In July 2015, I went to a blogger workshop at YALC about starting your own blog. I’d wanted to create one for ages but I was worried about the technical side of it and whether anyone would care what I thought about books. The workshop was run by a few bloggers, two of whom I’ve become friends with since. If you’re looking for amazing bloggers and lovely people to follow, I’ve got a lot to thank Chelley Toy and Andrew (Pewter Wolf) for. Doing the workshop made me realise there are pros and cons of different blogging platforms, but it’s actually not too difficult even for a technological novice like me. I also got lots of practical tips about blogging and realised there’s a whole community of reviewers out there, and why wouldn’t what I had to say be as valid as anyone else?
I’ve got a few quick tips if you’re thinking of starting a blog, YouTube channel or Instagram account. The first thing I did was to follow lots of people. I wanted to be part of the community, and I’ve since made lots of really good friends that way. It was also really useful to see how people manage their social media and the kind of content they put out.
These are lots of creators whose content I really enjoy, but these are some of my favourites: Jodie at Vanilla Moon, Kasha in Wonderland, Beth at Books Nest, Chloe at Books with Chloe, Gavin at How to Train Your Gavin, Desi at Darling Desi, Mia at Cosy Reads, Erin at Erin Megan and Violet Prynne.
There are a lot of resources online about how to engage with publishers and request review copies, so if you’re curious about that or other aspects of blogging there are plenty of posts that deal with different subjects. Beth at Books Nest has a fantastic section on her blog about Content Creation Advice that will get you started.
Another thing I’ve always done is engage with other people’s posts. The blogging community is really supportive, so if you can retweet people’s posts, comment and get talking, it’s a good way to get involved and build your own following.
Blogging has definitely helped me as an author, both in terms of writing and marketing my book.
It's helped me to become a better writer because I was a reader first. I think if you want to write a great book, you have to read a lot of great books. Figuring out what I like about them and reading really well crafted sentences and plots has made me a better author. For example, I read House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland recently. It’s such a creepy, engrossing read that I mostly managed to switch off my writer brain and just enjoy it. There were also points when I stopped to think about why it worked so well. Why did that description particularly get under my skin? How was that plot point seeded earlier in the book? I think years of reviewing books has really helped me to hone that skill and learn from other writers.
It’s also helped me in terms of marketing my book. When it came to promoting my book on social media or trying to get quotes from authors, I already had a lot of contacts. If you’re an author reading this and thinking that you haven’t been blogging for years, social media can still be a great resource for connecting with booksellers, librarians, bloggers and other authors.
I’ve been involved in promoting a lot of books over the years, so I’ve been able to see what has worked well and created real buzz for a book. My publicity team were great because they listened to my ideas and helped me to shape a campaign for my book that I was really proud of. I think it’s useful as an author to keep an eye on what other people are doing and think about what could work for your book. I kept a document of ideas over quite a few months, so when it came to promoting my book it was ready to go.
I also think being a blogger has helped me to navigate reviews and interactions with readers. I know the blogging etiquette, such as only tagging the author in a good review, so it’s helped me mostly to steer clear of bad ones. I’ve really enjoyed seeing pictures of my book on social media and chatting to people about my book, and I feel like blogging has made me more confident about putting myself out there. My husband got me a Cameo video from James Marsters, who plays Spike on Buffy, and he gave some really great advice about what it feels like to be an artist and how vulnerable you make yourself when you put your work out there.
Finally, blogging has also helped me to understand a lot about how publishing works. It can be quite a complex and baffling process, but I already knew about the different departments in publishing houses, the timelines publishers work to and a bit about book promotion, so that’s been really useful as a debut author.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to improve their craft is to find a network of trusted people to critique your book. I know some people prefer to go it alone, but for me getting that feedback and having people rooting for me has been so helpful. Publishing can be a slow, stressful process and having people who understand is amazing. The first step on my journey was getting a place on a mentoring program called Write Mentor. That gave me a summer to whip my book into shape with my brilliant mentor, Marisa Noelle. I found having the support and the deadline really useful, and that was the first time my manuscript started to feel like a book.
The next big step for me was pitching to my agent at YALC at the pitching workshop they run each year. I found it a valuable experience to see an agent’s immediate reactions to my book and get some feedback. I also got to see my agent do an amazing workshop and I thought Sandra would be someone I’d really like to represent me. She liked my pitch, and when I started querying she offered me representation soon after that. I think having the personal connection really helped, and pitching in person is definitely something I’d recommend if you get the opportunity. Even if it doesn’t happen the first time around, keep trying. I’d pitched a couple of years before with a different project and had a completely different experience.
After that, I went through a few rounds of edits with my agent. I found that really hard work but so useful, because it meant my manuscript was in really good shape when we went on submission. It felt great to work with someone really skilled at editing but also who was passionate about my book, so it didn’t hurt too much when I had to start making changes. It wasn’t very long before I got the offer from UCLan and signed the contract. I’d already met my publisher at YALC, so I got to hear about their ethos in person and see the other great books they were bringing out.
It was then another 18 months before my book came out. That seemed like it was going to take forever, but I actually found the time really useful to get the finished book ready and work on promotion.
Being an author has also helped how I’ve approached Bookstagram, my blog, Twitter and BookTube. The main thing I’ve learned is that I’ve been really mindful of how I review books. I try to only read books I think I’m going to enjoy and give every review a positive slant. Just because something didn’t resonate with me doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an audience, so I try to keep that in mind when I review books. I’ve never given spoilers in my reviews, but I’m also really mindful of that since becoming an author.
I’ve thought a lot about my brand as an author since writing my book, and I try to convey that in my social media. A lot of it comes naturally, because I write about the creepy, Gothic things I’m interested in. That’s helped me find new readers and like-minded people and shows what kind of author and person I am.
I never underestimate the power of a nice pen and notebook. I like jotting down ideas in a notebook, and if I get stuck with a part of my book I try writing things out longhand too.
Another useful thing when I’m on deadline is writing out a timeline. I figure out a daily wordcount that I need to hit and keep a record of how many words I’ve written. I find that really motivating.
When I was trying to get an agent, I found these Writers and Artists Handbooks incredibly useful. There are articles to read, and contact details for agents and publishers with their interests, so it’s a fantastic resource.
To improve my writing, I read a mixture of books about writing craft and books by authors that I really admire.