FIRST IMPRESSIONS: THE POST(BOOK)NATAL AUTHOR

LH CUPCAKES & BOOKDespite the unreliability of my writing hormones post(book)partum, you’re going to get my first impressions of being newly delivered of a shiny book baby.

After years of gestation; antebooknatal tests (i.e. proofs – sorry, enough); online interviews about my inspirations and stuff like The Five Things I (shouldn’t) Want My Readers to Know About Me; a couple of bladder-pressing stints on radio… The Day arrived. 

Inviting people to my book launch had felt like such a huge conceit, but it’s quite staggering how many seem to want to come to these things. With the bizarre This-is-Your-Life type gathering, it feels a bit like a wedding – until the horrific realisation that, apart from the publisher doing a brief intro, you’ll be doing ALL the speeches. In my case at Waterstones Piccadilly, surrounded by photos of illustrious previous launchers…

The next morning – feeling a bit sick after attempting to finish off the lighthouse cupcakes on the train home – my phone hand goes into cramp as I attempt to keep on top of tidal waves of social media. This must be what it’s like to be famous, I’m thinking… until one human offspring informs me that Amazon has decided products related to my new novel include Tart Cherry Extract Capsules, and Deep, an erotic military romance. The other boy has unbelievably managed to enter the barbed tangle of Goodreads.com, and found a quick-off-the-mark 1-star detractor complaining about my female protagonist’s lack of (selfie-worthy) interest in her appearance. 

I was going to go swimming, get on with the day, but this new book baby wants constant care: even after just a quick bath, I come back to 23 Twitter notifications screaming for attention. Oh, and of course I feel the need to check the book’s development, compared with other new-borns… in the Amazon Sales Ranks. I soon had post(book)natal depression – meaning a squashed tip to my Amazon-tapping index finger. 

In the end I reasoned that, since much of the book was written in bed, it was fitting to have a postbookpartum pyjama day to celebrate. After years of abortive efforts (see My Potholed Path to Publication post), I finally have what I want, as long as I keep my expectations realistic. Much as I’d like my book to grow up to be a bestseller, it will be nurtured by an energetic independent publisher rather than one of the moneyed big five. We’ll give it all the best chances we can of course – but I also need to get on with giving it a sibling!

New and shiny The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is available from  https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1911583646/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1523175942&sr=8-1#featureBulletsAndDetailBullets_secondary_view_div_1523181417109

 

 

 

 

WRITE AN AMAZON BOOK REVIEW – IN 5 MINUTES

 

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Compared to a play or concert, a novel can give us three times as many hours of entertainment, at a third or less of the cost. At the end of a show, we spend 5 minutes either clapping politely or stamping and cheering; shouldn’t we do at least as much for a novel we’ve just enjoyed? We can. It’s called writing an Amazon review. 

We can, but only a tiny percentage of us ever do – and even these wonderful people (ahem) let good books go by un-applauded. Why?

  • “I’ve left it too long, and now can’t think what to write.” (Uh, this is me)

So write less! It’s better than nothing. Guilt: how could I not leave a review for Tony Parker’s Lighthouse? Invaluable research, and I adored it.  [Spends 5 minutes giving it a short but heartfelt 5-star review]

  • “It was only OK. Nothing wrong with it, just not my thing.”

But it might be someone else’s; they need to know about it. Give 3 stars and get on with it. The writer won’t mind; Amazon works in weird ways, giving a book with fifty 3-star reviews more visibility than one with ten 5-star reviews.

I usually save 1 or 2 star reviews for electric blankets, but once in a while I feel the need to share that a hyped-up novel was a massive disappointment. 

  • “I didn’t buy the book from Amazon.”

It doesn’t matter, you just need to have spent at least £40 through your Amazon account. Nice try.

  • “I don’t know how.” 

Meaning, “I don’t want to look thick among the blogger/author/pro reviewers.

Do a refreshingly minimalist one then, or see REVIEW PLAN below.

  • “NO, I REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW.

Good grief. OK, here goes:

Click: the book -> Customer Reviews -> Write a Review. 

Click on the stars. Careful – it’s amazing how many people dither here and end up writing a glowing but ONE star review. 

In Write Your Review, say what you liked / didn’t like in anything between 1 sentence or a mini essay (see below). The Headline for Your Review can be a phrase you’ve just used. Press SUBMIT. DONE!

PLAN for the perfect Amazon/Waterstones/Goodreads review (IMHO):

  • 1-2 sentence intro. Perhaps what attracted you to the book, and your overall gut reaction. 
  • A brief summary of what it’s about, without spoilers (I once had a reviewer give a detailed account of my entire plot AND subplot). Crib from blurb.
  • What you liked and didn’t like – rather than how you ‘just couldn’t put it down’, or – my pet hate – found it ‘a really good read’ (like a bed is a really good sleep). How about the writing? Story? Characters? Setting? You’re not writing a bloody English essay, so not all of these, just whatever sticks out.
  • Try to remember that the review isn’t about you (so what if you usually read dystopia?) or the author (and how she taught you GCSE English in a decade that she’s now claiming to have been born in). It’s about helping your fellow readers decide whether it’s the book for them. Hopefully widening the readership for the author – who has spent a year or more writing the novel when not at work, mopping up pet/adolescent spillages or doing her multi-profession tax accounts. 
  • I like to add little quotes from the book to give people a flavour. For example, reviewing Avril Joy’s Sometimes a River Song, I put ‘Despite the ever-present sense of danger, there are plenty of moments in which ‘my heart felt warm as a new laid chicken egg.’’
  • A final comment, perhaps saying who might enjoy it. For example,  ‘even those with just a passing interest in lighthouse keepers – or human beings in general – will find this fascinating, entertaining and moving.’

OK, this kind of review takes a little longer. But sometimes you want to do a standing ovation.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is available (AND REVIEWABLE) from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighthouse-Keepers-Daughter-Cherry-Radford/dp/1911583646/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1521632737&sr=1-1&keywords=cherry+radford

COUNTDOWN TO THE BOOK LAUNCH

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The book launch is certainly a rich source of over-angst for the pre-pub worrywort. With only a month to go, I’m asking myself:

Why do so many people want to come? 

Lovely of them of course, but it’s beginning to feel like a p-p-p-party. Listen, I’ve spent years at my desk – no, in bed – writing and redrafting this novel; I barely remember how to answer a phone, let alone mingle. Go easy on me.

What sort of an author goes into shock on being asked ‘so what’s your book about?’

Well of course I know what it’s about; it’s like asking a tree about the flavour of its sap. The trouble is, like a tree, I appear to be unable to form the words to describe it. I used to have occasional clarity on this, but being constantly tested by well-meaning friends has reduced me to a manic ‘dunnofuckoff.’ [Cuts out and Sellotapes blurb for fastening to forehead].

Pen poised to sign a book for a friend I’ve known for ten years, will I forget their name?

Probably. If I suddenly dash to the loo with phone (to look through hundreds of emails), it’s you – and I’m really sorry. I’m currently involved in two parallel worlds (that of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter and my 3-generational WIP); I’m all named out. What’s in a name? You know I love you.

Should I waste any more time Googling lighthouse-themed blouses and jewellery? Or consider any jewellery at all, other than a string of beads given to me Christmas c.1995? Crucially, is there time, finally… to learn how to blow-dry my hair?

Probably not.

But ah, I may have the perfect solution to my social ineptitude, lack of conceptual focus, memory and style: LIGHTHOUSE CUPCAKES.

~~~~~

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter launches 5th April, 2018 – despite the above – and is available here:

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-lighthouse-keepers-daughter,cherry-radford-9781911583646

or here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1911583646/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1520067668&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=cherry+radford&dpPl=1&dpID=51yBWY3XBwL&ref=plSrch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY POTHOLED PATH TO PUBLICATION

IMG_0172Looking at my smug mug on Urbane Publications’ shiny new website, I’m sparing a thought for unpublished writers out there who’d like to stick pins in me. A pitchfork, even. I’ve been lucky, I know. I’m sorry. But it might help you to know that my path to publication has been long, muddy and potholed.

 

The first blow was almost my last: my story was rejected by a pony magazine. Okay, I was ten, but the page of reasons for my rejection — no doubt intended to be helpful – made me turn to the recorder and then piano, flute…

 

I didn’t write again for about thirty years – by then on my second career, as a post-doc research optometrist at Moorfields Eye Hospital. I still secretly wanted to write a novel, so I took an Open College of the Arts course and started keeping a diary, but couldn’t come up with an idea.

 

Years later, I finally got an inspiration, and after two months of mulling, made a start (in the middle of an international conference). Unbelievably, the novel wrote itself in six months. I was an author after all! Euphoria!

 

Hm. Until I sent Men Dancing off to a literary consultant and was told yes, well done, but now start again with a different novel. Apparently, my female protagonist was too old (at 42, ffs) and unlikeable. An RNA report agreed. After a few sulky days I started re-writing, making her thirty-bloody-nine and a bit nicer. 

 

Then it was time to hit The Writers’ Yearbook, submitting to the three agents that seemed best suited to my novel. A further ten. The whole effing book. Subs were nearly all postal in those days; my desk became a one-woman sorting office – and soon had a heaped tray of ‘not quite right for us’ letters. Then two agents asked for the full MS and considered it for four months (one sending agonising updates about ‘just having a second/third read’ etc.), but both decided to clear their desks for the holidays and sent painfully synchronised rejection letters a couple of days before Christmas. 

 

It was time to hit the Yearbook pages of lovely little publishers accepting non-agented subs. But they too are swamped with hopefuls, and turned me down. Except a self-pub outfit that also had a ‘conventional’ publishing arm – that they were offering me. I grabbed it with both hands.

 

The company was friendly, the editing light but good. I wasn’t going to be a bestseller – or even a seller at all, other than on Amazon and in the local Waterstones – but at least I was being published. Well, sort of. I had to pay them a fee for having my novel at the London Book Fair. Then for including it in their brochure… Soon, all my royalties were used to pay for this and that – particularly when second novel Flamenco Baby came out. Then the royalties became delayed. No, they stopped. I was so busy researching for a new novel  and doing promo for Flamenco Baby in Spain, that I only once queried it. Then they went very quiet… and bust. I never saw any sales figures or royalties for Flamenco Baby. Another self-publishing company valiantly scooped up most of the floundering authors – and then went bust themselves.

 

But hey, I’d finished another novel, so what did I care? I went bounding off to the Winchester Writers’ Festival with The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter and had a glowing response from a commissioning editor who wanted to see it once I was agented, plus two requests for a full MS from agents! Wow! Ah but listen, people: beware the One-to-One bubble (see my post One-to-Ones, I’ve had a few…). One turned it down in 3 days, and the other… well, more than two years on, I’m still waiting to hear. 

 

So, it was back to those lovely indie publishers. One — over the course of a whole year – was interested, turned it down, invited re-sub after changes, then turned it down again. I splashed out on a literary consultancy report, revised, splashed out on another (Cornerstones & The Literary Consultancy – both recommended). It was a lot better, but still not quite fitting into a genre. Two years had now passed since I’d finished it, and — worst of all – I wasn’t coming up with any ideas for a new novel. I started to seriously question why I was pouring so much time, heart and money into it all this. 

 

Then a Twitter friend told me to submit to his publisher, Urbane Publications. Thinking they only published Crime, I’d not bothered them with my not-quite-women’s fiction – but I’d been wrong about that. I ordered some of their books and found wonderfully unusual, genre-bending stories; heard about the inclusive way they work with authors… this was where I wanted to be! I re-drafted and submitted. The wait was the most agonising I’d had during the nine years since I started writing. But it was a YES. Oh, the screams. 

 

I’m realistic, there are a lot of books out there and bigger publishers to compete with, but now I’m part of the Urbane family I can get on with what I want to do: read, write (new novel finally on the go), get books out there and support others whose work I admire.

 

My advice: Keep tramping that path, and one day you’ll find the right place to have your smug mug.

 

THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS DAUGHTER (Urbane Publications) will be published on 5th April, 2018.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighthouse-Keepers-Daughter-Cherry-Radford/dp/1911583646/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1516540213&sr=8-6&keywords=the+lighthouse+keeper%27s+daughter

 

TAX TIP FOR THE PRE-PUBLICATION AUTHOR

IMG_8740New living area, new publishing deal: time to find a new accountant. How do I do that? Maybe the way I picked the solicitors: Googling those in walking distance and selecting on architectural / pink-painted appeal.

But the names of the accountancy firms springing up on the map suggest further filtering is needed. I’m looking at companies called TaxAssist (too on the nose), Advanta (did two letters fall off their signboard?), Breeze (it won’t be, for an arithmophobic author), and Savoir Faire (oh bog off). Decided to be a normal person for a moment and call them about fees. I got a lot of piece-of-string answers, including one from an accountant who charges by the hour but had a very unfortunate stutter.

Eventually I spoke to a gem at a company with a flat fee, Victorian stucco, and generous free advice on the phone.

Talking to an accountant about the publication of my novel in April 2018, my pre-publication presumptuousness reached a whole new level. But here’s my tax tip for the signed author waiting to be published: did you know that expenses for your pre-published writing can be set against non-writing earnings for the same year? Maybe I’m the last to know. But yup, the cost of notebooks, a book about childhood in the 1950s, a ticket for a paddle steamer etc. etc. will be reducing tax for my science research and piano teaching work. Crazy but cracking news. Talk to an accountant!

ONE-TO-ONES, I’VE HAD A FEW…

Clip Art Graphic of a Lime Green Guy Character

One-to-ones, I’ve had a few, but then again… who can resist the chances to “pitch your work to industry gate keepers!” in a writing festival package? Although you might wish you had resisted, after a weekend of looking at your watch through interesting talks so that you leave them in time (factoring in a nervous pee) for your appointments, and letting other potentially instructive sessions flow past you while you sit there in post-one-to-one bewilderment.

Perhaps I just made bad choices, but I never got much out of literary speed-dating. I have no issue with agents that just didn’t like what I was doing – even the one whose way of imparting this was to spend 10 minutes arguing that a principal ballet dancer wouldn’t travel standard class in a train. I also forgive the two agents (in the same afternoon) that used half of my allocated time to go for a pee. But the one that was so full of praise and excitement that I looked over my shoulder to see if they were speaking to someone else, asked for the full manuscript, and then never replied to any emails…

It’s a tricky pairing: the agent is keen for good festival feedback, doesn’t want any awkwardness, and would like to give constructive feedback – if she can remember enough about your sub (and control her bladder). But the author with a finished novel may not be too receptive to drastic suggestions made after a possibly cursory look at a small sample, and, let’s face it, really just wants to be asked for a full MS.

It’s probably better to have these meetings at an early, more pliable stage of your novel. Or hone your manuscript with a writing group and a good literary consultancy, then do carefully crafted online subs to the RIGHT agents and publishers.

Exactly two years on (and still not having heard from the ecstatic agent), I’m pinch-myself happy to be a signed author with the wonderful Urbane Publications. I can now be one of those smug so-and-so’s who can go to a writing festival without any need to miss anything – my eight years of running the one-to-one gauntlet are over!

 

THE ALLURE OF THE LIGHTHOUSE

9C054EA5-45FC-4FFA-85F7-DAB85782E992Photo: Juan del Pozo

So what is it about lighthouses? I mean, it’s not just me, is it. I don’t think it’s the lighthouse’s popularity as a symbol of spiritual, physical and moral guidance, however much it delights me that my GP surgery is called The Lighthouse Practice. I get nearer to the answer when I watch the Beachy Head lighthouse flash out into the night; part of the attraction must be the childish love of a night-light.

Then you have to admire their permanence. They’re built like fortresses, unbelievably resistant to the horrors nature throws at them. On a tour in Jersey’s Corbière lighthouse I’ve jotted down ‘You can’t forget the sea, not for a moment. It resents the impudence of this impervious concrete structure.’ With few exceptions – notably the Eddystone lighthouse, now in its fourth edition – the sea has to put up with them.

So, comforting night-light and fortress – but I can get these from the Eastbourne seafront’s illuminations and Martello towers, without the same intake of breath. What else is it about lighthouses? The architecture, of course. Glistening white, candy-striped, tall or short: they are beautiful. Even the cliff-top Belle Tout, a grey squat little lighthouse only its mother could love, but stunning from a distance – and inside. Inside! How we all want to go inside. Imagine the cosy minimalist living, the view from the top! (In Part Two I’ll tell you where you can do this).

But architecture: why don’t I view the local statue of the Duke of Devonshire, or even the glorious Pier, with the same primitive adoration? Let’s take a look at a lighthouse. Hm. Remind you of anything? Particularly one with a couple of outbuildings round its base. Let’s face this head on: lighthouses are phallic. Are you with me on this? I hope so, because I’ve got my protagonist’s ex-husband visiting her converted lighthouse and saying ‘God, I didn’t realise you live in the actual shaft of this thing!’ – but now see there’s not a single lewd lighthouse comment on Google. Ah, unless you count the academics discussing the lighthouse theme in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse – even though she herself skirted the issue with ‘I meant nothing by the lighthouse, but trusted that people would make it the deposit for their own emotions.’ They quickly move on to explain that the phallus-lighthouse represents the father’s authority in the traditional family.

There’s certainly no getting away from the masculinity of lighthouses and the profession; despite the famous story of Grace Darling, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter who heroically saved lives after a shipwreck in 1838, female keepers are vanishingly rare – and usually just taking over after the death of a lighthouse keeper husband.

Perhaps this manliness is part of the nostalgia: we picture the practical but gentlemanly lighthouse keeper on his watch, looking out from his lantern room, painstakingly ensuring (it was quite a palaver) that the light is always shone. A dependable man, mindful of the safety of unknown souls on passing ships. ‘A lighthouse doesn’t do anything,’ comments a modest keeper in Tony Parker’s book Lighthouse, ‘it’s just there if you need it.’ Since 1998, when the last of the UK’s lighthouses became automated, the keepers are sadly no longer needed. But mariners still need lighthouses, dotted round perilous parts of our coastline, as a visual back-up to satellite navigation. As beautiful symbols of humanity, strength, dependability and fatherhood – so do we.

My novel THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER is available from your local bookshop or online e.g.  here