A Look Behind The Book With Shari Low.

B8B6C5EE-10D3-4A57-89C1-6D0BFFC3C49BShari Low is a writer who ticks all the boxes for me – as you will know if you’ve read any of my reviews of her books (I used the word ‘perfection’ to describe one).

Her tangled plot lines, authentic characters and wonderful writing style, which is always bursting with heart, has made her a number one best-selling author. The fact that she is also down to earth, friendly and appreciative of her fans, makes me all the more thrilled for her success.

Currently working on book 24 (wow!), Shari has taken time out to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee (and also my last one of 2018).

I had a proper fangirl moment and struggled to narrow down my questions to a number that didn’t rival a book of its own but here’s what she had to say.

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I love your books and always marvel at the planning that must go into them. I assume you have a huge glass wall where you write complex diagrams using different coloured markers. Am I close?

I so wish I were that kind of writer, positively oozing organisation and structure! The truth is, I plan absolutely nothing. Not a thing. I just start with a vague top-line concept, then type and see where it goes. Every single word of it lives in my head – I don’t write anything down, no post-its, no notes. This is why I become completely consumed when I’m working on a novel, because my mind just lives in that world from the moment I start a book until I type ‘The End’, usually about six weeks later.

While you always wanted to write, it wasn’t until you hit 30 that you actually sat down and wrote the opening chapters of what would be your first book. Do you think the life experience beforehand helped you become a better writer? 

Life experience definitely helped me. I didn’t go to uni or study creative writing in any way. Instead, I worked full time from when I was 16 in a multitude of jobs – sales, recruitment, and managing nightclubs in the UK, China and Hong Kong. By the time I finally sat down to fulfil my lifelong ambition of writing a book, I had loads of stories to tell. Twenty years later, I’m still going.

How on earth do you let your characters go? They seem so real – and I’m just a reader – I imagine they are almost like family to you.

I’m completely hopeless at letting them go! That’s why so many of my characters pop up in later books. In my head, my books are a real world, where you bump into people you haven’t seen for a while, or some of the lives overlap in unexpected ways. One character in particular, Josie, an outrageous, frank, and completely hilarious woman of mature years, stormed into that world back in Temptation Street in 2010, and she’s made an appearance in almost every book since then. She’s based on someone I adored, who passed away many years ago, and it’s my way of keeping that person around.

You’ve written under several pseudonyms, including as Shari King, with your childhood friend, Ross King. I guess the last one is obvious but can you talk about your decision to use pen names?

I think it comes down to style and genre. The books I write under my own name are tales of tangled relationships with heaps of humour and heart. Every now and then, I get the urge to write a raunchy, 80s style bonkbuster, so that’s when I slip on a leopard print jacket with huge shoulder pads and break out the pseudonyms.

You published your most recent book, the brilliant Another Day In December, last month. Will there be any more in this series? (Please say yes). How did you spend publication day?

Yes! I’m working on the third book in the Winter Day trilogy right now – it’ll join One Day In December and Another Day In Winter on the shelves in Oct 2019.

On publication day for Another Day In Winter, I worked all day, then all my mates descended at night. There was definitely gin!

 

As well as your many fiction books, you also published a non-fiction book, Because Mummy Said So, based on your popular parenting newspaper column. Would you consider non-fiction again?

Perhaps. For fifteen years I wrote the weekly newspaper column about the ups, downs, hilarity, and mortifying moments of family life. Because Mummy Said So is a collection of my favourite stories of chaos, mayhem and disasters. However we could only fit so many in the book and there are loads we didn’t use so there’s definitely the possibility of another volume. I was a relentlessly embarrassing, imperfect parent!

On the day you found out about your first publishing deal, you also discovered you were pregnant (big day!). I know your boys are older now but can you share any tips for mums and dads for juggling family life with writing time?

I write everywhere and anywhere, no excuses.  I worked on my newspaper columns and features during the day while the kids were at school, so I had to fit my novels in around that. My boys are both basketball players who have trained every night for the past five years, so my last ten books have pretty much been written while sitting in sports centre car parks drinking tea out of a flask and then overnight while they’re asleep. Oh the glamour! I look fairly close to something from a zombie apocalypse by the time I type the last page.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a writer?

The worst is the ‘head on desk, deadline approaching, oh-I’m-rubbish-at-this’panic that hits me several times during the writing of every book. I’m now on number 24 and it still happens!

shari low

Do you have a top writing tip you could share?

I always like to have at least one character that I’m madly in love with – it makes getting to the desk every morning so much easier!

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Thank you so much to Shari for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m completely blown away by the fact that she doesn’t plan. I’m even more in awe of her work now.

If you’d like to find out more about her please visit her website, Facebook page and follow her on Twitter (she’s very friendly). You can also buy her books via Amazon and all good book shops.

What about you? Are you a plotter or a panster? I was a complete panster until my first go at National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and now I’m a bit of a mix of both.

 

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A Look Behind The Book With Jess Shanahan.

jesstexlassqMotorsport is often seen as a glamorous, competitive, high octane world but what’s it like behind the scenes?

One person in the know is Jess Shanahan who not only works in the industry but has written a new book, Get Paid To Race, to help others hoping to succeed in the sport.

I interviewed Jess for a magazine article recently but couldn’t resist asking her to be my latest Behind The Book participant – especially as I had so many more questions I wanted to put to her.

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Why motorsport? How did you get hooked? What is it you love about that world?

I’ve always loved cars but it was the introduction to Formula One that really got me hooked. I loved the paddock drama and technical details just as much as I loved the racing. Because of this, I decided, as I do, that this was the industry I was going to get involved with.

You were a race team boss. What did that involve? Did you ever want to drive?

It was part hustling to find sponsors and part looking after everyone on race day. I helped the team get press coverage, updated our social channels, changed the odd wheel, took a lot of photographs and looked after special guests. It was a really varied role and every day was different.

Part of me wants to try my hand behind the wheel. I’ve had some on-track instruction, which was so much fun but I worry that I’d just be terrible. I’m horribly competitive so I feel the whole thing would just leave me in tears!

It’s an obvious question but motorsport appears to be a fairly male-dominated industry, has that ever caused you any problems? Have you seen a change over the years you’ve been involved?

I wouldn’t say it’s ever caused me problems but I definitely feel I have to work harder than a man might in my position. I’ve found that when I’m at race tracks in my regular clothing and not teamwear, I’m pretty much ignored. I have to fight to join in conversations about suspension or racing lines. It’s frustrating.

This makes it very hard to get my authority across. I need people to trust that I’m an expert and while I can put my experience across when asked a direct question, I get laughed at if I offer to help a man who is struggling to change a wheel.

Final front coverCan you tell us about your book? What is it about, who is it for and what made you want to write it?

Get Paid to Race is the ultimate guide to motorsport sponsorship and it was written for any racing driver who needs to bring in sponsorship to climb the motorsport ladder. It’s just as relevant to amateur racers just looking for a little cash to fund an expensive hobby, as it is to professional drivers who need five or six figures to get to the next level.

I wanted to write it for the same reason I set up my motorsport coaching business, Racing Mentor, back in 2016. I saw how few drivers were actually taking a business-focused approach to sponsorship. For most, if a driver doesn’t get sponsorship, they can’t keep racing and that’s a real shame.

I wanted to write the book as another avenue to help racers get on track and stay there because I hate seeing driving talent wasted.

You’ve got so many strings to your bow (freelance journalist, presenter, fashion editor and PR to name a few). How on earth did you find time to write it?

I am very efficient with my time. I automate a lot of what I do so it frees me up to write. That being said, I’ve scaled back my automotive PR business over the last year or so to give me time to focus on Racing Mentor and helping drivers. Writing Get Paid to Race just seemed to fit in quite nicely.

I did have a few weeks where I was writing over evenings and weekends but I know this content like the back of my hand. It was just a case of getting it all out of my head and onto paper.

Now that the book is finished, I’m stepping up my presenting work once again because I love reviewing cars and have missed it so much.

What about publishing. Can you talk about why you picked the route you did? Did you learn anything in the process?

I already have an audience in place so it made sense to me to choose the route that would get the book in their hands as quickly as possible. I did also think about the numbers, it didn’t make sense to me to accept a small advance from a publisher then only get a small percentage of sales in royalties when I’d already built the audience that would buy the book.

Instead, I decided to self-publish. This allowed me to pre-sell copies of the book and seek sponsorship for it as proof of concept. I made enough money to more than cover the cost of printing the first run of 400 books.

I worked with Alexa Whitten of The Book Refinery because I wanted a professionally produced book that didn’t look self-published. She is an expert who is definitely to thank for the high-quality look and feel of the finished book!

With your skills, I’m sure you were confident you could market your book. Any tips for authors who perhaps don’t have experience in that field for getting their work out there?

Build an audience first. You probably already know who might be interested in what you’re writing about, so seek them out. Start sharing your wisdom or stories with them so they buy into who you are and what you do.

This is obviously a lot easier if you’re writing non-fiction but it works for fiction writers too. If you can build even a small audience before you finish your book, you’ll have buyers ready and waiting.

I’d also suggest seeking out press coverage for your book both before and after it’s been published.

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What books do you enjoy reading?

I love a book that makes me think. I read a lot of personal development and business books but my escape is fiction. If I’ve had a hard day, I love nothing better than diving into some sci-fi or horror. When people ask me what books I read, I tend just to say, ‘weird ones’.

Any plans to write more books in the future? How about fiction?

I’m actually in the process of negotiating with a traditional publisher about an automotive book. I can’t really say anything more than that at this stage but I feel I’ve opened the floodgates now. I’ve certainly got more ideas for non-fiction books aimed at my motorsport audience.

I did actually write a fiction book when I was 20 but never sought out an agent or publisher. Even though I completed what I thought, at the time, were my last edits, I do kind of want to go back to it for another polish. It’s a post-apocalyptic horror with a very character-driven storyline of love and betryal, with a few monsters thrown in for good effect.

Fiction writing, like reading, is another escape for me and I write every day in that respect. I have seven journals full of handwritten stories. There are at least two novels within those notebooks but I can’t see me getting around to writing any of them up any time soon.

Do you have any top tips for people wanting to write non-fiction?

Firstly, just do it. Take your expertise and just write it up. That’s the biggest hurdle. If you’re really stuck, consider the questions people are always asking you. What’s their pain point? What are they desperate to know? This can help you form a strong outline for your non-fiction book.

Secondly, believe in yourself and your expertise. I had so many doubts about myself during the writing process and I know they’re completely unfounded because I have the results to show myself and the world that I know what I’m talking about. I’d guess that most writers think like this at one point or another.

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Fantastic tips from Jess, I can see why she’s a successful mentor – I feel inspired. A huge thank you to her for taking part in Behind The Book and best wishes for the success of Get Paid To Race, which is out now.

You can find out more about Jess through her website or follow her on Twitter. Details of her book can be found here.

A Look Behind The Book With Tom Albrighton.

Copywriter (noun): A person who writes the text of advertisements or publicity material.

Oxford English Dictionary.

Tom-Albrighton-mono-500pxWhile this definition is correct, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t do justice to the skill and talent involved in writing that ‘text’, which not only informs but often has to sell too.

One man who knows just what it takes is Tom Albrighton, who has been successfully doing the job for more than 12 years.

He’s also written a book, entitled Copywriting Made Simple, imparting some of his expertise in a bid to help other people wanting to break into this field.

I was delighted to be able to quiz Tom, who is based in Norwich, for my latest Behind The Book post.

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Can you tell us a bit about you and your writing background?

As a child I loved reading and writing stories. I did an English degree at the University of East Anglia and worked at Jarrold Publishing, then at a small agency.

I went freelance about 12 years ago, and since then I’ve written copy for brands of all sizes, in the UK and beyond, and I also do academic editing.

In 2012 I co-founded ProCopywriters, the UK alliance for commercial writers. I stepped down from running it in 2016.

How is copywriting different from journalism?

For me, the biggest contrast is with publishing, since that’s my background. But both books and newspapers are about giving readers something interesting, valuable or fun that they’ll seek out and (hopefully) buy. In contrast, copywriting is about grabbing their attention and cultivating their interest or desire, so they’ll seek out and buy something else. So as I say in the book, it’s writing with purpose.

What made you want to write your book? Who is it aimed at? Aren’t you helping the competition, in a way?

I wanted to write a simple, accessible guide to copywriting that anyone could find useful, even if they didn’t write for a living. I felt that many of the books out there mainly focused on one type of copywriting (whether they admitted it or not), and I wanted mine to be as universal as possible.

I suppose I am helping the competition, but when it comes to writing work, I try to have an ‘abundance mindset’. There are plenty of copywriting clients and jobs out there, and we can all find our niche.

tom quoteReading my book won’t turn you into me, but I hope it will help you find yourself as a copywriter.

Did you have any worries about writing a book about writing?

Well, the biggest worry is making your advice consistent with itself. I’d be mortified if someone said, ‘On page 123 you say this, but then on page 234 you write this!!’ That’s why I spent ages editing the book – far longer than the initial writing.

I think, from the outside, many people think writing is easy (in my experience, especially journalism) and anyone can do it. What’s your take?

I think this is because nearly everybody writes as part of their work, using the same tools as the professional. So there’s no barrier to entry, no cloud of mystique around the act of writing.

Also, when you see something well written, whether it’s an ad or an article, it’s so easy to think, ‘Oh yeah, I could have done that,’ particularly when the finished text is short and simple. Then you try it yourself, and you realise that long and complex is a piece of cake, while short and simple is fiendishly hard.

CopywritingmadesimpleThe strapline for your book is “write powerful and persuasive copy that sells”. From a copywriting point of view, can you afford to take a stand against products/brands you might not agree with? Has that ever come up?

I wrote about a consumer credit product recently that gave me pause, although I still did the job. I’ve always thought that I I’d hate selling sugary food to kids – but nobody’s asked me yet. And I wouldn’t fancy writing about guns.

I’d applaud anyone who took a stand, but if you’re in a salaried post or supporting a family, that could be a tough call to make. You could argue, self-protectively, that it’s the companies and brands who are the real villains, and marketers are just messengers. Certainly, we can’t sell to people against their will. But at the same time, we are out to influence them. So we’re probably not without sin.

How did the idea for writing it come about? Did you pitch it to publishers before writing it? Or was it all done and dusted first?  

When I stepped down from running ProCopywriters a few years ago, I fancied a new challenge. Since I’m a generalist rather than a specialist, a basic introduction was a natural fit. Originally it was going to be a little ebook, but it kind of grew.

It’s self-published (by Troubador), so there wasn’t any pitching. With quite a few copywriting books out there already, and no plans to write further books, I didn’t fancy trying to convince an agent to take me on. I also wanted full control over the editorial, design and production, since the book is my professional calling card and I know something about creating a book from my previous life.

What about the process of writing it? Did you take time off from your day job to write it?

Nope, I just did it in spare moments, mostly while Strictly or Britain’s Got Talent was on in the lounge. I’ve always spent some time blogging, as a non-work writing outlet, so I just repurposed those bits of time. Start to finish, the writing took me about two years.

Ever thought about writing fiction?  

I thought this was a fiction assignment?

Do you have any top tips you can share for copywriters?

Be curious. Read widely. Take an interest in what’s going on, what people say, what they do. Think about how products or services work, and why people like them. That’s how you find the little things that bring copy to life.

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Thank you to Tom for his fantastic answers. You can follow him on Twitter here and find out more about his book, Copywriting Made Simple, (including details of how to buy) here.

I was particularly interested to hear what he said about taking a stand on certain brands/products from a personal point of view, not only as a journalist but also in terms of blogging. Sometimes, especially in the latter, it can seem like you need to sell your soul to make money. From a copywriting point of view, writing about meat products as a veggie is probably the closest I’ve come to that.

What about my fellow bloggers out there. How do you decide what you will and won’t write about, especially if you are reliant on blogging for income? 

Also, a big thanks to Anne for introducing Tom and I.