A Look Behind The Book With Julie Stock.

Julie-StockWhile many writers chase often elusive publishing deals, going “indie” has its own rewards – as author, Julie Stock, proves.

The race to write and publish her first book, From Here To Nashville, before she hit the big 5 0 might have been what initially inspired her to go that route but with two successful contemporary romances under her belt – and another on the way – Julie’s hard work is paying off.

In my latest Behind The Book interview, she explains more about her journey into print – with some wonderful advice for all writers at the end.

When did you start writing?  Has it always been a passion?

Until about four years ago, I’d never written anything longer than a poem or lyrics for songs, and most of my writing as an adult has been for day jobs. I started writing my first novel in April 2013 because I had an idea that I thought could work for that length. That had never happened to me before! I knew it would be a romance because that’s the genre I read the most. Both my novels are contemporary romances and I’ve also written a novella and a number of short stories in the genre.

Do you plan your stories?

When I started writing, I was a ‘pantser,’ although at that point, I had no idea what that was. I wrote that first book with only the loosest idea of what was going to happen. It was an incredible experience for me but I had to do so many rewrites to even finish the first draft that I knew I would prefer to plot more next time round.

With my second book, The Vineyard In Alsace, which I started, again with no plan during NaNoWriMo one year, I got to 80,000 words and decided that the story wasn’t working. I then got rid of 40,000 words before going on to finish the first draft. It was really hard but I knew that the story just wasn’t the one I wanted to tell. Again, lots of rewriting followed but I knew I had the right story by then.

So before I started my third book, which I’m writing now, I really did try and do much more of an outline before starting. It has still evolved a lot as I’ve gone on but I feel this will be a much better first draft than I’ve written before.

How long did it take to write each book, including drafts? Were you writing full time? If not, how did you make time to write against all the other life stuff we have to do?

It takes me about six – nine months to write the first draft, and with rewrites and editing, it takes about another six – nine months to be ready for publication. I could possibly write faster if it was my full-time job but I do procrastinate a lot! When I wrote my first book, I was working full-time as a teacher but I so wanted to do it that I found the time, even if I was only writing 300 words a day.

Nowadays, I work for a charity in the mornings and I do occasional supply teaching as well as some freelance web design work so I can commit to writing 1,000 or more words a day if I’m working to a deadline, and if I write that many, I feel really pleased with myself! If I know what I want to write, that only takes me about an hour so I don’t really have any excuses not to get that done.

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Your first book is partly set in Nashville and your second in Alsace. How important is location to your work? Are they places you have enjoyed? Are you tempted to go to places purely for research?

The setting of my books is really what starts the story idea off for me. I have always been a singer myself and together with my love of country music, I had an idea for a story set both in the UK and in Nashville. My premise for From Here To Nashville, my first novel, was what if you had a singer/songwriter based in the UK who dreamed of becoming a country music star and going to Nashville. That’s the only place you would want to go as a country music singer so it fit the storyline. I only went to Nashville myself after writing the story but I had to go once the story was written.

Similarly, my love of France, especially Alsace and my knowledge of the winemaking industry from a former job, gave me the idea for my second book set on a vineyard in Alsace. I’ve been several times and so I was able to draw on my knowledge quite readily for my book.

I love to travel and when I do, I think about whether those places would make a good setting for the story I want to tell. So the place tends to inspire the story and I’ll often take lots of photos and make lots of notes for future reference, if I go somewhere on holiday and think it would work for a book.

You decided to go indie very early on and, as a result, didn’t submit to any publishers. Can you please talk about why you picked that route and the pros and cons?

I started writing my first book when I was 48 and it was reading how someone else had self-published that made me wonder about doing that myself when previously that just wouldn’t have been possible. My motivation with the first book was to publish it before my 50th birthday and so I didn’t have time to wait around for agents and publishers at that point.

It is hard to self-publish because you have to pay upfront for editing, proofreading and cover design before you’ve even sold any books. On top of that, the marketing is almost a full-time job in itself. However, what I enjoy is having control over every aspect of the process and when the results come in, they’re all down to me and that’s a good feeling. I did try to get an agent and publisher with my second book and came very close but not close enough. At that point, I realised that I could just do it myself again and my second book is doing so well that I don’t regret that decision at all.

Do you think the rise of social media has helped when it comes to self-publishing? How important is it to you? Is Twitter your favourite?

I suppose social media has helped indie authors to make themselves a bit more visible amongst the millions of authors out there, and I am active on Twitter and also on my Facebook page, as well as a couple of other sites to a lesser extent. However, I don’t know how much they influence sales as such – it’s very hard to tell but I enjoy being on it to the level that I am involved so I’ll continue with it as long as that remains the case.

It seems like when you self publish you have to be a jack of all trades – from cover design, type-setting, promotion etc. Which part was the easiest and which part was the hardest? Is there anything you know now that wish you had known for your first book?

The_Vineyard_in_Alsa_Cover_for_KindleFor me, the easiest part of self-publishing is uploading my book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing because I can compile my manuscript straight from Scrivener which is the writing software package I use. It really couldn’t be any easier.

The hardest job is finding the time to try out all the new ways of promoting yourself as an author. Sometimes, it’s very easy to spend all your time on marketing and promotion, and then you find you have no time to write! You have to be quite disciplined to make time for your writing and if you’re a bit of a procastinator…

I’m not sure there’s anything I wish I’d known for my first book, apart from learning more about plotting! Still, I may have given up before I’d even got started if I’d spent all my time learning how to plot. Sometimes the best way of learning is to throw yourself in the deep end and give it a go!

Many of the authors I enjoy reading are members of the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). Can you tell me why you joined and what you get from it?

Joining the RNA was quite simply the best decision I’ve ever made. I went to a Festival of Romance in November 2013 and there was a panel of RNA authors there that day who told me about the New Writers’ Scheme. I joined in January 2014 and I have made many good friends since then, at parties, events and conferences. The RNA is full of such generous writers all ready to give advice when asked, and the friendship is second to none. I’m about to graduate from the NWS now to be an independent author member of the RNA and I feel very proud to have reached that milestone. I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many lovely writing friends.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m trying to finish the first draft of my third book, set in a restaurant in Devon. This will be the last book I submit to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and the deadline is August 31st so I am up against it a bit. I will then be editing a novella I wrote some time ago, which is a sequel to my first novel, From Here to Nashville. I hope to publish it later this year, and the new novel next year.

Finally, do you have any tips for writers perhaps thinking of going the indie route?

If you’re a new writer of romance, join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme to get early support with your writing. Make sure that when you’ve finished your draft and first round of edits that you seek the help of a professional editor. This should be followed up with a professional proofread. If you can afford to pay for a professional cover designer as well, so much the better but there are cheaper options that will still produce a good cover for you. For advice on all the practical aspects of self-publishing, join the Alliance of Independent Authors too.

The other piece of advice I would give is something I heard from another writer recently, which is that if you write, you’re a writer. So try not to let your fears get in your way. You can do it – you just need to make a start.

~

Thank you very much to Julie for answering my questions, despite not only being on deadline but also preparing for a literary festival. I found so much of what she said useful in a practical sense but I was also really inspired by her journey – especially trying to write and be published in your 40s. That last piece of shared advice is a keeper too.

You can find out more about Julie via her website follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook. You can also buy both her books via Amazon here.

I’ll have another Behind The Book for you on August 21st.

 

Book Review: Summer On Firefly Lake.

jengilroyLike eating stew and dumplings on a cold day in winter, reading the second book in Jen Gilroy’s Firefly Lake series left me feeling happy, warm and satisfied.

Actually “reading” is probably the wrong way to describe what happened when I opened Summer On Firefly Lake because it felt more like I’d been invited to pull up a chair and sit for a while. Jen’s writing is so rich in colour that the place felt like home and the characters like friends.

Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes love is better the second time around . . . 

Mia Gibbs spent her marriage putting her husband’s needs before her own. And now, after a painful divorce, she’s building a new life for herself and her two daughters back home at Firefly Lake. The last thing she needs is a man to complicate things. But former bad boy turned friend Nick McGuire-and the one kiss they’ve shared-has turned everything upside down . . .

Attorney Nick McGuire wasn’t meant to be a family man. His career has always been his focus and after taking time out to help his mother, he’s ready to get back to the city . . . until Mia and her daughters arrive at Firefly Lake. Mia is beautiful and intriguing, and it doesn’t take long to realize being “just friends” will never be enough. As the summer nights turn colder, Nick will have to choose between the life he’s always wanted . . . and the woman he can’t live without.

I could use words such as gentle, heartwarming, charming and sweet and still not really cover just how lovely this book is. That’s not to say the story is without action and drama, oh no, there’s plenty of that. While the main characters are Mia and Nick, a wonderful supporting cast definitely help throw in a few twists and turns – and they certainly earn their happy ending.

As I said, this is book two in the series – and several of the characters from the first book, The Cottage At Firefly Lake, make a welcome reappearance – but it works well as a standalone.

And while I might have mentioned winter stew at the start, this book is perfect whatever the season.

I’m already looking forward to book three.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £3.49.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

Thank you to Jen and her publisher, Forever, (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for my honest opinion.

Jen also featured in my Behind The Book series where she talks about her path to publication.

A Look Behind The Book With Jen Gilroy.

Jen Gilroy author photo - Golden Network retreat 2016In just over a week, Jen Gilroy’s second book in her wonderfully heart-warming Firefly Lake series will be published – she is, officially, Living The Dream.

How she got there is a fascinating tale – at one point it involved a daily target of 250 words so that she satisfied her need to write while also meeting the demands of a hectic full-time job and family life.

I am a big fan of her writing (a review of Summer On Firefly Lake is coming up. Edit: here it is) and I’m delighted to introduce Jen as my latest Behind The Book interviewee. She very kindly shares some of the details of her route to publication and offers great encouragement for others starting along what can be a long and winding path.

When did the dream to become a writer start? And how did you keep that dream alive?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in words and using them to tell stories. However, my dream of becoming a published author started in junior school when, as an avid reader, I imagined seeing my name on a book on a library shelf. I was also influenced by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s ‘Emily’ trilogy about a young girl who sought and achieved writing success.

As life intervened, my dream dimmed but never truly died. After several turning points and significant birthdays, though, I began writing seriously again. Despite rejection and personal and family traumas, I kept the dream alive because I was too stubborn to give up!

In one interview, you said that when you first started to write more seriously you not only had a full time job, which required you to travel internationally, but also a young child AND a husband who travelled too. When on earth did you find the time/energy to write?

When I look back on those years before publication, I sometimes wonder how I fit everything in. Yet, I did because I had a dream that I believed in and wanted to give everything I had to try and realise it.

I wrote in snatched moments—a few words here and there at lunch during my day job, while my daughter did sport and slept, and in hotels on business travel. I set myself a daily word count target of 250 words and little by little, the words added up to become books. I also reassessed what was most important in my life and since writing followed family, I gave up other things (like watching television) to prioritise it.

At difficult times, writing also provided temporary escape and emotional solace. Just after I’d started writing the book that became The Cottage At Firefly Lake, my mum was killed in a road accident. Brief forays into my fictional world helped me through those very dark days and, for that reason, the book is dedicated in her memory.

How long did it take to write The Cottage At Firefly Lake? How soon did you start sending it off to publishers? Was it an instant hit with them? And did you always envisage it as a series?

I started writing The Cottage At Firefly Lake in 2012 and worked on it on and off for several years. It also went through the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) for critique twice.

I sent the manuscript to agents first and, after many months on submission, signed with Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency in July 2014. Dawn began querying the manuscript with publishers early in 2015.

It was not ‘an instant hit’ and was rejected many times, even after it was a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s 2015 Golden Heart® contest for unpublished writers (under a previous title). I owe a great deal to Dawn who didn’t lose faith in the story (or me) and worked with great persistence to find it a home until it sold to Hachette Book Group USA, Grand Central, Forever that August.

Although I didn’t envisage the book as a series initially, once I finished the first draft and, as often happens for me, some of the secondary characters had taken on a life of their own and ‘demanded’ their own stories. Nick and Mia, the hero and heroine of the second book, Summer On Firefly Lake (which comes out at the end of this month), were two of those characters.

Luckily, the publishers my agent intended to query also wanted a series proposal.

SummeronFireflyLake4_RGB300What was your reaction when you found out you had a three-book deal? Did you immediately call your boss and quit your job?

Disbelief, joy and shock. Having worked for so many years towards a dream, all of a sudden it had come true. It was a life-changing, never-to-be-forgotten moment.

My book deal also came at a time of personal and professional upheaval. Two months earlier, there was a restructuring at my day job and I’d opted for voluntary redundancy. In parallel, and after much soul-searching, my husband and I decided to uproot our lives in England and return to Canada so our daughter could start senior school there.

The news that my book had sold coincided with an international move, and what (unexpectedly) turned out to be a protracted period of single parenting until my husband was able to join us in our new home.

The moral of this story? Life—and dreams—often happen in ways you least expect.

Your first book was published in January and has been well received with comments including “thoroughly absorbing” and “heart-stirring”. How does it feel when people connect with your story?

It’s so special to know that know that my story has touched readers’ hearts. It’s a bit like someone complimenting your child.

It’s also truly humbling when readers have contacted me to say that my book has provided solace, escape or much-needed distraction at a time of serious illness or other life crisis.

I’m grateful that I can give readers something of the pleasure and comfort my favourite authors have given me over the years.

What about the odd person who doesn’t enjoy it as much as you’d hope? How do you deal with that?

There will always be readers who, for whatever reason, won’t enjoy what I write. Although negative reviews sting, I remind myself that there are some popular books that don’t appeal to me, either, and all of my favourite authors have received their share of damning reviews, too.

If the comments are constructive, I consider if there’s something I can learn from them to help me become a better writer but, at the end of the day it’s only one person’s view.

Ice cream is also excellent consolation!

Setting seems really important to your books. I know you lived in the UK. Would you consider setting a book in England?

Yes, setting is hugely important to me as a writer, and I suspect that stems in part from how certain places have shaped my own life. Several areas of England—the Lake District and north Norfolk coast in particular—are special to me and would be lovely settings for books. In fact, I have several such story nuggets in my ‘writing inspiration folder.’

However, and despite spending so many years of my life in England, I haven’t yet developed a believable English writing voice, particularly when it comes to dialogue. I’ve tried and, as members of one of the writing groups I belonged to in the UK would undoubtedly attest, the result is awkward. Never say never, though!

How do you feel about social media? And how much effort do you put into it? Does it help you connect with your readers? Is that a positive?

I have active profiles on Twitter and Facebook and usually post on both platforms daily. Since I’m a new author, I’m still growing my audience but it’s lovely when readers reach out to me via social media.

I put a lot of effort into my social media work and to me it’s positive and time well spent. When I share bits of my life with readers, and they share bits of their lives in return, we build the kind of relationships and community that characterises the places I write about.

Social media is also how I connect with other authors and, alongside reader engagement, it’s a learning and professional development tool.

In addition, I maintain an active blog and post fortnightly on Fridays. Since it’s reader-focused, posts are about life and not writing craft or industry.

Are you already thinking ahead to what comes after book three? A completely new series? A one off?

The third book in my Firefly Lake Series, Back Home At Firefly Lake, will be published in North America on December 5 this year.

I’m currently working on something new—the first book in a romantic women’s fiction series due to my agent later this month.

Although it’s been a bit of a wrench to leave the cosy world of Firefly Lake, I’m enjoying getting to know new characters and a new small-town community.

What one piece of advice would you give to a writer perhaps struggling to get published?

Something I’ve said before and that a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) said to me when I was struggling in the unpublished trenches: The only difference between a published and unpublished writer is that the published one didn’t give up.

Yes, you will get rejections, many of them if you’re like me. You’ll also question what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, also like me. But if the dream of becoming a published author is important to you, don’t stop believing in yourself even if others do.

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Thank you so much to Jen for sharing her journey. I loved all of her answers but her final words are especially stirring. I’m sending her all my best wishes for a happy publication day (on July 25) and I’m already looking forward to the final instalment of Firefly Lake (a place I would quite happily move to in a heartbeat).

Keep up with all Jen’s news by visiting her website, where she writes an entertaining blog, following her on Twitter and Facebook. With thanks (again) to Susanna Bavin for introducing us.

I’ll have two more interviews for you next month.

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