68. DUBLIN SPARK LIT THE BLUE TOUCHPAPER FOR MY SECOND NOVEL

LISTEN to any Dublin taxi driver and they’ll tell you that you can’t fling a Bodhran tipper* out of the window without hitting a writer.

Sorry, but I’ve lapsed into gaelic since spending three days in the fair city to launch my difficult second novel Spark Out. And it’s certainly true to say that the only people I saw who weren’t writers during my brief but highly enjoyable stay were those kind people who served me their finest beers, spirits and other sustenance to help me survive the ordeal.

This was the second time I had been to this wonderful event run by the book promotion service, Books Go Social. I had asked Laurence O’Bryan (pictured below) – the brains behind the company – if he might be able to fit my book launch into his jam-packed schedule. Even though he had Hollywood producers and best-selling authors to accommodate, he was delighted to oblige, and kindly filmed the event as well.

laurence

BooksGoSocial logoHaving not ventured out of the famous Gresham Hotel last year, I pledged that I would see a bit more of the famed Dublin nightlife this time around. The trouble is that once you become embedded with a group of writers, even the most introverted is itching to tell you of their latest project or their creative journey.

As a result I became part of the fixtures and fittings of the Academy Plaza on this occasion, spending the days enjoying lectures on every aspect of my craft, from first sentence to organising book launches, and nights ensconced in the bar, swapping tales with fabulously entertaining company.

wendyh     There were too many good speakers to list but I would just like to make quick mention of Scottish dynamo and crime writer Wendy H Jones (right). Having lived a full and varied life before beginning a “life of “crime” she drew on her experience as a nurse to inform us: “I can assure you that no one has EVER died of embarrassment.” Wendy was encouraging us to get out and take risks, to ask local book stores and other enterprises to stock and sell our books, or allow us to perform book signings and launches.

A testament to her success was when she visited her local bank branch near Dundee and was not only invited to do a book signing but was then approached by head office to do an entire tour of Scotland’s banks. Brilliant work!

wendybook

As for myself, despite having to compete with the clinking of cutlery and what seemed like a demolition derby going on in the nearby kitchen, I think my speech went down well.

I was pleased with the banner that I had bought on eBay and had delivered straight to the venue without actually seeing (I feared there might be an awful spelling mistake in it or something, but luckily that wasn’t the case). I was also delighted to be able to do a short reading from the new book and give out three as prizes to those people who could come up with a tale about their favourite fictional baddie.

To finish off I did a reading from the novel which you can see here…

At the end of it all I was feeling revved up, the adrenaline flowing… there was nothing for it than to retire to the bar again and mingle with the glittering company.

* A Bodhran tipper is the stick with which you beat an Irish Bodhran, or drum.

  • Spark Out is available in paperback this Saturday (July 1) and can be obtained through Amazon or ordered through most good bookstores. It will be available as an eBook through Kindle Unlimited from July 10. 

62. Spark Out: Cover reveal

THEY say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I certainly hope you can in my case. In my humble opinion, my cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has excelled herself with Spark Out, the second book in my Boxer Boys series.
Jane, one of the members of the prolific author-collective Triskele Books, has a simple but effective way of working with authors and her covers can rightfully take their place alongside the very best on the virtual bookstand (or, indeed, in book shops if you are lucky to find anyone prepared to stock your book… hint, hint Waterstones, WH Smiths and Foyle’s).
It’s all about genre, really. Jane asks you what type of book you have written and invites you to submit covers you like in that genre. Once you have provided some examples and explained the kind of imagery best fits with your story, she sources them and sends you a variety to choose from. Once you have done that she then gets to work.
two-covers
Crossing the Whitewash was my first book and because Spark Out is part of a series Jane wanted to stick to the overall style. As you will see the name is very similar as is the idea of taking a silhouette image, in this case a man and a boy, and adding a background significant to the story. For Crossing the Whitewash we used the Millennium Stadium, for Spark Out it’s the QE2, which carried 3,000 troops to war in the Falklands back in 1982.
For me, the image of a soldier’s eyes, facepainted with camouflage and the Union Jack, was striking, and we used it above the title in the same way we used the knife in the first book.
So that’s it. I hope you like it.
The book has just come back from my American Editor, more of which later, and is now with my wife Liz, a qualified proofreader. I will soon be selecting Beta Readers to get a free copy of the book and give me their comments while hopefully posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads on launch day. If anyone is interested please let me know via the comments on here and I will get back in touch.

60. That Difficult Second Novel

SETTING A deadline is always a good thing. Without one you can keep tinkering for ever more or, worse, put the whole thing off until you “feel like it”. As a journalist, I pride myself on hitting deadlines in the day job, so I figured I should show the same dedication to my “difficult” second novel.

I was getting a bit bogged down a short while ago so decided that, come hell or high water, I would complete the first draft before my holiday in Spain, when I can go away for a while, lock it in a musty cupboard and forget about it before having to do all the dirty work (editing etc).

I am pleased to say the first draft of the new book, with a working title Headers, is now complete.

Originally, Crossing The Whitewash was intended as a one off. So many people said they wanted to learn a bit more about the characters, though, so I looked at some of the questions that may have been left unanswered.

I kept coming back to the Dolan’s – this career criminal family – and how they had developed. The Boxer Boys were Arnie Dolan’s invention, but he is only the third boy in a family of five.

What about Maurice Dolan, locked up in prison for most of Arnie’s life after a series of Post Office robberies, and his relationship with mum Beryl? What about oldest boy Chuck, the enforcer. How did he start on his journey to become the hard man of the family?

It was originally intended as a novella, but the story developed in such a way that when I finished the first draft this week it was 140,000 words!

Once I started looking into the early 80s, developing the characters and things, what I considered a really intriguing story started to arise – complete with a few twists and turns.

I’m afraid for those who loved the Welsh side of the story The Legend and Gary Marshall only figure briefly, while the Bard Guys don’t get a mention.

It’s possibly not as light-hearted and humorous as parts of the previous book but hopefully it is engrossing nonetheless, covering such important topics like the Falklands War, the Flying Squad, Police corruption and Ron Greenwood’s England Boys of ’82.

Don’t worry, though, the Welsh boys will be back, as will the Sunday Tribune Despatch and Arnie Dolan – you may just have to wait another year to see them.

Meanwhile, below is a sample of the new book Headers. Remember this is only the first draft and I will probably need to cut about 40,000 words, change things around, get it edited, proofread, have a cover designed, formatted… In fact, it’s unlikely this will bear any relation to the finished article! Hope you enjoy, and want to read more about Big Mo and the Dolans.

HEADERS SAMPLE FOR BLOG

59. Building a mailing list shouldn’t be like The Krypton Factor

DO YOU remember the Krypton Factor?

It was a programme on ITV presented by Gordon Burns in which contestants were tested on qualities like memory, strength and resilience.

You had to be a superhuman to come out on top and I’ll admit here and now I wouldn’t have fared particularly well.

When I set out on the path to becoming an author the plan was to simply write books. Now I find it is becoming more and more like a TV endurance programme every day. I’ve been sucked into the dark, mysterious and, some might say, evil world of marketing.

At times I’ve felt myself turning into one of those fanatical salesmen who jump on desks and recite a mantra before grabbing the phone and interrupting you in the middle of your busy day, only to get a mouthful of abuse.

It’s probably easier being a Jehovah’s Witness, but some salesmen are extremely good at this sort of thing and leave the rest of us standing.

Mark Dawson runs a course about how to get the best out of Facebook Ads and is full of tips and tricks. It’s very good, but the trouble is you need an accompanying course on how to use the many online tools needed to make it work.

Minimum requirement is a mailing list compiler, a lead pages generator, a company who will supply free eBooks on your behalf so you don’t have to deal with complaints… it goes on and on. It makes the Krypton Factor look like Snakes and Ladders.

Come to think of it, I started feeling like that was what I was playing. I would get something right, check it out and find one of the components wasn’t doing what it says on the tin. Down the snake I went.

Result: Customer wasn’t receiving the free book they had asked for, and it makes you feel like a fraud.

I became so frustrated I was driving the family to distraction and, at around £600 a pop, I would suggest the course is for authors a bit further down the line than those like me with one published book.

With finances a bit tight, I plumped for the money back option after trying my luck with the ads.

The one thing I did learn, though, was how effective a lead generation ad can be on Facebook. You can do this on twitter, too.

You still need a mailing list compiler (I use the paid version of MailChimp so that I can set up an automated email response to anyone who joins my list) and also someone like Book Funnel to provide the link to your free eBook.

But other than that it is great because you don’t need to have confirmation pages, thank you pages, welcome pages, captcha pages and a number of other things that  tend to get between the customer and your mailing list.

With a lead gen ad all the reader needs to do is click once on your offer then agree to hand over their email address. Facebook does the rest.

Of course, it still won’t be successful unless you sell your offer to the reader, but you can experiment with your ad and your targeting.

ADNEWMART

For instance, the Ad that worked for me targeted Martina Cole readers (mine is a UK gangster novel) who were women between the ages of 30-65. I did this for two reasons: I have surprisingly had better responses to my book from women and Martina Cole is hugely successful in the genre.

Having done this I used a new FB picture that my book cover designer JD Smith set up for me and put it out there. I was astonished at the response: Around 140 new email sign-ups for just under £40.

Happy days. I’ll explain in the next blog post step-by-step how to do it, but if you haven’t set up a Facebook Ad account yet it is probably worth checking how to do that first. FB provides plenty of advice in this respect and it is key you have an author ‘page’ rather than just a personal account.

56. How Audible brought my characters to life

 

ANYONE who has read Crossing The Whitewash will probably agree that Arnold Dolan is a pretty terrifying character. At least, that’s how he was described by judges in the Writers’ Digest eBook awards.

This week, though, Arnie even SOUNDS terrifying. I know, because I have heard him speak.

Today I am wallowing in the satisfaction of releasing an Audio version of my UK gangland thriller, having spent four months helping to edit and perfect what I believe is a pretty impressive product.

In collaboration with a very talented young producer/narrator, Samuel J Haskell, I think we have come up with something with which we both can be pretty proud.

Don’t take my word for it, though. The book is on sale on Audible and if you take up their offer of a month’s trial you can download it for FREE and put it on your MP3 player, phone or other listening device. Better still, why not listen to the sample which is provided on the page first to see if it whets your appetite.

I am a convert to Audio books. I find they take the pain out of the mundane commute to work, though I’m not sure if I would like Arnie Dolan sitting next to me on the District Line journey from Mile End to Monument!

The book has to be pretty exciting, though, to maintain the interest, because it is easy to doze off as the tube train clickety clacks through Whitechapel and Tower Hill.

I think Samuel manages to do that, and he has also added some pretty impressive sound effects for things like loud speakers and phone conversations.

So how easy is it to produce your own audio book? Amazon’s ACX division have made it a pretty straightforward process.

All you have to do is put a sample of your book on their website and then invite people to audition for the role of narrator/producer.

Then it is a question of setting a deadline for the first 15-minute sample, followed by a deadline for completion. You have to agree a fee – which can be done either as a flat rate of a certain amount per hour, or as a share of the profits.

With Samuel I agreed BOTH but unfortunately ACX don’t have a provision for that so he will just have to hope I am honest about how much money we rake in.

I paid Sam £750, which may seem a lot, but over that period of four months he certainly earned his corn. He was able to put up chapters a few at a time for me to listen to, and I then sent him corrections or comments if I didn’t think things sounded quite right. There was a lot of back and forth before we got it exactly how we wanted it, and Sam – a trained film producer – also threw in the promotional video that you can see here.

I think I got a bargain but, as it was his first experience of ACX too, I believe the experience for both of us has been invaluable.

At the end of it all, one simple click on the writer’s part and the audio book goes to the ACX techies for final approval, which they carry out as soon as the producer confirms he has been paid.

It’s interesting to know, too, that every time someone signs up for the one-month free trial with Audible and makes your book their first order, you earn $50. Whether I will get my money back I don’t know… but, to be perfectly honest, hearing characters I have created like Arnie, Gary and The Legend talk has been priceless.

 

50. Climbing the charts like a Take That comeback single

SIX months ago if my sales graph had been a print-out from a life support machine doctors would have pulled the plug. To say things were flat lining would be like suggesting the Alps were “a bit hilly”.

Tonight I am basking in the heady atmosphere of being no 43 in the Urban Kindle sales rankings, having tried every trick in the book to resuscitate my baby.

Well, as an Indie Author, you can never give up hope, can you? The traditional publishers might whisk the plug out as if they had finished the ironing, rather than destroyed a promising career. We have a greater emotional attachment to our sickly child.

In the case of Crossing the Whitewash it had taken me four years hard labour to give it life and I wanted it to have every chance of succeeding.

To be fair I had plenty of advice about how to revive the patient, but the trick is deciding what is genuine help and what is designed to make a quick buck out of you. You have to wise up to those blowing on your neck telling you a hurricane is on its way, and it isn’t easy.

Still, by experimenting with Twitter and Facebook ads, changing categories and key words, and enlisting help from Social Media experts claiming to have hundreds of thousands of followers, the recovery has been a steady one.

The problem is I have no way of gauging what has worked and what has not. I just know that over the last month or so sales of my beloved novel have looked much rosier – in terms of Kindle anyway.

The fact none of the big bookshops will stock my novel, even though I emphasised my connections with Bristol, Wales and London and made a big selling point of the fact the Rugby World Cup – a backdrop for the novel – was taking place last September and October, has been hugely disappointing.

Tonight, though, I am pretty happy. In the hourly Amazon rankings I see that in this country my novel has reached an all-time high at no. 10,508 of all Kindle paid sales, fiction and non-fiction (and if you knew how many people are trying to flog books in this format you would know why I am so impressed). In the Urban category I have broken through the top 50 barrier. Admittedly it is one of the more “niche” genres but even so it gives my heart a flutter to see my baby actually featuring in one of the best-sellers charts.

kindlegraph

 

Of course, the spin off of this is that my novel is likely to be seen by more potential readers. With 24 reviews, 16 of which are 5 stars, it should begin to feature much higher on the search engines, which will improve its visibility for potential readers.

At £1.99 Crossing is still in the virtual bargain bin, of course, so there is little hope of making any profit or giving up the day job. The first ambition, though, is to establish myself as an author and with the latest news I think I can say I am starting to do that.

I’ve got some new marketing tricks to try out over the coming months in the hope of raising sales even further. An audio book is in production and there are plans to promote it through a video in conjunction with my narrator and producer friend Samuel Haskell.

The key, eventually, is to establish a fan base and hopefully then those four or five sales a day will multiply handsomely.

arnie ad

Meanwhile, the current Facebook ad seems to be the one pulling them in. I’ve made a strength of the fact the American eBook competition judge described Arnie Dolan as terrifying, and I’m delighted to say it must be working.

 

43. Buy my Valentine

DAMN! No sooner has one “special day” disappeared than another is around the corner. I swear that card makers invent one every year just so that they can keep their industry thriving.

Last year, for instance, was the first time I had ever come across Grandmother’s Day. Their kidding, right?

Well, no, they are deadly serious and we all get “shamed” into turning the myth into reality. In a few years time it will be “What? You didn’t get your second cousin twice removed a present for ‘Second Cousin, Twice Removed Day’? You scoundrel!”

As a self-published author, though, I’m beginning to realise the more special days there are, the merrier. For instance, this week I have been putting out Valentine’s Day adverts for Crossing The Whitewash.

“What?” I hear my faithful reader say. “That book has as much in common with romance as it does with English basket-weaving in the 18th century”. And on the face of it you’re right.

But that’s where the creative juices come in – those same juices I used to think up the plot for Crossing and produce an “award-winning” (I love that phrase) novel in the first place.

I’m not a great fan of this lovey-dovey day of the year, and I suspect there are plenty of other blokes like me.

I can hear the collective muttering under breaths. “Oh bloody hell, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. She’ll be expecting something. What do I buy? Chocolates? She goes to Weightwatchers, so she won’t be very impressed. A bottle of wine? She’s given up drinking. A slap up meal? Costs a fortune and I’m saving up for the footie next week.”

Of course, not a word of this can be whispered within half a block of the lucky lady, who will be telling her mates: “Oh he’s ever so thoughtful. Can’t wait to see what he gets me for Valentine’s Day.”

All the time she has her fingers crossed firmly behind her back, hoping he doesn’t produce something to match the scented coat-hanger thrust upon her last year… lovingly wrapped so there was NO WAY she could guess what it was!

Women like to compare lovers. It’s a bit like that Monty Python Four Yorkshireman sketch. “We used to get up in the morning and Dad would make us lick road clean wit’ tongue.”

“You were lucky, our dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife.”

Anyway, I completely digress. I got to thinking, how can I relate Crossing The Whitewash to Valentine’s Day. So I had a little think, and the Eureka moment duly came. “That’s it!” I thought. “What if I make my novel the ANTIDOTE to Valentine’s Day” – a kind of double bluff. “Know someone who hates Valentine’s Day? Then get them this for Valentine’s Day.” Genius, right?

So I came up with a Facebook ad that I hoped would not only appeal to blokes, but would get their women-folk pressing the Shop Now button, too.

Well, for a £5 investment initially I got 21 Amazon clicks and enough sales to push me up to no 79 in the Kindle Urban chart. It seems to have worked.

What did the Ad say? See for yourself…

facebook valentines

Now, how do I turn Mother’s Day to my advantage? Gangsters love their mums, don’t they?

 

39. Yankee Doodle Dandy!

LATE last year I took the plunge – I crossed the pond to enter a competition run by the most prestigious writing magazine in America.

I wasn’t sure what would happen. After all, you can’t get a more British novel than Crossing The Whitewash. It features rugger, for goodness sake, old chap!

Still, I chose to back myself and entered my gritty urban gangland thriller in the genre category at the 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest self-publishing awards.

For those unaware of its existence, Writer’s Digest has been publishing magazines since 1920. It produces eight a year for writers of all levels. It is also responsible for Writer’s Market, the American equivalent of the Writers & Artists Yearbook.

And recently it combined with Book Baby, which is one of the most-used tools by self-publishing authors.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, just before Christmas I received a congratulatory e-mail telling me that I had won an Honourable Mention in the Genre category (spelt honorable, of course, because the Yanks don’t do proper English!).

The prize amounts to a mention on the writer’s digest website and $50 worth of books – always useful to a bookworm like me.

The judges praised me for my “Evocative, original, unfailingly precise and often humorous” novel. And there was a lot, lot more besides.

If you can bear my gloating any more, here’s the full transcript (links below)…

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”. This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking. Our system only recognizes numerals during this portion of logging evaluations. As a result, a “0” is used in place of “N/A” when the particular portion of the evaluation simply does not apply to the particular entry, based on the entry genre. For example, a book of poetry or a how to manual, would not necessarily have a “Plot and Story Appeal and may therefore receive a “0”.

 *If you wish to reference this review on your website, we ask that you cite it as such: “Judge, 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards.” You may cite portions of your review, if you wish, but please make sure that the passage you select is appropriate, and reflective of the review as a whole.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

 Plot and Story Appeal: 4

 Character Appeal and Development: 5

 Voice and Writing Style: 5

Judge’s Commentary*:

Our judges all have professional experience in their background, whether it’s as a teacher, editor, publisher, agent, published author, etc. Judges are asked to write a short commentary, which you will find below. Some judges use this as an opportunity to critique, others as an opportunity to review, and others yet may choose to combine the two. Some judges choose to speak largely, or in general terms, about a work so that they can cover as much as possible. Others choose to hone in on a few key points, leaving out larger portions but hopefully giving examples on a smaller scale that can apply to a larger one. 

 ‘Crossing the Whitewash is a gripping, at times poignant, at times funny, story of the problems of fathers and sons. Despite being unfamiliar with rugby and some of the British vernacular, I found myself transported to Gareth’s world. The prose here is excellent: evocative, original, unfailingly precise and often humorous. I was also impressed by the development of all of the characters, major and minor. Arnold is terrifying, but never comes off as a two-dimensional villain. By the end, the reader can see that all of the characters have changed. My biggest criticism of the novel concerns its organization.’

There are some criticisms that go on from there, about how some of the structure was slightly confusing, but there are plenty of plot spoilers in there, so I’ll just say they weren’t happy with everything.

Still, if it has taught me anything it is don’t be afraid to take the plunge and offer your work up. This is the best morale-boosting news I’ve had since releasing the book and has reinforced my determination to carry on writing.

  • For full judge’s verdict click on WDPDF03 below but, beware, there ARE plot spoilers revealing all the twists and turns of the book…

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WDPDF02

WDPDF03

 

37. Exploring the Amazon

WHEN I first set off on my novel-publishing mission I kept hearing the word genre over and over again.

People insisted that it was important that you established yourself in a certain genre if you were to start selling books. This is because if you are to use the Amazon algorithms to your advantage your book should turn up when people are searching for subject matter of a similar style.

It’s about discovering readers, the people who might be partial to the kind of thing you are writing.

 

 

rankings

For me, initially, it seemed pretty obvious that Crossing The Whitewash fitted in the thriller category, with a bit of suspense and mystery thrown in.

Along with that, particularly if you are publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing, Createspace or Lightning Source (the UK version of Ingram Spark) you get a number of key words you can input to help the search engines discover your novel.

I tended to throw these about willy-nilly. I included Wales and London – the two settings where the novel takes place – sport (because the Rugby World Cup is one of the backdrops), mystery, murder, gangsters and one other which I can’t recall at the moment. On Kindle you are allowed seven which seems plenty.

The trouble is that because I had chosen thriller as the main category, the amount of competition I had was vast. We all know that thrillers can be used to describe any book really with a bit of a twist and an edge. Drill down and there are all sorts of different types: medical thrillers, legal thrillers, cop thrillers… even those novels like Gone Girl and Girl On A Train find themselves in that category.

An author’s priority is to get your book to be seen, and to alert potential readers to its availability.

Your aim is to reach one of the bestseller lists, so that you find your book linked with other people of a certain genre. Let’s be honest, if you are writing about a gang or perhaps UK organised crime, you can do no worse than find you’re sharing the same Amazon page as Martina Cole.

Of course, with the word thriller in the title (I originally called it the Rugby World Cup thriller and later a UK gangland thriller) you probably don’t need to use the word again to denote your genre. With KDP, for instance, you can only choose two genres so to use up one with thriller seems a bit pointless. Search engines  should find it anyway.

This week I took a close look at my Amazon page and studied the section where it lists books readers have bought as well as mine. Most of them were gang-related novels set in the UK and I found when studying a couple of them that they had something in common. They were in the ‘Urban’ category.

With that in mind I tinkered with my KDP genres. You can put your book into two of them so I used Coming of Age and Urban. Lo and Behold, by Wednesday morning, when the change took effect, I found myself at No. 66 in the Best-selling charts for UK Urban novels.

These things change hour by hour and by this morning I had dropped out of the top 100. Still, it’s pointed me in the right direction. I know with advertising targeted in the right areas and picking the appropriate key words and genres I can make my book more visible.

I am no longer lost in Amazon, up a creek without a paddle.

 

36. Why you need a deadline

THE neighbours were having great fun.

I reckon they had bought a job-lot of fireworks well past their sell-by date.

As I watched the various rockets flying off left, right and centre – but seldom up – I felt a great deal of sympathy for the eight felines belonging to the mad Cat Lady across the other side of the green.

Not only that but I worried for the safety of travellers on the A12, who were going nonchalantly about their business before a rogue streak of fire shot across their windscreens.

From behind the safety of the bedroom curtains I saw one stray missile land on the roof of the house opposite, missing by feet the open bedroom window. I said a silent prayer that this would all be OK.

While the government warned of the possibility of a Jihadi terrorist attack on the New Year festivities, I realised that with neighbours like mine we were quite capable of causing plenty of damage ourselves. An own goal, in football terms.

Slinking back to bed I wondered why people got so excited about New Year’s Eve. To my mind it is the most over-rated and over-hyped of all the 365 days in the calendar (or 366 if you include a leap year like this one).

Once, I spent the entire New Year festivities in a pub in Sydney, Australia, refusing to follow the departing lemmings throwing themselves out in the street to watch the pyrotechnic spectacular, knowing full well they would be locked out when they tried to return to finish their drinks.

Bah, humbug.

Last night, I was tucked up in bed at just gone 11pm. I still had to attend the day job today and wanted to make sure I was fully refreshed for the thankless task.

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The whizz-bangs, oohs and aahs prevented sleep, though, so I started thinking about what I had achieved this year.

In all honesty, I was struggling. I’d held on to my job in a dying industry, managed to negotiate the pitfalls of the school run, failed to keep up my promise of going swimming every week, stayed out of hospital…

Then it struck me. I published my first novel. And I did my best to market it. And I got 14 five-star reviews and 22 in all. And I met lots of other authors. And I went to the London Book Fair. And I started to learn about the tricky business of marketing, while also exhibiting at a book fair and conducting a book signing.

In 2015 I became an author.

And it all came about because last January 1 I made a public declaration that I would publish a novel.  I set up a Facebook page to that effect, and started this blog to map the journey.

After that, I couldn’t look back. People kept asking me: “When is the book coming out?” I could hardly say: “Sorry, I’ve changed my mind.” I had too many people following my progress. People who had invested in me, and opted to follow my progress.

That’s why if there is one piece of advice I have for potential authors it’s this: Today is the day. Make a declaration. Tell people what you are going to do, then do it. Say to yourself and the world: I am an author. Then become one.

The single biggest step I took on my journey last year was to tell people what I was going to do. The rest, while not plain sailing, has made this one of the most exciting and challenging years of my life.