen Erin has a B.S. in TV film from the University of Texas. And after working in commercial editing in Los Angeles for a few years Eileen moved to writing novels. Since then she has hit the USA TODAY best selling list twice and has shifted nearly 500000 books in her Alpha series and sold one and a half million books to date. Welcome to the show Aileen. Thank you so much for joining us.

 

Aileen [00:00:34] Thank you. Nice to be here.

 

Sarah [00:00:36] I mean I could start waxing lyrical about that amazing success but perhaps we should start off with a wee bit about your Alpha Girls series.

 

Aileen [00:00:45] So I wrote my Alpha Girls series in my MFA. I wrote the first one, I mean. I went through so many revisions as you do when you’re in the writing process. But when I graduated I wasn’t sure what to do with the book or what I wanted to do with publishing and there were so many different avenues to go about it, right then. There was indie, there was small press, and I could do traditional, submitting to editors and and agents and everything. But the problem that I ran into was that no one really wanted to see a submission of a YA paranormal in 2013. So I just I decided to go Indie, it felt very low risk. I started a publishing company, formulated a business plan and I started working on making a series out of the one book, and did it every six months a new release. And by the third book I was on the USA Today list. So that was pretty great.

 

Sarah [00:01:45] That’s incredible. My next question was going to be to ask you about your path to publication, and I was going to say you’re published by Ink Monster and that I love the logo for the imprint, it’s gorgeous. It’s so cute! So you have a big hand in all of that then?

 

Aileen [00:02:04] Yes. Ink Monster is my company. I started it early 2013 and I just wanted to find a way to break in with my novel. I worked with another author who has since left but we built this company.

 

 [00:02:20] She had a marketing background I had more of a publishing books editing background and together it just really worked well for a while and I decided I knew exactly what I wanted if I was gonna be publishing and going indie, I wanted it to work with a distributor, I wanted to have the links to the next book in the series in the back of my current release, I wanted somebody that could really fight for me at retailers because as like just an individual it’s really hard to rise above from all the books and all the the people out there so, um, yeah.

 

 [00:03:02] Yeah. And then we started with branding, logos, website design. It took some time it took about a year to get everything really together looking like we wanted it to look, with a business plan and how we were going to reach our readers and and really break into the business. And it ended up working out really well for us.

 

Sarah [00:03:20] I should say so and it’s so so impressive. I mean I’ll be putting the links in the show notes and I urge everybody listening regardless of whether you’re thinking about hybrid or indie or traditional to go and look at the beautiful beautiful publishing website and the fantastic logo and the branding – everything about it is so impressive and you deserve every success. I’m certainly taking some tips for from my own publishing imprint from the level that you are working at. And so in terms of…I mean I think because this is the worried writer I’m always thinking in terms of mindset and I think we run a similar timeline. So my first book came out in 2013 and, like yourself, I’d gone to university for writing and I’d worked on it for many years before, but I didn’t have any confidence whatsoever in my own work. And I kind of needed that stamp of approval from an external source. So I so admire that ability to sort of choose yourself and to be business minded from the beginning. And what do you think what helped you to do that or is that just part of your personality?

 

Aileen [00:04:34] It’s probably not part of my personality. I still sometimes struggle with like I kind of went around the box, I didn’t really go the way that most people do this and I’m doing it all myself. So for a little while didn’t consider myself a real author. I was like ‘No I’m just kind of like putting out books I’m not really…’ But then I had the USA Today list and I actually didn’t know that I hit the USA Today list until the next book came out and I was like I wonder if this one will. And I was checking and I was like ‘oh wait a second’ I already did, because I was my own publisher nobody tells you – the publishers are looking at that and I was doing it myself so I didn’t even think about it. I was like ‘oh my numbers are pretty high I wonder’. I just had no context of what was doing well and what wasn’t, as in was this competitive with what was out there?

So I think it’s just something that you have to decide for yourself. You have to know that inner editor is in there for every single author out there, every single writer, and you do crave that validation from, you know, a big publisher or a big agent that would get you this great deal.

But I think having that idea that you don’t necessarily need that, that you can do it yourself is really like a freeing thing.

I get that validation from my readers who are buying the books and writing these really wonderful reviews from my superfans group who cheer me on while I’m writing and I just. Yeah. It’s just one of those things. You have to you have to tell it to be quiet, you know?

 

Sarah [00:06:22] Absolutely. And I think we’re so lucky to have these options now. It’s great. And like you say, getting that sort of validation direct from the reader and ultimately they’re the important people.

 

Aileen [00:06:36] Yeah. It made it very easy for me to go indie because I went to a lot of different conventions and sat in some agents and editor sessions and everybody was always asking like ‘what are you looking for? What are you not looking for?’ And you know different authors and writers trying to write toward whatever trend was hitting or what was coming up next and they were all across the board saying ‘please do not send us anything with werewolves or vampires’ and I was like ‘well, I’ve got this werewolf book…’ But they were just not going to take it. They were not going to look at it. They were not going to accept it. And so I was like ‘well, this is very low risk because nobody says they even want to look at it.’

 

Sarah [00:07:21] So it made it quite clear then?

 

Aileen [00:07:24] Yeah. I was like I could just throw it away or I can try this other thing. And if it fails and, you know, it turns out that I’m maybe not a good enough writer or can’t make it on my own then you know it’s not my only idea. I can go back write something else and then do that traditionally. It was just my time and energy if it was going to be a success or not.

 

Sarah [00:07:56] Fantastic. And then, you know, you obviously set everything up to give yourself the best possible chance of success, as I was saying you’re doing this incredible job with the with the publishing side. Was that hard to learn that side? I know you said you were working with somebody that had some marketing experience.

 

Aileen [00:08:14] It was all a learning process, you know. In my MFA I loved learning the writing from there but I wasn’t getting enough of the business side, so I got like a subscription to Publishers Weekly, to Writer’s Digest, and I started watching for trends and what agents were acquiring what to see what was happening and all of the indie stuff was really starting to take off. It turned from something that was like oh this vanity press thing, this horrible thing that writers that can’t cut it do, to something that like a lot of writers were making quite a bit of money and having success doing and I was like well you know what I’m going to try this. But I understood that publishing was a business and I had to have a business model and a business plan and a brand and a website and a whole the whole nine yards it had to be professional. So that was kind of kind of something that I think some indie authors miss. They’re just like oh well I’ve got the book and I’ve got the cover and it’s edited and I’m just gonna pop it up on KDP. But then how are you. How are you going to stand out?

 

Sarah [00:09:22] Yeah absolutely. And I mean all of this stuff takes so much work doesn’t it? It takes work and it takes time being the publisher as well as being the writer. So and I would love, I mean I’m looking for tips, so I would love to hear about how you manage to balance your business side with your writing side because you’ve also been impressively productive with your writing, so please give me your secrets.

 

Aileen [00:09:51] So, for a while it’s just you know writing as much as you can. I I tried different tricks and tips to try and kind of balance it. It ended up being a lot of work. I had other authors that I was publishing as well and I ended up giving those authors over to a friend who was starting her own publishing business because I was like ‘this is now getting into too much work’ as the publishing stuff is a lot of work. So I try to do whatever publishing stuff I need to do –  marketing, whatever is not writing – at the beginning of my day and then at lunchtime whatever it is that’s not urgent, it waits till tomorrow and then I the rest of it is like that’s my my writing time and I kind of hold that really sacred and true and I don’t try to bleed into the two. I find that can get like really tricky. And when I’m launching a book, it’s so much work I just say I’m I’m going to plan on not writing for these few weeks and then I will get back into writing that way. I’m not like beating myself up for not getting a word count in that day. But you kind of have to separate the two at least for me. I can’t switch back and forth all day from writing and publishing. It takes up, you know, two different parts of my brain so I’ve got to kind of segregate them. I also for a little while I was doing like one day a week of publishing stuff and then the rest of the week was writing. But I found stuff like bleeded over as I as I sent an email and stuff would trickle in and ‘oh can you do this?’ and ‘there’s an opportunity here’. So that’s why I decided to do all the mornings.

 

Now, I have someone that helps me so that’s amazing. So that’s kind of changed it a lot, so I’m writing even faster now,  but it’s a balancing act, so you kind of have to figure it out, what works for you how you’re going to manage like one day a week and do the rest writing in the mornings and the afternoons. Like when is your most productive writing time? When is your mind awake and and present enough to do the writing part? I’m not a morning person so that’s why I do the publishing stuff in the morning.

 

So whenever you you know your peak writing time is, hold that sacred that’s your writing time and the rest of it, you fit in the publishing stuff in the cracks.

 

Sarah [00:12:29] That makes a lot of sense. Do you aim for a typical word count when you’re having writing days or do you have any other kind of process things that you do?

 

Aileen [00:12:41] So I use Scrivener. I I know it takes me about six to eight weeks to get a first draft done. So I kind of put that into Scrivener. They have like a little word count per day to get to your deadlines. Now that I have a daughter, she’s three now, I don’t like to work on the weekends if I can avoid it so I mark off the weekends and tell it I’m only going to write Monday Wednesday. Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday then that’s it. And it will count how many words I need per day to make that deadline. Some days you know I hit that word count easily and go way over it, some days I’m under it but it’s usually it’s steady. I can do comfortably twenty five hundred words a day, so that’s about what I try and aim for. Some days I get like 5000 words and some days I get a thousand.

 

Sarah [00:13:35] So it kind of works out. Writing sci fi I imagine involves a fair amount of world building and things, do you do all that stuff up front and kind of plan things out or do you dive in and work everything out sort of organically?

 

Aileen [00:13:52] So I do it kind of in kind of spurts because in the beginning I do a lot of the worldbuilding and then I think I’ve got everything how I want it to be and then I start writing the draft I’m like actually I need to know about this and that. So I usually write through to the first two acts. And when I’m about to do the third act I stop, I look at all the world building do I need more information, do I need something else? And I mark things in my in my document with a double X and then hit a find for x x . Like xx name here, x x fact here. And so that I don’t break my writing flow for something that I can google later or think about and world build later. So like ‘x x new religion here’, and then I’m like OK I need to think about how this is going to play into that and then when I do my first revision, I go through and I fill in those blanks and I fill in that worldbuilding and then I send it off to my editor and inevitably she’s going to be like ‘Yeah, but what about this and this and this?’ And that’s all the editing process I take about three rounds of revisions with my with my developmental auditor to really get it polished.

 

Sarah [00:15:12] Hmm. Excellent. And you mentioned that getting into the flow state and not breaking the flow of writing which I think is a great tip. Do you sort of shut off the Internet or do you have a particular place that you write? Are there any other things that you do to help you get into the flow and stay there?

 

Aileen [00:15:30] Yes I shut off the Internet. I use Freedom. It’s an app that you can either cancel your entire internet, it turns off your Wi-Fi and it makes it completely unusable for a period of time unless you shut off your computer entirely and turn it back on. There’s no off switch. You know I’m not going to turn off. It has to be pretty desperate and dire if I’m actually going to turn off my computer to look something up. So I use that and I also like to use Scrivener’s full screen function so it blacks out out the rest of my screen, and I have notifications off, I make it fill up the screen and I kind of just let it flow until I need a break to get up and grab a drink water or whatever and then I try and get really quickly back into the story.

 

Sarah [00:16:26] That’s great. And do you have silence or music or white noise?

 

Aileen [00:16:36] Music, but no words. So I have a few Spotify playlists with kind of relaxing ambient music so it’s almost like you’re at the spa.

 

Sarah [00:16:50] Because this is the worried writer I’m afraid I’m going to ask you to delve into any struggles. Do you have to suffer from a sort of creative block or is there a particular part of the process when you’re more likely to struggle? Like is it drafting or is in the editing, or do you never suffer from any?

 

Aileen [00:17:10] Oh man. Do you ever meet a writer that never suffers?

 

Sarah [00:17:14] No never. You could be the first though!

 

Aileen [00:17:21] The second act. For me the second half of the second act I’m always like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This book will never be finished and is carrying on forever. I don’t think I’m ever going to finish it. This is horrible it’s all horrible life is horrible. And inevitably, I come in from my office and whine to my husband and he is like and ‘where are you at in the process, where are you right now?’. I’m like ‘oh I just hit the midpoint.’ He’s like ‘Alright OK why don’t you just have a glass of wine?’.

 

Sarah [00:17:53] We’ve been here before! You know it’s so funny isn’t it? Why doesn’t it get easier, that’s what I keep thinking? Why do I still suffer at the same point every time?

 

Aileen [00:18:08] It’s so funny. And I think every writer does this and I think I mean if if there was one I’m like… Good for you. Slow clap. What do you do? I want to know. But yeah, there’s always that one point where you’re just like oh this is a disaster. And every single time I’m like No this time it’s different, this is gonna be terrible it’s horrible. It’s all awful. Read it you’re going to see how bad and he’s like ‘uh-huh, uh-huh’.

 

Sarah [00:18:42] So, we have to have a glass of wine and we have to moan about it and then we kind of have to grit it out, but are there any strategies that you use for when you’re really stuck when you’re trying to grit it out?

 

Aileen [00:18:57] When I’m really really stuck, I know that there’s there’s usually something that’s wrong. It’s like my subconscious telling me there’s something not adding up correctly here. So I try and go back in and reread. If I’m stuck for more than like a day or two I know it’s something that my subconscious is saying hey hey go back. You need to go back. So I I try and be aware of that but if it’s something that’s just happening during like, each day, one trick that I learned somebody told me a couple years ago and I was like ‘this is so smart, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this.’ He told me never ever to end the day at the end of a scene or at the end of a chapter, always stop in the middle of a paragraph, middle of a scene, middle of dialogue. Even if you’re like Oh no I have no more time, just keep going for like five more minutes and get into the next something, so you have a place to start when you’re sitting down again. And it kind of keeps the flow rolling from one day to the next, so you keep that kind of that constant consistent writing going.

 

Sarah [00:20:13] That’s a great tip. And in terms of I know you mentioned the sort of second act there so and I’m guessing that you kind of know a fair amount about story structure. I mean not just from writing but from your education. And is that something that you find very helpful or do you have any resources or books that you recommend for anybody who would like to learn more about that?

 

Aileen [00:20:39] I use a screenwriting book for my story structure it’s super basic, super easy to digest and understand. They recently did a novel version but I haven’t read it yet my husband actually just gave it to me on Friday. He was like hey they made one for novelists, don’t you want to see? It’s Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. He talks in the beginning a bit about genre and high concept and that’s more movie kind of and so that doesn’t apply for novel writing but his 13 beats that are the key points in a story and the 40 note cards, I think that really lends itself well to an outline. So that’s what I do before I start anything, I have a little beat sheet and I write out the 13 key points and then I draw the little lines. How do we get from this beat to the next beat in the next one to the next one you know? And those are my 40 note cards. So it’s 10 note cards for Act 1, 20 for Act 2 which is why it always seems like a beast to write because it’s twice as long and then ten again for Act 3. So it’s it’s really easy to do. You just write like one sentence on each no card it’s just kind of the gist of what that scene is going to be. And that’s pretty much what you need to get started or what I need to get started on a book. It usually changes and like as I write it fleshes out and becomes something else a little bit. And I go back at the end of act two and I’m like Does this still make sense? Am I still writing this ending? Okay great. I’m gonna fix it or keep going. But yeah I really really love Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

 

Sarah [00:22:29] That’s great. And I’ve had that book recommended to me and I haven’t actually read it but I did get the and Save the Cat Writes A Novel and I just I just finished it is super good.

 

Aileen [00:22:42] I haven’t I haven’t read it yet. It’s sitting on my on my desk and I’m really anxious to get to get into it because I’m curious how they changed it for novel writing.

 

Sarah [00:22:53] On structure, some people hate reading about it and some people find it useful and like all of these things you know, if it helps great, if it doesn’t throw it out the window. But in terms of self-doubt and that kind of thing, are there any parts of the publishing side of it, there’s being read which is great but can be scary. Do you ever suffer with fear or self-doubt around any of those areas?

 

Aileen [00:23:29] Of course, of course! You know I just launched Lunar Court, it’s book eight in the series and you know I had anxiety the night before it was coming out I didn’t sleep at all. Total insommnia, I was nervous. So so nervous, even though I had reviews already that said that they all enjoyed it, five stars everything… I was like Oh but you know once the fans get it they might not like it and I hate to disappoint them you know? I think it’s just part of it. Writing is such a personal thing you know and sharing it you want it to be enjoyed and accepted and everything and that’s always, no matter what art form you’re doing, it’s always scary. You’re putting a little piece of your your heart out there and you want it to be accepted. And it’s hard to do it, but it’s kind of you can’t be a be an author without putting it out there. You can’t reach any kind of success if you’re not doing it. So yeah it’s kind of kind of one of those things that you’ve just gotta kind of get through.

 

But you know the self-doubt it’s there. It’s that little inner editor and I think even non-writers and  non-artists kind of get that, it’s that thing that tells them that they’re not good enough. You know everybody can relate to that. Everybody’s got that in them. And it’s like how much power are you going to give that little voice? How much of yourself are you going to let that take over, and just kind of deciding you know what, it’s gonna be fine. It’s great. I’m actually doing a great job. And getting those people in your life that will support you and say ‘this is good, I would tell you if it was bad. This is good. You’re doing a great job. Keep going.’ Having those key people in your life is really helpful.

 

Sarah [00:25:24] Yeah. That’s great advice. That’s so true. And I was also thinking about how success, not to complain about it because it’s amazing and brilliant, but you kind of do feel that new pressure. Like you were saying about not wanting to let readers down, you’ve got this beloved series and then you’ve got that added thing of hoping that these readers that are so supportive of you, hoping that they like it. That must be that must be tough.

 

Aileen [00:25:55] You  know it’s really a good problem. It’s a sweet problem to have. But you know I wrote this book about some of the side characters and it was one that readers had been asking me for for years and until I wrote the last book I kept telling them I don’t know that they could be together I don’t know that these two characters can be together. They’ve got too much to overcome. And then I was writing the last book and I had this idea I was like oh wait. So it was something that readers had been asking me for and I’m like if I then give it to them and they don’t like it, it is going to feel horrible. I was like, I don’t want to disappoint them because they have been asking me for years for this. So. So I finally wrote it. Then I get an e-mail last night from a reader, you know all in caps about how much she loved it and how I made her ugly cry and I was like ‘yay! I can sleep again!’. Everything’s fine. It’s gonna be fine. So yeah it’s good. I mean it is part of the process.

But I think also having that little inner editor, sometimes it’s good it keeps you wanting to do better, to keep striving to be the best writer that you can be. And like questioning ‘is this a good draft?’. I’m going to have somebody else read it let me make sure I’m doing a good job, you know? So I kind of try and push it in that direction rather than you know something that’s really hounding on my shoulder. You know something really bringing me down.

 

Sarah [00:27:30] That makes a lot of sense. And lots of folk listening might be trying to finish their first book or they might be going through submission hell when they’re trying to get published. What advice would you give to a beginning writer or is there something that you wish that you’d known when you started out?

 

Aileen [00:27:50] I think for beginning writers I would say just keep writing and I think finishing that first draft, you’ve just got to finish it. If you got something that you’re just starting working on or you’re stuck in the middle and you keep going back and revising, let it all go. Your first draft isn’t going to be good. Your first book isn’t gonna be good. You have to like learn the process. It’s a craft and the craft can be learned but you have to welcome the revision process.

Get that first draft out and start working on revising the whole piece. There’s a great saying that I love to tell people you can’t revise a blank page, so you’ve got to just keep going and get the story on the page and then you can fix whatever needs fixing later. And if you end up not happy with that book, know that that is a great achievement just finishing that book, start on something new. Keep going keep writing because every book that you write will get better and better every time you revise it. You will get better at this writing process. It’s a craft, you know. And it just is learned and the more you do it the better you get. And I would say my writing has changed drastically from my first book to the one I just put out. I keep learning new things taking going new seminars there’s always more to learn. I think my writing is much improved even after my MFA like way drastically even more so than when I was in my MFA so. So yeah, just keep keep going keep writing and don’t give up.

 

Sarah [00:29:26] Fantastic. And it’s so true. The more we practice the better we get. But somehow we don’t always think that when it comes to writing for some reason. I don’t know why.

 

Aileen [00:29:37] Well it’s it’s hard when you pick up a book and you’re like wow this is really amazing. I bet they just sat down there and wrote that in one draft first try – gold! I’m like ‘No no everybody’s like trying really hard and rewriting and then going through the same thing.’ You’ve just got to keep going. Jim Butcher he’s a great urban fantasy writer. He has this little tale about how he first got published on his website and when I was first starting writing I would go to Jim Butcher’s page every day and read his page about how he got published and how not to give up and how to keep going. And I found it extremely inspirational so I was like No I’m just going to keep going. And it’s just really powerful to go to his website read it.

It’s so great, he really inspired me and before I got my MFA, when I was in my MFA, when I started publishing and every once in a while when I’m like ‘you know what, I don’t know if I’m going to make it’ I go back through to his website and I click on About Jim Butcher and go and read his his little piece about publishing.

 

Sarah [00:31:01] Oh that’s brilliant. And hopefully, you saying this now, that will be encouraging. And yes, like you say, you’ve got to keep on going. And I will put a link to that in the show notes. that’s fab. And so finally I’d love to hear about what’s next for you. Like what are you working on now will your next release?

 

Aileen [00:31:21] So right now I’m working on Off Balance. It’s the sequel to Off Planet which came out in March. It’s coming out St. Patrick’s Day next year, so I’m about 40000 words into that and really loving it. And then after that I’m gonna be writing Alpha Erased which is book 9 in my Alpha Girls series. That’s gonna be really fun. I’m finally doing the main POV character’s mate in it, and having her memory wiped. So that’ll be really fun for readers. They’ll get to fall in love all over again. Yeah. So, it’ll be romantic and I’m really looking forward to writing that one, too.

 

Sarah [00:32:04] And you’ve just reminded me, I wanted to ask what led you to writing in a slightly different genre. You’ve got sci fi and you’ve got paranormal with werewolves. What made you change genre a wee bit?

 

Aileen [00:32:19] Well I guess most people say write what you know but I don’t know anything about paranormal or going into outer space. I mean hopefully we’ll never go to outer space, although I did read an article that they’re accepting or will be accepting people into the space station soon. Just privately you can fly up there I’m like I don’t know how much it’s going to be, maybe a billion dollars… One day maybe it’s possible… No probably not.

 

Sarah [00:32:47] You never know.

 

Aileen [00:32:49] Crazier things have happened. I could win the lotto… So yeah, but I love the write what you love. I love space opera, I love sci fi, I love paranormal, I love werewolves, I love fairy tales, so I just kind of write what I love.

It was interesting making such a big change from werewolves to interstellar travel. So that was a big leap but I kind of worked you know really hard on it hoped it was going to be accepted by new readers who had never read me before and also encouraged my fans to go with me. I’m like ‘just give it a try’. Read a sample. I sent out a lot of samples, I posted it on my social media, I just said give it a shot and they did. And they were like actually we will read this too.

 

Sarah [00:33:48] That’s really good. And I think from a creative point of view I can imagine it’s it’s I mean I like writing across genre because I read across genre and I love across genre. And so I can imagine that it’s kind of creatively refreshing.

 

Aileen [00:34:01] It is. After so many werewolf books it got to be you know a little bit like I didn’t feel like my ideas were fresh anymore. I was like I need sort of like a palate cleanser. And that’s what Off Planet it was for me.

 

Sarah [00:34:14] I love that you were following your passion with your writing and, as I say, doing it so well and being so successful at it. Very inspiring. Thank you so much for your time. Just before we finish, where can listeners find out more about you and your books online?

 

Aileen [00:34:32] You can find me at Aileen Erin dot com on Facebook and Instagram. I’m also on Twitter but I never checked that and my Alpha Girls Series and Off Planet are at all major retailers.

 

Sarah [00:34:46] Brilliant. Well as I say I will put all the links in the show notes but thank you so much for your time. It was lovely to speak to you.

 

Aileen [00:34:52] So nice to speak to you. Thank you for having me.

 

The Worried Writer Episode #52: Sacha Black ‘I Go To The Extreme of Geekery’

Sacha Black writes YA fantasy – the Eden East series, and non-fiction for authors.

Her writing guides include 13 Steps to Evil: How to craft Superbad villains and 10 Steps to Hero: How to Craft a Kick Ass Protagonist.

Sacha is a proud indie author and recently went full-time with her writing.

Find out more about Sacha and her books at

sachablack.co.uk

or find her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

THANK YOU

Become a PatreonMassive thanks to new patrons and to everyone supporting the show. Thank you so much!

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

If you want instant access to the audio and to become an insider member of the podcast, you can sign up for just $2 a month via the link above. (You can support me for as long or a short a time as you like – cancel any time).

WRITING UPDATE

I have been busy with the launch of The Silver Mark: Crow Investigations Book Two.

In the introduction, I give an update on the launch, read the blurb and talk about my recent writing retreat.

Also, I mention my non-fiction writing mindset book, Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.

It’s available in print, ebook and audiobook formats (and I read the audio book!).

Click here to buy it on Audible (get it for just £3.49 if you buy the Kindle edition, or listen for free with a one month Audible trial!).

IN THE INTERVIEW:

We discuss tips for writing compelling villains, antagonists, and heroes, as well as Sacha’s own writing process and publishing journey.

I’m trying something new this month, with a full transcript of the interview (below). I want to make the podcast more accessible for those who prefer (or need) to read, rather than listen. It’s pretty time-consuming to do, so I would love to hear what you think!

Recommended by Sacha (and me!):

Deep Work by Cal Newport

 

 

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH SACHA BLACK

 

Sarah: Sacha Black writes YA fantasy the Eden series and non-fiction for authors. Her writing guides include 13 Steps to Evil How to craft super bad villains and ten steps to hero how to craft a kick ass protagonist. Sasha is a proud Indie Author and recently went full-time with her writing. Welcome to the show. And congratulations on making the leap to full-time writing.

Sacha: Thank you so much. It’s an absolute honour to be here. I’m really really excited to be on your podcast.

Sarah: You’re so kind. I would love to hear more about making the leap into the full-time writing. Was that a goal that you set for yourself?

Sacha: Absolutely. I kind of meandered my way to making the decision that I wanted to write full-time. I’m not really one of these people who was overly self-aware as a child so it became a goal as I started writing more but I didn’t really enjoy my day job. So I worked as a project manager at a very corporate quite conservative environment, and they didn’t really allow for much creativity. I mean they wanted to they tried really hard but you know you come up with these creative ideas and it’ll be a no we can’t we can’t do that.

So about I would say probably five or six years ago I started writing with the intent to publish. I had written prior to that but that was kind of the, you know, the pivotal turning point where my mindset shifted and I and I kind of got this obsessive tunnel vision, you know kind of single-minded. This is what I want to do. I want to do this full-time and the more I write the more I wanted it. So yes it was definitely a goal.

Sarah: So you mentioned there about and sort of the beginnings of your writing so was it something that you’d always wanted to do?

 

Sacha: Yeah I think if I’d been more self-aware I’d have realised that’s what I wanted to do. But you know when I look back on my childhood all of the signs were there. You know I would carry around notebook and pen and scribble little sentences. And I think my mom also had to move libraries once, I remember because we were sort of in this local library which was sort of quite small but I’d read everything. I mean literally everything. And we had to go to like this larger library… So you know when I look back I think, actually, you know I should have realised that that’s what I wanted to do. But I was also brought up knowing that I had to get a proper job and I had to wear a suit or, you know, have some kind of a qualification. So I went to university and I probably should have done creative writing or something or English even just because I loved it and I didn’t.

 

I did psychology because I thought ‘that’s a career’. It’s kind of on the peripheries of medicine. And then I did a Masters and I sort of fell into being in my students union as president. And then I got onto a graduate scheme, a fast track management scheme because that was a proper job and that’s what you do. And it did not take very long for me to realise that was really not what I wanted to do. So I started blogging. I kind of just needed like this platform or this place to just vomit out rants about things that annoyed me. As you know writing is so cathartic, so many people say that, and that’s exactly why I came back to writing.

 

And then I got out my notebooks and kind of remembered, and I found one of these stories that I had written when I was nine. And that was the story that I always wanted to turn into a novel. So I decided to do NaNoWriMo and I took that novel and that was the novel I wrote in my first NaNo and the rest is history. You know I that was it. Once I got the bug and the habit in NaNo it was game over for me I realised very rapidly this is what I wanted to do exactly as you say the more you write the more you want to write or the more you get obsessed with it it’s your thing.

 

Sarah: So were you doing non-fiction about writing alongside writing fiction or which did you publish first?

 

Sacha: Okay that’s a great question. So I am one of these super geeky nerdy people. So no matter what I’m obsessing over I just I go to the extreme of geekery when it comes to it.

 

So I started this kind of obsessive journey to develop my craft and the other thing I am is very senile. Literally, if I don’t write something down, usually by hand, there is no way I am going to remember whatever it is I need to remember. So what I do is every book I read I add – this is sacrilege, so people please forgive me if you think I’m a kind of heathen – but I have a pencil and little sticky tabs. And every time I see something that I think is well written whether it’s description or dialogue or foreshadowing I’ll underline it very lightly in pencil and stick a sticky tab in and then when I get to the end of the book I go back and review all of the sentences that I’ve underlined. I started out by hand writing them up and then I quickly moved in to using my blog and what I would do is I would copy and paste them down and then I would look for patterns and trends and what I tended to find is that particular authors had you know really good skills in one particular area whether it be description or dialogue.

 

And so then I would go down to kind of sentence level detail and look at why it was that they did so well and I would write those lessons that I was learning up into blog posts and I did, I think it was a post on female villains, which just I mean it didn’t go viral but you know I think it had quite a lot of hits. And so I wrote I think three or four more.

 

Collectively, I think they garnered me you know 50000 or 100000 hits something like that on my website which to me at the time having not been blogging for that long was just an enormous amounts of hits. So I dug a bit further and I looked into whether or not there were kind of books on this and there weren’t. So I was like well, hey, you know, there’s obviously a market for this. I’d already started writing up my lessons. Why not do a bit more research and compile it into a book? So that’s what I did. So my 13 Steps to evil was the first book that I published which I know some people like ‘well, you know, what validity do you have?’

 

Sarah: Well I think teaching creative writing is different. I mean some people will say ‘I’ll only ever take class with someone who is a bestseller in my particular genre.’ And I’m not criticising that opinion, that’s a perfectly valid opinion, but speaking as someone who has done a Masters in Creative Writing and been taught by very very talented writers, not all of them are great lecturers, not all of them are great tutors. They don’t necessarily go hand in hand. So I’m not sure I completely agree with that.

 

Sacha: I completely agree and that’s why I wrote it, because I’d learnt these lessons. You know, one of the things that I was really keen to do, because I was also reading a lot of writing craft books at the time, was create something that wasn’t dry because so many of these writing craft books, forgive me, they are incredible fountains of knowledge, but they’re also so dry and I am a very sweary, very sarcastic author – I’m on my best behaviour today – so I just I wrote in my voice. So my writing craft book is sarcastic and it is sweary, but people like that. Well actually that’s not true. People either love it or they hate it. That’s fine. But you know I kind of I had a goal of making writing sarky and fun and not dry. And I think actually not necessarily having those years and years and eons of knowledge enables you to craft non-fiction in a way that’s slightly innovative I suppose.

 

Sarah: And another thing you said there about your voice and writing it in your voice I think that’s so key. And again it comes down to the teaching thing when I said that some of the lecturers maybe weren’t so good. They weren’t good for me. And what matters is your teacher is right for you and that’s why you know when writing craft book or business book or whatever it is will speak to a particular reader and it makes it the perfect match.

 

But  if you don’t write your blog post or your teaching book or record your podcast then those readers out there who would respond to your voice don’t get a chance. And so I’m aware that we’ve sort of gone a wee bit into whole non-fiction antagonist, we’ve uses the word antagonist and I love a good antagonist so I was instantly drawn to that title but thinking in terms of protagonist and antagonist doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. So I thought before we go any further we should maybe just have some basic definitions.

 

Sacha: Yeah absolutely. So I kind of think and talk about villains and antagonists as being on a continuum. So a villain is somebody or a character who is inherently evil and by evil I mean perhaps they perpetrate acts of violence.

 

They might murder lots of people, their mindset is very dark. An antagonist, the similarities with the antagonist is that an antagonist gets in the way of the hero. So they are a blocker or an obstacle. They they want to prevent the hero from achieving his or her goal but they aren’t necessarily evil at the core.

 

So a good example of this would be Harry Potter. You have Lord Voldemort who is a villain. He is evil. He you know he kills people freely. And one of the, I mean there are many antagonists in Harry Potter, but one of the most obvious ones would be Draco Malfoy. You know he’s just you know he does step in the way of Harry. A lot.

 

But at his core he’s just a bit of a weak coward. He’s not necessarily evil and violent. And so with a protagonist and a hero the protagonist is typically who the story is about and a hero is somebody who will have you know magical powers or they would be Superman somebody who tends to have you know unnatural amounts of strength or skill or power.

 

Sarah: Okay. So what makes a good antagonist?

 

Sacha: Another great question. So there are so many things, so many things! I will try and summarise I think, I could be here all day because I just love it and I obsess about it, but I think I think one of the most common mistakes with villains or antagonists is not having a sound motive. We all do things for a reason, even villains. And I know that somebody is going to come and argue ‘well you know look at a psychopath they don’t necessarily have reasons or justifications for doing things’ and okay, sure, sometimes that is the case, but that’s the difference between writing truth and writing fiction. We we are writing fiction we are not writing truth, and in order to convey fiction effectively and make your characters believable you do need to have reasons and justifications for your characters doing things.

 

Sarah: So I know from my own experience that sometimes I get stuck in my story because I haven’t thought through my antagonist and their goals or their point of view properly. Is that something you’ve found?

 

Sacha: Yeah I think so and the thing that I always come back to is making sure you have the why behind that behaviour. This is a bit from my psychology background, but as children we build these things called heuristics in our brain. And they’re kind of a set of rules by which we categorise things so a square, as a child you learn that a square whether it’s big or small or red or blue or patterned is still a square.

 

And one of the things that we learn about people is that, you know, 99.9 percent of the time people do things for a reason which is why to make your villain believable, you have to come back to them having a why and a justification and a motive for doing something. And even more than that is having a cause or a driver behind the motive. And this is probably one of the key tips is to go further than just saying why your character is doing something.

 

For me, I try to link my villain’s behaviour to something that happened in their past.

 

So we always talk about heroes and how they have a wound that creates the flaw but actually your villain ought to have the same thing. You know they are perpetrating things that are bad or they’re doing these negative actions that are getting in the way of the hero. And and why is that? Go create a motive and then go back into their past. I’m not saying that you have to have reams of background and information dumps in your story but you knowing why your villain is doing something will help you naturally convey more believability and depth in your villain.

 

And the last thing that I do is that I try to connect that flaw or wound in your villain to the theme. Your hero obviously embodies the theme itself and your villains should embody the ante theme so the opposing kind of force to whatever your theme may be. And I try to derive something that happened in their past that is connected to that. So say if your theme is sacrifice perhaps your villain failed to sacrifice something back in their past, and perhaps they lost somebody that was really important to them and that then would be the why and the drive and cause behind the motive for why they’re behaving the way they are now.

 

Sarah: So, developing your hero and your antagonist kind of in tandem is a good idea, then?

 

Sacha: Absolutely and I talk about this in, I think it’s my heroes book, but I actually try to develop all of the characters in tandem and I know that’s really overwhelming and it sounds ridiculous, but bear with me. So often we just concentrate on the hero, but if you’re a smart author you will look at the hero and the villain as kind of a yin and yang with each other.

 

But actually if you can take that one step further and look at how all of the characters are an embodiment of your theme.

 

A good example of that would be the Hunger Games. So Katniss embodies the theme of sacrifice. She constantly sacrifices herself for others. The villain, President Snow, embodies the anti theme in that he constantly sacrifices other people for his own benefit. But when you look deeper at the story and you look at the other characters they are all reflections on that theme. So Rue for example is a good portrayal of this, in that she is also a tribute. For those who don’t know what the Hunger Games is it’s essentially a dystopian novel where lots of these children have to go and fight each other to the death. And Rue is one of these children fighting against Katniss and instead of fighting and killing Katniss which because she has the opportunity to she decides to save Katniss. So Rue in herself makes a sacrifice and is a reflection of that theme in a different way and all of your characters should do that. They kind of mesh together on different representations of the theme. Does that make sense?

 

Sarah: Absolutely. And while we’re on heroes, what do you think makes a really good hero – is it that link to the wound that you mentioned?

 

Sacha: Absolutely. My favourite types of heroes are heroes who aren’t perfect. I think heroes who are perfect are boring. And I think your readers are going to think that they’re boring as well.

 

So you know I think the best kind of heroes are the messy dirty ones who make bad choices and poor decisions, but they learn from them. For me, having a hero who does have a bit of a moral greyness to them I think builds depth because it makes them more of a reflection of humanity. We are not perfect beings. And I think when you when you can kind of embody that in your hero it makes your reader connect much more, and on a much deeper level your hero because they can see parts of themselves in your in your characters.

 

Sarah: And it’s seeing them struggle as well, isn’t it? I know when I first started I found it quite difficult to be mean enough to my characters because I like them. I wanted them to make the right choices because I knew they were a good person and I like them. But, as you say, making sure that they do fail, making sure that they don’t always make the right decisions, is super important. What you said about the yin and yang thing reminded me that one of my favourite types of antagonist is the doppelgänger antagonist, where they start out very similar to the hero and then you see them make different choices throughout the story.

 

Sacha: Absolutely. I think I think you can always see the difference between a hero and a villain when they are forced to make a choice in a difficult situation because the hero will make the right choice for the right reasons or, okay, sometimes they make the wrong choice but for the right reasons. But that’s more going into the anti-hero realm, but the villain will more often than not make the wrong choice or you know they’ll make the wrong choice for what they deem to be the right reason. And this is what I’m talking about, that moral kind of greyness. Sometimes, in the villain’s mind they’re making it for the right reason, which means morally they are on the right side of the line in their eyes.

 

Sarah: Do you develop your characters before you start writing, or do you just dive in and then get to know them as you write?

 

Sacha: So my writing process is still in fluctuation and kind of going through this process of change. When I wrote my first book I was very much a plotter, but what happened was I plotted for an entire year before I even wrote a word.

 

I was like ‘what are you doing? It’s going to take me 20 years to write this book unless I get on with it!’

 

I am moving away from that and I am actually now trying to write completely as a pantser. I haven’t quite found the right balance yet, but I think I am probably going to end up more on that continuum more towards the pantser side than I am the plotter side. I quite like to let the characters develop on the page because if I don’t they’re just going to do what they want anyway. You know I spent all of this time doing character interviews and development and, actually, they never ended up anything like what I thought they were going to end up. Yeah. I don’t know whether it was a newbie mistake or I was just delusional about what my process really was, but I stopped trying to control my characters and we all get along much better now.

 

Sarah: That’s fantastic. I think it is, as you say, a case of just learning what your own process is, and you don’t know that without doing it and trying things so that makes a lot of sense. Because this is the worried writer I do like to ask about blocks and things, so do you have any tips for writers who are maybe trying to come up with a really good antagonist or they’re trying to round out their characters either while they’re writing or in the planning stage? Do you have any methods that you would offer people to get unblocked on that.

 

Sacha: Yeah absolutely. A few actually. So that the first thing to say is to just stop what you’re doing and write something completely different. So I play this game with some of my friends and we call it the one word game or the one sentence game and somebody will pluck a random word out of thin air or out of the dictionary or out of something they are reading, and we will just write a sentence. Or a paragraph or sometimes we end up writing a whole page, it really just depends.

 

The point of that is to just get you writing because, so often, the answers to block come when you are not brow furrowing and concentrating on trying to find the answer, but when you’re in the shower or, if you’re me, when you’re driving and have no pen. So that would be the first one. Write some flash fiction – something that doesn’t have to be part of your story or whatever.

 

 The second thing would be to take your character out of your story and put them in a high stress situation and just write it completely out of context. Put them in a different story or a different situation, because people as a whole tend to show their truest self when they are under high stress or high pressure. So that’s something that I quite like to do. And another thing to do would be to either add in an obstacle or throw in some conflict. Now for me conflict comes at kind of three levels. So you have a macro conflict which is you know usually kind of in dystopian it’s like wars it’s world battles or societal issues or you have micro conflict which is between characters.

 

That’s often the best unblocker for me is to put an argument or a problem between two of the characters because that will lead you to generating more plot, and then you have inner conflict and this is one of my favourites. So inner conflict is where your characters have emotional battles. So a good example of this would be Ned Stark from Game of Thrones. And actually George R.R. Martin generally does a lot of this, but Ned Stark has kind of two personal values. The first one is that he values wisdom and the second one is that he values loyalty and he is very loyal to the king who asks him to go and work for him in the palace. But Ned’s wisdom leads him to realize that he’s probably going to die if he does that. That puts his two most valued values against each other. What does he go with? Does he go with his wisdom or his loyalty? And that butts up against each other and gives him this inner conflict that he has to kind of turmoil over and that will also usually unblock for me or if it doesn’t necessarily unblock me it will unblock the characters who will then tell me what I need to write.

 

Sarah: While we’re on the subject, we’ve been talking about quite big stories with real villains – the examples of Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games – but something that sometimes people ask me is what to do if you were writing a romance or a quieter story that doesn’t have a serial killer as the villain? I’m aware that you still need an antagonist; are there things in your book about crafting super bad villains that are applicable to people who are trying to write those quieter or non-crime-driven stories?

 

Sacha: Absolutely. So talking about that kind of inner conflict, that’s often what you see in romance stories. So you’ll see a character conflicted against what they think they should do versus what their heart wants them to do. And I talk about that kind of turmoil and how to create that conflict and that is genreless, almost. Also, one of my favourite topics in there is around mental health, because so often villains are given a mental health issue and it’s the reason why they’re doing their thing that they’re doing. And actually that just creates stigma, it creates discrimination, and it’s just wrong. Mental health does not cause you to behave badly. You being a bad person causes you to behave badly! There’s that chapter as well which spans genres. There’s also a chapter on clichés and clichés tend to span genres. So yes I have tried to make my book as genre-less as possible and I have got examples from lots and lots of different genres as well. I also have a book on endings and I talk about which endings most suit which genre.

 

Sarah: That’s brilliant because I know that sometimes it can be a wee bit trickier to get a handle on conflict or villains or antagonists when you are writing those kinds of stories. So that’s fantastic. Now I want to move on a wee bit to your writing process and so on, and your head space and time management particularly since now you have gone full-time which is great. You’re writing and publishing in two separate genres, and that of course requires lots of different tasks. And I just wondered how do you balance the various parts of your professional life both in terms of the head space and the time management?

 

Sacha: Really badly!

 

It’s hard for me to answer how I am going to be doing that because I’m really literally only in my first week of being fully self-employed. So, I mean how did I manage it before when I was working full-time? I have a five year old and I have a wife and a house and I managed it really badly.

 

I was essentially working two full-time jobs. And it’s not healthy, it’s not clever and I ended up suffering from burnout all of the time. I had really bad imposter syndrome all of the time, really bad doubt, because of course all of these things derive from being exhausted and not treating yourself very kindly not giving yourself any self-care. I mean the biggest thing that I did was to make lots of sacrifices. So I gave up TV about four years ago, I think. I will binge watch something on Netflix once I’ve finished a project or once I’ve hit a goal. But, of an evening, I wasn’t watching TV anymore and you would be surprised quite how much you are capable of achieving if you don’t watch TV. You know I kind of gained four hours every evening. People like to say they don’t watch TV. Trust me you are watching TV! I gave that up.

 

I kind of withdrew a bit from my social circle. So I would go out less so that I had more time to write, I would get up early sometimes, I would also write on my lunch break or I would do marketing and admin on my lunch break at work and when I was walking down corridors at work I would write a sentence or two on my phone. I had Dropbox and iCloud sync up so everything was accessible everywhere, and you’d be surprised, I would go home sometimes with 1000 words because people had been late for meetings or I had to walk further for a meeting. So, I say badly, but I was just acutely aware of how I spent my time and I tried to maximize every opportunity to write or do marketing that I possibly could.

 

Sarah: Do you think it’s key to know why you’re doing that or to have a goal, as that sounds quite full-on?

 

Sacha: Yes, I don’t really recommend it. I did suffer some quite intense burn-out and that’s just inefficient as it stops you from working essentially.

 

Sarah: Do you have plans, now that you are full-time, for making sure you have boundaries and self-care?

 

Sacha: While I’m transitioning, I’m still doing some freelance work, so I’m trying to time-block so that I have calls or freelance work related time on some days and great swathes of time on other days so that I can do deep work. There’s a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport which is fantastic and it really helped me to set clear strategies for deep work.

 

One of the other things I gave up was exercise which was really bad… So, I’m planning to get back to that.

 

One of the other things is I have a Fitbit and that shouts at me every hour, if I haven’t moved enough, so that’s good, and there are some woods near my house so I’m planning to walk there.

 

Sarah: I also love Deep Work! Just to finish up what you working on at the moment or what’s next for you?

 

Sacha: I have three things. I want to finish my YA fantasy series, which is about a third done. The next is to finish my next non-fiction book. I don’t quite have the pitch down yet but it’s something along the lines of the anatomy of prose. I’m not looking at grammar, but sentence level word choice. It’s right down at the deep sentence level, on the exactly how you convey emotion, how you use juxtaposition to foreshadow etc etc. It’s my piece de resistance. And the last thing is creating some mini writing courses.

 

Sarah: Where can we find out more about you and your books?

 

Sacha: I have a website sachablack.co.uk. And that’s Sacha with a ‘c’. I have a blog and I’m on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I’m pretty much everywhere, please come and say ‘hi’. I don’t bite unless it’s a Tuesday!