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Posts Tagged Jessica Bell
If you’ve been following me on Facebook or on my newsletter you’ll have seen I’m taking a creative interlude to work on a collection of travel memoir pieces. It’s a new kind of book for me and it’s raising some interesting challenges, particularly as I’m used to the freedoms of fiction.
So I thought I’d gather together a few other fictioneers who’ve crossed into memoir to discuss the differences.
Let’s meet our novelists-turned-memoirists.
Jean Gill @writerjeangill has published in a wide variety of genres – historical fiction, fiction in translation, teen novels and a goat cheese cookbook. Her memoir, How Blue Is My Valley, is an as-it-happens account of her first year living in Provence.
Joni Rodgers, who you might recognise from The Undercover Soundtrack and this post about ghostwriters and their soul projects, had two novels published by small literary publishers, and then a big bestseller with her cancer memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair, which kicked off a career as a ghostwriter of celebrity memoirs. She has continued to write fiction, and her second memoir is an account of her hybrid publishing adventures: First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It.
Jessica Bell @msbessiebell will also be familiar from The Undercover Soundtrack. She’s a musician, writing coach, graphic designer and publisher, has released seven books of fiction and verse, and is about to release her memoir Dear Reflection: I Never Meant To Be A Rebel, about her dysfunctional childhood, teen years and music career.
The most obvious difference between novels and memoir is, of course, real events. And this creates an artistic problem. Real life is messy; it lacks the structures that do much of a novel’s work. Personally I’m enjoying it; the need to stay within boundaries is a challenge. I asked my authors about the main challenges they faced with their material.
Joni: ‘The least interesting thing in a cancer memoir is the cancer. I had to distil the complex medical aspects of the story in a way that did justice to my experience while maintaining a compelling pace for the reader. I won’t even pretend I did that on autopilot. I had a terrific editor with an unsparing eye.’
Jean faced an additional challenge with her book because she was writing without a predetermined shape. It was a day-to-day diary of events as they unfolded. ‘Authors with any sense write memoirs looking back, so they can find patterns and resolutions. Instead, I was writing the book ‘live’ as workmen destroyed the house around me and I had no idea what was going to happen next. I haven’t kept a diary since the ones I gave up as a teenager with cryptic codewords.’
Jean says her approach paid off, though. ‘Fans have told me this is part of the book’s charm. The immediacy of all those first impressions, of being in love with Provence, is not filtered by artistic shaping. Moving to another country is always about what you take with you: physically, mentally and emotionally. I came to understand that from writing my memoir.’
How we come across
One of the hardest things to judge with such a personal book is how we’re coming across. As the writer, we know everything and the reader knows nothing, and I know I’m going to be relying on beta readers more heavily than usual. Joni and Jessica say they couldn’t have done it without editorial support.
Joni: ‘Beta readers and a good editor are crucial. I’ve had the good fortune to be edited and mentored by amazing professionals at Big Five publishers and prestigious small presses, so maybe I’m spoiled, but candidly, I was disappointed in the editor I hired to do First You Write. Even more disappointed in the copy editor. Fortunately, my beta readers were top drawer. The Midwives, my critique group at the time, was an amazing posse of well-read, widely published authors, including Barbara Taylor Sissel and Colleen Thompson. That crit group was one of the best things that ever happened to me professionally and personally.’
Jessica says she also could not have done without a professional editor. She began by writing her book as vignettes, then attempted to fill the gaps. But I knew deep down that they were not satisfactory. When I invested in a professional editor, I discovered that many details were lacking. Because I knew my life so well, I didn’t have the same need, or instinct, to explore every fine detail like I do when writing fiction. When writing fiction, I am completely immersed in the details, and also creating those details for myself. When writing memoir, those details already exist. It’s so easy to not realize they aren’t apparent to your reader. The effort it took to dig them out was my biggest hurdle. I felt like I was constantly repeating myself, when in fact, I wasn’t at all. It’s really interesting how unreliable we are as writers of our own lives. I now know that I will still need that editor with my second, third, and fourth memoir.’
(Modest shuffling of feet: Jessica’s first editor was me. To slip into that role for a moment, I’ve worked on many memoirs and each time it’s a special privilege to be invited to help shape such personal material. I also happen to know that Jessica’s editor for the second version was Dan Holloway, so – a shout-out to him.)
Jean had an unexpected source of feedback when her memoir was being made into an audiobook: ‘If you want to know how you come across, nothing beats having to listen to the narration and having to explain to a top voice actor just how funny you thought that sentence was. Even now, the thought makes me hot with embarrassment.’
Inevitably some people in our memoir will be recognisable. What do we do about that?
Jean says: ‘I changed the names of all but immediate family and I let my sisters read it beforehand, so they could raise any objections. They didn’t.’
I’ve also been contacting people who are recognisable and letting them read the relevant excerpts. And Jean brings up another principle that I’m following: ‘I considered every word I wrote from the viewpoint of that person reading about themselves. Ask me again in a year’s time as the book is being translated into French, so all the villagers will be able to read it. My hairdresser has promised to let me know if we need to sell up and leave the village.’
Jessica says she asked permission from family and close friends to reveal their true identities. And that was nerve-wracking – I remember having a conversation with her behind the scenes on Facebook as she gathered the courage to show the manuscript to her mother.
‘I’m very lucky they gave permission,’ she says. ‘For those I don’t have contact with (or don’t wish to contact) I’ve changed physical attributes, names, and certain characteristics. Sometimes three people have been merged into one character. People who know me and the people in my memoir will most likely be able to work out who is who; I don’t think there is any way to avoid this. The only thing we can do is change our characters enough so that they can’t be recognised by random readers.’
Joni had to write about her family in close detail during traumatic events, especially her husband, Gary. I asked whether that was awkward. ‘I did struggle with this invasion of Gary’s privacy. He was supportive in a very unexpected way: he didn’t read the book. He said he wanted me to tell the story I needed to tell without feeling like he was looking over my shoulder. To this day, he hasn’t read it. The one concession he asked was that I decline an option on film rights, even though we desperately needed the money. Chemo left us bankrupt. Thanks, American healthcare system! When the film option came up, our children were still small, and I wasn’t in remission. Gary and I agreed that if I died, a movie could be confusing and unhealthy for our kids in later years.’
With that in mind, I think we need a brief feelgood interlude. Here’s a very soppy picture of Joni and Gary.
The difficult memories
Jessica had to steel herself to revisit some of the events in her book and was tempted to leave them out. ‘I had a really hard time writing about them. But my editor convinced me to bite the bullet.’ (Just call me Rozweiler.)
Joni also had to grapple with difficult memories. ‘My desire to help other women with cancer far outweighed any awkwardness. Cancer destroyed me physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, and financially, and while I was in that crucible, I craved honest conversation about taboo topics like money and sex. To leave out the awkward and even humiliating moments in that story would have been a disservice to readers with cancer, and it would have felt dishonest to me.’
What to leave out?
And not everything belongs in your memoir. Joni says: If life is a sprawling country garden, a memoir is a cut flower arrangement. Choices have to be made, and some are difficult. Here again, I have to sing the praises of my editor, the late, great Marjorie Braman at HarperCollins. Throughout the process, Marjorie focused a single beam of light—the book’s reason for being—on every anecdote, character, sentence, syllable. Much of what I know and practise as an editor now, I learned from Marjorie as we worked through Bald in the Land of Big Hair and my subsequent novel, The Secret Sisters. She never told me what to do, but she always asked the right questions.’
That pruning process might not be straightforward. Jean says that at the time of writing, one of her children was very depressed, and she found her own feelings of helplessness overwhelming. ‘This memoir wasn’t about trauma or therapy so the details of my private life were irrelevant. But I felt silly writing happy little thoughts without acknowledging that pain. This is how I dealt with it. I acknowledged it for the only person who mattered to understand:
‘Happiness is an utterly selfish emotion. How can you be happy when someone close to you, isn’t? How can you be happy in the face of war, starvation, poverty… And yet. How does your misery change others’ lives for the better? Who is helped by your depression? Isn’t it from some kind of secure self that you can reach out a helping hand?’
We are made of many memoirs
But Jessica says each of us might have many memoirs in us. ‘Just because something has happened in your life, that doesn’t mean it has a place in the memoir. For example, to the disappointment of those who have gotten to know me online, this memoir doesn’t talk much about my writing career. That’s an entirely different story, unrelated to my child- and teen-hood, and love life and music. And then there’s my humorous and devastating story of running a café-bar in Ithaca, Greece. I realised these didn’t belong in Dear Reflection. They are not related to my psychological struggle. They are related to the side of my personality that is confident and ambitious. And they need their own book.’
So let’s sum up. Here’s the gathered wisdom on writing a memoir:
- Beta readers and a good editor are crucial for helping us understand how we come across.
- Seek permission from real people who will be recognisable, and if possible let them read the relevant sections. Change the details of others so they can’t be identified. Consider every word you write about another person as though they were reading it.
- If your memoir is about difficult experiences, dig deep and remember that these details are part of the honest journey.
- Not every experience will fit in one memoir. As with fiction, check that everything serves the story you’re telling. If it doesn’t, consider keeping it for another book.
Thank you to my panel. Here’s where you find them
Jean’s blog is here and she’s on Twitter as @writerjeangill. Jessica’s website is here and she’s @msbessiebell. Joni says she’ll be hosting a memoir writing retreat this autumn, her website is here or you can follow her on Facebook. She says she used to tweet, but as long as Donald Trump is on Twitter, she won’t be.
And if you’re curious about the book I’m working on, there’s more about it here.
Bonus! Here’s an episode of my radio show, So You Want To Be A Writer, where bookseller Peter Snell and I discuss the memoirist’s art.
Any insights to share about writing memoir? Or questions? Fire away.
Bald In The Land of Big Hair, Barbara Taylor Sissel, cancer memoir, Colleen Thompson, Dan Holloway, Dear Reflection: I Never Meant To Be A Rebel, First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It, How Blue Is My Valley, how to write memoir, Jean Gill, Jessica Bell, Joni Rodgers, living in Provence, Marjorie Braman, narrative non-fiction
The band is about to split. Our magnificent seven will soon scatter. The box set containing our seven novels will evaporate at the stroke of midnight BST on Saturday 23 May.
We might even resume our normal colours.
Here’s a post that explains the box set experiment. Here’s one where we were asked just what kind of political statement we thought we were making. And, in case you feel like tackling a similar venture, here’s one where we explain lessons learned.
And here’s what it’s all about:
And here’s a pretty thingy to watch
So, for the final time, you can get the box set on all ebook platforms here.
And in the meantime, I’m taking a blogging break this weekend, but I’ll be back with The Undercover Soundtrack as usual. See you there.
An Unchoreographed Life, bargain box set, Blue Mercy, Carol Cooper, contemporary fiction, Crazy For Trying, female writers, fiction, Jane Davis, Jessica Bell, Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones, My Memories of a Future Life, One Night at the Jacaranda, Orna Ross, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, Roz Morris, sale ends, strong female characters, strong women, the box set, The Centauress, White Lady, Women Writers
How do we label ourselves as writers? Guest spot at Dan Holloway – and the box set is available NOW!
Forgive the capitals in the title. That’s the problem of being in a group of seven, rather excited writers who’ve been working towards this moment since November. Our ebook collection, Outside The Box: Women Writing Women, went live yesterday. If you pre-ordered it, it will have arrived on your ereader. If pre-orders aren’t your thing, you can grab it right now, because it vanishes on May 24. Oh, and it’s seven full-length novels, so clear a weekend or seven.
We’re getting coverage all over the place, including the UK national press. (This is why the release is such a moment of relief and excitement.) But today I want to highlight a particularly thoughtful, searching interview put together by Dan Holloway. He’s asked tricky questions:
Is this collection a marketing idea, a political statement or both? What are our common threads (aside from the possession of two X chromosomes)? Do they help us come up with a ‘label’ for our diverse range of books? What should that label be? Do labels in fiction cause problems? What about the position of women writers in literary fiction? And, my own favourite: is it better for writers to be ambitious and fall short, or to succeed on more limited terms?
It’s a good discussion. Do come over.
And once again, this is our ensemble. And we are very excited.
Carol Cooper, Dan Holloway, ebook collection, guest post, how to write a novel, interview, Jane Davis, Jessica Bell, Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones, labels in writing, Orna Ross, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, political statements, Roz Morris, Women Writers
Fear not, I won’t inflict every post on you that we release for the Women Writing Women campaign, but this is one that celebrates and explores creativity. Pauline Baird Jones invited us to answer the question: why do we write?
Inevitably, this led us all to search for where we started. And here you see something we all have in common – not just the group here but all of us on this journey. Carol Cooper did it to get into the best gigs at college. Jessica Bell did it because otherwise she felt she’d disappear. Jane Davis did it after a friend died. Kathleen Jones did it when she ran out of stories to read as a child on a remote farm. Orna Ross did it to give an overdramatic teenage personality a safe space to express. Joni Rodgers did it when blood cancer put her into isolation. And me? An overexpressive kid with something to prove, I guess, and too much shyness to be big in real life. Come over to Pauline’s blog and discover the full story.
And if you feel inclined to share, tell me here: why do you write?
authors, book marketing, box set, Carol Cooper, Daily Mail, Depth & Heart, Fix and Finish With Confidence, guest posts, how to make a box set, how to write a book, how to write a novel, interview, interviews, Jane Davis, Jessica Bell, Joni Rodgers, Kathleen Jones, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, Orna Ross, publishing, Royal Literary Fund, Roz Morris, self-publishing, traditional publishing, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, why I write, Women, Women Writers, Women Writing Women, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing business, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama
If you know me – and some of my friends – on Facebook, you might have seen some coy posts about how we’ll be revealing a big secret project.
Well here it is.
Seven writers of quality indie fiction are releasing an ebook collection called Outside the Box: Women Writing Women.
We’ve each of us proved our worth with awards, fellowships, teaching posts and commercial success. We’ve all self-published to keep our hard-earned independence and our artistic identity. Now we are teaming up to create an ebook box set of novels that feature strong, idiosyncratic female protagonists. And it will be available for just a brief period – from February to May 2015.
Power in a group
Now here’s where we can explore the power of the group. We’ve already been interviewed by The Guardian books pages, Books + Publishing (the Australian counterpart of Publisher’s Weekly) and have interest from the arts programmes of BBC Radio 4. If any of us had approached them on our own, we probably wouldn’t have got even a reply. But together?
We hope there’s more to come. Much more. These last few months we’ve been working behind the scenes, making contacts, sending emails. Certainly I’ll have a lot of learning to share about pre-launch campaigns. I am learning loads from these guys. (I should say ‘women’, but you know what I mean.)
So what do we hope to achieve?
To hit some charts, obviously. To reach readers who are hungry for strong literary fiction beyond the bounds of traditional genre tropes.
We also want to prove that fine, original authors are self-publishing as a mark of independence and integrity, and doing work of value and quality.
You might ask: is that still necessary? Does anyone still consider self-publishing to be ‘vanity’ or second rate? They clearly do, because this is one of the issues we’ve been asked about most frequently. And we have all encountered attitudes in the books world that demonstrate we are regarded as inferior. Try joining a professional body, applying for a grant or entering an award, or requesting a review. (Happily, we are already changing minds. Book bloggers who are wary of self-published books have welcomed us.)
Who are we?
Our coalition is:
Me, obviously (more than 4 million books sold as a ghostwriter, creative writing coach for The Guardian, literary author, editor);
Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Publishing by The Bookseller;
Joni Rodgers, author/ghostwriter of multiple NYT bestsellers, short-listed for Barnes & Noble Discover Award;
Kathleen Jones, widely published Royal Literary Fund Fellow and frequent BBC contributor;
Jane Davis, winner of the Daily Mail First Novel Award hailed by The Bookseller as “One to Watch”;
Carol Cooper, physician, medical journalist, and winner of the 2013 BMA Book Award;
Jessica Bell, publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and author of the bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series.
You’ll also know them all from The Undercover Soundtrack, except for Jane who doesn’t use music in her creative process. (But maybe we can change that!) Find our ‘who are we’ page here. And yes, you can see we dressed up for the occasion.
The collection is priced at USD$9.99 GBP7.99 – yes, that’s not throwaway pricing, but at roughly £1.15 per book it’s still a bargain. The box set (or e-anthology, if the word ‘box’ raises your hackles) will be available for just 90 days from February 20, though pre-orders have just opened now. Right this minute.
Out and about
We’ve got a host of blog appearances planned. We’ll be sharing plenty of information about the hows and wherefores, the triumphs and pitfalls. We’ll also be talking about our publishing journeys, our inspirations, our methods. And our work – our unconventional characters and their relationships, our themes and topics like body image culture, abortion, prostitution, euthanasia, domestic abuse, same-sex marriage, bereavement, psychological recovery and rogue healers.
If you have a blog and your readership would be interested in us, we’d love to be mentioned – or interviewed if that’s what you normally do. If you want to tweet about it and like lists of pre-prepared tweets, find them here. And if you post a review, fill in the form on this link and we’ll send you a digital swag bag that includes a free book plus lovely links, delicious downloads and some playful surprises.
If nothing else, we hope to bust some barriers in 2015. We want to prove that indie publishing is a positive choice for writers of quality, to show that writers can make good publishing decisions and lead the creative process. And if you’re happy with traditional publishing, we hope to add more power to your arm, by demonstrating that authors should be included in business and promotion decisions, treated as partners and offered fair deals.
It’s going to be exciting. Check us out at www.womenwritewomen.com.
7 unforgettable books by award-winning #WomenInLiterature. Only $9.99! Avail. Only 90 days! http://goo.gl/D1fyqW #WomenWritingWomen
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My guest this week is an old hand at The Undercover Soundtrack. She made her first appearance here in 2012 with a soundtrack she had composed, sung and recorded herself – which earned my undying envy (in a good way). She’s a singer-songwriter as well as a poet and novelist, so music is a natural way for her to understand her characters. In her latest novel, she writes from the perspective of five people, and used music to help her create their different voices and mentalities. Join me on the Red Blog to meet Jessica Bell (once again) and the Undercover Soundtrack to White Lady.
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This morning I was scratching my head for a post to write, so I asked on Facebook for ideas. Immediately, Vivienne Tuffnell volunteered this great question: ‘How do you keep motivated when your books aren’t flying off the shelves?’
Before I could even type a reply, Zelah Meyer had countered with: ‘delusional optimism and a long-term view’!
Which is about what I would say (at least, the second bit).
We’ll assume for the moment that you’ve done everything possible to ensure your books are up to scratch, with appropriate covers, well-honed descriptions and sharp metadata. You know the book’s good. You’re doing all you can, as your promotion budgets and tastes allow. But those sales aren’t stacking up.
How do you take courage?
Keep calm and build a body of work. Actually, I see this as the only possible plan. Writing is a lifelong thing anyway. If you’ve had the gumption to start, and stick with it, it’s a default habit built over years. Having ideas is as usual as taking breaths. You finish a book and you don’t settle until you’ve got another under way.
Also, building a portfolio makes business sense. Whether we’re the Big Five/Four/Three/Two/AmazOne or an individual writer, this is what we’re doing. With more books we get more chances to be found by readers. And when we are found, we look like more of a presence.
Does this mean you have to churn them out? No. We are taking a long-term view. Write and publish fast if that suits your nature, your material, your market. If it doesn’t, you’re still building a body of work. However long the book takes, once it’s finished, it’s out for ever.
But everyone else…
What about all those posts on Facebook, G+ and Twitter where people share a stellar sales rank or triumphant sales numbers? Some days that can be like a big wet slap. Even though you know how sales ranks surge and plummet by the hour. What can you do, apart from congratulate them – and write?
First, remind yourself it doesn’t reflect on you or mean you should ‘do more’. (Except write. Did I mention that?)
And second, there is something you can do. Keep making meaningful connections, fishing in the internet sea for the other people who think like you, write like you, read like you. Writing is all about connection anyway.
Also, remind yourself how the ebook jungle has changed. I published Nail Your Novel when there was far less competition, and clocked up a good 10,000 sales with so little effort I couldn’t be bothered to count any further. I now can’t believe it used to be so easy. Now, with all the books clamouring for readers, we have to work so much harder for each sale.
Author/editor/songwriter/poet Jessica Bell (left) wrote about this recently at Jane Davis’s blog. I hit on this strategy myself, completely by accident, when I wrote Nail Your Novel. In fact, if I hadn’t got those nonfic titles I’d be feeling pretty discouraged, simply because selling literary fiction is hard, hard, hard. My novels sell only a fifth as many as my Nail Your Novels. But that means I’m five times as thrilled by a fiction sale as I am by a Nail Your Novel sale (though I’m still quite thrilled by those, thank you very much).
What if you only have one book?
A significant number of writers have just one title, and feel no desire to write another. Creatively that’s fine. One book might be all you need to say. Ask Harper Lee. But you are likely to feel this sales problem very keenly. Especially if it’s fiction.
I do know writers who made a big splash with just one novel. For instance, John A A Logan with his literary thriller The Survival of Thomas Ford – but he published at that goldrush time, when a free promotion could work miracles. It was many years before he released another book, and the momentum he got with the first kept him going nicely. He also supplemented it with a lot of hard work on Kindle and Goodreads forums. Now, though, it’s rare that one book will get you noticed enough.
In this situation, your best bet is to go for volume (again). Team up with other likeminded one-book authors and form a collective. Perhaps release a box set.
If the book is non-fiction, you could use it to launch a speaking or tutoring career, which gives people more chances to encounter you. It’s the volume principle again – but you’re producing performances instead of books.
It’s not all about sales
Let’s remember we don’t write simply to chase sales. Except for a few stellar bestsellers, there are more lucrative lines of work. But the satisfaction factor? Every new comment from a reader, every email, every new review, tells me I’m writing what I should be writing. It’s worth the struggle.
Stop this relentless positivity, please
So this probably all sounds very well adjusted. Do ever stop being so darned positive? Certainly I do. I had a towering strop recently when I saw a report of a speech at a publishing conference where the delegates were discussing how much credibility to give indie authors. It all hinged on sales; nothing else. No thought for originality, craft, quality. It reminded me that the publishing world does not want to give authors credibility if they publish themselves – and if we do, they assume we must be at some junior, paint-by-numbers level. Which is insulting for just about everybody – genre authors included. After that I was not positive at all. Measured in that way, EL James would have far more credibility than Henry James.
But we’re playing a long game. For some of us it is longer than others, but the answer is the same. Write more books, and write them well. And remember the main contest you’re in is not against other writers. It’s against your own standards and hopes; the struggle to do justice to your ideas and your talent.
This post probably isn’t startling information. But if you’re also having a crisis of confidence, I hope it helps. And I really hope my optimism isn’t delusional. This is Zelah, by the way. She really can do this. I’ve seen her.
Thanks for the hare and tortoise pic CarbonNYC
Any thoughts to add? Share in the comments!
Amazon ranking, authors, book marketing, book sales, confidence, confidence as a writer, EL James, facebook, fiction, Henry James, how to sell books, how to sell literary fiction, how to write a book, inspiration, Jane Davis, Jessica Bell, John A A Logan, literary fiction, literature, My Memories of a Future Life, publishing, Roz Morris, sales rank, self-publishing, The Survival of Thomas Ford, Vivienne Tuffnell, writers, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing business, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, Zelah Meyer
Do you need help to get your novel started or finished? Four of us experienced scribblers talk about how we stay creative through the tough times and reveal our secrets for drafting, fixing and finishing, not to mention keeping our confidence. Solutions include running, composing music, meditation and lying on the floor scribbling on sheets of A4 using the hand you don’t normally write with.
My co-conspirators are Orna Ross (who is the author of Go Creative, several literary novels and leader of the Alliance of Independent Authors), Kevin Booth (who’s a translator as well as an author and trained as an actor before he took up writing), and Jessica Bell (who runs the Vine Leaves Literary Journal as well as having a parallel career as a singer-songwriter, which you might well know already from her appearances on The Undercover Soundtrack).
We’re forming the creative posse at IndieReCon, a free online conference for writers at all stages of their publishing careers. Do come over – and check out the other terrific events in the line-up. There’s info from all kinds of experts in publishing, writing and marketing.
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My guest this week is another Undercover Soundtrack veteran. In fact, she deserves this title twice over, as she was the first of my guests who also wrote some of the music that helped her create the book (and she then made it available as an album). This time, she uses music in a different, but equally creative way. Her main character is a child who has behavioural problems and eccentricities, and struggles to understand the adults’ world. The metaphorical language of song lyrics, jumbled through a child’s mind, became a cornerstone for her to understand the character. She is Jessica Bell and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, behavioural problems, child's view, childhood, deepen your story, female writers, fiction, having ideas, how to write a book, Jessica Bell, literary fiction, metaphorical language, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, The Book, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing to music
Take a long look at this cover for Nail Your Novel, original flavour. In the next few days, it’s going to have a snazzy new outfit.
Proverbs notwithstanding, covers are perhaps our most potent marketing tool, so I thought I’d talk to various authors who’ve changed theirs with good results. My panel are literary authors Jessica Bell, Melissa Foster and Linda Gillard, chick-lit author Talli Roland, and travel writer and novelist Catherine Ryan Howard
Why did you change the cover of String Bridge?
I changed it twice. The first time was because my publisher closed and I had to put the book back on the market myself. The second, because it didn’t seem to attract attention, so I decided to go for a more commercial look.
How long had you had the old cover? Both for six months each.
Did it boost sales or interest?
The latest new cover did. The difference was phenomenal. The first free KDP promo I did with the second cover resulted in 2000 downloads. The second, with the latest cover, resulted in over 20,000 downloads. The latest cover is obviously more attractive to the mass consumer.
Were there any other results? Yes. More reviews!
Any tips for the changeover? Look at the covers of what’s hot on Amazon in the same genre as your book, and try to replicate the feel.
Why did you change? To rebrand my books. Chasing Amanda sold very well with the previous darker, more mysterious cover, but it occurred to me that while Chasing Amanda is also a novel that tugs at the heart of most parents—-and perhaps it was time to try a cleaner, fresher look, giving readers a visual understanding of that side of the story. It will be interesting to see if the audience changes with the imagery change.
How long had you had the previous cover? My first book (published in 2009) had the original cover for almost three years. My second had the original cover for about a year before it was changed.
Did the change boost sales or interest? It’s always hard to tell what has caused a bump in sales when you do more than one thing at once. When I recovered my books to self-publish, I also put more promotions into play to promote them. Given that, I’d say the combination helped.
Any other results? I believe branding is important and so are professional covers. Traditionally published authors rebrand every few years to breathe new life into old titles.
Any tips for the changeover? I’ve changed all my covers and there is little to no impact on sales during the change. The paperback will go off sale for those few days while it’s being approved. The Kindle book doesn’t miss a single day; it’s live while you change.
Any time a cover is upgraded, try a promotion that was done in the past, then compare the results.
Why did you change the cover of Untying The Knot?
I was about to bring out the paperback so decided to reassess. I wanted to make it reminiscent of House Of Silence, which is my big seller. I’ve always assumed it must be the cover that sells that book, so we went for a dramatic sky and interesting building.
Untying The Knot has had brilliant reviews, but doesn’t sell as well as some of my others. It had a Marmite cover – people loved it or hated it – but most of the feedback was negative, especially from people who’d read the book. They didn’t think it represented the tone or content. Untying The Knot looks at the destructive effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on a marriage, but there are elements of rom-com mixed in with the drama. It was difficult to come up with an image to suggest all that. My original cover was a surreal image of a bride fleeing with a suitcase across a rural landscape but readers thought it suggested chick lit. I realised you need to make sure the cover of a mixed-genre book doesn’t give out a mixed message. That confuses readers and doesn’t work in that crucial thumbnail in ebook stores.
How long had you had the previous cover? A long time. Since August 2011
Effect on sales etc It’s too early to tell, but the feedback on Facebook suggests people think the new cover is more suitable and more appealing.
Why did you change the cover of Backpacked?
Backpacked was my second travel memoir, and as the first (Mousetrapped) had been so successful, I wanted to keep the brand I’d inadvertently created: scrapbook image on the bottom, nice blue sky picture on the top, white band with title etc through the middle. I have a deep-rooted and somewhat worrying need for things to match, so doing it that way satisfied that requirement as well.
But Backpacked didn’t sell as well as I’d hoped, and when I started examining the cover – really examining it – it struck me that this design did nothing for this book (although it had worked for the first). It actually looked dowdy and dull. So I decided to entirely revamp the cover, focusing more on the content of this book instead of how much it did or didn’t match the previous one.
How long had you had the old cover? Almost a year. (I had to look that up and I was actually very surprised it took me that long to change it!)
Did changing the cover boost sales or interest? Absolutely. And it was immediate. Now, Backpacked is probably my best-reviewed book, and I think that’s because it’s reaching the right readers. By changing the cover I caught their attention, and identified the book as something they’d like to read. It’s been out now since 2011 but continues to sell a steady amount each month.
I would say, though, that a cover change does not automatically generate new interest or boost sales. I had a shortlived self-published novel whose cover I changed and although sales were boosted initially, it didn’t make any difference in the long run. A new cover will only work if it’s the cover the book should have had all along. Change alone doesn’t contribute much.
Any tips? Very important: unless it’s a new edition (i.e. you’ve changed the content considerably), do not create a new book. I know that technically, if you change the cover, you should create a new edition but the headache is not worth it. I went through a month-long migraine when I brought out a new edition of Mousetrapped in 2011, and boy did I learn my lesson!
It is so much easier to go to CreateSpace, Amazon KDP etc. and upload a new cover file than it is to make a whole new book with both editions available at the same time, which is very confusing. You might also affect your rankings and reviews. Simply swap the cover files and keep everything else the same.
Why did you change the cover of The Hating Game?
My publisher and I noticed my book was linked on Amazon with others of a different genre (mainly crime), so we suspected the cover wasn’t reaching the right audience. My novel was firmly chick lit, yet wasn’t being sold with other chick lit.
How long had you had the previous cover? We actually had two other covers before the current one. The first we’d had well before the launch of the book, and the second was live for a few weeks.
Result? When we finally hit on the right cover, the novel rocketed into the top 100 on Amazon within a week or so.
Any tips for the changeover? Explain the reasons, to avoid confusion. Although we only changed the ebook cover; by the time the book was in print, we’d found a cover that worked. Make sure the new cover addresses the genre you’re targeting, too.
Paranormal thriller author MARY MADDOX has an interesting tale of how she changed the cover of her novel Talion because she’d originally used a photo she loved – but readers told her (some rather rudely) that it was too abstract.
Do readers get confused?
One of the questions I was most interested in was whether readers become confused. The general consensus was no. The Kindle store warns you if you try to buy a book you’ve already downloaded. And although you can buy paperbacks more than once, no one reported a dreaded disgruntled review for that reason. Jessica Bell says publication dates are clearly labelled, so readers can tell it’s the same book. And Catherine Ryan Howard points out that readers are already used to covers changing in traditional publishing. ‘A book will have one design for the hardback and another for the paperback, and bestseller authors with extensive backlists get cover redesigns regularly. If the title, sub-title and blurb stay the same, how could anyone make such a mistake?’
Cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has two useful tips to add. ‘If you’re designing a cover for a sequel, make sure it matches in terms of quality and style Second, it’s important to change a cover if it’s an improvement to your image and the assurance of your quality and brand.’
You’ll have to wait a day or two while the new cover of Nail Your Novel worms its way through the works at CreateSpace et al. But don’t go too far because I’ll be back with an unveiling post AND a very special competition…
In the meantime, let’s talk about changing covers. Have you changed any of yours? Are you thinking about it? Are you happy with your covers, and why? Do you have any other questions you’d like to discuss?
Backpacked, be a bestseller, bestsellers, book covers, book marketing, books, Catherine Ryan Howard, Chasing Amanda, chick-lit, contemporary fiction, cover design, designing a book cover, fiction, how to sell a book, how to sell more books, indie publishing, Jane Dixon-Smith, Jessica Bell, Linda Gillard, literary authors, literary fiction, literature, making a book cover, Mary Maddox, Melissa Foster, Mousetrapped, My Memories of a Future Life, mystery, mystery fiction, mystery novels, novelist, paranormal thriller, Roz Morris, self-publishing, sell books on Amazon, String Bridge, Talion, Talli Roland, The Hating Game, travel writer, Untying the Knot, Women Writers, women's fiction, writing business, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart
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