The Writing Sparrow Episode 41 | TikTok for Authors with G.R. Thomas

For this week’s episode, I had a chat with G.R. Thomas about how authors can use TikTok to reach new readers and sell more books.

You can find out more about Grace on her websitefind her on Instagram, or follow her on TikTok.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[The Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

[music]

Sarina: Good morning and welcome back friends and sparrows. It’s the 21st of June 2021. This is Episode 41. Today, I’m talking to GR Thomas about TikTok and what it can do for authors. Welcome back, Grace.

Grace: Thanks, Sarina. Great to talk to you again.

Sarina: Always nice to see you. I’m quite curious about this, because everyone’s heard about TikTok, but I feel it’s probably too young for me. [laughs] But, yeah, we’ll see. [00:01:00] I feel it’s maybe not quite the right choice for me, but I’m really excited to see what you’ve got to say about it. We’ve got quite a few questions come in on social media as well, so we’ll get to those too. Yeah, very excited. Let’s dive straight in.

As I said, probably everyone knows of TikTok at this point. It’s somewhat blown up, but for those more technologically challenged among us, like me, could you explain what TikTok is and how you use it?

Grace: Okay, I am a technologically challenged human being and me simply being on TikTok is quite an anomaly. But basically, TikTok is a short video-sharing social media platform. The way it works is advertising is it’s driving force. When you put up a video, [00:02:00] the longer someone watches your video, the more likely your content, whatever that might be, is pushed along by the TikTok algorithms, and that helps you be seen. It’s a platform that has a lot of really interesting stuff, a lot of weird stuff, a lot of stupid stuff. But what I’ve discovered, it has a massive book community. Huge, very untapped.

Sarina: All right, okay, that was going to be one of my questions later on, so we can come back to that. That’s good to hear. So, how long have you been on TikTok now?

Grace: I think it’s around six weeks. That said though, I did look at it a couple of times in the past, and I found it a little overwhelming. I didn’t understand it, and I thought, “I’m an old bag. I don’t know what they’re doing. What are they talking about? I’m not getting on there and doing weird dances and strange things.” [00:03:00] I just didn’t understand it, so I looked away from it. It was only when I kept hearing it pop up in social media chatter that it was a really great platform for authors and readers, I went back and had a look, and I thought, “Oh, well, I’ll just give it a go.”

Sarina: Well, good on you. See, this is where I’m with it. It seems a very strange place. It seems very weird, and I feel like I’m way too old to be on that. I’m only 31, so. [chuckles]

Grace: Well, if I’m on there, you can most definitely be on there. There are people on there who are much, much, much, much, much older than me. There are people who are clearly obviously, much younger than me. But what I think the misunderstanding is, it’s actually not just a young person, teenagers’ platform. There is a lot of business on there. All kinds of businesses, a lot of informative tools [00:04:00] and accounts on there for all kinds of interests. So, it’s not just about teenagers doing stupid, crazy stunts. It’s actually got a much more vast content in there once you get looking around.

Sarina: Okay. Well, that’s news to me, but obviously I haven’t really been on it at all. I’ve tried to stay away from it partially because I’m already so overwhelmed with the few social media sites that I do have that I’m not sure that adding yet another one is the right choice. But I keep swerving between it sounding and looking really fun and very exciting and it just looking like way too much for me. [laughs]

Grace: No, it is fun. I found that it was fun pretty quickly, but it is time consuming. It’s very addictive, very addictive, and it does require you to post very regularly. The positive for me is, [00:05:00] as you know we’ve met through the Instagram community, I can actually share my TikToks onto Instagram and sort of meld those two together, which keeps me connected to that social media. So, at the moment, they’re my two platforms that I just put my time into.

Sarina: Okay, so you can cross post directly from TikTok to Instagram.

Grace: Yeah.

Sarina: Okay, well, I can see how that would make it easier. So, you can kind of post–

Grace: You can share it on Twitter as well. I sometimes share the posts to Twitter as well.

Sarina: Okay, well, that would save quite a bit of time, I imagine. There’s something just now that you’ve mentioned, that brings me to my next question, which is about having to post quite regularly, and you’ve mentioned something earlier as well about how the longer people watch your Toks– [laughs] I don’t know, the more the more pleased the algorithm is with you. I’ve heard from a few [00:06:00] author friends that TikTok has been quite detrimental for their mental health. I was wondering what your experience with this has been. Does it feel more stressful than, say, Instagram?

Grace: I don’t find Instagram stressful at all. Instagram’s always been a really friendly, positive place for me. TikTok, now, at the minute, I find it fun. But, yes, there is that urge that you must post. I usually put three or four videos a day, and I have to think about content that might be of interest, because the whole idea is to get noticed. The only reason I’ve actually stuck with it, Sarina, is because the reaction, the interaction has been enormous. I get almost instant reactions, I’ve had an uptick in sales, that was unexpected. I’ve already had someone [00:07:00] review my book on their account, they’re massive into paperback books. Paperback books is the jam. People review, review, review them.

There’s a massive indie author community on there, and a lot of support. So, that’s what sort of driven me to be more interested and more engaged. Like I’ve befriended you and others on Instagram, there’s already same names cropping up with me, who we chat often and we interact, and then they come over onto Instagram or Twitter, and follow. So, there’s already this really rich networking, I’m discovering. There’s also a lot of really experienced authors on there who put really great tips for writing, writers, and that’s just what’s driving me to keep engaged with it.

Sarina: All right, I’ve got to say, you’re selling it very well.

[laughter]

[00:08:00]

Sarina: As I mentioned earlier, we have quite a few questions that have come in from social media. I’ve got quite a few more after what you’ve just said, to be honest. But I don’t want to preempt any of those. I have a feeling we’re probably going to get to quite a bit of my new questions just from going over that. So, if we get into those, so all of today’s questions have come via Twitter. The first one is from @constantvoice. “How does the book community on TikTok differ from Instagram or Twitter?”

Grace: As I touched on before, it’s more reactive, and I am getting interest and followers and conversion to sales much more surprisingly and rapidly than I ever have on Instagram. So, that has been the big shock to me. I was actually literally just about to pull my books off Kindle Unlimited, [00:09:00] because I just don’t really get much luck on that. I’m suddenly getting all these page rates on Kindle Unlimited, since I joined TikTok. I’ve had people messaged me privately. “Where’s your book?” “I’d love a copy of your book.” As I said, it’s been featured. So, I find the reaction and instantaneousness of it much different to Instagram. I find I get lost in Instagram, I don’t often get shared or seen as much. But this one, I do get that, I suppose, fulfillment and feedback more readily from the BookTok community.

When you hashtag what you’re doing, the hashtags you’re using, there’re billions of views on these hashtags that the community is massive. [00:10:00] I don’t know what it’s like for Instagram, but it just seems a more instant reaction that you get to your posts, particularly if you post something that ticks someone’s box, if you get what I mean.

Sarina: All right. Obviously, on Instagram– Well, it depends who you talk to, I think. Some people will tell you that it doesn’t really matter how many hashtags you use, it’s all about the content. And then, others will tell you that you should probably use all of them, so up to 30 is what it allows you. What do you say that’s just as important on TikTok? How many hashtags would you normally include on–? [crosstalk]

Grace: I use pretty much the same couple of hashtags. Less hashtags is more for TikTok, it’s the content. Again, I have to just say I’m no expert, and I’m very new. What I’ve learned in the time I’ve been there is that people want short, interesting, quick videos. [00:11:00] I did a book review the other day of Becky Wright’s book. I said, “Quick book review,” da, da, da. I did it in less than 10 seconds. I showed the book, said what I loved about it, bang, #IndieAuthorBookTalk, and now my hashtags, and that’s sort of what I do. People want a quick view, an easy view, and you don’t have to put so many hashtags, just something that’s relevant to what you’re posting about. I think it’s a very visual thing. People are looking for something interesting to look at. If they see something interesting as they scroll, because you scroll quick, like you scroll quick, and may stop on something that visually like, “Oh, okay.” If it’s sounding quick and interesting, I’ll stop and watch the whole video. But if it’s something really boring and going so, “Okay, I’ll go past it.” You want something quick and snappy [00:12:00] and interesting, and people will stop, hopefully, and watch the whole video through and then the algorithm supposedly works in your favor.

Sarina: Okay, so what you said there about people generally wanting shorter videos, how long would a normal Tok be?

Grace: When you go on it, there’s 15 and 60 seconds. I follow a few people on there that are social media experts, and they all say, “Do it short and snappy, seven seconds and under, because people have narrow attention span.” That’s common in this day and age on social media. People want quick gratification. I do some that are a bit longer. But when I do longer ones, I do that when I tag in what are the viral like– TikTok is merged with music, so music and sounds are a big part of it. you add in sounds that are [00:13:00] the top sounds, the viral sounds, the up-and-coming sounds, whether they be funny statements, or actual music tracks. If I’m going to do something a bit longer, I’ll usually try and find one of the viral sounds and add that in and then that will usually keep people watching a little bit longer.

Sarina: Okay, so how exactly do you choose the music for– Do you get like a long list? Or, do you just put in whatever you want?

Grace: You can put in whatever you want. You can use your own voice, you can talk, like, there’s some where I talk– [crosstalk]

Sarina: [laughs]

Grace: I’m brave now. It took me a while before it actually put my voice and face on. When you make a video and you press on sounds, you can scroll down, and it actually there’s lists and it says viral, trending, up and coming, new. You can also add things to it. There’s a favorite section. If you watch someone else’s TikTok and they got a song that, or a sound that sounds really cool and fun, and you think, “I could do something with that,” [00:14:00] you can just add that to your favorites list and you can go back to it later when you thought of something that you might want to do, because you can pretty much make a book post out of most songs. I just don’t use songs with swearing and stuff like that, because I write YA. But, yeah, I have a favorites list, and yeah, I try. I didn’t realize at the beginning to go and look for the viral stuff because that’s what people go looking for. I’ve learned that on my way. Trust me, I’ve used my 12-year-old daughter to help me.

[laughter]

Grace: She’s, “Mommy [crosstalk] for this.” Anyone who’s got children or teenagers, they will probably put you on the straight and narrow and then be embarrassed by you.

Sarina: As is your job as parent I think to be embarrassing, that’s how you know you do well.

Grace: Yes.

Sarina: Sounds like TikTok actually makes it quite easy then really to choose good music, let’s call it, to put with your post. So, that’s really nice to see, I think. [00:15:00] Then to move on, our next question is from @VillimeyS. How difficult is it to process/market on TikTok compared to Twitter or Instagram? Now from what you’ve told me, it’s very easy.

Grace: It’s easy. I work the same as I do on Instagram. I don’t just put all the posts about my book, I talk about other things, too, because I think people get bored from people who only saturate their accounts with their own material. You’ve got to, again, support others, market other things, put interesting, different content. But then, it’s as simple as, “Hey, look what I wrote,” or, “I did a thing.” There’s a thing, when you reach 1000 followers on TikTok, the common thing which I discovered pretty quickly is you do a giveaway. So, I did a giveaway. That got a whole lot of interest and got me a whole lot more followers. [00:16:00] That’s actually another thing too with TikTok. I’ve been on Instagram for five years, and I’ve just ticked over 2400 followers. I’ve got nearly 2000 followers on TikTok in six weeks. So, yeah, the interest just seems quicker and easier to get. But, yeah, it’s free to be on, it’s free to market. Yeah, I just think it’s important, like with the other thing, just mix it up with other things and interact with the other authors. Like I said, I have already had someone else pick up my book and showcase my book.

Sarina: It’s very exciting.

Grace: It is. Yeah.

Sarina: I’ve just thought of something to ask– Oh, yeah, there we go. There it is. How much time a day do you spend on TikTok? Because I know with Instagram, for example, it’s recommended that when you post, you don’t hang around for at least 20 minutes and all that, which makes it quite time consuming. Would you say that’s just as important on TikTok? And how much time do you spend on there? [00:17:00]

Grace: Okay, so this is a bit of a loaded answer, because when I started and actually sometimes now, because I’m very camera shy, and I’m like a million years old, and I don’t really know all the clever little tricks, I might sometimes have to do 20 takes or something before I feel it’s not an embarrassing representation of myself. Sometimes, I spend a ridiculous time, making sure that my post looks okay, but that’s just me not wanting to humiliate myself. Like now, I can put up a post in– I mean, I did one just before we started. I literally said, “I’m doing a podcast shortly. Hey, readers out there, is there anything you want to add in that we could help people who are new to BookTok?” And that was it. That took me literally like [00:18:00] 30 seconds to do. If I’m trying to be more creative, it takes me a bit longer. But if it’s just something short and quick, it’ll take me 30 seconds, but I don’t hang around to look for responses or anything like that, because you can actually go in, they’ve got analytics in there, like they do Instagram. I’ve worked out that my biggest audiences in America. What I’ll do, I’ll post stuff, during the daytime, in Australia time, and then I’ll leave it, and then I check in the next morning, and that’s when I see all the interaction overnight when America has been awake, and then I’ll react and interact then.

Sarina: Okay, so it doesn’t punish you for posting and then leaving and coming back to when you know your audience is there. It will still show your posts to those people in other time zones.

Grace: You are not supposed to stays there so my posts get picked up. There’s another thing too so, you have [00:19:00] people you follow and followers, and then there’s this thing called the “for you” page. I’m not adept enough to explain what it is or what it means, but to be on the “for you” page, I suppose is to be on the biggest part of the platform, it’s where the most people see you. If your posts get on the “for you” page, more people have the ability to see you if the algorithm pushes you forward. In terms of going back a bit, hashtagging, when you put on a video, you’re always hashtag “for you” page to hope that your video gets put onto that page. Again, I go back in the analytics and mainly mine are getting on the “for you” page, which is good because then that means my videos are getting pushed out more diversely. That’s my understanding of it. [crosstalk] -I’m wrong, but that’s my understanding of it.

Sarina: Okay. What do you need to do to get pushed onto that “for you” page? Is it [00:20:00] just enough to include that hashtag for it, or is there anything that you can do to appease the algorithm as it were?

Grace: Like I said before, I think it is about people watching your video from beginning to end. If people look at you for a second and scroll by, the algorithm doesn’t like that. They need people to sit and watch that the whole time. It all comes back to money, because however it works, the longer people stay on their platform, the more advertising they can push to consumers. That’s a whole other person’s domain to talk about but yeah, the idea is to keep you on for longer as all social media does. But, yeah, you want people to watch from beginning to end. I was just reading something today where a social media expert said, “Likes and comments on your posts are less important than people watching your video from beginning to end.” That’s why I tend to try and follow the rule of keeping my [00:21:00] posts short and snappy, and either 7 to 15 seconds, but I tried to keep them less.

Sarina: Also, then makes it less effort for you to get the post, I heard if it’s shorter, which is good.

Grace: Yeah. In a way, it’s easier than Instagram. I suppose the Bookstagram community, we got a lot of effort to set up pictures of books and stuff like that. Where on this, you can just say something. You hold up a book and say, “Hey, this was great,” or, “Hey, I’m on page this.” It’s very different from Bookstagram in that, it’s not about holding up pretty pictures and setting up scenes. It’s about your interaction about book.

Sarina: If I grab up a random book off my shelf, Red Rising. Ah, perfect. If I just did this, “Heartbroken, y’all.” That will be great? Oh, my God, I’m doing it. [laughs] [crosstalk] Okay, well. [00:22:00]

Grace: I pick that one, and I would say, “Want your heartbroken? Read this.” Done.

Sarina: Okay, well, that does sound very easy. I think I expected it to be a lot more time consuming to put up a post on there.

Grace: I still do that, I go back and look at other authors and readers and I look at what they do, and just see trends and what seems to work for them and things that I’m actually brave enough to do, to be honest. [laughs]

Sarina: Well, I’m going to have to start stalking your Toks on Instagram to see exactly what you do and start taking notes. Maybe make a spreadsheet.

Grace: I’d probably embarrass myself, but, hey. [laughs]

Sarina: I mean, if it works. It’s all about transparency for me, anyway. So, which is why we’ve heard dogs barking in the background and children come and screaming– I mean, not come and screaming but thinking they were on TV.

Grace: Yes. [laughs]

Sarina: Leaving it all in [00:23:00] about being transparent. Anyway, our next question came from @TLClarkAuthor. Who was the main market on TikTok, and she feels it’s more YA?

Grace: Now, there is a red-hot 18-plus sexy content market on there. My goodness. There is a market for all kinds of books. It is not just YA. There is a huge emphasis at the minute on, the biggies like, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo. Particularly, because her books had been made into the Shadow and Bone series on Netflix. There’s a lot of emphasis on those big popular books. But no, there’s a particular Aussie guy I follow, and he’s just all about fantasy. I’ve actually just bought my first Brandon Sanderson book just because he said he’s the best and he did a rundown of where you should start first. I literally just yesterday got the first book that he recommended. [00:24:00] No, it’s absolutely not heavy YA. There’s everything. In fact, a lot of people who follow me, sexy, XXX kind of authors. So, no, I see a bit of everything there.

Sarina: Okay, that’s very encouraging to hear. I know on Twitter, for example, the horror community is massive. While I have found a few epic fantasy authors on there, who I can talk to about epic fantasy, I think I would find it a lot easier if I just wrote horror, like seemingly everybody else on Twitter. So, that’s encouraging to hear.

Grace: I actually just bought a gothic horror from someone I found on BookTok. It sounded amazing. So, that’s coming tomorrow, I think, so yeah.

Sarina: All right. Well, there we are. One last question from @gambit190. What types of TikToks do you find the most effective for authors? I don’t even understand the question because I didn’t know there were different types of TikToks, but I trust you. [00:25:00]

Grace: Effective as in sales, or getting followers or interest? Getting followers was doing a giveaway when I reached 1000 followers. I did a giveaway and got hundreds of followers within a couple of days. In terms of sales, I actually did a few posts where I didn’t say anything. I never said buy this book or it’s on Amazon or anything. I just did something as simple as put my book covers up and said, “Which is your favorite? Tell me your favorite book cover.” Like a couple days later, I had a sale and then someone messaged me, and suddenly, I had Kindle Unlimited raids. It’s just simple things like that. I suppose it depends on what your goal is. Do you want followers? Do you want sales? Or, do you want commentary?

Sarina: I can answer that for [00:26:00] him. Let’s just assume it’s all of them.

Grace: Okay.

[laughter]

Sarina: Well, that’s us done with the questions that I’ve had sent in. You said that you’ve also put up something on TikTok to mention that we were doing this interview. So, if you’ve had any questions come in.

Grace: Like I said, unfortunately, because I seem– well, hang on. I seem to get a lot of stuff from the States. Oh, hang on. Oh, no, that’s not it. I might not have had any answers yet.

Sarina: Okay.

Grace: Oh, hang on, there’s one here. Hang on. No, that’s not it. See, [crosstalk] I need to go back and have a look. I’ve had nothing come through at the minute.

Sarina: Okay, that’s fine. I just thought I should ask so that we don’t exclude anyone, that’d be annoying.

Grace: [crosstalk] -actually adding though, just as a fair warning, like with every social media, there is a negative side to it. There’s quite [00:27:00] a virulent and aggressive community on there about attacking what they call problematic authors. So, you just have to be prepared either, you want to hear that and be involved in that, you agree with that or not, or you just keep scrolling. I keep scrolling. I mean that’s people’s personal opinions, but some of it is a little bit confronting, so I just scroll past stuff like that. But it is out there like with all social media. There is a little bit of negativity. But, yeah, I just thought, you do see people, literally, “This author is problematic. I’m throwing all their books in the bin,” and that’s a little bit confronting.

Sarina: Yeah, that is quite aggressive, isn’t it? To be fair, I do see some of that on Instagram. You do see quite a lot of it on Twitter at the moment, I think. That’s everywhere, to be fair. [00:28:00]

Grace: Yeah.

Sarina: But yeah, it is worth pointing out. Do you have any last tips for authors so that they can make TikTok work for them?

Grace: I think maybe just do what I did. I signed up, and then I just scrolled through it for a bit. I just looked at people and I looked up authors, I looked up readers, and I followed a few accounts and thought okay, yeah, I see what you’re doing here. And then, when I decided it was time, I should have a go at doing something, I just did the most basic thing, again, with the help of the 12-year-old, and I just built from there. I’m learning as I go, like what views I get, what interactions I get, and funnily [00:29:00] enough, the most views I have got, I’ve got nearly 6000 views now, but it has nothing to do with my books because I have said I mix things up. The other day, my daughter found a poor little bee on a piece of wood, so she took it some sugar water on a spoon. So, I’ve videoed the bee drinking sugar water, 6000 views. [laughter] Who knew?

Sarina: Oh, damn. I rescued a bee yesterday from my bathroom. We put it outside and my–

Grace: [crosstalk]

Sarina: Yes. My partner put in a bit of honey for him on the log and we put him on there and he had– Damn it. I missed an opportunity there. [laughs]

Grace: [crosstalk] See, animals, they’re really popular, and I do see quite a few authors who put pictures of their cats on their keyboards or their dog, their book. You mix a few things up and then it ticks everyone’s box, books, dog, cat, whatever.

Sarina: Okay, [00:30:00] well do I have quite a few, just random videos of my cat, so I’m sure I can do something with that. [laughs]

Grace: Yeah, literally, I just learn from other people I see, and I’m just getting bit braver as I go, but I do it at the minute because I enjoy it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t bother, but I think it’s a bit of fun. It’s a bit of a time waster at times, but I get up generally, I get up before everyone else in the house, and I have my coffee quietly in the morning, and that’s generally when I do my posts as a rule. Then, I’m off doing whatever I do during the day.

Sarina: All right. It sounds a lot more relaxed and a lot faster to do than I expected. So, I’m very happy to be proven wrong about that.

Grace: Actually, Ash Oldfield, do you know Ash? She’s on Instagram, she just popped on it. She just followed me today. So, I have brought someone over to the dark side. [laughs]

Sarina: Okay, well, you may just be bringing someone [00:31:00] else over as well, but we’ll see. [laughs] You know, you’ll be the first, by the time this episode goes live, I may well already be on there. Who knows? We will see. To very quickly come back to something you said earlier about how at the moment you’re on there about three or four times a day, or posting three or four times a day. Would you say that’s necessary to really get a lot of traction going? Or, is it fine to just post like once a day?

Grace: I keep reading two to four times a day, that’s what I keep seeing.

Sarina: It seems like a lot to me.

Grace: It does. I would say a few weeks ago, I’m like, “Oh, God, this is hard.” But I was less brave then. But now, I’m a bit braver. I just put up something random today like I literally did. I was actually working on my current book. I just had my phone next to me, and I’m typing. I just literally did seven seconds of me looking at the thing. [00:32:00] And then it was done in seven seconds. I just wrote, “Me trying to write, while not looking at TikTok,” I just posted that. People do stupid things like that, and people love it. It shows I’m writing, it shows I’m doing something and lots of authors do these things. You know the big trend right now, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s amazing, everyone loves it. We all have to wear a crown. Every author wears a crown. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I don’t have any. I’ll have to get myself one.

Grace: Yeah. People are gifting each other crowns.

Sarina: Really?

Grace: And you put song to it. There’s a song, Watch Me Wear a Crown and everyone just puts their crown on or you wear a crown while you’re reading. It’s silly little things like this, but it gets people interested in you and then they want to flick through and, “Oh, you wrote all that. Oh, you wrote that.” That’s sort of how it works.

Sarina: Okay. Actually, it does sound like a lot of posting like two or four times a day, but it does sound quite fun. The way you’re describing it does anyway. I think because unlike on Instagram, you [00:33:00] don’t have to wait around for 20 minutes, half an hour every time. That does make it a lot easier, I think because even though, you possibly don’t end up posting a lot more, you ultimately still spend less time on social media and more time writing, which is the goal for everyone, isn’t it?

Grace: Yeah. Like I said before, you will have noticed on my Instagram, I save my TikTok videos, and then I share them onto the Reels on Instagram. Then, that gets them– I’ve actually got more followers on Instagram since I’ve shared some of my TikTok posts on to Instagram. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Well, you are selling it extremely well. And you know the dangerous thing is, I have just yesterday, at time of recording finished a first draft. Today, I thought, “Well, maybe I take it a bit easier today.” So, do not be surprised if by the end of the day I’ve started TikTok. [laughs]

Grace: I’ll be watching for you.

Sarina: You’ll be the first to hear. [00:34:00] I won’t be your first follower, but you will be the first person I follow.

Grace: Oh, one more thing, I just have to tell you. This is really cool. It’s actually great for sleuthing out things you don’t know. The other week, I had some people contact me saying, “I can’t find your paperback anywhere. Amazon is saying it’s not available.” I put up a video and I said, “Hey, everyone, I need you all to be my super sleuths.” I said, “For some reason, Amazon is showing my book isn’t available in paperback when [unintelligible [00:34:33] released. Can you all jump on and see if it’s available?” Oh my God, I got hits from everywhere in the world saying, “It’s available here.” “It’s not available there.” “It’s available here.” So, it actually was a great research marketing thing because everyone wanted to help. [crosstalk] I was really just put in my hashtag #CanYouHelp, and then on the actual video it said, “I need your help.” And people were like, “Well, what did you need help with?” And bang, bang. [00:35:00] I actually did that the other week, and I still keep getting hits on it. “It’s available in Denmark.” “Oh, no, it’s not available in Ireland.” And that actually led me to a bit of problem solving as to why. I now know why, it’s not available in paperback everywhere on Amazon and then discovered where it is actually available in paperback. So, that was really helpful.

Sarina: Oh, brilliant. That sounds really useful. I really want TikTok now, so damn you. [laughs]

Grace: Make sure you get a crown. You need a crown. [laughs]

Sarina: I may need to cut myself one out of paper, possibly but I have to see what I got.

Grace: [crosstalk]

Sarina: I think I already know the answer to my last question to you, would you recommend TikTok for authors?

Grace: I would. I think it’s fun, it’s free. You put what you want on. You can’t guarantee anything out of it. But I’m having fun, and I think if [00:36:00] you’re having fun, do it. If it’s not fun for you or it feels a chore, it’s not for you. But for me, I quite like it.

Sarina: All right. Well, I think that’s a great note to finish on. It’s fun and it’s free, so why not? [chuckles]

Grace: Yeah.

Sarina: I want to thank you so much for chatting to me about TikTok. I’ve learned an awful lot from you. I’m very tempted to start my own now.

Grace: [crosstalk]

Sarina: I hope all of our listeners have also learned a lot and that this has answered everyone’s questions. It’s certainly proved me wrong on a few points. So, thanks for that.

Grace: You’re welcome.

Sarina: Yeah, thank you so much for coming on, and have a wonderful day and have a great week everybody. Bye-bye.

Grace: Thanks, Sarina.

[music]

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, at Instagram [00:37:00] and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter. And of course, on my website, at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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The Writing Sparrow Episode 40 | Writing Routines: Briana Morgan

Once a month, I talk to another writer about their writing routine. We answer questions such as Are you a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? ,  Do you write every day? ,  Where does your inspiration come from?,  What’s your beverage of choice?, and many more! At the end of each episode, the writers recommend their favourite book on writing and share their advice for establishing the right writing routine for you.

This month, I talked to Briana Morgan, a horror author from America.

Her book recommendations are On Writing by Stephen King and Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Don’t forget to check out the all-new library on my website for all book recommendations from these routine chats!

To find out more about Briana, check out her  website find her or Twitter follow her on Instagram, or support her on Patreon.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[The Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to the writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

[music]

Sarina: Good morning and welcome back, friends and sparrows. It’s the 14th of June, 2021. This is Episode 40. Today, I have Briana Morgan back with me to talk about her writing routine. Welcome back. Bri.

Briana: Thank you. I’m so glad to be back.

Sarina: Well, how many times has it been now? [laughs]

Briana: I think third time, but they say third time’s the charm. So, I think we’re good.

Sarina: Oh, fantastic. So, basically after this, you can never come on again.

[laughter]

Briana: No. This is it. [00:01:00] I’ll never speak to you again.

Sarina: Well, that sucks. I guess I’m just going to have to find a new editor.

[laughter]

Briana: Oh, no.

Sarina: [unintelligible [00:01:10] worked, has it?

[laughter]

Sarina: It’s a shame, because I’m really excited for you to read Blood Wisp 2.

Briana: I really want to read it.

Sarina: In 10 years from now when I’m finally writing all the–

Briana: Also, how awkward would it be if we broke up right here after I did that episode about finding an editor and whatnot, that would be really uncomfortable.

[laughter]

Sarina: It will be. [laughs] Well, to be fair, we did start that one with you saying that you don’t technically edit anymore, so.

[laughter]

Briana: Yeah, it’s fine.

Sarina: It would kind of make sense, but still very awkward. Anyway, let’s talk about your writing routine.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Just before we break up just for fun, and then we don’t know how to get back together. Are you a plotter [00:02:00] or a pantser, or are you somewhere in between?

Briana: I like to think I’m a plotter, but I don’t always stick to my outlines. I frequently write myself into a corner because I will stray from the outline, which almost defeats the purpose of making the outline in the first place. But when I didn’t plot, I was much more confused and much more likely to run into a corner and get stuck. So, it does help a little bit.

Sarina: Yeah, and actually, I think the corner is quite an exciting place to be in in a way because you can then go, “Well, you got yourself into this, how are you going to get back out? Fix it.”

Briana: Right. It’s a bit of a challenge. It’s fun.

Sarina: Yeah, I always try to run with it, but obviously, sometimes it just doesn’t work. [giggles]

Briana: That’s how you learn. You have to try.

Sarina: Yeah, see, I could have sworn I saw you say somewhere on social media quite recently that you were a pantser.

Briana: I am a pantser [00:03:00] with short stories.

Sarina: Oh.

Briana: I usually have a theme and maybe a couple of lines, but I can’t plot a short story out because it’s too close to actually drafting that then I will not want to draft. It’s very strange.

Sarina: Yeah, I should really probably just try writing short stories again, but I may need to talk to you about that at some point, if you have any tips for me because I’m really struggling with short stories.

Briana: They’re hard.

Sarina: They’re really hard.

Briana: They’re still hard for me. But the only way I think I can manage to do them is because I had to do them all throughout college for my creative writing program. So, I got used to having to produce short fiction.

Sarina: So, you know exactly what to do with it.

Briana: Sometimes, I still can’t make every submission call that I would like to enter, but that happens.

Sarina: It’s fine. Pantser with short stories, mostly plotter– [00:04:00] [crosstalk]

Briana: Very loose plotter, I would say otherwise. I’m a loose plotter with everything else.

Sarina: Yeah, to be fair, I do think it’s quite a good way to do it. I plot my stuff at, but give yourself flexibility to stray from the outline– [crosstalk]

Briana: Exactly.

Sarina: Corner.

[laughter]

Briana: Have a little fun with it.

Sarina: Yeah, just see what your characters do, and if they can get themselves out of the mess that they’ve created, that’s definitely not your fault.

Briana: Yes.

[laughter]

Sarina: What does your writing routine look like?

Briana: It used to look like me getting up early and getting everything written before the day started. I really like waking up with my partner and also since the pandemic, I have realized I need more sleep than I thought I did before, so I sleep in a little bit. Usually, I write right [00:05:00] after work now, so 5:30 or 6:00-ish. I’m small now, I used to aim for 2000 words, but now I only go for 500 because my motivation has been shot. Even when I feel pretty bad, I can usually manage 500 words. I won’t say they’re all good words, but I can get something down.

Sarina: Well, that’s a first draft. So, it would be pretty impressive if they were all good words, and 500 words a day is still really good progress either way.

Briana: Yeah. One of my friends, Michael Goodwin, he is a fellow horror author. He shared his accountability spreadsheet with me. Basically, it’s just if you hit your word count that day, there’s a little bar on the side, changes to yes, and then it’s green, and if you didn’t hit it, it’s no, and it’s red. Something about seeing the red makes me [00:06:00] so angry, that I push myself harder to hit the word count. It’s so silly, but it works.

Sarina: I think that will work with me as well, actually. I’m very color motivated.

Briana: Yes. Then, on the weekends, or if I have a little more time, or I’m really trying to get something done, I will set a timer for 20 minutes and do a 20-minute sprint with a 5- or 10-minute break in between, and I’ll do as many of those as I feel like I can before I burn out.

Sarina: Oh, you don’t want that.

Briana: I agree. No, I don’t really do that anymore. That’s kind of why I’ve gone to the 500-word method. It’s more sustainable.

Sarina: I’m just so impressed that you get any writing done after work.

Briana: It’s very hard. Usually, I have to treat myself like a seven-year-old and say that I can’t play games until I get my words down.

Sarina: Oh, I do that. The other day, I said to myself, “Okay, I’m exhausted. [00:07:00] I don’t really want to go to work. But if I walk into work, I can have pie tonight for dessert.” I did walk in and I did have pie.

Briana: Unfortunately, one of the weirdest things about being an adult is sometimes you have to parent yourself. That’s how it is as a writer too. I read somewhere writing is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. [laughs]

Sarina: Oh, God, that’s depressing. I haven’t thought of it like that.

[laughter]

Briana: It’s so depressing, but it’s true. It’s funny in a way, because it’s like, why would anyone choose this? But a lot of us do.

Sarina: Well, the one difference there is that I never actually did my homework-

Briana: Oh.

Sarina: -if I do do the writing.

Briana: You do write. Yeah, I have your books now, I can prove it.

Sarina: [crosstalk] Well, I was a good student, I was a terrible pupil.

Briana: Oh.

Sarina: Big difference.

[laughter]

Briana: That’s okay. It’s over now. You made it.

Sarina: Yeah, it’s all good. [00:08:00] Do you set yourself specific goals? You said that you kind of aim for like 500 words a day, and then you get the little green tick, it’s say yes, it’s all good.

Briana: Yeah. I hit the 500 and I see how I feel. If I still feel pretty good, I’ll keep going. But lately, it’s just been maybe two or three words over the goal, and then I stop.

Sarina: But still it was over your goal.

Briana: Yes, and it’s still words that I wouldn’t have gotten done otherwise, so that helps a lot. If I’m revising, it’s a little trickier because I can’t do the word count. So, I’d revise in sprints, and I try to say, I’m going to go through two or three sprints today.

Sarina: How do you count it exactly when you do revising? Because that’s exactly where I am now with Blood Wisp. I’m trying to edit it for the umpteenth time. I’ve made myself a spreadsheet, because I really got into doing 100-day writing [00:09:00] sprints. I’m really into that. That’s my thing now.

Briana: I might try that, that sounds exciting.

Sarina: Yeah, well, I set the timer for at least 15 minutes a day, and I figured I can always write for just 15 minutes, that small commitment or at least get something done, but I have now finished a really big first draft. So, I’m rewriting rather than you’re just writing a first draft, and that is not the same thing and it does not fit into my 100-day writing sprint at all, which is awkward because I have like 20 days left and I’m putting myself down so hard, because I have no writing have to do, I’m just editing, and I’m finding it very difficult to track.

Briana: It’s hard. For me, before I start revising, I kind of have an idea already of what I’m going to need to fix, but I do a read through and then I make a list and I try to break the list down by phases. I’ll have a plot phase, I’ll have a character phase, I’ll have a description phase, and then I try to only [00:10:00] do one thing at a time, instead of doing it chapter by chapter. Because for me, if I know I’m going to change something in a later chapter, it’s hard, I have to trick myself basically. So, I have to look at tiny, tiny sections instead of going chronologically. For me, what works best is the sprints. Revision sprints rather than writing sprints, but it’s the same. It’s the same concept.

Sarina: Still for 20 minutes?

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Yeah. I can see how that will work quite well, because it’s not a massive time commitment. You know afterwards that you have achieved something, even if it’s not a lot of progress.

Briana: Yeah. I used to sit down, and I would say, “I’m going to edit for five hours.” But then, I felt like I would never get anything done, and that just felt treacherous and the biggest chore. Then, once I started thinking about using sprints, it became a [00:11:00] lot easier for me.

Sarina: Editing is so hard on you anyway, because it takes so much brainpower and [crosstalk] I have done four or five hours of editing straight when I did line edits, and oh, my God, really it’s exhausting.

Briana: Yeah. I’ve done it for clients before. Doing it for your own work is a lot harder, I feel like, because I’m a perfectionist with my own stuff, especially.

Sarina: Yeah, but then you also don’t see your own mistakes as much.

Briana: That’s true.

Sarina: That makes it even harder. That just sounds exhausting.

Briana: Yeah, it is.

Sarina: You wouldn’t want to do that after work.

Briana: No. I don’t recommend making this giant chunk of time and saying you’re going to edit some nebulous amount. I think you need to set a concrete goal when you go into an editing session, and figure out a way to break it down so it’s as digestible as possible, [00:12:00] at least for me.

Sarina: That sounds like a good tactic. I think maybe I’m going to try to do a bit more of that. Once I figured out all the other issues that it has right now, and I come back to it again, maybe that’s how I’ll approach it.

Briana: I definitely recommend it. I feel it saved my sanity, as well as my time.

Sarina: I just really want to send the damn book to you, so I can stop thinking about it. [laughs]

Briana: I’ll take it, it’s just probably not ready yet.

Sarina: It’s really not ready. It’s beyond not ready. So, let’s not actually go there. Anyway, do you write every day?

Briana: During the week, yes. I tend to give myself the weekends off, I used to try to do every day, and then I would burn out. Usually, I get weekends off, unless I am really into a project and it’s coming along really well. Or, I’m under deadline.

Sarina: It does healthier to give yourself a break.

Briana: Definitely. I know you take weekends [00:13:00] off social media for similar reasons.

Sarina: Yeah, exactly for the same reasons, it just gets too much. I think when you do take the weekend off, and you’re really strict with yourself, you’re then more likely to look forward to coming back to it, which is really nice. I feel like I really mangled that. It’s nearly midnight here with me, by the way. So, if any of what I’m saying makes no sense, I’m really sorry. It’s quite a long– [crosstalk]

Briana: Everyone’s going to be so confused, because you said good morning.

Sarina: I know. Well, the episode goes live in the morning. It’s just that as we’re recording this, it’s nearly midnight where I am.

Briana: That’s fine.

Sarina: [laughs]

Briana: Time zones are wild.

Sarina: Yeah, they really are. Well, anything for you. I’m going to bed after this, we’ll see.

[laughter]

Sarina: Anyway, let’s bring it back to your writing routine. Has that changed at all over the years? And [00:14:00] if so, what have you changed and why?

Briana: Oh, God, I feel like it’s changed for every single book and every place I’ve lived. In college, it was a lot easier for me to get into a routine because I had regular assignments. I would have an essay do and two short stories a week, I think, something like that.

Sarina: Wow.

Briana: Yeah, it was a lot of work.

Sarina: Well, I’m tired just thinking about that.

Briana: That’s why I get angry when people say that a creative writing degree isn’t real, because I worked so hard. Yeah, but the regular deadlines really helped with that. And then, after college, it was just every man for himself. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was trying to adjust to work as well as writing. When I was writing Blood and Water, I talked about this a little on Twitter the other day, but I would come home, I’d watch like an episode or two [00:15:00] of Friends, I think, and I would make some food, and then I would drink coffee, and write until like 2:00 AM.

Sarina: Oh, wow.

Briana: I don’t know what was wrong with– I mean, I know what was wrong with me now, there was a lot wrong but-

[laughter]

Briana: -I don’t write like that anymore. Yeah, I can’t do that.

Sarina: No, that’s fine. I’m exhausted just thinking about that.

Briana: Also, my doctor would get very angry with me if I do that. I have enough sleep problems.

Sarina: Yeah, let’s not add to that.

Briana: No. There was a period of time where I could write with the TV on. I can’t do that anymore. I don’t know what that was about. I’ve gone through phases where I can’t listen to music and phases where I can. I just feel like I’m all over the place. [00:16:00] I think a lot of authors probably find themselves in a similar spot, but they’re worried to change things up, because that’s what happens with me is I worry that if I change something up that I’ll never be able to get back to where I was, but nothing is permanent. So, it’s kind of silly to think that way. If something doesn’t work, you could just go back.

Sarina: I think I really used to struggle with that, but I have got a lot better. I think now if I do want to just try something new, I’ll just jump in. But I definitely see what you’re saying with possibly quite a lot of authors thinking that they can just try something different, I think especially when it comes to plotting or pantsing, people seem to be really kind of like set one way or another. It’s almost like they refuse to try the other way because they’re so sure that it just won’t work for them, but every project is different.

Briana: Yeah, honestly. I think I’ve used a different plotting method for every book I’ve written so far. [00:17:00] Oh, God, that’s six that I have out. So, I think you have six out too, I think we’re–

Sarina: I do. We’re twinning again.

Briana: Oh, we’re twinning.

[laughter]

Sarina: See, we’re always doing exactly the same stuff.

Briana: When I got your books, I was so excited. I was like, “Ah!”

Sarina: They look so good on the Instagram.

Briana: They do. They’re beautiful.

Sarina: I saved the picture.

Briana: Good. You can use it again if you want to.

Sarina: Even though I [crosstalk] like so is much bigger now because my formatter has gone over it and she has adjusted it to brighten shadows, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw the page. I was like, “That can’t possibly be the same book, why is it so very much longer.”

Briana: It looks great.

Sarina: It’s pretty formatting guy, it makes all the difference.

Briana: It does. Don’t look at, don’t look at touch. Don’t look at my play touch. The formatting is not good, I had to make it–

Sarina: I didn’t notice though.

Briana: It’s huge.

Sarina: Yeah, but I thought maybe that’s because [00:18:00] it is a really small book because it’s a play, and I thought maybe if she had done it any smaller, Amazon would have said, “It’s too small, we don’t publish it.”

Briana: That’s exactly what happened. That’s why I had to make it so big.

Sarina: Oh, there you go.

Briana: I’ve gotten some hate for it. People have said that it’s like too big and the spacing is all weird. I’m like, “Listen, doing the best I can. Amazon wouldn’t let me publish anything shorter.”

Sarina: Yeah. Amazon are really quite strict with that.

Briana: They are.

Sarina: Yeah, you may not really get much of a say in how long your book is really, because if it’s too long, they will not publish it.

Briana: If it’s too short, they won’t either.

Sarina: Right. It needs to be just sort of in the right gap? [laughs] So tired.

Briana: The right range.

Sarina: Yeah, that’s the one, but it is quite a big range to be fair, and it does change constantly, [00:19:00] they adjust it here and there, but something to just throw out there to bear in mind. [crosstalk]

Briana: Yeah, and obviously, all this applies to paperbacks. As far as like eBooks go, it doesn’t really matter.

Sarina: No.

Briana: There’s no spine consideration.

Sarina: Yeah, and more people buy eBooks, to be honest. So, if it is a tossup, just go eBook. [laughs]

Briana: Save yourself some time and money.

Sarina: Yeah, possibly a lot of it, and a lot of mess. Has the lockdown affected your routine at all?

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Probably quite a lot.

Briana: Yeah. I feel like I couldn’t write for six or seven months, but that’s also I lost my job last February. No, not that early on. Last May, [00:20:00] somewhere in there. I was dealing with a lot of depression from that, and we moved, so there was quite a bit of change to deal with, but I just couldn’t write. I didn’t see the point in it and it felt like it was exhausting for me to just be alive. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that way because of the pandemic. But I honestly think telling myself that it was okay to not write is what helps me get back to it, taking the pressure off.

Sarina: There’s a lot of wisdom in that right there. It’s okay to not write if you don’t feel like you can write, seriously, if I had to just take a break.

Briana: Yeah. I try to write every day, but if it’s just not coming, like, last night, I was having a really bad flare, so I was in a lot of pain and I just didn’t write, but that’s okay.

Sarina: Yeah, I mean, you need to look after yourself first, anyway.

Briana: Right.

Sarina: [00:21:00] Last year has just been– I feel like I’m talking about this with everyone I’ve interviewed because, obviously at the time, you just automatically come back to the longest year in history.

Briana: Yeah, definitely.

Sarina: I seem to remember thinking that you were just going for such a roller coaster last year.

Briana: I was. And a lot of people were surprised that I put out three books last year.

Sarina: Yeah, I am.

Briana: But most of them were not written last year.

Sarina: Yeah, but still.

Briana: Just because they came out last year, they were written before.

Sarina: I think sometimes publishing a book can be more stressful than writing a book.

Briana: Sometimes. Except for Unboxed. Unboxed is the easiest time I’ve ever had publishing anything. It was so much fun to write. I just wish every book could be like Unboxed.

Sarina: That would be a dream because I read Unboxed and it’s amazing.

Briana: Thank you.

Sarina: I love it so much. [00:22:00]

Briana: I feel like you can tell I was having fun.

Sarina: I could. Well, I was going to say, I don’t normally read horror. I do read a little bit more now than I used to. I always make an exception for your books because they are so damn good.

Briana: Thank you.

Sarina: Unboxed was just so fun, because it’s another play. You can read it so fast either way, but it’s just so much fun. I loved it so much.

Briana: Yeah, fingers crossed, someone wants to produce that at some point this year, because I really want to see it staged.

Sarina: They will be made. I could see it as sort of like a found footage kind of film.

Briana: I would also be down for that. Either one of those.

Sarina: Putting it out there.

Briana: Mm-hmm.

Sarina: It certainly has this kind of vibe. I got almost like Blair Witch Project vibes from it-

Briana: Ooh.

Sarina: -at times.

Briana: That’s high praise.

Sarina: Hmm. Well, I think that was the first horror film I ever watched and it scared the life out of me. But not as bad as Blair Witch 2, [00:23:00] maybe that was the first one I saw. I don’t know. We did it in a weird order back then. We were young teenagers, we didn’t think do things for [reasons. What writing program do you use?

Briana: Oh, I’m very chaotic. I used to swear by Word and then I switched to Scrivener. Now, I’m all about Google Docs.

Sarina: Yeah, I can’t get on with Google Docs, I really wish I could.

Briana: Yeah, I don’t have any problems with it. I don’t. I don’t know. It’s always just worked for me. I like that I can just pull it up on my phone and write a line or two, if I want to.

Sarina: Maybe I’m the problem.

[laughter]

Briana: No.

Sarina: I just can’t make it work for me in a way that I am happy to use it. It makes me nervous because I don’t like it.

Briana: Well, Word gets onto me for swearing now. So, I don’t like using [00:24:00] Word at all. Yeah.

Sarina: Oh, really? What’s it do?

Briana: I will–

Sarina: Does it tell you to change it to something non-swearing?

Briana: It says– what is the phrasing? “Some readers might find this language offensive,” is what it says.

Sarina: Well, I don’t think those readers are your target audience.

Briana: Yeah. I’m also usually just like, “Well, her arm just got cut off, so she’s– I think this is warranted.”

Sarina: But then, she said, “Shit, that’s the problem. Really.”

[laughter]

[crosstalk]

Briana: She’s saying nothing of the bleeding or anything else and the rest of the story. It’s the bad language is really going to get people. I don’t understand.

Sarina: That’s really bizarre. I suppose it can’t quite analyze it to that extent but if you can’t analyze it to that extent, maybe don’t bother with the little things, because there’s going to be worse happening in the book.

Briana: Word also gets very angry with me when I’m trying to edit one of your books in it [00:25:00] because it’s the UK versus the US English.

Sarina: Oh, yeah.

Briana: It gets very angry and I’m like, “No, that’s correct. It’s just not correct here, but it’s right.”

Sarina: See, I change the language and put on there so that when I edit a book from someone who uses American English, I make sure it knows that for the foreseeable future, I will be using American English.

Briana: That’s good. I should probably do that instead of just getting angry. It’s definitely more productive to actually act on that.

Sarina: [laughs] I do sometimes forget to change it back, but I do tend to notice when it then tells me to take the U out of colours, I’m like, “No. Why would you say that? Ah, right, I forgot to switch it over.”

Briana: The U’s are dead giveaway, we don’t use U as much as much as you guys do.

Sarina: Yeah, I don’t know, language is weird.

Briana: Language is weird.

Sarina: Oh, well. [00:26:00] What are three important things you need to have when you’re writing?

Briana: Lately, for me, it is a snack, a drink, and noise-cancelling headphones.

Sarina: Hmm. That sounds like a good plan.

Briana: But you have to be careful with the snack. Usually, I do candy or something that’s like you can eat a piece at a time and not make a big mess. I wouldn’t eat pizza or something while you’re editing or writing, that’s not a good idea.

Sarina: [crosstalk] Pizza isn’t a snack. Pizza is dinner, or lunch or breakfast.

Briana: Yes. Also, my drink of choice is usually water. Unless it’s fairly early in the day or I need a boost, and then it’s tea or coffee.

Sarina: Or, sweet tea mixed with lemonade. [crosstalk]

Briana: Sometimes.

[laughter]

[00:27:00]

Briana: I didn’t invent it, so don’t put that on me.

Sarina: You’re encouraging it by buying it.

Briana: It is yummy.

Sarina: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve never had it, but if I ever managed to get over there and actually visit you, you’re going to have to–

Briana: I’ll make you one.

Sarina: Thank you. [laughs] I might hate it, but I will try it.

Briana: [laughs] That’s okay.

Sarina: What do you do when writing gets difficult? We’ve already talked some about that. You said last year, you just reminded yourself that it’s okay to not write if you’re not feeling it.

Briana: Yeah. I feel like the more I write and the more books I put out, the more I’ve come to understand my own working rhythm, and when I need to take a break versus when I need to try to push through. I’ve notice I don’t really push through as much, I have accepted my limitations. So, I’ll step away if something’s not working, or I’ll [00:28:00] work on something else.

Sarina: That is really important, because I think if you don’t know when to step away, you’re so likely to just push yourself right into burnout. That can take a while to recover from, and it’s not pleasant, no matter how long it lasts.

Briana: Right. For me, if I get to that phase where I start to burn out, I just don’t like writing at all anymore. It’s not fun. Then, at that point, I start to resent it. I don’t want to get to that point. I don’t want to resent it, if I can help it.

Sarina: No, I don’t think anyone does.

Briana: No.

Sarina: So, coming back to just taking a break again, if you feel like you need a break. It’s fine, you don’t have to push for it. Just take a day off.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Or take a week off. I don’t know. We don’t judge.

Briana: Yes. Or a month off, I don’t know. It’s your life.

Sarina: Yeah, [crosstalk] take whatever you need until you feel that you can write again without hating everything.

Briana: Exactly. Especially right now, there’s so much other big picture stuff going on in [00:29:00] the world to worry about, if you can’t write for a day or two, it’s not going to ruin everything.

Sarina: No. But also, first drafts do tend to be a bit shit, so don’t mistake not liking your first draft for hating all writing because first drafts are just not great.

Briana: Yeah– [crosstalk]

Sarina: It’s a fact, it’s fine.

Briana: They’re terrible.

Sarina: Yeah, you’ve read the last thing I’ve written and pantsed so, yeah.

Briana: [laughs] I’ll send you something rough of mine sometime, and we can compare.

Sarina: That might make me feel a lot better actually. [laughs]

Briana: I just wrote a short story for an anthology and I sent it to a couple of beta readers, but really, I have barely done any revision on it. So, they’re mostly finding typos and things like that. I’m like, “See? I do make mistakes.” Everyone does. I do.

Sarina: [crosstalk] You’re perfect.

Briana: God, no. [00:30:00]

Sarina: All right. Well, where does the inspiration come from?

Briana: My inspiration comes from, I feel like it’s a cliched answer, but almost everywhere. Usually, other forms of art. If I watch a really good movie, I kind of spend the time in the movie. I’m also a film minor, so maybe that’s part of it. I like to deconstruct the plot of the film and figure out why it works while I’m watching the film. And then, afterwards, I’m like itching to write a good story. Books always feel like that’s an easy answer though. Any kind of art tends to inspire me or sometimes I’ll hear a really weird story on the internet, and I’ll want to write about that.

Sarina: There are a lot of really weird stories on the internet.

Briana: Yes. Like Unboxed was inspired by– I found a bunch of weird darkweb mystery box unboxing videos on YouTube, and I fell down that rabbit hole.

Sarina: Wait, that’s real? [00:31:00]

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: I had no idea. I thought you made that up.

Briana: No, I’ll send you the one that I based Greg’s character off of.

Sarina: God, I feel sonaïve.

Briana: No, it’s fine.

Sarina: Do I even know the internet? Clearly, not.

Briana: It’s fine. It was a big thing a few years ago, I think. But YouTube is like, “Here, you like weird shit. Just look at this.”

[laughter]

Sarina: But look, it’s inspired a play.

Briana: Yeah, there you go.

Sarina: It has inspired the play that you love more than any of your other book children. It’s just fine– [crosstalk]

Briana: Yes. Don’t tell them that.

Sarina: No.

Briana: It’s also my best selling, so I guess I did something right with that one.

Sarina: You’ve got a point.

Briana: Watch more weird shit on YouTube, that’s my advice.

Sarina: All right, well, I’m going to have to– if you forward that video to me, then that’s where I can get started, and I’ll just see where YouTube wants to take it from there. [laughs]

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Which [00:32:00] could be a terrible idea, but we’ll see.

[chuckles]

Sarina: We’ve already talked a little bit about whether you snack while you write, and you said that you tend to drink water as your beverage of choice or, I don’t really know if water counts as a beverage to be honest.

Briana: It’s the beverage.

Sarina: All right, sorry. [laughs]

Briana: It sustains life. It’s kind of a big deal.

Sarina: Oh, well, I think beverage, I think of tea or hot chocolate.

Briana: Gotcha.

Sarina: Yeah, but I’m not sure if you really mentioned what kind of snacks you eat while you write. I think you mentioned candy, but candy to me feel quite vague.

Briana: I like gummy candy and I like sour stuff. Not so much chocolate.

Sarina: Oh, I do like some sour candy.

Briana: Like the sour gummy worms. Oh, those are my favorite.

Sarina: Oh, I haven’t had those in years. I’m going to have to get some.

Briana: Now [00:33:00] you’re going to want them.

Sarina: Yeah. We have to go to the [unintelligible [00:33:01] anyway to buy a few essentials, so I’ll see if they’ve got. I don’t think they will, [unintelligible [00:33:08] arereally small places. I don’t think they’ll have gummy worms, but I’ll make sure to get some.

Briana: The only gummy candy I ate when I was over across the pond that I remember was wine gums, and they weren’t good.

Sarina: I’ve had some vegan version I think of wine gums. That was not good.

Briana: That seems like it’s worse.

Sarina: Yeah. I’m not sure if maybe that’s what you tried. I don’t know, because I have tried vegan wine gums and, look, if you like that, that’s fine. But to me, they had this really weird consistency. It didn’t really feel like a sweet.

Briana: Yeah.

Sarina: Maybe that’s what you had.

Briana: Yeah, but I like candy that’s easier to– you can just take a piece out– I’ll take a couple pieces out and sort of set them aside, and [00:34:00] as I finish a page or something, I’ll just pick up a gummy worm and eat it. [laughs]

Sarina: Oh, it’s a reward.

Briana: Yes. That’s a good idea. I sound like a seven-year-old on this episode. I’m like, “Parent yourself, give yourself candy,” but it works.

Sarina: Well, shall we talk about the time that we both awarded ourselves star stickers for reaching workout? [laughs]

Briana: Yes. I still do that. I print out my outlines, so that I can put a star sticker next to a scene when I’ve written it.

Sarina: I need to do that again. I’ve still got a quite a lot of stickers left, but I keep forgetting.

Briana: It’s so easy and so good.

Sarina: And it’s really rewarding. It does work. It’s so satisfying.

Briana: Yeah. And then, if I don’t get to put the sticker down, I’m disappointed.

Sarina: Yeah, same. Look, we’re grownups, we can do anything we want.

Briana: That’s true.

Sarina: I’m pretty sure this is what people grow up for so [00:35:00] that they can do things like that without feeling guilty about it.

Briana: Yeah, like the idea that you can buy cake just because it doesn’t have to be your birthday or anything. You can just buy a cake if you want to.

Sarina: This is true. Did you know that? You can just buy cake just because you want cake, there doesn’t need to be a reason. Yeah.

Briana: I’ve never done that, but I sure would like to.

Sarina: When I was growing up, my parents were really against any kind of fast food, so I didn’t actually have a burger until I met Barry, my partner. And he took me to a burger van, I think, and oh my God, it was a revelation. Burgers are awesome, I love burgers now.

Briana: He corrupted you.

Sarina: He did. Yeah, but turns out you can eat whatever you want. It’s fine.

Briana: Yeah. Like I said, just maybe avoid messy things because you’re going to– I don’t know, you’re going to get shit in your keyboard.

Sarina: We were talking about things did while you write. [00:36:00] I wouldn’t eat a burger while I write. That’s just crazy.

Briana: Yes. Any kind of really cheesy thing that’s covered in cheese dust is probably also a bad idea.

Sarina: Yeah, you don’t want anything that can mess up a keyboard.

Briana: Mm-hmm.

Sarina: Where was I? Oh, yeah. I think we’ve kind of touched on that as well, but do you listen to music while you write?

Briana: I do. I listen to music with lyrics, which means I’m a monster.

Sarina: No. [crosstalk]

Briana: I have to go with songs that I’ve heard before, like a lot, then I just kind of tuned it out. But I do a playlist for each book I write usually.

Sarina: See, I was just talking about that this morning with Beverly for her writing routine chat, which is coming up next month.

Briana: Oh.

Sarina: I’m just confusing myself now. But hers is in July, yours is in June. We were saying [00:37:00] that we can’t write music and we don’t know how people can write with whole playlists.

Briana: So, you don’t listen to anything when you write?

Sarina: No. I might sometimes have– not even instrumental music, I might have like some nature sounds., maybe but generally, I need silence. Is that weird? I prefer silence when I write.

Briana: My thing is, I get easily distracted, so the music tunes out most of the background noise. It’s also like a visual cue to my partner and others that I’m working on something.

Sarina: Well, see, I get easily distracted, which is why I can’t write with music.

Briana: Yeah, it’s wild that brains can be so different, though. I know a lot of people who can’t write with music, and then I know people who can only do music without lyrics. And then, there are people like me who are animals who just listen to whatever.

Sarina: Well, actually, I always thought that I [00:38:00] couldn’t write or edit with music with lyrics. But on a recent book that I have edited for someone else, I did put on some music with lyrics, and I did find that, bizarrely enough, editing was much easier with that. I think it’s because it had lyrics because that helped me to not overthink what I was editing.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: That was helpful.

Briana: I think that’s why it helps me with fast drafting, especially. I just kind of tune it out. Usually, I just kind of go with the pace of the song.

Sarina: Maybe I should try it again, we might be onto something.

Briana: I mean, it might have changed for you. That’s one of those things, like I said, I went through a period where I couldn’t write with anything, and it was just white noise and then music without lyrics. Now, I’m back at this. So, who knows? It might change.

Sarina: It might, but as you said earlier, if it doesn’t work, I can just stop doing it again.

Briana: Exactly. You’re not marrying anything you try. [00:39:00]

Sarina: Phew!

[laughter]

Sarina: Which book has inspired you the most? That’s any kind of fiction book or even nonfiction, I suppose.

Briana: In out of every book I’ve ever read?

Sarina: Uh-huh.

Briana: Oh, Jesus. God. I don’t know.

Sarina: You can list more than one, it’s fine.

Briana: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like I go to The Great Gatsby a lot, that’s a big one because of the way Fitzgerald uses description and imagery and the language and just it’s almost musical. After I read that book, I was like, “Okay, you can make books that sound pretty without being too flowery. You don’t have to strip away all of the description. You can [00:40:00] put a little bit in there, as like a treat.” So, that one. And Dracula, because it’s told in– it’s letters. It’s found footage pretty much, the original found footage. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Yes, I haven’t thought of it like that, but you’re right.

Briana: And I am dying to write a book that’s either a diary or in letters or something like that. I have one that I’ve started, so we’ll see if I come back to it.

Sarina: Yeah. You know how we said earlier that we’re twinning again because we’re the same person?

Briana: Yeah. Are you doing that too?

Sarina: Yeah.

[laughter]

Briana: Just so everyone on the podcast knows, we did not discuss that with each other.

Sarina: It’s never even come up before. But to be fair, I haven’t started mine, but I have thought here and there, how cool would it be to just write a book that’s just letters? Or just someone’s diary? [crosstalk] 

Briana: Is yours about killer mermaids too? [00:41:00]

Sarina: I mean, I haven’t got that far in the process, but should we?

[laughter]

Sarina: I did say early on my reader group that I haven’t read that many books with mermaids in them. At the time, my motivation was that mermaids could be quite cool on my work in progress, because my main character can’t swim. So, I feel like there’s a lot of tension there immediately, because mermaids can swim pretty well, and my main character cannot.

Briana: Yes, that would be a problem.

Sarina: But, yeah, I have kind of thought about mermaids, just not in that respect. I’m going to make a note of it because I have so many works in progress on the go and planned next already, that I really shouldn’t add another one.

Briana: Yeah, I know what that’s like.

Sarina: It will go in my notebook of ideas.

Briana: I had a play idea the other day, and I’m like, “Oh, I want to work on this,” even knowing that plays don’t sell.

Sarina: Well, Unboxed is selling pretty well.

Briana: Unboxed is selling pretty well. I’m surprised a lot [00:42:00] of people have said that it is either the first play they’ve ever read, or the first play they’ve read outside of school. So, that’s incredibly flattering.

Sarina: Well, I don’t know really any other modern plays to be honest, apart from yours.

Briana: Self-publishing for plays is not really a thing. I would like to help destigmatize it and make it more of a thing, because it’s great. It’s just like any other book. I don’t know why there’s this weird discrepancy there.

Sarina: See, now I want to invite you back again so we can talk about how to write a play, but that would be a fourth one, and that’s the thing, that will split us up, so we can’t do it.

Briana: It’ll tear us apart.

Sarina: [laughs] In the most dramatic way.

Briana: [laughs]

Sarina: Whatever that will be, I guess we’ll find out when we do that episode.

Briana: Mm-hmm.

[chuckles]

Sarina: Okay, [00:43:00] so similar question. Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing?

Briana: Ooh. I have a couple answers. Stephen King’s On Writing, even though I very much don’t write like he does. I really liked the way he lays out the idea that you sit down and you do the work, it’s like any other job, because I think a lot of people tend to over romanticize writing, and it is a lot of work and it is hard. So, I think the romanticization of it, is actually– it’s a curse sometimes, because then when you encounter anything hard, you’re like, “Oh, well, I must not be a writer because it’s not supposed to be hard,” which is ridiculous. I feel like writers are the ones who struggle the most with writing.

Sarina: Yeah, I completely agree.

Briana: Yeah, that one really helped with the idea of discipline, and then [00:44:00] I recommend this book, I feel like on every podcast, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.

Sarina: Oh, yes. I second that. I mean, I also second On Writing by Stephen King, but I kid you not, everyone who comes on here recommends that one. I want a seconded that one a few times. Yes, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel specifically, because there is also a screenplay version, which is also good, but we’re writing books here, so why not go for the write a novel one.

Briana: I read the screenplay version first, because like I said, I honored in film in college. It was really helpful for me to think, “Oh, yeah, I can take the structure that I’m used to seeing in film and kind of rework it for a book.” Unboxed is actually the first thing that I fully plotted using that method and it seems to have worked.

Sarina: Yeah, clearly.

Briana: I’m sticking with it.

Sarina: Now, I think I first borrowed Save the Cat! from a library, the original one, the screenwriting one, and I liked it so much. It was possibly one of the first books I’ve read [00:45:00] on writing. Then, I liked it so much I bought it, and then some years later, I think it was possibly you where I first saw the novel version.

Briana: It was me. [laughs]

Sarina: Yeah. I was on the fence about buying it for the longest time, because I had already read the other one. I wasn’t sure if I would get the novel one, but it’s honestly so good. I’m so glad I’ve got it. I actually took a highlighter to it which I’ve never done before.

Briana: It’s so different. You wouldn’t think that there would be that much of a difference, but it has so many little structure tips and things like that, that don’t necessarily work if you’re trying to just pull from the screenwriting version.

Sarina: Yeah, completely agree. It is such a gem. I can’t second that recommendation enough. It’s such a good little book.

Briana: The author is also super nice. I’ve talked to her. I’ve emailed her before, and she’s a sweetheart, so definitely recommend it.

Sarina: All right. So, that’s nice to know. I feel like most authors [00:46:00] are really quite nice people.

Briana: Yes. Despite most of us not liking people.

Sarina: Yeah. It’s weird, isn’t it?

Briana: Yeah.

Sarina: I’m a massive introvert but look at me having a podcast and I’m planning a second one, so.

Briana: There you go. That’s why I started making myself do podcast interviews, because I’m also an introvert.

Sarina: But weirdly, I really enjoy talking to people on the podcast. Maybe it’s because I just close my laptop if I don’t like them.

[laughter]

Briana: Just goodbye, you’re out of here.

Sarina: Just run away. Not even a goodbye, just close the laptop and run away.

Briana: Oh, my God.

Sarina: Then just leave it long enough, so that they have time to decide that I’m not coming back and leave. [laughs]

Briana: Yeah.

Sarina: Wouldn’t want to then open my laptop, and they’re still going, “Oh, where’d she go?”

Briana: Oh, no. That’s a horror story right there.

Sarina: Someone should write that, but I don’t think I could pull it off. [laughs] Yeah, it’s a [00:47:00] story in like one paragraph and it’s over.

Briana: Flash fiction. It’s a thing.

Sarina: Yes. Very true. I have got a bit of flash fiction in a magazine next month that’s coming.

Briana: Ooh, I’m very bad at flash fiction. I just can’t stop. I can’t shut up. I just keep going.

Sarina: I think I have the opposite problem, maybe. I’m struggling to develop things into whole short stories. I think I’m much easier if I can just stick to like 100 words.

Briana: Yeah. I don’t know why not plotting short stories works for me, but it does. Then, there was one short story in Tricker-Treater that collection where I wrote it. I wrote most of it, and then there was kind of like a hole in the middle that I needed to fill in, and I had the last line. I basically worked backwards from the last line, like I would add the line before and then would add another line before and I wrote the ending of it [00:48:00] backwards.

Sarina: This is really weird. I talked to Bev about that earlier as well, and we don’t get how people can do that.

Briana: I don’t know how I did it. I’ve never done it for any other story, and I don’t do it for my books. That one was just like, “Write me backwards.” So, I did.

[laughter]

Briana: It’s the story about the men on the boat.

Sarina: Oh, I like that one.

Briana: Yeah, I had the last line of that one first.

Sarina: I really like that one.

Briana: I pretty much wrote it backwards. I’ve also gotten some weird pushback for that because people haven’t– they haven’t realized that it was British, because that’s the only story in the collection I think that’s British. They use a lot of English phrases and things like that and some people were mad at me about that for some reason. I don’t know, someone’s always mad at me. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I’m not mad I’m just very confused because I didn’t notice it. [00:49:00] This is the first time I’m hearing about this.

Briana: Also, the names are like George and– I don’t know. I picked really English names. You were probably just like, “Oh, it’s whatever.”

Sarina: Do you not have any Georges over there in Georgia?

Briana: No one younger than like 70.

Sarina: Well, to be fair, we probably don’t have many young people called George. We have a few, but it’s probably more often– I don’t want to say this in a rude way that makes any younger George listening feel like their names are too awful. I think it is [unintelligible [00:49:40] name here as well that you are less likely to find on younger people. I feel like I’m digging myself a grave.

[laughter]

Briana: That’s okay. I feel bad that you didn’t know that it was an English story.

Sarina: I didn’t notice it. It didn’t stand out to me in that way of, “Oh, what happened here? This doesn’t read like her other [00:50:00] stories,” because I think they’re all so different to each other anyway, I just didn’t think anything of it.

Briana: Oh, we have Clive and Harry. Those are very English.

Sarina: Are they really?

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Do you notice that you don’t have any Harrys across over there?

Briana: I’ve never in my life met a Harry or a Clive.

Sarina: I mean neither I have, but. [chuckles]

Briana: Her name was Georgia. That was okay. Yeah, I had to explain that to the audiobook narrator too, I was like, “This one is British.” she’s like, “Why?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.”

[laughter]

Briana: It just is.

Sarina: Okay, well, same as with Unboxed, Very, very good little book– [crosstalk]

Briana: Oh, thank you.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -short stories, really loved it. Go buy it. [crosstalk]

Briana: Thank you. I feel like if you liked it, that’s a high praise too, because you don’t usually like horror, and there’s some yucky stuff in there.

Sarina: See, I didn’t think so. There was nothing in there where I [00:51:00] thought, “Oh, that’s grim.” But that might be more reflection on what’s wrong with me rather than what’s good about your horror. [laughs] I don’t know.

Briana: I don’t tend to go for super gory. I usually like the psychological, existential dread stuff better.

Sarina: Maybe that’s why it worked so well for me. I like that kind of stuff as well. If you’re listening, also like that kind of stuff, you really want to read the short story collection.

Briana: There’s like a little blood in it, but it’s not– I wouldn’t say it’s super gory. There’s body horror, so throwing out a trigger warning for that if you’re not into that. There’s people’s body parts move around and do things they shouldn’t.

Sarina: Oh, is that what that is? I didn’t know there was a word for that.

Briana: It’s that one story that I can’t name because then it’ll spoil the whole story.

Sarina: No, we won’t go into that. But anyway, final question before we run way over time. Do you have any [00:52:00] advice for establishing a writing routine?

Briana: I would say don’t be afraid to try a bunch of different things, and if something doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to abandon it. Even if it’s something that works for you feel like everyone else, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it.

Sarina: Yeah. I think especially with writing routines, they tend to change so much as you go on and just change as a writer. I mean, as you said earlier, you’ve written six books. You’ve published six books anyway and you’ve had a completely different approach with all of those.

Briana: Yes. And I feel that’s going to happen going forward too.

[chuckles]

Sarina: Whatever works. Just try things, it’s fine.

Briana: Yes. Don’t be afraid to try things.

Sarina: And if it doesn’t work, as you said earlier, you can just stop doing it.

Briana: Exactly.

Sarina: There’s no one right way to do it, which is great in a way, but also makes it harder in another.

Briana: Yes.

Sarina: Ah, such a joy. [00:53:00] All right. Well, I think that’s a good place to wrap this up. Thank you so much for coming back again.

Briana: Thank you for having me.

Sarina: Anytime. Maybe not any time, we’ll have to consider if dare a fourth interview.

Briana: Do we tempt the universe?

Sarina: I don’t know. The universe has been pretty good to me lately. I don’t want to piss it off.

Briana: Me neither.

Sarina: Maybe we shouldn’t. But as long as it gets [unintelligible [00:53:29], then it’s fine. All right. Thank you so much for coming back. As I said, have a wonderful week everybody. Have a great day. I’m going straight to bed. [laughs] Have a good rest of your day, Bri. Bye-bye.

Briana: Okay. Thank you.

[music]

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, on Instagram [00:54:00] and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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The Writing Sparrow Episode 39 | BookFunnel for Authors

In today’s episode, I talk about how authors can use BookFunnel to reach more readers faster without spending a fortune!

Your action step for today is to check out BookFunnel’s website and do a little research. Do they offer what you’re looking for?

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

[music]


Good morning, friends and Sparrows! It’s the 7/6/21, this is Episode 39, and today I thought I’d tell you a little about BookFunnel!

Before we start, I just wanted to quickly mention that you can now support this podcast and my new podcast for readers, The Reading Sparrow, on Patreon. You get a lot of benefits in return, such as a suggestion box for future episodes and guests you’d like me to talk to, priority to come on as a guest yourself, the chance to submit questions for every episode which I will no longer do via social media, free books, tea, hugs, and lots of fun stuff like that. So, if you’d like to help me keep these podcasts running or even help shape them, check it out at patreon.com/sarinalanger. The link is now also in the show notes.

NOW, onto the topic of this week’s episode! What is BookFunnel? It’s not a publishing platform or a sales tool like Amazon Ads, for example, but rather a promotion tool. Having said that, some group promotions are sales focussed, so they’ll ask either for books in KU or for books that are discounted on a certain day or a date range. I’ve now also seen one that specifically asked for books that are wide, so available on other sites beyond Amazon. These don’t work as well in my experience because the offered books aren’t free, but this is the same everywhere you’ll promote just because free stuff is less of a risk for readers who don’t know you yet – but I’m getting ahead of myself!

BookFunnel isn’t free to use, but there are 3 options to choose from. Which one you use is entirely up to you. The cheapest option is $20 a year, and that’s perfectly fine if you just want to test it and see if it’s for you. You can also change plans or cancel anytime. I’m on the midlist author plan because it makes the most sense for what I want to get out of it, and that’s $100 a year. I’ve linked to BookFunnel in the show notes, so I recommend you click that and read up on what the different options can offer you; otherwise, we’ll be here a while, and I don’t imagine me just reading out three lists would be very thrilling.

One more note one the pricing though: I paid extra on my midlist author plan to get direct email integration. This means that when people subscribe to your mailing list via a BookFunnel promotion, you don’t get sent a list of names and email addresses that you then need to copy and paste onto your mailing list. Instead, new subscribers join directly via BookFunnel, which saves you the extra hassle and makes the process smoother for your new subscribers. For me, it was worth it for that, but it’s not necessary.

I started using BookFunnel for two reasons: I wanted to share my mailing list sign-up freebies in an easy and reliable way, and I wanted to get my books in front of as many people as possible. I wanted an extra advertising platform, basically. I used to use another platform to share my mailing list freebies, but that was a while ago and I don’t remember the name or why I swapped… it may have been cost-related. I don’t remember. When I swapped to BookFunnel, several subscribers got in touch with me to say that it’s much easier for them to use and they prefer the overall look of the landing pages as well, and I do too, because it’s clean, looks professional, and I have some control over the layout, colours, and wording, so I always match the colours to the freebie. It just makes it more consistent. BookFunnel also keeps track of how many people have downloaded what, and if you’re into stats, like me, you’ll appreciate that insight! Once you’ve created a landing page for your book or freebie—which is very quick to do, by the way—you get a link to share with your subscribers, and that’ll get them to the download page. It’s very easy to set up.

Joining group promotions is also very easy, although most of them will have requirements. For example, it’s not uncommon for them to not allow erotica at all–unless you’re joining an erotic romance promo, of course. Many allow some steam but not naked man chests on the cover. I think every promo I’ve joined so far has required me to share the promotion with my mailing list at least once, and in my experience, social media shares are appreciated but not necessary. When you apply for a promo, you can usually pick the date on which you’ll share it with your mailing list, but some need all participating authors to share on the same day. It’ll be clear when you join what they want you to do. BookFunnel keeps track of your shares, because it tells the next promo organiser how much average traffic you’ve contributed to previous promotions. If you have a reputation of not sharing the promos despite it being mandatory, for example, you likely won’t get into future ones because you don’t uphold your end. I’ve seen some promotions that require you to have a certain average, but most don’t, at least not in my sci-fi and fantasy category.

Now, the most common concern I see about sites like BookFunnel is that the people who subscribe to your list from those promos aren’t real subscribers, that you’re effectively going for quantity over quality. To some degree, this is true! But BookFunnel now allows you to make joining your list optional for anyone who downloads your book, and I do this with every promotion I join. That way, the readers who really aren’t interested aren’t forced into signing up, and the ones who do join did it because they saw the option and wanted to take it.  Of course, they might then read your book and hate it, but this is true with everyone who reads your book no matter where they got it from. BookFunnel just allows you to reach more people faster, so of course the numbers are higher. I’ve had subscribers from BookFunnel promotions who ended up reading all my books, some have joined my reader group on Facebook, and quite a few have left reviews too – a big thank you if that’s you! Without BookFunnel promotions, I might never have reached those readers. If some of those subscribers unsubscribe again instead, that’s fine too – your mailing list isn’t for people who don’t like your books, so you’re not really losing anything by them unsubscribing. I do recommend, though, that you keep your list clean, meaning you kick out those subscribers who never open your emails. Doing that keeps your list healthy – I’m with MailerLite and they make it super easy. But I’m getting off track.

The other common concern I’ve seen is that people will download your book but not read it. Again, this is true no matter where they get your book from. If you’re telling me that you don’t have at least one book you’ve had for years that you haven’t read yet, I don’t believe you. With e-readers it’s especially easy to download loads of books and then not read them for a while, and I think most readers are guilty of that. I’d be lying if I said that I immediately read every book I buy or download, but I do read them eventually and I think most of us do. I’ve had a hardback copy of Circe for years that I haven’t touched since I bought it, so the same applies to books you buy in a physical shop. It might just take a while. Also bear in mind that your book isn’t special to a new reader because they don’t know you yet. They have no reason to prioritise your book before others, so just be patient and write another book.

I had a question from @authorrhiannewilliams on Instagram before I set up Patreon, so I’ll allow it.  She asks ‘How is BookFunnel different to StoryOrigin?’ The boring answer is that I don’t know because I haven’t tried StoryOrigin. From a glance at their website, they sound pretty similar, but since I haven’t tried StoryOrigin, I’m afraid I have no first-hand experience to share. If you have used StoryOrigin and know it well, get in touch and maybe we can arrange a chat. So, erm, sorry @authorrhiannewilliams for that pointless answer. I don’t have a better one.

So, to summarise: is BookFunnel worth the investment? Well, it depends entirely on what you want to achieve. If you want as many sales as possible, this may not be the platform for you – but consider that if you promote a free book with them and have published several other books, then you might see readthrough. In fact, I have seen some readthrough. If you, however, want to reach as many readers as possible, then BookFunnel could be a fantastic way of doing that. You effectively pay once a year—or monthly, if you prefer—and then run as many group promotions as you want in that time, so how much you get out of it is up to you, and the cost is much lower compared to other sites. The downside to that is that sites like BargainBooksy, for example, have dedicated mailing lists full of readers in your genre, whereas you don’t really know where all those other included authors sent your books. If it’s a sci-fi and epic fantasy promo, for example, and you’re an epic fantasy author, then some authors will send the link to readers who love sci-fi but don’t care about fantasy. That’s not really a risk though, at least I don’t think it is, because you don’t pay anything extra for those readers. And, of course, which promotions you join is entirely up to you!

I’m worried I forgot something. If there’s anything else you wish I’d mentioned that I haven’t, please get in touch and I’ll answer your question then.

Thank you so much for listening, have a great day and a fantastic week. Bye.

[music]

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the Subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. You can also support this podcast at Patreon on patreon.com/sarinalanger. Until next time, bye.


Support this podcast on Patreon.

This transcript was done by Sarina.

For more from my podcast, browse the category right here on this website or listen with your favourite provider.

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

The Writing Sparrow Episode 38 | My Experience of Writing My Whole Trilogy Before the First Edit

In this week’s episode, I talk about my experience of writing all three books of my Blood Wisp trilogy before I started editing the first book. I talk about what the benefits and downsides are for me to help you decide whether this might be a good approach for you.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[The Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

Good morning, friends and sparrows, and welcome back. This is the 31st of May 2021. This is Episode 38. Today, I’m talking about my experience of writing my current trilogy, that’s the Blood Wisp trilogy, before I start editing any of it.

A few weeks ago, let me just find the date for you. I have already had a chat about this with Noelle Riches, that was on January 25th if any of you would like to have a look at that, or listen as it were. [00:01:00]. We talked about the benefits of plotting your whole trilogy before you write it. This is similar because I have now written my whole trilogy before I start editing. And oof, it’s been interesting, let me tell you. I think I probably start with the cons so that we can end on a more positive note.

Con number one. This probably goes without saying, but it’s taken a really long time to do. I think I’ve mentioned this somewhere before, but I’ve had the covers done, completely finished, ready to go for just over two years. [chuckles] So, yeah, when I say a long time, it really has taken a while. This was made a lot harder by the fact that [00:02:00] these three books have kind of started off as novellas rather than full-length novels, so I had to go in and basically readjust and restructure everything because one of my critique partners, [unintelligible [00:02:16], has very helpfully pointed out that they didn’t really work as individual novellas, they read more as one book. And she was completely right. Yeah, they needed a big restructure for one.

I want to stress here that not every book you write will need quite so much rewriting. This really has been a special case, I think. Either way, it has taken quite a long time because, of course, in this case, I didn’t write just one book, I wrote three. So, of course, it took three times as long. Yeah, I love my characters so much and I love the world for this, and I love the lore, [00:03:00] and I love that it’s kind of a sequel to my Relics of Ar’Zac trilogy, and I love that I got to explore more of that world, but I’m also kind of really sick of it now. [laughs] This probably makes me a terrible book parent, but there we are. No, I love them, but I’ve spent so much time with everything that I think I’m due a break from it and I really, really want to break from it now. That’s definitely something to consider. If you think that you might like to try this, you will spend a lot of time with these characters and with that world.

Con number two. I’m now editing the first book in this trilogy. Let me tell you, it feels really weird to go back to the very beginning, when I’ve only just written the very end. All characters, I think, should genuinely go through some kind of development. Of course, by the end of trilogy, there’s been an awful [00:04:00] lot of that. The character that I have just finished writing is basically a completely different person to the main character at the beginning of the trilogy. It feels really strange now, I think, for me to go back and see her at what’s essentially her worst before she’s done any of that developing, when I’ve just come from her living her best life, being her best health at the very end of the trilogy.

It’s a little bit odd now to go in and add new chapters of someone who’s effectively a completely different character. It’s doable. I’m certainly managing, but, yeah, it’s interesting. It doesn’t quite feel natural to go back to that state of her. Yeah, to come back to just calling it again interesting, I think that’s the only way I can describe it. [chuckles] [00:05:00] It’s interesting. It’s doable, but, yeah, that’s something to consider as well, if you think that you might want to approach the next series this way, it’s interesting if I haven’t said this already. To come back to your main character at the very beginning of the journey when you’ve just written them at the very end, because of all the development, but let’s move on.

Con number three. I can’t see this working for anything that’s longer than a trilogy. I think Noelle Riches and I had talked about this a little bit because, well, obviously, there’s an awful lot of work that goes into it and sooner or later, you presumably actually want to publish what you’ve written, I’m guessing, this is why we’re all here, right? I’m considering writing maybe a five-book trilogy, or maybe even something longer than that, and I’ve just done an interview [00:06:00] with– bear with me, my memory is clearly terrible, with author, Sharon Turner, about both writing a 10-book series, and I just can’t see this approach working for anything that long.

As I’ve said, I’ve already been on this trilogy for such a long time, I’m kind of tired of my characters now. I really want to move on to something else. The idea of spending maybe 10 times as long or 5 times as long on something that you would normally only spend– I don’t know. It depends so much on how fast you write and how fast you edit, but you need to multiply that by however many books you think you will have in the series. It could potentially take for a 10-book series, I don’t know, maybe a decade? [chuckles] Not to be a downer on this fine morning but, yeah, that’s something to consider.

Again, eventually, you might actually want to publish what you’ve written, [00:07:00] your readers probably eventually want to read what you’ve done next. It would be a lot of work to do this for anything longer than a trilogy. It was already an awful lot of work, just for this trilogy. So, yeah, do think about that before you head in. And if you do start, and you realize that it’s too much in one go before you start editing and publishing, there is nothing wrong with stopping and just doing what you would normally do, and edit right away, and then publish after obviously, beta readers and critique partners and editing and all that, but writing the whole series before you edit anything is one approach, but it’s definitely not the right approach or anything. To be honest with you, I’m not sure if I will do it again, just because it’s taken so damn long, and because I have got a little bit tired now of my characters [00:08:00] in my world. They are great, it’s a lot of time with the same people. I can’t stress that enough. If you like variety, this may not be the approach for you.

Let’s talk about the benefits because it has more than downsides.

Pro number one. Writing the whole trilogy before I start editing has allowed me to make changes to the first books, because I hadn’t published anything yet. This for me is the really, really big plus. There were a few things that came up while I was writing book three, that I thought, “Oh, this could be really great if I did it for all the series,” but I hadn’t thought of them until I started writing book three. If at this point, if I had already published book one and book two, I might never have been able to add those things into the earlier books. But now, I can easily go back in because I’m still editing them and I can easily add those bits. [00:09:00] I think the whole plot is going to read much more smoothly because of it, so that’s a really big plus for me to be honest.

Same with the foreshadowing, there were a few things that have come up now when the second book or the third book that I hadn’t originally planned. Those little bits that come up as you’re writing the things that you couldn’t have planned, the things that your characters throw at you that you never even thought of. I can now foreshadow those, and I can do just a little bit of extra with that in the first book or the second book. Yeah, that’s a really big benefit for me, because everything later on will just read like I’ve always planned it this way, even though we of course know that I didn’t, because I’ve just spoiled it. That’s been a really big plus for me. I do think that that alone honestly makes it worth considering trying at least once because as I said, it just it allows you to [00:10:00] add things into the first book and the second book that otherwise you might have had to miss out on.

Pro number two, and I’m afraid that’s it. I had three cons, only two pros, but I do think the pros are quite big points. Yeah, pro number two, while the initial wait for any of the books to come out is, of course, a lot longer, my readers also won’t have to wait as long between books. Normally, you might publish book one, and then you start writing book two, and then you have to go through all the editing and all that setup. You can easily have a year or longer this way between books, but this way, because I’ve already written them and just [ahem-ahem] need to edit them, like there was any such thing as just editing, [chuckles] it means that I can get them out much faster. This will also allow me to do rapid releases, which I’ve heard so much about, so many good things, and I’m excited to see what kind of effect [00:11:00] that will have on my books.

But yeah, again, the initial wait is longer. That’s not just for your readers, that’s also for you because, of course, even though you are working on the books is– well, it’s work that you have to put into the books. You’re not as likely to take a break maybe between books, because you’re– or at least I was very aware that I was still working on the first draft. For me, that was certainly, well, the pressure on me, I think, to complete the first draft, so that I could then get to editing, so that I could then get them out. I don’t have that anywhere near as bad when I write, edit, and publish, and then again, write, edit and publish yada, yada.

I think while this has been a positive point in many aspects, it’s certainly also maybe a negative point that you need to think about, but that comes back [00:12:00] to what I said earlier about just how much longer everything takes.

Yeah, this has been my experience writing Blood Wisp, 1, 2, and 3, before I really started editing. To summarize, the cons are that it takes an awfully long time. You might get tired of your characters after a little while, but you might then also feel pressure to stick with it, because you’ve already been working on it for so long. Your readers might eventually say, “Why haven’t you published it yet? I really want the new book out. Why isn’t it out yet?” Well, also, yay, if that’s the case, your readers want the next book, that’s a great thing.

It feels really weird to go back to the very beginning when you’ve just written the very end, because your characters have done an awful lot of developing and growing. You will then need to go back to your characters before they’ve done any of that, which basically makes them completely different characters. [00:13:00] I think that’s quite a big thing to consider for your rewrites.

I also can’t see this approach working for anything longer than a trilogy. [sighs] It’s barely worked for me for a trilogy, to be honest. It’s really hard to imagine it working for a 5-book series or 10-book series or anything in between or up from there. Obviously, you can outline, and I think I might just stick to doing outlines. Yeah, something to consider.

On the positive side, it allows you to make changes to your first books, because you haven’t published them yet. Even though the initial wait is a lot longer for your readers, they won’t have to wait as long between books, which keeps the hype going, and which will allow you to do rapid releases.

All right, so this has been my experience writing my whole Blood Wisp trilogy before I started [00:14:00] editing. I hope it’s been insightful for you, and not too boring. [chuckles] I’ve been wanting to share this experience with you because it’s been such a different approach, I think, for me at least, of writing anything. I think normally authors will do the normal thing, if I can call it that, where you write a book and then you let it rest for a little bit and then you edit it and then it goes to other people, and then eventually publish it and then you write the next one. This was an approach that I thought was very worth trying. I’m glad that I’ve tried it. If you think that you might like to try it, by all means go right ahead.

I hope this has shed a bit of light on what it’s been like for me. I hope I haven’t put you off [chuckles] but have rather maybe let it consider things that you hadn’t thought of before. All the best of luck to you, because as I said, I’m quite tired of it now and I’m [00:15:00] very, very, very much looking forward to working with different characters in a different setting.

Thank you so much for listening. If you have any more questions at all about this, don’t hesitate to get in touch. My social media handles will follow in just a second. Thank you so much for listening in today. Have a wonderful day and a fantastic week. Happy plotting and writing. Thank you, and bye-bye.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


Support this podcast on Patreon.

Transcript by speechdocs.com

For more from my podcast, browse the category right here on this website or listen with your favourite provider.

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

The Writing Sparrow Episode 37 | How to Write a 10-Book Series with Sharon Turner

In this week’s episode, I talk to fantasy author Sharon Turner, who has written  the 10-book series Kingdom of Durundal. We discuss her process, how she approached writing such a long series, and her tips for writers wanting to attempt the same.

To find out more about Sharon, check out her website  or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

[music]

Sarina: Good morning, and welcome back friends and Sparrows. It’s the 24th of May, 2021. This is Episode 37. Today, I’m talking to fantasy author Sharon Turner about how to write a whopping 10-book series. Welcome to my podcast, Sharon.

Sharon: Well, hello, good morning to you as well.

Sarina: I’m very excited about this, because as I’ve just mentioned to you before we started recording, I thought about writing a longer series, well, longer than a trilogy, for a while because some of my favorite books like [00:01:00] The Sword of Truth series, I think that has 17 books in it, so it’s something that I love reading. I think once you fall in love with the world building and the characters, you want more. But tackling it, I think as an author is a very different problem to just writing, say, a trilogy. So, I can’t wait to hear what you’ve got to tell us today.

Sharon: [laughs] Okay. Well, I’ll say that my 10-book series, it didn’t start off as a 10-book series. I started it as, “I was going to just do a trilogy.” [crosstalk]

Sarina: See, that’s what I was going to ask. First, whether you knew right away that you would end up with 10 books eventually, because I think that’s quite a big commitment to start with. [chuckles]

Sharon: Yeah. No, it’s sort of a bit like a tree, it’s become my little acorn tree. I just started off with this little idea, which was my acorn, and then it’s sort of grown and grown. At the moment, I think it’s the end, and it probably will be the end [00:02:00] how it’s finished just now, so it probably will stay as 10. But I might just go and possibly, maybe start another series actually, with the characters that I’ve now sort of ended on, they’re– [crosstalk]

Sarina: It’s tempting, isn’t it?

Sharon: [chuckles] -so I might do that. But then, I might do something else completely different, murder mystery or something. [crosstalk] A completely different genre. Yeah.

Sarina: I think when you have a continuous story, then it makes sense to just have an actual end to it with sooner or later. Because presumably, you’re slowly working towards something, so it makes sense that it eventually comes to an end.

Sharon: Yes. In fact, the last two that I’ve written are almost like the prequels to the Kingdom of Durundal series. It’s a bit like Star Wars. Somebody said it’s like Star Wars. Not that I know much about Star Wars, but somebody said that’s what Star Wars did. [00:03:00] They did Star Wars 1, then the later ones are almost like the prequels. That’s what my last two are really, because they’re Vikings. Some of the characters then you see in the– so I’m sort of introducing some of the characters into the main bulk of it.

Sarina: See, I love reading a prequel after I’ve read the main series because I love then getting all that background information.

Sharon: Yes.

Sarina: Normally, readers will probably want before they start the main series, but I really like having all those extra answers once I’ve already tried to figure things out for myself.

Sharon: Yes. And particularly the last books, my book 9, which is called Severn, that’s the name of my character, well, he actually then goes on to play quite a pivotal character in the main first few books. So, when you read the end of Severn, [00:04:00] all my reviews are all the shock twist at the end.

Sarina: Ooh, I love a good shock twist.

Sharon: [crosstalk] They are just amazed at who he turns out to be.

Sarina: Well, that’s sold it to me, I’m going to have to read those.

[laughter]

Sharon: Severn now. Well, you’ll have to read them in order to find out–

Sarina: Oh, yeah, of course. [laughs]

Sharon: [crosstalk] -but then read Severn to see how he started.

Sarina: Just tell me, are there more shocking twists throughout the series?

Sharon: A few, just a few.

Sarina: That’ll do. [giggles]

Sharon: Yeah, there is enough– [crosstalk] [laughs] My daughter used to say to me, I’ve got to kill off a few more. I have to kill off all these sorts of– sometimes I don’t want to kill them off because I love them. I begin to actually love my characters and they’re like my friends. But then, I think, “Oh gosh, it makes a bit more of an impact.”

Sarina: Well, I think that’s a sign that you’ve really got to know your characters and you really know who you’re writing. It’s a good sign of very strong character development, so that’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t– [00:05:00]

Sharon: Yes.

Sarina: [crosstalk] –when you have to kill them.

Sharon: I know. It’s so sad, isn’t it that you have to do that? But yes, I do kill off my characters.

Sarina: Well, if it makes sense, I always think if it makes more sense for a character to die than it would make for them to survive, than let them die.

Sharon: Let them die.

[chuckles]

Sharon: I because I know it’s fantasy because I have to put that genre because it’s like a fantasy world. Although, most of the books, apart from my Sorceress of the Sapphire, it could happen, but it’s because I’ve got this fantasy world. But in Sorceress of the Sapphire, that becomes a bit more magical. That’s why it’s more of a historical fantasy that as well, but I have to label it as, as well now.

Sarina: Okay, well, that sounds very intriguing.

[chuckles]

Sarina: You mentioned something about how you’ve compared to book to an acorn, like a whole tree [00:06:00] has sprouted out of it, and that’s how it’s grown. Is that how you realize that it had more books in the series than just the three?

Sharon: Yes.

Sarina: It just kept growing?

Sharon: Yes, it did. Yeah, and then the characters, it really is like an oak tree, because of all the different characters. Some of them are strong characters, with lots of little things coming off, but some of them aren’t quite so strong, and they might just disappear. At the time of writing, I don’t know who the strong ones are going to be. I do have an idea in my head, but sometimes they just grow into this stronger character, and then more come off that as well. It just grows and grows and grows. [crosstalk]

Sarina: You have multiple points of views as well?

Sharon: More points of views, as in what do you mean by that?

Sarina: As in you have more than just the one narrating character?

Sharon: Well, yes, yes, [00:07:00] definitely.

Sarina: See, then once you start doing that, you really open yourself up to the potential of having even more books, because the more characters you start writing as the main characters, the more you get to know them, and then the more you realize just how much story they all individually might have to tell. It happens very easily.

Sharon: Well, because Sorceress of the Sapphire starts off with the son of one of the main characters in the first few books. I wrote that in the first person, all my other ones have been written in the third person. I wrote this in the first person, which was quite hard. It’s really hard to do. [crosstalk]

Sarina: It is. Now, I tend to gravitate more towards third person when I write. When I read, I don’t really mind as long as it’s done well as with anything when you read. But when I write, I definitely gravitate more towards writing third person. First person, I find quite hard, because you almost feel like you’re making it more about yourself, because you’re constantly going, “I do this. I do that.”

Sharon: Yes, [00:08:00] it is.You tend to lean towards going in the past tense, or do you stay in the present tense? It’s quite difficult to keep it going all the way through.

Sarina: But then, that’s where your editors come in, and they can say, “You swapped tense. Fix it, fix it.” [laughs]

Sharon: I actually got two editors on that one, actually, to make sure it was right.

Sarina: Because sometimes it’s necessary.

Sharon: Because I just wasn’t sure. I teach English as well, but I just thought I need more input here.

Sarina: And you can’t see everything yourself anyway. I think you always think that because it’s your book, it should be quite obvious where the mistakes are, but you just gloss over them, because it makes sense in your head, so you just don’t see things. I always refer back to the horse that I had in my first book, which changed gender halfway through, and then I think it changed gender again.

Sharon: [laughs]

Sarina: You know what? I had 12 beta readers, and only 2 of [00:09:00] them noticed it.

Sharon: Goodness.

Sarina: It just goes to show how hard these things can be to spot, you just don’t.

Sharon: No. Yes, I did. Even then, even having two editors with Sorceress of the Sapphire, once it had been written, and goodness, I released that last year sometime, but it was only a couple of months ago that somebody I had put– Oh, his nieces, I talked about that in the book– the main character’s nieces, when actually it was the cousins. I got it wrong, and so did the editors. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Those are things that are really hard to spot, I think.

Sharon: Yeah.

Sarina: To be fair, every book still has a few mistakes in it.

Sharon: Yes.

Sarina: Even the big traditional ones because there’s always something that slips through, you can’t see everything.

Sharon: Yeah. I’m sure that I read George R. R. Martin Game of Thrones one, and I can’t remember which it was [00:10:00] but, and I probably could never find it again, there was a second line repeated.

Sarina: No.

[laughter]

Sharon: [crosstalk] -books are so big, how could anybody get that spot on? I know he’s got probably thousands of readers doing that, but even so, it’s just so much to take on.

Sarina: Yeah. How do you tackle a project as big as a 10-book series? Although, of course, you’ve already said that you didn’t plan them to begin with as being 10 books, but what was your thought process for planning them all?

Sharon: Yeah, well, I think by the time I got to the third one, because for the first ones, I got A Hare in the Wilderness, A Wolf in the Dark, A Leopard in the Mist, A Stag in the Shadows, then I got Moth. I liked the animals because they’re all animal totem names, and that’s where I’ve got the names from. The first one, A Hare, is actually her totem. Then a Wolf is the same, is the main character, that was his totem, and [00:11:00] then the Leopard. I just quite wanted then to then have five books then, sort of like a totem animal that represents their characters. All those names are representative of the characters.

After I got to the trilogy, I thought, “Oh, no, I want five.” Five became the number then. Something like five, that’s the magic number. I thought, “No, I’m going to stick to that, stick to that one.” I did all my totem names, and I got all the characters because when you’re writing a kingdom, you can have as many characters as you want in your kingdom-

Sarina: Oh, yeah. [giggles]

Sharon: -and there’s so many people, the kings, and everybody. Then, just Ajeya’s journey really, in my book one. But then, it got to the end of A Moth and I thought, “Oh, I don’t really want to end it here. I just don’t.” That’s why I then had the Sorceress of the Sapphire, which is three books, that is three books. [00:12:00] I wanted to bring in a bit more magic and fantasy, and make it a bit more unbelievable, because the era that I write in, the medieval sort of era, that 9th, 10th century, they were so fascinated with witches and folklore and shamans, and all of that. So, I wanted to discuss that a bit more. Then, obviously, with the last two, Severn, and Sable, those are the prequels that they then link up to the beginning. It’s like a circle that’s going around.

Sarina: Did you find when you were writing it that there was a lot of lore and history that you couldn’t explain in the main series, and then that’s how your prequels came about?

Sharon: Yes. There’s that as well. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Because that’s why I ended up writing my prequel because I had so much lore that I couldn’t logically explain in my main trilogy, that I thought, “I’m either going [00:13:00] to have a prequel, and then people can get the information that way, or we’ll just never have the answers.”

Sharon: Yes, because otherwise, you don’t want it to fall flat where you have a bit like what happened– I don’t know if you watch Game of Thrones, but the last series was a Game of Thrones was just so bad because it was so rushed. I just think that no author now– I know it wasn’t George Martin’s fault, it was the program, but nobody wants that now, because it is just so bad to really rush things, so that’s why you have to write another three books really to explain it all.

Sarina: The good thing is that we learned something from it. I think we all learned something from that.

Sharon: Yes, definitely.

Sarina: We all learned how not to wrap a series.

Sharon: Oh, gosh, I know. [laughs] Yes, we’ll never see it again, will we–[crosstalk] [laughs] because we saw it first–[crosstalk]

Sarina: [laughs] What would you say were your biggest challenges just anywhere writing this big series? [00:14:00]

Sharon: Oh, God, just writing. We’ve talked about authors who are quite inspirational, because they can write very fast and they churn it out very, very quickly. I don’t know how they do that. I just don’t. When I get to 70,000 words, I’m like, “Oh, my God.” I don’t think I could do 150,000 words one. I just don’t think I could. I think I have a figure in mind as well what I want to get to, usually round about 80,000 words. [crosstalk]

Sarina: That’s normally where I set my goal, but I found just over the last two years or so that I’m really bad at writing longer drafts for some reason. Most of my drafts, my first draft seemed to come in around 50,000, 60,000 which isn’t ideal because I then have to do a lot of editing to it, but yeah. Fingers crossed the current one is going better. [00:15:00] It seems to be a sweet spot for some reason that I can’t quite get past. Yeah.

Sharon: [laughs] Yes. I get to round about the 70,000 mark. Although with the Leopard in the Mist, which was my third book, that’s nearly 90,000 words, but I think I had more characters in that. I was bringing in all the characters. So, that book was really quite pivotal to bringing in all the characters and the stories that were then going to then spin off of that, which then led on to the next seven books.

Sarina: And if you thought at the time that the third book would be the last one until you got to the end, you must have had all those other plot strings to tie up, so that I suppose would also have added quite a bit.

Sharon: Yes. That’s another reason why there’s probably 10, because when you’ve got more characters coming in, it’s just more happening. There’s just so [00:16:00] much more happening in that book that it doesn’t spin off. Yeah, like what you were just saying, we don’t want to just wrap it up really quickly and leave it a bit of, oh, that has to really go on to more books to give a nice satisfying feel to it, that it’s all been addressed and it’s a much smoother ending rather than, ooh, do a off-a-cliff job.

Sarina: If there’s just that much to the plot, then what you’re going to do? Write 10 books, I suppose.

[laughter]

Sharon: Yes, or 17, maybe.

Sarina: Or 17.

Sharon: [laughs]

Sarina: I just wanted to quickly throw in what you just said about us having talked about authors who write very quickly, that’s before we started recording, so you haven’t missed anything.

Sharon: [laughs] Oh, right, yes.

Sarina: All good. You didn’t know. You didn’t skip anything. You didn’t fall asleep listening, I hope.

[laughter]

Sharon: I hope not.

Sarina: We were discussing that before we started the interview.

Sharon: Yeah.

Sarina: Okay. We have two questions [00:17:00] that I had in from Instagram from @fangs.and.light. The first one being, what’s the best way to plan to avoid continuity errors? Because I can see continuity errors possibly be quite a big issue when you have something as big as that. I mean I have continuity errors just now just between two chapters, because I keep forgetting what time it is or what season it is.

Sharon: Well, for me, whatever book I’m doing, I have to write all those main things down. I even have to write their ages down, and what month I think they could have been born, because that has an impact then on how old they are. So, you have to address that through seasons and things like that, because readers do pick up on that. Some of my beta readers, when I was first writing, some of them were saying, “How can that be? How can she just be da, da, da?” Then, I have to bring in things that show how old my characters are. [00:18:00] You just write everything down the names, I have to keep a list of all the names I’ve done. In fact, at the back of my books, I do have a whole index of the characters names, for me as well, as well for the readers.

Sarina: [laughs]

Sharon: [crosstalk] – to look at. In case I lose my bit of paper or something, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s their name.”

Sarina: Do you keep your lists and all those details in a notebook? Or, do you prefer to keep everything digital?

Sharon: No, in a notebook, actually. Yeah.

Sarina: I do as well. I’m a big notebook author.

Sharon: Yes. I’ve still got all my bits of paper just in my cupboard, it sort of feels more organic to me, it feels more real somehow. I quite like that, to have it all just written down that I could just look at, because I like the way [crosstalk] Yeah, so you’ve got little notes in a corner somewhere. There’s something scribbled out. I like to actually then go back and look at that, what name [00:19:00] did I first start with? And how did it change? And how did I come to this? And I quite liked that process, where it’s just little notes and circles around and underlined, and all that, but yeah, everything is written down. Every single part is written, and I have to make sure I keep everything on track. Yes.

Sarina: Do you have a space set aside in your notebook for all those important details, because the problem that I run into quite often and I’m sure @fangs.and.light does as well, is that I have lots of little bits of important information but in different parts of my notebook. When I then try to find something, I have to page through it quite a lot until I eventually find it and then it was, “Oh, I have something else I know that I completely forgot about.”

Sharon: Yes. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Which I should probably have considered.

Sharon:  Yes. I am probably a bit more like that where I’m– it is all over the place. Yes, it’s not in any sort of order, but then I do quite like that as well because it [00:20:00] shows my process again. It becomes my acorn tree again, things growing, things are discarded, and then something else goes in its place, so I quite like looking back on the process as well.

Sarina: That’s a really lovely comparison, I think, with the acorn and the tree.

Sharon: [crosstalk] -seed of knowledge, it’s just a little seed of knowledge and it grows into something amazing.

Sarina: Unlike you, I quite like a messy notebook, I think it’s quite satisfying and shows just how chaotic the process really can be.

Sharon: It really is.

[laughter]

Sharon: It is. There’s no getting away from it. It is not a straight path, but it is just, woo, all over the place. Good days, bad days, can’t [unintelligible [00:20:44].

Sarina: Yeah. And then, sometimes maybe you’re out on a walk or something, you just quickly think of something and think, “Oh, well, that will be great.” So, you just quickly added on whatever page you’re on, and you’ll never find it again.

[laughter]

Sharon: Yes. [00:21:00]

Sarina: Maybe we should try to hold each other accountable with that and say, you know what? We’re going to set extra space aside in our notebook, we’re going to mark it with something colorful.

Sharon: Exactly.

Sarina: [crosstalk] Then, next time we need to remind ourselves how old this character is, or how long this person has been pregnant for already, we can easily get back to that, and we don’t need to leaf through it for an hour.

Sharon: Yes. I think we should color coordinate it, actually. There should be colors as well.

Sarina: Well, that I already do. It’s just all throughout the notebook.

Sharon: Okay, so you’ve got a rainbow in yours as well.

Sarina: Yes.

Sharon: As well as scribbling all over the book. Well, you most probably [unintelligible [00:21:35] same way, I just underline everything, yeah, so I know that [crosstalk] this is important.

Sarina: It’s a pretty, colorful mess, but it makes sense to me until I need to find something specific.

Sharon: Yes. [laughs]

Sarina: The second question from @fangs.and.light is this, what’s the best way to keep the series as engaging as in the beginning?

Sharon: Hmm, [00:22:00] yes. I would say with each character that you bring in– because the characters that then have a pivotal place later on, are probably just a little subsidiary character, sort of earlier on and to make them believable and real, and to create empathy with that character. It depends on what genre you’re going to write, so for me with my fantasy genre. Having said that, a character is a character, you just have to make it believable. Regardless you’re writing a crime or romance, it’s the character that’s important. Yeah, I concentrate on the character development, really. Yes. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I think what you said about empathy is probably the most important thing, because ultimately, if your readers can’t relate to your character and don’t care about the character, [00:23:00] then they’ll stop reading, probably.

Sharon: Yes. That’s why you have to make them as real as possible, so they’ll have their flaw, they’ll have sadness in their lives, they’ll have things that aren’t going well, so that’s what you have to get across to make them real, and to create that empathy and that bond, that the reader can think, “Oh, that’s like me, I have that. I have that in my life.” Then, you’ve got that identifying platform straightaway. Sometimes, when you’ve got some of these characters that are just out there and unbelievable. I sometimes wonder, does that work? I don’t think that works for me. I actually prefer to have a character where I find them relatable and a bit more human, really.

Sarina: Yes. No character should be completely perfect, because no one can relate to that.

Sharon: That’s right. [chuckles] Yes.

Sarina: Let them be messy. Let them [00:24:00] be beautiful messes.

Sharon: Yes, I think so. Yeah. Have chaos in their lives, just like our books, but at the end of it, they come through. Well, some die, we were talking about that as well earlier, but most of the time they come through.

Sarina: There you go.

Sharon: Believable, yes.

Sarina: I would maybe add to the question– well, to your answer to @fangs.and.light question. Maybe just make sure that you know where you’re going with every book. If you’re writing 10-books series or just a duology, either way you want to keep every book that’s included engaging, and as engaging as the first one. Likewise, the first book can fall flat and not be engaging at all if you don’t know where you’re going and if you don’t know your characters. To me, the question reads a bit like maybe the author is also not quite finding it as engaging, what she’s writing now [00:25:00] as the first ones, which tells me that maybe they have a bit of plotting to do, or maybe just trying to really figuring out where this book needs to go.

Sharon: A story, and particularly the characters, will have a bit of the author in them. That’s where you are, that’s why you have to keep your characters real and have that empathy because if you draw from yourself possible certain experiences, and you don’t have to be ancient to be able to write a story. Even young people have had experiences, they just have. You just draw on those experiences to make your characters real, because then there’s a part of the author in every character. Sometimes, I look at some of my hideous really bad characters, and I’m thinking, “My goodness, is it me in that?”

Sarina: [laughs]

Sharon: [crosstalk] -my anger and my frustration coming through in a character. [00:26:00]

[chuckles]

Sarina: To summarize, @fangs.and.light, make sure you know where you’re going with the story and throw in all of the empathy and just make sure that your characters are relatable.

Sharon: Yes, definitely.

Sarina: If you don’t care, neither will your readers. So, if you feel like something is missing, there probably is something missing.

Sharon: Yes. If they’re just two dimensional, then it’ll lack emphasis, and it will lack luster. [crosstalk]

Sarina: And that won’t be very nice to write or to read.

Sharon: That’s right. It becomes boring then, doesn’t it? It becomes wooden. You want to make it like our acorn tree, [crosstalk] and full.

[laughter]

Sarina: Yeah, if you start to think of the acorn tree.

Sharon: That’s what all writers should do, just acorn, acorn tree. There we go.

Sarina: Problem solved. [laughs]

Sharon: [crosstalk] -everything.

Sarina: Then, to wrap things up, my last question. What’s [00:27:00] the number one thing to consider when we want to write a longer series?

Sharon: I think, really, just put– everything that we’ve talked about, just put that together, and to maybe have a goal in mind and plan it. I think if you go on a journey, you don’t just drive to your journey and your destination. You plan it. You plan your journey, and where you’re going to stop off and which route you’re going to take, etc. There’s so many things. I think you need to plan your writing like you plan a journey. You write your little stops down, where you’re going to take on fuel, where you’re going to get your inspiration from, and how you’re going to keep that going. How you’re going to keep that inspiration going? What are you going to put in place? While I’m putting petrol in your car, how are you going to keep that inspiration going? And that could be a number of things, reading more books, going for a walk, just so many things. But yeah, plan your writing like you plan a journey.

Sarina: That’s what I always compare it to. If you go for a drive, or maybe not just a drive, but if you go on a journey, as you said, you probably know where you want to go, because otherwise you’re just driving aimlessly. Then, you’re just burning petrol for no reason. And we don’t have that kind of money, Sharon. [chuckles]

Sharon: That’s right.

Sarina: Likewise, if you drive past something and you think, “That looks nice,” maybe you’ll stop off and see what that’s about.

Sharon: Exactly.

Sarina: You can, and you should, I think, approach writing a book in much the same way, know where you’re going, but don’t be afraid to stop off on the roads and just see what happens.

Sharon: Yes, exactly that. You never know what you’re going to find. Yeah, it keeps it interesting. Yes.

Sarina: I just quickly wanted to come back to something you mentioned just now about inspiration and keeping that going [00:29:00] for all 10 books. How did you do that?

Sharon: I find my inspiration from lots of things. I do read a lot. I like going for walks in nature. I find nature very inspirational. Just to look around at the bigger picture, bring myself back to ground level. I think also when you go for walks, it allows you that time to just breathe and just empty all the stuff that’s going on in your head that just gets in the way and then you can fill it with more inspiration, “Oh, that’s where I want to go.” “That’s what I want to do.” It does allow you to– Yeah, just empty your mind. I think it’s weird, isn’t it? I think at night as well, why do we fill ourselves with things that just are so random? But if you just get out in nature, it tends to go. You just get into that kind of mindset. [00:30:00] I’ve never done meditation, but I think that people find that quite beneficial as well, to sort of just empty your head, so that gives room for more stuff to go in.

Sarina: See, I really second going for a walk point because I love even just taking my first tea of the day outside in the morning in our little garden, which we’re very lucky to have, because I think just getting that fresh air and just being in nature is very beneficial to your mental health in general.

Sharon: Yes, yes, I think it is. Just to have that me time, as in all the time, anybody time, whatever they’re doing, I think, people need that me time. Then, you can think through the– some of my most pivotal moments have come just by walking. One of my points, I think it was in A Leopard in the Mist, I was suddenly walking, I’m thinking, “Gosh, I’ve got far too many men in there. How can I bring a woman?” [00:31:00] Then, I brought in quite a pivotal woman, that’s because I was kind of doing my walk through the woods. So many things, I do find that allows me to think more, it gives me that time to just empty everything of just life stuff that’s in my head that shouldn’t really be there really, overthinking things, as I do. Just get in my story, which is so much better, so much nicer to have my fantasy world in my head.

Sarina: There you go. So, that’s the answer. Take time to be in nature, and definitely take time to just be alone and just for yourself to recharge.

Sharon: And reflect. Reflect on what you’ve done, where you’re going. Allow that time to digest as well as reflect.

Sarina: It doesn’t have to be in nature if you don’t have any of that handy, [00:32:00] you might live in a big city, but for more ideas and inspiration, check out the episode that I did with Kristina Naydonova where she talked all about how to avoid burnout and self-care because she had lots of fantastic ideas. So, if you can’t go for a walk and you don’t fancy meditation, although I do recommend it, check that out.

Sharon: [crosstalk] -probably. Most people have a park, don’t they, would you say?

Sarina: Yeah, I think most areas probably have one though. Whether it’s a nice quiet place, is probably another issue.

Sharon: [crosstalk] Ideally, I’d like to just walk on the beach, but obviously I don’t live near the beach, so I’ve got a nice walk across the road. Yes.

Sarina: There you go. I think just fresh air can make a big difference.

Sharon: I think so. I know it’s so simple and easily accessed. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I think we do tend to neglect it very easily, especially in winter when it’s too cold to open a window.

Sharon: I know. [00:33:00] Yes. I suppose loads of people have got other ideas. It’s really interesting to hear what people do.

Sarina: Yeah, do share them with us, get in touch on Instagram. I’ll be linking to both of us in the show notes. Let us know what you do to recharge and keep your inspiration going for your next 10-book series. We love to hear it.

Sharon: Yes, I’d be really interested. I’m fascinated with how people work and what drives them, keeps them going.

Sarina: Well, there you go. I think that’s a fantastic place to wrap up on before my internet dies again, as it did rudely a second ago. [chuckles] Thank you so much for reaching out to me in the first place to do this interview. Thank you for being here twice because as I said, my internet just died. I hope I’ve fused everything together neatly. If I haven’t, I apologize. It’s my internet. [chuckles]

Sharon: Yeah, blame it on technology. Yes. [00:34:00]

Sarina: So, yep, thank you so much for meeting me. Thank you so much for answering all our questions. I’ve learned a lot. I hope our listeners have as well. Thank you and bye-bye. Have a wonderful day.

Sharon: Bye, then. Bye-bye.

[music]

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the Subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, at Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter. And of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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The Writing Sparrow Episode 36 | Writing Routines: James Fahy

Once a month, I talk to another writer about their writing routine. We answer questions such as Are you a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? ,  Do you write every day? ,  Where does your inspiration come from?,  What’s your beverage of choice?, and many more! At the end of each episode, the writers recommend their favourite book on writing and share their advice for establishing the right writing routine for you.

This month, I talked to James Fahy, a multi-genre author from the UK.

His book recommendations are On Writing by Stephen King and From Pitch to Publication by Carol Blake. Don’t forget to check out the all-new library on my website for all book recommendations from these routine chats!

To find out more about James, check out his website or follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

[music]

Sarina: Good morning friends and sparrows, and welcome back. It’s the 17th of May 2021. This is Episode 36. Today, I’m talking to James Fahy about his writing routine. Welcome, James.

James: Thanks for having me.Nice to see you, nice to meet you.

Sarina: Yeah. Nice to meet you. As I said, before we started recording, we followed each other on various social media outlets for a few years, we’ve barely talked. [laughs]

James: We’ve just been circling one another like wolves. [laughs]

Sarina: Yes. Circling around Beverly, [00:01:00] slightly.

James: Yeah. [crosstalk] She is the grandmaster of designing this whole– yeah.

Sarina: Yeah, she’s the planet and we’re the moons.

James: [laughs] You’ll give her a big head if she hears that.

Sarina: I’m sure she will.

[laughter]

Sarina: I think she listens. Hey, Bev, good morning.

James: Hi, Bev, in case you’re there.

Sarina: She probably is. I’ve got 15 questions for you about your writing routine. They’re the questions I ask every author. I’m really excited about this, because I love to hear about a good writing routine.

James: Or the bad writing routine, depending on how I answer.

Sarina: Yes. Well, I have talked to a few authors who don’t actually have a writing routine, so to speak, so that’s also interesting to hear about. Because I think quite a lot of writers feel pressure to have one, so I think it’s important to hear that you don’t actually need a routine.

James: Yeah not necessarily one that’s regimented and structured. Some people work on a very strong regimen, don’t they? And some people need a bit more freedom, I think.

Sarina: Yes, lots of different ways to do this, [00:02:00] and all of them just as fine as each other as long as it works for you. Question number one, are you a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? Let’s go in big.

James: I would think that I’ll have to say that I am definitely a plotter, not to the extent that every single line of dialogue is plotted in advance, but for the structure of the story. My stories, the way that work, there tends to have to be a lot of foreshadowing, because I have to be aware of things I want to happen at certain intervals, either later in the book or maybe two or three books down the line in the series. In order to get myself to that point, I have to know that’s coming, so I can’t just sit down and think, “I’ll write about X subjects, and I’ll make it up as I go along.” That wouldn’t work for me at all. I do tend to be quite– I’ve got like a flow chart of major events. In, for example, the Changeling series, I know what’s going to happen in every book, where in the book, it’s got to happen. [00:03:00] So that’s all plotted out, because I know where every one of my characters was going to end up. I know who lives, who dies, who ends up in a good place, who ends up in a bad place. That’s all sort of prewritten like a prophecy.

The actual journey of when you’re typing it and writing it out, as a lot of people have said before, the characters will take you off in unexpected directions, and it’s more like you’re herding them like sheep towards the points you want to get them to. That’s what it feels like. You feel a bit like a nursery teacher with a lot of unruly children when you’re writing some characters.

Sarina: [laughs] It’s really nice to finally talk to another plotter, because I think every other writer I’ve talked to so far has either been a pantser, or somewhere in between, but mostly pantsing their books. I have tried pantsing the book and it was a disaster if you asked my critique partners, it was an absolute disaster.

James: Really? I think [unintelligible [00:03:53], you’ve got to give yourself a little bit of wiggle room and a bit of freedom. You can plot to your heart’s content and say, “This is going to happen, then this is [00:04:00] going to happen and this.” Then, as you’re writing it, it goes off on a tangent and you’re thinking, “Well, actually, this unexpected direction you’re going in is better than what I had planned, but I’ll eventually lead it back around to where I want it to be.” But I think, for me, if I just went in and thought, I want to write about X subject, let’s just start typing and see where it goes. It would be far too messy. And I think when I got it back from my agents, when I got it back from the editor, they would be like, “You’re spending a lot of time clearing your throat for three chapters here.” [laughs] I think it can work better for me in other art forms. I think in music, you can have jazz, where you’re experimenting and you’re playing with the sounds. In arts, you can throw around paint and come up with something unexpected. But in writing for myself, I like to think that [unintelligible [00:04:48] reading knows where they’re going with the story. Otherwise, I’m not as invested as a reader thinking, “I can’t predict what’s going to happen because even the writer doesn’t know” as you’re writing it.

Sarina: Now that’s exactly how I approach [00:05:00] all of my outlines. I’m [crosstalk] quite happy to finally hear that somebody else does it the same way.

[laughter]

James: We’re both on the same well-planned and well-plotted page.

Sarina: It’s the best way to do it if you ask me.

James: It makes editing a lot easier, I think.

Sarina: It does. It really does. As I said, I have tried pantsing because I thought it works for so many writers, maybe they’re onto something, but it just doesn’t work for me. Again, ask my critique partners, and they will tell you how much of a train wreck it was.

James: It’s an experiment. You’ve got to try different things to find what works best for you.

Sarina: Yeah, and I really admire writers who can approach it that way, to just sit down with sort of a plan, but not really a plan and just somehow get a novel out, but I can’t do it.

James: No. When I’ve done it in the past, I have tried it and I have found like you say when you come back to second and third edit, because the story is now finished, and you know the shape of it, and then having to take out huge chunks where I pounced off in one direction and it fizzled out and didn’t go anywhere– [00:06:00] Editing is mainly for me about tightening up the story.

Sarina: Yeah, it’s the same.

James: Taking out anything extraneous and if I’ve not plotted it well, there’s always far too much to take out.

Sarina: I think if you plot your books, there’s also really no risk of getting stuck at any point and not knowing where you’re going, because you don’t know where you’re going.

James: [crosstalk] -on that point though, the only thing I find negative about plotting everything out is it can feel sometimes like a bit of a chore, because you’re like, “Right, by this chapter, I want to get this, and by the middle of the book, we have to get to here, by the end of it–” So, when you’re typing, you’re thinking, maybe 20% into the book, “Oh, God, I’m nowhere near this point. Now, I’ve got a slog all the way to here.” Then it can feel a bit like you’re sort of going down the train tracks, and it’s a long way off.

Sarina: Yeah, I get that. I mean–

James: It’s still the lesser of two evils for me to.

Sarina: No, completely agree. I have with my current work in progress, it’s a trilogy. For the first time, I have written the entire trilogy before I’ve really properly started editing. And let me [00:07:00] tell you, that has been a chore, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.

James: No, that sounds like– I actually got shivers when you’ve written the whole thing, then you’ve got three books to edit.

Sarina: Yeah.

James: Editing is the bane in my life. [laughs]

Sarina: I have very recently been at exactly the point that you’ve described where you think, “Oh, God, I’m only at this point. I’m nowhere near this. But yet, it’s still so far away.” No, I agree. That’s definitely quite the disadvantage to it. But I do think that the positives outweigh the negatives for me as well.

James: Yeah, so do I. I think it just gives me a bit more control over where the story is going, and knowing that I’m aiming for something specific, helps me make the story make more sense, the first time around. And then in later edits, there’s less work for me to do.

Sarina: Exactly. I work exactly the same way. What does your writing routine look like?

James: At the moment, thankfully, it’s getting more back to normal. I know we were chatting before, you started recording, and we were talking about how everything has been– This last 12 months, last 15 months, [00:08:00] however long it is now since the apocalypse.

[laughter]

Sarina: It’s been over a year, if you believe it.

James: I know. [crosstalk]

Sarina: It feels like a month, but also like 100 years, but really, it’s just been a year.

James: I know, it’s been forever. It’s been several ages of man, I feel.

Sarina: [laughs]

James: I’m disappointed that we’ve had so much apocalypse, and then none of us are wearing leather or living in the desert yet. I was expecting [crosstalk] it’s disappointing. But, yeah, this last year, I’ve had two kids at home being homeschooled. My partner has been working from home as well. So, there’s not really been my normal, peaceful middle of the day. Because my normal writing routine is, get the family out of the way in the morning, then I come back, lock myself in a quiet office. And that’s my time to do it until it’s time to go pick them up again, because I do write full time. I do treat it very much like a regular job. I clock in at a certain time of the day, and I clock out at a certain time of the day. How productive I am during that time is completely dependent on [laughs] whatever mood I’m [00:09:00] in. Sometimes, I clock in and then I’m like, “I’ll just type a little bit and then I’ll check YouTube and I’ll just check Twitter, and then I’ll just check Snapchat and then I’ll just–” And I know the day is ruined but other days, I can get into work and right solidly through. It depends [unintelligible [00:09:17], I suppose.

Sarina: Wow. So, how long at a time can you write? What’s the longest that you’ve written at a time?

James: Well, if I’m coming towards the end of a book, my wife says I go into fugue mode.

Sarina: Oh yeah, I do that. I always feel really big burst of motivation, the closer I get to the end.

James: It’s like if you’re running a marathon and you’re tired and exhausted, but then you think, “I’ve got the last mile to go and then I’m done.” So, you suddenly get that surge of energy to just get it finished, and I think that’s the longest times I write is when I know I’ve got a deadline coming up as well. I’ve said to publisher I’ll get it to you by this date, I finished, I’ve got two weeks left to finally edit and then I will literally lock myself away. And from waking up, no one will see me apart from mealtimes. So, I’ll scurry back into [00:10:00] my writing cave like a goblin, finish the writing and then eventually sort of emerge about midnight with bleary eyes and just go straight to sleep. So, I’ve done that a few times.

On a regular day though, I would say I get home from doing all our morning chores about 10 AM, which is obviously why we scheduled this talk for now. I lock myself in, and I work anywhere from 10 till 2:30. It doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but I have to then go out and get the kids. So, that’s my normal writing routine, and I will normally sit and write solidly for that period of time. [crosstalk]

Sarina: And you can get quite a lot of what’s done in that time anyway.

James: You can some days. I try not to be too hard on myself, because I used to be of the mindset that if you sat down, you’ve got to hammer out words, be as productive as possible. Whereas some days, you do, some days as you know yourself, you’ll sit down, and it just flows and it’s a wonderful day, and you’re writing and you’re sort of patting yourself on the back, “Oh, my God, that was a wonderful sentence. I don’t even need to edit that. That’s gold.”

Sarina: [laughs]

James: And then the next day, you [00:11:00] can sit down and it’s like, you’re typing with your feet rather than hands, it’s just complete trash and you think, “I’ve written not a single word,” and you end up deleting everything you’ve done that day.

Sarina: Yeah, I’ve been there.

James: I’m not consistent really. I have a consistent time that I sit in the office, but as for how productive I am during that time, it does depend on my mood, how much sleep I’ve had. How close I am to a deadline is the main motivation.

Sarina: [chuckles] This probably does answer my next question already, but do you set yourself specific goals like a number of words you want to write every week or how much time you want to spend writing a day?

James: I have to set time, but I’ve never done word counts, and I don’t check how much I’ve written as well. Which I always find surprising, because you do see that we follow a lot of writers on social media, a lot of people talk about, “Oh, great writing day. I did X amount of words today.” Or, “I hit my target.” I know that can be a good motivation for some people, but it’s never been the way I’ve really worked. If I’m starting a new project, I can be very intimidated by [00:12:00] how little I’ve got into the book. I generally don’t settle into a book until I have done at least sort of 50 pages. Once I hit that 50-page mark, I feel like I’m into my stride. But that first 50 pages, I’m very nervous thinking, “I’m never going to get enough down to get this book going.” I have put little post-it notes over my screen in the corner, so I can’t see what the page number is because it stresses me out. [laughs]

Sarina: I do that. I put washi tape over of it.

James: Yeah– [crosstalk]

Sarina: Especially when I edit and it’s a hard edit, I tend to put washi tape over it, so I can’t see how much is left. Then normally, at the end of the day, I’m positively surprised rather than constantly checking it and thinking, “Oh, God, I’m still on the same page.”

James: Yeah, I do exactly the same thing. One thing I would say, I try and write a certain number of words per time, but I do try and finish a scene. If I’m writing the scene, before I clock off and go along with my day, I tried to get to the end of that scene, I don’t like leaving writing for the day in the middle of a conversation or in [00:13:00] the middle of a sentence, because I might not be in the same mood when I come back for the next day. Then, it’s hard to pick it up with the same energy you left it with. So, I will sometimes go over my allotted work time to finish the scene so I can start the next one in chunks. I try to [crosstalk] 

Sarina: [crosstalk] Do you write every day including weekends? Or, do you take breaks?

James: I don’t write at weekends, again because I write full time– I don’t have another creative answer with this. This is in my brain, my full career, so I literally treat it like a Monday to Friday job. The weekends are my sacred family time. I’ve got two small children and a dog, and we have to make the most of weekends, especially at the moment, because everything’s just opening up again, we can finally go out, which is nice. We’re not sick of staring at the same four walls and each other’s faces. We can go out and have what we call weekend adventures. Every weekend, my youngest, both have drama school on Saturdays, so I get the morning off while they’re out at drama school. [00:14:00] Then on Sundays, we tend to always go out for an adventure somewhere, whether it’s into the city or off to some park or off into the malls or what have you. But I don’t tend to write and give my brain a rest. [crosstalk] during the week because then I feel guilty if I have a day off in the week thinking, “But you just had two days off, you should be working now. Other people are back in the office, you should be in the office too.” Guilts me into doing it better, I think.

Sarina: I think as long as you still do even just a little bit of research or thinking about your book, you’re still kind of working on it just in the background. It all adds up, it all helps.

James: Yeah, definitely. Like you said, I’m always in research mode or even if we’re just driving along [unintelligible [00:14:44] or so, “What are you thinking about?” Thinking about my book, I was just planning this next scene, as you can get quite annoyed saying, “Just come back. You’re not supposed to be doing that.”

[chuckles]

Sarina: It’s easier said than done though, isn’t it?

James: Yeah, you just drift off and have whole conversations of dialogue and [00:15:00] then you think, “I must remember that. I’ll write it down when I get home,” and then I never do.

Sarina: No. [chuckles] How’s your writing routine changed over the years? And if so, what have you changed and why?

James: I think the main thing that’s probably changed since I’ve first started writing full time, is I become a lot easier on myself, and a lot more relaxed. I think when I first started, I was able to quit the real world, or the regular 9 to 5 my world. And I thought, “Right, I’ve managed to earn the right to do this as a living full time. So, I have to be super productive every day. Bang out as many words as possible, work till I’m dropping, burn the candle at both ends.” I don’t push myself as hard. I’d rather enjoy it and not feel like some days– some days, you log on and you think, “I’m just not in the mood today,” for whatever reason, and it feels like a chore. I’ve learned that if I force myself to try and get that words on paper, when I’m in that mood, [00:16:00] it’s just going to be absolute dross, and I’ll end up deleting it the next day anyway.

I’m quite happy now to say, “Oh, I’m not in the mood today. I’m not feeling it. We’re just going to have a day off. And then, we will come back to it tomorrow. And then, it works out better in the long run. I feel it’s more relaxed for me, but I do try and stick my deadlines if I can do.

Sarina: I do think it’s important to remember that if you’re really not feeling at one day, it’s fine to take the day off and do something else.

James: Yeah.

Sarina: As someone who has burned out quite badly once or twice, I’m definitely now more at a point where I can say, “Well, actually, I’m not really in the mood today, or maybe I’m already quite tired. I’d rather wait, and maybe write tomorrow instead.” Then I know that I feel much better again the next day because I have had that little break.

James: Yeah, and your writing is going to be better for it as well, because if you’re forcing it, it’s not going to be good writing. You’re going to come back and read over it and go, “Not only did I not want to do the writing that day, but everything I wrote was complete crap.” [00:17:00] That’s what I generally do if I force myself. So, I’d rather wait until I’m in the mood. I think it’s just striking the balance of making sure that you are in the mood more often than you’re not in the mood.

Sarina: Yeah. And I think once you’ve built a habit, it’s much easier to be in the mood for it on-

James: Yeah.

Sarina: -well, any day, but not talking about procrastinating for years at a time.

James: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block or anything terrifying like that.

Sarina: No.

James: But that does scare me, because I know a lot of people talk about that and it’s always in the back of your mind, “What if one day I sit down and I can’t write anything? And how long will it last and how will I get out of it?” I’ve never had that issue, but I have had the issue where I’ve just I felt like, “For three days in a row, everything I’ve written is rubbish.” Then, you get proper imposter syndrome and think, “Why am I even doing this? Am I good enough to do this? Should I be doing something else? Should I throw the whole towel in?” Then, a couple days later, you come back to it and you’re in a much better headspace because you’ve had a rest mentally. Then, you write something that you like, and that gives you the [00:18:00] instant boost of, “Yes, I should be doing this. I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Sarina: Doing what you’re supposed to do.

James: Yeah. Doing the one thing I’m good at.

[laughter]

James: I literally have to be a writer, because I’m not good at anything else. [chuckles]

Sarina: See, I know that’s rubbish, because I follow you on Instagram, and I see the things that you cook. I imagine you’re a pretty good chef.

James: I don’t know I could be a chef, but I could be a cook. I can be one of those cooks in an old stately home who work downstairs and send the food up, I could do that for a living.

Sarina: [laughs]

James: I couldn’t work in a busy high-pressure kitchen because I don’t work well under pressure.

Sarina: Oh, God, no.

James: Most of the pressure, I [crosstalk] myself. But pressure from someone else, I go into that sort of reactive belligerent state of like, “This has to be done now.” I’ll take even longer than usual to do it just out of spite because I’m quite childish.

Sarina: Now, I definitely wouldn’t be able to work at a professional kitchen. We watch MasterChef quite a lot. Every now and again, when they go into the professional kitchen, there’ll be someone like one of [00:19:00] the contestants at the end of it going, “Oh, well, this was much harder than I thought it was going to be.” We’re like, “Did you think it’d be easy to work in a really busy professional kitchen?”

James: There’s always somebody crying into the onions in the background and somebody else being screamed at, somebody else with their head in the oven just trying to end it all, it’s far too stressful.

Sarina: No, don’t fancy that. I’d much rather–

James: That’s right. Before I became a full-time writer, I worked for a while in finance. I helped people manage their money, I helped people deal with their debts as well. And a huge proportion of my clients at the time who were struggling with money or had run up debt were chefs.

Sarina: Wow, okay. That’s interesting.

James: It’s one of those professions that I think can be quite a scary profession to be in and you have to pay for all the stuff upfront. So maybe not a chef, maybe I’ll stick to writing.

Sarina: [giggles] Well, you’re very good at writing anyway, so why change?

James: Oh, thank you.

Sarina: I think we’ve kind of already covered this a little bit. I’m very excited that I won’t need to ask this question for much longer, but has lockdown [00:20:00] affected your routine?

James: It did while it was going on. It hasn’t now. Thankfully, I’m back into my normal routine now. Fingers crossed, ready for our last one. I know we’re all hoping we don’t go into any further lockdown again and never say never, but things seem to be moving in the right direction. Lockdown didn’t really affect my routine, it kind of obliterated it. It was a very strange year for me because I had other things happening before lockdown. We moved house into a temporary house where we are at the moment while we’re looking for the dream house that we’re looking for. So, I’m in an unfamiliar place with none of my things around me, like 90% of my belongings right now in a storage pod. So, that’s a strange situation to be in.

Then, we just moved in and then COVID happened, and everyone got stuck and locked in there. Then suddenly, I’m homeschooling my own kids, we had a death in the family to contend with. There are about four or five other dramas all happened at the same time. I know sort of everyone had a terrible year [00:21:00] last year, and it affected people in different ways. But there wasn’t really room for me to think, “Right, no, I’ll go away, I’ve got a book to write.” I didn’t have the head space for it all the time.

But saying that, I did manage to write a novel in 2020, which was delivered in December to my publishers. It’s not out yet, it’s coming out this year, but I was quite proud of the fact that I managed to get a book written despite everything, but it wasn’t easy. I was trying to find 10 minutes right here, 5 minutes right there. Now everything’s more or less back to normal. Kids are back in school, everything’s open. My other half’s work routine is a lot more stable and predictable now. So, I’m getting my sort of office hours back, which is very relaxing.

Sarina: Yeah, it can be quite nice to have that routine. And well done you on still finishing a whole book, despite all of that chaos going on.

James: I think a lot of it was escapism towards the end, is like, “I’ve got to get away from the real world [00:22:00] for a while. I’m disappearing into my fantasy world. Don’t talk to me.”

Sarina: I can see that. [laughs] Moving house a stressful enough as it is, but to then also have all that other madness going on at the same time–

James: Yeah.

Sarina: –it’s just not the ideal environment, let’s say, for writing anything. So, well done you.

James: Not really., hopefully, it’ll be easier from now on, I think. I think we’re coming to the end of it.

Sarina: Yeah, it’s getting there. What writing program do you use?

James: I’m very old school. I use Word. I’ve heard of Scrivener, I’ve heard of several different other things. I write longhand in my first draft, in one of these. Those who can’t see, I’m holding up my booklet. I do tend to write my first draft longhand. It isn’t legible to anyone but me because it’s in my own improvised shorthand. It’s just hieroglyphs and ciphers. I know what it means most of the time. No one else does, but I tend to do [00:23:00] that because it’s portable, and I can write wherever, so if I’m out with the dog, or we’re out for a walk, I go out walking in the woods quite a lot, disappearing off somewhere, I’ve always got that with me so I can always scribble things down. When I come to type it up, it’s just Word. It’s just always Word for me.

Sarina: Oh, okay. It’s probably because I’m not used to it anymore, but when I try to write anything by hand, I can’t write for long periods of time because my wrist will cramp and it will not have it.

James: I know what you mean. It is some muscle memory thing. It’s like any exercise– I mean, we’ve only just started going back to the gym after a year of them being closed. We went on the running machines, and we used to able to run for like an hour solid with no breaks with a nice pace, myself and my other half, and I think I did 10 minutes on my first time and I was coughing up lungs, collapsing.

Sarina: [laughs]

James: None my muscles worked and I was just cramping everywhere. It’s the same with longhand writing. I think if you do write a lot, [00:24:00] or if you draw or paint, you build up a stamina to it, I think. [crosstalk]

Sarina: How many notebooks do you fill per novel?

James: Oh, my God. I think my first book, Isle of Winds, which came out five or six years ago now, I think the page count for the finished book is around 390-400 pages. It’s not a huge book, but I think I filled 11 notebooks when I was longhanding it. But this does include scribbles and diagrams, and I tend to draw floor plans of anywhere, so that I can get a visual of a certain scene, so that I know where to place the camera when I’m describing and so on. Or, I’ll draw little character sketches, or just go off on tangents. It does read a bit like a serial killer’s diary [laughs] full of [unintelligible [00:24:49]. They’re not the sort of thing that if I became super famous and died and they auctioned them on eBay, people would not want to buy them because it is fill of absolute nonsense. But yeah, [00:25:00] about 11 books from the first book and more for everyone. I’ve got shelves and shelves of them. I’ll probably never open them or look at them again, but I like to keep them.

Sarina: When you then transfer everything that you’ve written by hand onto words, do you copy it word for word? Or, do you already do a bit of editing here and there?

James: It’s more of that, that’s not my first edit, because obviously, as you’re typing up, you’re reading through your handwritten notes, and you’re sort of– I tend to read it out to myself while I’m typing, so I’ll literally be narrating the story from the page out loud to myself, mumbling like a strange person in an empty room and typing it. So, you do find phrases that don’t scan well. As you read, you might be thinking, “Oh, it would be better if I said this.” So, that’s sort of my first edit, really getting it onto the print, the type page makes it a bit easier.

Sarina: It’s quite an interesting process really, I think for writing. Maybe I should try that for a short story. Something that’s not too much of a commitment.

James: Yeah. Maybe not for a trilogy. [laughs] [00:26:00]

Sarina: No, maybe– Definitely not. [laughs] Never again.

James: Let’s do a few short stories or poems or limericks just to get yourself used to.

Sarina: Yeah, maybe. I love having notebooks anyway, so I’ll probably still have a spare one somewhere. And if not, as you said, the shops are opening, so I can easily go get one if I wanted.

James: You can. I find a lot of people buying me notebooks. I think if people know you’re a writer or in any way connects with writing or drawing, it’s like the perfect present. For someone who doesn’t know you very well, like “Oh, we’ve got you this.” It’ll be a book. “Well, it’s another notebook.” I would never be happy to get one because I always use them.

Sarina: See, I would find that quite difficult. My friends haven’t bought me a huge number of notebooks, which I actually quite like, because when I want to buy a new notebook for a new work in progress, it needs to be the right notebook, if that make sense.

James: I know what you mean, yeah.

Sarina: It can’t be any notebook, it needs to fit what I’m doing. It needs to feel right or it’s just not going to work.

James: That makes sense. People might say, “That’s a bit control freak [00:27:00] of you.” But I completely understand. It has to be the right color, the right binding, the right feel of paper.

Sarina: Yes. You know what? Those people will be correct, because I am a control freak. [chuckles]

James: There’s nothing wrong with being control– we are two plotters sitting here, being plotters unapologetically.

[chuckles]

James: It’s okay to control what you can.

Sarina: Well, exactly. What are three important things you need to have when you’re writing? Of course, some of your stuff right now is in storage, so you might not have those things.

James: Yes. I would say, obviously pen and paper because I tend to write and scribble notes as I go along. Copious amounts of coffee, which I don’t have at the moment, because at the moment, I’m drinking instant coffee, because my beautiful, beautiful coffee-making machine is in storage, I keep occasionally going to visit it because I keep going to have to go to the pod to get [unintelligible [00:27:51] out. And every time I go, I stroke the coffee machine, “Soon, my darling, we’ll be reunited.”

[00:28:00] And my other half just rolls her eyes in the background, “Oh my God, stop. Leave the coffee machine alone.” I really missed that. Normally, so that’s something I always have to have. At the moment, I drink instant coffee and like this one I’ve got here, it’s just gone stone cold, because I haven’t drunk it. The other thing I have to have ideally is silence. I don’t write to music. I don’t ever– I’ve got my phone with me now, because I’m not writing, I’m in interview, but normally, my phone will have to be on charge in a different room, because I have got that busy fingers distraction where I could be typing and I’ll just check, and I get a message, and I’ll just go on social media and fall down a rabbit hole and waste my entire afternoon, so it has to be nowhere near me.

Sarina: I use an app for that that locks me out of all other apps. So, if I try to use my phone for something, it says, “No. [crosstalk] Go away.”

[laughter]

James: I couldn’t feel the pressure. I feel pressured now. It’s good enough for me that’s just out of the room. [crosstalk]

Sarina: There’s a bit of pressure with this app because it’s called Forest and you basically grow a virtual [00:29:00] tree. If you leave the app to use Twitter or anything else, your tree dies.

James: Oh my God, so ghoulish. [laughs]

Sarina: But to be honest, it works really well because I don’t want to kill my tree.

James: Well, whatever works. Yeah, that definitely works.

Sarina: That works for me, but I can’t write with music either, and I’m not sure how people can but–

James: I can write with some music. It depends what I’m writing because I’ve got two different genres series going. If I’m writing the Phoebe books, which are the sort of dark, dystopian, I tend to have silence because I don’t really like being distracted. If I’m writing the Changeling series, I can have classical music quietly. [crosstalk] I don’t know why my brain makes that differentiation. [crosstalk]

Sarina: I can have instrumental music. I can’t have anything with lyrics.

James: No.

Sarina: Video game scores are quite good for that because they were literally written to help you focus. So, I’ve got a few–

James: There’s a quite few online, yeah. I played The Witcher 3 meditation music soundtrack. That’s quite a good one, you can find that on YouTube.

Sarina: The Witcher 3 meditation music [00:30:00] soundtrack. I am writing this down, bear with me.

James: Write it down, because in the computer game, you don’t rest or sleep, you meditate. Somebody has made like an hourlong, all the meditation music in it and it’s quite nice to have one in the background.

Sarina: Well, in that case, I know exactly what you mean. I don’t need to write it down.

[chuckles]

James: Yeah, look that one up. So, I don’t mind that kind of music in the background, but like you say, nothing with lyrics, nothing with verses and choruses, because then I end up listening to it, waiting for the next bit, rather than focusing on writing.

Sarina: That’s a really good idea. I’m going to have to add that to my list. I have been tempted to replay The Witcher, or rather continue with my deathmatch playthrough in the add-ons, and I will see you mentioning it as a sign from the universe to get back to it. That’s also my– [crosstalk]

James: I only completed it. I completed the game for the first time ever because I was very late to it about two days ago.

Sarina: Oh, well done.

James: I was like, “I’ve completed it, it’s finished.” But I enjoyed the game so much that I immediately loaded up a new game and I thought, “I’m going to play it again,” [00:31:00] and make all the different decisions.” My whole family looked at me and say, “You have a problem. Step away from the computer.” I’m like, “No.”

Sarina: It’s definitely not a problem. I’ve played Mass Effect like nine times, possibly more. I’ve lost count. You find only playing it for the second time, you’ll find you’re good, it’s nothing.

James: I’m not. I don’t need to seek– there’s no intervention needed quite yet.

Sarina: [laughs] Maybe one day. I think we’ve touched on this a little bit already, but what do you do when writing gets difficult?

James: I used to try and push through it and force myself. I think, “No, I should be able to do this no matter what mood I’m in, no matter what,” because you do read these people saying, “You write every day, you’ve got to write every day, or you’re not a writer and so on.” I used to put that sort of pressure on myself, because I used to feel guilty, that if I didn’t do anything, then I’ve got nothing else I should be doing. It’s not like I’ve got to go off and be a heart surgeon in my spare time or I’ll go off and be a train driver and [00:32:00] come back and write as a hobby. Writing is what I do, so if I’m not doing it, I feel massively guilty that I’m not doing it because I’m just coasting away through the day. If I can’t do it, or having a bad day, I’ll just step away from it now. I find that more productive than trying to force myself because as I’ve said, if I do force myself, 9 times out of 10 when I come back to read what I’ve written, it will be drivel, and I’ll end up deleting it anyway and I think, “I could have spent that time playing The Witcher or growing a small tree,” or what have you. “I wasted the day writing complete nonsense.” So, I don’t know. That’s lazy of me to think that way or if it’s just more relaxed in a way–

Sarina: No, I completely agree. I mean, I do think that breaks, especially when you know that you need a break are more beneficial, ultimately, for your writing, and then you’re trying to push through it anyway. And you do come back to it feeling more refreshed and being in a much better mindset for it. So, I do think it’s–

James: [crosstalk] -you avoid burnout then as well, don’t you? Because [00:33:00] you stopped before you get to the point where you think, “I absolutely hate what I’m doing.” You still want to [crosstalk] you’ve chosen this career, you’ve chosen to do this with your life, and it’s supposed to be the thing you enjoy more than anything else. So, if you’re forcing it and hating it, it’s going to come across in your writing, you’re just wasting your time and your readers’ time.

Sarina: And, of course, the closer you get to burning out, the more you’ll feel like you can’t take the time off, which is probably [crosstalk] really the number one sign that you should just step away for a day or two.

James: Yeah, let’s step away. Just go and have a sleep, go and have a walk. Do anything else other than writing and then come back to it when you feel–

Sarina: Play The Witcher.

James: Yeah, play The Witcher. This is not a very good writing to encourage your listeners to. And we’re two people sitting here writing both encouraging people to stop writing, go and play video games, just turn off your laptop right now. [laughs]

Sarina: Well, I always think you’re not a machine, you need breaks. And if this were any other job, you will get weekends or just any other day off. So, you’re totally fine to take a day off [00:34:00] if you need it.

James: Yeah, I think there is the guilt, because obviously, as a writer, you’re basically self-employed. So, you’re your own boss. I think when you’re your own boss, you have no more tough boss than yourself. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Yeah, no. And that guilt is always there that you need to work all the time. So, that just makes it more important, I think, to take the time off because no one is going to make you take the time off. It needs to come from you, and that can be really hard.

James: Yeah, I agree. You can be your own worst boss, I think.

Sarina: Yeah, definitely. This is possibly the most hated question to ask another writer, but I’m going to do it anyway. Where does your inspiration come from?

James: Oh, I knew it was going to be that. I could tell by your face– [crosstalk]

Sarina: [laughs]

James: –“Where do you get your ideas from?”

Sarina: I mean, I could have asked you to summarize your book in three words at one sentence but let’s go with inspiration Instead.

James: Publishers do that, and that’s bad enough. [crosstalk] -it took me seven years to write it and it’s got this many different parts. “Right, sum it up in 10 words for me.” I’m like, “I cannot sum up my [00:35:00] book in 10 words, thanks.” There you go. For inspiration, I don’t know. Where does anything come from? Generally, observation. You can just see something in passing life, which triggers a thought which gets you thinking along a certain path. Or, you could hear a piece of music that makes you visualize something that catches your imagination. I don’t really ever sit down and think, “Right, I want to write about X, Y, Z. How can I force a story around this?” It generally is something that has just been bouncing around in my head for a while, and it evolves into an idea of a story or an image that I’m interested in exploring it. You sort of mold it, don’t you, like clay, until he resembles something like a narrative. But it’s hard to pinpoint where did you start with it, with any story, I think. So, I don’t know, [crosstalk] I don’t know. I just put a gold coin under my pillow, and a small goblin comes, and when I wake up in the morning, it’s left a little note with some story ideas. That’s where I get– [crosstalk]  

Sarina: [00:36:00] -writing prompt. I mean, research is great, and I love doing research. But as you said, inspiration tends to come like just from little things, that maybe you’re watching something, and someone says something and that sentence then sparks an idea. But it’s not really something I don’t think that you can go out and actively try to find, because that’s not going to happen.

James: Yeah, something has to resonate with you. Like you say, it can be something you overhear in a conversation, that it just plays around in the back of your mind or something you’ve seen– as you’ve been driving down the street, you see something out the window, that starts a chain reaction in your mind, till it eventually becomes an idea, but I don’t think anyone can pinpoint– You don’t sit down at home, put down your cup of tea and go, “Right, I want to have a thought about this. Let’s write a story about– [chuckles]

Sarina: Inspiration is such an elusive beast anyway.

James: Yeah. [crosstalk] For most writers, for me certainly, and I imagine everyone else, the problem is more that you’ve got too many different ideas that you’d like to explore. And it’s just focusing on [00:37:00] one because when you’re writing a book, or when I’m writing a book, I’ve got about four or five other ideas that I’d like to be writing as well. And that’s why I started off writing two different genres because I tend to write them at the same time. Not strictly, but if I’m writing my Changeling series, if I get a bit fed up with them, I want to break from it, I can literally flip over to the other program, and go into Phoebe set and write some of the Phoebe series or some other different book. That’s one way to give yourself a break without stopping. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Are you working on both works in progress, is this now or do you literally just focus on one and then when you don’t want to work on that for a day, you then swap to the other one?

James: I don’t do it that routinely as in a day on one or any other. I tend to write one, and try and focus on that one, but if I’m having a rough time with it, or if I hit a bit of a stumbling block, “Oh, I just want a break from that. My brain is not in the mood to write whimsical fantasy,” if I’m in more of a sort of dark snarky mood, I might say, “You know what? I could use this energy better on [00:38:00] this. So, I’ll work on the other one for a while.” At the moment, I’ve just finished– Well, at the end of last year, I just finished the latest Changeling book, or books because it’s in two parts. I shelve that in my mind now because I’ve done Changeling 4, so that’s going to be off the backburner for a while. Now I’m focusing on a new book, which is a standalone, which is something that’s not related to either of the series I’m doing, but I’m also working on sort of the first drafts of the next Phoebe book as well. It’s always more than one thing on the go– [crosstalk]

Sarina: Yeah, lots of things happening. Let’s talk about food.

James: Food, okay. [chuckles]

Sarina: Do you snack while you write? What’s your beverage of choice? I know it’s coffee.

James: My beverage of choice is coffee. I do like tea, but I’m not a huge tea drinker. I am if I go out. If I go to restaurants or cafes or hotels, I tend to drink a lot of teas there, but at home, it’s just coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee. Monsoon Malabar is my favorite coffee that I’ve not had for over a year because I have not got my [00:39:00] beautiful coffee machine. Just the smell of it and it’s part of the comfort zone of my office. If it smells gorgeous of coffee, it puts me in that relaxy zone [crosstalk] on the window.

Sarina: I don’t stand the smell of coffee, but maybe I just haven’t smelled the right one.

James: Write this down next to your Witcher notes, Monsoon Malabar.

Sarina: [laughs] Smell coffee.

James: [laughs] And you look down, you’ll be playing The Witcher for a while, drinking coffee you’ve never had before and your little tree will have died. [laughs]

Sarina: Yeah.

James: And it will be my fault. Food wise, no, I don’t tend to eat while I’m writing. I’m quite strict with my food, not in an obsessive way, but I tend to only at mealtimes. I don’t really have breakfast because I’m one of those people who can’t eat before about 11 AM. I don’t understand people who can get up at 7 in the morning and have muesli or Weetabix. I have tried to, and it just makes me want to vomit. [crosstalk]

Sarina: Better not to then.

James: That’s all. I’ll have a lunch at lunchtime and I’ll have my evening meal in the evening, and [00:40:00] that’s pretty much it. So, I don’t really have food or snacks in the office.

Sarina: I find it takes you out of it a bit as well if you’re trying to eat something at the same time, because you have to stop writing to pick up whatever it is.

James: Yeah– [crosstalk]

Sarina: So, it takes [crosstalk].

James: We could probably do some experiments to try and find foods that you don’t need to pick up. It can just maybe licorice, long licorice sticks that you can just put one in your mouth and comfortable do get in–

Sarina: Like a spaghetti.

James: Yeah, spaghetti.

[laughter]

James: I’m going to try that. I’m going to cook myself a big plate of spaghetti and just put one into my mouth and start typing, and see how much I can get in. Maybe not. [chuckles] But no, I don’t eat.

Sarina: Right. We’ve already talked about whether you listen to music while you write, so I don’t think we need to revisit that. And then, which book would you say has inspired you the most?

James: Again, that’s a really hard one. It’s like someone says, “What’s your favorite book?” and if you read quite widely, and you like a lot of different genres, it’s like, “Well, this one’s my favorite book, [00:41:00] if I’m in this mood,” or, “This one’s my favorite book on this certain day.”

Sarina: That’s okay, you can list more than one, I’ll allow it. 

James: I’m allowed more than one favorite book. Woo. There are a couple, I think the one that’s influenced my writing the most is, it’s called The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. He is a British fantasy author, and it’s a book that I read when I was a young boy. I absolutely fell in love with it. I think it’s sort of set the seeds in my head for what would eventually become my Changeling series.

Sarina: All right.

James: Because what I loved about that book when I read it as a child is it’s set in our world, but it has a lot of fantasy elements, and there’s a lot of crossover between this magical world and the real world. Some of the settings in the book that I was reading about as a child, we then went to visit those places. They were National Trust properties or they were real woods, and I’d read about them in the story. And then suddenly, I was walking through them and the real world. [00:42:00] And that was quite magical to me.

Sarina: It’s quite special when you can do that.

James: Yeah. So, that’s what I deliberately wanted to set out to do in the Changeling books, is a lot of the places that are mentioned in the book are real places that you can physically go to. I suppose that has been quite a big influence on me. I recently reread it after many, many years, and I did that thing where you read something when you’re a child and you’re scared to read as an adult, in case it doesn’t hold up and it’s trash. [chuckles] “Oh, my God, I’ve ruined my childhood.” But it was still excellent. He’s been a big influence on me, I think.

Sarina: I don’t think I’ve heard of him, but I’ll have to look him up.

James: Yeah, he’s excellent. Alan Garner, he’s called. He wrote a few books. He’s famous for not liking writers, being a writer himself. He has said in various [unintelligible [00:42:47] that he’s a writer himself, but he doesn’t like other writers. He says that writers are the worst people, they’re the most awful people in the world because we’re all self-obsessed, we’re all egotistical maniacs [crosstalk] [00:43:00] but his writing is good. It’s good stuff. Good classic fantasy.

Sarina: A very similar question to that. Do you have a favorite book on the craft of writing?

James: I think I would probably go with, obvious one, Stephen King, Danse Macabre, which he wrote, and he wrote On Writing as well. He’s not my favorite author, he’s not my worst author, but I know a lot of people absolutely adore Stephen King. Some of his books are fantastic, I think some of them are for me a bit hit and miss, or a bit samey book. But his books about writing and about the mythology, the methods of writing and the sort of nuts and bolts of putting it together, I found them quite insightful and it sort of made me think about things in ways I hadn’t done before.

There was a book also on publication called From Pitch to Publication. I don’t know who that’s by, you’d have to [00:44:00] look it up. But that was the first ever book I read when I decided I was going to try and go out and get an agent, go out and maybe make a living out of this. That was a very insightful book on sort of all the pitfalls that new writers fall into, the cliches or submitting the wrong things to wrong people, and so on. The kind of things that editors are looking for and the kind of things that publishers want you to do, and that was quite a useful book. I don’t know who wrote it, I’ll have to look it up.

Sarina: Okay, I’ll have to look these up anyway for the transcript, so I might get back to you and ask you for links.

James: I’ll find them, I’ll make a note of what I’ve told you. I shouldn’t have made them up.

[laughter]

Sarina: That’s helpful. For now, I’ve also got a library on my website with all the books that people have recommended, so it’ll be useful for that as well.

James: Yeah.

Sarina: And I think my transcriber will appreciate it. Hi, Dax. [laughs] Final question. Do you have any advice for establishing a writing routine? [00:45:00]

James: I think it’s hard to give advice because I think everyone is different. And what works for one person is very much not going to work for another. I could say, follow my writing routine, make sure you have set hours a day, work Monday to Friday, treat it seriously. I suppose be that would be universal to anyone. If you’re going to write, treat it seriously, don’t dabble around the edges. Don’t write and think, “Oh, I’m not good enough to do this.” Don’t doubt yourself. Just get in there and write the damn story. If you write it confidently, somebody is going to love it, so stop thinking you’re not good enough to do it or what if it doesn’t do as well as I want it to, just write the story if it’s in you.

For writing routine, for me, it is a case of striking the balance between trying to be professional about it, having a Monday to Friday, set hours that I sit down and write, but also being flexible in that some days that will work, and some days it won’t, some days I won’t. I will do an hour, then I’ll be burnt out and I want to go out for a drive or out for a walk with the dog [00:46:00] and screw it all. Other days, I’ll get way past the time I normally clock off and think, “No, I’m having a good day today. So, I’m going to keep writing until I burn out.” So, just listen to your own instincts, I think, and find out what works best for you.

Sarina: I think that’s very sage advice, and it’s an excellent point to end on as well., I think. Thank you very much for coming on. Hopefully, it’s been insightful for our listeners as well. Again, thank you so much again. It’s been really [crosstalk] lovely to talk to you.

James: Lovely to speak to you, finally.

[chuckles]

Sarina: Yeah, I’m sure we can manage it again at some point. [laughs]

James: Okay. [laughs]

Sarina: So, yeah, thank you so much, and have a wonderful day everybody, and bye-bye.

James: Bye-bye.

[music]

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the Subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course, [00:47:00] on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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The Writing Sparrow Episode 35 | The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing with Rachel Grosvenor

This week, Rachel Grosvenor is back to talk about the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing and the pros and cons of each. If you’re unsure which path is right for you (or if you’re just curious to learn more!), this episode is for you!

It’s a little longer, but it’s worth every second *high five*

To find out more about Rachel, check out her website find her or Twitter , or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

[music]

Sarina: Welcome back, friends and Sparrows. It’s the 10th of May 2021. This is Episode 35. Today, Rachel Grosvenor is back to talk more about something she mentioned in our last chat about what a writing coach does. Now, if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you might remember Briana Morgan, mentioning me probably already having done an episode on self-publishing and traditional publishing, and I have not. Then, Rachel mentioned how she used to teach this very thing. So, I asked her back to [00:01:00] talk more about that. Welcome back, Rachel.

Rachel: Hello, thank you for having me again.

Sarina: It’s my pleasure. I’m really excited to learn a bit more about this because I’m entirely a self-published author by choice, because I’m a control freak.

Rachel: Yeah. [laughs]

Sarina: [chuckles] Probably it suits me better. I know a little bit I think about traditional publishing, but probably not quite as much as I should. I’m excited to hear what you have to say. We’ve also had two very interesting questions come through on Instagram.

Rachel: Yes.

Sarina: Also excited about that. To start with, what are the main differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing? Big question to start with.

Rachel: It’s a big question, yeah. there are a lot of differences between them. The main one would be that with self-publishing, as you mentioned, you are in full control. There are some definites as well. For example, you’re definitely getting published if you’re a self-publisher, [00:02:00] and you can drive that forward, and you are in control of the cover, and the blurb, and the title and all that good stuff. It can look exactly however you want it to look. With traditional publishing, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get published first of all. It is a difficult thing to get traditionally published. But once you are traditionally published, you are basically in the big book shops, you’ve got a team behind you of editors, designers, and all that stuff. You’ve usually got an agent, and there are other pros that can come with it. It opens doors for you, and you may even get a book deal and you get upfront money, and things like that as well.

So, yeah, there are there are some big differences between them. Really, it’s just to do with what kind of thing [00:03:00] that you want to go for, what are you looking for, and where do you want your book to be.

Sarina: Well, money certainly is nice. [laughs]

Rachel: Yes. Money is nice.

Sarina: Wonder what it’s like to have money. [laughs]

Rachel: One can imagine. [laughs]

Sarina: I have no idea. I never know, I don’t know.

[chuckles]

Sarina: What I would say to that is that obviously, it is a lot easier to self-publish, because you do everything yourself, and you can literally just pop on Amazon now, upload whatever, and publish that with some cover, which could maybe it’s just a piece of paper you found that you just quickly scanned in. You can technically do that, although please do not do that. I’d say on the other hand, it’s also relatively difficult to self-publish, because you’ve mentioned the team that you get when you traditional publish, but you do have a team as well, when you self-publish. I’m actually currently as we’re recording this doing a mini-series on my team.

Rachel: Oh, great.

Sarina: Yeah, so that includes my editor, [00:04:00] my cartographer, and my cover designer. In fact, after this interview, I’m doing the interview with my cover designer.

Rachel: Cool.

Sarina: It’s a busy morning for me, but of course, as a self-published author, I had to go out of my way myself to find these people, and to find the right people to work on my book. Whereas I think when you publish traditionally, it’s just the publishing house who gives you these people and then whether you get on or not, or you think that they’re right for your book, you work with them.

Rachel: Exactly. I think that that for some people might make them lean more towards the self-publishing route, because you don’t have the same control. You don’t get to choose what cover you’ve got on it. You don’t get to choose the title. You don’t get to choose the blurb always, and that’s a pretty big deal for people who have a definite vision, so there’s some compromise to be made.

Yeah, I mean, it’s funny because you’ve [00:05:00] also got a marketing team behind you, which is massive and really important, because that’s one of the biggest things about self-publishing, is that you’ve got to ask yourself, “How much money and time can I put into this project? I’ve already written a book. I’ve really gone to this stage. Now it’s actually out there, how much money and time can I put into the marketing?” Not everyone will be able to pay for a marketing expert, not everyone will be able to pay for posters and things to be made up for them. It’s hard work. Marketing on social media, it’s hard work getting your voice out there, because the social media is swamped with people trying to do the same thing. Yeah, a really good thing about traditional publishing is that you’ve got a marketing team behind you, which actually gives you time to go to the next step, which is write your next novel.

Sarina: I think with marketing, especially, there are so many different things that you can try. Just speaking there from personal experience, [00:06:00] but I always find that you really need to try something for quite a while to see if it actually does work.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: So, there is an awful lot of trial and error involved. You could potentially throw something out thinking it doesn’t work that actually might work really well, if you spent a bit more time on it. Likewise, you might get really focused on something thinking, “Well, this is working for so many other people, it should work for me.” But actually, it doesn’t, you might then really get too focused on that.

Rachel: That’s the tricky thing with marketing. There’s always people come along with the next answer, isn’t it? There’s always people saying, “Well, you want to get on TikTok. You want to go on Pinterest, and you want to get on this and that.” “Oh, there’s so many things I need to get on. There’s so much I need to do.”

Sarina: I don’t think TikTok is for me.

Rachel: Fair enough.

Sarina: More and more of my author friends now also slowly migrating over there, and I’m like, “I don’t wanna. I already have too much social media. I don’t have more time for another one.”

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: Of course [00:07:00] what you said about when you traditionally publish, how they decide so many of those things, like your cover and your blurb, and all that, that might equally really appeal to some authors who maybe really just want to do the writing and don’t want to have to worry about all that other stuff. This is what I was going to ask, on the subject of marketing, I heard that these days when you approach traditional publishing and an agent, and then they approach the house for you, that they expect you to do actually quite a lot of the marketing yourself. Can we talk about that? How much marketing would I need to do myself if I went the traditional route?

Rachel: Every author, the general rule is you’ve got to have some kind of a voice nowadays, that I don’t think that was always the case. I’m sure it’s not always the case now. The general rule is [00:08:00] if you send your manuscript off to somebody, they will search for you online. What have you been up to? How have you been publishing other works? Have you got any other things published? Do you have a website? Do you have a following of people wanting to buy your work? I guess the question is, are you a surefire bet for them to get involved with you. They could love your work. if you got nothing about you on the internet at all, they might go, “Oh, actually, this is going to be a really big job and a really big sell,” because if an agent accepts you, obviously, they’ve then got to sell your work, and they’ve got to sell you to a publishing house. They’ve got to take you on and know that actually, it’s worth it.

If you’ve done a background of, “I’m an author, this is my marketing voice, this is who I am,” and you’ve got a sort of following set up, then you’re probably more likely to be accepted. It’s definitely worth bearing that in mind. Also, something that’s worth bearing in mind is, a lot of people enjoy seeing the [00:09:00] process of writing a novel. I know I do. I love to follow authors who are writing because I just want to know what they’re up to, what’s their day looking like.

Sarina: I do. That’s why I’ve started the monthly interviews on writing routines. I feel quite nosy, really, but I love hearing how other authors approach it and how they build up their day and how they write what, when, it’s all very interesting to me. I love seeing that too.

Rachel: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think if you’re writing a book, and you haven’t had anything published yet, and it’s your first novel, and you’re listening to this and thinking, “Oh, no, I don’t have a voice online,” it’s easy to set up an account on Instagram or something like that, and to just share your journey and get involved with people’s journeys. Just through doing that, you’re going to build up a following, and actually you’ll also find that there are people there that will help you be accountable, [00:10:00] that will give you some great tips, that will give you some great advice, and that’s probably the nicest thing about it.

Sarina: Yeah, I would say so. I think especially the writing communities and the reading communities on Instagram and Twitter, for example, have been very welcoming. I think they’re very supportive. They are very good communities to join and to just-

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: -start chatting with.

Rachel: Yeah. Then, if you’ve got a ready-made community, and you’ve decided to self-publish, that’s awesome, because you can say, “Look, here it is, you can actually buy this book now. I’d love you to read it.” Or, you can go to an agent or an independent publishing house, they often accept unsolicited manuscripts. You can go to someone and say, “I do actually have a following of X amount of people, and they would love to read this book, so it’s in your best interests to publish it.”

Sarina: Then, to come back to what we said earlier, [00:11:00] again, about how when you self-publish, you have to do everything yourself, of course. When you have an agent and a publishing house, then they tend to decide your blurb and your cover, and all those things that I personally love to be involved in. I once read this pretty popular book, which I will not name for this. I hate naming things in a negative way. The blurb for me made it sound like it was going to be an epic fantasy. It’s a traditionally published book, so I thought– I love epic fantasy notes, it’s clearly quite a popular thing. I want to read those. It’s a series, so if I like it, I have so many more other books to come back to as well, which is great. Then, it turned out to not be epic fantasy at all. I actually ended up finding it quite mundane and boring.

I think if I were the author, obviously, then I would know that I’ve basically written like an urban fantasy, but then knowing that my [00:12:00] publishing team has decided to make the blurb sound like an epic fantasy, I would be so gutted.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. If it’s not your vision, that’s the tricky thing. Obviously, you do get some say, and it would differ with different teams and different publishers and different people. But the bottom line is that, ultimately, you will have to make a decision about some of those big choices and sign a contract, that essentially means that you don’t have all the rights and the decision-making power. There are pros that might outweigh it for you, so that’s okay in some cases as well. It’s so subjective. It’s really down to what you want as a writer, it’s quite interesting.

Sarina: Yeah, there’s a lot to consider and we can talk about that some more in a second as well. One thing I’ve just thought of that I hadn’t yet included in my original set of questions, [00:13:00] hybrid authors and vanity presses. Hybrid authors, for anyone listening who isn’t aware, are authors who they might self-publish some books, and then maybe their next series they publish with a publishing house, and then maybe the next books after that they do on their own again. Vanity presses, I don’t know a great deal about, but I have heard many bad things and also some good things. I think that’s maybe something that authors who might want to publish, maybe really need to be aware of.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard anything good about vanity presses. My general rule of thumb is that if somebody is asking you for upfront money to publish your work, then it’s the wrong way round. I’ve met a lot of people who have fallen foul of vanity presses, really sad stories if I could be honest with you, about people who have plunged thousands and thousands [00:14:00] of pounds, and then just now have an attic full of their own book that they are trying to sell to strangers, and it’s really hard and they can’t make their money back. I’ve seen that quite a few times.

Sarina: Oh, that’s heartbreaking.

Rachel: It’s very sad. I’ve had some situations where I think twice, I’ve been contacted by a vanity publisher. They’ve said, “Yeah, we want to read your full manuscript,” etc. Before I ever send anything out like that, I always check reviews, I read as much as I can about that person or that company. A few times, I’ve been like, “Oh,” as soon as I google their name, there was loads of people saying, “This is a vanity publisher. They took thousands from me, this is a vanity publisher, they charged me this.” I thought, “It’s not even worth going out to them,” because that’s really scary. Also, what’s really sad about it is the work is never up to [00:15:00] a high standard basically. They don’t print it very well. I’ve never seen a book that’s vanity published that I’ve thought, “Hey, this is printed really well, they did a really nice job with this.” What are the good stories that you’ve heard to do with vanity publishers? I’m intrigued.

Sarina: To be honest now, I don’t know anymore. It’s just every now once again, I think someone will go, oh, maybe then it’s not so much a vanity press and more really a small publisher, I might be getting refused there because it’s very early for me in the morning.

Rachel: That’s okay. Obviously, for some people, it might be their ultimate goal in life to be published, and they might not– This is a really rare occurrence, I’m sure. They might be like, “Hey, I’ve got 10 grand that I want to spend on this,” and a vanity publisher seems like a great idea. That could happen. I’ve never personally spoken to anyone who has been involved and been completely happy with it. I’ve just thought, “Oh, this is such a shame, because you could have self-published it. [00:16:00] You could put all the money into like getting an editor and getting on to design your book cover.” Then, you would have been in the same situation, but you wouldn’t have like an attic full of books, for you to be able to publish on demand, and it would be different for you.

Sarina: You probably would have got a lot more out of it that way as well, without the negative feedback.

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: There’s one potential other case study I can think of, which was very early on in my editing business, so a few years ago. I was working with this author, she was my first ever author. There were a few things about the job that weren’t quite 100% right. As I said, it was early on, it was my first job editing, so of course, I was excited about that. Eventually, we parted ways, because she said very suddenly, that she had been made an offer from a [00:17:00] publisher. I think she had been potentially querying a bit here and there anyway, so I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Then, she said that– I think it was already November at the time. Then, she said that the publisher really wanted to get the book out now in December, because from January, they would be representing different genres, and no longer her genre. I said to her, “Then, why would you want to go with a publisher who you know in two months’ time will not be representing your genre anymore?”

Rachel: That’s a really good question. Yeah.

Sarina: I think maybe early on, when you’re just starting out as a writer, and as you said, maybe you just want to be published, no matter how you get there, then maybe that seems like a really tempting offer. I think, maybe especially early on, it can feel really exciting to know that a publisher has approached you and said, “Hey, I don’t know you, but I heard something really interesting about your book, and I want to publish you [00:18:00] and represent you.” That can sound like it’s everything you’ve ever dreamed off, but as you said, do your research and really consider if that’s legit, because it may not be.

Rachel: Absolutely. There’s a book that I use every year that I find really useful for looking at traditional publishing houses. It’s the Writers and Artists Yearbook, and it’s updated every year. It’s basically like just the Yellow Pages for writers, and you can look in it and then you can go, “Okay, so I know that these people published fantasy.” I can see how to get in touch with them. That’s a much safer bet, I think, than just googling publishers, because, yeah, I think there’s just a little bit safer. Also, it’s just a useful book to have as well. So, I’d recommend that.

Sarina: I second that. It’s a great book to have. There’s a lot of useful information beyond all the different addresses and email addresses in there as well.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: It’s very worth [00:19:00] having. To come back the hybrid publishing, which I don’t think we’ve talked about yet. I think not long ago, possibly last week, I had a new writer approach me on Instagram, I think, I don’t remember who it was now. I think they said that they were interested in traditionally publishing a book, but they said that they then might not be able to self-publish at some point in the future. I said that actually, many writers are hybrids. Is that something that you would recommend? Is it easy to do? Do you think that publishers might frown on it, if you say that you have another series that you might want to publish without them at some point?

Rachel: No, it’s quite interesting, actually. I think that the other way around is more common. If you’ve self-published a work, and then you sign something with a traditional publisher, that’s the more common way [00:20:00] around for it to happen. That does happen. There are those occurrences where a publisher will see a self-published book is doing really well. They’ll get in touch with the author and be like, “Hey, what’s going on? Let’s chat. What else have you got?” It would be interesting to– I guess if you’ve got a traditionally published book, that’s already published, and you decide to self-publish, it’s really up to you, isn’t it? If it’s your project, I guess, as long as you haven’t signed in the thing.

Interesting fact is Beatrix Potter, she was a hybrid author. She self-published Peter Rabbit because she didn’t like what the traditional publishers basically had in the plans, that wasn’t what her vision was, so she self-published that. Then, she got renowned, and the traditional publishers were like, “Actually, no, we will do what you want.” She was like, “Cool, so you can publish my next book.”

[chuckles]

Sarina: “Yeah, well, this one’s mine now, so you’ve missed the [00:21:00] ball on that.”

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: I didn’t know that. [chuckles]

Rachel: Yeah. [chuckles]

Sarina: Right. On to the second question that I had originally written down, [laughs] got a bit sidetracked there. In a good way, I think.

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: I was going to ask about the pros and cons of self-publishing, but I feel we’ve already talked a little bit about that. Anyway, if there’s anything more that you have to add, then go ahead. Also, maybe if there is anything that you think writers might– maybe something that writers might want to consider, if they think that they might want to self-publish your book, so the kind of person that self-publishing would be the right choice for. I phrased that badly. [laughs]

Rachel: I think that the main thing to consider when you’re self-publishing is, how much time do you have to put into it, because even if you’ve made something that’s really beautiful and brilliant, but if you don’t have time [00:22:00] to market it, that’s the main thing, really. No one’s going to know that you’ve clicked self-published on something, unless you tell them. That’s just a really big deal. If you self-publish, you can get it into bookshops and libraries, you can get it out there. It doesn’t just have to be on Amazon, it doesn’t just have to be on the internet. You can do all sorts of things. You can sign yourselves up to like book fairs and things like that, and go along with a cardboard box of books, and that’s really cool.

I would encourage that to apply for independent book shops and libraries. Also, apply for conferences to talk about your book and things like that. It’s kind of anything, you’re trying to get clients in a way, you’re trying to get readers, so put yourself out there as much as you possibly can if you want to be self-published. It is really easy to be self-published, but it’s the step afterwards that’s the tricky bit, which is just telling people that you’ve done it. [00:23:00] [chuckles]

Sarina: As you said, the marketing isn’t necessarily a quick or easy thing. In fact, it definitely isn’t. [chuckles]

Rachel: That’s true.

Sarina: If you are like me, and you’re a control freak-

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: -then self-publishing is probably the better choice for you, just because you do keep control over everything and you’re in of everything. Which for some people, it’s going to sound like the dream, and for other people, it’s going to sound like a nightmare. It just depends which extreme you lean more towards.

Rachel: Absolutely. I’m personally, trying to go down the traditional publishing route, myself at the moment. I did self-publish a book of short stories, but it feels like about five years ago now, which feels crazy, but I think it was. For me, the traditional publishing route is attractive, because what I want to do is write. [00:24:00] I’m on my third novel, and I just want to keep writing novels. I really want to be able to trust that I’ve got that team there to help me with that. So, yeah, that’s why that’s attractive to me, basically.

Also, traditional publishing opens doors for you as well in a different way to self-publishing. You don’t have to apply for things so much. You’ll get more invitations to go to conferences and events and things like that, which is cool. Yeah, they’ve both got different things. I will say the book of short stories that I published five years ago, at the time, I was feeling the bit shy about being a writer. I just was. I think it’s something you have to build up to saying almost and that’s sounds daft but–

Sarina: Yeah, I think to do– No, I get it. I think quite a lot of writers when they [00:25:00] first start writing, long before they even start publishing, it can be quite awkward, almost like you’re an imposter when you say, “Hi, I’m Sarina, and I’m a writer.” “Ha-ha-ha. Okay-

Rachel: Exactly, yeah.

Sarina: -This is weird.” Even once you have published something, it’s almost even more better than saying, “By the way, I’m an author.”

Rachel: Yes.

Sarina: It takes a while, I think, to really be able to own that. If you are feeling a bit awkward saying that that’s normal, don’t worry about it. It gets easier, the more you do it.

Rachel: Oh, it really does get easier. I think it’s a really funny thing how much easier it gets actually. Something that I said to myself last year, was that I was going to try and put myself on camera more, because I noticed that all of my photos on my author account were basically me– they were not of my face, they were all just like cups of coffee. I thought these people don’t know what I look like at all. I’m just hiding away. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to try, I’m going to put myself on camera this year.” Since then, [00:26:00] I’ve really pushed myself.

Now, I’m not even thinking about it anymore. I’m just doing it. I’m making funny little videos. It’s much easier for me to market now that I have kind of stopped worrying about that so much. But if I published that book of short stories now, as I did five years ago, I’d be way more vocal about it. I’d be like, “Everybody, I’ve published [unintelligible [00:26:19] short stories, please go out and buy it.” I’d be doing all these things that I didn’t do then, because I was just feeling a little bit shy about it. It is worth considering what kind of person you are and how you’re willing to put yourself out there at that time, might be something to build up to, who knows?

Sarina: That’s the beautiful thing about experience, isn’t it?

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: We’re all learning constantly, which is great. Then same question about traditional publishing. What are the pros and cons, and who would traditional publishing be right for?

Rachel: [00:27:00] Traditional publishing, it’s got a lot of pros and cons. It gives you time to write your next novel, because you get to hand over a lot of the big work. You can get money, really like upfront payments, which is amazing. That’s obviously not necessarily the same case for self-publishing. I will say though, you get less royalty rates, obviously, than self-publishing and traditional publishing, but that’s a given. Also, you’ve got to consider in self-publishing the royalty rates, are they offset against how much you’ve invested? There’s other stuff to consider. Yeah, with traditional publishing, you should get an upfront payment. Also, there’s the potential of getting a book deal as well, which is an exciting thought, because they will usually ask you, “What’s next? What have you got?” If you’ve written a few novels already, then that’s awesome, because you can say, “Well, actually, I’ve got two novels in a drawer, if you want to read them. Let’s see what you think.” [00:28:00]

Yeah, and as I said, you’ve got a professional team of editors, and it opens doors for you as well. But as I said, it’s harder to get published. Also, what’s the timeline that you want your book to be published by, because it can take up to two years from acceptance to shelf.

Sarina: Yeah, but you basically join the queue of all other books that they have also already got in line to be published, so it won’t be anywhere near as quick.

Rachel: Exactly, it won’t be as quick. If that’s on your year bucket list, then it might be worth thinking about something else. There’s loads of stuff that could happen. The potential with traditional publishing is really great, not just other book deals, but also other films and things like that, that [00:29:00] could be made, is there a series? There’s loads of things that people might get in touch with you, because these people actually already have these contacts, they already have a database of contacts and people that they can talk to. They know exactly who that person is, that would help your career move forward. Whereas if you’re self-publishing, you’re going to have to find that stuff out for yourself, and it’s not always going to be easy to get in touch with them.

Sarina: No, it’s certainly going to take a lot more research, I think, on your part. It’s easy, also, then to end up with someone who maybe doesn’t have your best interests at heart. As always, just do your research, and make sure you know who you’re contacting before you contact them.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. As I say you, you can contact agents. My general rule is, in my PhD, we talked a lot about publishing, and something that we talked about was that you shouldn’t send your work off to more than 12 [00:30:00] agents at a time basically. If you send off your work to 12 agents/independent publishers who are accepting manuscripts, and you get 12 rejections, you need to have another look at the novel because there’s a reason for that. You need to take into account what they’re saying to you.

What I do is I keep a spreadsheet. If I ever send any work off, it doesn’t matter if it’s a novel, a short story or a poem, whatever, I keep a spreadsheet, I write down exactly who I sent it to, when I sent it to them, when I expect to hear back, because it’ll always say on the submissions page, you should hear back within three months. I set an alert so that I know, “Okay, so in three months’ time, I should have heard back from them.” If I haven’t heard back from them, then I can guess that I was unsuccessful at that time. That is just so much easier, because there are so many agents and publishing houses, but if you don’t keep a spreadsheet or some kind of log, it can get incredibly confusing [00:31:00] about who you’ve sent your work off to, and when you’re unsuccessful. It’s a little bit like applying for jobs in a way that sometimes people just won’t to get back to you, and that means that you’ve been unsuccessful. If you’re not tracking how much time it’s been, then you won’t know. So, I would recommend that.

Sarina: And that could be very frustrating.

Rachel: Yes, of course, again, yeah. Sometimes, you’ve got to have a thick skin. Sometimes, you’ll send off your work, and you’ll get a really excited response. They’ll ask to see the full manuscript and you’ll send it off, and then a month later, they might still say no, so you’ve got to have a thick skin. The thing I always say is, treat agents and publishers like– this is what I’ve always taught in my classes, treat them like children in a way. They will have a list of things that they want of demands, and you should just adhere to those exactly. An example would be, if they’re asking for something by post, don’t make the envelope super tricky [00:32:00] to open, you know what I mean? Don’t put too much sellotape on it, make everything very neat, make everything Times New Roman, number your pages so that if they drop them, they can pick them up again. Do everything you can to stay on their good side by just providing exactly what they’ve asked for, and no less and no more. It’s usually a cover letter, synopsis, the first three chapters of your work, and that’s it. If they want more, they’ll ask for it.

Also, another thing that’s kind of tricky, is when is it right to query on your query? So, you’ve already sent off a query, and you’ve realized that actually, it’s been months and months and months. When is it okay to send an email and say, “Oh, hey, I was just wondering if you’ve read that?” I would say that if you’ve looked at their submissions page, and it says if– sometimes, it’ll say, “If you haven’t heard from us, within six months, get in touch.” Sometimes, it’ll say, “If you haven’t heard from us, within three months, you’ve been unsuccessful.” [00:33:00] Just pay attention to that bit. If it says, “Get in touch,” feel free to get in touch with them, just send them a warning email, don’t chase them and ask them, “What do you think? Have you had a chance to read it? I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on it.” Just something friendly and short. I always find it’s better to just ask because you never know.

Sarina: Exactly. Maybe they are waiting to see who does get in touch and who has done all that work with the spreadsheet and everything, just to actually really keep an eye on their submissions, which authors are literally just sending it to anyone, and almost don’t really care what kind of agent they get. I think they might feel maybe reassured by the author who then comes back and says, “Actually, it’s more than three months, you said on your website that this is when I can get back to you. Have you had a chance to have a look at it?” Because I think that would then tell me that they actually might really want to work with me. [00:34:00]

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot to be said for just being yourself as well. If you’ve sent them an email with a typo in or something like that, don’t freak out, don’t panic. They are just people at the end of the day. That’s all they are. They’re just people in a slightly different job to you. It’s okay to send them an email and be like, “Whoops, should’ve used use Grammarly.” Something like that. I really think that’s fine. I think the main thing is, like applying for a job, are they the right company for you? Do they publish the work that you want to publish? Have a look at what they’ve published that’s similar to your work as well. Because if they publish only crime, and you send them a fantasy book, they’re just going to drop it on the slush pile immediately because it’s not going to be relevant to them and they’re going to think that it is [00:35:00] going to be a waste of your time and their time. In the cover letter mention what they’ve published, that’s like your work, so that they can see, “Actually, yeah, this person’s done their research, they actually care.” That’s really important.

Sarina: I think just a bit of research can really go a long way, don’t it?

Rachel: Absolutely. Just mentioning those little bits of research is always impressive.

Sarina: Well, I was going to ask you, if you have any general advice for querying, like when to query, how to go maybe after a publishing house, but you’ve kind of already preempted that.

Rachel: Yeah. [laughs]

Sarina: So, thank you.

Rachel: That’s all right.

Sarina: That means then that we’re on to the questions from other people. I had one from Instagram, and I hope that I’m pronouncing your username correctly. I’m very sorry if I don’t. It’s from [unintelligible [00:35:51]. “Do you have any tips for a new fantasy writer?”

Rachel: Cool. I mean, [00:36:00] I love fantasy and fantasy writing. I know you do, too.

Sarina: I do.

Rachel: I think that for a new fantasy writer, I would say immerse yourself in the world of fantasy, read as many fantasy books as you can, all different types of authors. Also, there’s nothing more fun than creating maps. I find just creating maps can build stories in your head. It’s like a magical thing to create a map, there’s some really cool software out there. Like Inkarnate is one of my favorite softwares. I love to play with that and just build worlds. Just like naming them and deciding this place is going to be really lush forest, this space is going to be like really dry desert, can really create stories in your head. I would say read as much fantasy as you can. Also, have a little go at building some maps and see what comes to you. What would your advice be?

Sarina: Yeah, probably the [00:37:00] same thing, to be honest. I think really just reading a lot of the genre that you want to write in yourself is a really big help, because you learn an awful lot just through osmosis. But also, reading books and other genres is also fine, because you might still pick up on something anyway that you can use in your books. Most books are a bit of a crossover between different genres anyway. I always say that most books have an element of mystery in them. Most books will have some element of love story, be that between two women, for example, who love each other, who fall in love, or between a mother and her child. There’s so many different kinds of love stories. Even if you write a thriller, for example, there’ll likely be some kind of crossover. So, reading in other genres outside of thrillers can also be very beneficial.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. Also, there’s always some brilliant fantasy games to play, and that narrative is just as valuable. [00:38:00]

Sarina: If you haven’t played Dragon Age and Mass Effect, you haven’t lived.

[chuckles]

Rachel: And also, Skyrim.

Sarina: Oh, yeah, Skyrim.

Rachel: Oh, boy. Sometimes, when I’m writing fantasy, I put on the Skyrim soundtrack, and it’s so emotive. It takes me straight back and I’m like, “Oh, gosh, I have to pause.” I’m like, “I just need to turn this off. It’s too much.” [laughs]

Sarina: Gaming scores, by the way, are brilliant for writing and editing because they have literally been designed to help you focus. If you want a bit of music, but you can’t do lyrics while you write like me, then game music is the best. Try it.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I’m the same. I can’t listen to music with words in actually when I’m writing, but gaming scores, yeah.

Sarina: I get distracted so quickly. Right at the start of our interview, I got distracted by a black cat just dashing across the garden. I thought, “I haven’t heard all of what she said, because I’m basically a dog who’s seen a squirrel,” [laughs] yeah, [00:39:00] I can’t have that. Also, to talk some more about the advice. One thing that I think is really important for new writers is be open to feedback because that will really help you grow and don’t get defensive if someone, for example, tells you that maybe your main character is a bit flat, or maybe there are some plot holes in the story, or maybe your worldbuilding, maybe you have some paradoxes in it, because people will give you that feedback aren’t telling you those things to be mean to you or to tell you that you shouldn’t be writing. They’re telling you that to help you grow your book, ultimately.

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: It’s all really good constructive criticism, so don’t get defensive. Don’t take it personally. It’s meant to help you grow. Obviously, some people maybe on very good at giving feedback, ultimately that’s a skill like [00:40:00] any other and not everyone’s great at it. If you maybe have a small group of people, beta readers, maybe you have five or seven, and six of them tell you that your plot is brilliant, and then there’s one person who says that they couldn’t get into it at all, then maybe chances are that the other six are right. Believe the majority, I’d say.

Rachel: Absolutely. Writing is so subjective. If you have a book club, there’s always going to be one person who didn’t enjoy the book.

Sarina: Oh, yeah. Generally, on my books, and I’m very proud of this, [chuckles] a bit of shameless self-promotion there.

[chuckles]

Sarina: One thing that many, many readers have told me is that my worldbuilding is fantastic. I may have been dubbed the queen of worldbuilding in a review.

Rachel: Amazing.

Sarina: But then one day, I got a review that said that the worldbuilding was really flat and boring. I just learned that [00:41:00] wasn’t the first review I have ever seen, or the first opinion on the worldbuilding because that could have been gutting. But because I’d already had seen all those other opinions saying the exact opposite, I thought, “Okay, well, that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. That’s all right.”

Rachel: Yeah. Peer review is so valuable. I always think to myself about the fact that Tolkien struggled to get published. I think about that, and I just think, yeah, I love him so much. I love his work so much. Look at what’s been created now, because of him.

Sarina: Look just how much he’s grown.

Rachel: Yeah, if you could have shown himself that back in the day when he was struggling to even get his words out there, it would have just been wild. He’d have been like, “This is beyond my wildest dreams.” Amazing. It’s subjective, take it seriously, but it’s subjective as well, so yeah. I agree with you there.

Sarina: There was a good deal of luck involved [00:42:00] as well.

Rachel: Oh, yes.

Sarina: Some of us are going to get incredibly lucky and find someone who happens to be an agent who happens to fall in love with a book, and it might grow into something massive from there, but most of us won’t. Most of us have to work for it, but some of us might get really lucky. Maybe just don’t expect it to definitely happen to you, please don’t build it into your one-year plan or whatever, because it’s a very, very small chance.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s it. The statistics for traditional publishing are against us but it doesn’t mean, it’s impossible. It’s certainly not impossible. It happens all the time. It also happens all the time that people are self-published, and then they get contacted by a publisher, because they’ve seen their book, and they now want to traditionally publish them. That happens.

Sarina: Yeah. There’s nothing stopping you while you’re querying from maybe writing a different book and trying to self-publish that and seeing how that side of things works. Maybe you find that [00:43:00] actually worked better for you.

Rachel: Absolutely. I will say, actually, that there’s nothing like getting over an old novel, like writing a new novel. I honestly was so stuck in my first novel, it felt like it took me ages to move past that. Then, when I started writing my second novel, I was like, “Well, I’ve been wasting the last six months thinking about my first novel that’s finished.” Because writing a new novel is really fun. This is awesome. As soon as I finished my last novel, I was like, “Get on with the next one now.” While you’re sending that out because actually, this is the best thing to do.

Sarina: Yeah, and I always get such an energy boost as well when I start a new project. I think that’s because when I write fantasy, epic fantasy specifically, I tend to have a lot of worldbuilding to do, and I love doing some worldbuilding.

Rachel: It’s exciting.

Sarina: It’s so much fun when you start a new project, so much fun.

Rachel: I love it– [crosstalk] I think I love it too much, [00:44:00] actually. Yeah, I have to write down like novel ideas and put them away. I’m like, “Rachel, just wait till you finish the current one,” because all I want to do, I swear is get stuck in to lots of new novels, but then I’ve only ever had 20,000 words, like lots and lots of novels.

Sarina: That’s what I do. I have a notebook full of ideas for potential future novels. That way, if I write them down when I have the idea, I know that they are safely stored away and I don’t need to start writing it now, or as I may never get to it, [unintelligible [00:44:31] actually stored away and I can move on and I can focus on what I’m supposed to be focusing on. That’s also very helpful.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: All right. Coming on to our last question, which is one that you had also on social media, from Beth O’Sharon. Hello, welcome. “What’s a realistic budget for self-publishing?”

Rachel: Yeah. It’s a tricky one because it’s like [00:45:00] how long is a piece of string. It’s like, how much are you willing to put into it because obviously, you could edit yourself and you might have some really great friends who are willing to help you with the edit, who aren’t going to charge you anything, but you also might decide to hire an editor, and you might decide to hire a proofreader, you might decide to hire someone to design your cover. You could even decide to hire someone to do your marketing, for your formatting. And all that will cost– if you hired someone for all those things, we’re talking like £4000 at least, I think. What about you, you self-publish your work?

Sarina: Yeah. You know what? It’s nowhere near as bad as £4000.

Rachel: Okay. Where do you hire?

Sarina: Well, I never– God[?], where do I start? I mean, for one, it depends so strong on who you hire, because there are no set rates across the board. Every editor is going to set their own rates ultimately. Every cartographer, if you write epic fantasy [00:46:00] is going to have different rates. That’s something to consider. For my book covers, I tend to work with Design for Writers, who I’ll be talking to in a bit. I’m excited about that.

Rachel: Cool. Shoutout.

Sarina: Shoutout. They do quite a few different things these days, actually. They do book covers, but they also do website design now. They also create some promo images, they also do formatting. I have hired them exclusively for cover design, so this is really all I can talk about there. I think they charge £350 pounds now per eBook and paperback cover together, so you get both in one price. You tend to get two mock designs with them. You will fill out a brief to let them know what your book is about and what you’re looking for and all that. [00:47:00] Then, they will give you two different designs, you choose the one that you like most, and then you will go from there. You get an awful lot of work really for the money. If you look at book covers, it can shoot up so massively, it’s ridiculous. I think the first guys I ever looked at, I think, was 750 quid for one cover. They made it sound like that was cheap, and it’s not. You don’t need to pay anywhere near that much for a good cover. If you want to a book cover, do go to Design for Writers, they are amazing. Shoutout.

Rachel: I’ve seen your book covers, and they are awesome.

Sarina: Aren’t they amazing? They are so good as well at what they do, and you know that they’re enjoying it. They are brilliant to work with as well. I feel like I’m now pre-empting the interview, I’ll be doing in half an hour, so I’m going to move on from that.

Rachel: [laughs] Okay.

Sarina: Then, with my cartography, which you may not even need if you don’t write epic fantasy, because if you write about a place like London, and we already have maps for that, you don’t need to provide one. [00:48:00] I write read epic fantasy, so I want to include a map, and I hire MonkeyBlood Design for that. My interview with them has gone live already– [crosstalk]

Rachel: Cool.

Sarina: Well, it depends. I think I pay about 75 quid for a map. It may have gone up a tiny bit by now, but that’s definitely the cheapest thing you can do for your book, and it can have a really big positive impact ultimately [crosstalk] experience.

Rachel: Oh, I love a map.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -love a map, and you can blow it up to A3 and hang it over your mantle or your desk, and it’ll look incredible.

Rachel: Have you done that?

Sarina: I haven’t yet, but I may have some of my book covers that my partner has got me for one of my birthdays.

Rachel: That’s lovely.

Sarina: They were a really nice surprise, and they make fantastic wall [unintelligible [00:54:04].

Rachel: That’s lovely. Absolutely.

Sarina: I used to do the formatting myself, but, on my Word, it’s such a pain.

Rachel: Yes, it is. [00:49:00]

Sarina: I now hire Platform House Publishing, who I have also already talked to a couple of times. Becky absolutely loves formatting. She does a beautiful job of it. It’s incredibly, incredibly affordable. I think it’s 50 quid maybe to have your whole book formatted.

Rachel: That’s amazing.

Sarina: The turnaround is like a week or two weeks max.

Rachel: I’m actually going to write their name down because I am not a fan of the format.

Sarina: Check out the episode that I’ve done with them as well. I’ve done two, actually. The first one ended up being a bit longer and then we’ve done another one with five specific formatting tips.

Rachel: Oh, that sounds good.

Sarina: It’s just such a big weight off my shoulders when I send my book to her because I know the formatting is going to come back brilliantly, and I don’t need to worry about it at all. That to me alone is worth more than the bit of money that you just charge for it.

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: Then, your editor is, of course, going to be the most expensive one, out of all of your professionals [00:50:00] but that’s because the most work goes into it. You can’t just slap together a developmental edit and call it a day after a week. It’s a lot of effort, it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of time that goes into it and a lot of skill. But it then also depends so strongly on who you hire. Some editors will charge per hour, some editors will charge per word count. It depends who you talk to. I can’t recommend that you check out my editor, because she has now stopped editing, and taking on clients, so I can’t do that. Instead, I’m going to be very selfish and say, “Message me, I edit.” [laughs] But there are so many great editors out there.

I think if you look on Instagram, for example, on Twitter, that’s where I ran into my editor on Twitter, we just kind of happened upon each other and magic happened. Just take this out there, ask for a sample edit, so that before you hire someone, you [00:51:00] can make sure that you work well together and that you like– [crosstalk]

Rachel: Absolutely, that’s really important.

Sarina: Really important. Again, with the price that just depends very strongly on how many words you have, how long it takes to edit your book. Say if you’re new and your budget is a bit smaller, maybe go with an editor who charges per word, because it’s easier that way to give you a definite quote when you start, so you know exactly how much you’re in for. Ask if they can do a payment plan maybe if money’s a bit short. I’ve never talked to an editor who wouldn’t do that, so you’re probably fine. Just see what other options they have because it maybe you want a proofreader, that’s something that’s quite different to developmental editing and again, the pricing is different on that, so it really depends. But I don’t think I’ve ever had an edit that was more than 1200 quid and that was including a developmental [00:51:00] edit line [unintelligible [00:52:02] proofread.

All things put together, that’s maybe closer to 1500 or 2000 quid, but that then includes the edit, the cover, the map, if you need a map, you might not, you might love formatting, so you may not need to worry about that.

Rachel: Yeah. Also, if you don’t want to put that much money in, there are options. You might be able to find somebody who’s willing to do like a novel swap with you, and you can proofread each other’s. There’s so many people who are up for helping in return for you doing the same to them. So definitely, don’t be afraid to ask the question. There are lots of websites and things that can help with that sort of stuff as well.

Sarina: Yeah. I would recommend not going with websites like Fiverr, for example, because your developmental edit is [00:53:00] if they only want 50 quid for it, for example, then you can expect that they probably won’t do a fantastic job of it, because as I said, there’s so much work and time and everything that goes into it, that I don’t think anyone who really takes pride in their work is going to charge so little for so much work into such a big time commitment, because ultimately, you need to pay the bills with it. That’s something to consider. But that also doesn’t mean that you need to spend 4000 quid just on edits alone, you really don’t. Just see who’s out there, talk to a few people or ask for a sample edit, definitely. Also, editor have styles, I think, just like authors do. Some editors might really only make the changes and leave it at that. Other editors might make them a suggestion, so you can go over everything yourself and decide what you want to accept and what you don’t. Other editors might also add a few explanations here and there, like, “Oh, I keep cutting this, [00:54:00] it’s because you repeat it a lot, so that we can do [unintelligible [00:54:04].” So, you might even learn something along the way.

Other editors might also put maybe some positive comments in there. Like, “I really liked the way that you write banter. That’s definitely one of your strengths. This is great.” Yeah, sample edit everything, especially when you haven’t got an editor yet because–

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: Yeah, absolutely do that and then take it from there. Also, just so you know, a sample edit doesn’t mean that they’ll do your whole book for free. It’s usually the first page. Maybe really just the first page or the first 1000 words, or maybe the first chapter or something like that. Again, it varies by editor. Have a look on their website or just ask them. None of these professionals are going to bite your hand off if you ask them for clarification. They’re very nice.

Rachel: Absolutely. Everyone would be very friendly. If they’re not, they’re not right for you.

Sarina: Yeah. To answer the question about [00:55:00] how much it costs to self-publish, various factors taken into account like novel length and all that, maybe around 1500 to 2000 quid. If your book is shorter, if you’ve only written a short story, it won’t be that much.

Rachel: No.

Sarina: Yeah, so probably not as expensive as you think. That sum includes your cover and your editing and maybe formatting and maybe your map. So, there’s a lot in that.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: Yeah. So, there you go. Well, I hope that answered everyone’s questions. I hope you’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot, again.

Rachel: Good, me too.

[chuckles]

Sarina: Fantastic. Then, yeah, thank you so much for stopping by again, Rachel. Thank you so much to all the listeners for being here. Appreciate it. As I said, I hope we’ve all learned a lot, I know I have.

Rachel: [00:56:00] Yeah, thank you very much. I’ve learned a lot as well about self-publishing [unintelligible [00:56:03].

Sarina: Brilliant. Well, my pleasure. Bye-bye, everyone. Have a great day.

Rachel: Bye.

[music]

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer. At Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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The Writing Sparrow Episode 34 | The Different Paths to Audiobook Creation with Dana Fraedrich

This week, I had a chat with Dana Fraedrich about her experience of creating audiobooks with FindawayVoices, ACX, and by herself! 

If you’d like to read more on the topic, I recommend Dana’s blog posts:

ACX vs. Findaway ~ My Audiobook Creation Experience 

Hiring an Audiobook Narrator Through Findaway Voices 

You might also be interested in my Audiobook Diaries, where I blogged about my experience as it happened, and last week’s episode, where I talked about my experience of working with FindawayVoices.

To find out more about Dana, check out her website find her or Twitter , or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.

[music]

Sarina: Good morning friends and Sparrows. It’s the 3rd of May 2021. This is Episode 34. Today, Dana Fraedrich is back with me on Zoom to talk about creating audiobooks. Last week, I told you about my experience with Findaway Voices. Today, Dana is here to tell you about the many other options because unlike me, she’s done a bit of everything. Welcome back, Dana.

Dana: Thank you so much for having me back, Sarina. I really appreciate it, and I’m really excited.

Sarina: I’m really excited to talk to you about this as well, because as I’ve just said, [00:01:00] you’ve done a bit of everything. My episode was very much focused on just my experience, because I’ve only really done the one thing, but you’ve really done a bit of everything in audiobooks, which is very exciting. We’ve also got one question in for later from Instagram.

Dana: Excellent.

Sarina: Hopefully that will help our listeners’ lives. [chuckles] Then, yeah, really excited to get sucked back in and see you again too, because it’s been a while.

Dana: It has. Yeah. Basically, just to give a little bit of a background, for those who do not know me. I am a Steampunk fantasy author. I’ve been doing this for many years now. I have made audiobooks, through ACX, through Findaway. We did it ourselves once, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. Then also I have recorded short stories myself for my newsletter subscribers, Patreon supporters, [00:02:00] things like that. Little bit of everything.

Sarina: Well, good job. You’re preempting my first question.

[laughter]

Dana: Sorry.

Sarina: No, you’re fine. I was just going to ask if you could just talk us through how you have created audiobooks so far. You’ve really don’t everything. ACX is Amazon’s imprint, if you can call that, for audiobooks?

Dana: It’s under their umbrella. Yeah. I don’t always know how the business tiers work, but yeah, let’s call it imprint.

Sarina: Yeah, because ACX is Amazon basically. You’ve used Findaway, which I have used as well, and you’ve done it yourself, which is very exciting. I will have lots of questions about that in just a second. You’ve also found your own narrator, so more excitement there. [chuckles] Yeah, maybe to kick off, just to tie it [00:03:00] into last week’s episode, where I talked about my experience of using Findaway Voices. It’d be really great to hear what your experience was like working with them, and how many books have you done with them?

Dana: I’ve done three through Findaway now. Honestly, I love Findaway, they are my preferred path for audiobooks at this point. Like I said, since I’ve done so many paths, I feel I can say, of all of these options, this one is the one that I have found that best works for me. Findaway has, in my opinion, the best distribution. Whereas if you go through Amazon, especially if you have used one of Amazon’s exclusive contracts, which we’ll talk about later, I’m sure, they only distribute to Apple iBooks, well, themselves, basically Audible and Amazon. Whereas Findaway, I think there’s 24-ish different platforms that they [00:04:00] distribute to, including one of their own, including Amazon, including Apple iBooks.

Sarina: I think it’s 40.

Dana: Oh, those are over 40 now?

Sarina: I want to say it’s 48, but I would need to check the exact number, but I’m pretty sure it’s over 40 with Findaway.

Dana: Yeah, it’s a whole lot of them. They basically are trying to just be as wide as possible and distribute your books as many places as possible.

Sarina: Which is very exciting and very daunting. [laughs]

Dana: Yeah. I will say too, their customer support is really great. I’m not a professional audio anything, and so I didn’t really understand a lot of what I was doing, but they were super great in both their automatic email communications as you go through the process which, Sarina, I know you’ve experienced this too, of like, “Okay, great. you’ve just done this step. Here’s what’s coming next.” Then, of course, if I had any questions [00:05:00] or things I wasn’t sure about– For instance, my narrator, Shaina Summerville, and I had talked about doing, like, all of the Broken Gears books together but I wanted to pre-contract her for the other ones after we had signed our first contract together. I emailed Findaway, I was like, “Hey, I want to make sure I get her fast. Can I do anything about that?” They were really helpful with that. I was basically able to line up Shaina pretty quickly, I think we got everything done– what was it? It was a matter of a handful of months, and it was really great.

Sarina: That’s fantastic. I had a very similar experience with that. I haven’t done the other books on my series yet. So far, I’ve only done the first book, but Findaway– I don’t remember if it was the narrator directly who got in touch with me via the platform or whether it was one from their team, [00:06:00] but someone involved just let me know that she would be happy to do the other books as well in the series, which is fantastic because you then have that continuity of the same narrator all the way through.

Dana: Yeah. Like I said, their customer service is really great. I will say too, and you might have discussed this in your Findaway podcast last week as well, I haven’t been able to listen to it yet.

Sarina: Because I haven’t recorded it yet at the time we’re doing this interview.

[laughter]

Dana: We can cut that out if you want, we’ll just edit that. [laughs]

Sarina: No.

[laughter]

Sarina: Nope, it stays in. If anything goes wrong, it stays in. [laughs]

Dana: I love your transparency. You’re the best.

Sarina: Thanks. [chuckles]

Dana: Yeah, I will say there’s a questionnaire that the producer, basically, because you are a producer, when you start this process have to fill out. The more you fill out that questionnaire, [00:07:00] the closer a match they’re going to find for you for narrator. For instance, the Broken Gears books, for those who have not read them are– excuse me. [clears throat]. Apologies.

Sarina: You’re okay?

Dana: Yeah, I’m good. Just– hello springtime. Basically, the Broken Gears books, like, they’re a mix of whimsical and fun, but then there’s some very dark parts and it gets really– ooh. It gets a little bit sad in parts too. So, I really wanted to make sure I had someone who can do both things. When I filled out the form, I made sure to include that. I tend to overexplain things, which I think is a good thing, especially when you are working on any kind of project with other human beings because human communication is difficult. Like I said, I think more information is better. She ended up being really, really great. [00:08:00] As soon as I heard Shaina’s interview– or not interview, but audition, I was like, “Yes, she gets it. Awesome.”

Sarina: The auditions. for me at least, were possibly the single most exciting experience of my life. [chuckles] Just to have a professional voice actor narrate my book and ask me, or basically say, “I like this. Could I please read it?” Yeah. It was such a bizarre moment, but it’s also the best. Honestly, just for this alone, if you’re considering having your book as an audiobook, it’s so intimidating. I think we both get that, don’t we, Dana?

Dana: Mm-hmm. It’s real.

Sarina: Just that moment of listening to auditions, of hearing a professional audition to read your book is so exciting. I can’t tell you and how exciting this is. I was sitting here, I was possibly shaking a bit. [00:09:00] I’m just like, “She’s reading my book [unintelligible [00:09:00] crying and she’s actually crying. This is ridiculous.”

Dana: Yeah, and a really good audio narrator as well, they’re going to be able to– if you have anything that’s a little bit different in your book too, they are going to be able to swing with that. For instance, in Across the Ice for my book, I have a section where a character, Rook, he’s reading a letter, and there are bits of the letter that are struck through, which of course, like on a printed page, you can see, but then, and I didn’t even think about it when I was uploading–

Sarina: No, I didn’t.

Dana: Yeah. She just took that, Shaina did, and was like, “Okay, we’re going to try a thing,” and then she added a little bit of narration to let you know what bits were struck through, and it worked brilliantly. It was so cool. I emailed her and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t think about this. This is great. You did awesome.” [00:10:00] Yeah, a really good narrator will be able to swing with those funny, unique things.

Sarina: That’s incredible. No, I never even thought of things like that possibly because we don’t see them done that often in books. Wow. Yeah. May I ask what exactly she did to narrate a crossed-out part in a letter?

Dana: What she did? She read the letter in the voice of the character who’d written it, Lenore wrote this. She would read that in Lenore’s voice. When she did the narration for struck-through, she would use like her normal narrating voice to kind of indicate, “This is now narration.” Then, she would start back up again in Lenore’s voice. I heard that and I was just like, “Oh, okay, great. I totally get this. I can see the distinction between narration voice and Lenore’s voice,” and things like that.

Sarina: That’s amazing. [00:11:00] To come back to the different options for how to create an audiobook. We’ve talked a bit about Findaway Voices now. What about ACX finding your own narrator and even doing it yourself?

Dana: This has been a really interesting process because, like I said, I’ve done this in a couple of different ways. I’ll start with ACX. For ACX, I happened to meet my narrator for that. This is the narrator for Raven’s Cry. Her name is Katherine Billings. She’s wonderful. Basically, I met her doing one of the book events that I do in Kentucky, and we started talking, she gave me her card, and then I reached out to her and said, “Hey, so I’ve never done an audiobook before. I don’t know what I’m doing. What do I do?” Raven’s Cry is the very first one that I ever did. Katherine was super, [00:12:00] super sweet. She was really helpful, and she walked me through what the process was going to be.

By the way, friends, who are listening, I have all of this written down in a couple of blog posts on my website, I detailed the whole process. If you guys want a little written guide, that’s there on my website Words by Dana. You can just search audiobook in the search box and those will come up.

Sarina: I’ll be linking to those in the show notes as well, so people can easily get to them. Of course, I’ve done my own audiobook diaries as well with my experience. I think between your posts, my posts, and these two episodes on this podcast, I think you should be all right after this. I think this should be all the information that you need to know to get started with your own.

Dana: Yeah, friends, we have you taken care of, don’t you worry.

Sarina: Yeah, we’ve got you.

Dana: Yeah. Katherine was super helpful. I went through ACX. [00:13:00] ACX has a couple of different options as far as royalty shares, how you can create the books, things like that. As I always, always, always tell people, read your contract and make sure you understand it before you sign it. Basically, Katherine doesn’t do this anymore. But ACX has an option, where you can pay no money upfront, and then it’s just a royalty share between you and the narrator. However, there is a cost for this. Basically, if you choose this option, you are locked into a contract with ACX for seven years, and you’re not allowed to distribute the book through any other platform, the audiobook, through any other platform for those seven years of the contract. Seven years is a long time, y’all. I think I’ve still got three or four left, and a lot can change in that time.

Sarina: [00:14:00] Don’t forget that ACX, don’t distribute to that many places in the first place.

Dana: Exactly.

Sarina: So, you’re limiting yourself potentially quite a lot for a rather long time.

Dana: Mm-hmm. Yeah. For some people, I realized that is going to be the only option for them because producing audiobook is extremely expensive. Honestly, in some cases, it might be more expensive than your initial editing costs when you first wrote the book. That is something to consider.

Sarina: In fact, I would say it’s very likely actually for your audiobook to cost a lot more than your editing. Unless you had all of the plot holes and paradoxes in your book and have no concept of grammar or punctuation or anything like that, and then got an editor who charged per hour, it’s very unlikely that your editing will be more expensive than your audiobook. In most cases, it will be cheaper.

Dana: Yeah.

Sarina: Audiobook, pricey.

Dana: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Of course, Findaway does all also have [00:15:00] a royalty share option but theirs is– honestly, I think it’s a little bit more fair to the narrators because this narrator is spending a lot of time and a lot of energy on creating your book. I’ve personally have come around on this where of course, like I said, I didn’t really understand a lot when I first got started but narrators should be paid for their time. That’s why I’m no longer so much a fan of the ACX, doesn’t cost anything upfront, saying, but like I said, I realized for some people, that’s going to be the only option. You really have to kind of weigh the pros and cons, weigh kind of how you feel about some of these different factors and make the decision that feels best for you.

Sarina: Yeah, that was a thing what swayed me towards Findaway Voices when I was first starting to research the different options, because as you said, it’s more expensive with Findaway to begin with, [00:16:00] but your narrator does a lot of work, it’s quite tiring work, and they deserve to get paid for it, end of story, I thought. Even though it set me back quite a bit, I felt that now even if I don’t sell a single audiobook, I know that my narrator got paid for her time. For me, it was the only fair way of doing it because you have no guarantee that your audiobook is going to sell. You might not sell a single copy, in which case your narrator gets no money whatsoever for her time. That for me is what swayed me because that just didn’t sit right.

Dana: Right, exactly. Then, as far as finding– or doing audiobooks myself, I want to go ahead and preface this and say audiobooks are a lot of work and they’re very time consuming. To get the quality that Amazon and Findaway and all of these other platforms require, you really do [00:17:00] need some specialized equipment. I happen to be in a position where we already had most of the equipment in our house, because my husband studied audio engineering in college, so that’s what his degree is in. we have a studio downstairs. We’re in Nashville, every other person kind of has a studio. There are a lot of voice actors here, there’s a lot of talent. A couple of different times, I’ve hired different people to do various projects for me.

For instance, I have a different narrator between Out of the Shadows and Into the Fire, because the first narrator for Out of the Shadows, she was a vocalist friend of ours, and she came to our house, used our studio and then my husband did the audio editing on Out of the Shadows. Then after that, he came to me and he’s like, “I never want to do that again,” because it’s so much work, y’all. It’s an enormous amount of work [00:18:00] and making sure everything is right, everything sounds at the same level consistently throughout your book. So, yeah, if this is something you want to undertake, I think that’s really great, but just be prepared for how much work it is.

Sarina: Would you say that the audio editing is even more time and effort-consuming than recording the audiobook in the first place?

Dana: Oh, for sure. I think the general idea is that for every– I think every hour of actual audiobook, there’s about six hours of work behind it as far as recording and editing and all that stuff.

Sarina: Bloody hell, six?

Dana: Yeah.

Sarina: Oh my God. I didn’t think it will be–

Dana: [laughs]

Sarina: Wow. Okay.

Dana: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Sarina: That’s a lot worse than I thought, and your husband [unintelligible [00:18:51] saying clearly, and they all deserve all the respect, and all the money and all the love. God, bloody hell, six hours of editing [00:19:00] for one recorded hour, that’s– I’m going to be stewing on that for a little while.

[laughter]

[crosstalk]

Sarina: Sorry, you go.

Dana: Oh, no, please go ahead.

Sarina: It’s worth saying that if you go with ACX or Findaway, then they will take care of the editing. When you consider how much money it is, do also bear in mind that they will take care of what’s clearly the most time-consuming aspect of it. That’s all included.

Dana: Mm-hmm. Then, I have also done audio work myself. You guys, I’m not a professional audiobook narrator at all. It’s just a fun thing I do for my patrons on Patreon. Or, if you are a VIP newsletter subscriber on my website, Words by Dana, there is one audiobook gift up on there that I did Christmas last year roundabout. You can hear, I’m not great. It’s just a fun little thing I like to give my patrons [00:20:00] and my VIP newsletter’s subscriber. Man, you don’t realize how hard it is to read steadily and clearly, and at the same level for a long, continuous period until you’ve done it, and then you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to talk anymore. What are words?”

[laughter]

Sarina: That’s before you get to a character with an accent.

Dana: Oh my gosh, Yeah, seriously, because that’s another thing, is you have to put life and characterization into all the different characters, and I didn’t realize how many characters I had. God, I’ve got a good cast of characters until I was doing it, like, “Good Lord, I’ve got to do voices for all of these people.”

[laughter]

Sarina: That’s something that a professional writer– ooh. What? Wow. Okay. I’ve been editing and writing [crosstalk] a lot, so clearly, [00:21:00] this is all I’ve got left.

[laughter]

Sarina: A professional narrator will do the accents, for example, all that characterization with how they’re vocalizing everything, they will do that– Well, maybe not necessarily quite easily, but they will do, and it would sound incredible. Ultimately, I think readers will expect that level of professionalism. I think I have read a few times that it’s really great when authors narrate their own books, but I think that’s mostly talking about autobiographies where that makes sense because the author is then basically just talking about themselves because it is their biography. When we’re talking about fiction, or just anything, that’s not a biography, it makes sense to have a professional narrator who knows what they’re doing and the accent. My narrator for Rise of the Sparrows taught herself one or two new accents just to be able to do my characters’ justice, so that is what you might just get, [00:22:00] with Findaway Voices. [laughs]

Dana: Yeah. Lots of options. I just always want people to understand what’s going to be involved on the front end. I have another friend who– yeah, oh, my gosh, yeah. I have another friend, her name is Nicole Jones. She did a short story for me, which is available on my YouTube channel based on Emily Dickinson’s, I could not stop for Death. The short story has the same title. There, you can really hear different personalities in different narrators. Again, choosing that right person is a huge, huge part of this process. But I think personally, when you hear the right person, no, you really know.

Sarina: Yeah, I think so. How did you go about finding your own narrator?

Dana: [00:23:00] Like I said, with one path, I met Katherine Billings at a book event I was doing. Another path, she was a vocalist friend of mine, because again, here in Nashville, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a vocalist.

[laughter]

Dana: Then, when I went to Findaway, I went through their audition process, which is like I said, where you fill out the form, you put in all the information about your book, and what kind of voice you’re looking for, and some of the requirements that will be there. Then, they sent me a whole group of different narrators, different price points, different skill sets, things like that. I listened to each one because on this first round, you get just their profiles with their preloaded, what do you call them? Auditions, I guess they’re called auditions. Then, from there, you choose, like, “Okay, from this group, who do I really want to hear [00:24:00] do my book?” Then, you’ll give that information to Findaway when you make that choice. Then, those narrators who you’ve chosen will do an audition for your books specifically, and you’ll provide excerpts from your book that will hopefully, one, give you a range of characters because, again, you want to hear how the narrator does multiple characters.

I chose one where there was a scene at breakfast in the morning, and I think there are five characters in the scene. There’s a lot of emotions happening. Lenore is kind of sad, but she’s also excited, and they’re saying goodbye, and it’s all like heartfelt and lovey-dovey, and there’s some funny stuff. There’s a limit on the excerpts because, again, it takes a lot of time to record and then edit and things like that. I uploaded that information.

Then, a week or two later, [00:25:00] I received the auditions. Like I said, when I listened to those, that’s when I knew that Shaina was the one for my book because she hit all the beats, she got the voices, she very clearly got the mood of the scene, all of it.

Sarina: I think that’s quite a good summary now I think that [unintelligible [00:25:18] of all the different options, which will hopefully be very helpful. From all of those, which option would you recommend for authors with no prior audiobook experience?

Dana: No prior audiobook experience at all. Let’s go ahead and say that, you don’t have a recording studio in your basement and the husband who does audio engineering and all that.

Sarina: I think that’s fair to assume. [laughs]

Dana: Yeah, that’s a good assumption. That’s a fairly specific set of situations and circumstances. I always recommend Findaway. I know it’s going to be a much more expensive option. [00:26:00] I realized that is a pain point for a lot of people. But again, Findaway has a much bigger distribution network. I find their customer service to be better than ACX’s because, like I said, I had a lot of questions and how I wanted to proceed and whatnot. Then, if I didn’t hear anything, there was one or two times where I was like, “Shouldn’t I have heard something about the situation?”, I could just email them and be like, “Hey, is everything cool?” Then, they would just write on it, and it all worked out. I always recommend reaching out to customer service, I realize this is frustrating for people, because sometimes customer service groups are not great, but Findaway’s are. Yeah, Findaway, that’s my top recommendation. That’s really in a nutshell as far as that part of it.

Sarina: I think one important thing that [00:27:00] you said that it’s about the cost of it because obviously, it’s not going to be cheap either way. I think there are two important things to consider there. The first is that you don’t need to have an audiobook to be an author. This is something that I’d say maybe consider, maybe if your book is already selling okay, or you feel like you are ready to take that next step. But don’t feel pressured to have an audiobook out there. It’s not necessary, you can totally be an author with a paperback or even just an eBook. Having an audiobook is absolutely not necessary. Only do that if you think that you’re ready to go a bit further with it.

Also, as Dana just said, when you get the different recommendations from Findaway, for example, of the different narrators, they all come with different price points. Some of them are going to be an awful lot cheaper than others, which isn’t to say just go with the cheapest one. But if there are a few in there [00:28:00] that are completely out of your price range, those won’t be the only ones that they suggested. For maybe the cheapest ones, maybe looking at them because money is [unintelligible [00:28:14] because you can’t afford that much and then maybe those additions aren’t quite right, you can request another set.

Dana: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: There is some flexibility there, so don’t feel you are definitely going to spend $10,000 to something on your audiobook, which you might do if your audiobook is incredibly long. Yeah, and you get one of the top narrators, but it won’t be that much. I shouldn’t have said that number. I don’t want to panic anyone. [laughs]

Dana: No, yeah. I can tell you my audiobook did not cost near that, and Into the Fire is an extremely long book, I think the audiobook is like 18 hours.

Sarina: [laughs] I think that’s 10 hours more than mine, or something like that. [laughs]

Dana: Yeah. Also, I want to say in regard to [00:29:00] something you said, Sarina, about, you don’t have to have an audiobook. This is something that authors really need to consider as part of their business plan. Ask yourself like, “Why do you want an audiobook?” Yes, it’s super cool, especially when you first hear that narrator bring your characters to life. For me, personally, I made the decision because I knew I wasn’t going to be putting out a book in 2020. Just based on my publishing schedule, and how long I take to produce books and whatnot, I just knew it wasn’t really going to happen, but I wanted another revenue stream. I wanted to create some more revenue streams for my business as an author.

Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing markets in the book industry. That was why I decided to make this investment. Like I said, if that’s not a path [00:30:00] for your books or, as you said, Sarina, if you’re already like doing really well, from your eBooks and from your print books and whatnot, then that that might not be as much a thing for you. Whereas my books are extremely long, there’s a little bit of length, intimidation factor to go with that, and audiobooks are really easy to listen to, especially for those really long ones.

Sarina: Yeah, what I really liked on Findaway was that you know exactly how much should be paying upfront. You’re not going to make a commitment and then later go, “Ooh, that’s more than I thought it was going to be.” That’s not going to happen. You know before you even ask specific narrators to audition with the script that you mentioned that you then send them. You know right away how much it’s going to cost you with each of the different options. You will know upfront how much money you would need to set aside.

Dana: Yeah, absolutely. They’re very transparent [00:31:00] about all of the costs and whatnot, so you can budget that.

Sarina: Yes. I don’t know how that works with the other options, like ACX, but on Findaway at least, it’s very transparent. There should be no surprises.

Dana: Yeah. Like I said, when I went through ACX, I did the no-cost upfront. That didn’t cost me anything but I will say when you upload your information to ACX, they’ll ask how many words your book is and then they’ll give you a prediction of how much that book is going to cost to produce based on the different narrators and stuff that they give you. One thing about the ACX process, because we haven’t really talked about that very much, I will say it’s a little bit different from Findaway. With Findaway, you fill in the form and they send you narrators that kind of match your specifications. With ACX, it’s a little [00:32:00] bit the other way around, where you put it in your book’s information for how long it is and then, you basically get a list of all the narrators and then use their filter options to filter it down. For instance, if you want a female narrator, you can just say female narrators, you can filter it by royalty share option, you can filter it by a couple of skill sets, but that part really gets kind of muddy really fast. Like, “Do they do accents?” “Okay, cool.” “Yes or no?” Then like, “Okay, what accents are we talking about? I have an American accent, you have German and English accent.” There’s just a lot, a lot of things to consider, and that part gets a little bit muddy.

Yeah, that part, honestly, I still prefer Findaway’s process for that. Maybe you do like to go through all the [00:33:00] options, instead of Findaway is telling you, “Hey, these are the ones we think are best for your book.” That’s fine too. Yeah, you have to play with it. One thing that’s kind of nice with ACX is you can start a project– that’s what they call uploading an audiobook, you can start a project, and then kind of see what your options are, but you never really have to finish because I did that with Out of the Shadows. I wasn’t quite sure what path I wanted to go down for that one yet. I got in there, and I started it, then I looked at my options and whatnot, and then when I was looking at the narrator step in the process, is when I veered away and went the direction that I did. But I was at least able to get that far without signing any contracts or anything, so I was able to change my mind.

Sarina: Which is always very good. Coming on to the question that we’ve had on Instagram from @grthomas2014. [00:34:00] “Where do you even begin?” I really feared his question because journeying into audiobooks is so intimidating. I almost didn’t do it, honestly, when I first considered it because it’s so terrifying. I nearly talked myself out of it. I really get where this question is coming from.

Dana: Absolutely. Number one, like I said, as an author, if you’re trying to decide even if you should do an audiobook, like I said, look at your business situation, examine the reasons why you want an audiobook. Your reasons are going to be yours, it’s going to all depend on your situation, on your particular business plan, all of these things. I can’t really guide anybody in that way because, like I said, everyone’s business is going to be different, and only you know what’s best for your business because nobody knows your business like you do.

Let’s go ahead and say, [00:35:00] all right, for whatever reason you’ve decided, yep, going to do an audiobook, this is the right choice, let’s do it. We talked about money is, of course, going to be a big factor. What can you afford? Like I said, Amazon as ACX has those various royalty share options, there’s one that’s no money down.

One more thing I want to say about that, in addition to, I do think narrators should be paid for their time, is that the whole saying “you get what you pay for,” that’s also a factor. Professionals who have built up their resume, they can afford to charge more, because they’re more in demand. Whereas somebody who’s less experienced, maybe it’s just now getting into it, that’s not to say they should not be given a chance, because I definitely, definitely, definitely support giving beginners a chance, [00:36:00] that’s happened with me. When I first got started, I have a lot of help from other people. But you may not have somebody who’s as experienced, and you have to make that choice as well. You get into ACX, you can see how much your audiobook would cost to produce based on narrators. You can also start that process with Findaway, and here’s some of the results that they give you back.

I would say at that point, where you start to audition your narrators, hear their voices for the first time and whatnot, I think that’s the point where you have to start making hard and fast decisions. Again, when you hear a narrator’s voice, you as an author, because you know your book better than anyone else, you kind of know who’s going to be best then you can make those decisions based on pricing and money and [00:37:00] things like that.

Then, distribution is a huge part of that decision. I like Findaway’s distribution a lot more than I like Amazon’s distribution options. That’s why I go with them.

Sarina: Yeah, for me, I started with research, because it is so intimidating and because I like to be prepared, in general, anyway. I read books on how audiobook creation works. I think I had some YouTube videos lined up that explained the process. I’m pretty sure I’ve read your blog post as well. I’m linking to all of those things in the first post of my blog series on my experience as well. It’s all in one place if you want to start with research. I think because it’s such a big thing, you never know exactly what you’re going into until you’re doing it anyway, but I think because of how much money is involved, it’s definitely worth just doing at least a little [00:38:00] bit of research first. Then from there, you can then decide which option is right for you. There’s a lot to consider, so also don’t rush it.

Dana: Yeah. Sarina makes such a good point. I’m very much like an A, B kind of tester, I want to press the button and see, “What are these buttons do when I press them?” Which, admittedly, number one, is intimidating for a lot of people. Two, maybe isn’t always the best method. I fully admit that. Yeah, do your research. YouTube is an incredible resource. Lots and lots of people on there doing all kinds of stuff. Sarina has her blog posts on how she got started. I have recently also put up a resources page on my website, so you can go to the resources page, and there’s a section that’s specifically called Audiobook Creation.

Sarina: I will be linking to that.

Dana: Yay, fantastic. Definitely research, if that’s the [00:39:00] way that you do your thing, super cool.

Sarina: Yeah, and hopefully, with this episode now, the one from last week, all of Dana’s blog posts, and then also all of my blog posts, and then also the things that we are both be linking to in our blog post for more research, I think by the end of all that, you should have a fairly good idea of whether this sounds like something that you would like to do, and which path you want to take. Hopefully, this is helpful for you.

Dana: Yeah. One other thing I want to say about this whole process, especially if you’re– this goes for whether you’re new to it or not. Communication. I tend to overexplain things. One might say I even tend to overcommunicate, but honestly, communicating with your narrator is an amazing thing, because there are going to be things they’re going to have questions about. I always try to be really open when I’m first meeting people, whether it’s virtually or otherwise, and just say, “Hey, let me know if you have any questions.” I always try to be really welcoming and [00:40:00] create that environment where I want to make people feel comfortable with questions and whatnot. Always communicate.

Usually, when I first “meet a narrator,” I will introduce myself and say hi, just a like getting-to-know-you kind of thing because you are going to be coworkers in the future. That’s a huge part of working together, is just keeping that open line of communication and everyone feeling okay to express, “Hey, this doesn’t really work,” or, “Hey, I have questions about how do you want me to approach this?” Weirdly, I tend to put onomatopoeia in my books as well, which Shaina handled perfectly, including there’s a panther snarl in one of the scenes, and I was like, “Oh, whoops, I forgot about that.” She handled it great. Yeah, anytime there’s anything like that, just approach with respect and knowing that they’re not really your [00:41:00] employee. Like I said, they’re working together with you.

Sarina: Yeah, and one thing that I would add to that as well is bear in mind that your narrator knows what they’re doing. Maybe they are pronouncing or just reading a sentence slightly differently to how you would do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Don’t overedit them and just don’t be too overly picky of it, because, again, your narrator knows what they’re doing. Ultimately, them reading your book is just their interpretation of your book. Just leave them to it, they know what they’re doing. If they’re really not sure how to pronounce something, they will very likely ask. In general, they’re narrators, so you can rest assured that they know how to read a book. They will do a professional job of it. They don’t have to read everything exactly as you would for it to be correct.

Dana: Yeah. Oh, and one more thing, I want to tell people about the amount of work [00:42:00] that is involved with this. You do also then have to kind of proof-listen to your book. All of the narrators I’ve ever worked with, have gone by this rule of– for the really long projects, we’ve gone chapter by chapter. The reason for this is because, God forbid, they mispronounce someone’s name or they’re doing an accent wrong or something like that. Then, over half the book is done, and then you listen and you’re like, “Oh, wait, no. This is wrong. I need you to redo all of it.” That’s awful for everyone involved.

Like I said, with all of the narrators I’ve worked with for the really long projects, we’ve gone back and forth. We’re like, “Oh, hey, I just uploaded. I just finished this chapter. It’s ready for you to listen to.” I would listen, and I would let them know of any fixes or anything like that, which honestly, there really weren’t that many. They would [00:43:00] then fix the things and then they would move on to the next chapter. You do have to spend that time proof-listening to your book to make sure everything is the way it should be, but like I said– or rather like Sarina said, these are professionals, they’re very good at their job. I think anything I had to correct was basically along the same lines of when you’re writing a book and maybe there’s a typo, kind of the audio version of a typo here and there. I think there was maybe one place where I asked her to redo something because, again, onomatopoeia, I had totally intended for this onomatopoeia noise to come out very differently than the way she did it the first time. Then, we had a chat about what is this actually supposed to sound like, and she fixed it, and it was great. That’s another really important part. It is time-consuming, but again, it’s just one more thing that’s going to make your audiobooks that much better.

Sarina: Yeah, and at least that [00:44:00] way, you don’t actually have to do any of the sound editing yourself.

Dana: Exactly.

Sarina: You just listen to it, you tell them whether everything is fine, which most of the time it will be or that maybe for some reason, your narrator maybe skipped over a word, which can happen, because in a professional as we all are, we are also just human, so mistakes will happen, and that’s fine.

Dana: exactly.

Sarina: Then, it goes back to them and then someone has to take care of it. [laughs]

Dana: Yeah–[crosstalk] Okay.

Sarina: I was just going to say it’s a lot of worry off your shoulders.

Dana: Oh, yeah, for sure. Like I said, honestly, most of what you’re going to have to deal with as far as corrections, and this is very likely going to be next to nothing, are going to be those audio versions of typos. To give you guys a scope of how often I think these happen, there would be like four or five, six chapters in a row where I wouldn’t have any corrections and then there might be one tiny little correction in a chapter, [00:45:00] and then another three with no correction. This is the level of professionalism that your narrators are going to be hitting, especially through Findaway when they’re doing this professionally and they’re being paid for it.

Sarina: I think that’s a fantastic place to wrap it up on. Thank you so much, Dana, for coming back, and talking to me about your very vast experience with creating audiobooks. I hope it’s been very helpful for everybody. As I said, I will be linking to your blog post and everything in the show notes, so it’s very easy for everyone to access if you want to read more on this.

Dana: Awesome. Thank you, Sarina. I really appreciate you having me back.

Sarina: And I really appreciate you coming back. Thank you so much and have a fantastic day everyone. Bye-bye.

Dana: Bye.

[music]

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter [00:46:00] @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course, on my website, at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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The Writing Sparrow Episode 33 | How to Create Your Audiobook with FindawayVoices

In this week’s episode, I explain how I created my audiobook of Rise of the Sparrows with FindawayVoices. Next week, we’ll hear from Dana Fraedrich, who has created audiobooks with FindawayVoices, ACX, and by herself.

Here are the resources I used for my research as mentioned in the episode:

Audio for Authors by Joanna Penn (book)

ACX vs. Findaway ~ My Audiobook Creation Experience (blog post by Dana Fraedrich)

Hiring an Audiobook Narrator Through Findaway Voices (blog post by Dana Fraedrich)

How to Make an Audiobook | Part 1: Set up (YouTube video by Jenna Moreci)

How to Make an Audiobook | Part 2: Production (YouTube video by Jenna Moreci)

Audiobooks For Authors With Will Dages From Findaway Voices (blog post or podcast (your choice!) by Joanna Penn)

You might also like to check out my Audiobook Diaries, where I blogged about my experience as it happened.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow theme]

Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer. This podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started. 

Welcome back, friends and Sparrows! It’s the 26th April, and this is Episode 33 in which I’ll talk you through what creating my first audiobook was like. Way back when I was first starting to plan this podcast, this was one of the requested episodes, so I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to do it. I didn’t want to do it as one of the first episodes and have it look like you need to get a move on with your audiobook when many of you are possibly at the very start of your author journey. Audiobooks are great, but they aren’t something you need to consider before you’ve even written your first word, at least I wouldn’t say they are.

Before we start, I want to stress that, as with anything in writing and publishing, there’s no one right way to do it. I created my audiobook with FindawayVoices, but you can choose ACX or to narrate it yourself if that’s what you prefer. This episode won’t have anything for you if that’s the case, but I hope you’ll learn something anyhow. Because I’ve only tried Findaway, I’ll be talking to Dana Fraedrich next week, who’s done a bit of everything. There’s a lot of info to get through, so I’ve decided to split this episode into two – my experience with Findaway today, and Dana’s much vaster experience next week.

If you’re interested, I first wrote about my experience on my author blog at sarinalanger.com where I kept a week-by-week diary of what was happening. It was a really daunting experience for me, and I think having an audiobook created of your own book sounds daunting to many writers, so I hoped keeping track of it week by week would shed some light on what happens and how long this process takes.

So let’s hop to it!

I started with research. As I said, this was daunting and I really didn’t want to mess it up, so I read books, blog posts, and watched YouTube videos to learn how this process worked and what was involved. The ones I found most helpful were the blog posts by Dana Fraedrich, the book Audio for Authors by Joanna Penn, and the Youtube videos by Jenna Moreci. Don’t worry if that was too fast—they’re all linked in the show notes and in the first blog post on my website.

The first thing that stood out to me was the emphasis on getting your cover done. If you’ve already published your book and now want to dive into audiobooks, you’ve already got a cover, but it won’t do for your audiobook because they’re a different size. You can try to resize your cover yourself, but just cutting out a square will likely miss some important information and look squished. You don’t want it to look unprofessional, so just ask your cover designer to do it for you – they have the source material and know what it should look like.

But why start with the cover? Because you can upload it at the very beginning of the processe. Potential narrators will see the cover and take two things away from it: 1) you’re prepared, which always looks good, and 2) whether it looks like it might be a good fit for them.

So pop that near the top of your to-do list, right under doing you’re research – which you’re doing right now!

I also had a lot of things to consider regarding who would create this audiobook. I’ll go into the pros and cons of all options with Dana Fraedrich next week, so for now, let it be enough to say that I preferred Findaway Voices because the way their narrators get paid is fairer and they distribute the book to more retailers. As with every pro you might hire for your books, narrators put it in a lot of hard work and deserve to get paid for their time and effort, and the way Findaway handles this seems fairer to me. But, as I said, more on that next week.

Getting started with Findaway is super easy. If your books are already on Draft2Digital, you have a little microphone button you can click next to your books, which will take you to Findaway where you then start the process. That’s what I did. I believe you can also sign up with Findaway if you’re not with Draft2Digial, but I think you’ll need to pay to create your profile whereas Draft2Digital gets you in for free… but don’t quote me on that. I was already on Draft2Digital, so I can only tell you for sure how easy and free it was that way.

It also helps that Draft2Digital already have a lot of the book’s information like the blurb and the text, and Findaway simply take it from them, which saves you some time.

You’ll need to set your audiobook’s release date pretty much right away. I stumbled here. I had no idea what to put because I hadn’t done this before and every audiobook is different, so just hear this: leave plenty of time. Recording and editing an audiobook isn’t a quick job, so don’t set your release date—or street day on Findaway—to a month later. I set mine to four months later, and that was fine. This date is flexible, so don’t worry if you need to change it later.

Now, because a lot of money is involved, you’ll need to fill in a tax form and sign a contract. Read this carefully. If anything doesn’t work for you, you can either contact them and ask them to explain or you can walk away and find someone else, but don’t just skim it. There’s nothing scary in there and I know it’s not a thrilling read, but it’s important.

Oh, and since I mentioned their customer service—they are super helpful. I had a lot of questions, especially in the beginning, and they always got back to me quickly, answered everything with patience and sweetness, and I never felt like I was pushed onto an automatic response system or like they didn’t care. Their customer service is awesome and I love them.

But let’s get to the price, because I know you’re wondering how much all this is going to cost you. Findaway has two options: VoicesPlus, and let’s call the other one regular. On the regular plan, you pay the full price and keep 80% of the royalties. Findaway keeps the other 20. VoicesPlus, on the other hand, means you pay half after the recording is done but before they begin distribution. After that, your narrator earns 20%, Findaway earns 20%, and you keep 60%. This is a great option if you don’t have a lot of cash lying around because your narrator definitely gets paid half, even if you don’t sell a single audiobook. To get into VoicesPlus, I had to prove that it’d be worth their time by providing a few details, such as how readers have reacted to the book on social media, links to review sites like Amazon and Goodreads, and how many sales or downloads it’s had for the last… four months? I don’t remember. If they don’t think that you’d sell enough to make it worth your narrator’s time, you don’t get in. This is because Findaway want to make sure that their narrators definitely get paid. I got lucky and got in.

The actual fee depends on two things: your book’s length and your narrator’s experience. A narrator who’s been in the business for twenty years will charge more than a narrator who’s only just starting out. There’s nothing wrong with either option – choose the one you can afford and who auditioned the best.

I know this sounds vague, but: when Findaway send you a list of narrators they recommend for your book, and they all come with a quote so you know exactly how much to expect. Don’t worry if you can’t afford any of them – you haven’t committed to anything yet at this point, so it’s not too late to back out.

For Findaway to send you those recommendations, you fill in a questionnaire so they know what to look for. This was interesting, because it got me to think about my book in new ways. You’ll have to define the overall tone of your book, the type of voice you’re looking for, and fun things like that. My narrator also asked me to provide a list of pronunciations for everything. She wanted to get the names right, so this was an important list… but I don’t know if that’s protocol. Your book might not need it. I write epic fantasy and made up a lot of names, so she asked for it.

Once you have your recommendations, you can request an audition. All narrators come with some samples of work they’ve done previously, but the audition lets you hear them read an excerpt from your book. Super exciting, and super emotional.

Findaway defaults to the first few paragraphs in your book, but you want to find an excerpt that includes your main characters, maybe an emotional or otherwise important scene that needs to hit right. Your opening scene isn’t likely to have those things, so pick wisely!

It’s important to note here that the narrators can turn you down. Remember—Findaway recommended them, they didn’t volunteer themselves. If they’re not interested, they’re not interested. I got 8 recommendations, sent requests to 5, and got 2 auditions. If none of them seem right to you or none of them want to audition, you can request another set. If the first set wasn’t quite right, you can also include a note to re-specify what you’re looking for. I did get a great variety of experience levels, which I thought was really impressive, and I got them within a few days, so I didn’t have to wait long.

The actual auditions are… interesting. If you thought holding your book in your hands for the first time was emotional, wait til you hear a professional voice actor read it out loud. That was something else, and I recommend tissues.

Once you’ve heard a narrator you’re happy with, you can click another button to let them know you want to work together. Findaway contacts them and sets everything up.

It took four weeks to get from initial research to this point, by the way, and those weeks went fast.

Once everything is settled, your narrator will begin, well, narrating. They’ll upload individual chapters so that you can request changes on a chapter-by-chapter basis. You will need to listen to every chapter, read along with your paperback, and catch mistakes. This isn’t a time to get picky. Your book will sound a certain way in your way, and your narrator’s reading won’t match it perfectly. It can’t, because they’re not you. It’s their interpretation of your book, not yours. If they don’t quite put the emphasis where you would, let it go. Your narrator is a pro and knows what they’re doing. If a word is missing, however, or there’s some kind of background noise or they’ve read a sentence twice, or anything like that that shouldn’t be there, point it out.

You’ll go through the entire book this way until everything is recorded, you’ve checked every chapter word for word, and everything is ready. This can take a while. You might not be your narrator’s only client, so be patient and let them do their thing. Findaway then take care of the audio edit, and from what Dana told me, this is not an easy job, so that’s something to think about if you’d like to do everything yourself. More on that next week.

Once everything is ready and paid, Findaway distributes your book to nearly 40 online stores at time of recording this episode, including Audible. You’ll also get 100 Download codes you can hand out to your ARC team or anyone else who wants an early listen. It’s important to note with this that Audible won’t let someone review a book unless they’ve bought it, so while you can get early reviews on some sites, Audible isn’t one of them.

Findaway also sent me a few other handy things, like a social media marketing kit, an explanation of how royalties work, etc. They also suggest a price for the book. You can set your own, but I figured Findaway know what they’re doing, so I ran with their suggested price.

One really important note on your release date: this is not the date your book will be out everywhere. Some sites take a lot longer than others—it took a few months to be on Audible, for example—so don’t go telling everyone that your audiobook will be available everywhere from that date. The links will slowly trickle in, but it’ll take time. This isn’t Findaway’s fault, just a difference in how the different retailers do things.

And that’s how you create an Audiobook with FindawayVoices! It’s an easy recommendation from me, but for more options, listen in again next week Monday, when Dana Fraedrich outlines the other options. And don’t forget, you can also click the link to my Audiobook Diaries in the shownotes for even more info.

I hope that’s answered a few things for you, but if you still have questions, get in touch. My social media handles will follow in a second.

That’s it for now! Have a great week, bye!

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, on Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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The Writing Sparrow Episode 32 | What Does a Writing Coach Do? with Rachel Grosvenor

For this week’s episode, I talked to Rachel Grosvenor, an author and writing coach. We had a chat about what a writing coach does, who the service is right for, and what to look for when you consider hiring one.

To find out more about Rachel, check out her website find her or Twitter , or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow Podcast. I’m Sarina Langer. This podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started. 

Welcome back friends and Sparrows, and good morning, it’s the 19th of April 2021. This is Episode 32. Today, I’m talking to Rachel Grosvenor, a writing coach from New Zealand. It’s 9 PM for her right now, so I really appreciate that she could meet me because it’s 8 AM for me. Big time difference. 

Rachel: Yeah, it is. 

Sarina: Rachel has made it her job to help writers and authors alike achieve their writing dreams. She’s here today to tell us all about how she does that. Welcome to my [00:01:00] podcast, Rachel.

Rachel: Hello, thank you very much.

Sarina: Thank you also for reaching out to me. It makes me feel like my little podcast is a lot bigger than it actually is probably.

Rachel: You are more than welcome. It sounded fun. I just wanted to get involved in more writing chat, really, so sounds good.

Sarina: It is quite fun. I was terrified when I did the first episodes by myself but I think that was partially because I didn’t know if anyone would hear it. The greeting that I’ve just done when you don’t have anyone listening to, it’s very presumptuous of me. 

Rachel: Then, you never know who’s going to listen back again.

Sarina: No, exactly. These chats have actually been really great, because I end up learning so much from all my guests. I meet lots of fun people. It really is very fun, for both of us hopefully.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: It’ll also be very interesting for me, I think, because I’ve never really talked to a writing coach before. It’s a term that obviously, [00:02:00] I’ve seen floating around here and there. To be honest, I don’t really know what you do. This will be a great chance [crosstalk] to learn a lot.

Rachel: [crosstalk] -I do. I feel it’s a fairly new term, actually. 

Sarina: Yeah, I think in my head, I have a general idea of what you do but really, I have no idea because I’ve never talked to a writing coach.

Rachel: Yeah. Because it’s a fairly new term, a lot of people find it a little bit more confusing. If I said that I was a teacher, it would be more clear to people because they already have an idea of what that is in their head. 

Sarina: Yeah. For me, writing culture sounds like something that I would love to do. But again, I don’t really know, because I could have completely the wrong idea about what you do. If we start by getting stuck into that, talk me through what you do, say, “I’m an author. Rachel, I need help.” What would you do?

Rachel: Well, it completely depends really at what stage [00:03:00] of the writing process you’re at. What a writing coach does, that’s basically a personal trainer for authors, that’s the way to kind of view it. I help aspiring authors at all stages of the creative journey. That can be anything from, “Hey, I want to write a novel, but I really don’t know what I would write a novel about. I don’t know how to come up with an idea.” Or, it could be, “I’m a third of the way through, and I didn’t write a plot in the beginning and now I don’t know where I’m going.” Or, it could even be, “I finished my first draft, but now what do I do?” Or, it could be, “I’m at the end of my third draft, and I’m ready to publish, but how the heck does that work?” It’s really any part of that journey, or all of that journey. 

My background is, I’m a doctor of creative writing. I’ve got a PhD and MA and a BA in creative writing. I [00:04:00] was also a lecturer at university in creative writing in England. I used to tutor adults for many years. I’ve got a background in being a lecturer and a tutor in creative writing. Being a writing coach felt a really nice transition, where I could work with writers one on one, and really chat to them about their projects, and actually have that time that I never really had in the classroom with each individual person to help them achieve their goals. That’s what a writing coach is. It’s sort of anything you want it to be to do with writing in the same way that a life coach would help you achieve your goal by helping you decide your journey and helping you see the way forward. A writing coach would do a similar thing. 

Sarina: See, that’s another thing I don’t really know that much about life coach. Again, I like feel that’s also quite a new term. Still, really now I feel that’s something that we didn’t really [00:05:00] have to the same degree 20 years ago.

Rachel: I agree.

Sarina: I think because I know a little bit about writing, and I know nothing about life. 

[laughter] 

Sarina: Writing coaching makes more sense to me just on those term because, it’s also maybe a bit more limited, because I know writing, I know a bit about marketing, and I know bit about publishing, but life can encompass so many different things, I think, and obviously writing is quite broad, ultimately, as well, because it is, of course, a lot more than just the writing.

Rachel: Oh, yeah, absolutely. That’s part of what it’s about, really. There’s a saying that always goes around, everybody’s got a novel inside them. I’ve always said, “Well, that might be the case.” Everyone’s got a story inside them, certainly. Does everybody have a novel inside them?” is such a big question because it’s like does everybody have the ability to sit down and work on an idea until it’s finished? Does everybody have the ability to do the second draft? It’s such a [00:06:00] big process of writing a novel, [crosstalk] which is why, everyone might have a story, but not everybody does write a novel, because it’s really hard work. It’s really hard work. [chuckles] 

Sarina: It really is. 

Rachel: It’s such a lovely dream. It’s such an amazing dream. Sometimes, people say, “Oh, all I want is to write all week, every week just on my own in a farmhouse.” That is an amazing dream. The reality of it is not like the incredible sort of drinking coffee, and all the ideas are coming and everything’s flowing, and you feel wonderful. It’s very different. So, yeah, I think a writing coach also helps you basically through that process of the reality of writing an awful.

Sarina: I imagine there’s some interesting chats that have come out of that when a new writer approaches you and says, “I just want to live the writer dream on the farm and do nothing but write,” and then you have to come in and say, “Actually, [00:07:00] here’s what’s really going to happen.” [chuckles] 

Rachel: Yeah, but it’s also, I’ve met people who have retired and then that’s their dream to write a novel, because it’s so many people’s dream, which is amazing. I think it always has been, and it’s lovely. I love to also keep that enthusiasm alive. I’m a very positive person. I love writing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my favorite thing in the world. So, talking to other people who also love it and keeping them in enthused through the difficulties is a really cool thing.

Sarina: Yeah. Do you find that writers ever get maybe a little bit defensive when you tell them that maybe the dream that isn’t as realistic and actually, there is a lot more work in there than they had originally anticipated?

Rachel: That’s a good question. Yeah, I think, there are obviously different types of people, and part of being a [00:08:00] writer is that you have to develop a thick skin anyway. That’s tough because I also think that being a writer, I think introverts are naturally attracted to the idea of being a writer. I know I’m an introvert. It’s funny, isn’t it? Part of being a writer these days is different to how I think it used to be. Now, it’s more like, you want to market your book, but you’ve got to get that out there. You’ve got to put yourself out there. That’s hard for introverts. It’s not that easy. Yeah, I do think that being a writer, nowadays, you have to develop a little bit of a thicker skin. That’s something that we talk about as well. You have to have peer review and feedback to improve your work. That can be tough to take on board as much as realizing the reality of writing a novel. The first class when I lectured would always be, “All right, this is how we get feedback. [00:09:00] This is how we speak to each other. This is how we deliver criticism, because it’s going to happen. Let’s prepare ourselves.” [chuckles] 

Sarina: Giving criticism and feedback in itself is a skill really, and not everyone that writers are going to talk to and give their book to will know how to do it in a respectful and polite way, let’s say.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: I have had one very early beta reader on my first book who may be confused being honest with just being a bit rude.

Rachel: Yeah, some people get excited about how honest they can be. I’ve noticed that you have– when I lectured at university, I would sometimes have a student who was just really excited about the fact that they were being asked to criticize almost, and you have to be like, hey– I always used to go with the compliment sandwich. I’m a big fan of the compliment sandwich.

Sarina: Oh, I am. That’s how I edit. [giggles]

Rachel: [00:10:00] Absolutely, because you start off thinking, “Okay, awesome. Okay, so here’s something I can realistically work on, but I still feel excited and I still feel pleased about this.” 

Sarina: Yeah. I’m sure you are the same way, because I think that we’re quite similar with our optimism. When I edit someone’s book, then I want them afterwards to feel positive and excited about the project, and not like, “I’ve just ruined everything and ruined their dream.”

Rachel: Absolutely, it’s important.

Sarina: You may need to make some cuts, you may need to change your point of view maybe somewhere which is just going to take a lot of work, but hopefully, book is also going to be a lot stronger afterwards. Hopefully, I can then help them make them see that so that they can get excited about making all these big changes–

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -you probably work the same way.

Rachel: Yes, I do. Yeah, I am very positive. Actually, that was always my feedback in my observations was, “Rachel’s a very positive person.” People [00:11:00] leave feeling enthused. It was great, because the same people, when I taught adults, would always come back again and again. That was because they really enjoyed the dynamics and atmosphere. That’s really important.

Sarina: Yeah, I do think it is. Something that you’ve said about some writers coming to you and saying that they want to live the dream on the farm and just writing all the time, reminded me of something I had some years ago, when I left uni– I studied photography. 

Rachel: Oh, lovely.

Sarina: I eventually realized near the end of my degree that I wanted to get back to writing again. By the time I graduated, I hadn’t quite got back to what’s now my debut novel yet. We were all exchanging our plans for the future. I said, “Oh, I’m going to want to try being an author. I’m going to write, I’m going to get back to that.” One of my friends at the time was saying that, she feels that she might want to write a book at some point, but she felt that she hadn’t [00:12:00] experienced enough yet, at the time to really write a book, which seemed a bit odd to me, because I think at the time, we were all about roughly 21 to 24. Some of us were older, but at this point, you’ve already experienced quite a lot. You’ve just finished uni, you’ve lived in halls at some point. That comes with so much stress, so much pressure, so much excitement. There’s so much in there, what else do you want to experience? 

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: You’re never going to be in an actual battle probably. Certainly not a sword battle because that’s a– 

Rachel: No, you’d hope not. 

Sarina: Yeah, hope not. What would you have said to her, just out of curiosity?

Rachel: I would have said, a phrase that I do love is thrown around a lot when you talk about writing, that you write what you know. That doesn’t mean that you’re writing about if you’re a 21-year-old woman living in university, it doesn’t mean that’s what you’re writing about. [00:13:00] It means that you’re drawing on the emotions and the experiences that you’ve had so that you can feed your characters and storylines. I would have said that anybody can write whatever age they are. I’ve read some awesome stories by children because they think in a different way, and they come up with some really outlandish things. You think, “That’s amazing. I never would have thought of that, because I’m too young to focus in reality, but that’s awesome.” 

Yeah, I would have said, “You know enough already to begin, so write what you know.” But also, research is our friend.” 

Sarina: Always. [chuckles] 

Rachel: Yeah. It’s one of my favorite bits of writing a novel is the research. I absolutely love it. I can just fall down a rabbit hole for just days researching, and I just love it so much.

Sarina: I do, because you get to learn so many things, ultimately doing that, things that you’re probably interested in, [00:14:00] because they wouldn’t be in your book otherwise. Yeah, it’s such an exciting thing to do. I think that’s also where the advice of just write what you know, if you don’t break it down, gets a bit misleading. In my books, I tend to have a lot of magic in them and I tend to have, as I said, some sword fighting but I’ve never done those things, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t write them. I can’t shoot fireballs– [crosstalk] 

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: -from my hands and burn my enemies with them, but my characters can and you still can write it. I think it’s fantastic advice to write what you know, but also as you do, you need to break it down a little bit, so that people know that you can also approach other things, but maybe draw from your emotions and some of your backgrounds and start there, and see where it takes you, because otherwise you wouldn’t write [crosstalk] novels or fantasy novels, and what a shame that would be.

Rachel: Yeah, I write fantasy, and I’m sure, [00:15:00] part of writing what you know, for me, is my background in having read a lot of fantasy, played a lot of fantasy games like Skyrim and all that stuff. 

Sarina: Yeah. We have a lot to talk about. 

[laughter] 

Rachel: Yeah. I ride horses all the time. It’s like my other passion. I use all of these things in my fantasy writing. Yeah, also, I live up the road from Hobbiton, so that helps. [laughs] 

Sarina: That’s [crosstalk] inspiration. [laughs] 

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: To get back to doing what you do, writing coaching. Is there a cutoff point where you would say that author has nothing to gain from working with me, or have you found that you have been able to help every author who has approached you?

Rachel: It’s up to the author. [00:16:00] Coaching is very much led by the person who is being coached and not the coach. It’s very much up to the person being coached to say, when they feel they want to go it alone essentially, and when they feel that they’ve achieved the action points that they’ve set. A coach essentially helps guide you to your goal, and helps you be able to view your blockages as well. They help you notice what they are and work out how you can clear them. My skill sets in being a writing coach is that I’m not just a certified professional coach, but I’m also a lecturer and writing tutor, so I can give you not just the coaching element to help you work out where you want to go on the journey, but I can also give you the benefit of my experience, and my [00:17:00] lecturing experience as well. All the classes that I’ve taught, everything I’ve ever taught to writers. I give both, I merge the two together. 

If a writer felt that they were nearing the end of their first draft, and actually, they’d asked me all the questions that they had wanted to, and they knew where to go from there, and they were ready to go alone, and that would be great, good for them. That’s cool. Likewise, if they felt like they needed somebody to hold them accountable for a little bit longer, then that is fine too, because that’s a really big part of it. Sometimes, people find it hard to hold themselves accountable. A coach will hold you accountable, and they will ask you to do homework, and they will ask you to check in with them. I find that is a really important part of it as well.

Sarina: Do some authors ever come back to you then say that– they have worked with you to just finish the first draft and then a bit later, they come back and then you help [00:18:00] maybe with marketing or with publishing the book?

Rachel: We can talk about marketing and publishing. Specifically, I’m not– I’ve worked in marketing, but I’m not someone who you would go to for marketing. I can talk to you about the way that I work. Publishing is a little bit different. I can talk about traditional publishing. I’ve taught lots of classes on traditional versus self-publishing and how that works. We could definitely talk about that. Yeah, marketing, I would say, if you’re ready to market your book, that’s awesome, but you need to go and talk to a marketing agent.

[laughter] 

Sarina: I had another question there, but I forgot what it was. Probably because I’m not quite awake just yet. For now, if we move on, and hopefully I’ll come back to that and I’ll remember–

Rachel: Okay. 

Sarina: What’s your favorite part about being a writing coach?

Rachel: Oh, that’s a good question. I love reading other people’s [00:19:00] work. I just love reading. I read all the time. It’s one of my favorite things. Yeah, I do love reading other people’s work. Actually, I just love chatting about writing with people. When I was teaching and tutoring and lecturing, I had a class full of people. Sometimes, people come before the class, and sometimes they would stay late and talk to me, but I never really got to sit down with them, unless we were doing some kind of review, to actually be like, “Talk to me about your writing process. How could we improve it? Talk to me about this.” I would be teaching as a class. That’s the best thing, is being able to sit down with people and be like, “Let’s get to the bottom of this and improve your writing life.”

Sarina: That’s kind of the question that I just forgot that I just remembered and wrote down. 

Rachel: Oh, yeah? Okay.

Sarina: How do you do the session? Do you set up a Zoom call, like we’re doing right now?

Rachel: Yeah, currently [00:20:00] in COVID, I do, with the Zoom.

Sarina: Yeah, obviously, right now, we can’t meet anyone in person.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s how I do it at the moment. Previously, I’ve gone coffees with people, and that’s nice. It’s always nice to go for coffee with people. Yeah, at the moment, Zoom works really well. Also, I just use things like Dropbox to be able to read people’s work. Google Docs is really helpful for that as well. Yeah, relying massively on the online world at the moment.

Sarina: That is very helpful. It has certainly made a lot of things a lot easier. But it’s then also a matter of finding the right program and finding something that both sides are happy with. I imagine there’s some– maybe not complications as such, but probably also some discussion around that. I imagine you’re quite flexible with that. If an author says, “Actually, I’m not comfortable talking on video, because I don’t know you,” [00:21:00] then is that something also that you’re happy to work with?

Rachel: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We can have a telephone chat. Absolutely. Also, email is fine as well. Some people find email easier, especially if they’re writers, because they can pause and think about what they’re saying and think about their words, and I understand that. I often feel that I speak better on the page than I do in real life. [laughs] 

Sarina: I always say that when you just talk in real life, it’s basically a first draft that comes out of you. 

Rachel: Exactly. [crosstalk] 

Sarina: We both know why first drafts are not necessarily what you want people to see or hear. [chuckles] 

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: I suppose when you do it in emails, you then also have that backup of what you’ve discussed and you can come back to it more easily, so that’s also quite helpful, I imagine.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I do take notes when I speak to people, so that we both know where they’re up to, what’s going on, and things like that. [00:22:00] I’ll always have notes on people and know what’s going on in their projects and things like that. But yeah, it’s really useful to have emails as well. 

Sarina: Yeah, I’ll bet. Coming on to the last question. What would you like writers who are considering hiring a writing coach to know? Say someone like me who had no idea what they would be in for.

Rachel: That’s a good question. I think it would be that it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at. If there’s anything that you are struggling with, we can talk about it essentially and I can help. Yeah, it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, it could be anything. Also, you don’t have to even have written down an idea yet. If you want to write a novel and that’s what you know, but you feel you need help, [00:23:00] then get in touch. As much as if you’ve already written a novel, and you need to know what the next step is, that too. I offer different sort of stages. I offer like an hour session that is just for somebody who needs to talk to somebody about creative writing and the issues that they’re having. I also offer a longer series of sessions as well, which is creation of a novel, and going through the process. 

At the moment, I’m creating an online masterclass, which will hopefully be available later in the year. That’s going to be basically an online course on how to write a novel from the very start, coming up with how to calendar block and all of that stuff, how to actually find the time to write, to the very end of how to find a publisher, so that’s something I’m building [00:24:00] at the moment in my spare time.

Sarina: If you remind me when the course is live, then we can link to that in the show notes as well. 

Rachel: Awesome, I will. Thank you. Cool.

Sarina: Yeah, we can then come back to that. 

Rachel: Okay, brilliant. 

Sarina: I’m sure there’s so much more that I could ask but, because it sounds like such a fascinating process, and also really fun, because you get to connect with so many writers. I know when I first started looking for an editor– I mean I got quite lucky in that really, because I just kind of stumbled on my editor on Twitter.

Rachel: That’s good.

Sarina: Kind of found each other. I know that lots of editors, for example, have genres that they’re not as happy to edit, where they say, “I’m a thriller author, so I edit thrillers exclusively,” for example. Are you happy to work with authors in any genre? Or, would you say that there is something that you don’t know as much about?

Rachel: That’s a good question. [00:25:00] I’m happy with any fictional genre. I would say that if somebody wanted to write a memoir or something like that, something nonfiction, obviously we could still chat, but my specialties are fiction. As much as I love to read nonfiction, and I do, my specialties are fiction, and that’s very much what my PhD was in. Yeah, any fictional genre works for me really.

Sarina: Well, that’s probably a relief then to many listeners, because I think a lot of us tend to gravitate more towards writing fiction, because we can be a bit more creative with that and we can sort of explore all those ideas a bit more, which is very exciting.

Rachel: Absolutely. I really enjoy fiction. But then, it’s funny that I also just really enjoy reading nonfiction as well. Yeah, [00:26:00] I do.

Sarina: I found something similar last year. I started listening more to audiobooks. When I sit down with an eBook, or a paperback or whatever, I tend to prefer epic fantasy, because that’s what I tend to write, so that’s my go-to genre, or maybe a bit of horror, but usually it’ll be more on that end. But then, whenever I listen to an audiobook, for some reason, I really struggle to focus on fantasy or sci-fi. I don’t know what it is. I then find it much easier to sit down with, say, a contemporary fiction instead.

Rachel: Okay, that’s interesting,

Sarina: I wouldn’t normally sit down with the paperback because I then might not be able to focus on that so much. For some reason, there is this interesting change in interest when I sit down with an audiobook compared to when I sit down with a paperback, and I’m not really sure why that is.

Rachel: That’s interesting. I find it depends also on who is reading it [00:27:00] in the audiobook. I’m listening to a nonfiction book at the moment. The guy’s so enthusiastic, but sometimes I’m just so British, I balk at it a little bit. I’m like, “Wow, you’re so enthusiastic, and it’s really early in the morning. I just need to turn this down a little bit.” Whereas I feel like if I was reading it, I’d be like, “Ah, I can deal with this.”

[laughter] 

Sarina: I think that’s probably a good place to finish the interview on. I’ve learned a lot. I have a better idea now on what a writing coach does. 

Rachel: Awesome.

Sarina: Hopefully, some of our listeners do as well and might be more inclined to work with one if they are stuck on that journey, which would be fantastic. 

Rachel: Great.

Sarina: Thank you very much, Rachel, for stopping by and having this chat with me. Thank you so much also to you, listeners, for being here and following along and learning with me.

Rachel: Thank you for having me.

Sarina: My pleasure. [00:28:00] I will speak to you later. Have a great day everyone. Bye-bye.

Rachel: Bye.

Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learned something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @Sarina_Langer, on Instagram and Facebook @SarinaLangerWriter, and of course, on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.


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