Harper Adams in Edgmond, Shropshire, was the venue for this year’s excellent RNA conference, and the perfect ambiance it proved to be.
Before the conference proper began, RNA members gave talks and held workshops in the Wellington Library on the Thursday, and on the Friday morning, there was a highly successful ‘Love of the Past’, meet-the-author and book fair event at Blists Hill in the Victorian Town. To give you a flavour of the occasion, I’ve captured some of the magnificent costumes worn by the historical authors who participated in the event.
And finally from Blists Hill, no photographic record of an RNA event is complete without at least one photograph of a pair of shoes …
Moving on to the first day of the conference …
What better thing to do on a hot summer evening than gather together on the grass outside one of the houses in which we were staying. After dinner on the Friday evening, we did just that.
Now on to some of the talks I attended.
The evening draws to an end …
For those who stayed on, the last afternoon begins…
And on the final evening …
All there is left to say is, Roll on RNAConf15!
Over and out!
I’ve known Heather Rosser for more than ten years. During that period of time, I’ve watched as her novel, In the Line of Duty, has grown from its inception to its publication a few weeks ago.
I’m delighted, therefore, to welcome Heather to my blog this week. Unusually for me, I intend to step back and allow her to speak to you herself. So it’s over to you, Heather!
‘Sorry, Liz, that you were unable to come to my First World War ‘street party’ to celebrate the launch of In the Line of Duty, but I know you were there in spirit! Oxford Writers Group, family and friends rallied to make it a lovely occasion.
I guess all families have skeletons in the closet! When my cousin began delving into why our grandfather had been disgraced as a Royal Naval Air Service sea plane pilot, my uncle declared, ‘It’s a can of worms!’ This, of course, immediately made us want to open the tin.
The staff of the Fleet Air Arm Museum were very helpful and I was able to build up a picture of what it must have been like for my grandfather and his observer to track enemy shipping, a basket of pigeons being their only method of communication.
My grandfather’s disgrace was only one of the closely guarded family secrets: there was another. No one knew the identity of the mother of my grandfather’s eldest son who was brought up by my great-grandparents.
My mother had hinted about it and had even begun to write a family memoir. She had talked about my great-grandfather, Humphrey, who was a Detective Inspector with the railway police. The story goes that in 1912, when he was working at Llandudno Junction in North Wales, he and Alice, his wife, walked from Conwy to visit an old Celtic church, fell in love with the view and built a holiday home there. The house remained in the family for sixty years and I loved spending summer holidays there when I was a child. The idea of turning my grandfather’s story into a novel came very soon after my mother’s death.
I returned with my husband and daughters several times while I was writing my novel. Recently I was delighted to see the old church at Llangelynin featured in a TV series about sacred places. My grandmother used to be the key holder and one summer I helped her serve tea to hikers coming up the mountain from the Conwy Valley or the coast.
I chose my title, In the Line of Duty, to reflect the romance of railway journeys as well as the conflicts between duty and desire ever prevalent in war-time. In the novel, I tell the story of William through the eyes of Alice, his mother, and Lottie his sweetheart. It’s a story very loosely based on that of my grandfather. The family lived in Wembley, which used to be a wealthy London suburb, but I’ve changed this to Belsize Park which has remained affluent and so is more plausible to the reader. Very little is known about my grandmother’s family so I have given free reign to my imagination in creating Lottie, her wayward sister and their conventional parents who own the grocer’s shop opposite Llandudno Junction station.
I have loved researching and writing my book and I hope some of you will enjoy reading it. You will be able to buy it through bookshops, and through Amazon. To buy through Amazon, click here.’
Many thanks, Heather. I wish you every success with In the Line of Duty.
No, I’m not the person who’s going to discuss this very interesting question with you – it’s my good friend, Alison Morton.
I’ve timed Alison’s interview, if that’s the right word, to coincide with her launch of SUCCESSIO, the third novel in her award-winning Roma Nova series which features sassy detective Carina Mitela. As writer and broadcaster Sue Cook says, it’s a “A real edge-of-the-seat read, genuinely hard to put down.”
I know Alison researches her writing thoroughly, so I asked her for her thoughts on historical detail in books.
Over to you, Alison!
“Not finishing a book is a serious and rather sad decision for a reader. I rarely give up, but I was struggling through a recommended book and twice woke up with it on my face. I dreaded picking it up again. The story was fascinating, but the dialogue and vocabulary so irritating I was losing the plot. Literally.
The research was impeccable, the thriller story full of twists and the characters well-drawn and rounded. The chief enemy was very sympathetic, so the writer had been clever, pulling me in to want him to be the victor rather than his opposite number.
The dialogue was full of words such as ‘Odds bodkins’, ‘Prithee’ and ‘varlet’, and I mean full. Obscure names of everyday objects had been inserted wherever possible and they became alienating.
I’ve nothing against well-researched period vocabulary; in fact, it’s essential to set the scene in historical fiction of all types and sometimes crucial to the plot. I use Latin expressions and Roman character names in my alternative history world of Roma Nova. Words such as palla, atrium, solidus, centurion, etc. are what give my books their ambiance. But my characters speak in standard English so the reader can follow what’s happening. If a book is set in the Renaissance then a more formal tone may be better, if in the Wild West, then a more casual tone and with farming and animal-related words and expressions.
Writers need to link the period flavour to the reader’s experience and knowledge without ‘writing down’ to them. Scattering, hinting and drip-feeding are far more effective writing techniques and give readers context, colour and perhaps some new information without separating them from the story. Less is more, or multum in parvo as the Romans say.”
Many thanks, Alison. That was most interesting, and food for thought for all those who write historical novels. It recalls a discussion about historical vocabulary that I had on my blog some time ago. You can read it by clicking here.
Before you go, tell us about the book that’s published today.
SUCCESSIO continues the story of Carina, whom we met in the first two books in the series, INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS. What’s a little different is that the next generation steps up to take an important part in the action.
Roma Nova – the last remnant of the Roman Empire that has survived into the 21st century – is at peace. Carina Mitela, the heir of a leading family, but choosing the life of an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, is not so sure.
She senses danger crawling towards her when she encounters a strangely self-possessed member of the unit hosting their exchange exercise in Britain. When a blackmailing letter arrives from a woman claiming to be her husband Conrad’s lost daughter and Conrad tries to shut Carina out, she knows the threat is real.
Trying to resolve a young man’s indiscretion twenty-five years before turns into a nightmare that not only threatens to destroy all the Mitelae but also attacks the core of the imperial family itself. With her enemy holding a gun to the head of the heir to the imperial throne, Carina has to make the hardest decision of her life…
And here’s a trailer with some exciting music http://youtu.be/B6Tr0VvKbJI
Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. She holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics, a masters’ in history and lives in France with her husband.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…
Both INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was also shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award, and PERFIDITAS, the second in series, have been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion®, an award for independent fiction that rejects 90% of its applicants. Alison’s third book SUCCESSIO is being launched now!
You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here on her blog at www.alison-morton.com
Over and out!
Will Hyde and Rose McKinley, the older son and the older daughter of successful neighbouring ranches, have grown up together like brother and sister, knowing that one day they’ll marry and thereby unite their two ranches.
Their families and friends know this, too. And impatient to see the marriage take place, they’re now wondering aloud with increasing frequency why the engagement hasn’t yet been announced.
Rose, too, has started to wonder why. She knows that Will loves her and she knows that she loves him, so there isn’t anything that can stop them marrying.
Or is there?
And now over to me!
The difficult thing about talking about a novella that’s just been published is that you’re afraid of giving away more than you should. After all, you want people to read your story and be gripped/moved/surprised/enthralled by the events that happen between the pages – pages literal and figurative – and if they know in advance what happens, the effect will be muted. Obviously, with a full length novel the writer has plenty of scope for dropping tantalising details without revealing any key plot points, but with a 30,000 word novella, there’s limited scope.
To add flesh to the above outline, though, I can say of A Western Heart that this is a story about the rivalry between sisters. Rose has a sister, Cora, who’s two years younger than Rose, and Cora most definitely has a mind of her own. The theme of sibling rivalry is linked with the theme of how difficult it is to know truly what lies in the depths of one’s heart.
Something else that I don’t mention in the outline is that there’s a handsome stranger who literally rides into the lives of the McKinley girls – Nate Galloway. By the time that Nate arrives, the reader knows that Will Hyde is expected to marry Rose. Will works on the ranch he’s to inherit, so it takes no great leap of imagination to know that he’s a tanned, good-looking guy. Two tanned, good-looking men on horses – A Western Heart has its share of gorgeous males!
Finally, the above outline is an outline of the story alone – it obviously doesn’t tell the reader that the novella is set against an historically authentic background, but it is. I deliberately picked 1880 as the year in which to set my story. The events that happened a few years later in Rock Springs show that Nate had a valid reason for leaving his Rock Springs home at that time, and the developments in the cattle drives and railroads, which form part of the substance of the story, gave him an historically justified purpose for visiting the successful cattle ranchers in Wyoming in 1880.
I love this period in Wyoming history, and I really liked working with my characters, so I enjoyed writing A Western Heart enormously. I hope that readers, too, will enjoy finding out about the lives of Rose, Cora, Will and Nate.
Over and out!
If you feel that you would like to buy A WESTERN HEART (Choc Lit Lite, 99p from Amazon), click here.
Following Choc Lit’s success at the 2013 Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in Kansas City, Choc Lit’s Marketing Director, Lyn Vernham, plus six of her authors, including me, went to New Orleans this May, the location for the 2014 RT Convention.
And some of the greats of the present day.
As they’ve so ably and entertainingly covered the basics of the week, and as I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel, my contribution to bringing the convention alive for you will mainly take the form of captioned photos. So here we go!
Since there’s no direct flight from Heathrow to New Orleans, and since I had a cousin in Florida, a State I’d never visited, I opted to change flights in Florida and spend a few days on Florida’s west coast with my cousin before flying on to New Orleans.
Three more shots of wildlife in Florida.
Sadly, I don’t have a photo of an anhinga. Anhingas, also known as snakebirds, don’t have oil glands so they can’t waterproof their feathers. This means that after they’ve been in the water, they have to come out on to the bank, spread their wings and dry out thoroughly for a long period of time. If they attempt to fly while still wet, they can’t get off the surface of the water.
All too soon, it was farewell, Florida, with its miles and miles of wonderful fine white sand beaches …
… and HELLO, NEW ORLEANS, with its vibrant night life, unforgettable jazz and tasty beignets.
And now to the hotel…
I think it’s time we had some people in the photos.
On my last full day in New Orleans, I went first to the main cemetery, and then I took a swamp tour.
In the cemetery, I learnt about HAINT PAINT, a blue paint. It’s believed that the dead can’t pass through the blue paint, hence you see blue throughout the city. A number of the TOMBS are painted blue so that the dead are kept within the tomb. Shells and pieces of brick are left around the top of the tomb to be used as currency in the afterlife. People place items used by the deceased when they were alive in front of the tomb on the bottom left hand side. The items are then broken in order to symbolise the transition between life and death.
Blue paint was also used to keep the dead out of the houses.
One of the last things I did in New Orleans was go on a SWAMP TOUR.
During the tour, I cuddled an alligator. Well, perhaps ‘cuddled’ is a weeny exaggeration.
Well, that’s it! It’s over and out, and farewell to Louisana.
Had I written the seminar title in full, I would have needed an extended title space. The full title is ‘Top 10 Tips for Self-Publishing from Two of the Top New York Times Bestselling Indie Authors’. See what I mean?
The two authors who gave this excellent seminar were Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy.
I made notes throughout the seminar and have written them up here. I must confess that there are one or two terms with which I’m not familiar, and it’ll be my homework to find out what they mean. A note of caution (well, perhaps that’s a bit too strong). Barbara and Bella are American, and some of the sites to which they refer may be effective only for novels that originate in the US.
Barbara and Bella’s credentials are eye-wateringly impressive. Both were traditionally published before going it alone, and both now count their sales as indie authors in the millions. I heard this, licked the top of my pencil, and prepared to learn. This is what I found out:
1. BRANDING is all important. The brand must be recognisable, able to be identified at a glance, be honest about the nature of the novel, be consistent (in font, art, titles, etc) and be fluid enough to change with the ever-changing market.
a) The NAME OF THE AUTHOR, when creating a brand, is the most important thing on the cover.
If the author writes books in different genres, there should be a different author’s name for each genre. To build a brand and make it a success, though, you should write 5 or 6 books in a genre before trying something else. You will, however, make more money by staying in one genre.
Choose an author name that communicates the genre to a potential reader.
The name of the author should be short enough to be written large on the cover.
The picture on the cover should evoke the emotion of the novel. (Some people outsource cover design; Bella and Barbara have learnt how to do it and do it on their own)
b) TITLE LINES. Titles lines are a part of the branding. The line should tell the reader what the book is about. Watch the sales’ figures and, if necessary, alter the title line if you think it might be holding the novel back.
c) Try to spot a HOLE IN THE MARKET, and plug it. Barbara and Bella spotted that a wave of anti-chick lit criticism had resulted in a slump in the number of chick lit novels being published, but their instinct told them that there was a demand for such novels. The demand from readers wasn’t being met, so they wrote and self-published their own chick lit novels. The title, cover, title line and author’s name proclaimed the genre. Their instinct had been right, and their novels sold in huge numbers.
d) THE POWER OF THE SERIES. Series’ novels are extremely popular – they’ve become a part of our culture now. (I’m butting in to tell you that at the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in Kansas City in 2013, I was amazed to see the popularity of series’ novels. Readers couldn’t put them into their trollies fast enough at the Grand Book Fair.)
Don’t write yourself into a hole. Don’t give so much away about a minor character in one book that you close your options for using that character in another book. Keep your novels open-ended when concluding your novel. The conclusion should be satisfying for the reader, but you should leave something in the background that can be developed into another novel for the series.
2. FREQUENCY OF PUBLICATION
Aim for one novel every 2-4 months. You need a consistent production schedule – consistency in all aspects is all important.
3. EXPANDING YOUR MARKET
Look for ways in which to increase your revenue. While you can learn a lot from things such as youtube, for example ebook formatting, you won’t be able to do everything yourself and you may do well to take help. Pick what you’re good at to do yourself, and hire in the people to do the things you can’t do. The increase in income will justify the initial outgoings. Barbara and Bella’s advice – THINK BIG!
Things you can do are:
Bundle your novels together.
Print as a subsidiary right
audio books, which can be lucrative (which can also – apparently fairly easily – be put inside the print book). ACX.com has opened up to UK authors now. This is the only site available for royalty split deals right now.
4. RETAIL DISTRIBUTION
You will have to choose whether to go direct or whether to use a distributor. Bella and Barbara do it all themselves. You can go direct to Amazon KDP, CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble NookPress (which has now opened up to authors from outside the US), iBooks, Kobo, google.
The pros of going direct are that:
* it’s easier to change prices, cover, sales’ description, keywords, blurb, and so on. Both authors closely watch their sales and if they feel that their sales are sluggish, they can easily make any changes that they think will enhance their sales
*you have easy, speedy access to sales figures as there’s no middle person. This enables you to spot any sudden changes and to respond quickly to them.
*you can build a good relationship with the retailer
* you will develop the ability to understand the sales’ patterns on specific retail sites, which can be useful.
The cons of this are that:
*you are taking on a lot of work
*you have to learn different forms of conversion.
Bella and Barbara advise that everyone chooses the way to proceed with which they are most comfortable.
5. MARKETING & PROMOTION
Your marketing begins with your novel and the presentation of it – the content of the novel, the title, the cover, etc..
Both authors recommend 80% writing to 20% marketing. Each book will sell the next book so you should do more writing than promoting. Weigh up what promotion you do in terms of how much time it will take you from your writing. During your 20% marketing, think like a publisher.
Whatever your feelings about the social media, you will have to use at least one form of it as you need to connect with readers. To promote on the social media, Barbara and Bella use:
*Facebook page, and perhaps boost posts. Readers need to have a place in which to find the author, and this is a good place.
*Facebook Reader Groups/Street teams. These are outlets for readers to talk to each other.
*join writers’ groups, like Romance Writers of America, if you’re in the US. You want to be part of a community.
*goodreads, with giveaways (To encourage reviews, at the end of the message with the giveaway, ask the reader to sign up for the newsletter, and add that hopefully they’ll love the book. You could add that an honest review would be appreciated.)
*Pinterest, to build interest in the book
*google+, where your newsfeed is shown to everyone in your circle
*Amazon Author Central
*overdrive.com (a library distribution company)
Always respond to your readers, no matter how much time it takes.
Generally, network when ever you can, and cross promote with other authors.
Both authors were asked if they blogged. They said that they didn’t feel that blogging was necessary. Barbara said that in the time that she ‘d take to think of three paragraphs worth putting in a blog, she could have written another chapter of her work in progress.
(NOTE from me: neither author blogs, but both have a newsletter and have built up an email list of readers.)
6. LONG TERM PLANNING.
They have a five-year plan. In your plan, set yourself realistic expectations.
They have a pricing strategy. Write more than one book. The first book in a series is frequently put on sale or offered free. The others in the series would usually be around 1.99. Make sure that when you put out the first of the series at a reduced price or free, there are others in the series that they can promptly click on to buy.
Their advice: think like a publisher. If something doesn’t work, a publisher will change it – so should you.
Always keep an eye on the market – you can learn a lot from what other successful authors are doing.
Make sure that your book is as good as it can be. Don’t shortchange the book or the readers – reviews last a long time. Both Bella and Barbara hire professional editors, proof-readers, artists, file-formatting, audio narration quality control.
That’s it then!!
Good luck to everyone who’s thinking of going it alone.
Over and out.
This week, from 8th – 10th April, the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, of the cavernous interior and art deco-style exterior, played host to the London Book Fair 2014, a magnet for people involved in every aspect of the world of publishing, from both at home and abroad.
In what was my first visit ever to the London Book Fair, I spent the Wednesday at the Book Fair. It was an absolutely fabulous day, and if I hadn’t had edits waiting for me at home, I would have been back at 9am the following day for more.
Since I had my camera with me – of course – I thought I’d show you a few pictorial highlights of a day filled with chatting to friends old and new, with interesting and informative seminars, and with the opportunity to peek at the promotions on the various publishers’ stands, not to mention the highlight of the day – spending time on the brilliant Choc Lit stand.
Arriving at the Earls Court venue…
… it took some minutes to orientate myself inside the vast hall. Well, that’s not totally true. To be honest, I don’t think I’d orientated myself even by the end of the day. To the very last minute of my visit, the building remained a glorious, bewildering mass of books and people, and I loved every single minute of wandering hopelessly around, seeking one destination after another.
A map in my hand, my first destination was, of course, the Choc Lit stand.
Minutes after I arrived at the Choc Lit stand, I bumped into my good friend, Alison Morton. I was delighted to see Alison again, and we promptly headed for coffee, stopping en route to say hello to the Silverwood Books stand, on which Alison was spending some time each day, and then to the Kobo stand, where we had a delightful talk with the charming René d’Entremont from Canada, the P.R. Manager of Kobo.
After a most enjoyable coffee with Alison and friends Jenny Haddon and Evelyn Ryle, I headed with Alison to the first of the four seminars I’d booked, which was Darren Hardy in conversation with best-selling authors Mel Sherrat and Tim Ellis. The discussion included the use of Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace to fuel readership growth, and gave plenty of food for thought.
My second seminar was called Development Hell. An excellent panel comprising screenwriter and novelist, John Niven, Jamie Wolpert, whose work for the National
Lottery Fund involves making films and scripts better, and Rhodri Thomas of The Ink Factory, chaired by literary agent Sheila Crowley, answered questions put to them by the audience about the route from book to film in a way that was both greatly entertaining and informative.
After lunch, I went to the only workshop I’d booked in the day. Paul Andrews a led a discussion that ranged over the many aspects of marketing one’s novel. I was fortunate in my companions on either side, and came away with two new friends – writers Ahyiana Angel and Nikki Okoroma. I was delighted to learn that Nikki was a member of the RNA and look forward to seeing her again at the RNA Summer Party on 22nd May.
The final seminar of the day was Ten Top Tips for Self-Publishing from NY Bestselling Indie Authors, Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy. The points made by Bella and Barbara were so interesting that I shall be writing a blog about the advice that they gave.
When I left at the end of my first day ever at the London Book Fair, I was inspired. It may have been my first visit, bit it certainly won’t have been my last!
SO – WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
I’m working on my third book for Choc Lit Lite. My first two, EVIE UNDERCOVER and THE ART OF DECEPTION, are set in modern Umbria. For A WESTERN HEART, however, I’ve returned to the American West of A BARGAIN STRUCK, setting the story in Wyoming, 1880.
Will Hyde and Rose McKinley, the older son and the older daughter of successful neighbouring ranches, have grown up together like brother and sister, knowing that one day they’ll marry and thereby unite their two ranches. Their families and friends know this, too, and are now wondering aloud with increasing frequency why their engagement hasn’t yet been announced.
Rose, too, has started to wonder why. Will loves her and she loves him, so nothing can stop them marrying. Can it?
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THIS GENRE?
Everyone writes with a voice, and no two voices are the same. My voice and style are a part of me and the way I express myself, just as the subjects I choose reflect my interests. I love strong stories, and I believe in telling the historical truth. My novels, therefore, tell page-turning stories – I hope – that grow from an authentic historical background.
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
Because I love a good story, I’ve always been fascinated by history, which is the story of the past. I’m also extremely interested in the way that other cultures live. My novels are born out of these interests.
I have no interest, however, in writing about true people. I prefer to write a fictional story that owes something to a true event, or events, and to set the whole against an authentic background.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I write every minute that I can.Real life (too) frequently intervenes.There’s nothing I like more than having a whole day ahead of me in which to write.Just me and the laptop.I might research; I might write; I might develop the plan of my story – I always firm up my plan when I’m about a third of the way through the novel.
Well, that’s me. Following me in this blog tour are Christina Courtenay and Alison Morton.
CHRISTINA COURTENAYwrites historical romance, time slip and YA contemporary romance, all published by independent publisher Choc Lit. She is half Swedish and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, she moved to Japan where she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East. Christina is the current chairman of the RNA and her third novel Highland Storms won the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel of the year award in 2012. Her latest novel The Secret Kiss of Darkness is published next week.
Christina’s website is http://www.christinacourtenay.com
ALISON MORTONwrites Roman themed alternate history thrillers. She holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics, a masters’ in history and lives in France with her husband.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…
INCEPTIO was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award and awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM in September 2013. The next in the series, PERFIDITAS, was published October 2013. Alison is working on the third book SUCCESSIO.
Connect with Alison on her blog http://alison-morton.com/blog/