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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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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Liar – #FlashFiction

Photo courtesy of – Ronda Del Boccio

He phones home to tell Roxy he’ll be working late but she doesn’t believe him. He’s been secretive lately. Distant. The proposal she desperately hints for never comes.

She waits outside his office, praying he won’t spill out at 6, but he does.

Liar.

Her anger burns as she follows his car to a nondescript house. Her heart cracks as a dirty blonde opens the door. As she creeps to the window and sees him unbuttoning his shirt, taking it off, her tears fall.

She turns away before she sees the woman pick up her needle. Tattoo ‘Marry Me Roxy’ on his back.

 

It’s been weeks since I last took part in Friday Fictioneers, I’m so focused on my wip right now –  but I saw this photo which immediately reminded me of my favourite film, E.T. and knew I had to write a story about somebody phoning home.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly 100-word flash fiction challenge inspired by a photo prompt. You can read the other entries, or join in at host Rochelle’s blog here

If you’re UK based The Sister is currently part of Amazon’s April deals. The kindle is just £0.99 & the paperback just £2. You can find it here

Writing with sound – Placing a reader in the scene #writingtips

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“The world has music for those who listen.” William Shakespeare

My son is home for Christmas from uni with a mountain of both coursework and laundry. Studying media, one of his assignments is to record a two minute piece of writing of his choosing and add any sound effects he thinks should accompany it.

When we last spoke on the phone I knew he’d be doing this and he was on his way to get approval from his lecturer for the piece he wanted to record. What I didn’t know was that piece is the opening to my debut, ‘The Sister’. His lecturer thankfully said he felt right in the scene as he read it and that it is the perfect piece to record.

I’ve written before about bringing the senses into prose when writing (you can read that here). Making the reader feel as though they are right there with the characters, feeling what they feel, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear.

Sound is one of the most powerful senses, believed to be the last thing to go when we die. When I’m out with my dog I never listen to music or scroll through my mobile. Instead, I drink in my surroundings, taking note of where I am and I close my eyes. What can I hear that would place me in my scene? What is unique to it? What can I use in my stories? These are the things the reader needs to hear.

Today, my son and I went to the park with his recording equipment to record the sounds that accompany ‘The Sister’. Although I believe I am mostly mindful, mostly attentive, I was stunned by the multitude of sounds I could pick out when I stood still and really allowed myself to listen.

Layers of noise, all demanding attention from a chainsaw to bird song, kids playing, dogs barking, to the more subtle sounds, the wind against a leaf, the snapping of a twig under footfall in the distance. We’ve had a fabulous afternoon recording and have returned home with a memory card full of noises and I’ve a head full of inspiration.

If you’re writing a story, take a minute to read it back. What sounds would you use if you could? Are you doing enough to set the scene? A reader who feels is a reader who will keep on turning the pagers.

Here’s the sounds we’ve inserted into The Sister: –

Stepping out of my car with heartbreak-heavy legs (car engine, car slowing, stopping, engine cut, car door slam), I zip my jacket (pulling on & zipping a coat) and pull on leather gloves (the stretch of leather gloves being pulled on) before (walking on a hard surface) hefting my spade and bag from the boot (unloading something heavy. A chink of metal): it is time. (footsteps on gravel) My wellingtons slip-slide (footsteps through mud) across the squelching mud to the gap in the hedge. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. I shiver as I enter the forest; it’s darker than I’d thought and I take deep breaths (breathing) of the pine-scented air to steady myself. I fight the urge to go home and come back in the morning, remind myself why I’m here and drive myself forwards. (Walking. Leaves. Snapping twigs).

My smartphone lights the way as I look out for rabbit holes I might fall down. I take giant steps (larger strides) over fallen limbs of trees I’d once have hurdled. At twenty-five I’m not too old to run, but my load is cumbersome; besides, I’m in no rush to get there, I was never supposed to do this alone.

I stop and rest the spade handle against my hip (spade sticking in the ground), splay my fingers and shake out my pins and needles. There’s a rustling in the bushes (leaves rustling) and I have a sense of being watched. My heart stutters (gasp) as two rabbits dart out, (louder rustling) bounding away when they see my light. ‘I’m OK,’ (voice) I reassure myself, but my voice seems loud and echoey, reminding me how alone I am.

My rucksack feels tight across my shoulders and I readjust the straps (the sound of straps sliding) before marching on (more purposeful steps), snapping twigs underfoot (twigs). I’m beginning to think I’ve taken the wrong fork when I reach the clearing with the lightning-struck tree (stop footsteps. Breathing). I wasn’t sure it would still be here, but as I look around it seems nothing has changed – but of course, everything has. Memories of the last time I was here hit me so hard I feel winded. I sink to the ground. (Clothes crinkling as sitting. Dislodging leaves). The dampness of the leaves and earth seep through my trousers, as the past seeps through to my present.

A Million Sales & a HUGE Thank You

 

As many of you know writing The Sister was a way for me to cope with losing my mobility, to attempt to take my mind off my chronic pain. To try to claw my way out of clinical depression. Grace and Charlie, along with the other characters in the book transported me to a different world. A joyful world. And little by little I began to feel better.

When Bookouture offered to publish my debut I felt a mixture of excitement and terror. Before I accepted the deal they were proposing I had a long and frank conversation with my prospective editor. I told her I wasn’t really a writer. Shared the reasons I had started writing and admitted that to me the story was real and all I had to do was to type it up. I wasn’t sure I could ever write another novel again. She reassured me that she thought I could but before I would sign I sat and made a list of everyone I thought might buy the book, I really didn’t want them to invest time into me if no-one would ever read it. I told her I was confident of seventeen sales. She told me Bookouture would try to get me a ‘few more than that.’

This week it’s been exactly two years since The Sister was published and thanks to my editor having more faith in me than I had in myself I’ve since written The Gift, The Surrogate and The Date. Today, I’ve learned that I’ve surpassed the million sales mark in English language books (my nineteen translation deals aren’t included in that figure). You can read the official announcement here. Although I should have the words to express how I feel, I just can’t. As much as I try, I can’t envisage a million anything, even chocolate hob nobs. I’m happy, tearful, and incredibly grateful that at a time in my life when I’d really hit rock bottom I decided to tell a story.

This achievement is very much a team effort so a huge thanks all at my digital and audio publishers, Bookouture, my paperback publishers, Sphere and to my agent Rory Scarfe. I’m also very grateful to my family for their continued support.

But most of all, thanks to the readers who have read, reviewed, shared and brighten up my day with emails and messages, not to mention hanging out with me daily on social media. None of it would have been possible without you.

Louise X

Bookouture Publishing Director Jenny Geras said ‘What Louise has achieved in just two years is incredible. What Louise’s readers constantly tell us is that in a crowded genre, her novels stand out as being the most gripping, the hardest to put down, with the best twists and the most standout hooks. We congratulate her on this amazing sales milestone, which couldn’t be more deserved.’

 

US publication day & over excited characters…

It was well over a year ago now that my fabulous agent called to tell me that Grand Central Publishing in the US were to publish my backlist and my forthcoming books, starting with The Sister.

‘Goodness. Grace and Charlie will be SO excited!’ I said.

There was a short pause before he continued running through the details. He, along with everyone else who knows me, have long since stopped pointing out that the characters in my debut novel aren’t real. Even though I’ve written three books since I penned The Sister, Grace and Charlie are still fully formed and ever present in my mind.

Proofreading the US version was like I’d never been away from the characters and even with the US spellings, and the tweaks to fit the market, it was so familiar to me. It doesn’t seem five minutes since I started writing the story, utilising the thirty minutes I had spare every day while my son had independent reading time.  I started writing to see if I could lift my mental health after acquiring a disability, and subsequently clinical depression in my 30’s. I never once dreamed my new hobby would lead to a career and I feel so blessed.

Today, it’s finally US publication day for the trade paperback of The Sister and admittedly Grace and Charlie aren’t the only ones who are excited! Much of my family live in Texas and they couldn’t be happier that my books will be in stores there.

As well as being available in bookstores, I’m delighted to learn that Barnes & Nobel and Target have some special promotions lined up.  Early trade reviews in Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly have been very kind and I can’t wait for my story, set in a little English village, reach a whole new readership.

Paperback publication day & my hopes for this story!

It’s paperback publication day for The Gift, my second psychological thriller which has already been a global e-book No. 1 Bestseller. I’m SO excited for this book to reach a whole new audience.

The Gift is a story based around cellular memory, the concept that the cells of the body can store memories, and if organs are transplanted, these memories could also be transplanted with them. I first stumbled across cellular memory about fifteen years ago and was intrigued with the concept. Although this isn’t scientifically proven, there are an increasing number of doctors and scientists supporting this theory and further research is being carried out.

Endlessly fascinated I’ve spent years researching, reading up on real life cases where recipients have received donor organs, in particular hearts, and inherited some attributes of the donor whether it is a craving for the donor’s favourite food, or, in more extreme cases, speaking a different language after the surgery that the donor could speak, or suddenly being able to play an instrument the donor could play.

Could this really be happening? Is the heart just a pump or is it something more? It wasn’t that long ago the heart was thought to be the centre of all knowledge and wisdom. Is it more than we think?

I desperately wanted to write a novel around cellular memory but I was wary. It is a subject I felt that deserved sensitively handling. Where there is a transplant, there has to be a loss. A grieving family. A recipient who has perhaps been ill for a long period and the impact that has had on their family and friends. I considered all of these points four years ago when I wanted to start writing a novel and I decided I didn’t have the experience to approach a story that included organ donation with the sensitivity it deserved.

Instead I wrote The Sister, a psychological thriller based around a grieving girl and I found that despite the genre of the book I was able to write it with raw emotion and when readers read it and fed back how connected and empathetic they felt towards the characters, I decided to tentatively start to write Jenna’s story in The Gift.

Jenna is a 30-year-old woman who receives a new heart and begins to have disturbing thoughts and dreams. She becomes obsessed with her donor, Callie’s family, and she doesn’t believe Callie’s accident was as innocent as it was purported to be. Jenna is determined to uncover the truth behind Callie’s death, to bring her bewildered parents the closure they deserve, but as she begins to dig and discover the secrets surrounding Callie, she finds there is someone who wants to silence her, at any cost.

The Gift is fiction, and of course as an author I have taken artistic license with the subject of cellular memory and I’m sure readers will understand the need to do this but I hope I have handled the medical aspect and the loss with accuracy and respect.

My family and I have been on the donor transplant list for years. I know it’s not always something families discuss and it has been humbling to receive emails from readers saying after they read Jenna’s story they sat down and discussed their thoughts and wishes with their loved ones. My hope for The Gift is that it can continue to spark conversations about donation and perhaps encourage someone who might not have previously thought about it to sign themselves up to the register. Signing up really could save lives.

The paperback version of The Gift, published by Sphere (Little, Brown) is now available in all good bookshops as well as Asda, Tesco & Sainsburys. The Tesco version includes an additional short story written exclusively for their customers or you can order the paperback, digital or audio version from Amazon here