3 years in publishing, 10 lessons I’ve learned

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This week marks three years since my debut, The Sister, was published. There was no gentle easing into the publishing industry because, and I am eternally grateful – my first novel soon rose to No. 1 in various countries, spending almost the entire summer in the top spot in the UK. It quickly sold over half a million copies and was snapped up for translation by twenty-five territories, nominated for the Goodreads best debut award, and became the sixth biggest selling book on Amazon in 2016.  As lovely as all this was – and it was – there was no time to sit back and enjoy it, the pressure was on to finish writing my second book, The Gift.

Fast forward to now, over a million sales later, and publication of my fifth thriller, The Family is imminent and yet I still feel as though I’m finding my feet. Often overwhelmed with the thought of having to write more books and yet heartbroken at the thought that one day I might not be in the fortunate position of writing full time. Creating stories is my passion, my reason for getting up in the mornings but, sometimes (generally during a first draft) the cause of my insomnia. Thoughts of ‘how can I make my next book better than my last’ all-consuming.

I have a sense that I know nothing about writing, about publishing and yet I know infinitely more than I did and these are the ten lessons I try to bear in mind.

  • There are readers who will love my story. No matter how daunting it is releasing a new book into the wild, I write stories I would love to read myself and it stands to reason that if my story is one I would love to read, someone else will love it too.
  • There are readers who will hate my story. Negative reviews are inevitable. It doesn’t mean – as I once thought – I should stop writing books because Sandra from Basingstoke doesn’t like them. Not every book will resonate with every reader.
  • The pressure I have felt has been the pressure I have burdened myself with. My agent, my publisher, my readers want future books but no one is chaining me to my desk and forcing me to write (note – that might make a good plot)
  • The world will not stop turning if I don’t ever write another book. My world would be darker, sadder, but if I couldn’t think of a single plot again it really wouldn’t cause the sun to explode.
  • Some books are easy to write. My third – The Surrogate – literally fell from the sky on to the page and I thought I’d finally found the magic formula.
  • Some books are impossibly difficult. My fourth book – The Date – took several false starts and was shoved into the bottom of my drawer multiple times.
  • Social media sometimes brings me down – if I’ve had an unproductive day I avoid twitter as I know that seeing other writers ‘I’ve written thousands of words since breakfast’ posts leave me feeling inferior.
  • My editor is mainly right. Mainly. Not always. Ultimately it is my name on the cover and if I feel strongly that a suggested change is wrong for my characters I will stand up for them. It’s a suggested change, not the law. That said I’m so lucky to have an editor and I’d be a fool to ignore her expertise. A fool!
  • EVERY writer has highs and lows but it’s often only the highs you hear about. No matter what level of success someone has there are still disappointments. Still times the words won’t flow. Self-doubt is ever-present for most creatives. I don’t think that ever fully disappears and nor do I think it should.
  • A dip in sales does not mean the end of a career. Some books sell more than others, some books gain better reviews. All I can do is set out to write my best book every time and never become complacent. I love what I do and I never forget how fortunate I am.

I’ll be giving away some signed copies of The Sister this week so do follow me on my Facebook page for a chance to win one.

 

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The joy I felt holding my first book is something I shall never forget

 

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6 monthly news roundup & an invitation!

It’s been six months since my last news roundup. I can’t believe how quickly the year is flying by. I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine as much as me.

Yesterday, I had a lovely surprise when a box arrived from my publishers, HQ – Harper Collins – full to the brim of proof copies of my forthcoming thriller, The Family. I was overwhelmed and you can see my reaction over on YouTube here.

I’ve never had a proof copy with a specially designed cover before. This gorgeous double cover will be very different from the retail version of the book and is especially for book reviewers and members of the media.

The thought that my story is now winging its way out into the world prior to its publication on October 17th is both nerve-wracking and exciting.

Although the cover hasn’t yet been finalised The Family is now on Amazon (here). I had my first attempted at writing a blurb – what do you think?

COULD ONE MOTHER’S MISTAKE COST HER DAUGHTER EVERYTHING?

Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

I was honoured when Titan books invited me to write a short story for their ‘Exit Wounds’ anthology. To be regarded by the editors as one of the nineteen best crime writers around was a bit… well bonkers really but I’m so happy to have my story – The Recipe – share a book with Mark Billingham, Lee Child and Val McDermid among others. I was reading the other stories on holiday and they are brilliant. You can find it on Amazon here.

On Sunday I’ll be again sharing a stage with the fabulous crime writer Darren O’Sullivan at Earls Barton Literary Festival in Northamptonshire. We’re pictured above at last month’s Deepings Literary Festival. Darren and I are such good friends which makes for our talks being a lot of fun. Rather than a structured script we prefer to chat with the audience making sure everyone goes away knowing everything they wanted to about books, writing, and publishing. Do join us if you can. Tickets are available here.

Aside from books I’ve shared how it feels as a parent when your child suffers from depression in a candid post, you can read here. I’m so proud of my son for being so open about his mental health problems and we both wanted to share a harrowing experience we recently had. Please do share if you think it might help anyone.

I’ve recently come back from a holiday in Lanzarote, where I made friends with this gorgeous stray cat who fell asleep on my dress.
I’m refreshed and ready to start work on my next book. My agent loves the opening I sent him and for the first time ever when I begin writing something new, I already know the twist. Trust me, no-one will see this coming!
Lastly, I wanted to share the stunning German cover for The Date, retitled ‘Her Last Date.’ I’m so pleased with it and it will be published in October.

Aside from my regular blog posts, I’ll be back in a few weeks for another news update to reveal the cover for The Family and some super exciting and unexpected news I can’t quite share yet.

In the meantime enjoy the sunshine,

Louise x

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc6734gTiaU

Inside the home of Literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient – Jose Saramago

 

Lanzarote is one of my most favourite places on earth, coming second only to my dining table when all my family are seated around it. Partly because it’s home to one of my hero’s – Cesar Manrique – but more about him in a forthcoming blog; today’s post is all about literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Saramago (1922-2010) whose house I visited last week.

There’s something very special about standing in the places other authors once stood. Jose’s home is beautiful. A world away from the cramped space where I write my thrillers.


If you’re not familiar with him, Jose Saramago was a Portuguese writer, once described by Harold Bloom as ‘the most gifted novelist in the world’. Over two million copies of his novels have been sold and he’s been translated into twenty-five languages. When the Portugues government ordered the removal of his novel ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’ from the Aristeion Prize shortlist – claiming the work was religiously offensive – Jose moved to Lanzarote where he resided until his death.

Inspiringly, although Jose supported himself through journalism, his career as an author didn’t take off until the publication of his fourth book when he was sixty. I wasn’t published until I was in my 40’s and I thought I’d changed career quite late in life. There’s hope for all aspiring writers out there!

This is his study inside of the house, although it isn’t where he wrote his books.

And not surprising with this fabulous view to distract him…

But there was a fine collection of pens.

And of course, a Nobel Peace Prize displayed on the wall.

A super tidy desk, the legs of which were covered in teeth marks where his dogs had chewed them.

The whole house had a cosy, lived in feel. The lounge was just as he’d left it. His current reads on the coffee table. The walls covered with paintings based on his books which made me long for a painting based on one of my books!

My heart melted when I learned all the clocks in the house were stopped at four o’clock because that was the time he met his wife.

Jose’s library was jaw-droppingly impressive. There are 15,000 books in his collection. He insisted that people were extremely careful with books stating there were pieces of the author on each and every page. His wife insisted that female authors had their own section as she very strongly felt women deserved better than for their novels to stand side by side with male authors many of whom didn’t respect women or their work.

This is where Jose wrote.

Apparently, every morning he would rearrange his desk and reread what he’d written the day before. Then he’d begin to write, never stopping to edit.

After lunch every day he’d swim in his indoor pool.

Before spending each afternoon sitting in his favourite garden chair, gazing out to sea, meditating and thinking of his wip. Jose formed the words in his head he would write the following day and rarely had to redraft the way that most writers **me** seem to. There was a big lesson here that to spend a few hours writing without distraction is far more productive than a day spent at a desk hopping on and off social media as I do.

After the tour we were given a cup of Portuguese coffee to take into the garden, although Jose’s cat had claimed the best chair.

You can find out more about Jose Saramago and how to visit his home here.

‘Did you hear the one about the author…’ – Come & talk books with us! Tea, cake & chat.


 

I’m super happy to be appearing at a couple of fabulous literary festivals in the next few weeks, with my good friend, fellow psychological thriller writer, Darren O’Sullivan. I love meeting readers at events and appearing with a friend makes it extra enjoyable. If you’ve been to see Darren and me before you know to expect a LOT (sometimes too much) laughing as well as lots of talk about books and writing. We love the audience to join in our conversation and it’s all very relaxed and informal. Do come if you can.

First up is Deepings Literary Festival in Market Deeping on the 23rd-26th May. There’s a stellar line up including Sophie Hannah who I’m a little bit star-struck to meet! Darren and I are on Friday at 10.30am (fabulous blogger Linda Hill will be keeping us under control) which gives us the rest of the day to eat much cake and catch everybody else’s talk, including Barbara Copperthwaite’s. You can view the programme and book tickets here.

On 9th June we shall be in the beautiful village of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, at 10.30. We appeared here last year and even if you don’t like books it’s worth the trip for the carrot cake! The festival runs from 7th – 9th June. I can’t wait to catch Sue Moorcroft and Jane Isaac who are always entertaining as well as meeting Cara Hunter who writes such excellent books. You can view the programme and book tickets here.

Pop along and say hello – we’d love to meet you!

An open letter to the writer who told me I’d likely NEVER be published

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Hello,

While I was going through some papers I found a report you’d written on my first novel and as I read it I felt incredibly sad. You probably won’t remember it, or me, but in 2015 you almost crushed my dreams.

Almost.

I’d longed to be a writer much of my life but, always lacking in confidence, being published seemed unachievable. I didn’t have a degree, any A Levels. I didn’t have the courage to sign up for a writing course.

In my 30’s an accident left me with a disability and my life radically changed. I then spent several years struggling with chronic pain, and my mood until I started writing a story, then entitled ‘Dear Grace’ about best friends, Grace, and Charlie.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I had something to get up for. A purpose. Often I was awake throughout the night, lonely and uncomfortable but now I had my manuscript – a world I could escape to and I escaped often.

I felt a feeling of immense pride when I finished my first draft but then came a bereavement, one of the people I loved most in the world suddenly gone. My depression came crashing back and I didn’t write for a long, long time.

In 2015 I reread my story and a tiny ember of hope began to smoulder. I thought it had potential but I was plagued with self-doubt.

Could I write?

Who could I ask?

It took much courage, several glasses of wine and all of our savings to send my manuscript off to a well-known organisation who offered critiques. When I heard you would be reading my story – someone who reviewed books for a living – I felt delighted.

Until I received your feedback.

Your report started by saying Writing fiction is a long hard slog for anyone and the chances of getting published are very slim.

Immediately I felt deflated, stupid for ever thinking I could achieve my dream. Assuming that for you to have told me it was unlikely I’d ever get published when I hadn’t asked for your advice nor was it something the agency listed as including in the report, must mean my writing was bad.

Very bad.

After your feedback on my story which you weren’t keen on, you ended your letter with ‘you show some flair but I think, bluntly, you need to face up to how difficult it is to get published. You may want to consider self-publishing. Traditional book deals from publishers are increasingly hard to come by. I’m sorry not to be more encouraging and I wish you the best.

Tears rolled down my face as I packed away my manuscript and my dreams for another six months as I spiralled back into depression.

I am writing this to let you know that dreams are fragile and hope easily extinguished. I googled you before I began writing this post and you still critique for the same agency. Please, please think twice before telling someone how impossible it is to be published if they haven’t asked you for publishing advice. You just might make them feel they aren’t good enough to write. Not everyone has an endgame of seeing their words in print and if they do not everyone is chasing a traditional deal. You never know what led them to the story they want to tell and what it means to them. I overcame depression largely because of my characters and it was something I enjoyed. You made me think I was wasting my time. That I shouldn’t. I couldn’t.

But I did.

‘Dear Grace’ became ‘The Sister’ and it went on to spend several weeks at No.1 in various countries, quickly sold well over half a million copies, has been translated into 25 languages and nominated for an award. Three other novels have followed, all with huge success. My fifth is due to be published this October.

Publishing is so subjective and although you thought I couldn’t, I’m so pleased I found a publisher who thought I could.

And for any writers reading this, don’t let anyone lead you to believe that you can’t and if they do, prove them wrong.

From Louise

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What’s a writing mentor & why would you need one?

 

When I began writing my debut, The Sister, I was lucky enough to secure a place on the fabulous WoMentoring scheme which pairs fledgling female writers with experienced mentors. My experience working through my first few chapters with the super kind, and endlessly patient Louise Walters was hugely beneficial and I blogged about that here and here. Now, with four novels under my belt I’m paying it forward by mentoring through the scheme. Although I’ve been drawing on my own experience as a mentee I wanted to make sure I was offering my mentees the right help and support, and so I signed up for a ‘Learn to Mentor’ course with Cathy Grindrod via the amazing Writing East Midlands. I got a huge amount out of the course, both personally and professionally, and am delighted Cathy is joining me today for a chat about mentoring.

Cathy, when I first applied for a mentor via The WoMentoring Project, I wasn’t really sure what one was or what to expect. How would you explain it?

A Mentor is someone who is skilled in and has good experience of whatever area the mentee needs help with. There are a few definitions, but in essence, it’s guiding someone to achieve their own goals and to overcome whatever obstacles they feel are in their way.

And everyone must have different obstacles?

Exactly. It’s a different process for each mentee, because each person has unique needs and ways of working. Mentoring usually has a specific focus – in my case, writer progress, but progress in the context of the writer’s wider life balance, rather than centred just on the work on the page.

My initial hope was that Louise Walters would help me write my book! That said she was very hands on with editing. I learned a lot from her feedback.  Do you feel editing is part of mentoring?

To my mind, editing suggests that the relationship is about the mentor helping the writer to restructure a piece of work and focuses on the words on the page. Mentoring can include an element of helping a writer to shape work and discussing their concerns. It can also include feedback on specific pieces of work if required, but is only a part of the process, if involved at all. If a writer wants my opinion on a piece of work, we discuss more about what is actually needed from me and my goal is to move the writer towards having confidence in their OWN editing process, so that they can become a better writer and editor of their own work.

And that makes a better writer?

Exactly. A mentee learns far more about writing in this way, than someone imposing a structure on their work without looking at what the writer is really seeking from the process.

Do people also get confused between mentoring and manuscript assessments?

They can but at the start of their sessions we set up a joint contract so we’re both clear about what they expect from the process. This can include looking at work if the writer wants it, but this will become a much wider discussion than a simple assessment (as I would give in a writer surgery, for example) and will be short pieces of work  I read in between sessions, rather than, for example, a whole manuscript assessment, which for me, is a different process from mentoring.

My heart sunk during the course when you said those dreaded two words – ‘role play’ but being the mentee and talking through my frustrations with writing led me to completely overhaul the way I work. I’m more focused and productive and am much better at time management than I was. Before this, I’d have thought mentoring was better suited to new writers but this isn’t the case, is it?

 No. It’s common to be approached by people who have been writing for some time, often attending writing groups and workshops/courses, before they seek mentoring. This means they know the territory, something of how the writing world works, and are at a point where they want to progress further but don’t know how or don’t feel they are able to without help. This isn’t always the case, though.

Do you think mentoring works better when the mentee has some experience?

I think it works best when a writer has a good grasp of the basics of writing technique and understands that writing is a continuing apprenticeship and has a realistic view of where they might pitch themselves and what success constitutes for them (success as a writer is a different concept for every writer, and does not always involve wanting publication. However, I have recently mentored people who are much more at the beginning of their journey, in one case simply wanting to find a way to edit work better and to enjoy editing rather than always dreading it. I have also mentored people who are writing in isolation, where signposting and supporting as they join others to write and gain feedback becomes a large part of the mentoring process. Often mentoring works best when people reach a point of change or ‘stuckness’ and want to move forward but need guidance to do so. I think rather than being at a ‘stage of your writing life’ when you can most benefit from mentoring you need to be at a ‘stage in your thinking’ where you have formed a good idea of what you want to achieve as a writer and what your goals might be before you start the mentoring relationship.

 That’s great. So if someone has decided to look for a monitor, what questions should they ask?

Beyond the obvious – charges, length of sessions, process etc – you will need to know something about the mentor in terms of their writing, their experience and their approach. You should check that their idea of ‘mentoring’ is the kind of mentoring you want – particularly that it is goal oriented and not completely focused on your work on the page. Finding the right mentor is crucial to your development – do meet first. Often mentors are able to offer a ‘getting to know you’ free initial meeting. Your instincts often tell you what is right for you. I would always be happy to be asked by a potential mentee ‘tell me about what you do and about your writing’.

 Once you’ve found the right mentor, how is it structured?

I can’t speak for everyone but mentoring normally takes place over a period of months, typically a six session package over 6-12 months with a free initial chat about what is required, to gain background and an idea of how you might work together. I largely prefer to offer one to one sessions in person of up to 2 ½ hours each time, but other mentors also work by skype and telephone.

I mentor because I’ve been a mentee and it changed my life, giving me the tools and confidence to write a publishable book . Why do you mentor and have you ever been a mentee? 

I was offered a series of sessions with a mentor as part of my early career as a Literature Development Officer. I was also a writer. It was about life balance and achieving my own goals as well as helping others and how to approach this. It was the single most useful intervention I have ever received – specific to me, delivered by a person who knew the territory well, and made me focus on myself and my own needs, sometimes challenging me to look further, and causing me to change the way I thought about myself and my writing. When Mentor Training was offered by National Association of Writers in Education, I jumped at the chance to learn more about mentoring others, as I believed in it so totally as a process.

I can tell by the way you taught our course so passionately, how much you enjoy it.

I do! Mentoring work suits me because I have always enjoyed meeting and working with different people and working alongside a mentee for a sustained period of time is always a privilege. The worlds of writing and emotional health are the worlds I am most interested in, and although I am in the guiding role as a mentor, I also learn a lot from the people I am mentoring, and this feeds back into developing my process.

Lastly, Cathy. What’s the most common obstacle you see writers face?

It’s keeping faith in their writing and themselves and because I know this territory well in my own practice, I can use my own experience to inform the conversation.

Haha – me too! Thanks so much for your time.

Find out more about Cathy, or contact her via her website.

Cathy Grindrod is an experienced Creative Writing facilitator, mentor and life coach. She is a former University of Nottingham Creative Writing Lecturer and was awarded an Honorary MLitt by Derby University in 2014 for her work to promote wellbeing  through writing across Derbyshire communities. She runs The Writer Highway™ –a programme of writer support for people who love creative writing, wish to progress and want to give themselves and their writing more time and space. After 25 years as a successfully published and broadcast writer of poetry, plays and memoir, including a term as Derbyshire’s Poet Laureate, she has experienced all the joys and pitfalls of the writing life, and now enjoys sharing all she has discovered about writing and wellbeing with other writers.

 

 

 

What REALLY happens at an author Christmas party… #HQmasParty

Authors are often solitary creatures, introverted. Much of our days spent alone with only a laptop (and in my case a cat) for company.

B A Paris & Louise Jensen

Every so often there’s a chance to get out, a literary festival, a bookish event, a party. Today, was my publisher’s author Christmas bash and it felt odd to be discarding my pyjamas in favour of real, actual, normal clothes (if you can call tinsel, Rudolph earrings and a present fascinator normal clothes.)

Darren O’Sullivan

Alice Feeney, Louise Jensen

An author party isn’t just an excuse for drinking (okay it is a bit). It’s a chance to catch up with old friends and make some new. To connect. To realise that however alone we can sometimes feel, we all have the same fears, not matter what stage of writing we are at; that we’ll run out of ideas; that our current book won’t be as well received as out last. We all have the same love/hate relationship with our current WIP.

Louise Mangos & Roz Watkins

After a civilised start to the evening, with a gorgeous meal in the London Bridge Hotel, we headed over to the News Building, which houses Harper Collins. On the 17th floor we were met by caterers with glasses of prosecco and canapés and gazing out across the stunning river views I felt a million miles from home.

Lisa Hall, Louise Jensen, Darren O’Sullivan

The writing community is super supportive and one I’m very grateful to be part of. Tomorrow even though I’ll be back in my editing cave, back in my pyjamas, I’ll know I’m not alone.

Louise Jensen & Darren O’Sullivan

Vicky Newham & B A Paris

Louise Jensen & Roz Watkins

Darren O’Sullivan, Lisa Hall, Louise Jensen, Alice Feeney, Mel McGrath, Louise Mangos

Phaedra Patrick & Lisa Hall

B A Paris, Phaedra Patrick, Louise Jensen, Diane Jeffrey, Sally Gardner

How many authors can you fit in a lift..?