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

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

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

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

THANK YOU!

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

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

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WRITING UPDATE

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

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

SAVVY WRITERS EVENT

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

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

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

LISTENER QUESTION

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

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

The full transcript is copied below.

 

 

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INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meg: Just do it! Do it!

Sarah: Yeah! Having started in trad…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meg: Yeah!

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

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

Sarah:  Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah:  Absolutely

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

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

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

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

Meg: That was the same for me.

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

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

Sarah: Total shutdown!

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

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

Meg: I could not do that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meg: Oh, I wish! I wish!

Sarah: Sorry!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meg: The Magic Bullet!

Sarah: Yes, I was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic. I’m definitely

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

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

 

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 #47: Adam Croft ‘Just Crack On’

My guest today is Adam Croft. With more than a million books sold to date, he is is one of the most successful independently published authors in the world. His psychological thrillers include the hugely successful Her Last Tomorrow and Tell Me I’m Wrong, and his Knight & Culverhouse crime thriller series has sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide. Adam’s Kempston Hardwick mystery books are being adapted as audio plays and he has just stepped into non-fiction with The Indie Author Mindset. Adam has been made an honorary Doctor of Arts by the University of Bedfordshire in recognition of his achievements and he runs a crime fiction podcast with fellow author Robert Daws.

For more head to AdamCroft.net or find Adam on Twitter or Facebook.

Adam’s podcast for crime fiction fans: Partner’s in Crime

IN THE INTRODUCTION

I recorded this introduction on 20th December 2018 when I wasn’t quite ready to set my 2019 goals. They will go up in a blog post next week and I will discuss them in February’s episode.

Also, I reveal another new novel! My supernatural thriller, THE LOST GIRLS, is out this month. Huzzah! If you are interested in my fiction, do visit sarah-painter.com and sign up for my reader newsletter.

I give thanks for the wonderful Patreon support. 

I love the ‘community within a community’ that we’ve created over on Patreon and I really enjoy making the audio extras (which go up in the middle of every month).

Thank you so much to everyone supporting The Worried Writer in this way – it means so much to me.

To become a Worried Writer insider and to support the podcast head to The Worried Writer on Patreon.

THANK YOU!

 

LISTENER QUESTION

If you have a question you would like answered on the show

contact me via email or Twitter or leave a comment on this post.

 

IN THE INTERVIEW

On the pressures of success:

‘When I’m writing a book and when I finish it, the thing I always ask myself is is it better than the last one… So I think for me I’ve always had that pressure that I put on myself.’

‘I was an overnight success between my eight and ninth books, I guess, as it was my ninth book that really took off and did anymore than just paying the bills.’

On staying fresh:

‘It’s one of the reasons I dipped into non fiction and I write plays…

 

On self-doubt:

‘They all cause me trouble… I always thought that once I’d written more books I would get more confident at it… But I still get that sense of dread on release day. I still think this is the one where I will get found out… Those things don’t change, the only thing that’s changed is the amount of money that comes in from the books.’

 

On The Indie Author Mindset:

‘I get lots and lots of emails from authors asking for help and advice which is great and I’ll always help if I can, because when I started that help simply wasn’t there… I think we should all help each other. But one of the things that struck me was that a lot of the questions had their root in mindset…

 

On being professional:

‘It’s the attitude you have… You’re turning up, you’re getting the job done… You are focusing on the task.’

 

On writing life:

‘I wish I had a typical day, to be honest with you… I’m releasing normally four books a year so when I’m gearing up to a release, which is regularly, things change completely and I do a lot more of the marketing. I spend hours a day on Facebook ads and tweaking those.’

‘It moves in waves, but there’s not a typical day… I’m an author and I run the publishing company.’

 

Coping with overwhelm:

‘I’m currently working on a machine which turns 24-hour days into 43-hour ones, so that’s gonna help!’

If you can, outsourcing stuff is vital… It’s also focusing on what’s most important. Writing is what’s most important… There’s only one thing which is guaranteed to make you more money and secure your future as a writer is to get more books out.’

‘If you learn too much beforehand, things like Facebook advertising can seem like a really big and scary thing but it’s not… If you dive in and learn as you go along it seems much easier… Just crack on and do it.’

 

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#43: Paul Teague ‘Just Keep Going’


My guest today is thriller and science-fiction author, Paul Teague. Paul is a former broadcaster and journalist for the BBC and he has transferred those skills to his fabulous podcast, Self Publishing Journeys.

One of the reasons I wanted to have Paul on the show is his refreshing honesty and openness about his own publishing business.

In our chat, he talks about the money he has made and his future plans, as well as revealing the pain of comparing himself to others and his own struggles with self-doubt.

For more on Paul and his books go to PaulTeague.net

To learn more about Paul’s podcast: Self-Publishing-Journeys.com

IN THE INTRODUCTION

In writing news, I am just finishing the rewrites on my new book, The Night Raven.

It is going to the copy-editor next week and will be out this October – meep!

Here is the cover and a little info: It’s the first book in a new London-set paranormal mystery series, featuring private investigator Lydia Crow.

If you like the look of it, perhaps you would like to join my author newsletter? I will let you know when The Night Raven is available and enter your name into my launch giveaway. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP!

Also, I reveal that I have failed to start my new book project (and have been working on the next book in the Crow Investigations series, instead), but that I’m being kind to myself. It’s been a tough few months, emotionally, and I’m just glad I’m able to write at all!

I talk about my plans to develop my career as a hybrid author – publishing both independently (as I did for Stop Worrying; Start Writing) and with publishers such as Lake Union.

RECOMMENDED

Adam Croft’s book The Indie Author Mindset.

This is a fabulous guide to developing a professional attitude to your writing – something I believe is important whether you are traditionally or independently published.

I also give a shout-out to my new supporters on Patreon. I appreciate my patrons (new and existing!) so very much – THANK YOU!

The next patron-only exclusive extra will go up mid-month and in it I will be answering a question about NaNoWriMo and giving some tips.

For more information on becoming a patron of the show, see The Worried Writer on Patreon.

IN THE INTERVIEW

On writing productivity and schedule:

‘Ever since I was sixteen I’ve been a formulas guy. The only way I can cope with life, really, is to parcel it up… I make meticulous plans.’

‘I don’t do panic. I don’t like surprises.’

‘Time management is a big thing for me… I’m planned out on my weekly planning sheet until December.’

On self-doubt:

‘I was on stage with L.J. Ross who’s just sold zillions of books… And I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was a privilege, but I left feeling deflated.’

‘There’s always somebody who is envious of where you are… But I’m beating myself up because I think I’m rubbish and doing terribly.’

The secret to success:

‘Persistence seems to be the one thing that comes through time and time again – just keep going, just keep getting better, just keep putting the next step forward.’

 

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 Episode #33: Katie Cross ‘I call myself a naptime entrepreneur’


My guest today is Katie Cross. Katie writes both YA fantasy and contemporary women’s fiction. Her books include The Network series, which kicks off with Miss Mabel’s School For Girls, and Bon Bons To Yoga Pants. Katie also provides mentoring services for indie authors, and she runs a lively Facebook support group called Indie Author Life. Head here to join.

In the interview we discuss productivity, publishing, and self-doubt, and Katie shares wonderful tips for combining writing with parenthood (or other responsibilities). Katie is a bundle of energy and I got so much inspiration from our chat – I hope you do, too!

For more on Katie head to kcrosswriting.com or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

In the intro I give a writing update:

I allowed myself to take my foot off the pedal a wee bit during October, and also had a week away with my family by Loch Ness, which was glorious!

Less fun, was hitting the middle of my WIP and, as usual, getting completely stuck. Every single book I have written has hit this point but it’s always a bit scary. I allowed myself to take thinking and freewriting time and, last week, I had a breakthrough on the plot – phew!

I’m planning to finish the book during November so, along with everyone who is taking part in NaNoWriMo, I will be writing as much as possible.

If you are trying to finish a project or are taking part in NaNoWriMo, let’s make this a super-productive November and cheer each other on! I will post updates on Twitter and the Worried Writer Facebook page. We can do this!

I also talk about the importance of finishing, and how getting to ‘The End’ on your first book is so difficult – but so vital.

In case you missed it, here is the link to the article I wrote on the subject: The Life-Changing Magic of Finishing Your Book.

In the interview:

Katie on indie publishing:

‘From the beginning it called to me. I was like that is the way I want to publish a book.’

‘You have control, you have to do something with it and you really have to it well. I think finding a team can be the hardest part: people you trust at a price you can afford.’

On self-doubt:

‘I had a lot of beta readers give me feedback and I had professional editors.’

‘I do remember that feeling of vulnerability once I’d hit that publish button… I’ve put a piece of my heart out there.’

On helping others and the FB group:

‘It was a difficult transition for me from full-time author to full-time mom… I couldn’t find other people in the same boat so I put this group together.’

‘Authors need a tribe. It’s a solitary profession but requires a village, really.’

‘I’m an extrovert, I thrive on connection.’

Writing process:

‘I do write everyday.’

I freelance and I do mentoring for some self-publishers when I have slots available and I write my own books. It sounds like a lot but I don’t take a lot of contracts for freelancing… It’s very manageable, it’s not too many, it’s just enough so that I feel like I’m working on a team.’

‘The night before I go to bed I have a to-do list and I write down three things that have to get done.’

‘If I can get up before my son I spend twenty minutes meditating. I just sit and deep breathe and am just present in the moment… And then I go about the day with my son and I do not check my email.’

‘An hour before naptime I start preparing for naptime so I get the house clean, I make lunch, I make sure we’ve had lunch, make sure the dog is settled. Everything is ready so the moment my son is down for his nap, my butt is in the chair and I’m writing.’

‘I call myself a naptime entrepreneur.’

I do try to keep creativity and business separate… I always work on creative things first… And I try to stay focused when I’m in each one.’

On writing while being a full-time parent:

‘It’s a careful balance when you’re a parent of being a parent, but still having time for yourself and taking time for your writing because your writing time can’t be your self-care time.’

‘There was more time for writing with a newborn than I thought… For me it got really busy once he got mobile!’

‘I was a hardcore pantser until I became a mom then I found it much more productive to plot.’

Creative block:

‘Typically when I’m blocked creatively it’s because I need to make a decision and I don’t want to… I need to decide where this plot is going and then I’m worried I’ll make the wrong choice and I’ll waste words or something like that.’

Failure if one of our greatest learning mechanisms.’

‘All of us struggle with imposter syndrome.’

Recommended:

K.M.Weiland books  and website: Helping Writers Become Authors

Dynamic Story Creation by Maxwell Alexander Drake

Joanna Penn for anything author business related: The Creative Penn

Robert McKee

Playing Big by Tara Mohr

For levelling-up in business: Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz

Thanks for listening!

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

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.