Celebrating a very special book birthday

It’s a busy end to the week as I was celebrating the publication day for All You Need Is Love yesterday and, today, I’m celebrating a special book birthday.

Today is one year since the final part of the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series was released through Boldwood Books. Woo hoo! Happy book birthday to the series!

The four-book series had previously been published under different titles and the rights were acquired by Boldwood as part of my original publishing deal. They all had a fresh edit and were updated for a quick-succession re-release between January and March 2020. My writing was largely undiscovered before joining Boldwood and the idea of four novels being released so close together was to build my name and create an appetite for the next part in the series.

This plan absolutely worked and I still can’t quite believe how well my debut series (which is also available as a boxset with additional exclusive content) has done during this year after five years of struggling to get noticed:

  • More than 130k copies of the books combined (across all formats) since being re-released by Boldwood
  • Nearly 3000 reviews/ratings on Amazon, 93% of which are 4 or 5-star
  • Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1) going into The Works
  • Making Wishes at Bay View being free book of the week on Apple UK and USA and reaching #1 on the free UK chart/#16 in the USA
  • Making Wishes at Bay View breaking the Top 100 in Australia and Canada
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) going into Prime Reading and reaching #14 in the overall UK Kindle chart
  • All the books making it into the UK Kindle Top 200 and staying there for the whole of the summer
  • Books 2-4 making it into the Apple Romance Chart Top 5 at the same time and the overall Top 25
  • Best seller tags for all books at the same time

I often get asked which of these books is my favourite and I love them all for a different reason:

  • Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1) was such a fun story to write and Ruby is one of my favourite characters. She was fascinating to create and I love the banter she has with Iris
  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2) was the first book I ever wrote. The main character, Sarah, is predominantly based on me and the premise of the story is a true-life event. As this was where it all started, this book will always have a special place in my heart
  • Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove (book 3) is a lovely story of how to pick yourself up after everything in your life falls apart. I love Elise’s journey and I also love the way the friendship dynamics between the main characters in this series begin to shift. The relationships with friends and family are a very important aspect of my stories and often take centre-stage over the romance
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (book 4) is Clare’s story and I have to confess it is my favourite as I love the plot. Clare arrived in book 2 as a spiky character with a mysterious past and here we discover why she’s the way she is. It’s a story full of twists and turns and I’m so proud of this book

I have amazing reviews for all the stories which makes me so very happy but New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms does have a few more negative reviews than the others. In some quite angry ranty 1 and 2-star reviews, Sarah is accused of being silly and her actions childish or selfish. While I completely accept that everyone likes different things and not everyone is going to love my work, I do feel sad that those readers have missed the point of a character arc. Sarah does make some some questionable decisions early on but her journey is one of learning from those and she experiences major character development over the course of the book.

At the start of the book, Sarah has stayed in a relationship for a year too long (not an abusive relationship; just one that isn’t right) and there are also reviews commenting on how ridiculous that is and that she should have just left him/nobody stays in a rubbish relationship for that long. Who are these people as I’d like to congratulate them? I am in huge admiration of anyone who can be in a long-term relationship and walk away just like that but I would suggest that the reality of most relationships is that walking away is not that easy. The person may be very aware that the relationship is not right for them but there can be a million reasons why they don’t walk away including fear of being alone, financial challenges, where to live, children, self-esteem, mental health and so on. Sometimes what lies on the other side doesn’t seem more appealing than what they already have. I know this because I was in a relationship like that. I knew it was wrong all along but I wasn’t in a place where I could deal with walking away. I know so many men and women who would admit to the same. Thankfully hundreds of readers do relate to Sarah, find her scenario very realistic, and are rooting for her all the way.

One of my aims for 2021 was not to be hurt by negative reviews and to remain focused on the positive ones and I’ve made great progress with this but I have to admit that I was a bit (a lot) wounded by a particular scathing 2-star review I spotted on Audible for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms a couple of days ago. I’ve pasted it below as it’s quite a long review:

Ouch! There are so many interesting things about this review. Firstly, book 1 of the series is not the chocolate pot cafe (Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café). That particular story is set in Whitsborough Bay but is not part of the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series. It was written several years later. Therefore the last paragraph all about the links is inaccurate because there aren’t meant to be links. The Chocolate Pot is mentioned a couple of times in New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms because it’s on the same street as Seaside Blooms but, at the time the book was written, Tara and her story from Starry Skies… did not exist.

So if we remove the comments about the two books not following on from each other, we have that the story was ‘flat’ and ‘like the writer had a multi book deal and had to bang out something else.’ Wow! That’s a bit harsh! Every author starts somewhere and, although New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms is book 2 in the series, it is the first book I wrote as book 1 was written afterwards as a prequel/introduction to the world of Whitsborough Bay. Seaside Blooms is my debut – my first book baby delivered into the world and I am immensely proud of it. It does have twists and turns in it. They may not have the same shock/surprise as a couple of the revelations in Starry Skies… but they’re still there. When I started out writing, I intended to write romantic comedies but my ideas developed and my writing style developed and I now write contemporary women’s fiction. My later books are more emotional than my early ones and some of the plots are more intricate. It’s common and natural for a writer to adjust their style the more books they write. Their voice will develop and their confidence will grow and they may well experiment with style and genre. That’s not to say romcoms don’t have complex plots – they absolutely do – but my natural style moved away from the comedy and more into the angst although all my books are warm and uplifting and do still contain humour which balances the more emotional moments.

The real shame about this is that I have lost a reader/listener who clearly has some gripes about the story but, given a significant focus of the review is the lack of link to a story it’s not meant to be linked to, I can’t help feeling that this misunderstanding on the reader’s part has heavily influenced their contempt for this story. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes and, if I wrongly believed this was a follow-on from Starry Skies… I’d be confused too. The thing is, Audible clearly does show which books are in the series (see below), as do Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Fantastic Fiction…

Stung by this review – and thinking of the small number of negative ones for New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – I decided to conduct a poll in my Facebook readers’ group asking members who’d read the full series to let me know which was their favourite. We’re talking a small sample here but the results were interesting:

  • New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – 53%
  • Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – 32%
  • Making Wishes at Bay View and Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove tied – 7%

Many of those who voted did add a comment that they absolutely loved all of them but I had pushed them to pick one as I was curious as to the results and it was both surprising and reassuring that more than half the vote went to the book that has generated the most negative comments. I’m going to focus on the hundreds who love it and thank them so much for sharing that love.

So happy birthday to the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series and thank you to everyone who has bought/ borrowed/ downloaded any of the stories, loved them, and reviewed/ rated/ recommended them. You are absolute superstars. Callie, Sarah, Elise, Clare and the rest of the cast of characters in Whitsborough Bay send you hugs of appreciation.

And thank you to Boldwood Books and my amazing editor Nia for breathing fresh life into these stories and taking them to such a wide readership. I’m forever grateful.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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