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 have the most amazing news

Followers of my blog will have seen that, last week, I wrote a series of blog posts about imposter syndrome. This is something which has plagued me for pretty much all of my adult life and became particularly troublesome this year when my books started climbing the charts and this previously invisible author stepped out of the shadows.

Something happened in the middle of that series of posts that could not have been more perfectly timed for proving to me that I am not an imposter and do deserve to enjoy the success my stories have had this year: an offer of a new publishing contract from the amazing Boldwood Books.

And not just any contract. A 12-book publishing contract! Eeeekkkk!

I am so surprised, thrilled and excited by this and can’t wait to see where this continued partnership with Boldwood takes me over the next few years.

In 2021, I will still be working out my original contract:

  • Hedgehog Hollow book 2 out on 7th January – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow (available for Kindle pre-order here. It will also be available in due course for AppleBooks and Kobo pre-order)
  • The revised refreshed re-edited version of Bear With Me (title TBC) out in March
  • Hedgehog Hollow book 3 out in May
  • The revised refreshed re-edited version of Charlee and the Chocolate Shop (title TBC) out in August

Then my new contract will begin in September with a brand new Christmas release. This is set in The Starfish Cafe on the cliffs south of Whitsborough Bay above a seal haven. It’s run by Hollie and regular readers will already have encountered the cafe in Coming Home to Seashell Cottage and Bear With Me although Hollie is only briefly mentioned in one of these books.

It’s actually a story I began writing to release as a Christmas novella in 2017. I hadn’t got very far into it before I realised that the story was quite meaty and it was going to turn into a full-length novel so I parked it and wrote Charlee and the Chocolate Shop and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes instead. Poor Hollie has therefore been waiting in the wings for quite some time and I can’t wait to get back to the 12k words I’d already written and finish telling her tale.

From 2022, there’ll be a mixture of standalone books and series. There may be some sequels. I even have an idea for a prequel. We’ll return to Whitsborough Bay, go back to Castle Street, and continue to explore the area around Hedgehog Hollow. I have some new settings planned but they’re all in the vicinity of the places readers already know and love.

All twelve of the books on my new contract will be brand new stories as Bear With Me and Charlee and the Chocolate Shop are the last of my back catalogue to get the Boldwood re-touch.

I have been quite overwhelmed with all the lovely congratulations messages I’ve received on social media since announcing my news last night. It’s been extra lovely that some of my fellow-Boldwood authors and a couple of other authors have been in touch privately to express their delight. It means so much to be part of such a supportive community.

From the moment I had my first conversation with my editor, Nia, back in March last year, I knew I’d found the perfect home for my books. Nia and the team at Boldwood have done so much for my career as an author already in just one year and I’m so excited to see where the next few years take us.

If you would like to watch a video of me announcing the news, you can find it here.

Wishing you all the best for an amazing weekend.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

My name’s Jessica and I have imposter syndrome – Part 2

Yesterday, I issued the first of a week of blog posts about imposter syndrome. Here’s the plan for the series:

  • Monday – The theory behind it – what it is and how it manifests itself
  • Tuesday – Where it comes from and how mine started
  • Wednesday – How it affects me as an author
  • Thursday – Coping strategies
  • Friday – Recognising it in others and helping them

You can go back to read Monday’s post here.

Warning: Today’s post is longer than yesterday’s and also more personal.

Why does imposter syndrome happen? 

The concept – originally called ‘imposter phenomenon’ – was first identified by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in 1978. At the time, it was thought to apply to high-achieving women. It’s now recognised that it can affect anyone regardless of gender, work background, skill level or expertise. So basically any of us can experience it and most of us will.

In fact, according to Cuncic’s article (referenced yesterday), “it is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this phenomenon in their lives”. Wow! Big percentage!

Image by Keshav Naidu from Pixabay 

Have you ever started a new job and initially felt out of your depth because it’s all so new? I certainly have. It usually takes time to get up to speed, work out who’s who and what’s what. It’s natural to worry during this transition period that you’ll disappoint the person who recruited you and that you might have both made a big mistake. This is imposter syndrome. But you usually soon settle in and start contributing and those feelings go away. 

I say usually because this is not the case for everyone. For some, this feeling of imposter syndrome sticks around for much longer, like a guest at a house party who’s just opened another can when all you want to do is crawl into bed and sleep.

Why do we feel like this? Why is this feeling of being an imposter so much longer and more intense for some?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Various things can trigger imposter syndrome ranging from how an individual was treated during their childhood to experiences years down the line as an adult in employment.

Examples include:

  • Coming from a high-achieving family where expectations are very high
  • Only being praised for high success and never for a good attempt
  • Never being praised for succeeding or perhaps being ignored
  • Only ever receiving criticism
  • Having flaws pointed out when there has been success e.g. You got 99% on your test – what happened to the other 1%? You scored 3 goals but you would have scored 4 if you’d passed the ball properly. We won the client’s business but only after you sorted out those problems you’d caused
  • A role change e.g. starting college, university, a new job, a promotion
  • Being passed over for a promotion, training or other opportunities at work
  • Being over-looked for bonuses and/or a pay rise at work

For me, I will put it straight out there that my imposter syndrome is nothing to do with my parents. I remember being encouraged to work hard, being praised when I did well and not being criticised when anything was a struggle. I feel the need to emphasise that because my mum will be reading this and I know she’ll worry. Mum – it’s absolutely nothing you or Dad did or didn’t do so please relax xx

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay 

Having said that, it did start for me in childhood and became worse when I entered the world of work…

How did my imposter syndrome start? 

Right at the start of yesterday’s post, I said I suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s a term I started using loosely about six or seven years ago without a real understanding of what it meant and how badly I’d suffered from it in the past. At the time, I was an aspiring writer and had joined the Romantic Novelist’s Association (RNA). I attended a conference where I brushed shoulders with really famous authors. Eek! We’re talking authors whose books I’ve read and loved. Authors I idolised. And I had this overwhelming feeling that I had no right to be there, that I didn’t belong. 

At this point, I must emphasise that this wasn’t any RNA members saying or doing anything to make me feel like this; this was all my issue. I never even approached any of them to introduce myself because, in my mind, why would they want to speak to me – a nobody – when I was so clearly out of my depth?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

Thoughts raced through my mind preventing me from saying “hello”:

Author A is soooo famous

Author B is a Sunday Times No 1 Bestseller

Author C has sold millions of books worldwide

I could never achieve that. Why am I even here?

I felt like I didn’t belong and never would and, for someone who is normally confident, I felt extremely inadequate and anxious in that social setting. It was ridiculous. I knew it was ridiculous but I couldn’t seem to change how I felt.

Yes, there were some very famous and successful authors there. But there were also mid-listers, authors with whom I was unfamiliar, authors who’d written a couple of books years ago and attended for the social aspect. Plus, there were large numbers of attendees who, like me, hoped one day to be published. I’d find myself watching the latter in astonishment as they chatted easily to published authors and wished I could do that. I wished I felt like I had a right to be there.

I thought it would be different a couple of years later when I braved the conference again, this time as a published author. It wasn’t. I still felt this sense of not belonging. Of being a failure. 

This time a whole new set of thoughts ran through my mind:

I had a publishing deal but my publisher ceased trading so it’s nothing special, is it?

My books don’t sell well

My books don’t climb the charts

I don’t get #1 Best Seller tags on Amazon

I’ve never had a Kindle bonus for pages read

I’ve never been contacted by a reader to say they love my work

Again, this sense of not belonging was nothing anyone said or did but it was my own internalised feelings brought on by the dreaded imposter syndrome.

Away from other authors, I couldn’t even bring myself to admit that I was one. “What do you do?” someone might ask. Stock answer: “I work in HR.” Because there was the fear that, if I admitted I was an author, there’d be the dreaded question: “Would I have heard of you?” Er, no. I’m a nobody. Only my mum and a very small number of friends and family have ever bought and read my books.

Then this year, something strange, unexpected and perhaps a little bit scary happened. Actually, it was something quite amazing and wonderful and signalled all of my dreams coming true … but my reaction to it made me realise that I absolutely do suffer from imposter syndrome in the truest sense of what it means. It’s not just about me being in awe and a bit fan-girly when I’m surrounded my famous/successful authors. It runs so much deeper than that. I’m going to talk a lot more in tomorrow’s post about how imposter syndrome has affected me as an author but, first, I think it’s important to understand where it came from because that’s something I’ve only just realised myself in the past month or so. 

In order to do that, the starting point is to look at the types of imposter syndrome I demonstrate.

Types of imposter syndrome

The theory suggests that there are five main types of imposter syndrome and I recognise three of these in myself so these are the ones I’m focusing on:

Image by WhisperingJane_ASMR from Pixabay 

The perfectionist: 

This individual believes their work can always be better and tends to focus on any flaws or mistakes instead of focusing on what they’ve done well.

Image by Wee Siang Toh from Pixabay 

The superhero:

Because of feelings of inadequacy, this individual feels they must push themselves to work as hard as possible. This could involve working long hours, taking on extra responsibilities, and/or going over and above what’s expected or needed.

Image by ds_30 from Pixabay 

The expert:

This form of imposter syndrome is where the individual is always trying to learn more and doesn’t feel satisfied with the understanding they already have. They undervalue their expertise even though they may actually be highly skilled/knowledgeable. They may focus on what they don’t know/can’t do instead of what they do know/can do.

The perfectionist trait is where I suffer the most. It’s something I’ve been aware of all my life. At senior school, I always put in that bit extra effort with my homework because I felt like one of the invisible kids who didn’t excel but didn’t cause trouble and therefore flew under the teachers’ radar. ‘Quiet’ was a phrase that regularly appeared on my school reports.

I didn’t have a huge circle of friends and was bullied at school so I threw myself into studying figuring I might fail at being popular but I could aim for perfection in my grades. This, in turn, led to further bullying! Irony eh?

I joined a graduate scheme for a high street bank after university and felt invisible again. A clique formed among the majority of other graduate trainees and I was one of a handful of outsiders to this. It didn’t seem to bother the others as they had partners but I was single at the time and it definitely bothered me. It gave rise to all sorts of feelings of inadequacy: They don’t want to spend time with me. I’m obviously boring. I’m no fun. I’ve got nothing of value to add to the group.

My feelings of inadequacy triggered the superhero mode. I threw myself into my job, working hard, working long hours, being enthusiastic about my work, sharing ideas and was rewarded with … my first of many experiences of bullying in the workplace.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

While on the graduate scheme, one manager gave me a project that was set up for failure then reprimanded me for limited progress. Another repeatedly allocated me very little work then would suddenly have something urgent I had to do on a Friday afternoon. I’d have to work late to complete it when she knew I went away at weekends to see my then-boyfriend who lived a couple of hours away.

It was a few years later that I discovered independently from colleagues on each of those teams that both managers had been vocal about how they resented me for being on a fast-track programme to management, didn’t like that I was enthusiastic and confident in voicing ideas when I was so new to work and should know nothing, and therefore they wanted to take me down a peg or two. Who does that?

Graduates completing the scheme were appointed into permanent positions at grade M5 or M4 (M for management, 4 being higher). An opportunity arose that was perfect for my skills (training design and delivery) but it was a higher grade of M3. I applied and, to my surprise and delight, I got the job. An M3 appointment was practically unheard of for those coming off the graduate scheme yet I’d secured it. Yay!

My joy was short-lived. One of my fellow graduate trainees – a clique leader – was on a training course with me and asked if the rumours were true about my appointment at M3. When I admitted they were, she looked me up and down with her lip curled and said: “How on earth did you get an M3 position?’ I’m only 5’ 2” so I feel pretty small every day but, that day, I’d never felt so small and insignificant. 

We’re talking 25 years ago and I still vividly remember how I felt. That’s how much it impacted on me. Still does.

And do you know what I said in response? I gave a classic imposter syndrome reaction and down-played my success: They couldn’t confirm whether the role would be Birmingham or London so not many people applied. I therefore got it by default. 

Yes, the thing about location was true but my new manager had specifically told me that I’d been the best person for the job and she would never have appointed me if she didn’t think that. She’d also said that she’d been advised by the graduate manager that she could offer me a M4 grade which was more usual but she personally felt that my skills and experiences justified the M3 appointment. I knew that. Yet I didn’t share it. Because I didn’t feel I had the right to have that grade because of how the bullying managers had made me feel. I couldn’t find the words to declare proudly that I had the skills and capability because they had made me doubt it.

The bullying continued throughout my working life. I had some amazing managers for whom I’m eternally grateful – including the manager who gave me that first management position – but it’s the bullies who escalated my imposter syndrome. I’d learned the hard way that a confident young manager caused resentment so I embraced my inner perfectionist, superhero and expert by working long hours, lapping up all the knowledge I could to become an expert in my role and hopefully provide justification for any future progression. I hoped that my high-quality, perfectionist work would speak for itself and I wouldn’t need to shout about any achievements.

This plan back-fired.

I’ve always worked in Human Resources and my roles have typically been unique specialist ones. At a result, I had lots of manager changes both at the bank and in other roles because the business couldn’t quite decide where my specialism should sit on the structure chart. It was worst at the bank with a new manager roughly every 6-12 months. Every single one of those managers passed me over for the annual bonus.

Image by bluebudgie from Pixabay 

I remember sitting in the office of one manager who’d never bothered to get to know anything about me or my role. He said, “I think I’ve allocated you a small bonus but I can’t remember how much.” He’d printed out a spreadsheet for everyone in the team. My maiden surname was Williams so I was at the bottom of the alphabetical list. I watched him scroll down with a piece of paper, revealing amounts ranging from £500 up to a whopping £5k. Then he got to mine. £0. “Oh yes, that’s right,” he said. “You’ve not been on my team for long and I don’t really know you so I haven’t allocated anything this year.” He didn’t even have the emotional intelligence to sound apologetic or to appear embarrassed that he’d just shown me everyone else’s bonus and I was the only one with nothing. The ONLY one. Would the person with £5k really have noticed much difference if they’d received £4.5k instead and I’d got £500? I smiled politely, thanked him (why????), returned to my office and sobbed my heart out. It wasn’t about the money although, as a skint graduate up to my eyeballs in debt, it would have come in very useful. Instead, it was the principle. I couldn’t seem to win. Show confidence and be vocal with ideas and I got bullied. Get on with my job quietly and I got ignored.

It became a recurring theme for the rest of my career. The bullies made me feel so inadequate that, the couple of times I did get promoted, I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder: We’ve made a mistake. We meant to appoint someone else. You’re not good enough and never will be. And when I got over-looked for other bonuses or promotions or was the only person on a team to be made redundant, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: See! I wasn’t good enough and they knew it which is why this happened.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that imposter syndrome isn’t about lack of self-confidence or self-esteem but is instead about self-doubt. I’m actually a really confident person in most situations. With a background in recruitment and training, I’m used to speaking in public and I love it. Gives me such a buzz. As for self-esteem, I’m very conscious about my weight but it doesn’t affect my self-esteem most of the time. My food demons also go back to being bullied but that’s a separate issue and nothing to do with imposter syndrome so I won’t talk about it now. So I don’t have a lack of self-confidence and I don’t have low self-esteem. But I frequently crumble with self-doubt because of my imposter syndrome. Damn you imposter syndrome!

Throughout my time in HR, I worked my socks off, being the perfectionist, superhero and expert. I achieved some awards, I exceeded objectives, I had amazing feedback from customers and, as stated earlier, I did have some fabulous managers who made me feel valued. I knew I was good at my job because of the effort I put into it and because of those who were kind. Yet I never felt good enough. I never felt like I deserved a management position. I kept waiting for it to be taken away from me and, when I was made redundant several times, that felt like my punishment for trying to be more than I really was. Despite all the successes and the many occasions where I had positive feedback, the voices that spoke the loudest came from the manager who seemed to get a kick out of making me cry (something he did on more occasions than I care to remember), the manager who laughed at me and asked me why I cared so much about my job, the HR Director who rolled his eyes at me and didn’t even try to hide how bored he was when I asked for his advice, the manager who passed off my work as her own then put me forward for redundancy, the two managers who bullied me on the graduate scheme, the one who showed me my zero bonus…

Those voices have stayed with me for over two decades. Those voices have carried over into my writing career. Those voices have given me imposter syndrome.

This year, my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, have done things for my career as an author that have been beyond my wildest dreams. But that damn imposter syndrome has been there throughout every success like a fly buzzing around my ear, stopping me from enjoying every amazing moment.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about what that looks like…

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is published

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My tenth novel, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, was published yesterday – Thursday 2nd July – and what a busy day it turned out to be. So busy that I didn’t even get a chance to write a blog post!

The first thing I did when I woke up was log onto Amazon to see my chart position and was thrilled to be #1,891 on the Kindle chart. I hoped to make it inside the Top 1,000 but was both surprised and delighted when I moved up to #557 just after lunch, #324 by mid-afternoon, #295 by teatime and #291 by bedtime. Wow!

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I secured two category best seller flags and even pushed my own book off the top spot in one of them!

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There was lovely news over on AppleBooks too with a #10 in the Romance chart and #27 in the overall chart.

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And then fabulous news later that day with Kobo selecting Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow as one of their books of the month.

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And it wasn’t just about chart positions. A blog tour kicked off with three of the most gorgeous five-star reviews (you can click on the blog name if you want to read the full review):

Being Anne said: “The characterisation is exceptional … This whole book entirely enchanted me from beginning to end – I lived every twist and turn of the story, and felt a real sense of loss when I reached the end”

Portobello Book Blog said: “It’s a delightful story of friendship, kindness and love and of being true to yourself. It’s a wonderfully heart-warming story which I recommend if you are looking for a really feel-good read”

Books and Bookends said: “This book just hit me hard in the feelings. There’s some really toxic family dynamics and equally some amazing relationships in this story…. It’s well and truly a feel good story with a gorgeous Yorkshire setting and amazing characters”

Thank you so much to all three of you for such wonderful, heartwarming reviews.

Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow Full Tour Banner

Over on my publisher Boldwood’s blog, I talked about my Auntie Gwen who is a real-life ‘hedgehog lady’. She’s rescued sick, injured and abandoned hedgehogs for forty years and is such an inspiration. You can read the post here.

The day before, I was guest on good friend and super talented author Sharon Booth’s blog talking about the change of setting in this book and why hedgehogs. You can read that post here. Thank you, Sharon, for being a fabulous host.

Boldwood Books hosted a ‘Summer Moment’ on Zoom for all their authors. They’d have organised a summer party under normal circumstances but this was the next best thing and they sent us a bottle of fizz so we could raise a toast. It was lovely to see the faces – albeit it spread across four different screens – and hear the voices of a writing community with whom I’ve engaged with through social media but, in the main, not met or spoken to.

I needed to dip out of that early as I was hosting my first ever Facebook Live on Book and Tonic’s Facebook page. I had so much fun doing that, answering questions submitted beforehand or posed on the evening, and reading Chapter 1 from Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. I had an awkward moment at the start where I wasn’t sure there was anyone there and, when I knew there was, whether they could hear me so, if you do listen, you might want to skip past the first minute. It does get better after that, I promise! You can connect to the recording here.

Thank you to everyone who made publication day so special and to all those who pre-ordered or have since bought a copy of Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. It’s available on eBook for AppleBooks, Kindle and Kobo, audio, large print and paperback so something to suit everyone. Here’s the Amazon link if you fancy meeting the hedgehogs.

Wishing you all the best for a great weekend.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

Can love really be found when you stop looking for it…?

As Samantha Wishaw watches the love of her life marry another woman, she’s ready to give up hope of finding her happy ever after.

But when a chance encounter leads Sam to find friendship in Thomas – a lonely, grumpy elderly widower living at derelict Hedgehog Hollow – her life is about to change forever.

Glad to have a distraction from family feuds and match-making, Sam vows to fulfil Thomas and his wife, Gwendoline’s, dreams of restoring Hedgehog Hollow to its former glory, and to open a hedgehog rescue centre.

Throwing herself into the task at hand, little does Sam realise that the keys to love and happiness may also be found at Hedgehog Hollow, when she least expects it…

Escape to Hedgehog Hollow this summer with top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland for the perfect uplifting, feel-good read.

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The one where it’s #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay

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The Angel of the North

Today – 1st July – is #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay. I’m northern. I’m an author. It’s therefore a special day for me and what’s even more special is that this year is the very first year for #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay.

Set up by northern authors, Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson, it’s about celebrating northern authors past and present. Northern authors have an opportunity to promote their own work over on Twitter and celebrate their favourite northern authors.

I’m northern born and bred. My parents are from the area around Bishop Auckland in Co Durham but I was born in Middlesbrough in Teesside. Shortly before my fourth birthday, we moved to the market town of Guisborough, still in Teesside (although it was known as Cleveland back then). I left home when I went away to university in Loughborough, Leicestershire, and lived all over the country after that, as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Reading. But the north always felt like home and I settled in North Yorkshire seventeen years ago, moving to Scarborough a year later where I’ve been ever since.

(The beautiful north: Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, a view over Lake Windermere and Hardraw Force Waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales)

I’m immensely proud of being northern but have experienced a lot of prejudice about my roots over the years. It always astonishes me how many people believe the phrase “it’s grim up north” and think of it as dark, dirty and industrial. And don’t get me started on the stereotypes of all northerners wearing flat caps, eating fish and chips, walking whippets and still having outside toilets. Rude! Yes, there are parts of the north that are industrial but this is part of our heritage and essential for the economy. There are also parts of the south that are industrial. In the same way, both the north and the south boast exceptional beauty. If you’ve never been, just Google any of the following: Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland, Lake District National Park, Yorkshire Coast. Wow!

(The beautiful north: Castle Howard, Scarborough Castle and Ribblehead Viaduct)

As well as boasting stunning scenery, the north is proud to present a plethora of writing talent, past and present. From poets such as Wordsworth, Ted Hughes and W H Auden (remember that gorgeous poem read at the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral?) to playwrights such as Alan Ayckbourn and Alan Bennett to authors such as the Brontë sisters, Catherine Cookson and Beatrix Potter, the north has demonstrated impressive writing credentials across the years.

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.25.12One of my northern writing heroes is Catherine Cookson. What a writer! Born into extreme poverty in Tyneside, Cookson channelled her experiences into over 100 books. My mum has read all her books and I have probably read about a quarter to a third of them, borrowing from my mum’s collection in my teens and early 20s. My favourites include the Tilly Trotter series, The Dwelling Place and A Dinner of Herbs. I would certainly cite Catherine Cookson as an early inspiration for me becoming an author as, along with Virginia Andrews, she was the first author of adult books I read prolifically. They both taught me what a page-turner was. You can find Catherine Cookson’s author page on Amazon here.

Moving into the present day, I am now a northern author myself. Certainly never imagined that when I was reading Catherine Cookson’s novels! All my books are set in North Yorkshire, on the coast or in the countryside in the Yorkshire Wolds. I can see me writing books in other settings but I don’t anticipate moving away from the north. It’s what I know and it’s what I love. My readers seem to love my setting too. Phew!

I’m very lucky to class some super talented northern writers as good friends so want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to three of them:

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.18.26Yorkshire-based Sharon Booth writes stories that include “love, laughter and happy ever after” and they’re simply gorgeous. I’ve read and loved every single one. With Yorkshire settings inspired by the Dales, Robin Hood’s Bay and Knaresborough, you can find her Amazon author page here.

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.19.37Helen Phifer is based in Cumbria and writes crime and horror books. I absolutely love her Annie Graham series which are crime with a supernatural/horror book but her pure crime are superb too. On Amazon, you can find Helen’s author page here.

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 10.18.52Alys West is also Yorkshire-based and she has a couple of different genres in her writing toolkit with contemporary fantasy and steampunk. Both are genres I’d never explored before but Aly’s work is fabulous and I’m a convert! Alys’s author page can be found here.

And, of course, you can visit the fictional North Yorkshire Coast town of Whitsborough Bay through my books, and take a trip to Hedgehog Hollow in the Yorkshire Wolds with my brand new series set in a hedgehog rescue centre. Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow is out tomorrow.  My author page is right here.

Wishing all northern writers a happy #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay. Are you doing anything special to celebrate? As for me, I’m about to nip to the toilet (outside of course), put my flat cap on and take my whippet out for a walk. Then I think I’ll enjoy a fish and chip supper 😉

Please do join in with the fun over on Twitter but don’t forget to use the hashtag #NationalNorthernAuthorsDay to join in the conversation. Thanks Trisha and Milly for setting this up 🙂

Big hugs

Jessica xx

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