My audiobooks have been having a party over on Audible UK today and I’ve been celebrating something very unexpected – chart domination!
Ok, not complete chart domination – somewhat dramatic choice of word there – but it has been very exciting.
It all started with an email first thing from my fabulous editor – who is also our Publishing and Sales & Marketing Director at Boldwood Books – congratulating me on having two titles in the Audible UK Top 100! I had a look and was stunned to see The Secret to Happiness at #37 and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow at #73! Eek!
They’re not on a promotion so I wondered why they’d suddenly stormed the chart. And then it struck me. These two titles are from a selection of six of my audiobooks which are part of the Audible Plus programme and today signalled the start of the second year of the title selection. Some titles may have come out, others been added in, and some will have stayed the same.
In my case, all six of my audiobooks which went in last year have been kept in the programme as Audible have been really impressed with their performance and the impact they’ve had on my other audiobook sales. There’s a mix of start of the series and standalone titles:
Making Wishes at Bay View – book 1 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series
New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – book 2 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series
The Secret to Happiness – standalone book set in Whitsborough Bay (although connected to All You Need is Love so best read after AYNIL)
Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – book 2 in the Christmas on Castle Street series
Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café – book 3 in the Christmas on Castle Street series (Note: these story follows on from Carly’s Cupcakes but book 1 Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop is more of a standalone and doesn’t need to be read first – they’re a series as they’re all set on Castle Street at Christmas)
Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – book 1 in the Hedgehog Hollow series
Subscribers to Audible can listen to the selection on Audible Plus for FREE and this is a great way of trying new authors and even new genres. It has absolutely paid off as I’ve had messages from listeners saying they’d never have tried a particular title of mine but gave it a go as it was free, were hooked, and had listened to the whole series or even my entire back catalogue as a result. How lovely is that?
I’m assuming that there was a big email campaign about the fresh catalogue this morning which is what prompted the leap in the chart for those two audiobooks which, incidentally, are my two bestselling titles across all formats.
I was so chuffed with this unexpected charting but then hubby appeared in my office asking me if I’d looked at the Romance category chart because those two titles were #3 and #5 respectively. Double eek!
After I’d done some excited squealing, I decided to look at the rest of the Romance chart to see whether any of the other titles were there and I couldn’t quite believe what I discovered!
So that was nine of my sixteen titles in the Top 100 in the Romance chart – only three of which are in the Audible Plus programme – and ALL of the Hedgehog Hollow audiobooks in the Top 50. Woo hoo!
I’ve been out today for lunch and a wonderful catch-up with my bestie, author Sharon Booth, and there’s no WiFi or phone signal at the pub we go to so I had hubby keeping a watch on the chart all day but nothing moved. When I got home early this evening, I did a quick check and there had been some movement at last. Some titles had dropped but New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow (book 2 in the series) had climbed a little higher from #39 to #31 and Spring Tides at The Starfish Café had charted in the Romance chart too!
So, although it wasn’t at exactly the same time, 10% of the Romance chart has been given to my audiobooks today. I can’t quite believe it! There are over 200,000 audiobooks on Audible so it blows my mind to see my titles in top charts.
A huge thank you to my amazing main narrators Lucy Brownhill and Emma Swan who have taken the leads on all my audiobooks between them, and to an amazing cast of talented narrators who’ve brought life to the second perspectives in the stories: Gareth Bennett-Ryan, James Dryden, Polly Edsell, Kitty Kelly, and Gloria Sanders.
And thank you to you the listeners for making today’s chart ‘domination’ possible. I’m so very grateful. Happy listening.
In my last blog post, I said I was heading off to the RNA’s conference and would report back ‘next week’. That should have been last week and I’ve just realised that, although I shared some photos on Facebook, I never did a blog post so here I am catching up.
The conference was at Harper Adams University which is for agricultural studies near Telford, Shropshire. It’s a small campus and ideal for an event such as this as there’s not too far to walk between the accommodation and lecture rooms. We were staying in the student halls and ours was the one covered in ivy on the right.
It was my fourth conference and by far my favourite, mainly because I felt much better about myself as a writer than I had the previous three times. I knew what to expect format-wise and I’d finally learned to the pressure off myself by not booking onto an event for every slot on the timetable, allowing some breathing and thinking space.
There were four out of the ten of us from my writing support group, The Write Romantics, in attendance, and there were quite a few Boldwood authors, some of whom I hadn’t met before so it was lovely to be able to say hello to them.
I also had a chance to catch up with some of the delegates from my March workshop. I’d been really looking forward to sitting down and having a proper chat to them all, finding out how their writing journeys had been since the workshop, but the timetable just didn’t allow it. I’d been invited to join them at lunchtime on Saturday but my pre-lunch session ran over slightly and, by the time I made it to the back of the food queue, there weren’t many spaces left in the dining room and I knew there was no way they could save me a seat at their table. I could also see that several of them had already eaten so it just didn’t happen.
I did get the opportunity to speak to several of the group, albeit briefly in some cases, but I swear time goes into a vortex and I left thinking about so many people I’d spotted but just didn’t get a chance to say hello to properly.
On the Sunday morning, we had about twenty minutes before a session started and I looked around the coffee room but realised I’d hit a wall and was probably incapable of having a coherent conversation. Doing a job where I spend most of my time completely on my own, it can be intense and overwhelming being surrounded by people. My since apologies, therefore, to anyone I didn’t get a chance to talk to.
I did get to talk to my idol, Jill Mansell, though! We’ve spoken several times on social media and met before and it’s ridiculous that I get shy about these things but I do. I actually find it hard to approach anyone already in a conversation so add in one of my writing heroes and that escalates. My Boldwood buddy took a photo of me with Jill in the background and then took me over for a proper hello which was very special.
I met loads of other amazing authors across the weekend but took a distinct lack of photos so I’ll leave the blog post here. Thank you to everyone involved in the organising, who ran sessions, or who chatted to me. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
I’m off to the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) Conference tomorrow. I attended a couple of virtual ones during the pandemic but the last time I went to one in real life was four years ago when it was held in Leeds and look who I met!
They say don’t meet your heroes but not in this case as Jill Mansell was just as lovely as her books. I, however, was a gibbering fan-girly wreck and was actually shaking at the photo opp! I couldn’t believe it when I spotted her nearby and was far too nervous to approach her myself, despite a couple of glasses of wine inside me, so I asked the RNA Chair if she could introduce us!
I fell in love with romance books after reading one of Jill’s. I’d never read anything in this genre and a friend loaned me Millie’s Fling on holiday and I loved how fun and romantic it was and how it left me with the warm and fuzzies. I devoured all her books after that and, for the past twelve years or so, have annually purchased her new release on hardback and have a Jill shelf in my office.
I’m really looking forward to the conference this year for several reasons:
Being my fourth conference, I know what to expect. It’s actually at the same place as my second one so I’m even familiar with the venue
I’ve been an RNA member for a decade and know so many more people now so (hopefully) won’t have that startled rabbit situation. Or hopefully not!
I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach to which sessions I’ll attend. In previous years, I’ve chosen something for every time slot which can make for an exhausting experience. This year, I’ve allowed myself some downtime
I’ll have a chance to meet several Boldwood authors who I’ve never met in person which will be lovely
I’ll get to meet several of the participants from the RNA Learning workshop I ran in March and I’m really excited to hear how their writing has progressed since then
I won’t be having any publisher 1:1 appointments (more on this shortly)
I feel very differently about my writing
Let me explain those last couple of points…
Four years ago at that 2017 conference, I was in a dark place with my writing. I was a struggling indie selling a handful of books a week and fearing I might have to give up writing as I couldn’t keep investing all the time (alongside a demanding FT day job) with no pay-off.
A valuable part of the conference programme is the feedback slots available with industry professionals (editors and agents). I managed to secure four of these – all with editors – where I pitched a brand new manuscript called Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye.
My manuscript wasn’t complete which actually resulted in Editor D reprimanding, saying it was very unprofessional of me. Ouch! I understood what she was saying as you would never submit to a publisher when an MS is incomplete but the annual timing of the conference means that this may sometimes be the case and it’s not a requirement of the sessions to have a complete MS. Also, the humiliation to be told off by someone half my age! I felt like I was back at school!
Anyway, despite the telling off, all four editors wanted to see the full MS which gave me a massive dilemma because Editors A and B wanted it to be a light-hearted romcom and Editors C and D wanted a deeper more emotional women’s fiction story. With the MS being unfinished, I faced a decision around what direction to take it in because whichever I chose was going to rule two of them out.
While confusing, this was a very happy dilemma to have, especially for someone feeling so down about their writing. My biggest takeaway was that four editors wanted the full MS. Surely one of them would want to take me on.
Editor A asked me to submit one of my indie books in the meantime. As she wanted the romcom approach, I sent her a lighter story (what is now Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop) and a more emotional story (what is now All You Need is Love). The rejection was positive but still a rejection: you write well with a lovely style. However, I’m afraid I don’t think any of these are quite right for our list at this time. I would be happy to take a look at a new idea in due course though should you wish to submit to us again.
I decided not to submit to Editor B. She’d been the least enthusiastic, I couldn’t see us working together and she wanted a romcom which, by this point, I knew wasn’t what I wanted to write and, in finishing the story, I’d stuck to my gut feel that I wanted to write more emotional stories.
I was really proud of my finished MS and had high hopes for Editors C and D who’d wanted the emotional story.
From Editor C: …think you have an interesting premise. However, after careful consideration, we don’t feel that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye is quite right for us. Your writing is great, and there is huge warmth and emotion in your narrative. All of the women’s stories are hugely poignant, but because there were three of them, it felt at times like there wasn’t quite enough space for each story, including the tragic events before the book begins, to be fully explored. The women’s fiction market is so tricky at the moment, and what we tend to be looking for at the moment are in-depth emotional stories with a tight scope, or high-concept stories that can be pitched in a single line. I’m afraid that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
As rejections go, it was a positive one and I tried to hang onto the lovely comments about my writing which is always hard when it’s ultimately a no. I was encouraged to submit other stories so I sent the original version of All You Need is Love to them too and had another rejection: Again, there is a lovely warmth to your writing and the situations your characters find themselves in are incredibly sympathetic, but I’m afraid that this isn’t one for [us]… As you know, the women’s fiction market is so difficult at the moment, and I don’t think that we could reach a bigger audience for you than you have managed yourself. Again what is missing for me is that specific, focused concept that we could use to hook readers in with a single line. For me there were again quite a lot of characters introduced in the early chapters and I felt this did make it difficult to keep track of them all and to work out whose stories were the main focus of the book.
While I was asked to think of them again for future books, it was clear to me that I didn’t write what they wanted so I couldn’t bring myself to court further rejection and closed that door.
Which just left Editor D. Despite her telling me off, I had a feeling that she was going to be the one. She wasn’t: It was such a pleasure to meet you at the RNA conference in July and I’ve looked forward to reading your submission. I absolutely loved diving back into the world you’ve conjured here and the changes you made to the manuscript have really improved the pace and tension which is great. There was a clear improvement from the MS I read back in July. Sadly though, as the story went on I struggled to empathise with the characters as much as I wanted to. Rather than being invested in their journeys I felt they lacked the necessary depth and layers, I wanted to see more of their emotions and feelings on the page. In such a competitive book market we have to ensure we feel passionate about the book and characters and sadly I just couldn’t find myself getting lost in Alison or Karen’s story as I couldn’t connect with them. In terms of next step I recommend looking at how you can weave more depth into the characters, offering readers different layers to uncover from them all.
This floored me. The feedback I’d received from readers of other books suggested that getting lost in the characters’ stories was a strength of mine and that I could write emotion well. Obviously this was just one person’s opinion but, in my dark place, this told me that the things I thought were positives weren’t. And it broke me. I wasn’t invited to submit anything else either. Door closed.
By early December 2018, a couple more submissions I’d made of Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye came back as rejections and I felt so lost. The voices of doubt in my mind were having a field day:
You can’t write
No wonder you’ve barely sold any indie books
All those thousands of hours were a right waste of time
It’s time to give up and accept it’s never going to happen for you
You’re fooling yourself that you have talent
And so it went on. Just when I was feeling at my absolute lowest, Amazon rank-stripped me. An automated email accused me of engaging in dodgy activities to manipulate sales or pages read on my bestselling book (what is now New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) in the USA. It was absurd. In the timeframe this wrongdoing was alleged to have taken place, I’d sold one eBook in that market and had the equivalent of one eBook read on Kindle Unlimited. If I was going to manipulate sales, surely logic would say I’d have sold more than two books!
Rank-stripping means that the book disappears. It has no ranking so it has no visibility. The only way a reader can find the book is by specifically searching on the title. Ironic, really, that the book at the time was called Searching for Steven and the only way he could be found was by literally searching for him! And not just in the USA where I was accused of naughtiness. This was all markets!
Naturally, I protested and asked for more clarity on what I was meant to have done. Cue an automated response telling me that no more information would be given and accusing me of still engaging in said untoward activity and that if I didn’t stop it, all my books would be removed from the site! What?!
So I protested, which just triggered another auto-response. There were four bot responses in total, each more threatening than the one before.
My Christmas was ruined that year. I was barely selling anything anyway but this pretty much took everything from me and left the fear that I’d be removed from sale completely. I’d been wondering if I needed to give up and it seemed Amazon agreed too and were potentially going to make it happen, whether I wanted it or not.
It took two months for them to reinstate the book. No apology. No explanation. Two weeks later, the exact same thing happened to the same book. Argh!
In January 2019, I saw an advert for a new publisher called Boldwood Books opening for submissions on 1st February and I felt drawn to them. One more try. And if it was a no, it might just be the time to throw in the towel.
Reader, they said yes.
And the book that lacked emotion, lacked depth, had no concept, had too many characters with whom there was no connection became my first release through Boldwood Books in September 2019 under the new title The Secret to Happiness. It has sold more than 70,000 copies across all formats, has been an international Top 10 bestseller and, at the time of writing, has over 3,600 reviews on Amazon alone, 93% of them positive.
For any aspiring authors out there, please do take some learnings from my experiences:
Keep believing in yourself and keep going. While I felt like giving up on so many occasions, I knew I never could. If, like me, stories burn inside you, then keep writing them
You need a lot of patience. Getting traditionally published is about landing the right MS on the right person’s desk at the right time. That’s a lot of stars to align and it doesn’t happen that often … but it can. Hang on in there. If you’re going down the indie route, you still need patience as there’s a lot you need to learn and do to get your book visible and it will take time
Reading is subjective and what one editor passes on, another may love. What is one reader’s scathing 1-star review is another’s favourite book
And on that note, I’ll share with you a 1-star review I’ve just spotted for The Secret to Happiness. An Amazon user in March this year declared that it was “written for children… predictable and long and drawn out. Utterly disappointed” The same reviewer gave a 5-star review to a pair of flat shoelaces!
And my latest for the same book is oozing with meanness: “Oh dear… Drivel. Embarrassingly bad dialogue. Tedious plot and poorly constructed characters. I had the unfortunate experience of the audiobook which added a further eye-rolling level of dreariness”.Honestly, is there any need to be so nasty? So the book wasn’t for her but this audiobook is actually free on Audible Plus so I can pretty much guarantee she has listened to it because it was free so it’s not like she’s even spent any money on it. A 5-star review from her has gone to some fabric dye. Classic.
But that’s fine because that’s their opinion and a huge number of readers disagree. So do my publishers. And so do I!
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and, even though I was devastated at the rejections from Editors C and D, I’m so grateful that it was a no from them because I couldn’t imagine being in a happier place than Boldwood Books. It’s my home.
I’m off to do my packing for the conference now. Hubby has been to fill the car with fuel and has returned with some emergency biscuits. I need to get them off my desk and into my suitcase as the temptation to break into them is already strong!
Tomorrow (Tuesday 12th July) will be a fortnight since book 5 in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow – was released and it has just completed a thirteen-day thirty-nine stops blog tour.
I’d like to say an enormous thank you to:
All the bloggers/reviewers who took part in the tour
A couple of extra reviewers who weren’t on the tour but who posted during this fortnight
Anyone who has shared/retweeted any blog tour posts on social media
Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising and hosting the tour
My publishers, Boldwood Books, for being generally fabulous
Even though Chasing Dreams is my sixteenth book, I do still get a little apprehensive ahead of blog tours, wondering how it will be received. I think there’s an additional pressure that comes with writing a series – especially one that has been loved as much as Hedgehog Hollow – as there’s the ever-present fear that the latest release will be the one that readers/listeners don’t like. As I read each review, I dread seeing the words ‘not as good as the one before’ and heave a sigh of relief when, for most, that’s not the case.
Fortunately the fifth instalment in the series has been very much loved and I was particularly thrilled that the first twelve reviews were all five-star. I don’t know what the thirteenth was but the next two were also 5-star so it could have been the first fifteen! Woo hoo!
There were two negative reviews (3-star) for this tour but they mainly gave positive comments. I’m very grateful that all the others were 4 or 5-star (mainly 5). I’ve just looked on NetGalley where there are currently 112 advanced reviews recorded and there is only one other 3-star on there (so far) which is from someone who hasn’t read any of the other books and was a bit lost. I therefore can’t help dismissing that one because joining a 6-book series at book 5 doesn’t make sense to me. There are no 2-star or 1-stars on NetGalley… yet! I can therefore conclude overall that the love for the hedgehogs is still there at book 5 because 3 negative reviews out of 112 reviews is pretty good going (2.6%).
I’ve put a random section of quotes in this post. There isn’t one from every reviewer who took part as I don’t have the complete set yet but wanted to get my thank you message out there first thing so I can crack on with writing book 18.
I really do appreciate the time it takes to read a book and gather thoughts into a comprehensive review and what I really appreciate on this particular tour is that none of the reviewers gave any spoilers away about Lauren’s story. I’m very grateful for that integrity and for allowing subsequent readers to discover it for themselves.
Thank you again to everyone who took part. The next blog tour will be in early September for the very final book – Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow – and I know many of those on this tour have already signed up for it. Hope you love the final instalment just as much.
It’s just over a week since Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow was released and two astonishing things have happened.
The first is that, in the week up to Saturday 2nd July, despite only being out for five days, the eBook has hit the #4 slot in the Bookstat eBook chart shared by The Bookseller based on UK pre-orders and eBook sales during those first five days. I’m absolutely delighted with this.
A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow in January and Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow in May last year both made it into this chart at #6 and Spring Tides at The Starfish Café was #3 on release in April this year.
What was extra lovely is that fellow Boldwood buddy and good friend Jo Bartlett’s latest release – A Leap of Faith for the Cornish Midwife – was also in the Top 10.
I’m so delighted that there is a chart specialising in eBooks as most of the others are all about print formats and therefore authors with smaller independent presses who lead with digital formats usually aren’t represented.
The second amazing thing was this morning when I was completely flabbergasted to see the audio version of Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow at #7 in the Audible chart. Wowsers! It had got up to #23 the day after release and had stuck around in the Top 50 ever since but had looked to be slowly dropping, being at #48 last night. To see it at #7 all morning and still in the Top 10 this evening (#9 at the time of writing this) is something I never ever expected.
It also topped the Romance chart. Woo hoo!
I’m so very grateful to all the readers who’ve made both of these things possible and, for the audio version, thank you to my amazing narrators Emma Swan and Gloria Sanders for this particular book.
What will the hedgehogs do next? I’m excited to find out!
I’m celebrating an extremely special book birthday today. It’s two years since the first book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Finding Love at a Hedgehog Hollow – was published (2nd July 2020).
What started as an idea for a standalone story has grown into a six-book series:
Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (2nd July 2020)
New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow (7th January 2021)
Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow (4th May 2021)
A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow (6th January 2022)
Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow (28th June 2022)
Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow (6th September 2022)
It’s been an amazing two years. I had no idea that there’d be so much love for the hedgehogs and that this series would grow into something that so many readers and listeners have taken to their hearts.
I’ve been christened ‘hedgehog lady’, ‘mother of hedgehogs’ and ‘queen of cliffhangers’ thanks to a little cliffhanger at the end of book 2 and a whopping great one at the end of book 3. I often get sent photos of hedgehog-themed items in shops or in readers’ homes which I love and I’ve been honoured and touched by messages from readers who’ve taken hedgehogs to their local rescue centre when they would never have known they were in danger if they hadn’t read my books.
I’ve befriended the amazing team at my local hedgehog rescue centre – Wolds Hedgehog Rescue Centre – which is the ‘real’ Hedgehog Hollow set in the Yorkshire Wolds. I’ve pumped the team for information, have welcomed Ann and Angela on a Facebook Live and have even fed a hoglet this year which was such a privilege.
The first of books in the series have been stocked by The Works. It’s such a thrill to see them on the shelves and to sign copies in my local branch in Scarborough. I’ve also seen them in garden centres locally.
The first three books have also been translated into Swedish. The first one was out at the end of May this year and book 2 is out in October. I love how the covers are different to the UK ones but have kept the colour and theme. I can’t wait to see what they come up with for book 3, which I suspect will be out early next year. There were only three books out at the time the foreign rights deal was made so I’m hoping they’ll be well received and they’ll take on the remaining three.
My own collection of hedgehog-related items is huge. I have ornaments, a door stop, soft toys, cushions, stationery, dresses, T-shirts, Christmas decorations and even a chair upholstered by Ann at Wolds Hedgehog Rescue. I’ve definitely run out of room now! Here’s just a small selection….
There’ve been some incredible chart achievements:
All five books released so far have made it into the Kindle Top 100 with all but New Arrivals achieving Top 40 positions
Chasing Dreams made it to #23 on publication day – my 2nd highest charting of all my books
Finding Love has been Top 20 in Kindle Australia
Finding Love was #1 in the Apple Free chart in the UK and Ireland and, while that was on promotion, New Arrivals hit the #2 slot in the overall Apple chart and Family Secrets hit #5
Chasing Dreams soared up to #26 in the overall Audible UK chart this week
The first four books combined, as at the end of April this year, have sold over 200,000 copies across all formats
At at the time of writing, the first five books combined have over 15,000 ratings on Amazon, over 14,000 of which are 4 or 5-star rated. They’ve also gathered well over 3,000 ratings on Audible, most of which are positive
It’s most apt that the title of the current release is Chasing Dreams as the Hedgehog Hollow series has made so many of my writing dreams come true. Will Christmas Miracles bring the miracle of a TV series? Hee hee hee! That would be the stuff beyond dreams!
Thank you to everyone who has bought/borrowed/downloaded/streamed any of the Hedgehog Hollow books. I’m so very grateful.