The one where I explain why the Hedgehog Hollow series is ending

What a busy day it has been! Not only has it been the publication day of Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow but we’ve also had a cover reveal for the final book in the series: Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow. I absolutely love the cover – I mean, what’s not to love about hedgehogs wearing Christmas hats?

Book 6 will be out on 6th September so not long to wait and can be pre-ordered on Kindle UK here. It will go up for pre-order on Audible and other eBook sites nearer the time. A little heads up on the audio version is that, while we aim for all formats to be available on publication day, there will be a slight delay with the audio and it will be available a week to ten days later so please bear with us on that.

I’ve been out for most of the day and have had no WiFi connectivity which has been a bit frustrating so I was able to respond to messages first thing but not since. I hope to catch up tomorrow. Thank you everyone who has wished me publication best wishes and said kind things about the story. I’m so very grateful.

I’m still reeling at the current chart positions too. Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow is currently #27 in the overall Kindle chart and #42 in the Audible chart. I can’t quite believe it! The only eBook of mine that has reached a higher chart position on Kindle UK is New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms which happened when it went on a Prime deal. This is purely on pre-orders and purchases today and I’m so overwhelmed. Keep having to pinch myself!

So let’s talk about book 6 going up for pre-order and the series ending…

Since book three, I’ve been transparent about the series coming to an end and, after the release if book 4 – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – in January, I’ve been very clear that there would be two more books, both out this year.

It’s so flattering that readers and listeners love Samantha, Josh and all the other characters so much – human and spiky – and want the series to keep going and I’m so grateful for that love and support. There’ve been expressions of disappointment, requests for me to keep writing the series indefinitely and a joke among some lovely fans of the series about staging a protest in my front garden (during which I must feed them biscuits) which has been great fun, making me laugh. What hasn’t been quite so fun are a couple of reviews stating that I’ve let readers down by ending the series. A particular advanced review said very little about the book and was instead a rant about how annoyed they were with me for this being the penultimate book. Eek! That’s a bit harsh! It’s not like I’ve abandoned it mid-series with a gazillion unfinished plot points.

The Hedgehog Hollow series has been exceptionally successful. What started out one book – a blending of an exercise I did on my Masters in Creative Writing with the desire to set something in a hedgehog rescue centre, inspired by my auntie’s work as a hedgehog rescuer – grew into something I don’t think any of us ever imagined. There’s a lot of love out there for hedgehogs. And quite rightly so!

Readers/listeners might therefore think I’m a little bonkers to end a series which is so popular so I thought I’d explain several reasons behind this decision:

Reason 1 – Not staying too long at the party

Anyone who read the acknowledgements at the back of book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, will know that a couple of early reviews of book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow completely put me off my stride. Those reviews said I should have stopped at the one book because nothing happened in book 2 and it was all padding. Ouch! That hurt so much that I couldn’t write for several days and had a huge panic about agreeing with my publishers to extend the series.

Thankfully more lovely reviews came in and the pre-orders, sales figures and quality of reviews have shown that, while there will always be some readers who decide they’ve had enough and dip out of a series, the vast majority of my readers have loved all the books and can’t get enough of Hedgehog Hollow.

But there’s always that fear at the back of my mind that, if I keep going on indefinitely, I will hit the point where those ‘should have stopped earlier’ comments are valid criticism and even I agree with them. 

For me, for my amazing cast of characters and for those wonderful hedgehogs, I want the series to end on a high.

Reason 2 – Having enough stories to tell

There’s a large and fascinating cast of characters connected with Hedgehog Hollow and they all have stories to tell but some are more interesting than others so, in creating this series, I’ve needed to think about who has something interesting to say, ensuring the main storyline remains fresh and very different from book to book while keeping some of the series threads and themes going.

Many of the characters are so closely connected to each other that in telling one character’s story, I’ve revealed much of another’s story too, meaning there’s insufficient left to explore in a separate book.

If we take Samantha’s parents, for example – Jonathan and Debs – their lives are so tied in with Samantha’s storyline and much of their backstory has already come out within Samantha’s narration. I did toy with a book where Jonathan was the narrator (then changed my mind) but I was always adamant that Debs wouldn’t narrate one. This is because the relationship between Samantha and Debs is a key thread across the whole series and giving Debs a book would lessen the impact of following that thread through Samantha’s eyes. We’ve already discovered why Debs is the way she is through information shared across the series and we know the relationship history between Debs and Jonathan through other books so, if I told her story (or Jonathan’s) I’d have been regurgitating known information which would take away the excitement of a backstory reveal.

It’s the same with Josh’s parents, Connie and Paul. Enough of their backstory has already been revealed through Josh in New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow and we’ve kept a track of how they’re doing with their new partners throughout the series. They don’t need books of their own. I could write them but the ‘staying too long at the party’ criticism would be deserved if I did.

Reason 3 – Giving Samantha her happy ever after

This is actually the biggest reason for stopping at six books. The way I set up this series was to have Samantha as the narrator all the way through. This makes sense. After all, Samantha is Hedgehog Hollow. She’s the person who set it up, she’s the person who runs it, she’s the connection to all the other characters.

From book 2 onwards, a guest narrator whose life is connected to Samantha’s has told their interlinked story. While the ‘big’ story is usually the one belonging to the guest narrator, Samantha does need to have key things happening in her life to keep her story interesting and not just padding.

SPOILER ALERT – Skip over these next 2 paragraphs if you’ve just started the series

In New Arrivals, we found Samantha struggling to balance the needs of the rescue centre alongside her full-time role as a tutor, resulting in her collapsing at work and accepting she couldn’t do both jobs. In Family Secrets, she started experiencing PTSD episodes as a result of the vendetta from the Grimes family and, in A Wedding, she was planning her wedding while dealing with the theft of the rescue centre’s money and the subsequent arrival of Phoebe and Darcie. 

There have also been three key relationship threads developing across the series – with Josh, her mum and Chloe – where something has changed in each book to move those relationships forward. With Josh, this has been the stages in their relationship, with Debs it has been the gradual thawing of hostilities, and with Chloe this is about Samantha standing up to her during her selfish moments, developing Samantha’s confidence and resilience.

NO SPOILERS FROM NOW…

So there’s always been a conflict/challenge facing Samantha in each book running alongside the ongoing relationship threads.

I sometimes get messages from readers, see comments on social media, and read remarks in reviews telling me to lay off Samantha and asking when I’m going to let her have her happy ever after. I love that readers adore Samantha and want her to be happy but my response is always that, if I give Samantha her HEA, the series ends. Without conflict, there’s no story to tell.

Much as I understand this desire for Samantha to settle down with Josh, have babies, have a calm and quiet life rescuing hedgehogs, no more family conflicts and no more trouble with the Grimes family, do readers really want to read about a ‘normal’ happy life? Of course not! They want to be excited, moved, drawn into a story. And a HEA doesn’t do that.

Which is why the series must end.

My amazing editor, Nia, had also questioned the sense in ending the series when it’s doing so well but, when she read my first draft of Chasing Dreams, the reasons clicked into place for her. She could see what I was saying about how increasingly difficult it would be to have a story for Samantha to tell. I had conflict planned for her in books 5 and 6 but where else would I go beyond that?

There’s conflict I could bring in to keep the series going. I could mess things up for her and Josh. I could introduce a number of scenarios leading to arguments or even a split … but why would I do that? For a start, they are such a well-suited couple. They don’t argue. They’re a partnership, supporting each other through everything so this wouldn’t sit with the relationship I’ve built. I doubt the readers would appreciate it either. Why invest in a couple only for the author to then split them up? And Samantha and Josh certainly wouldn’t thank me for it. One of the things that was really important to me was that, when they got together, it would work for life and I know from reviews that readers have loved how solid they are.

What to expect from the final book

There is one more story I want to tell which is Fizz’s. I loved her from the moment she turned up unexpectedly on the page. With her pink hair and sparkly unicorn T-shirt, she made a strong first impression and I just knew she was going to become a key character.

Running alongside Fizz’s story, Samantha will have one more challenge to overcome before I finally give her a happy ever after.

The final book – Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow – is available for pre-order on Kindle now and will have conclusions for many of the supporting characters. It will go up for pre-order on Audible and other eBook formats nearer the time and be available as a paperback from publication day. I’ve shared the blurb at the end of this post.

Is that it for Hedgehog Hollow?

The great news is that, although this is the end of the series, it’s not the end of Hedgehog Hollow. I still plan to write a prequel book telling Thomas and Gwendoline’s story which I’m excited to write. This is currently penned in for release in July 2024 on the 4-year anniversary of the release of the first book in the series – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – but no definite promises on this just yet. Things can and do change in publishing.

I’m also planning some spin-off books which will tell the stories of people who become connected in some way with Hedgehog Hollow, whether as volunteers or for some other reason. I can’t give too much away as that would give spoilers for what’s coming up in Chasing Dreams and Christmas Miracles but readers will get to catch up with what’s going on at the rescue centre without Samantha being the narrator (and without me having to mess up Samantha’s life!)

I’m really looking forward to writing the first one of these – which I can confirm will be out in January 2023 – and I think readers will be happy with the glimpses into life at Hedgehog Hollow through the eyes of new characters.

So that’s why the series is ending! Would I ever write another Hedgehog Hollow book (other than the prequel)? Never say never but I’m not planning to do so for the moment.

Thank you to everyone who has fallen in love with the series and with hedgehogs. Your support and kind words have meant the world to me. For those who are disappointed, please don’t be sad – feel happy instead that you travelled to Hedgehog Hollow and made new friends and know that there’s more to come from the Yorkshire Wolds, Whitsborough Bay and my new setting in 2023 of the stunning Lake District.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

It’s the countdown to Christmas at Hedgehog Hollow Wildlife Rescue Centre, and everyone is gearing up for a festive season to remember…

It should be the most wonderful time of the year for Samantha and Josh as they prepare for the arrival of their first baby. But life at Hedgehog Hollow rarely goes to plan and the pair are faced with adversaries, old and new, and unexpected challenges to overcome.

Fizz’s job at the heart of the rescue centre is a dream come true but her personal life is more like a nightmare. With her love life a disaster and her past about to dramatically catch up with her, she needs the love and support of her Hedgehog Hollow family more than ever.

As the snow falls over Hedgehog Hollow, will Samantha and Fizz find the Christmas miracle they need to overcome their heartache and find happiness?

Top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland welcomes you back to Hedgehog Hollow this Christmas for the final time in this series for a heartfelt story of love, family, friendship – and hedgehogs of course!

The one where I look at what’s changed since I was published – and it’s not all positive!

I have two publication anniversaries. I have 23rd May which is the day that my debut novella was published and today – 3rd June – when my debut novel was published, both seven years ago. I tend to think of today as being my proper publishing anniversary as the novella snuck in last minute as a prequel to my debut series and the big build was for the publication of Searching for Steven (now New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) on 3rd June 2015.

The evolution of my debut from published to indie to published again

I sometimes do reflective posts to celebrate key milestones and these usually involve me talking about my journey to publication and the struggle of the first five years as a published author. Today, I am going to be reflective but in a different way. I want to look at some of the changes that I’ve noticed in the publishing industry during those seven years. I emphasise the use of the words ‘I’ve noticed’ as this isn’t some deep research piece; it’s my observations.

I’ll start with some of the really positive changes/initiatives I’ve seen…

INCREASE IN AUDIO POPULARITY

It’s widely reported that audiobooks have had a massive surge in popularity over recent years. I’m not going to quote facts and figures at you but, believe me, we’re talking enormous. The pandemic helped but they were already on an upward trajectory.

Audiobooks have made reading accessible to a much wider audience and I love hearing from listeners as to when/where they listen as it’s so varied – while out walking (with or without a dog), driving, when struggling to sleep at night, while doing household tasks like ironing or cooking – as well as those who love audio because reading is a challenge due to chronic illness, eyesight, arthritis or any number of other health issues.

One of the (huge number of) wonderful things about my publisher, Boldwood Books, is that they don’t wait until a certain amount of time has passed or a certain level of sales are attained before an audiobook will be considered. It’s part of the multi-format offering right from the start, meaning all preferences are catered for from publication day.

A positive initiative within audio is the Audible Plus programme. Launched in the UK in July 2021, this is a catalogue of over 7,500 titles which are free to Audible subscribers. I will admit that I had a moment of panic when Boldwood contacted me to say that six of my titles were going into Audible Plus, especially when I only had eleven books out at that time meaning we were giving more than half away for free. It has, however, turned out brilliantly because I regularly get messages from readers or see reviews stating that the listener wouldn’t have picked my books but decided to give one a try as it was free and they became hooked, finishing the rest of the series – or even my whole audio collection – using their credits.

The six titles of mine are shown in the graphic below and it includes the first of the Hedgehog Hollow series and the first two of the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series, acting as great hooks into the rest of those two series.

AUDIOBOOKS AVAILABLE ON STREAMING SERVICES

The way people listen to music has changed a lot over the past decade. I’ll admit that I’m old school and still buy CDs although I need to change that because all I do is upload them onto my Mac and listen to them there. We own a CD player but it’s old and past its best and I got a pre-loved car recently and it doesn’t have one so I don’t really have anywhere to play them!

Anyway, streaming services are where it is for music but did you know that you can also listen to audiobooks this way? It’s not promoted by Spotify or other providers because, while a CD is naturally broken down into tracks, a book isn’t. Boldwood use a company called Zebrulation who carve up the audiobook into three-minute tracks to fit the streaming model. If somebody has subscribed to a streaming service and is listening to a streamed book that way, they won’t notice any difference to listening to it on Audible. However, if they’re listening to a free version with adverts, they’ll have 3-4 tracks and then an advert. The advert break may come mid-sentence so it’s not the ideal listening experience but it’s another format which some will love.

The author gets paid, even if the listener is using a free streaming service.

RETAILERS WORKING WITH INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS

Historically, if you were with an independent publisher, you had pretty much zero chance of getting into a bookshop or supermarket as they would only deal with the big publishers. If an author has the confidence to approach their local indie bookshop, WH Smith or Waterstones, they might be able to convince them to stock copies of their books and even host a signing event but this various massively from shop to shop. Some are very receptive and some aren’t.

Recently, there has been some evidence of supermarkets and chain retailers trialling books from smaller publishers. The Works have been leaders in this. They’ve had a programme with Boldwood since spring 2020. It stalled at the beginning as we went into lockdown when the first books were meant to go into store, and it had a hesitant re-start but it’s back on track and I’m very thrilled to have had six books into The Works so far. Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow has gone into shops very recently and readers may still find copies of New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow loitering on the shelves if they’ve been placed high, low or behind other books.

This week it’s half-term and I went through to Monks Cross, a retail park on the outskirts of York, with my daughter. That’s where our nearest Asda is and I can’t resist looking at the books any time I’m in a supermarket (not very often as hubby does the food shopping). I was delighted to see Boldwood author Erin Litteken’s The Memory Keeper of Kyiv in there. It’s the only Boldwood book to go into Asda so far but it’s a fantastic start and huge congratulations to Erin.

Another Boldwood author is going into Sainsbury’s but I can’t say who yet as it’s not my news to share but hopefully that will also pave the way for others. And there’s some other exciting news involving a high street retailer which will also hopefully be a success. (Apologies for being cryptic but it’s also not my news to share but fingers crossed it will be one day).

These are all really exciting developments in publishing since I’ve become a published author, but now I move onto the not so positive trends…

READERS EXPECTING BOOKS TO BE FREE

Oh my goodness, where do I start on this? Let’s go for two myths:

Myth 1 – Authors are rich: Even if someone is not a reader, they’ll have heard of certain authors because their books have been so entrenched in popular culture and often made into films/TV series, such as J K Rowling, E L James, Stephen King, Dan Brown and so on. And, of course, the more recent publishing phenomenon Richard Osman. These authors are right at the top of their game and their bank balances will reflect that.

But for most authors, it is a struggle to make money from publishing. Many still have a day job around which they write. For my first five years as a published author, I had a demanding full-time day job and wrote on evenings and weekends. My writing goal was to earn enough to leave the day job. I’m very thankful that I have been able to afford to write full-time for the past two years … for now. This is in jeopardy for many authors because of the alarming trends I’m going to discuss but let us address that other myth first.

Myth 2 – Authors are not ‘real’ authors if they want to make money: Excuse my abbreviated swearing but WTF? This is currently all over Twitter and BookTok and I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing. I can’t help thinking that this absurd attitude is a way of justifying the blatant theft of books which I’m going to come to a moment.

There is some kind of crazy attitude towards the creative arts that it’s all about the creative just wanting their words/music/art to be out there in the public domain for the benefit of the people because that is reward enough for us. Again, I say WTF!!!!

When I’m asked for writing tips, one of the ones I give is Don’t become an author because you hope to make lots of money. Write because there’s a story burning inside you that you have to tell. The reason I say this is because most authors don’t make much money so if you’re in it hoping to be the next top-of-their-game millionaire, then that’s not a good enough motivation as you will invest a gazillion hours and very likely not even earn a tenth of minimum wage for that effort. But it does NOT mean you should expect to earn nothing from your writing. We still need to put food on the table and pay the bills! A real author is someone who has written a book which has been published. And they deserve to be paid for it.

So, with those two myths laid out bare, what terrifying trends have I seen in my seven years as a published author?

Trend 1 – Readers who’ll ONLY buy ebooks when they’re on a free promotion

I’d like to think that it goes without saying that if an ebook is free to you the reader, the author makes nothing from it. There’s not some clever loophole here. ‘Selling’ it for free means zero income for that ebook. As an aside, an ebook for 99p generates very little income too. For an indie author, they will receive 35% of this amount from Amazon i.e. 35p. I don’t know the exact amount from other sales platforms but it will be similar. This percentage rises to 70% if the ebook is £1.99 and above so the author needs to sell four ebooks at 99p to earn the same as one book at £1.99. For those with publishers, the figures will vary slightly depending on the deal the publisher has negotiated but it’s a similar principle.

What’s brilliant about free promo books is that it allows you to try an author who isn’t known to you with no financial investment. If you don’t like the book/their style, then you haven’t lost anything other than the bit of time it has taken you to read it (or partially read it if you ditch it). I personally don’t ‘buy’ many free books but I have occasionally taken advantage of a free offer and have discovered a few new-to-me and debut authors this way.

Another great thing about a free promo is grabbing a backlist book from an author you love. Perhaps you discovered that author after they’d released several books and it would be a huge financial outlay to grab their entire back catalogue in one go but this gives you the chance to acquire the one you’ve missed while paying for others.

But there is a worrying trend of readers who will ONLY buy books when they’re free. I’ve seen comments on Facebook groups specifically asking which books are free at the moment and, while not a problem in itself – who doesn’t love a bargain? – it’s the accompanying comments suggesting ways of always getting free books (some of which I’m going to cover as separate trends) and discussions about how books should be free all the time.

When I was an indie author, I put several of my books on a free promotion over time and I justified to myself that giving them away for free – particularly a first in series – would hopefully generate additional sales (and therefore income) as the readers who had them for free would love my books/be hooked in. I found no discernible difference in sales. Why? I’ll never know for definite but there is a school of thought that, because there’s no lengthy buying decision and no investment in a free book, the ‘purchase’ will often just sit on a Kindle and never be read. Eek!

Since joining Boldwood, I’ve had a few free offers but they’ve had more success. In August 2020, we offered Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes for free as a specific promotion plan to lead-in to follow-on book Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café being published a month later. I believe it generated some interest for Starry Skies … although it also gathered me a handful of negative reviews for Carly’s Cupcakes from people who didn’t like this type of book (but had grabbed it for free) and people who thought it was too early for Christmas (but still grabbed it for free!)

Apple’s Free Book of the Week programme has been successful for me. I’ve had Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Series) and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1 in the Hedgehog Hollow series) in this programme and they have both generated good sales for the rest of the series, particularly for the Hedgehog Hollow one. The author makes no money from the free book but hopefully gains new readers who buy the others in the series (and maybe even a backlist).

I absolutely do advocate taking advantage of free offers and 99p promotions but if a reader never pays for a book, they aren’t supporting their favourite authors because those authors aren’t making any money from this and, as already stated, myth 2 is crap! We can’t survive on air!

Trend 2 – Pirate Sites

Downloading a book from a pirate site is theft and there’s no justification for it. It’s also very dangerous as some of these pirate sites aren’t even legitimate because they’re about grabbing your details and/or giving users a virus.

Encouraging users to get free books from pirate sites is something I’ve seen on social media with regular users justifying their use through myth 1: Authors are rich and they can afford it. Even if we all were, that still doesn’t justify stealing from us.

Another ‘justification’ is I’m skint and can’t afford books. So the solution is to steal them? Wow! I completely understand that finances are tight for so many, especially this year with the hideous hike in, well, absolutely everything! But theft isn’t the answer because finances are tight for many authors too and pirate sites are making them even tighter. So many authors have to stop writing because they can’t afford to continue. For those who don’t have the income, there’s this amazing facility called a library. I appreciate that libraries can only stock a small proportion of books written but ebooks are very accessible through a number of library routes – readers don’t have to physically go into a library. And the author gets paid. It’s not much (11p or thereabouts) but it’s roughly on par with how much they’d earn on the sale of a paperback and it does add up.

Trend 3 – Only getting ebooks from NetGalley but not being an influencer

NetGalley “connects publishers with reviewers, librarians, booksellers, media, and educators who discover new books on NetGalley and recommend them to their audiences” (NetGalley’s website). The idea is that, in advance of the publication date, a publisher will provide a copy of an ebook for free to those in an influential position who have an audience/following and can give an early review to create a buzz about the book and hopefully generate pre-orders or sales on/just after publication.

Where NetGalley is properly used, it’s brilliant. Each book my publisher releases goes onto NetGalley and embarks on a blog tour on publication date. The reviewers/bloggers on the tour get hold of the ebook through the site and share their thoughts on a pre-agreed date on the tour. Some influencers not on the tour will also get hold of it and share their reviews.

But so will a stack of other readers who don’t have that influence. They use NetGalley as a source of perpetually free books. They need to leave a review on NetGalley’s website to keep their feedback rating high (which is what publishers look at when approving who can get books) and that’s the bare minimum some will do. Many barely even manage that, leaving a generic sentence which suggests they haven’t even read the book. Last year, I spotted a very generic short NG review which sounded familiar. I noticed that the same reviewer had shared that exact review for my previous release and a bit of wider checking revealed a stack of author friends who had the exact same generic review from them too. Perhaps they read them and this was just a bit of lazy reviewing, perhaps they didn’t, but it didn’t benefit the authors in any way.

I am very grateful to the readers who use NG properly – the ones who leave a spoiler-free review specific to that book (doesn’t have to be long but does need to be specific) and who have a platform to share this. Sadly, there are far too many who abuse this system. If a reader cannot say hand on heart that they meet the description in the quote at the start of this section, then they are not supporting their favourite authors because they are getting all that author’s releases for free and, as already stated, we can’t survive on air. And if we have no income, we can’t keep writing.

Trend 4 – Returning ebooks for free after reading them

This is the most alarming trend which actually makes me feel physically sick. It started around March when several videos went viral on BookTok (on TikTok) with an ‘awesome hack’ – that you can buy an ebook on Kindle and, after you’ve read it, return it for a no-question refund. Authors started reporting phenomenal increases in returns and some are even now in a negative balance with Amazon because, even though Amazon are giving the reader a refund, they’re charging the author for the return.

I received my royalties statement for March this week and it was significantly lower than the statements for the previous few months – roughly a 20% dip. This could be coincidence and I write this having not yet spoken to my publisher about it but I can’t help feeling it’s a bit too much of a coincidence for that dip not to be the result of returns.

Just because Amazon’s returns policy makes this possible, does it make this right? A hundred per cent not! Why? Because it’s THEFT.

Life is full of decisions and some of those turn out well and some of them not so much. You go to the cinema to watch a film and sometimes you love it and sometimes you hate it but you won’t get your money back if it’s the latter. You buy a CD and you listen to it and don’t like it but you have to suck it up. You buy a dress and wear it out but you decide it’s not really you/you didn’t feel comfortable in it so it hangs in your wardrobe and you don’t wear it again. I have so many clothes like that! Or you go out for a meal and there was nothing technically wrong with it but it just wan’t to your taste. You don’t get your money back. So why would someone read a book and think that it’s okay to return it after they’ve consumed it just because they didn’t love it? Or, perhaps even worse, they did enjoy it but they decided to get their money back anyway because the policy allows it.

This has to stop. I barely slept last night and my stomach is in knots today worrying about this and what this means for the future of publishing because if this continues, all the authors whose income predominantly comes from ebook sales are absolutely screwed. I truly hope that the publishers will get together and address this as individual authors – even the big names – have no chance of tackling the might of Zon.

Any time an author has gone onto TikTok/BookTok or Twitter to challenge this, there’s a vicious pile-on giving the author abuse for being so entitled to think that they have a right to expect to be paid for their work – myth 2 – or the usual myth 1 suggestion that all authors are rich and can afford it.

I will just emphasise at this point that this is nothing to do with borrowing books on programmes like Kindle Unlimited, Prime Reading. These are legitimate borrowing programmes where you return a book when you’ve read it. The author gets paid for the number of pages read providing it exceeds a certain percentage. These are great programmes and thank you to anyone participating. I’m talking about buying an ebook outside of these programmes, reading it (or a significant part of it) and returning it for a refund. This is stealing. The reader has consumed the product and needs to pay for it.

The returns policy should be for legitimate returns – when an ebook has been re-issued and a duplicate has been bought in error (Kindle won’t let you buy an eBook twice but if it has been re-issued by a publisher who has acquired the rights or an indie author who has their rights back, it will be a new record on Amazon although the blurb should always say it’s a re-issue) or a ‘fat-finger’ purchase where the mistake has been realised and the ebook returned without reading it.

THE CHANGING APPROACH TO BOOK REVIEWS

Trend 5 – Leaving a negative review and tagging the author in on social media

As an author, I’m realistic. I’d love for everyone to love everything I write but that’s not going to happen. Some authors avoid reading their reviews because the negative ones hurt too much. I do read all mine and I’d like to say it gets easier to take the negative ones but they still make my stomach churn and fill me with doubt about my ability as an author when I read about how much readers hate my characters/plot/writing style/me. Okay, so they don’t specifically say they hate me but some of them are so vicious that they do feel very personal.

But this isn’t about negative reviews. This is specifically about tagging authors in them. There is a growing trend of sharing a negative review on Twitter or on Instagram and either directly tagging the author into it or using a hashtag with the author’s name which they’ll find if they’re following their own hashtag in order to thank people for any kind comments.

Why? Why would someone do this? There was a really great post about this on the blog of independent bookseller Tea Leaves and Reads recently. You can read the blog post here. Author Stephen Cox summarises this growing tagging trend with this brilliant quote: “It’s generally not done because a) they’ll see it anyway and b) if you think my baby is ugly, you are entitled to your opinion. You’re not really entitled to come to my house and shout YOUR BABY IS UGLY through the letterbox”. This! This absolutely sums it up.

Like many of my characters, I try to be kind and see the best in people and I find myself feeling sorry for these individuals. What must be going on in their lives to make them feel it’s okay to tag an author into a review to tell them how crap they think the book is? Does it make them somehow feel better about something in their life if they put someone else down? I’ve been tagged in and hashtagged into negative reviews and it floored me because it comes out of the blue. When I participate in a blog tour or I look at my reviews, I’m always prepared that there may be something negative. When someone tags me, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect it to be for a positive reason. I’m not saying readers can’t express their negative views on a book. Just don’t tag the author in. Pretty please. It’s mean and there’s plenty that’s mean and unpleasant already in the world without doing that.

Trend 6 – Reviewers who tell the author how they should have written the story

All reviewers have a different approach and there is no right or wrong way to write a review. As an author, I love reading reviews where the reader shares what they particularly loved about the story, how it made them feel and whether anything personally resonates with them. Spoiler-free of course! But that doesn’t mean that’s how reviews need to be written.

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend in reviews where the reader shares their opinion on what they think the characters should have done. This typically is full of spoilers too. I’m going to use a fictional example here to illustrate the point:

I really enjoyed this book but Amber wound me up. She should have told Pete about her doubts about being ready for a second baby. The indecision was ridiculous. Pete should also have been honest with Amber about being made redundant instead of trying to find a new job first because she could then have told him about her worries. Natalie shouldn’t have been so forgiving when her ex came back and revealed that he couldn’t cope with receiving his cancer diagnosis and had needed some space. If he really loved her, he’d have told her instead of disappearing for a month and they’d have worked through it together...

And so it goes on.

The thing about fiction is that (a) it’s fiction – a story made up by the author – but (b) it’s reflective of real life and in real life we all have personality quirks/flaws and occasionally make poor decisions. If the two couples in this fictional example had sat down and addressed their concerns immediately, where would the story be? What conflict would there be? The book would be a couple of chapters long and incredibly boring.

I do find myself very bewildered about this type of review because, aside from appearing to tell the author how their fictional characters should have behaved, it is full of spoilers which is not the point of a review. I understand reviewers saying that they struggle to warm to a character because of certain behaviours but this bold declaration that the behaviours were wrong is a little strange.

So there you have it. My rather long guide through some amazing developments in publishing since I became a published author seven years ago and some scary trends too which bewilder me and break my heart. I am blessed to have found some amazing readers and listeners who are so supportive of my writing, regularly engage with me, promote my work to others. I’m so very grateful to each and every one of them for their part in enabling me to continue to write full-time. But a 20% decrease in earnings is frightening and I just pray that those who are engaged in the ‘books for free’ trends think about the impact this will have on the publishing world. If a reader never pays for any books (or never borrows them from a library or legitimate subscription service through which the author gets paid), the author won’t have any money, the author won’t be able to afford to write any more books and there will be no books left to have for free.

I’m off to paint the bathroom now. It is, after all, a bank holiday weekend which means DIY doesn’t it? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these trends whether you’re an author or reader. Perhaps you’ve noticed others I haven’t mentioned.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I turned fifty

It was my birthday yesterday (1st May) and I hit the half-century which doesn’t feel real because I still don’t feel any older than I did at thirty, although my body would beg to differ. I try to avoid sitting on the floor these days as it’s touch and go as to whether I can get up again!

I don’t normally go big for birthdays and I’m not one for big nights out drinking but specifically wanted to celebrate turning fifty, especially when so many people I know (my husband and older brother included) were unable to celebrate big occasions during lockdown.

With going away to the Lake District for a fortnight over Easter, we didn’t want to venture very far. We have two Forest Holidays sites near us called Cropton and Keldy – both just 45 minutes drive away – and we’ve been to them both in the past when our daughter was young and we could stay out of season (cheaper!) Even though a bank holiday weekend was going to be pricey, we decided to go for it with it being a special occasion.

Look what I found in the gift shop in the reception! I had to have him! His name’s Bramble and he is soooo adorable.

The great thing about going on holiday somewhere so local is getting there quickly and being able to enjoy your evening rather than spending it travelling. We were there as soon as check-in started and we had a little wander round the site before having a relaxing evening in our log cabin with food delivered from the on-site restaurant.

Saturday morning – the day before my birthday – dawned with beautiful blue skies and sunshine. We decided to go for a walk round nearby village Thornton-le-Dale then visit Pickering, get some lunch, and take it up to the castle.

I’ll admit it does feel a little weird being on ‘holiday’ and visiting places that we regularly visit anyway but the point was to get away and have a relaxing time. If we’d stayed at home, I might have taken my birthday off but I’d have worked for the rest of the weekend.

Thornton-le-Dale is such a picturesque village and it was gorgeous to see ducklings on the river and the pond. So cute. There are some stunning houses and I always joke they’d be where an author would live as the views are inspiring. I doubt they come on the market very often and, if they did, they’d be way out of our price bracket but it’s nice to have dreams.

We’ve not visited Pickering Castle as a family before so it was great to explore the ruins and the grounds and generally enjoy the sunshine. Pickering Castle is an English Heritage site and you can find out more about it here. It’s a lovely place to visit and the views are fabulous.

We returned to the cabin with time for a Cornish cream tea which my fabulous friend and super talented author, Sharon Booth, sent me, followed by a sneaky glass of wine in the hot tub before getting ready to go out for a birthday tea.

On the evening, we met my parents at a nearby pub. They’d brought their caravan to a site in the area so they could see me for my birthday. The person who’d taken the booking over Facebook Messenger hadn’t written it down which was a bit fraught as they were full but they made space for us, thank goodness.

I won’t name the pub as these things happen and so much of the hospitality industry is struggling with lack of staff but it was a lesson learned for me never to make a booking for any pub via Messenger in future. I only did it that way because it was out of hours but I’ll wait and do it via the phone when the pub is open going forwards!

The following day – my actual birthday – it was pouring when we woke up and it put a real dampener on things (literally). It had been such a gorgeous day before and the thought of traipsing through the forest in the rain didn’t appeal.

We decided to take a trip to the market town of Malton but hadn’t paused to think about whether the shops would be open on a Sunday. Most weren’t. So we had a walk round (mainly closed) Malton although the good news was it had stopped raining and I gazed longingly in the gift shop windows.

I wanted some cakey loveliness and had been hoping to find some in a nice independent bakery but there were none open. We nipped into a farm shop and a garden centre on the way back to the cabin but it was mission unsuccessful. Hubby, bless him, did a detour via the high street in Pickering so we could nip into the cafe/bakery where we’d bought lunch the day before – Russell’s Cafe & Traditional Bakery. They had a window full of the most delicious-looking slices of cake. They were on a deal where it was cheaper to buy three but the munchkin wanted something not in the offer so, after asking for hubby’s, I had to pick two for me. It would have been very wrong not to! And, oh my goodness, they were delicious. If you go to Pickering, definitely visit Russell’s. The sandwiches for lunchtime the day before were delicious too.

We returned to the cabin and decided that, as it was dull, we’d relax and watch a film but we couldn’t find anything we particularly fancied. We went for the recent re-make of The Secret Garden starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters but it’s a slow story and I was getting fidgety. I will watch the end but we put it off and went for a walk along one of the forest trails instead although I was a bit full after my double-cake indulgence and could probably have been rolled round the trail.

The munchkin and I had time for another dip in the hot tub, this time with some champagne (for me) before Mum and Dad came over to the cabin on the evening to look around and join us for a birthday tea. They brought a balloon and cake with them which was lovely.

We had planned to do something today (bank holiday Monday) but it was another dull day and we decided that, as we still hadn’t settled back in after our Easter trip, it would make more sense to get back home and get organised. I only have a couple of weeks left to write my final Hedgehog Hollow book and I’m only a fifth of the way through it so I have a lot to do. Catching up today (or trying to) means I can be head down from tomorrow. Or at least that’s the plan!

I couldn’t really think of anything I wanted for my birthday but my Kindle is on the way out so I got a new Paperwhite and hubby and daughter surprised me with a lovely new watch. From my parents and brothers, I got some money to buy a teddy bear but instead treated myself to a limited edition Herdy while I was in the Lakes. It’s made by Merrythought who are a longstanding UK-based teddy bear manufacturer (so nearly a bear!) and I’m completely in love with him.

A huge thank you to everyone who sent cards, gifts, flowers and best wishes, helping to make my fiftieth a special day.

Hope you’ve had a lovely bank holiday weekend and, if you’ve worked it, hope you get a break soon.

On a final note, even though it’s my birthday, I’m giving away some gifts. The wonderful The Friendly Book Community over on Facebook have been celebrating their first birthday with some amazing giveaways across the week donated by the lovely Admin team and some of the authors. If you haven’t already joined this group and you love books, you might want to do so, as it’s a warm and friendly space to be. And then you can be in with a chance to win one of my bundles. There are 4 for UK-based readers and 1 for overseas readers. You can find the group here and you have until Friday to be in for a chance of winning on my giveaways.

Big birthday hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I recall a Valentine’s Day mystery

Happy Valentine’s Day. I said this to my 15-year-old daughter this morning and was met with a muttered response of ‘But I’m single’. I can completely understand why she said that because it would have been my reaction too when I was 15 and for a long time afterwards.

I used to dread Valentine’s Day. I never had a boyfriend at school. Too fat apparently. Gosh, I wish I was still ‘enormously fat’ aka size 12-14 now! We digress…

At college, I had two extremely short-term boyfriends – we’re talking only a couple of dates here – but one of those did coincide with Valentine’s Day. He was a friend of a friend. He fancied her, she didn’t fancy him, I met him and told her that I thought he was quite sweet, and somehow we ended up on a date. Cue absolute torture about the type of card to buy for someone I’d only recently met. Cue even greater discomfort when he presented me with a soft toy gift that my friend had previously told me he’d planned to give to her. Perhaps explains why it didn’t last long.

The university years were a little different. In my first year, I had a boyfriend. For both of us, it was our first serious relationship and he made a big fuss about Valentine’s Day, presenting a card and gifts at midnight. I was therefore a little surprised later in the day when I nipped out of my room in our halls of residence to make a cuppa and returned to find another card and gift on my bed. Not from the boyfriend. The lad living in the room next door to me had decided to use Valentine’s Day to tell me how he felt about me. He knew how serious things were between the boyfriend and me because he was part of our friendship group. Eek! Hadn’t seen that one coming. The friendship between him and the boyfriend was a little strained from that point.

In my final year at university, I was stunned to find a whopping four Valentine’s cards in my halls pigeon hole. I’d been expecting one from my female bestie in the room next door. Both single, we’d decided to exchange cards to celebrate friendship which was lovely. The other three were a big surprise. My bestie had a surprise card too and a male friend who lived on our floor in our halls of residence admitted to sending us one each, also celebrating friendship. What a star. My third card was a fun one, tracked down to a lad I’d had a bit of an on/off flirty thing going with but the fourth was a mystery which I was determined to solve.

My mystery card had these words in it: Why is it girl that when the world is lit by lightning that I keep telling you that I love you? It sounded to me like a song lyric but I couldn’t place it. These days, this would have been resolved in seconds by a trip to Google but this was 1994 and the tech didn’t exist.

My friends all agreed that it sounded like lyrics. A few thought the words were familiar but couldn’t get to the next part of the song. Most didn’t recognise them at all and it was driving me mad.

The sun went down on Valentine’s Day came, the mystery card-sender hadn’t revealed themselves and I was annoyed that I couldn’t place those lyrics. There was one person I thought might have sent the card. His name was Pete, he was a first year, and we’d seen each other for about a week the previous term but it had fizzled out as quickly as it started. We were still friends so I asked him if he’d sent it. He wanted to know why I thought that but I couldn’t come up with a reason and he refused to confirm or decline unless I gave one. The mystery continued.

The lyrics constantly played in my mind and I began to wonder if it was a Deacon Blue song. I adored Deacon Blue and had their brilliant 1987 album ‘Raintown’ and more recent 1993 album ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ in my CD collection at the time. I knew all the tracks on both really well and it wasn’t from either of them although I had to have a proper listen to both again to make sure.

So the mission then became tracking down someone who had the two Deacon Blue albums I was missing in their collection: ‘When the World Knows Your Name’ (1989) or ‘Fellow Hoodlums’ (1991). And that’s when I came up trumps. I was right about it being a Deacon Blue lyric, from a song called ‘When the World is Lit by Lightning’ on their 1989 album. The song hadn’t actually been released as a single so no wonder I’d struggled and several friends hadn’t recognised it at all.

Yay! I’d finally confirmed my suspicions that it was a song and now I knew which song. And it didn’t help me one iota. I’d assumed that identifying the song would give me a clue about my mystery sender but it didn’t. So I confronted Pete again on a night out with friends and he said the same as before: Why do you think it’s from me?

I’d love to say I worked it out for myself but Pete could obviously tell I was never going to get there and decided to put me out of my misery. Yes, it had been him, and he was disappointed I hadn’t worked out why. When he told me the logic, I was disappointed in me too.

When we’d started seeing each other, we’d had a conversation about his name – Peter Deacon – and he’d told me he’d always imagined that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s Day card, he’d write a Deacon Blue lyric in it as a clue to who it was from because of the connection to his name. It wasn’t just his surname Deacon that had a connection to the name of the band. With the first name of Peter, there was a connection to ‘blue’ through the children’s TV programme Blue Peter. Blue Peter / Deacon Blue. Genius. I felt so awful because I’d genuinely forgotten that conversation although, once he reminded me, I did recall it. To this day, I have no idea whether he sent the card for a bit of fun, perhaps intentionally to create a mystery, or if he was hoping it might trigger us trying again. If it was the latter, I messed it up by forgetting an important conversation.

I never felt the same way about Valentine’s Day after that. I felt like I’d hurt someone who I cared about and that made me uncomfortable. I thought about how much tension the incident in my first year had caused when my next door neighbour shared his feelings for me and how awkward that moment in college was when my new boyfriend gave me the gift intended for my friend. I’d always thought that Valentine’s Day was uncomfortable when single and card-less but it struck me that Valentine’s Day could be just as uncomfortable when in a relationship or when cards came and the sender was unknown. I also realised that what had made me the happiest were the two friendship cards I’d received and that’s how I see Valentine’s Day these days – a celebration of love and friendship in all its forms.

Last year, I was asked to write a piece for a national newspaper group about why I loved Valentine’s Day and I had to laugh at the assumption that, just because I was a romance author, of course I’d love it. So I wrote about the celebration of friendship instead and gave some suggestions for how those who were single or in a struggling relationship could embrace their friendships, love for family members, their pets and, very importantly, enjoy a little self-care.

I’ll be celebrating my 17th wedding anniversary in September and my 19th anniversary since meeting my husband in July. In all that time, we’ve never been out for Valentine’s Day but we always exchange a card and sometimes he gives me flowers of a fun gift. This year we couldn’t go out even if we’d wanted to as I tested positive for COVID earlier in the week and he tested positive yesterday so we’re both isolating. Fortunately we’d been organised this year. I’d got him a card a couple of weeks ago and he’d spotted this little fella on the supermarket shelves. Isn’t he just the most adorable and absolutely perfect for me?

Whether you’re loved up, single or somewhere in-between, Happy Valentine’s Day to you. Wishing you a day filled with love from a partner, friends, family, pets, your favourite teddy, a bar of chocolate, a film or a book.

Ooh, and if you’re looking for a warm hug of a book, I have 14 in my collection out now which I can highly recommend! For those who know my writing, you’ll know what a strong emphasis I place on the importance of family, friends and community in my books. There’s always a romance story but the other threads are just as important and I’ve often wondered whether my early experiences of Valentine’s Day and my fairly disastrous love life until I met my husband (when I was 31) have influenced my desire to write about so much more than romantic love. I think they have. In my mind, love is all around (as the song says!) and it really doesn’t have to be of the romantic variety.

Big Valentine’s hugs
Jessica xx

The one with the chart neighbours who make me smile

I love watching the chart positions of my books. I’m probably a little more obsessed about it than I should be but there are a few reasons for this:

  1. It’s such a thrill to see my books doing so well after all the years of struggling and I find I need to look just to reassure myself that I’m not just dreaming
  2. My mum keeps a watch (thank you, Mum) so I need to be on the ball too!
  3. There are certain moments that really make me smile which I’d miss if I didn’t keep an eye out

What do I mean by the moments that make me smile? It’s those snapshots in time where my book appears in the chart next to:

  • An author friend
  • One of #TeamBoldwood (my publishing buddies) who are, of course, also friends but most are only virtual friends as Boldwood have mainly existed during a pandemic world so we’ve never met
  • An exceptionally famous author / an author I’m in awe of
  • A non-fiction author who is an expert in a subject connected to my books
  • An author who has a connection to my past

This first instance I can remember of this happening was before I joined Boldwood. In the year I released Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop (called Charlee and the Chocolate Shop at the time) and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes (title unchanged), I put them in relevant category charts where they toppled experts from the #1 spot. Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop appeared in a chart about cooking ingredients (chocolate), knocking Jamie Oliver into the #2 position and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes was in cake-making and did the same to Mary Berry. I probably do have the screenshots somewhere but no idea where I’ve filed them!

Of course, Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry will have sold absolutely monster quantities of their books as hardbacks but this brief snapshot of time where I was next to these experts in the charts was a special (and amusing) moment.

There were many occasions after that where I was chart buddies with my writing family, The Write Romantics, including when the Top 10 in the Christmas category chart was dominated by our Christmas releases. Aww.

Yesterday, I checked the UK Kindle Top 100 first thing and was greeted by this lovely sight:

As you can see, A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow is at #58 in this screenshot but positions #54 to #57 are all held by Boldwood authors! Jo Bartlett, Alex Stone and Alison Sherlock are all publishing buddies and Jo is also the co-founder of the Write Romantics with me so what a special moment this was. Not quite sure who invited Kazuo Ishiguro to the party but he was welcome to join us as long as he’d brought cake with him!

The past few days have also brought some special moments over on Audible but before I share those, I have to share a special moment of a different kind because the hedgehogs surpassed themselves in the Audible Top 100 yesterday…

I casually checked the Audible chart first thing, wondering if they were even still in the Top 100 as they’d been at the lower end over the past couple of days so I was astonished to see that they’d made a huge leap into the Top 40. Only just – at #40 itself – but that’s still Top 40 so I’m claiming that status! Book 4 had also finally hit the #1 position in the Romance chart which was thrilling.

But back to the special chart neighbours moments… The first was on Thursday when, as I said before, the Audible position of A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow was a little lower. When I was at university, many moons ago, I studied Banking & Finance with the intention of becoming a bank manager. Except I hated the finance part of it which was a bit of a problem. Thankfully, among the dreaded accountancy, economics and quantitative analysis modules, there were interesting subjects I did understand like HR, marketing, management, strategy and banking law.

In our management module, we studied the work of an American management guru called Stephen Covey. First published in 1989, it was a huge bestseller. Sitting in lectures discussing Covey’s principles, I could never have imagined there’d be a day where I’d be an author sitting beside that man in the charts. I literally couldn’t have imagined it because the audiobook wasn’t invented then – although the precursor of listening to books on cassettes and CDs had been – and being an author wasn’t even close to being on my radar then. I’d already sussed that being a bank manager wasn’t for me either but writing was an idea that emerged about a decade later.

After graduating, I followed a career in HR, specialising in recruitment, training, coaching and mentoring, and Covey’s work frequently popped up.

Then this morning, I had another blast from the past moment with another management guru. I was sponsored to go to university by TSB which basically meant I received a book grant each year (and text books were expensive so it was very much needed!), did a year out with them in my third year, and undertook holiday work in a local branch. I knew I wanted to work in HR or marketing at this point and managed to secure a placement in their Head Office in Birmingham for my year out.

One of my roles was organising and managing the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) which was a room full of books, cassettes, CDs and videos relating to leadership and management. I loved working in there. It was like being in charge of my own little library. There were workstations where staff would work their way through interactive videos – huge laserdiscs (the size of a vinyl album) where they could watch a scenario, make a decision on how they’d handle it, and watch that good or bad decision play out.

Anyway, one of the resources was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People and who should I be next to in the Audible UK chart this morning but Mr Carnegie himself? In the LRC, it was such a popular book that it had a waiting list and I frequently had to chase staff to return it. Again, who’d have thought that when I was working in my own little library that books I’d written would one day appear in libraries? Or that I’d be one step ahead in the charts of the book that was the most popular when I ran that little library?

So there you go. A few moments that have really made me smile. I hope there are many things that make you smile across the weekend. Have a good one!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Happy World Friendship Day 2021

A big warm hug to you all on happy World Friendship Day or International Day of Friendship as it’s also known. This is a day with its roots back in the 1930s when Hallmark declared 2nd August as a day to celebrate friendship but cynicism of this as a money-making scheme (surely not?!) meant it faded into obscurity in the USA… for a little while.

Friendships fascinate me and are always a key feature in my stories as there is so much scope to explore the many variations and complexities.

If you love reading about new friendships, you might like to try All You Need is Love, The Secret to Happiness or Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow.

If friends to lovers stories are your thing, then Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes should appeal.

If you prefer enemies to lovers, try Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café or New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow.

Perhaps you enjoy friendships between family members. Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes also fits the bill here and Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow.

Or maybe friends who aren’t family but feel just like it – Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop.

Do you enjoy inter-generational friendships? I explore these in Making Wishes at Bay View and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow.

How about friendships that change over time and circumstance? Try New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove and Coming Home to Seashell Cottage (best read in that order).

To all my friends new and old, near and far, some of whom I haven’t seen for years and some I only know virtually, wishing you a Happy World Friendship Day.

Happy new book friendships.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Did I manage to write a book in a fortnight?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts. One was about how I was struggling to get going with writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series because of the fear that it wouldn’t live up to the high bar set by the third book – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. The other celebrated my first year anniversary as a full-time author, sharing that it hadn’t been what I expected as I hadn’t managed to get into a routine – unless you can call extreme procrastination a routine – and I still had no work:life balance.

In an attempt to combat this and get book 4 in the series written, I wondered whether I could learn from the process that one of my fellow-Boldwood authors, Shari Low, adopts of writing intensively for 1-2 weeks. I recognised that what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another but it was worth trying something different to try to get out of the rut I’d got into.

w/c 21st June looked reasonably clear in my diary so I wrote, “I’m going to come off social media for the week and see what happens if I try to blitz the book. Even if I could write half of it in a week, I’d be thrilled.”

I added the last bit in because, realistically, I knew I’d never manage to write a book in one week. This was not a belief that I’d fail; simply reality that the only way to do that would be to barely sleep. And I don’t function if I haven’t had some sleep.

I finished the post by writing, “I love the idea of an intensive fortnight to write a book”, very much seeing a fortnight as possible, by which I mean fourteen days, writing on evenings and weekends. And by writing a book, I do mean a first draft with time beyond that to edit and polish the MS (manuscript).

So I’m here to report back on that.

Is it possible to write a (first draft of a) book in a fortnight? Yes. Definitely.

Did I achieve it? No.

Let’s look at what I’ve learned because, although the book isn’t finished, it was still a valuable exercise. 

Learning 1: You should do all your research before you start writing

To write a book in a fortnight, you need to do all your research prior to starting the book blitz so that you have no research distractions.

Potential problem: I’m a pantser which means I don’t plot. I have a basic idea of what the story is about and then the characters take it in the direction they want. This therefore means I don’t always know what I need to research up-front because I don’t know where the story is going to go.

My reality: Book 3 in the series ended on a cliff hanger so book 4 was going to pick up from that. How I dealt with that cliff hanger required significant research and I’d already done that although I hadn’t managed to find all the answers I needed. However, a new character emerged as I wrote which took the book down an unexpected plotline which also required significant research. I had to pause to do that because, without checking out the facts around that scenario, I’d have been wasting my time writing.

That was a big thing and I absolutely did need to do the research, but it wasn’t the only time I got distracted…

I mentioned that one of my main characters was affectionately referred to as Snow White when she was younger because she has raven hair, pale skin, rosy cheeks and big blue eyes. And that got me wondering: Does [the Disney version of] Snow White have blue eyes? It’s sadly the sort of thing a pernickety reader will spot and comment on in a negative review. It’s also the sort of thing I wouldn’t remember to check later as I’d assume I already had done. Cue a Google search as to whether Snow White has blue eyes. She doesn’t. They’re brown. Just as well I checked.

And while I was searching on Snow White images, it made sense to add one to my Pinterest board where I keep inspiration for my books. Saved me doing it later.

Next, I wanted Samantha (the owner of the rescue centre) to have an unusual hedgehog admission so I needed to do some research. In theory, I could have just put ‘RESEARCH SCENARIO’ in my MS and skipped that chapter, but that seemed unnecessary when five to ten minutes of research could have that chapter covered.

Only it wasn’t five to ten minutes of research. It was over an hour, going down a rabbit hole about a rare but fascinating injury. I’m not going to say what it is as that would give spoilers, but I’m pleased with it and I’m glad I did the research. But it stopped me from getting the words down.

Learning 2: This is easier with a series … or is it?

Before I set off on my book blitz experiment, I was convinced it would easier to do this with a book in a series because I already knew the characters and the setting so I wasn’t having to create all of that from scratch.

My reality: I don’t think it actually made much of a difference. Yes, I knew the setting and some of the characters but I didn’t know the new ones who appeared. I’m not sure it made much difference in the end. And, because I didn’t know the new characters, I had to search for images of them. Pinterest called and I answered. More time away from writing. 

Learning 3: You have to completely shut down social media

Social media is one of the biggest distractions an author can have – whether that’s aimlessly scrolling as a procrastination method like I described in my earlier post, or actively engaging with authors or readers on social media. It may be enjoyable and some would suggest it’s essential, but it’s time away from the MS. And, when you’re trying to write a book in a fortnight, it’s a distraction you can’t afford to have.

Potential problem: I realised I’d committed weeks ago to an interview with a book blogger which was scheduled for day 1. My next book, Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop, had also gone up on NetGalley so reviews could start coming in. There were a couple of Facebook Lives for fellow-Boldwood authors that I wanted to support and I was actually going to be hosting one for my good friend, Jo Bartlett, to support the publication of her second Boldwood release: A Summer Wedding for the Cornish Midwife. This would fall into week 2 and Jo and I needed some time to plan the subjects we’d discuss.

My reality: It is very hard to stay off social media completely. I needed to watch out for that interview on day 1 and share it. And, of course, sharing something on social media means temptation was right in front of me and I had a quick check of my notifications. And then I checked to see whether there were any NetGalley reviews in yet for Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop. There weren’t. And, as I’d paused, I might as well check chart positions… See how easy it is to get distracted and back to the old ‘routine’?

Social media has to be shut down completely and I’m not sure how realistic that is when a lot of what we do involves engaging with book bloggers and readers, and supporting other authors.

Learning 4: You need to step away from the emails too

Emails can also be a big distraction. I dread to think how many times a day I click on them to see if anyone has been in touch. I think it’s still a hang up from the days when email was a new thing and it was so thrilling to have mail, as Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks so beautifully capture in the gorgeous romcom You’ve Got Mail. 

My reality: Sometimes an email will arrive that requires prompt action and this happened to me on day 3. My editor got in touch to say that Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow was on a one-day 99p Prime Day deal with Amazon which they hadn’t been notified about and could I share far and wide. I’d have missed that if I hadn’t checked my emails (although, bless her, she texted me too knowing I was on my book blitz and might not check them).

It was understandably panic stations and, while my publisher centrally worked on a newsletter to share this deal with subscribers (it covered 7 x Boldwood Books), I offered to knock together a quick Canva (a design package for creating social media posts) and post it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You know that phrase – more haste, less speed? This was a classic case of that. I tried to do it really quickly and, as it was a one-day thing, I wanted to put the date on it to avoid any misleading readers who might see the post tomorrow or the day after. Which would have been fine if I hadn’t got the date wrong!

It’s the book’s fault. I always follow a calendar and it’s 2020 in my MS (although in a Covid-free world) so I put 2020 on the Canva and posted it on Twitter and was mid-post on Insta when I realised my error. I’d already sent them to Boldwood so I needed to delete my Twitter post and re-do the Canvas but Canva crashed on me and I was all fingers and thumbs and, well, something that should have taken ten minutes took about forty all told.

Then I needed to keep an eye on my chart position – a tantalisingly close to the Top 100 #106 just before bedtime – and respond to anyone who’d commented on my posts. And then I responded to other social media comments while I was there.

Learning 5: You need to lock yourself away from family

If you’re going to write a book in a fortnight, you need to work some very long hours and you can only do this if you’re not being distracted by other members of your household. Explaining to them that you’re on an intensive writing period and cannot be disturbed unless the house has been picked up by a tornado and is en route to Kansas, someone has been impaled on the door in a freak nail gun accident, or anything else serious like that is not likely to work.

Potential problem: The family (hubby and 14-year-old daughter) had been warned. The family tend not to listen. No matter how many times I ask only to be disturbed if it’s urgent, the family disturb me. No matter how much I explain that a 1-minute interruption can set me back 15 minutes in my thought process, the family disturb me. No matter how clearly I emphasise that two weeks of intensive work mean I will have lots of time free to devote to the family afterwards, the family disturb me.

My reality: On day 3, my daughter texted from school at 9.03am to tell me several of her form class had been called out and sent home to isolate after positive Covid cases had been reported (there’d been several sent home the previous two days). Ten minutes later, I had a text to say there were only four students in her first lesson and their regular teacher wasn’t there. Fifteen minutes later, she was pulled out the class. Five minutes after that, the whole year group were sent home.

It’s life isn’t it? It was unexpected and I couldn’t plan for it but the text exchange put me off my stride. Hubby went to collect her and we had an update on the situation when she got home, a letter from school to read, then another letter saying she needed to go back on Friday for a PCR test and a consent form to sign. Then we later realised that all family members had to have a PCR test too so we needed to book a walk-in session for the three of us on the Thursday which meant that, after a hugely-disrupted Wednesday, I’d be out for about an hour on Thursday to get tested so day 4 would also be disrupted.

We were all negative but it meant that my daughter was home and isolating for most of my blitz which wasn’t going to be easy.

I did try shutting my door at one point and it didn’t sit comfortably with me. I only ever do that when I’m doing a Zoom and don’t want to disturb the family or have them disturb me. Cutting them off completely – especially when they knew it was because I was sick to death of the constant interrupting – felt mean and rude and I don’t want to be an author if I have to lock myself away from my family to do so. I therefore think this is probably much easier to do if you’re in a single-person household and/or you don’t have children living at home. Or pets. The dog is constantly padding in and out too!

Learning 6: It’s hard to find a free week and impossible to find a free fortnight

I deliberately chose w/c 21st June because I had lots of things happening w/c 14th June and knew I’d have too many distractions to get much word count down that week. I knew I couldn’t write on day 1 evening as I’d had a meal with a couple of family members planned in for several weeks and I wasn’t going to cancel but, other than that, the week was looking fairly good. Week 2 wasn’t so clear in the diary. I knew I was hosting Jo’s publication day Zoom and needed some time to plan it, and I was going away for the weekend at the end of it so my fortnight would only be twelve days rather than fourteen.

My reality: My lovely editor and I had a Zoom catch-up booked in for 9am on day 5 of week 1. She’d offered to have it the next week knowing I was on my book blitz but there were a few things I wanted to discuss and, as I would still on a blitz the following week, I was keen for it to go ahead. I was at my desk for 7.15am which was impressive for me and decided to jot down all the questions I wanted to ask, figuring that wouldn’t take too long and I’d have time to write before the Zoom. An hour later and 4 sides of A4…

The Zoom was excellent. I always feel so inspired after a catch-up but it was a long one (my fault due to the aforementioned gazillion questions) and we came off the call at 11.15! Eek! The morning had almost gone and, while I should have cracked on with the MS, old habits crept in and I was back on social media figuring I’d get into the writing in earnest after lunch. Hmmm.

Learning 7: If you find yourself slipping, don’t chuck in the towel

I’ve cited many challenges I’ve faced and copious distractions but not talked about how this impacted on my word count yet so let’s look at that. I had already written a bit back in early June before I decided on this experiment: 8,162 words. My stories typically come in at about 100k words.

My reality: By the end of the ‘normal working week’ of week 1 i.e. Monday-Friday, I’d written 28,049 words (made up of 7,113 / 5,908 / 5,406 / 6,542 / 3,170 in order across the five days) which took my overall total to 36,211. Not great. A third of a book, though. 

The word count wasn’t massively impressive on any of these days because every single day had a distraction (some unexpected) where I lost a morning, afternoon or evening. I can’t recall the exact figure now but my best ever day a few books back was about 8k. I had hoped for about 8-10k each day during this experiment.

You can see that, other than the Thursday, the word count dipped as the week wore on and this was partly to do with me chucking in the towel. Each distraction/disruption/problem that took me away from my word count goals set the Pixies of Disbelief chattering away in my ear telling me this had been a stupid idea and I was not only going to fail but I was also going to humiliate myself because I’d declared my plan on social media and several people were following my post, curious as to whether it would work. I’d been determined it would but that determination waned and waned and I stopped trying. I chucked in the towel instead of re-grouping. Grr! Damn you, Pixies of Disbelief!

The weekend added another 8,044 words (2,901 on Sat and 5,143 on Sun) to the word count bringing me up to a total of 44,255. Nearly halfway. But I could have hit 60k or even 70k quite easily.

Learning 8: A fortnight is a long time to sustain intensity

This is related to learning point 7 as it is to some extent about not chucking in the towel too early but it’s also about sustaining the intensity because two weeks is a long time to solidly write without doing anything else. Is that good for you/the books/your family? Who knows because I didn’t actually manage it!

My reality: As I moved into week 2, I’d already failed in my mind. I still had more than half the book to write and I had a more distracted week ahead of me. I was going to lose the two days at the end because I was away, I was going to lose another day because I needed to do a final proofread on book 13, and I had Jo’s Facebook Live planned in.

As it happens, I also lost the Friday I was travelling. I needed to pack and I was out of the habit of packing having not been anywhere for what feels like an eternity so it took me ages. I needed to work out the directions to the hotel from the station, make sure I had all my paperwork, write a blog post to celebrate one year since the Hedgehog Hollow series was published and it all meant I didn’t write a single word of my MS that day.

My word count for week 2 was only 7,204 across 3 days. Eek! As you can see, I’d thrown in the towel and did not manage to sustain that intensity at all. But I had passed the 50k halfway mark.

Why do I still think that a book can be written in a fortnight?

I’ve talked about all the things that got in my way yet I still believe that a book can be written in a fortnight. Why?

  • Because I could have written 50k words in week 1 very easily and probably reached 60k or even 70k as mentioned. 50k only requires an average of a little over 7k words a day. I exceeded that once and came close on other occasions and I have done similar (or greater) word count loads of times before
  • Because it gets quicker to write a book as the book progresses. You know your characters and the story builds momentum. The second half (for me) is always much quicker to write than the first
  • Because I stopped believing in myself each time I had a disruption instead of working harder (or smarter)

But I do believe that, to achieve this, you do have to completely shut off from everything and that’s a huge sacrifice to make, even for a fortnight.

Do I want to attempt to write a book in a fortnight again?

No. The main reason for this little experiment was never about writing a book in a fortnight but about trying to break the rut I’d got into of constantly being distracted by social media/emails. I’ve learned that it’s not realistic to cut them out of my life but I can make them part of my routine instead.

I’ve also learned that I can write on a morning. I used to struggle with this and would often start my day on social media, only settling down to properly write on an afternoon and evening. This is because, when I had a demanding day job, an evening was the only time I could write. This little experiment has changed this.

I’ve re-discovered my love for just writing and not editing along the way. I’ve always used a ‘threads to follow’ word document during the editing process to note down threads I need to weave into the story later in the book which I’d forgotten to continue in my first draft. During my experiment, I used this as a note of threads I need to go back to, enabling me to continue writing, instead of going back and adding in the required detail at that point. For example, I mentioned a new character who appeared. As the story has progressed, they’ve become a lot more important than I could have anticipated at the start and I need to change several of the earlier chapters to make their relationship with my main character more significant. Pre-experiment, I’d have gone back and amended these but I now have a note of them and will change them later. This is so much better for keeping the flow going.

So where do I go from here? 

My aim is still to finish the first this book way ahead of schedule but I am going to do this differently by having a routine. The plan is as follows:

  • Desk by 8.30am, quick check on emails/reviews/chart positions
  • Working on MS by 9am at the latest (earlier if there’s nothing to respond to on emails)
  • Writing without editing until lunchtime
  • 30-minute break for lunch with check on Facebook/Twitter/Insta
  • Write until teatime providing the words are flowing. If not, stop and move away from the desk to do some reading; something I so rarely get a chance to do
  • Another social media check after tea
  • Rest of evening free
  • Only write on weekends if approaching a deadline or we have no family plans due to bad weather

I reckon I’ll probably write more words in these five days than I do in seven full days at the moment. It gives me a routine which I knew I was lacking and a work:life balance which was non-existent.

I just need to avoid those Procrastination Pixies who will be determined to scupper my plans, the devious little blighters!

If you’ve managed to read all the way to the end of my epic post, well done you! I hope you found it helpful. Please do comment if you’ve learned anything or if you have suggestions. I’d love to hear from you.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The hedgehogs pass a 6,000 milestone but I’m feeling the fear for book 4

Less than a week ago, I reported that the third book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed a whopping 1,500 reviews/ratings milestone over on Amazon. It’s gone a bit beyond that now:

Book 3

A little while before that I’d reported that book 1 – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed 2,000. It has also exceeded that since:

Book 1

The hedgehogs have been waiting for book 2 – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow – to meet another milestone so they could have a big party and celebrate milestones for all three.

And yesterday book 2 reached it, passing the 2,500 mark. Woo hoo! Go hedgehogs go!

Book 2

New Arrivals only came out in January so that milestone has been reached in a little over five months but Family Secrets was only published six weeks ago today and is already storming towards the 2,000 mark.

I’d been surprised when New Arrivals gathered more reviews than Finding Love as I’d have thought that readers would have read the series in order and, as there’s an inevitability that some readers won’t love it, the numbers of reviews would dip with each book. However, with the rate that Family Secrets is gathering reviews, I don’t think it will be long before it has the most.

I do read all my reviews and I know that several readers say they loved book 2 or book 3 and will go back to read the one(s) they missed so that could account for some disparity. Or perhaps a reader who reads two or three back to back only leaves a review for the latest? I guess I’ll never get to the bottom of it.

What’s interesting is that for my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, book 1 – Making Wishes at Bay View – has the most reviews/ratings but book 4 – Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – isn’t far behind … but that both supports and contradicts my theory above!

There was a time with the Hedgehog Hollow series when it seemed that the love for the hedgehogs got stronger with each book. While Family Secrets is still storming ahead with a whopping 83% 5-star ratings/reviews, the other two are pretty much equal. Both of them have an accidental 1-star rating where the review talks about how much the reader has loved it, one for HH1 even saying ‘one of my favourite books of late’ but the reader has managed to click on the 1-star instead of the 5-star rating which is a shame.

There are some cutting reviews for all three books, especially the 1-star for HH1 entitled ‘total waste of time’ but I do find it easier to cope with those these days. It certainly helps looking at all the hedgehog love. I remind myself it’s just one person’s opinion and you can’t please all the people all of the time. And I also remind myself that negative comments say more about the reviewer and perhaps what’s going on in their life at that time than they do about me.

With so many gorgeous reviews/ratings and so much excitement about the fourth book in the series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – my biggest concern right now is not a handful of negative comments. It’s whether book 4 can measure up to the high bar set by the previous books, particularly Family Secrets. I’m meant to be writing it at the moment and I’ll admit to procrastinating massively on getting going because of THE FEAR! What if it isn’t good enough? What if there’s this huge build-up to the cliffhanger reveal and all the excitement about the release (and a long wait) and readers are disappointed?

I have this 2-star review for Family Secrets: I couldn’t be bothered to finish this. The first two books in this series were fine, but the author is now trying to stretch the theme too far – rather boring. Ouch! 96% of readers disagree so I’m not unduly concerned about these comments but what I fear is these sorts of comments for book 4 onwards. I completely disagree with them. I am not stretching a theme too far. There is a setting and there are stories to tell and I have lots of great stories in mind … but what if the unexpected twists and turns of Family Secrets was the peak and it’s downhill from there? Argh!

One of my favourite films is A Cinderella Story. From 2004 and starring Hilary Duff, it’s a modern-day reimagining of the Cinderella story as you can probably guess from the title and it’s fabulous. The main character is called Sam and her dad used to run a sports-themed diner. When he died, Sam’s ‘wicked stepmother’ took it over and refurbished. She redecorated it pink and made the staff wear roller boots. Near the climax in the film, a door slams and something falls off the wall revealing the baseball-themed quote Sam’s dad had up there: Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”. I love that!

This quote is in my mind as I approach writing book 4 and I’m pushing aside that 2-star review. It’s partly the reason why I have decided to do a really intensive blitz of the book next week as I’ve been spending too much time thinking and worrying and not getting the words down on the paper. I do have a great story to tell. It’s different from book 3’s story but all the stories are different otherwise I would accept the ‘rather boring’ accusation. I also have an amazing editor who will help knock it into shape so we’re bringing out a great book that doesn’t disappoint the hedgehog fans.

Tell you what, if writing a book was as simple as having an idea and getting it down on the page, my job would be so easy. It’s the thinking and worrying that causes the problems. But I absolutely love what I do and, although I could do without THE FEAR, I would choose it with the fear rather than not do it at all. Which brings us to another quote: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

I have the rest of the week to get organised and do the research I need to do to enable me to get my head down for next Monday and write. No way am I expecting to write a full book in a week but I’m certainly going to give it a good go!

Hope you have a fabulous week and thank you for all the amazing love and support for this series. I really appreciate all the lovely reviews, the comments on social media, the recommendations, and the direct messages I’ve had from so many lovely readers. They’re such a boost.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

My first year as a full-time author. Not quite as expected…

An old friend and I exchanged news on Messenger this week and she asked if I was still writing full-time. I replied last night that I was and it had been about a year. And then it struck me that it had been pretty much exactly a year and I might even have missed the anniversary. I had. So this is a bit of a belated post!

Tuesday – 8th June – was the one-year anniversary of me being a full-time author. What an amazing year it has been for my career as an author with so many wonderful goals achieved, but it has also been the most peculiar of years thanks to a global pandemic changing everyone’s lives.

This isn’t a blog post about goals achieved or about the strange world in which we live. Instead, it’s about how I’ve found writing full-time…

I thought I’d start this post by sharing an amazing cartoon my husband drew for me to represent frustrating days in my previous role as a distance learning HR Tutor. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job … most of the time. I don’t think there are many jobs that don’t have a few niggles but the ones in mine had become more frequent and increasingly challenging so the steam coming out the ears had become a regular thing!

So how has the first year been as a full-time author? Not quite what I expected. I say this not because I’m not ‘living the dream’ by doing exactly what I want to do, but because my approach to the freedom to write full-time hasn’t been what I expected and I find myself unexpectedly working more hours than I’ve ever worked.

I used to be able to write a book in 2-3 months squeezing my writing time into evenings and weekends around my demanding more-than-full-time day job. I ran evening webinars so I didn’t even have every evening free to write. I therefore assumed that, with full days available, I would get so much more writing done and at a quicker pace.

Wrong!

I have mastered the art of procrastination. I continually break from what I’m doing to:

  • Check my emails
  • Scroll through my social media feeds
  • Check my chart positions
  • See whether I have new reviews

The last two points are fair enough when it’s publication day or there’s a promotion on but it isn’t necessary several times every day outside that.

I don’t need to repeatedly check my emails and the scrolling through social media feeds is completely unnecessary, especially when the way I do it is so ineffective. I frequently find myself scrolling aimlessly, not resetting Facebook to ‘most recent’ so I am seeing posts I’ve already seen and I’m not interacting with any of them.

I dread to think how many hours I waste each day doing this. Yes, we are talking hours!

Linked to the above, I have absolutely no routine. I plonk myself down at my desk on a morning and am usually still there past 10pm. Argh! That’s not good.

When I had very little time to write, I used to just crack on with it. One hour to write? Okay, let’s do this!

Not so much now. With the whole day and week spread out before me, I don’t use it effectively. I spend ages staring into space. Sometimes I’m thinking about a plot point or piece of dialogue. Most of the time, I’m not. 

I get distracted doing little bits of research when I would previously have put ‘CHECK THIS’ in the middle of my manuscript (MS) and come back to it later to avoid disrupting my flow.

I used to use the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) approach of just getting the words on the page and editing them later but I’ve started editing as I go again or spending ages trying to think of the perfect words to use instead of getting the intention down on the page and perfecting the words later.

I think having so much time spread before me is the problem. At the back of my mind, I knew this could be an issue as a very good friend of mine had become a full-time author a couple of years earlier and she experienced the same issue. When you have very little time, you’re very focused with it. When you have loads of time, you waste it.

I need to be so much more focused with my writing time.

As you can probably guess from what I’ve said about how many hours I spend at my desk, I don’t have one of these. I can’t remember the last time I did.

Last summer, I wrote a week-long series of blog posts about imposter syndrome and it was quite a revelation for me pinpointing what had triggered mine. It went back to my early twenties and continued throughout my working life where I was bullied in the workplace and overlooked for promotion on several occasions.

We all know when we’re good at something or not (even though it’s very British to downplay our abilities) so I’m going to be very non-British and bold and declare that I was excellent at my job but I wasn’t good at playing the game. I didn’t network with the ‘right’ people. I didn’t ‘big myself up’ at work. I didn’t get involved in work politics. I didn’t stamp on others to get to where I wanted to be. I always hoped to progress on my own merits instead of because of who I knew. That strategy didn’t work! I therefore developed a workaholic approach, putting in way more effort and hours than were required in order to prove myself. And that approach became part of me and has never quite left me.

I find it very difficult to relax. I don’t like not being busy. I’m always doing something work-related and this isn’t good. This has exacerbated during the pandemic. Stuck at home? Might as well work then. So I did. Yet, as already stated, it hasn’t been time spent constructively.

Looking back, I have achieved a lot. In the year I’ve been a full-time author, I have:

  • Written three full-length novels, one of which required a complete re-write in edits
  • Completely re-written one of my backlist books as I wasn’t happy with the way it was written
  • Undertaken a full edit on another of my backlist

But I could have done more and … here’s the rub … in fewer hours if I hadn’t procrastinated, if I’d found a routine, and if I’d given myself a work life balance.

I think that the latter is one of the reasons why I procrastinate and don’t have a routine and it’s a vicious circle. I’m shattered because I don’t have any downtime so, when I do sit down at my desk, I can’t concentrate for long so I write a few hundred words and then get distracted. The words come more slowly because I’m tired but that means I need to sit at my desk longer to get the book written which means no work life balance which means I’m shattered so I procrastinate…

What can I do?

Only I can make the change. My husband challenged whether I should write fewer than four books a year to give me more time, but four books a year is absolutely do-able. The problem is that I don’t use the time effectively so it’s not the volume of work I need to change; it’s how I work.

I was fascinated by listening to a Facebook Live last week from fellow-Boldwood author Shari Low on the publication day of her latest novel, One Summer Sunrise. Shari talked about how quickly she writes her books and I was fascinated by it. She pretty much shuts herself off for a week or two and blitzes it. She doesn’t look at social media or go out. It’s a very intensive period with very long hours but the book gets written. Wow!

I wondered if she might put a huge amount of planning into it so that she knows exactly what she’s going to write but she’s a pantser, like me, just getting on with writing the idea she has. So this could work for me. If she’d planned first, that would be no good. I’m definitely not a planner with my writing.

I have started writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – and it’s going very slowly. This is partly because I have to do some research first and I’m struggling to find the detail I need so that’s holding me up, but it’s also because I’m procrastinating and because I have no routine. Next week isn’t a good week to try Shari’s approach as I am meeting up with my writing bestie, I have a hair appointment, and I have a cover reveal at the end of the week so need to be on social media. However, w/c 21st June is relatively clear in the diary so I’m going to come off social media for the week and see what happens if I try to blitz the book. Even if I could write half of it in a week, I’d be thrilled.

Every author is different and what works for one isn’t going to work for another but they say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I’ve been doing the same thing for the past year and it’s not effective so it’s time to experiment with something a little different. I’ll let you know how I get on.

I hope this approach does work for me as I love the idea of an intensive fortnight to write a book and then time to do other things and be with my family outside of that. Of course, the process of writing the book doesn’t stop at that fortnight. There are still two rounds of edits, copy edits and proofreading stages but I think something radical is needed to stop me from working all these crazy hours.

Wish me luck!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Happy Women’s (also read by men) Fiction Day 2021

Today is Women’s Fiction Day, a day set up two years ago by USA-based WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association) “to celebrate the authors, stories, readers, bookstores, and fans of the women’s fiction genre.” You can read more about them here.

When a reader sent me a lovely message earlier today wishing me Happy Women’s Fiction Day and thanking me for my stories, I was touched and delighted and nearly penned a blog post immediately to celebrate the day.

But then I didn’t.

And I wondered why I’d paused. I realised it was the label ‘women’s fiction’ that had stopped me.

I’m not the sort of person who gets precious about labels because I know I work in an industry that is rife with them. Two decades ago before I ever entertained the idea of being an author, I used the term ‘chick-lit’ for what I read. When I became an author many years later, there was a definite move away from this and many authors felt it was a derogatory term. I can see why but I’ve never felt upset by it, although it’s not a term I tend to use these days, much preferring ‘romcom’.

I sometimes say I write romance or contemporary romance. I more often use a tagline – stories of love, friendship, family and community – but I’ve never applied the term ‘women’s fiction’ to my work and I think that’s because I struggle with the suggestion that the stories I tell are only suitable for women. Because they’re not.

Before anyone shouts at their computer, I know that the term doesn’t mean that but, to me, it implies it.

I love how the WFWA describe women’s fiction and they have this amazing visual on their website. They also make the point that women’s fiction may or may not have a romance :

This is definitely what I write. Although there is always a romance in my books, it doesn’t always take centre stage. Even when the romance is a major plot point, the driver of the story is more about the journey the protagonist is going on and their emotional growth.

Despite reading – and agreeing with – all the above, I still struggle with using the term ‘women’s fiction’. I am certain that women make up the largest percentage of my readership and my social media following, reviews, and membership of my Facebook Readers Group would back this up, but I know for a fact that I have male readers. Some message me, some engage on social media and others make it clear they’re male in their reviews and I love that.

We don’t have a genre called men’s fiction so why do we have women’s fiction? What else would we call it though, especially if it doesn’t include a romance? Contemporary fiction is far too broad as anything set in modern times would fall into that. I don’t know what the answer is.

So I think I’ll create a new label for the purpose of this post called ‘Women’s fiction (also read by men)’ and leave it there for the moment.

To all the authors of this wonderful genre and all those who love to read it, sending my love and thanks.

Big hugs

Jessica xx