Saturday, 7 August 2021

YALC workshop – From Blogger to Author

YALC has always been a huge part of my blogger life and is one of the highlights of my summer, so it was amazing to be asked to participate as an author this year.

This post accompanies my 'From Blogger to Author' workshop video, which you can access on YALC's YouTube account here. There are lots of other panels and workshops on there to access too.

The post and video give an insight into how I became a blogger and got a book deal. I also discuss how being an author and blogger has helped me in both roles. Everything is based on my experiences and what has worked for me.

Blogging journey

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?

Blogging tips

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.

How blogging has helped me as an author

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.

Author journey

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.


These are some of the tools I've used on my journey to becoming an author.

I’ve always used huge Moleskine notebooks to plot out my books, and then make notes about edits I want to make. I write a chapter outline on one side of the page with space for editing notes on the other. It’s really helpful for tracking plot threads and character development, and I’ve done it since writing my first story.

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.

I hope this post has been interesting and useful. If you want to chat to me on social media or ask me any questions, I'm @yaundermyskin on Twitter and Instagram and Amy McCaw on YouTube.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your YALC at home experience!

Monday, 2 August 2021

Beth Garrod guest post


I'm delighted to host one of my favourite contemporary YA authors, Beth Garrod, on my blog today. Beth's YA books are hilarious, warm and uplifting, so they're perfect if you're looking for a fun read. 

Sister Switch is Beth's middle-grade debut, and I'm so excited to read it! It's a modern take on Freaky Friday about two sisters who accidentally swap bodies and have to learn to live as each other if they're going to get out of this mess!

Beth has written a fantastic playlist to get you in the mood for reading Sister Switch or if you happen to find yourself trapped in a sibling's body...

The Ultimate Body Swap Playlist

If you ever find yourself looking in the mirror and seeing the wrong face staring back, I suggest you immediately seek medical help. However, if you decide not to do that and opt for some music based therapy instead, then here are some body-swap bangers to help you get through this challenging time.

*Warning* this playlist makes no musical sense, but maybe that’s *exactly* what would be needed to land you back in the right body….

Shout Out To My Ex – Little Mix

Shout out to my ex… body that is. Because someone would be walking around it in right now and JUST IMAGINE all the damage they could be doing. In fact, maybe don’t. You’ll have enough on your plate trying to figure out how to switch back, without wondering if your body is going around telling your boss what they really think, or bamboozling your best mate by suggesting you switch movie night for the gym.

Back For Good – Take That

And now we’re taking it right back – waaaay back to when the X Factor was not even a twinkle in the Barlow’s eye. But you can bawl along to this ballad whilst staring at photos of you in happier times. In the supermarket! On the sofa! Even an under the chin selfie. What you’d give to be back in the right body (even from those angles). And then you can queue up Could It Be Magic too - maybe something about stallions in the sun could sort it out?

Good 4 U – Olivia Rodrigo

Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy, not me. I’m stuck in your body wondering if I’ll ever be able to wear my own pants again.

Sure, that’s not quite the lyrics, but singing along to this at full volume makes most things feel better tbh.

Willow Smith – Whip My Hair

Now, this is a bit of a Willow Smith throwback, but frankly if I was trying to invoke a mysterious magical hairdresser – just like Lily and Erin in Sister Switch – then who knows. Maybe a hair-based helicopter is exactly what’s needed to summon The Hairy Godmother? And even if not, it would be nice to at least see if a new body could unleash some previously untapped dancing potential.

That’s Not Me – Skepta

Sure, Skepta was maybe not talking about swapping into his sibling’s bods (although he doesn’t have an all-round over-achieving family), but I would definitely be prone to shouting this every time I saw myself doing something I would never normally do. Drink coffee? That’s not me! Wear not-flat shoes? That’s not me! Looking like a mess? No, that’s… no that is me.

So there you have it – some body swap bops to get you through any body-switch nightmare. Although, maybe head for a medical practitioner before reaching for a playlist…

Thanks so much for joining us, Beth! I love discovering new songs to add to my playlists. I just hope I don't need them for a body-swapping incident...