Friday, May 25, 2012

You Show Me Your Royalty Advance Cheque, And I’ll Show You Mine!

Or Why You Should Never Be Embarrassed About Writing What You Love

In my teenage years I was made to feel that it was somehow shameful and extremely uncoool to either read or write romances. Particularly of the Mills & Boon variety. And not just by that school librarian who confronted me in the school library and forcibly took away my current stash of Mills & Boon stories, replacing them with “proper” books, or by that English teacher who marked down from A to B the short romance I’d offered as my creative writing project because it was “too women’s magazine.”
My peer group, my school friends, also found it pretty hilarious and would tease me mercilessly. At my part-time job (I was an usherette at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield) the front-of-house manager and my coworkers also took great delight in laughing at me for my choice of reading matter. Not because any of these people were bullies, or somehow bad, because they weren’t. They were good people. But in those days the reading or writing of romances was perceived as being somehow less worthy, not literary, too trashy. And anyway, so went the common wisdom, how easy these books were to write. Anyone could write one!
I got the message. I felt named and shamed. And peer-group pressure is a tricky thing to deal with when you are only sixteen or seventeen years old.
I still went to the second-hand book exchange in Sheffield market with my grandmother, where we would exchange a bag of Mills & Boon books we’d already read for a new stash. I still devoured these romances with eagerness and delight. But I did it in secret.
And from that moment all reading I did on the bus or anywhere else in public comprised only what was considered to be worthy literature written by “real” writers, like E. M. Forster, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence. And so on. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed reading all kinds of books of many genres, whether they were fictional or not (and still do), but I still loved romances.
What was wrong with me? The answer to that was absolutely nothing. It was society’s perception of what was considered good reading that was wrong, but I had to grow up a bit more and develop a thicker skin before I could work that out.
Several years later, when my children were small, I decided to find out just how easy it was to write a Mills & Boon romance. The answer to that: not at all easy. Over the course of ten years I wrote about twenty stories for Mills & Boon, and they were all rejected. And after some time spent attending professional writing workshops, and time spent honing my craft, I submitted—and had accepted for publication—my first romantic comedy.

And if anyone derides me these days for writing trashy, worthless books, my answer is this: “You write a romance, get a literary agent, have the book published, and then come back and tell me how easy it was for you.”

Thanks Michelle Cunnah!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Presenting A Professional Image – Part 2

Carlie Cullen has agreed to share her thoughts on the business side of writing. It is something that many people struggle with, and unless you can master at least the basics you won't get far.

In Part One, I wrote about attitude and how some writers don’t present themselves to beta readers and editors in a professional manner. I also mentioned in passing how we need to market ourselves and network. In this post, I wanted to share something I learned from a good friend of mine, Beth Hautala.


I follow Beth’s blog and some months ago she posed a question about whether or not writers should have business cards. This simple question really got the grey matter in gear and I gave it serious consideration.
I procrastinated a little on this point, swaying first one way then another until I decided to go to FantasyCon UK last September. When I looked at the website and saw the sort of people who would be attending, the proverbial light bulb illuminated in my brain.

If I wanted to network with industry professionals and make a favourable impression, I needed something for them to remember me by. So I decided to get some business cards printed.
Around the same time, I was looking for an avatar that was memorable (for all the right reasons), eye-catching and something I could relate to that would also signify my genre of writing. I wanted something I could build my brand around. I began searching free images on the internet and found the beautiful lady that now adorns my blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts. I also had the same image printed onto the business cards.

At FantasyCon, I met agents, publishers and other writers and began handing out my cards. Without exception, everyone favourably commented on the amazing image on my cards; it stood out! Most of the cards I received were bland and uninteresting – there was nothing in them to connect to, nothing memorable – so it begs the thought, is that person as unmemorable as their card suggests?

Something as simple as a business card can make such a huge difference as to how you, as a person and a writer are perceived. Do you want your card to fade into the background amongst a pile of other non-descript cards, or do you want to make a statement? Do you want to be remembered? You can still present a professional image with a card that pops.
I was so glad I made the decision to get cards printed and to go for a design that singled me out from the crowd. A few publishers and agents actually commented on how few authors actually took the trouble to get cards printed, let alone ones that made such an impact. They told me it was a professional way of approaching my ‘writing business’ and wished more writers would adopt that kind of attitude.

You never know when an opportunity to give out your cards will present itself. Book fairs, local book shops (especially if they have a book signing), writing groups, and conventions are all fertile ground for networking and getting your name known. Recently, at a restaurant I was talking to my companions about my novel and a complete stranger came over and started talking to us about it. Apparently, they love books in the genre I’ve written my novel and asked if I had any information on it. I handed her my card and she asked for a couple extra to pass to friends. Hopefully, this chance meeting will result in a few fans for my novel – who knows?
So, from something as simple as reading Beth’s question, I have now created a brand for myself, one that, even now, attracts comments on Twitter and Facebook, but above all, a professional persona as a writer. For less than £10.00 (US $16), I had 250 cards printed, full colour, printed one side, with a layout designed by me exactly as I wanted it. A small price to pay considering the impact – wouldn’t you agree?

Footnote: Since having the cards printed, I’ve had 100 postcards printed as well. One the front is my lovely lady, the title of my novel, name and contact number (all in full colour) and on the back (black on white printing) is a synopsis of my book along with further contact details. Something else with my brand on that I can hand out – and the real good part . . . they were free when I placed a new order for business cards!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Carlie!