Jennifer Gilby Roberts

Women's Fiction/Chick Lit Author

Guest Post by Julie Shackman: What’s the Best Part of Being an Author?

Today we have a guest post from author Julie Shackman.  Take it away, Julie:

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“What Is The Best Part of Being an Author?” P1020433

I got asked this very question just a couple of days ago.

For me, it has to be receiving feedback from readers. When people tell you that they’ve read your novel   and it made them laugh out loud; almost shed a tear or look back fondly at the past, the feeling of satisfaction defies belief.

Something that you’ve pored over. Struggled with. Enjoyed one minute and felt exasperated with the next. It’s finally finished and out there and people are actually reading it. You’re sharing your imagination and the readers are choosing to be part of that.

I felt happy but somewhat sad too when I wrote “The End” on “Rock My World”. It’s a bit like saying goodbye to old friends.

But then to receive such lovely e-mails and reviews from people who spent their hard-earned cash on “Rock My World” – it just makes it all worthwhile.

Thank you.

Julie

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Julie’s first novel is Rock My World.

Rock My World New Cover - 27 March 2014Ruby Cameron is an ambitious reporter for a local paper where she is fed scraps of news, and lives with a man whose “idea of living dangerously is to leave the heating on when we pop out to the shops”. But after catching her squeaky clean boyfriend in flagrante delicto she ups sticks and moves into her own small home, only to discover the ghostly presence of a cheeky rock star who becomes her confidant as the dynamics of her small town, and her feelings about her dashing new boss, begin to throw up more questions than she can answer.

Will Ruby discover who she really is, and perhaps more importantly, who she wants to be?

Published by Not So Noble Books.

Buy Rock My World on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and other Amazon sites.

Join Julie on Twitter, Facebook

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My Life as a Writer

This was written as a guest post for Chick Lit vs Fantasy

Why I Became A Writer

It wasn’t really a decision.  I wrote stories as a kid, just because it was fun.  As a teenager, I belonged to a fan forum for the TV show Farscape and a number of us wrote stories.  Partly because we wanted to and partly because we were interested in one of the minor characters and there wasn’t that much fanfiction about him.  We turned into a mini writers’ group, all encouraging each other.  That’s when I wrote my first stuff that was actually worth reading.

Writing an original novel was on my long-term to-do list, as it is for a lot of people.  At 20, taking some time out after finishing school, I decided I was going to do it.  So I did.  That was The Dr Pepper Prophecies.  Five years later (on another gap year), I wrote After Wimbledon.  At 30, I discovered I could publish to Kindle and suddenly I was an author.

What I Like About It

There are two kinds of really great times to be a writer.  One is when someone else tells you that they loved your work.  The second – just as important – is when you read back something you wrote ages ago and think, ‘This is good.  I’m proud I wrote this.’

As a stay-at-home mum, it’s great to have a job that’s completely flexible, although I could use a few more hours in the day!  Trying to fit in all the writing, editing and marketing necessary to be successful is very difficult.  There’s so much I would like to do that I just don’t have time for.

What I Dislike

Getting bad reviews is never fun.  It’s impossible to write a book that everyone will like, so you have to accept that some will come.  Most of them are fair, but occasionally you get someone who wants to hurt.  Sometimes they succeed.

With each book – no matter how many good reviews your previous ones have got – you live in fear that no one will like it.  You have to keep letting your babies go and hope they find a place in the world.

Overall

Having your work out there is very cool and I think it’s fantastic that anyone can publish these days.  Plenty of great work gets turned down by traditional publishers because it’s a bit different, or because they just can’t afford to take a chance on an unknown author.  Now you can publish your work yourself, for free if you like (although most writers fork out money for things like professional cover design), and find your audience.  There’s one out there for everything, although it may be small.

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Best of This Blog (So Far!)

I can’t believe I’ve been blogging almost 7 months!  With that in mind, I thought I’d do a recap of some of the best posts on this blog, in case you missed them:

Most Popular Posts (that are still relevant)

Posts About The Dr Pepper Prophecies

Posts About After Wimbledon

Posts About Writing

Author Interviews

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Not-Good-Enough-Itus

I did an interview – yet to be posted – where I was asked how being published changed things for me as a writer.  I answered that it increases the pressure on you.

First, people who like your work want you to write more.  And quickly, because they can read a novel much, much quicker than you can write and edit it.  If you don’t have unlimited time (who does?), this piles the pressure on.  How do you fit in writing time for the next book when marketing the current ones takes up so much time? (And you have no idea how much is involved if you haven’t self-published yourself.  Seriously, it’s a full time job by itself.)  When I wrote The Dr Pepper Prophecies and After Wimbledon, I basically had nothing else to do.  For TDPP I was studying in France: taking classes in the morning and writing in the afternoons and evenings.  For AW, I was travelling around Australia and spent a lot of time writing in my bunk.  Now I have a home, a husband and a child to look after.  Oh, and did I mention we’re buying a house and preparing ours for sale?  I want to write more.  I have plenty of ideas, just not the time or energy to get them down on paper.

Second comes the not-good-enough-itus.  The thing is, people actually pay to read my work.  And it’s read by people who don’t know me, will probably never know me, and have no incentive to sugar-coat their opinions.  It’s no fun being told that your work is crap.  Or having it returned.  Publishing anything is scary.

Now, you’re probably thinking that having two, generally well-received, novels completed would take away that fear.  Not a bit of it.  People keep saying scary things like ‘you’re only as good as your next book’.  And bear in mind, I wrote TDPP and AW a long time ago.  The first draft of TDPP is over a decade old.  AW’s is five now.  When I published TDPP – largely on a whim – I hadn’t written any fiction in years.  What if I’ve lost my writing ability?  What if I’ve changed too much in the interim to be able to repeat my success?

My current project is also a bit of a deviation from my novels.  As I wrote before, I’m using my experience as the mother of a premature baby in a story.  It’s something I felt I needed to write, but it’s not classic chick lit fare.  In fact, I’m classing it as women’s fiction.  It’s not a comedy, although I’ve tried to keep it light.  Will anybody actually want to read it?  Or will everyone decide that my new work just doesn’t live up to their expectations and ignore me from here on out?

Apparently, Stephen King threw the first part of Carrie in the bin and it was only rescued by his wife.  They say writers just can’t judge their own work.  The trouble is, nothing you write will appeal to everyone, so even a few outside opinions aren’t enough to bank on.  What I really need to do is get everyone in the world to read my new work and see what the majority think.  But then there would be no one left to buy it.  Hmmm, tricky…

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Writing Chick Lit

I was rather tickled to come across a link to a two-day course on how to write a chick lit novel.  Sadly it was in Sydney and, as much as I’d love to go back there, there is no chance I’m taking a toddler on a 24 hour plane journey.  It was enough of a trial just by myself.

Anyway, it turns out that you can also buy books on the subject:

The Chick Lit Cookbook: A Guide to Writing Your Novel in 30 Minutes a Day by Alicia de los Reyes

See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs

Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley

The Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs

If you are considering writing chick lit, my advice would be to:

* Read (duh)
Particularly the most successful authors, so that you understand what your audience expects.

* Write whatever you want to write
The important thing is to get going, not to worry about what will sell.  Think about that when you’ve proved to yourself that you can complete a novel (or a novella, or a short story – whatever you’re aiming at).

* Don’t obsess about being original
Again, the important thing is to start.  If you convince yourself that you need to redefine the genre on your first go, the chances are you’ll never begin, let alone finish.  It is perfectly okay to start with something in the style of your favourite author.  I wrote The Dr Pepper Prophecies very much in the Sophie Kinsella style, but as I write more I’m starting to find my own.

* “Don’t get it right, get it written”
Advice I received on a writing course, which I have found extremely valuable.  Don’t try to find the perfect words, the perfect opening scene… the perfect anything in fact.  Do a rough draft.  Once you have the whole thing down on paper, then start trying to make it perfect.  (NB be aware that it never will be – and that’s okay).

Anyone else want to share their tips?

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How I Got Started Writing: The Fanfiction Route

I did an interview recently where I was asked about how I got started writing and I said I began writing fanfiction.  This is fiction based on someone else’s work – TV shows, films, book, comics… anything really.  You take the established characters and/or settings and make up your own stories about them.  It’s a really great way to get into writing fiction, for several reasons:

1. You Don’t Have to Do Everything
If you struggle with creating characters or settings, you can borrow existing ones while you work on your ability to plot, write dialogue, describe scenes etc.

2. People Already Care About the Characters
Half the battle is getting readers to care about the world you’ve created.  With fanfiction, they already do.

3. There’s Plenty of Feedback Available
If you are writing in a ‘world’ that’s active (i.e. a book or show that’s popular right now), you can find a lot of other people who are reading fanfics based in it.  I’ve found those on fanfiction.net fabulous at leaving reviews and encouraging each other to keep going with their stories.

4. There’s No Minimum Length
Not only are there no official limits, but, with the settings and characters already established in readers’ minds, there is much more scope for short ‘drabbles’.  Some collections of these are extremely popular.  So if all you can manage right now is the odd 100 words, there’s an audience for that.

Bialar-CraisI actually began by joining a forum.  I got very into a TV show called Farscape, in particular a supporting character by the name of Captain Bialar Crais (for purely artistic reasons, of course ;-)).  I can’t honestly remember how I came to join, but I’m glad I did.  There I met a group of wonderful women, many of whom are still friends today.  I even went out to stay with one in the US (exactly the way you’re not supposed to do with people you meet on the internet).

Many of us wrote stories.  We posted them in the forum and encouraged each other, especially when writer’s block came to call.  Some of them turned into series – in fact one particular series stretched to several novels’ worth of story.  The author later had it bound into a book, in the days before CreateSpace when that meant considerable expense.  She is now a professional writer.

My first fic must have been a few thousand words long.  It was mostly dialogue, with a dramatic plot and not much else to recommend it.  If I read it now, I’m sure I would cringe.  But it was a start.  My fellow forumites found nice things to say about it and so I kept writing.  And got better.

That kind of community is invaluable in encouraging a writer who is still finding their feet.  Your work does not need to be polished to find fans.  I’ve followed stories which were very far from perfect, but still caught my interest.  As long as you have something to offer, you can find some fans to support you while you become a better writer.  And you will, as long as you keep writing.

If you would like to write, but are having trouble getting started, I recommend that you try fanfiction.  Pick a world you love and write something.  Then post it for other fans to read.  Then write another.  Some writers have accidentally written novels just working chapter by chapter.  Some have even written epics…

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On Writing

The truth is, I’m not a natural writer.  In the world there are natural story makers, natural speakers and natural writers.  The natural speakers give speeches and motivational talks and the natural writers do non-fiction.  Those who are natural story makers and natural speakers are the ones who tell amazing stories around the camp fire or to their kids.  Those who are natural story makers and natural writers create the most incredible fiction.

Being a natural story maker only, like me, means that you easily create characters and plots but are quite happy for these to live in your head.  You don’t feel the drive to write them down as those who are also natural writers do.  I have characters who have been living in my head for years and will probably never make it onto paper.  These are very useful for memorable names on internet banking, but not a lot else.

I do go through phases when I emulate a natural writer, but they are too few and far between to be relied on.  When I wrote my first two novels, The Dr Pepper Prophecies and After Wimbledon, I was at points in my life where I had lots of free time and no responsibilities to speak of and could focus all my energy on getting the stories onto paper.  Now I’m faced with writing a third novel in very different circumstances.  I have a husband and toddler who demand my attention and I rarely have time and energy simultaneously.  This one will be a much bigger challenge than the first two, so forgive me if it takes a while to finish.

On the upside, I wrote 3000 words plus a couple of blog posts today, so maybe I’m going into another phase.  Here’s hoping!

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On Letting Your Babies Go

I read a quote from a writer a while back that writing a book is like being pregnant: by the end, you’re just desperate to push that baby out.  This is true, but then once you’ve done it you panic.  Your baby is now out in the world.  And, unlike with an actual baby, people are not all going to coo over it.  Some people won’t like it.  And, sooner or later, someone is going to give it a one star review and tell everyone else that it’s not worth the space on their Kindle.

You try not to take it personally, but it’s hard.  Because anything you write tells people a lot about you.  Whether you meant it to or not, your story will give away a lot about your values, interests and how you see the world.  One of my new friends commented that she felt she really knew me after reading my first novel.  She probably knows a lot more than would have come up in casual conversation.  Maybe even some things that I didn’t mean anyone to find out.

With book two, you have a new fear.  Maybe you’re a one-hit wonder and every review will end with ‘not as good as the first one’.  As if putting the first one out there wasn’t scary enough.  Plus I’ve spent loads of money on the snazzy cover – will I ever make it back?

There have been times when I’ve wished I’d never hit publish on The Dr Pepper Prophecies.  It had been living quite happily on my computer for ten years.  After Wimbledon had never even made it out of the notebook (like TDPP, I wrote the first draft longhand).  Publishing is frightening and stressful and I’ve done an awful lot of work to get reviews and publicity.  So much for “passive income”.

Still, I soldier on.  I’ve even started on Book 3.  Got about 5,000 words so far.  First I have to finish it.  Then I can start on the next round of panic that everyone will hate it.

I don’t recommend this as a career choice.

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