Publishing and promotion…

As a writer in today’s digital world, you’re expected to do a certain amount of self-promotion to connect with readers and to gain new ones. Getting the balance right in this is crucial – do it too much, or in an overtly aggressive or ‘salesy’ way, and you risk alienating people – promote too little, and you can simply sink into the ether with no-one giving you a backward glance. Sure, there’s always another writer to keep people entertained…

img_0278As a soon-to-be indie author, I know that promotion and marketing and just connecting with potential readers is important if I want to get my book into the hands of, well, anybody. Add to the mix that it’s a book for children and we have a double conundrum – I’ve got to connect with both parents and kids, as the parents will no doubt be making the purchasing decision, but the kids will have to want to read it (or be intrigued to give it a go anyway).

It’s all trial and error and I’m already planning how I’ll go about getting my story ‘out there’, so this week’s launch of Lagan Online’s 12NOW project was perfectly timed. You can read more about this at the link above, but essentially, this is what Lagan Online is all about:

“Central to Lagan Online is the aim of nurturing new talent to build careers in a new environment. Lagan Online is committed to being a leading voice in the area of Reading Development and new writing on the island of Ireland.”

Formerly known as Lagan Press, which published physical books, the rebranded Lagan Online is instead, now channelling its energies into supporting and promoting up-and-coming writers without the publishing element. A controversial decision for some… a few other local publishers have already taken to social media to express their disappointment and regret at this decision. As an indie author about to benefit from this promotion however, I’m really just seeing the silver lining.12now-collage

Over the next 12 months, Lagan Online will support and promote reading and writing by supporting and promoting six poets and prose writers, myself included, sharing our stories and poems with various reading groups in Northern Ireland. For the past few years, the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry has been running Reading Rooms, which exposes people of all ages and backgrounds to new writing. The idea is to nurture readers – to introduce the pleasures and joy of reading to new audiences and to dig deeper into what they’re reading, discussing themes and so on. This is what the 12NOW (New Original Writers) will be exposed to, as our work will subsequently be read and discussed by these groups.

I’ve been chosen as one of the prose writers for 12NOW, so a selection of my short stories will be circulated to the Reading Rooms groups and I’ll have the opportunity to visit a few of them to hear feedback on the writing. (Which is a little BIT SCARY! I do hope they like them, or at least, that they don’t HATE them…) With there being a children’s reading group as well, I’m also hoping that along with the short story for kids that I’ve written, my children’s novel will also have the chance to be put before some young eyes. As I’m intending to publish it next spring, the timing couldn’t be better.

I’m still a big fan of traditional publishers and if I was ever picked up by one then I’m pretty sure I’d sign on the dotted line with great delight. However, in the meantime, I’m enjoying the process of getting my first novel out there by myself – and of course, with the help of a team of other independent businesses, which will ensure that it’s the best it can be.fullsizerender-4

I’m planning to meet with my editor in Dublin before Christmas to discuss her feedback on the manuscript, and my cover designer is working away on the design as we speak, so I hope to see how that’s shaping up at the start of November. I like that I’m guiding the cover art and that I’ll be able to give feedback on this to make it the way I want. I know that with some publishers, you really have to take what you’re given in that regard, so I’m enjoying being in control of how my book is created, from start to finish.

Self-publishing is like any big project you take on – it’s both exciting and scary – but I think the learning gained throughout the process is/will be invaluable. Running my own business helps in some way as well, as I’m better able to get my head around the practicalities of marketing and so on, though it’s always harder to promote your own work than other people’s…

This is where Lagan Online is going to come in so perfectly, as it’s always good to know you have someone in your camp supporting your work. Having a respected publisher promote your work is invaluable, whether they’re actually publishing anymore or not. Of course, I’ll be writing other stories throughout the year and I want to get submitting to journals and the like again, as I haven’t done quite so much of that in 2016. Being part of something like 12NOW will therefore help ‘keep me at it’, as they say, and will make sure that my work-life and creative-life is better balanced…


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Autumn inspirations

With autumn comes, for me, an added compulsion to write. There’s just something about the season that’s infinitely more appealing and inspiring to me than the mugginess of summer. I like the coolness, the dark evenings, the subtle shift in ambience.

So, it was an added bonus that this autumn kicked off with a few special literary events, as the new Seamus Heaney Homeplace Centre opened its doors in Bellaghy. What better way to be inspired than visiting the home of one of our finest-ever poets and immersing oneself in both his words and those of other great writers? img_0157

Last weekend was filled with more than a few poems from the past with the launch of All Through the Night: Night Poems & Lullabies – an anthology edited by Marie Heaney – with Michael Longley and Marie herself reading from the book, along with Gerarld Dawe. Bronagh Gallagher also sang some of her songs, before putting one of the lullabies to music.

There was also Bach to Broagh, which saw Christian Poltera play on a 300-year-old Stradivarius cello, with Fiona Shaw reading Heaney’s poems in between. There was also a heck of a lot more, but these are the gems I managed to take in anyway.

Today, there’ll be Beethoven’s Opus 132 to enjoy in the atmospheric settings of St Mary’s and St Tida’s Churches in Bellaghy – the former church being where Heaney is buried. Both Heaney and TS Eliot were inspired by Beethoven’s music and we’ll hear The Play Way being read, while Eliot’s Four Quartets will also be put to music.

What could be more enchanting and inspirational than that…?fullsizerender-3

Poetry inspires all of my writing – the prose, the poems – and I think that not to read poetry, or indeed, not to read fiction as a poet, would leave my literary life just that little bit bleaker.

It’s just a few weeks until my novel will be in the hands of my editor and I know that once I get that back, there’ll be lots more to do with the manuscript. So, in the meantime, I’m thinking that some new poetry or a short story or two might just be what’s needed in the interim. My cover design for the book is also pending – all details have been sent to the designer so hopefully I’ll see how that’s taking shape soon. There’s lots to do – and lots more to be inspired by…


Filed under Musings on writing, Poetry, Self-publishing

Cover credentials

They say don’t judge a book by a cover but let’s face it, we all do. A cool cover is what stops us in our tracks in a bookstore. It entices us to pick up one book over another and, even if we don’t end up buying that particular novel, we’ve still been seduced in some way by its appearance. (The Bone Clocks cover certainly caught my attention!)

bone clocks

So – just how do you go about creating a good cover for your book and what are the vital ingredients? Well, I’m a writer but I’m also an avid book-buyer so, while I’m in no way a professional in this area, I do have some inkling of what might work and what might not.

I also know that a boring, dull cover won’t make much of an impression on kids, so when you’re thinking of a younger age-group, you’ve got to be spot on with the design. Thankfully, my cover designer is going through a fairly in-depth process with me at the minute to uncover the essential ingredients of my own book, so hopefully it will represent the story as I imagine.

Yes – work has begun on the cover of my book! I’ve spent the past week answering a number of questions about the story, the characters, the writing, covers I like and covers I don’t like which are already out there, and much more.

I’ve taken my time over it and have only the book blurb for the back cover left to upload, which I’ve decided to copy in below if anyone feels like giving feedback on it. I’d be interested to hear what you think and what it conveys to you!

library-425730_1280For me, a professionally designed book cover is of great importance. As a soon to be independently published author I want my novel to have the look of one that’s been traditionally published as much as possible. It should look just as good in its design as any other book, otherwise why would anyone want to buy it?

I write because I love it and self-publishing is a way of getting my stories out into the world just as anyone else in the creative industries is wont to do with their work. However, when you put something up for sale, it becomes a product and that requires investment in how that product looks, to ensure that whoever buys it will get something worth buying. My years of writing, the editing process and the professional cover design are all part of this. I want to create something that I’m happy to sell to people and that I would want to buy myself as a reader.

From my jumble of ideas, a cover will soon emerge and I’m excited to see how it takes shape over the next few weeks and what the end result will look like…

Book blurb

‘It’s the tale of a girl, just a little too thin.

When she went to the beach one sparkling spring day,

She picked up a pebble

…and it whisked her away.’

 Summoned to the Fairy Realm by the curious Pebble People, Felicity is faced with not one, but two adventurous quests in a world which mirrors her own but is full of hidden magic. Can she stop the mysterious pebble thieves before it’s too late and will she solve the Rhyming Riddler’s puzzles before she’s trapped in Fairyland forever?

With witches, goblins, fairies and all sorts of tricks and enchantments to contend with, Felicity’s most startling discovery, however, is yet to come…



Filed under Books, Self-publishing

Storybook timeline…

So, since my last post I’ve now got a much more definite timeline for my children’s novel, which is making everything seem just that little bit more real now… Thanks to NI editor, Averill Buchanan, I now have a very good copy-editor in Dublin booked for November 1, with a timeline in place for each part of the editing process for the book. The first stage will definitely be completed before Christmas and then I’ll likely spend the Christmas holidays revising the manuscript one last time before the final copy-edit in the New Year.


Reading my poem at the Blackberry Path Art Studios recently

Once I get the manuscript back from that edit, I’ll then revise it again, get the proofreading done and hey presto – CreateSpace here I come! (Gulp).


Aside from this, I’ve also got my cover designer booked, so work on that will kick off later this month, and is set to be completed in October. At the moment I have vague notions of what I want this to look like but honestly, nothing concrete, so I’m very interested to see what they come up with. Of course, I really want to love it and I have to feel it represents the story the way I want it to, so I’m feeling both excited and a little nervous about this! The great thing is, from next month I’ll be able to start sharing the cover design, which is almost as good as having the book itself (but not quite…)

Long story, short – the aim is still to have a springtime publication date (once everything’s done I still have formatting to contend with…), so all is on track! My beta readers are still reading away, so hopefully I’ll get some feedback from them soon but in the meantime, all systems are in place as much as they can be. (I feel too organised and I suspect this probably won’t last…)book-1169437_1280

Next weekend, I’ll be attending a day-long sci-fi/fantasy writing event at Ballyeamon Barn, near Cushendall, when author Jo Zebedee will be sharing her self-publishing experience and also her traditional publishing experience, as well as chatting about all things writing. I’m looking forward to this, and to meeting some other writers who so far, I only know through social media. Also hoping to pick up some advice on the SP front, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Short stories and poetry are a little on hold at the moment, but I’m editing away at a few stories and ideas are bubbling for more, so I’m planning to get started on something new there soon. Lots to get on with! I’ll keep you posted!


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It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the writing front, both with book things and poetry. In the past few days I enjoyed reading some of my own poems (in my first poetry slam!), along with a Seamus Heaney one, at an event in Bellaghy which celebrated 50 years of Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist collection, and also his work in general. Held at Bellaghy Bawn and organised by the Poetry House, the day-long event brought together poets and artists, musicians and chefs, with something for everyone to enjoy.

Bellaghy reading

Reading ‘Blackberry Picking’ by Seamus Heaney at Bellaghy Bawn .


Earlier in the week, I was also delighted to discover that one of my poems had been selected in the Fourth Annual Bangor Poetry Competition. It’s now hanging (handwritten and framed) in Blackberry Path Art Studios in Bangor, after I dropped it off yesterday morning, and will be exhibited there for two weeks following the official launch event this Friday evening. All of the poems will be subjected to a public vote to decide the winner, who will then read their work at the upcoming Aspects Festival.

As for the manuscript… my self-publishing journey has definitely begun, as I did yet more editing of the book over the past couple of weeks (I have no idea what number I’m on in edits at this stage… I just know it’s been enough that I’ve lost count!) and I found myself some beta readers, including a few ‘age-appropriate’ ones. (Gulp). So, we’ll see what the kids have to say about it all – and I know they’ll be honest (as kids always are!) and won’t spare my feelings, so fingers are firmly crossed…elf-478330_1280

I delayed emailing about copy-editing and cover design in the interim, as I wanted to get the beta readers sorted first, but did make contact with a few people before the weekend, as I know that most of these guys are unlikely to just be able to take you on as soon as you email them. You need to assume it could be a few months and indeed, the editor won’t be free until November and the cover designer October, so that’s why we plan ahead!

This is no rush job though… there’s still lots to be done and, all being well, I’m aiming for publication in spring 2017. However, we’ll see what happens. No-one knows how long the editing process will take and if it’s going to be done, then it’s going to be done right.

News as I have it…🙂

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Stepping into the unknown…

Back in February 2013, when I started this blog, I was also a good way into writing/editing a children’s book. I can’t actually remember when exactly I began writing it, but the year 2011 keeps popping into my head. So, I spent a couple of years writing and editing said book. The editing, of course, far outweighed the initial writing but if you write, then you’ll know this is the way of it!books-20167_1280

After the umpteenth edit (and having left it to rest several times) I finally sent it out to a few agents and publishers – those who would accept unsolicited manuscripts anyway. I waited to hear back from them and got replies from all but two as far as my memory serves. (I blogged about some of this process so when I get around – very soon I hope – to categorising my blog posts, these will hopefully be easily found!)

The good news was that rather than just a ‘no’ (and I did get a no from all of them), some publishers were kind enough to offer their feedback, which is a little bit like gold dust and a definite softening of the blow. I was told by one of the bigger publishers that I had a ‘great talent’ and ‘a brilliant ability to weave a story’. Another said they could see the potential in my writing and liked the charm of the concept of my story. Yet another added that there was much to like in my manuscript (they called it ‘an interesting work’!), but that it wasn’t quite right for them.

I tell you all this not to gloat – I assure you not – but to give an overview of the journey this manuscript has taken to date. It’s also been viewed by a few traditionally published authors in Northern Ireland that I very much respect, who all also gave me positive feedback on the writing, as well as being edited on and off by myself (still!) since I submitted it way back when (it seems an absolute age…)

Anyway, I’ve spent years working as a journalist and in the past two years, also as a copywriter, after establishing my own business, which has impacted upon my creative writing. (Ever set up and tried to maintain a business? Well, it’s a whole lot of work and that work NEVER stops. But it’s a great thing to be earning a living as a writer as your own boss, after years spent training, and working for other people. However, I digress.)

When I set up my copywriting business (the link to my website is here if you’re interested – no worries if you’re not), I also the very SAME month, got news from the Arts Council NI that I’d received a grant to write a collection of short stories and poetry. This was brilliant news (someone wanted to pay me to write short stories and poetry!), though it totally knocked the children’s manuscript on the head for the next year. And then the year after that, as again – building a business at the same time.

It can sometimes be difficult to switch into fiction writing mode after a day’s constant copywriting (and emailing!!) and this past year I’ve definitely put managing my business ahead of my creative writing work. I’ve still written the odd short story and poem, along with dabbling with another manuscript, but the work output just hasn’t been the same. Nor has the blogging, though I think I’ll keep up with posting fortnightly, or even monthly going into the future as, if it gives me more time to write fiction, then so much the better.

To the present then. I can’t remember how I discovered Catherine Ryan Howard (her blog is here and well, it’s brilliant, so do check it out), but I think it was probably by chance as I was Googling something. I then heard her speak at a self-publishing event in Belfast a couple of years ago (can you see where this is going now…?) and was really impressed by how she spoke and how down to earth and well, sensible, she was. She didn’t beat about the bush (as her blog readers will know) when it came to talking about the realities of self-publishing (SP), and she laid it all out there using examples from her own experience, about what you could expect. It made me think very differently about SP and I realised that, done properly, this could be something to consider.IMG_20160814_164807

Fast forward to now and I’m finally at the stage of – you’ve guessed it – thinking of self-publishing my children’s novel. I recently started re-reading some of Catherine’s blog posts about SP but then remembered she’d compiled all this info in a book, so I hopped over to Amazon to buy what is hitherto going to become known as my SP bible. Self-publishers-to-be – if you don’t have this book in your life, I recommend you get it pronto. It will save you trawling the internet for info which Catherine has collated in one very easy to read volume, it’s self-published, so will give you an idea of what YOUR book might look like, and it’s very handy to turn to when you’re at your computer, rather than flicking between multiple web pages and getting confused.

I read it across two nights and afterwards, my head was swimming with information. However, despite the immense job that self-publishing is (and yes, it takes a lot of hard work to do it properly – and some money too!), it’s spurred me on to really consider SP my own story. I’m either a glutton for punishment, or I could just be someone who’s always dreamed of being a published author, know I’m a fairly good fiction writer (you have to think so to consider SP or publishing in general!) and am willing to invest the time and money into the project to create a book I can be proud of.

This means hiring an editor and a cover designer (read Catherine’s book or blog for her advice on this. You will either laugh or cry but hopefully, you’ll see the sense). I’ve written full-time for the past 10 years and I write short stories, poetry and manuscripts but… when it comes to editing your own book, you cannot do it yourself. You’re just too close to it and, given that it’s been about two years since I read my children’s manuscript in full, once I started reading it again this week (too many edits over the years to count and I’m still not done!), it was as if I’d never looked away from it. I.e. I know it too well.

When I heard Catherine speak in Belfast, I knew I couldn’t afford to SP as I couldn’t afford an editor or cover designer at the time. I think I’m now at the place that I can, so this week, I’ll be emailing people for quotes. Both exciting and scary! I will also be going through Catherine’s book: Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing – with a much finer toothcomb, as I prepare to navigate the world of SP and try to get my book to a publishable form.

Even sharing this news here on my blog feels a little bit too much like commitment (does my book really need to be published…?), but the answer to that is for me, yes, I think it does, and you don’t have to buy it or read it when it comes out (though it would be pretty cool if you did). Perhaps by this time next year, I’ll be posting pictures of me with my SP children’s novel, but if you’re interested in seeing how (or if!) I reach that point, then stick around and you’ll find out here.

In the meantime, I’m also going to be looking at updating this blog a little bit – using Catherine’s book of course (and no, I’m not getting commission from her – it’s just really good and is step-by-step advice). So, wish me luck and sure – we’ll see how it goes…

Have you SP and if so, what have your experiences been?


Filed under Self-publishing

A changing wind

Sometimes, you just have to read a really good book (or three) to make you want to pick up your pen and get to work. Yes, great books can also have the opposite effect, where you think the writing is so good there isn’t much point attempting anything yourself, but usually, reading something I love inspires me to get back to the notebooks.

After all – we should acknowledge our own style and story as being unique and stop comparing ourselves to others. Whatever you write needs you and you alone to write it.


Anyway, I’ve now finished the Fillory trilogy (the books that is – the TV series continues), and it has blown some more wind into my writerly sails. It has reignited my desire to finish the story I’ve been working on since last year and which has been set aside for lengthy periods since then (it could well have been finished long ago). However, I’m not too worried about that, as I’ve written shorter stories and poetry in between and am a firm believer that you need to be in the right frame of mind to write particular tales. I’ve also realised that I find it much easier to write in the winter, when the days are short, the evenings long and chilly, and the fire warm at my feet. I’m by no means a ‘sun person’; I think I just find the atmosphere towards the year’s end more inspirational to my story-telling! (Which is perhaps reflective of the kind of stories I write…)

Anyway, having moved on to a very different type of book for my next read – an Arab novel which is very firmly set in reality – if I want to meander through a more fantastical type of landscape, then at this moment in time, I’ll need to conjure it up myself. And that’s quite ok – it’s like I’ve just been doused with inspiration and I’m ready to let the ideas flow from my head into the pen. I’ve been reminded of what we can achieve with our words and I’m back on form again. And – maybe it’s because our Northern Irish summers sometimes resemble winter, but the mood right now seems just about right…

Now – where’s that notebook…

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Fillory – and further…

If my title makes any sort of sense to you, then you will also be a reader of the Lev Grossman Magicians trilogy – or be watching the 5* TV series inspired by the same. The world of Fillory has been described as being like a Narnia for adults or, if you’re watching the show, it’s been referred to as a grown-up Harry Potter tale. The TV and book versions differ a fair bit in their form, as is to be expected, though their make-up remains very much the same…


My feeling is that, as we all know, there are no really original stories left in this, or any other, world. Hence, there will always be comparisons to those novels which came before. Of course in reality, Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, isn’t really like Hogwarts at all, and Fillory isn’t really like Narnia, though it’s easy to see why they’ve been compared. The ingredients are similar – young people learning magic and travelling to other worlds; a beast out to get them – it’s a new spin on a classic type of tale. Which is, of course, where the author’s skill comes into play – how Grossman makes his stories come alive in fresh and unusual ways.

His fans are pretty high-profile in the writing world, with the likes of Junot Diaz, George R. R. Martin and The New Yorker among the many to rave about the writing. All three books were also previously New York Times Bestsellers – which I love to see for  the fantasy fiction genre.

Usually, I prefer to have read the book before watching a film or TV version of it, as I like to have confirmed the characters and the landscape in my mind before the screen dictates it to me. However, I stumbled upon The Magicians TV series before buying the books, so have actually been reading and watching at the same time – which has made it interesting in terms of seeing how the scriptwriters have adapted the novels. I’m currently on the final part of the trilogy, but there are elements in the TV series which have migrated into the series already – the writers weaving the book narratives into the show in unexpected but very clever ways.

To be so far ahead in the books but to be watching the series at the same time, makes for an intriguing insight into how two types of writers create a story – for the page and for the screen. I can’t say which I prefer, to be honest, as they both tell the story in different ways, each one playing to its audience perfectly.

Lots of novels get adapted for stage and screen these days, so from a writer’s point of view, I think it’s useful to see how much a story may seem to change on screen, yet retain all the essential elements of the tale. Indeed, with TV always keen to add in a dash more drama to the mix, it can really bring a story to life…

I’ll always prefer to read the books – the page, after all, is where every story starts – but it must be nice for an author who’s achieved all they can with a book, to see their imaginings enjoy a second life on screen. I for one, can’t wait to see how it all ends…

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Submission success

Good news this week… one of my short stories has been published in the latest edition of the SHIFT-Lit Derry magazine. I’m looking forward to seeing what other writing lies within and adding it to my reading list! My own story is inspired by the coast and also by someone I know, so let’s hope it goes down well…shift

Summer here in NI heralds the arrival of more than one literary festival and event, though I haven’t been able to get along to much of these so far this year due to work commitments. However, submitting to journals and interviewing authors all helps to keep one inspired and I won’t let the summer pass without making sure I get along to some sort of literary occasion.

In the meantime, I’m still scribbling bits and pieces here and there, and I WILL get that short story finished for the end of June – if only to enjoy the satisfaction of having submitted another piece of work…


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Writing revelations

A good storyteller, like anyone who’s skilled at their craft, makes the art of creating a story look incredibly easy. When we see the finished product – the story, the drawing, or whatever it is that you create – all too often the process of work that produced the end result just isn’t acknowledged.

Even the best writers have multiple drafts of a story floating about before they get it ‘just right’ and are happy enough to put their work out into the world. Even then, they’re usually never completely satisfied that it is what it should be.wallpaper-830417_1280

I’m currently reading Claire Keegan’s book of short stories, Walk the Blue Fields, which is of course, a perfect example of someone who’s great at what they do, but who makes it look deceptively easy.

Does it take away the magic of writing if we make it clear just how many drafts and scribblings out we do in the course of creating a story? Or does it educate readers and make them more appreciative of our work?

As a copywriter, I find that outlining the process of writing and explaining the value of it is of the utmost importance in my day-to-day job. Most people see the finished content you create and assume it was easily done and place little value on what is actually a very valuable commodity. With creative writing however – with novelists and short story writers and poets – do we need the same disclosure? The process is perhaps a little better understood anyway – most people know books get edited, and I’m not sure they’d necessarily buy a novel quicker if they knew it had taken X amount of drafts to create.

Writers of course, are perhaps more interested in hearing about other writers’ habits than the general reading public. I’ve interviewed lots of authors over the years and feedback always references the writing process – we wonder at the number of drafts someone had before they finished their story; we agree with them that mornings are best for writing (for some!) and feel relieved that we’re on the same page in our working styles. IMG_1697

My own writing process has been quite disrupted this week, with an ill dog (I refer you back to my previous post where I mentioned his love of scavenging….), a press launch and work in between. I’ve managed a little reading, but the writing has suffered.

I know my own writing process however, and that I can have periods of ebb and flow as part of this. Ultimately though, I always end up scribbling away in that notebook…

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