Category Archives: Goodreads

Writing is hard work

WriteGear website

by Amazon Author Heather Sylvawood

When I started writing as a semi-fulltime, professional career, I had this naive idea that the writing would take care of itself and all I’d have to learn was how to market my books.  How wrong could I be (and how right)!

The job of writing

First of all I found that writing doesn’t just flow – not all the time. Sometimes my fingers would fly and out would come the words that conveyed just what I wanted. Other times I would plod along. I realised that a structure, something I could work from when I couldn’t see where the story was going was necessary. It didn’t stop me from having those inspired moments – it simply kept me going when I flagged.

Flagging energy for a story is also something I came across, particularly when I got into novel-length writing. Short stories could be written in a day and then revised at leisure; novels, however, take so much longer. It is so easy to be disheartened along the way.

Professional Writer is an amatuer who didn't quit

Flagging writing moments for me

I found the following moments needed all the perseverance I could muster:

  • About the 5000-6000 word mark (day 2 or 3) – I would look forward and see those miles and miles of words stretching forever into the future. I would wonder if this story was strong enough/interesting enough to continue into a novel-length book.
  • About the 20,000 word – By then my daily word total would have slowed a bit. A 2000 word binge was all I could manage and the enticement for blogging and posting on Facebook was becoming hard to resist.
  • About the 40,000 word mark – I was halfway, yet I looked back and thought how hard the writing had been and I still didn’t know exactly how the story would end. Would it be good enough to warrant another 50,000 words?
  • About the 70,000 word mark – Rolling on to the end. I knew now that I would finish and I couldn’t wait to get there. I found my writing showed the rush – I didn’t ‘milk’ the climax enough; I needed to give my characters their last opportunity to shine. Editing and allowing the climax to happen naturally was vital at the end.
  • About the 80,000 word mark – I knew I was going to get there, it was simply a matter of a couple of days, but I kept getting distracted by my research for my next novel. I would stop and write up my ideas and even the beginning paragraphs as I took breaks in completing the current novel.

But now two are complete – one published: More Than I Could Bear, and a second in editing phase: Family Ties and Rainbow Bonds. And guess what? I’m onto novel three: a sequel to More Than I Could Bear, called A Pearl Among Swine.

Editing my writing

So a story/novel is complete. What next? Edit, edit, edit. It’s a challenge to edit your own work. You have blind spots about your sentence construction and spelling. Especially with my novels I found it was hard to actually ask anyone, including my life partner Tre, to read my work. I didn’t want criticism – I wanted only affirmation.

Heather Sylvawood editing, edfiting, editing

Who wants criticism?

As it turned out Tre was a wonderful critic, but in the end I asked another friend, who had been a proof-reader for a print publisher, to look it through and she came up with many issues neither of us had spotted. Thank-you Karen.

You need the feedback, not just about spelling and punctuation, but for sense. Were those items mentioned in the novel around at the time depicted? Would he/she really have said that? These were questions I had to answer, or alter in my writing, to make the reading experience flow for a reader. Even cross-cultural issues were important to consider in order to allow readers from many backgrounds to understand what was going on.

Marketing your finished writing

Once upon a time print publishers took on this role. If you were a big name you had your printed books on the front tables of every bookshop. If you were a lesser known writer your books would go on the back shelves, spine outward. If you were an unknown writer then you hardly had a chance unless some obscure editor, looking for the next big seller, LOVED your work.

Nowadays Indie or Self-published work allows unknown writers/authors to at least get their titles and front covers on the vast shelves of Amazon, or Kobo or Goodreads (which is being bought by Amazon, by the way).

Heather Sylvawood sample books

The cringe of marketing books

Again I had to overcome a lot of fear to expose my work to the public eye. What if no one liked it? What if no one bought it? I don’t care, at least it’s out there. The reality is a DO CARE. I do want people to read my books and enjoy them – and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t enjoy them, I’ve won short story competitions and had amazing feedback from beta readers and other authors.

My next cringe was whether to ask my friends to help me market my work. Would they think I was spamming them?  Would they get cross at me taking their friendship into the realms of commerce? So far not one of my friends has firebombed my letterbox.

Expert advice

Recently I’ve been reading a number of Kindle books giving advice on publishing and marketing. I’ve become quite adept at telling whether the information they offer is applicable to my situation. One I have to recommend is The Indie Author Power Pack, by various authors including:  David Gaughran , Joanna Penn, Sean Platt , and  Johnny B. Truant .

One of the main messages I have gleaned from this wonderful ideas-dominated book collection is that the only way to move from unknown to well-known is to write – lots of books that  keep hitting the self-publishing  NEW lists and use strategic marketing to keep putting your books in front of your market.  Like all internet marketing success is a case of building your LIST.

So here it is – my published novel

BookCoverMoreThan  More Than I Could Bear

And if you want to get onto my list for notifications of new releases, or reduced-price sales please fill out the form you will find on my web page HERE.

Yours in the Creative Flow – Heather Sylvawood

Does popular mean less ‘literary’?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

I’ve just completed my first novel and I’m looking at publishing it on Amazon, however, I’m finding it difficult to find a category that fits its subject matter.  Here’s a brief synopsis:

“Laura Holland is coping (just) with her life bringing up two teenagers and her almost seven-year-old autistic daughter, Estella. Living on a small farm raising chooks and sheep, and the family’s vegetables, Laura’s role is definitely that of an isolated homemaker. Her husband Richard, however, is a busy principal whose involvement in the farm is spasmodic, at best. Then the Hollands meet the Langleys, a family with a very different way of coping with their disabled daughter. At first Laura and Anna find support and new possibilities in their growing friendship. But all is not well in the Langley household, and as Laura gets drawn in, further and further, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown.

Set in the early 1970s in Canterbury, New Zealand, the novel deals with how beliefs about caring for children with an intellectual disability can trap women in the caring role.”

So where does family drama fit?

It hasn’t any real mystery, no murders, little violence, no fantasy, only a little sex (but not the 50 Shades of Grey  type), it’s set about 40 years ago – but is hardly a ‘period drama’, and it doesn’t fall into the category of romance.

If I could find a category called Family Drama then that’s where it would fit. But the last time I looked on Amazon, there was no such category.

Popular novel themes

That dilemma started me thinking about popularity. Books, television, and lagging only a little behind – films, reflect what is a popular read (or genre in the world of novels). Take a look at what’s showing on the celluloid (oh, what an ancient word!) and you’ll gain a clear understanding of the genre(s) that sell most readily.

‘Write novels in popular genres’

Writers who want to make a life writing popular novels are advised to look at what sells.

On the face of it, the advice is sound. If I was to follow that advice I would write crimes novels with likeable detectives and a bit of romance; or vampire horror; or sci-fi with lots of killing at the hands of superior aliens until good old human cunning overcomes the long odds. And, of course, the other popular genre is the classic romance between heterosexual couples leading unreal,  usually privileged lives.

The genres are far removed from real lives of most people, I wondered why that appealed.

So why do people enjoy reading escapist novels?

I thought I would do a bit of research.

The first thing I realised is that ALL fiction is escapism. We look to read fiction that allows us to live (safely) some of the emotions that would otherwise be inappropriate for us to express. It is escapism for the reader, but it is also escapism for the writer.

Escapist novels have had a bad rap

As author Neil Gaiman says: “I hear the term (escapism) bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if ‘escapist’ fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.”

He goes on to say that escapist fiction “opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with” and that it  “…can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison.”

Popular fiction may be what the doctor ordered

Author Steven Handel, creator of the blog: The Emotion Machine, writes: “Instead of venting your negative emotions, sometimes it is better to just shift your awareness toward something completely different that makes you forget about your troubles.

“In many ways, this is the powerful role that entertainment plays in our lives. It is a way to escape from the stress, anxiety, and negativity of our everyday lives – and sometimes that is what we need to stay sane and healthy.”

New York Best Selling Author Elizabeth Lowell has this to say about the so-called divide between popular (escapist) writing and ‘literary’ writing:

“My life’s work has been popular fiction. Writing alone and with Evan, I have published more than sixty books. They range from general fiction to historical and contemporary romances, from science fiction to mystery, from nonfiction to highly fictional thrillers.

“Through the years, I’ve discovered that most publishers talk highly of literary fiction and make money on popular fiction; yet asking them to describe the difference between literary and popular fiction is like asking when white becomes gray becomes black.”

Isn’t WRITING a novel ‘escapism?

Wikipedia defines ‘Escapism’ as mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life.  If you use that definition, then I am using ‘escapism’ whenever I think about or start writing my novel. I am creating an unreal situation in a way that gives me pleasure. I might not be escaping from a banal life, but my escapism certainly enhances my life.

Goodreads includes The DaVinci Code, Bridget Jones Diaries, Harry Potter and Kate Hooper’s Redemption series in its list of Escapist Fiction. Put like that I’d be glad to be listed in the realms of ‘escapism’ and popular novels. Here I come!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author