A Writer’s Journey From A Blogger To A Published Author

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My young writer’s dream was very traditional: Get an agent, get a publisher and voila, career sorted!

I bought my first copy of Artists’ & Writers’ Yearbook in 2005 and would go through it with a pencil, underlining all my options. Next I’d print out my three chapters and a synopsis, put them in a big brown envelope and head to the post office, my heart brimming with hope. Maybe this time, maybe this time…

I won my first writing competition in primary school for an essay about how much I loved swimming. It was a really big deal to me. I had never felt that clever, but this win made me believe that writing was the thing I was good at. From the age of 11, I filled notebooks with my stories, convinced that to get published all I needed to do was finish a novel and send it off.

So far, so traditional. After all, most writers begin early.

Agents ignored me, pitches to magazines disappeared into the ether. If I hadn’t had a few short stories selected at reading events I wonder if I’d have lost my drive. Probably not. I was obsessed. By the age of 24, I had become the cliché of a frustrated writer. I couldn’t wait any longer for my writing career to begin.

I started my weekly blog about working in my Mum’s chandelier shop because I was hungry to write and be read. I’d always fancied the idea of having a column in a magazine, and this was the closest thing that I could do myself. Meanwhile I tried to write yet another novel, still thinking of the agent and the publisher. I was now on my second copy of Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.

In the end, I found my publisher through Facebook. I was trying to increase my blog following and spent a week ‘liking’ publishers’ Facebook fan pages and leaving my link. It sounds so spammy now, but back in 2008, the social networks were a little emptier! It worked. Salt Publishing followed my link, and loved my blog enough to commission my debut book, Shop Girl Diaries. I wrote a piece for Litro about Blogging Towards Publication.

I was still living with my parents when the first book was published. I remember my Mum bringing up this box to my bedroom and opening it in my pyjamas, as excited as a kid at Christmas. My dream of having a published book had come true. It bore so much more weight packaged up in a paperback, than as digital content.

I wasn’t paid an advance, I didn’t have an agent or a contract for a second book. After a few months, I felt like I was back at square one. My mindset hadn’t changed very much. I knew a presence on social media could have a lot of influence, but instead of concentrating on how to make the most of that, I was still trying to get my three chapters and synopsis out to an agent.
It seemed impossible. Two years passed by while I failed to get an agent and wrote another book.

My next non-traditional move was born again, out of frustration at how slow everything was moving. Thanks to my brother and his girlfriend, I found out about Wattpad. It’s an online platform where anyone can upload their novel, chapter by chapter. There was no financial incentive, but the popular stories had hundreds of thousands of readers, and Wattpad reportedly had a monthly readership of ten million. A content manager from Wattpad told me if I wrote a novel for them, they’d feature it. I couldn’t get an agent or a publisher, but this seemed like an opportunity to get readers, and surely that’s at the heart of wanting to get published.

I posted my romantic comedy, Spray Painted Bananas, chapter by chapter over three months. The response was overwhelming. I would wake up to comments posted by readers in North America, asking WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Sometimes I wasn’t even sure, but all the votes and comments energised me and spurred me on to keep writing.

When my novel-in-progress had received half a million hits, I contacted an agent. I hadn’t even finished the book, but it didn’t matter. Instead of the usual waiting around for months, I got a reply within a week. I signed with them a couple of weeks later.

Finally, I had an agent. This meant a publishing deal was in the bag, right?

No! It actually took another eight months before my agent called with the news that a digital imprint of Harper Collins, Harper Impulse, were interested in my Wattpad book, and a second book I’d written a synopsis for. Once again there would be no advance, and they couldn’t promise the book would be printed in paperback. I confess to being a little disappointed. No writers dreams of getting a digital publisher, do they? We dream of book launches and our books in shop windows…

I shouldn’t have worried. The advantage of a digital publisher is they get your book out in three months, rather than a year! Best of all Harper Impulse did go on to print both books.
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In fact, my new book, #PleaseRetweet, a comedy teasing society’s obsession with social media, is being released any minute now. I’m teasing myself in this book too of course. Social media has had a huge influence on my writing career, but it’s not without its pitfalls!

My dream was traditional, but to get there I had to take non-traditional routes. What was it Einstein said? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Now I think my mindset has finally changed. I’m even questioning how important it is to have a physical book. Of course, it’s a joy to see the physical proof of your writing. But having a paperback doesn’t guarantee readers and you’re bound to reach a lot more people if you post your work online.

Right now, I’m writing a new novel without a contract. I can’t be sure how this one will make it into print. I’ve just had an email about writing interactive stories… I don’t even know what that means yet, but I’ve decided I’m willing to give it a try.




Blogging Towards Publication

shop_girl_diariesEmily Benet’s blog about working in a lighting shop Shop Girl Diaries was spotted by Salt Publishing, who loved it so much they offered her a book deal. As well as writing, Emily now runs workshops on blogging for beginners and improvers. (Her next workshop is on Saturday July 13th – click here to find out more.)

1. Blog about what you love

Whatever it is you think you should be blogging about, forget it. Successful creative bloggers don’t set up their blog based on what they think will get them a million followers, a publishing deal and an award for Best Blog of the Year. Successful bloggers start their blogs motivated by a passion for their subject, a passion that sustains their blog and keeps them developing new ideas for it over the years to come. Yes, years. Blogging is not a shortcut to getting published and takes real commitment to be effective, so if you blog about what you think you should rather than what you would love to blog about then it’s more than likely your posts will dry up before the year is out.

I chose my Mum’s chandelier shop as the subject of my blog Shop Girl Diaries because it was what I knew best. I wasn’t an expert in selling chandeliers, just an expert in trying to sell them. I began my blog because I wanted to write not because I loved my job, but having a clear subject focused me and made it easier to produce something week after week. It also meant when Salt Publishing followed the link I’d left on their Facebook wall to my blog, instead of random thoughts and pictures of what I’d had for breakfast, they found a concept for a book.

2. Make your concept clear

220px-Julie_and_juliaDid you see the film Julie and Julia? It was based on a true story about a blogger called Julie Powell who took on the challenge to cook all of Julia Child’s 524 recipes in 365 days (and blog about it). A simple but brilliant idea, firstly, because she loved cooking, and secondly because her subject was bound to attract not only fellow cooks, both aspiring and established, but also any fans of Julia Child. Once you’ve decided what it is you’d really love to blog about, ask yourselves who else would be interested in your idea. A blog documenting your random thoughts might interest a few of your friends, but unless you have a particularly distinctive and entertaining voice, your audience is unlikely to grow much bigger. It’s not difficult to see why Julie Powell’s blog lead to a publishing deal and a film. Books with a clear concept do well in the publishing industry and it’s no different in the blogosphere.

skull143
143. Skullwalk Chalk, by Noah Scalin

Blogging can get you out of a creative slump, like Noah Scalin of Skull-a-Day, a fine artist who decided to post a picture of a skull every day for a year. He created them using diverse materials, from rubber bands to scrap metal. A publisher commissioned his book ‘Skulls’ and the following year his blog was sustained by readers sending in their own pictures. For a blog to take off you need one good idea and the determination to see it through.

3. Don’t write about writing!

Writers seem to be forever blogging about the writing process. I’m guilty of it too. But if you love writing, why not just write, rather than write about writing? Publishers aren’t interested in whether you’re physically writing but whether you’re any good at it. Take your time. Think about it. What excites you?

Of course, if you’re an expert like Nicola Morgan, author of over 90 books across many genres, then it does make sense to blog about writing. Nicola Morgan’s blog Help! I need a Publisher attracted a large following because readers trusted her advice because she’d been there and done it. Likewise her large readership gave Snowbooks the confidence to commission her excellent book Write to Be Published. If you are an expert, then people will want to read what you have to say. If you aren’t an expert, then become one.

4. Offer great content

There are many different strategies you can implement to increase your blog hits, but the most effective is to offer good content. If your blog posts are well written and add value, be it entertainment value, advice, insider knowledge, insight, great storytelling skills, then people will want to share them with others. Next you might get asked to write a guest blog or an article for an online magazine. Say yes to these opportunities as it’s a good way of building your online presence and a large online presence gets you noticed.

The more pro-active you are, the more likely the doors to publication will open. Be patient. Blog regularly. Focus on building your readership. If you don’t get asked to write a guest blog, then pitch one. Ditto articles to online magazines. You might not have been published before but if your blog shows you have a readership and you write well then editors will be more receptive.

5. Find your community

If you’re struggling to get a following you’re problem might be that you’re blogging in isolation. Seek out your community. Seek out similar blogs. Engage with them by leaving comments. Support them by sharing their content. Writers on Twitter will be aware of how strong the online writing community is and if you’re serious about increasing your readership then I’d advise you to sign up if you haven’t already. When you get there, make sure to reward good tweets with retweets and join the conversation if it’s relevant to your subject.

6. Stay simple

When it comes to the look of your blog, the main thing is that it’s comfortable to read. Don’t choose dark backgrounds with fancy fonts that’ll hurt your readers’ eyes and have them clicking off to another blog before they’ve finished the first sentence. Consider the length of your sentences, the space between your paragraphs. Add pictures to make your blog look more attractive. The online reader is bombarded with choice, so you’ve got to think about what will put them off. If you’re not sure, then ask someone. Never be afraid to ask for help.

7. Use sharing widgets

To give your blog its best chance of being promoted, make sure you’re using sharing widget. These are the facebook, twitter and other social network buttons that often appear automatically on blog platforms such wordpress.com and blogger.com beneath each blog post. People like to follow blogs in different ways so activate the option for your readers to follow by mail or by RSS. Integrate your online presence. If you are on Twitter, then make sure your account can be accessed through your blog. The same goes for if you have a Facebook page or you are on Linked In.

8. Experiment

I’ve been blogging for five years now and a lot of wonderful things have happened because if it. There have also been times when I’ve felt utterly stuck. Sometimes you just need a break from it. Other times you might need a complete change of direction. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Perhaps instead of writing a post, you could try out a video blog? Or perhaps you need to set yourself a challenge with a time limit like the blogger in Julie and Julia? Whatever you decide to do with your blog, do it because you want to, not because you should.

 

BLOGGING FOR BEGINNERS and IMPROVERS
Saturday 13th July 10.30am – 2.30pm (including 30min break)
@ 77 Tower Bridge Road, SE1 4TW
Fee: £40.00 Limited Places.
This intensive workshop is packed with tips about how to make the most of your blog, how to promote it, gain a readership, keep it interesting and also, importantly, what to avoid. If you’ve been meaning to start a blog for a long time, why put it off any longer? Come along for a friendly, fun and informative workshop.