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.




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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!


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?



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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

Or find her on Facebook or Instagram.

Check out her publishing company: Ink Monster.


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.



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!



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!




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!



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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 #51: B.P. Walter ‘I Need A Map To Follow’

My guest today is Barnaby Walter, who writes under the name B. P. Walter. His debut novel, A Version of the Truth, is a dark psychological thriller published by Avon.

It has been called: ‘Beguiling, surprising and sometimes shocking.’

Barnaby is an alumni of the Faber Academy and currently works in social media coordination for Waterstones in London.

Follow B.P. Walter on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.





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I answer the following listener question…

Holly asked:

I’ve now got a ‘finished’ manuscript and I know the next steps will be to send it out to readers, agents and ultimately publishers. However, I can’t bring myself to let anyone read it – even my very supportive husband!  I just seem to have a real worry about anyone reading my fiction (which is a bit of a contradiction in terms for someone who wants to be a novelist…) The fear of being judged or finding out I have no talent is really holding me back, but I know I won’t improve my draft or my writing generally unless I get some feedback. Do you have any strategies for getting over this wall?

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).


This month I’ve been editing The Silver Mark and I sent it out to my ARC team last week. I’ve already had some feedback – good feedback – which is, as always, a massive relief!

Those who have been listening a while may already know this, but my Crow Investigations series is something I decided to do independently, another step along the hybrid publishing path and, so far, it’s gone really well. Far better than I hoped, I’ll be honest, which is very exciting indeed. I’m in the process of signing a deal for the audio rights, too, so The Night Raven will be truly hybrid with a traditional deal for the audiobook.

I think a large part of The Night Raven’s success is down to the amazing cover and, in case you are hybrid or independent (or thinking about it!), I want to recommend the agency I used. It’s called Books Covered and the art director is Stuart Bache who has many years of experience in the traditional industry. He has designed covers for authors such as John Le Carre and Stephen King and he is absolutely brilliant to work with.



Barnaby plans his books and recommends the following book for getting to grips with story structure.

Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff

Barnaby also did a creative writing course at the Faber Academy and he recommends it highly. His tutor at the academy was Rowan Coleman.




On his book industry day job and how it affected his dreams of becoming an author:

I started for Waterstones as a weekend bookseller when I was fifteen or sixteen years old… Now I work in the head office doing social media coordination… Surrounded by the industry, the traditional publishing world, being surrounded by a lot of success… And on the other side of it, knowing that some books don’t do very well…

Knowing the astonishing the highs which are possible – and it’s very exciting to see a book catch fire like that, I think in part inspired me. Not that I thought I could achieve that, but seeing people be so passionate about story was amazing.

The other side, it meant I knew how difficult it was for any book, even once it’s published, to even make it to a bookshop shelf… Simply there’s just not enough space… It’s a fight, really. It didn’t stop me, thankfully, I didn’t shrink away in fear.


On the Faber Academy:

I had an idea for a third novel, but I was conscious that I had never been taught creative writing… So I read in the back of a lot of books, I quite like reading acknowledgements in the back of novels, particularly if you’re trying to get published… The things they say are often really interesting and the Curtis Brown and Faber Academy courses kept cropping up… I was so lucky, my employer made it possible for me to got to the Faber academy and change around my working schedule to make it possible for me to attend on Thursday mornings… I felt I needed some kind of guiding hand, a route through the darkness.

The Faber Academy was a very important turning point when I was trying to do this thing we call writing. It gave me tools, almost like an armoury, to approach it in more of a methodical way… It helped me realise that it wasn’t this strange potion making, this mystical magical thing that nobody knows how it works… It helped me to find my formula, my own mystical alchemy. And by sharing it with other writers and by being guided by a brilliant tutor, I had the wonderful writer Rowan Coleman…  She’s such an incredible inspiration to her class because she really, clearly loves what she does and the art of storytelling and that really helped me get to grips with the story I wanted to tell. The WIP I did while at the academy was the one that ended up getting published.

I can’t even say how helpful it was because it’s so buried in the fabric of what I do… If anyone is considering it I would say go for it.


On the submission process:

So many times in this industry you are ready for the next step or for things to get better, or you think ‘my God this is the next step, this is it’ … Each time you get an email which says can we have the full manuscript or can we have an exclusive on this title or whatever, you think ‘oh wow, it’s really going to happen’. And then it doesn’t. It’s hard not to feel as if you’re back to square one.


On writing when working full-time:

I find it really difficult… Trying to cram in the thing that’s most important to me, but squeezing it into little bits of time here and there is quite upsetting really. Because it’s the thing that you want to devote your full attention to and to do the best you possibly can… but you really have to slot it in.

I try to write a little bit in the evenings and I write every lunchtime for an hour.

The main hassle for me is that I spend my entire day in front of LED backlit screens so when I get home the last thing I want to do is spend more hours in front of a laptop screen.

Weekends are when I’m most productive because I can do bits and have breaks… I would struggle to give tips because I don’t have it figured it out.

I would say do what fits in the rhythm of your own life and don’t get too hung up on trying to get a routine if your current situation doesn’t lend itself to a routine yet.

I don’t focus on the amount of words I’m doing or pages or anything like that. A lot of it can be research or thinking which doesn’t lead to a thousand words a day… I do try to think about the book each day and think about how it could progress and to think about any of the nitty gritty problems in the plot and try to untangle them.


On plotting:

I need a map to follow. When I have an idea for a book… I then have to write it down step by step. I normally write down a chapter breakdown, with a plot synopsis.

Just having it makes me feel in control of the process rather than the process being in control of me.

I quite often cast my characters with actors. I cut out their pictures from publicity stills or whatever and I copy that to a cast list with every character and their age, job, where they figure in the plot and have their picture next to that. It helps me visualise them when I’m laying it out and that probably comes from my film studies days.


On writing process:

I can write at home, I can write in a coffee shop, I’m not too sensitive or particular, really. Complete silence would probably be the worst thing. If there’s nothing, I put on rain sounds or something in the background. Something to generate white noise so it’s not pin drop silence which can create an echo chamber in your head.


On the three act structure:

‘Once you’ve got structure to build on, the building on it becomes a lot more enjoyable.’


On life post-publishing:

‘It introduces a new level of consciousness and anxiety into the process’

‘It’s very strange… When you’re writing you think of it as the dream. You think something really stupid, you think once this happens all my problems will be solved and I’ll be forever happy.’

‘You just collect other problems and stresses… Which isn’t to diminish the wonderful feeling of having done it. It is wonderful but it’s not a one-sided thing.’

‘The feeling of anticlimax… Your life, quite often, doesn’t change.’

‘The week of publication when there’s a lot of focus on you and your book, I actually found that trickier than I expected… I’m a natural introvert and I’ve spent decades making sure I’m not the focus of attention in a room full of people.’



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

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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.

My 2019 Writing Goals

This is my fourth year of setting my goals in public. I have been making plans – both personally and professionally – for a long time, but the added accountability of sharing them definitely helps me to stay on track.

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

Throughout 2018, I also swapped goals and progress with two writer friends on a weekly and monthly basis, and that was hugely helpful from both a productivity and happiness standpoint. I highly recommend finding an accountability partner if you can!

So, I will continue with the same system in 2019 – sharing my goals and progress both publicly on The Worried Writer and privately with my friends.

In 2018 I flirted with software solutions for ‘do do’ lists and planning, but kept falling back on my trusty Moleskine business planner. This year, I’ve treated myself to a Passion Planner (look at the pretty!) with some new washi tape and highlighters. I am hoping that the combination will help me to remember to follow my passion and to keep hold of the joy of creation, even while I get, inevitably, overwhelmed and and stressed…

So, 2019…


As always, I want to maintain focus on writing as my primary goal each and every day. I will write first thing, block out time in my schedule for writing, and track my word count (and time spent writing).

I am also going to practice dictation. I began experimenting with it at the end of 2018, but need to give it more of a go… I will start with non-fiction and note-taking, as that feels more doable than fiction, and re-read Christopher Downing’s Fool Proof Dictation book.

I have two books in progress at the moment: the second Crow Investigations mystery and something I have described to my agent as ‘magical realism Downton Abbey’. I am thoroughly enjoying both and want to finish them in the first half of 2019.

To stretch myself (and try for my most productive writing year ever), I’m planning to write the third Crow book in the second half of the year.

For non-fiction, I am considering writing the second Worried Writer book during the second half of the year, but I am concerned that might be a little bit too ambitious. Especially as I am feeling very fiction-focused at the moment. However, I am planning to write six articles for the site during the year, and some of those might form the basis of chapters in a new non-fiction book at a later date.

  • Finish Crow Investigations Book Two
  • Write Crow Investigations Book Three
  • Finish ‘magical realism Downton Abbey’ book and send to my agent
  • Write six articles for the Worried Writer



Siskin Press will be two years old on the 1st March and I want to do a review of the company’s progress, including a breakdown of sales and different streams of income.

I want to make sure that I am making the most out of the creative assets at my disposal. This includes making sure that existing titles are in as many formats as possible and are widely available, and continuing to learn and improve my marketing/advertising activity using Amazon, BookBub and Facebook.

My author website is due an overhaul and I’m thinking of purchasing a pro WordPress theme to make this easier.

I want to continue to build my newsletter list and to improve my newsletters!

  • Create print and large print editions of The Secrets of Ghosts
  • Publish The Lost Girls, my supernatural thriller, at the end of January.
  • Put existing audio books ‘wide’ with Findaway Voices.
  • Either secure audio book publishing deals for The Night Raven and The Lost Girls or get the audio books made myself.
  • Create a workbook edition of Stop Worrying; Start Writing and a large print edition
  • Request the print rights back for my novella The Garden of Magic
  • Publish Crow Investigations books two and three



I learned lots about advertising and marketing in 2018. However, in 2019 I want to put far more of my knowledge into action, particularly with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

I am going to try some video this year. Even if I decide I hate it and don’t even release the video, I need to give it a go!

As I am now a small publisher as well as a writer, I want to learn more about being a good publisher and improve my skills… One specific area is writing good book blurbs. This a definite skill and not one which comes naturally (to me at any rate). I have Bryan Cohen’s book How To Write A Sizzling Synopsis and I intend to work through it this month.



Once again, I am putting the goal of scheduling ‘artist’ days (getting out and about to refill the creative well) onto my list. Perhaps this will be the year I manage it!

I also want to get out of the habit of staying on the computer, even when I’m not being productive, because it fees more like ‘work’ when I should just close the laptop and pick up a book!

  • Schedule one day per month to leave the house and go to a gallery (or to explore somewhere new, sit in a cafe with a notebook, walk up a hill etc)
  • Enjoy reading without guilt and make books my ‘go to’ distraction/break-time treat
  • Continue to use good TV and film for inspiration and learning
  • Continue to use cross stitch (or knitting or other craft) for relaxation and thinking time



Last year was my worst walking/exercising year for a very long time. I was devastated by grief and felt physically exhausted from May onwards.

I know that I need to be kind to myself and that my emotional state is still pretty fragile, but I want to build up my physical fitness to improve my energy levels and mental wellbeing.

I have a lovely new walking accountability partner for encouragement and I’m planning to slowly increase the frequency and length of my walks over the next couple of months.



  • Get back to daily walking habit
  • Do some longer walks and hill walks.
  • Continue playing badminton and add in yoga class (or schedule time to do yoga/stretching at home).
  • I had breathing exercises on my list last year, but I discovered I’m actually asthmatic. The inhalers have made a huge difference!



  • Continue to improve my newsletter and increase the size of my reader group/mailing list.
  • Continue with monthly episodes of the podcast and the patron-exclusive audio extras.
  • Research the creation of an online course based on Stop Worrying; Start Writing.
  • Attend at least one professional conference. I’ve bought my ticket for 20BooksEdinburgh and am really looking forward to it.

I am also considering visiting The London Book Fair in March.


Your turn! What are your goals for 2019?

Feel free to share them below or on The Worried Writer Facebook page.

Let’s make it a great year! 

The Worried Writer Episode #46: Sherrilyn Kenyon ‘Respect Your Muse’

My guest today is urban fantasy superstar Sherrilyn Kenyon. Sherrilyn is a number 1 New York Times and Internationally bestselling author. Her first novel came out in 1993, she has over 70 million books in print worldwide and she writes in several successful series such as the Dark Hunters and Black Hat Society. Her latest Dark Hunter book (number 28) is Stygian.

I spoke to Sherrilyn in the summer while she was busy packing for DragonCon and she was incredibly nice and upbeat, despite having just come back from a visit to the dentist. A real professional!

Sherrilyn shares the worst rejection of her career, secrets of longevity in publishing, and her writing process.

Find out more about Sherrilyn at

Visit her on FaceBook or Instagram


I go through my goals for 2018 and talk about how I’ve done, and some lessons learned.

I mention my on-going attempts to improve my concentration and focus after reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

Here is the link to my 2018 goals (set in January).


I give a shout-out to new patrons supporting me via Patreon. Thank you so much!

You can support the show for as little as $1 per month and, for supporters at the $2 and above level, there is an exclusive mini-episode released in the middle of every month.

There are nine ‘extras’ already available and another one will go up mid-December. So far, I’ve answered patron-questions and given writing craft tips, but I’m also open to suggestions…

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



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.



On writing a long series:

‘I’ve been writing Dark Hunter since I was eighteen… I love the characters, I love the world.’

‘Don’t write anything you don’t love… Go into it thinking that these are lifelong friends… Don’t chase a trend, don’t write just to get published, write what is in your heart, what is in your soul, because you may have to live with these characters for the rest of your life.’

On the pressure of success:

‘You never want to disappoint a fan, you do have that pressure… And nothing hurts worse than hearing that a fan didn’t like a book, that’s a stab to my throat and my heart.’

‘I put my heart and soul and every ounce of time, I don’t rush a book, I respect my fans too much for that.’

Sherrilyn’s writing process:

‘I know when I’m really in the zone when it’s just me and the characters and I don’t hear anything else.. I used to keep my babies literally strapped to my chest because I was worried they would need something and I wouldn’t hear them.’

‘All I’ve ever really done is write.’

‘Writing advice is like a buffet, take what you like… Leave everything else behind.’

‘I attempt to do 25 to 30 pages a day, but I don’t always.’


‘To me writing is like channeling spirits, its almost like being a medium.’


On self-doubt:

‘I hate it when writers beat themselves up… Writers – don’t be cruel to yourselves! Respect your muse, because that’s a quick way to kill her.’

‘No, we all think we suck. The suck song goes on every time I write.’

‘All I ever wanted was to be a writer and I pursued it wholeheartedly.’

‘Be fearless when you write. Just turn those chickens loose in the yard and let them take you on a journey.’

On not giving up:

‘Let those characters fly… We’re all writers but those characters chose you. They live in you. They could have picked another writer but they picked you, don’t let them not have their story told.’

‘I’ve seen so many writers give up over the years and that really breaks my heart because I think of all the stories they had in them… And I hate that… Please don’t give up, get that story out there.’


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

To learn more about Paul’s podcast:


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.


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.


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.