The one where I appreciate all the hedgehog love

The final book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow – was released on 6th September and I’ve been stunned at the speed it has gathered reviews on Amazon because a book set partly at Christmas, with the word ‘Christmas’ in the title and a cover featuring a hedgehog in a Santa hat is something I know that many readers won’t buy/read this far from Christmas.

When book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, was released in January 2021, I recorded on a blog post my astonishment at it receiving 100 reviews in a week, 400 reviews by day 19 and 1,000 within 2 months. Book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, eclipsed this. At a fortnight it had 300 reviews but it reached a whopping 1,000 on it’s 3-week anniversary. They just kept coming – 700 reviews in the space of one week! I wondered whether any of the other books in the series would top this or had that been the pinnacle?

Christmas Miracles hit 400 reviews on day 12 so it was looking surprisingly good to steal the crown from book 3 but, by day 20, it was at 600 and there was no way another 400 would come in within the space of one day to match the 1,000 at three weeks. And they didn’t. It was another 50, though, which is still phenomenal and something I still can’t believe I’m writing when it used to take months to gather a handful of reviews pre-Boldwood.

So the award for getting to 1,000 reviews in the most unbelievably quick time remains with Family Secrets but I suspect Christmas Miracles is going to get there sooner than New Arrivals did, perhaps in 5 or 6 weeks rather than 2 months.

The quality of reviews has been phenomenal too. As at the three-week anniversary yesterday, a whopping 88% of my reviews were at 5-star and only 3% were 3-star or below. I’m so grateful to everyone who has shown so much love for the hedgehogs. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I’ll get a stack of negative reviews to redress the balance!!!

I’ve had gorgeous messages on my reader Facebook group – Redland’s Readers – and lots of DMs with lovely feedback for this book and the series as a whole which have been so touching.

I had such an enjoyable chat with my editor, Nia Beynon, on Monday in a Facebook Live. We talked all about the series and I did a reading from Christmas Miracles. If you missed it, you can catch up on it here. I couldn’t resist wearing my autumnal hedgehog dress from Popsy Clothing. I also had a hedgehog necklace on and hedgehog earrings (and socks!) but you probably can’t see them on the video. Got to be done!

Please keep that hedgehog love coming. The hedgehogs and I are so very grateful for all your kind words and recommendations. Quick reminder that Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow (book 1) and Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow (book 5) are on a 99p eBook offer in the UK and one or both are on an equivalent discount in other territories so please spread the word. Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is also FREE in Prime Reading globally and the audio version is FREE to Audible subscribers as part of the Audible Plus programme. And, finally, ALL my books are FREE on Kindle Unlimited or to borrow via most libraries.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I have a massive wobble about tomorrow’s publication day

It’s publication day for Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow tomorrow. When asked how I feel about publication day, I often say I’m nervo-cited – a mixture of nerves and excitement – but this time I’m far more nervous than excited and kind of thinking I’d like to hibernate for the day.

This is my seventeenth book but, as nine of my titles are re-issues, it’s actually my twenty-sixth publication day so you’d think I’d be used to it by now and not be fazed at all. Not the case. If anything, I think it gets harder and this one is the ‘worst’ yet.

I always knew that publication of this particular book would be a toughie because it’s the last book in a six-book series and there are so many readers out there who absolutely don’t want the series to end. Seeing comments on social media about being sad that the series is ending and how reading the last book will be bittersweet is exceptionally flattering, but it brings with it guilt and pressure.

I feel guilty that I’ve ended the series. I stand by it being the right thing to do, but I feel like the mean adult who has taken the toys away from the lovely children!

And I feel the pressure of wrapping up a six-book series in a way that satisfies, thrills and delights. Having said that, I’ve felt that pressure all along with each new book declared by many as ‘better than the last’. Part of my reason for ending the series at six was to end on a high note and not stay too long at that party, but there’s always been the fear that the next book would be the one that stayed too long. Would readers think book six was that one?

Early copies of the book go onto a site called NetGalley which is meant to be for genuine book bloggers/ reviewers/ influencers with a big platform of followers who get a free copy of the book in return for an honest review which will hopefully entice their following to make a purchase. Unfortunately this system massively gets abused and there are readers on there who grab free books without a second thought as to whether the book/ author/ genre is actually right for them. But that’s a separate story.

When used properly, NetGalley reviews give the author and publisher a sense of how well the book is going to be received on actual publication day and it should also give them some great early reviews to use in promotion.

There are always negative reviews in there – we can’t all like the same thing – but I’ve had more negative reviews than usual for Christmas Miracles. It has been so frustrating as they’re nearly all from readers who claim not to have realised this was the last book in the series and this is the first one of the series (and often the first one of mine) they’ve read. Personally, I think the parts of the blurb I’ve popped in capitals here would be a bit of a clue that it’s the last in the series: 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… but that’s obviously not clue enough.

Several of these negative reviews comment on there being a lot of characters and how confusing it was to keep track of everyone and their back stories. Of course it is! You need to have read the whole series to gradually meet everyone and get to know their stories. This cast wasn’t there from the first chapter of book 1. They have steadily grown.

In the main, I’ve been able to ignore these reviews because this is not a standalone book and I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone diving in at this point because it won’t make sense. It isn’t meant to. But over the weekend, I read a review (also from someone who hadn’t read any of the other books) that floored me…

It began with these words: “In the acknowledgements, the author says she is a “pantser” when it comes to writing, and girl…. I can tell.” Ouch! Clearly written by someone who has no idea what pantser means or an understanding that it’s not an inferior approach to writing. I got the full meaning of her comment here – that I’d just slapped down any old rubbish and had no idea what I was doing.

She writes, “I have never really understood when people write super mean book reviews but I honestly wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this book” and then guess what happens? She goes on to be that person who writes a “super mean book review” with a horrendous 1-star 550-word rant including one of the meanest comments ever: “Color me shocked when I realized this author has published 17 books and this is the 6th in this series… I am in complete shock that even one book like this got published, let alone 6.” This is really personal now. I get that she didn’t like the story and I completely understand why she’d be confused when she hadn’t read the others, but to suggest I can’t write and should never have had 17 books published! There’s no need for that.

Her closing words are: ““Miracles” is a bold word to use in your title when you made fictional characters just to give them horribly traumatic life experiences. I see no miracles in this fictional world, only pain, like the pain I feel when I realize I spent 5 hours of my life on this. Do not recommend.”

Wow! She certainly didn’t hold back on how much she hated the book. And me!

One of the key objections in the main body of the rant – which I haven’t shared because of spoilers – is the subject matter. I write about life and life can throw some tough blows. Across this series, there have been a number of difficult issues explored and they are alluded to in the final book along with the issues handled in that instalment, but this reader lists them all as though they all happened in one book. So I do know that part of the reason she hated it so much was that she hadn’t read the rest of the series and I keep telling myself that, but I just struggle to understand why someone can be so nasty … especially when they’ve declared that they can’t understand why people do this either!

Life’s too short to read a book that you’re not enjoying. You don’t need to invest ‘5 hours of my life’ on a book you hate, that you’re not following, whose subject matter you aren’t enjoying. Shut down the Kindle and accept it wasn’t for you. You haven’t paid for it. Nobody has forced you to read it. Walk away.

I know I should take that advice and walk away from this review and, in other circumstances, I’d probably lick my wounds and do that, but I’m struggling this time because I’m a bit stressed and rundown at the minute. I tend to get problems with my eyes when that happens and the worst-case scenario is that I get conjunctivitis which I have right now. It’s a virus and, although stress doesn’t cause a virus, the body is more likely to pick one up when a person’s rundown so this is my body telling me I need to take care of me a bit more – something I’m not very good at. In the great scheme of things, conjunctivitis is nothing compared to what many people are facing so I can’t really complain, but I think it has made me more sensitive to the Negative Normans and more worried about publication day tomorrow as a result.

I don’t shy away from tough storylines and, while there are loads of readers who love that about my books, there will always be something that somebody doesn’t like. Many of my regular advance readers have given superb reviews and commented that, although the storyline was tough, I’ve tackled it with my usual sensitivity. But a couple of my regular readers who have loved the series so far have said they haven’t liked this book as much as the others, with some even giving negative ratings because one of the topics I’ve covered is an uncomfortable one. Yes, it is, but it is not uncommon so I have included it. I also don’t give any specific detail. Having a couple of big fans of the series drop a couple of marks for that reason is adding to the nervousness around tomorrow.

As I can’t get away with hibernating – far too much work to do – I’ll smile and face tomorrow but my stomach will be churning all day, far more than usual.

A huge thank you to the wonderful Boldwood authors who have been so supportive and encouraging during my wobble. You are superstars.

To anyone who is going to be reading Christmas Miracles at Hedgehog Hollow this week (or listening to it from 20th September – slight delay on the audio version), I hope you love the story as much as I do. I’m very proud of this end to the series and, despite the negative comments from some, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s the story that Fizz and Samantha needed to tell and I’m honoured to be that conduit for telling it. I already know that a couple of readers have resonated with some of the subjects explored and have found it immensely cathartic.

Wish me luck for tomorrow! Brave face on!

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

The one where all my books have at least 1,500 reviews

My latest release – Chasing Dreams at Hedgehog Hollow – which was released just over seven weeks ago (28th June) has just hit 1,500 reviews/ratings on Amazon.

Not only is this a milestone for the fifth book in the series but it’s also a milestone for all my books because every single one of the UK releases now has at least 1,500 reviews/ratings on Amazon. I find this quite astonishing because it seems only yesterday when I had only one title approaching 100 and was longing for the others to pass 40! Thank you Boldwood Books for finding me readers and for everyone who has read any of my books and shared the book love. I’m so very grateful.

I’ve done a little number crunching and here are a few discoveries on AMAZON. These are just the UK editions:

Most reviewed/rated book: Snowflakes Over The Starfish Cafe with 5,794. This was helped by being in Prime Reading at the start of the year

Most reviewed/rated book in the Hedgehog Hollow series: I still find it a little weird that it isn’t the first one. The most reviewed is book 2, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, with 4,840. Incidentally, book 3, Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow, is the next most reviewed at 4,598. Book 1, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, has 3,766

Least reviewed/rated book: Aside from Chasing Dreams which has just hit the 1,500 mark, it’s book 3 in the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series – Finding Hope at Lighthouse Cove – with 1,565. If we’re going to be really pedantic, the series box set actually has the least reviews but, as it the amalgamation of four titles, I’m not classing it separately

Average rating: Every single book has either a 4.6 or 4.7 average. That’s a lot of love out there for Whitsborough Bay (including The Starfish Café) and Hedgehog Hollow

Overall number: I’m so close to an astonishing 50k milestone. I have 49,658 reviews/ratings overall. Eek!

OVER ON AUDIBLE…

Most reviewed/rated audiobook: The Secret to Happiness is the most reviewed/rated with a whopping 3,903. The next closest is Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow with 1,887. Both these titles are free to subscribers as part of the Audible Plus programme which has led to more listeners trying them so it’s not a surprise they’re the most reviewed although it’s interesting how far ahead The Secret to Happiness is

Least reviewed/rated audiobook: This is Spring Tides at The Starfish Café with 274. Chasing Dreams is ahead of this with 313


My books are on Kobo, Apple and various other sites too but most sales come from Amazon and Audible so I have only explored those for now.

THANK YOU to everyone who has left a review or rating for anything of mine they’ve read or listened to. It’s a lovely way to say a thank you to the author for a book you’ve loved, and on Amazon that activity kicks in their algorithms so massively helps with visibility.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I’m off to the RNA’s Conference and I’m in a very different place to last time

I’m off to the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) Conference tomorrow. I attended a couple of virtual ones during the pandemic but the last time I went to one in real life was four years ago when it was held in Leeds and look who I met! 


They say don’t meet your heroes but not in this case as Jill Mansell was just as lovely as her books. I, however, was a gibbering fan-girly wreck and was actually shaking at the photo opp! I couldn’t believe it when I spotted her nearby and was far too nervous to approach her myself, despite a couple of glasses of wine inside me, so I asked the RNA Chair if she could introduce us!

I fell in love with romance books after reading one of Jill’s. I’d never read anything in this genre and a friend loaned me Millie’s Fling on holiday and I loved how fun and romantic it was and how it left me with the warm and fuzzies. I devoured all her books after that and, for the past twelve years or so, have annually purchased her new release on hardback and have a Jill shelf in my office.

I’m really looking forward to the conference this year for several reasons:

  • Being my fourth conference, I know what to expect. It’s actually at the same place as my second one so I’m even familiar with the venue
  • I’ve been an RNA member for a decade and know so many more people now so (hopefully) won’t have that startled rabbit situation. Or hopefully not!
  • I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach to which sessions I’ll attend. In previous years, I’ve chosen something for every time slot which can make for an exhausting experience. This year, I’ve allowed myself some downtime
  • I’ll have a chance to meet several Boldwood authors who I’ve never met in person which will be lovely
  • I’ll get to meet several of the participants from the RNA Learning workshop I ran in March and I’m really excited to hear how their writing has progressed since then
  • I won’t be having any publisher 1:1 appointments (more on this shortly)
  • I feel very differently about my writing

Let me explain those last couple of points…

Four years ago at that 2017 conference, I was in a dark place with my writing. I was a struggling indie selling a handful of books a week and fearing I might have to give up writing as I couldn’t keep investing all the time (alongside a demanding FT day job) with no pay-off. 

A valuable part of the conference programme is the feedback slots available with industry professionals (editors and agents). I managed to secure four of these – all with editors – where I pitched a brand new manuscript called Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye.

My manuscript wasn’t complete which actually resulted in Editor D reprimanding, saying it was very unprofessional of me. Ouch! I understood what she was saying as you would never submit to a publisher when an MS is incomplete but the annual timing of the conference means that this may sometimes be the case and it’s not a requirement of the sessions to have a complete MS. Also, the humiliation to be told off by someone half my age! I felt like I was back at school!

Anyway, despite the telling off, all four editors wanted to see the full MS which gave me a massive dilemma because Editors A and B wanted it to be a light-hearted romcom and Editors C and D wanted a deeper more emotional women’s fiction story. With the MS being unfinished, I faced a decision around what direction to take it in because whichever I chose was going to rule two of them out.

While confusing, this was a very happy dilemma to have, especially for someone feeling so down about their writing. My biggest takeaway was that four editors wanted the full MS. Surely one of them would want to take me on.

They didn’t.

Editor A asked me to submit one of my indie books in the meantime. As she wanted the romcom approach, I sent her a lighter story (what is now Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop) and a more emotional story (what is now All You Need is Love). The rejection was positive but still a rejection: you write well with a lovely style. However, I’m afraid I don’t think any of these are quite right for our list at this time. I would be happy to take a look at a new idea in due course though should you wish to submit to us again.

I decided not to submit to Editor B. She’d been the least enthusiastic, I couldn’t see us working together and she wanted a romcom which, by this point, I knew wasn’t what I wanted to write and, in finishing the story, I’d stuck to my gut feel that I wanted to write more emotional stories.

I was really proud of my finished MS and had high hopes for Editors C and D who’d wanted the emotional story.

From Editor C: …think you have an interesting premise. However, after careful consideration, we don’t feel that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye is quite right for us. Your writing is great, and there is huge warmth and emotion in your narrative. All of the women’s stories are hugely poignant, but because there were three of them, it felt at times like there wasn’t quite enough space for each story, including the tragic events before the book begins, to be fully explored. The women’s fiction market is so tricky at the moment, and what we tend to be looking for at the moment are in-depth emotional stories with a tight scope, or high-concept stories that can be pitched in a single line. I’m afraid that Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

As rejections go, it was a positive one and I tried to hang onto the lovely comments about my writing which is always hard when it’s ultimately a no. I was encouraged to submit other stories so I sent the original version of All You Need is Love to them too and had another rejection: Again, there is a lovely warmth to your writing and the situations your characters find themselves in are incredibly sympathetic, but I’m afraid that this isn’t one for [us]… As you know, the women’s fiction market is so difficult at the moment, and I don’t think that we could reach a bigger audience for you than you have managed yourself. Again what is missing for me is that specific, focused concept that we could use to hook readers in with a single line. For me there were again quite a lot of characters introduced in the early chapters and I felt this did make it difficult to keep track of them all and to work out whose stories were the main focus of the book.

While I was asked to think of them again for future books, it was clear to me that I didn’t write what they wanted so I couldn’t bring myself to court further rejection and closed that door.

Which just left Editor D. Despite her telling me off, I had a feeling that she was going to be the one. She wasn’t: It was such a pleasure to meet you at the RNA conference in July and I’ve looked forward to reading your submission. I absolutely loved diving back into the world you’ve conjured here and the changes you made to the manuscript have really improved the pace and tension which is great. There was a clear improvement from the MS I read back in July. Sadly though, as the story went on I struggled to empathise with the characters as much as I wanted to. Rather than being invested in their journeys I felt they lacked the necessary depth and layers, I wanted to see more of their emotions and feelings on the page. In such a competitive book market we have to ensure we feel passionate about the book and characters and sadly I just couldn’t find myself getting lost in Alison or Karen’s story as I couldn’t connect with them. In terms of next step I recommend looking at how you can weave more depth into the characters, offering readers different layers to uncover from them all. 

This floored me. The feedback I’d received from readers of other books suggested that getting lost in the characters’ stories was a strength of mine and that I could write emotion well. Obviously this was just one person’s opinion but, in my dark place, this told me that the things I thought were positives weren’t. And it broke me. I wasn’t invited to submit anything else either. Door closed.

By early December 2018, a couple more submissions I’d made of Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye came back as rejections and I felt so lost. The voices of doubt in my mind were having a field day:

  • You can’t write
  • No wonder you’ve barely sold any indie books
  • All those thousands of hours were a right waste of time
  • It’s time to give up and accept it’s never going to happen for you
  • You’re fooling yourself that you have talent

And so it went on. Just when I was feeling at my absolute lowest, Amazon rank-stripped me. An automated email accused me of engaging in dodgy activities to manipulate sales or pages read on my bestselling book (what is now New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) in the USA. It was absurd. In the timeframe this wrongdoing was alleged to have taken place, I’d sold one eBook in that market and had the equivalent of one eBook read on Kindle Unlimited. If I was going to manipulate sales, surely logic would say I’d have sold more than two books!

Rank-stripping means that the book disappears. It has no ranking so it has no visibility. The only way a reader can find the book is by specifically searching on the title. Ironic, really, that the book at the time was called Searching for Steven and the only way he could be found was by literally searching for him! And not just in the USA where I was accused of naughtiness. This was all markets!

Naturally, I protested and asked for more clarity on what I was meant to have done. Cue an automated response telling me that no more information would be given and accusing me of still engaging in said untoward activity and that if I didn’t stop it, all my books would be removed from the site! What?!

So I protested, which just triggered another auto-response. There were four bot responses in total, each more threatening than the one before.

My Christmas was ruined that year. I was barely selling anything anyway but this pretty much took everything from me and left the fear that I’d be removed from sale completely. I’d been wondering if I needed to give up and it seemed Amazon agreed too and were potentially going to make it happen, whether I wanted it or not.

It took two months for them to reinstate the book. No apology. No explanation. Two weeks later, the exact same thing happened to the same book. Argh!

In January 2019, I saw an advert for a new publisher called Boldwood Books opening for submissions on 1st February and I felt drawn to them. One more try. And if it was a no, it might just be the time to throw in the towel.

Reader, they said yes.

And the book that lacked emotion, lacked depth, had no concept, had too many characters with whom there was no connection became my first release through Boldwood Books in September 2019 under the new title The Secret to Happiness. It has sold more than 70,000 copies across all formats, has been an international Top 10 bestseller and, at the time of writing, has over 3,600 reviews on Amazon alone, 93% of them positive.

For any aspiring authors out there, please do take some learnings from my experiences:

  • Keep believing in yourself and keep going. While I felt like giving up on so many occasions, I knew I never could. If, like me, stories burn inside you, then keep writing them
  • You need a lot of patience. Getting traditionally published is about landing the right MS on the right person’s desk at the right time. That’s a lot of stars to align and it doesn’t happen that often … but it can. Hang on in there. If you’re going down the indie route, you still need patience as there’s a lot you need to learn and do to get your book visible and it will take time
  • Reading is subjective and what one editor passes on, another may love. What is one reader’s scathing 1-star review is another’s favourite book

And on that note, I’ll share with you a 1-star review I’ve just spotted for The Secret to Happiness. An Amazon user in March this year declared that it was “written for children… predictable and long and drawn out. Utterly disappointed” The same reviewer gave a 5-star review to a pair of flat shoelaces! 

And my latest for the same book is oozing with meanness: “Oh dear… Drivel. Embarrassingly bad dialogue. Tedious plot and poorly constructed characters. I had the unfortunate experience of the audiobook which added a further eye-rolling level of dreariness”.Honestly, is there any need to be so nasty? So the book wasn’t for her but this audiobook is actually free on Audible Plus so I can pretty much guarantee she has listened to it because it was free so it’s not like she’s even spent any money on it. A 5-star review from her has gone to some fabric dye. Classic.

But that’s fine because that’s their opinion and a huge number of readers disagree. So do my publishers. And so do I!

I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and, even though I was devastated at the rejections from Editors C and D, I’m so grateful that it was a no from them because I couldn’t imagine being in a happier place than Boldwood Books. It’s my home.

I’m off to do my packing for the conference now. Hubby has been to fill the car with fuel and has returned with some emergency biscuits. I need to get them off my desk and into my suitcase as the temptation to break into them is already strong!

I’ll report back next week on how it went.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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