The one where The Secret to Happiness is a year old

One year ago today, The Secret to Happiness was published. Happy book-birthday to me! It’s an exceptionally special book-birthday because this was the first of my books released by my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books. It was the book that secured me my publishing deal.

Originally titled Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, it tells the story of three women – Alison, Danniella and Karen – who are struggling to let go of something/someone from their past. They all meet at a beach-based bootcamp run by Karen and it explores whether the power of friendship can give the women the strength to move on and find the happiness they deserve.

It’s an emotional but uplifting story which I love and I was sure that, after several years as an indie writer, it would secure me a publishing deal. It didn’t at first. When Boldwood opened for submissions, it had been rejected by five different publishers. Five rejections is not a lot in the grand scheme of things but I took each one to heart and was crushed by them. Because I’d already released nine books, originally with a publisher and then via an independent route – all with great feedback – I started to seriously doubt myself. I wondered if I’d tried to be too clever writing about three women instead of just having one protagonist (like in all my books except Bear With Me which has two). I wondered whether I’d lost my writing mojo.

On the shelves in The Works

But this is a positive post and I want to focus on the amazing things that have happened since what became The Secret to Happiness found its home at Boldwood. I have pasted my rejection feedback at the end if anyone is curious. For authors, this may give the encouragement to keep going as, what one editor passes on, another may feel passionate about.

Thankfully, Boldwood thought differently to the other five publishers and offered me a 9-book deal for this book plus another three new ones, and five novels from my back catalogue! Wow!

And I couldn’t be happier. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason. I believe I was always destined to join Boldwood so I’m grateful for those rejections because they meant I could find my true home.

What has The Secret to Happiness done for me?

  • Over 9k paperbacks in branches of The Works around the UK
  • Sold nearly 500 audio copies*
  • Sold nearly 15k eBooks*
  • #122 in the UK Kindle Chart
  • #9 on the Canada Kindle Chart
  • #20 on the Australia Kindle Chart
  • #35 on the overall AppleBooks Chart and #10 on the Romance Chart
  • Secured 123 ratings/reviews on Amazon UK, 92% of which are 4 or 5-star
  • Secured 43 ratings on AppleBooks UK, all of which are 4 or 5-star

* Up until end June 2020

Reviews/Ratings on Amazon UK

This book took a struggling indie writer and turned her into an international bestselling author! Eek! Still can’t quite believe that!

I cannot thank my amazing editor, Nia Beynon, enough for believing in this book and helping shape and polish it ready for publication. And thank you to the team at Boldwood Books and the fabulously talented authors there who’ve supported and promoted my work.

If you haven’t yet read it, now’s your chance as it has been selected for Kindle UK’s September Monthly Deal and is 99p for the whole of the month. Kobo and AppleBooks also have it for 99p.

You can find it for Kindle here or on Audible here.

If you prefer paperbacks, The Works sold out really quickly online but you may still be able to find a copy in your local branch. Alternatively paperbacks can be ordered via Amazon. Or you could win a copy!

Yes, to celebrate The Secret to Happiness’s 1st book-birthday, I’m giving away THREE signed copies. There’ll be one book given away in a competition on Facebook, one on Instagram and one on Twitter. I’ll share details from my various social media accounts but they’ll appear first on Boldwood’s social media. You can find them as:

  • Book & Tonic on Facebook and Instagram
  • @BoldwoodBooks on Twitter

So watch out for news of how to win!

In the meantime, have an amazing week/weekend and thank you once more to everyone who has discovered The Secret to Happiness or is about to discover it!

Big hugs

Jessica xx

And, as promised, here’s the rejections…

“Concept intriguing and writing engaging [but] not suitable for our list.”

“Created a great ensemble cast .. setting well delineated … [but the] concept wasn’t quite ‘hooky’ enough to stand out in a very crowded market.”

“While the premise is fun and engaging and original, we just feel the bootcamp idea is not quite right for us at this time. I do think it’s very well written, however, so please don’t let this stop you – you just need a cracking idea and you’ll be on your way.”

“I absolutely loved diving into the world you’ve conjured here … [but] 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.”

“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.”

The one where I talk about my lovely London trip

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At the end of last week, I had a very busy and very exciting few days in London. There were so many highlights but I nearly didn’t make it, thanks to our delightful train network.

Hubby dropped me off at Scarborough Train Station on Wednesday morning to catch the train to York where I’d connect to London. I was confronted with this…

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Whilst the new trains are lovely and the staff are delightful and often full of good humour, the actual service run by Transpennine Express is shocking. So many of the journeys I have made lately have been cancelled or running late. Apparently there was no conductor for the service so it was simply cancelled and no alternative provided other than the next train an hour later; far too late to make my connecting train to London.

I’m very lucky in that hubby works from home and I knew he wasn’t working on a deadline so I called him on the car hands-free and he had to turn around and come back to collect me. Our dog was in the car so we had to arrange to drop her off with his parents rather than dragging her to York and back (an hour each way). Just as well we did this because, whilst my London train was thankfully running on time, it took hubby nearly three hours to get home again. There’d been an accident on the main York to Scarborough road and both lanes were shut so there was a massive diversion in place. I actually made it to London fifteen minutes after he got home which is ridiculous.

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Me with my editor, Nia. No idea why I’m leaning like that!

I had a lovely afternoon in London, meeting my editor, Nia, and the CEO and Founder of Boldwood Books, Amanda. I’ve spoken to Nia on the phone several times and have had a Skype conversation with Amanda and Nia but nothing beats meeting them face to face. What a lovely lunch we had, talking about the first few months of The Secret to Happiness being out there, and marketing plans for 2020 and beyond. Every day, I am so very grateful that I submitted to Boldwood and my manuscript was chosen for representation because they really are an absolute joy to work with.

My hotel had a room with a view, ha ha ha! I posted this image showing Fenchurch Street station on Facebook and one of the Write Romantics, Deirdre, really made me laugh by asking “what’s that on the roof – ectoplasm?” Certainly looks like it!

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On Thursday morning, I had a very quick swim, jacuzzi and steam room before wandering over to The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, five minutes’ walk from the hotel.

I’ve been to London many times over the years and this is the second time I’ve been to this area but I don’t think the sights of London will ever bore me. I love all the history amongst the modern. It was a bit chilly by the river, mind.

Usually I find London several degrees warmer than the north but not last week. Brr.

After my walk, I took the tube to Kings Cross to collect my very good friend and fellow Write Romantic, Sharon Booth. I was early but Sharon’s train was running late so that gave me a great excuse to wander around the shops at Kings Cross and the ones at St Pancras over the road. How gorgeous is this Lancome Christmas tree? When you get up close, each light is shining through a bottle of perfume. That’s a heck of a lot of bottles of perfume!

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As well as meeting Boldwood, a massive highlight for me was having seven out of ten of the Write Romantics in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve managed six before so maybe one day all ten of us will get together. (From left-right on the 2nd picture below, it’s Jackie Ladbury, Jo Bartlett, Helen Phifer and Sharon Booth). Helen J Rolfe is in later pictures and I’m afraid I didn’t manage to get a picture with Deirdre Palmer as we weren’t sat together.

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We joined RNA members for a talk with bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella, who has just released another book in her shopaholic series after several years’ break. It was interesting to hear how she became a writer and more about her stories. Sorry about the poor pic but we were on the back row!

I love the Confessions of a Shopaholic film and am looking forward to Can You Keep a Secret? released soon. I’ve read several of Sophie’s books including that one.

After the talk finished, all but one of the Write Romantics gathered in my room for Prosecco and I grabbed a quick drink with them before changing and heading to a drinks reception with Boldwood.

This was an opportunity to see Amanda and Nia again but also a third team member, Megan, who is the Publishing Executive. Several of the Boldwood authors were gathered and it was so wonderful to meet them in person.

(L-R is Beth Moran, Amanda Ridout (BW), Lucy Coleman, Emma Murray, Diane Saxon, Jessica redland, Nia Beynon BW) and Fay Keenan). Megan (BW) was taking the pic.

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Next was the RNA’s Winter Party and Industry Awards. I’ve never been to one of the RNA’s London parties so this was a first. I had been looking forward to catching up with a few people I knew on social media but had never actually met but it was busier than I expected and, despite doing a few rounds of the room after the awards ceremony, I couldn’t see them! It doesn’t help that I’m vertically-challenged so trying to spot people in a roomful of people isn’t easy at the best of times but, when the lighting is dim and the room packed, I don’t think I stood much chance.

IMG_7344The highlight of the party for me was seeing two wonderful bloggers – Anne Williams and Rachel Gilbey – being nominated for the Best Blogger Award. Rachel reviewed my very first book and has read everything I’ve written since. I’ve been on several blog tours arranged via her Rachel’s Random Resources role. Anne has been a wonderful supporter of my work too more recently and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her a few times before. Anne won and I was pleased to be able to congratulate both of them and get a photo of them together.

One of the Write Romantics was heading off home soon but the remaining six of us decamped to Pizza Express and had a lovely evening, catching up on all things writing and non-writing. Helen J Rolfe is the one on the right on the 1st image above. And I had to show my pizza because, whilst you may not be able to see, it had potatoes on it. Yes, that’s right, potatoes on a pizza! And it was delicious.

It was pouring when we left but that didn’t stop us getting a couple of photos outside The Four Seasons Hotel.

Isn’t that a lamppost gorgeous? It’s like something out of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I kept expecting Mr Tumnus to appear at any moment!

A huge thank you to everyone who organised the Sophie Kinsella talk and the Winter Party as I know how much time and effort goes into coordinating events like this. Thank you so much to Boldwood for organising the pre-event drinks and to all the Boldwood authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to chat individually to everyone during our short time together and then for not being able to find you to say goodbye.

My journey home was a bit fraught. I only had six minutes to make my connection in York and we were about 25 minutes late. However, so was my connecting train so I did manage to catch it. One time when I’m grateful for the poor service!

IMG_7295Have an amazing week.

Jessica xx

 

Some useful links:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association

Boldwood Books

Anne Williams’s ‘Being Anne’ Blog  

Rachel Gilbey’s ‘Rachel’s Random Reads’ Blog

 

The Write Romantics’ Amazon Pages (including those not in London):

Jo Bartlett

Sharon Booth

Jackie Ladbury

Deirdre Palmer (also writes as Zara Thorne)

Lynne Pardoe

Helen Phifer

Jessica Redland

Helen J Rolfe

Rachael Thomas

Alys West

 

 

Back to the start again

A week or so ago, I was given the launch day for my debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’. I knew it was going to be June but I’d got it into my head it would probably be late June. It’s Wednesday June 3rd! Eek! That’s only just over four months away!

PhotoFunia-6aa56c2Things are starting to happen. I’ve had my marketing plan from my lovely publishers, So Vain Books, and I’ve had a first draft of my book cover to check I like the concept. Either late next week or early the week after, I should receive my line edits. I have no idea what this will entail. I’ve been very lucky because my structural edits which I received in October last year required very little work. I was asked to address two points in the book where it seemed like the action didn’t quite end. This required an additional sentence in each case so very easy. I was also asked to tone down a chapter where a character was a bit under the influence. When I re-read it, I could see it was a bit over the top and my publishers suggested a slight tweak that I was able to run with. I think the chapter is much better as a result. The challenging part was the start. I thought I’d already blogged about this but I’ve looked back over my posts and I can’t see one. Please forgive me if I have covered this already and am just not seeing it!

Going back and re-writing the start of ‘Steven’ was my worst nightmare because it has been my nemesis in the decade I’ve been working on the book. I am not exaggerating when I say there have been about 40-50 different starts. In ‘Steven’, my protagonist Sarah moves back to her seaside hometown of Whitsborough Bay in North Yorkshire to take over her Auntie Kay’s florist shop. In early versions of the book, this was because Auntie Kay had died and Sarah had inherited the shop. I therefore had the book starting at a funeral, a will-reading, sitting in a cafe with her best friend reflecting on the loss, getting a phone call at home with the news of the death and about six or seven other variations around this theme. Then a writing friend read one of the variations and cried, ‘No! You can’t kill Auntie Kay!’ And I suddenly realised she was right. Although Auntie Kay was dead in my book, she’d become a real character in my head and I’d grown to really like her. But why else would Sarah move back home and take over the florists if her Auntie hadn’t died. Then it struck me: she could decide to retire and travel the world. Perfect. Auntie Kay was very happy to receive this news instead of a death certificate! Great news for her but not so great for me. How would I start the book now?

The answer was pretty much anywhere. I had Sarah at work missing out on a promotion, at home ending a rubbish relationship, travelling home to Whitsborough Bay after she’d split up with the boyfriend, or being in Auntie Kay’s shop and being told the news that she wanted to give the shop to Sarah to name just a few. I started the story when she was in primary school. I started the story when she was in senior school. I started the story in so many different guises that my head was spinning!

In summer 2013, I attended the RNA’s annual conference and pitched the book to two publishers. They both loved the premise and my voice which was incredibly flattering. They also both wanted to see the full manuscript. At this point, it started with Sarah travelling home to see Auntie Kay and getting the news about the shop. The MS had been way too long so I’d cut out a lot of what went before around ending a rubbish relationship in order to get on with the main story. One editor liked it but wanted to see a bit more action e.g. splitting up with the boyfriend (the chapter I’d cut) before going home. The other wanted more of a motivation as to why she was so keen to meet The One (it is a romance story, after all). Both their comments triggered a lightbulb moment and I came up with a start to the book that got the action and the motivation. Yippee!

PhotoFunia-6aa69bcProblem was, although So Vain Books loved it, they were concerned that it might set the wrong tone for the book with anyone dipping into the first chapter before buying. They were absolutely right. The book is fairly light-hearted and the beginning wasn’t.

I emailed them to say I’d be delighted to make a change to the start but HELP!!!!! I explained my million variations. At one point, I’d written a chapter that I did really love and I still had it. I felt it might be what they were looking for. I edited it a bit as some of the points made in it were no longer relevant to the rest of the story and sent it over. They loved it. Phew!

So now I wait to see what the final editing stage will bring. In the meantime, I’ve pretty much written the first draft of book 3. It needs a lot of editing as I’ve made a major change to it which I’ll talk about in another post but it’s been really timely because, as a result of finishing the trilogy, I know there are some minor tweaks I want to make to ‘Steven’. I want to change the job of a minor character in book 1 who’s a major character in book 3. I want to change the name of a village because I’ve really gone off my original choice of name. I need to change someone’s age. Little things like that. The great thing is that I have the opportunity to still do that. But there will hit a point when I can no longer tinker. Very scary!

I’m now really pleased with the start of ‘Steven’. It’s been a very painful process but I’ve got there. Funnily enough, the start to the two sequels has caused me no problems at all. I tinkered a bit with book 2 and book 3 hasn’t changed at all. Whether I planned it better because I didn’t want to go through the pain of book 1 again or whether it was easier to know where to start when the book’s a sequel, I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I don’t have to go through it again. Unless, of course, my publisher doesn’t like the start of either book. But we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Happy reading and writing 🙂 xx

A Tale of Two Contracts – Act 1

P1050690Have you ever got something you really, really wanted? Something you’ve longed for years and years? How did it feel?

On my wish list for the past eleven years or so has been “to become a published writer”. My husband and I have often joked about this making us millions and us moving to a huge grand “author’s house” in the countryside but that’s not why I wanted to become a published writer. Don’t get me wrong, it would be very lovely thank you, but the real reason is the one I’d expect many other writers to cite: I have stories to tell and I want people to read them.

On September 1st, I took a step closer to my dream. I awoke on a dark Monday morning and checked my phone like I always do. Typically this results in cleansing my inbox of Groupon deals, Nectar points info and some freegle messages. But September 1st was not a typical Monday. Because sitting there in my inbox was an email from a US-based publishing house. And they wanted to publish my book.

I’d dreamed of this moment for a long time but this wasn’t quite what I expected. I’d imagined “the call” being exactly that; a phone call coming through on a dreary day and lighting my life. I hadn’t really imagined an email and especially not one with a “but” in it. You see, they wanted my book but they felt it was a bit long (it was 100k words) and wanted to know if I’d be prepared to cut it. I wandered round in a bit of a daze as I got ready for work. I didn’t feel excitement; I just felt a bit numb. Was it because I couldn’t believe I’d finally got the call? Was it because the call was an email? Or was it because there was a “but”? I’m not really sure.

P1050689I emailed them back saying of course I’d consider a reduction in words but how much and what sort of guidance would they give? Plus, would they be interested in the other two books in the series? The wordcount cut concerned me as I’d already cut my novel by 32k words and felt that it couldn’t lose much more without starting to lose the story. Cue anxious several hours (damn time delay!) before a reply came back saying that my editor loved series and would be delighted to offer me a 3-book deal and not to worry too much about the word cut as she loved it all so much that she was struggling to see where to cut words. Phew! Finally, excitement set in. Telling my immediate family was thrilling; especially telling my parents because my mum was beside herself. It was lovely to hear how proud they were of me for working so hard at my dream and never giving up. I also made an announcement on Facebook. I was away in a hotel with work and it was a joy to sit back and watch the likes and the congratulations messages flowing in.

A template contract was sent to me, I sought some advice on it, and several emails were exchanged about the content and size of books 2 and 3.

Then Black Friday hit.

I picked up an email from my editor to double check that all the books were about 100k and to tell me she wanted them to be 80k instead. A 20k reduction? One fifth? Twenty per cent? Look at it whichever way you like, that was a hefty reduction and I’d thought the word count didn’t matter. Especially as the offer was for eBook only where surely the size doesn’t matter quite as it does with paperbacks (and the costs incurred).

It got worse.

P1050686There are two threads in my stories; romance (obviously, given that romance is my genre) but there’s a secondary theme of friendship and it’s really important to me that the stories I tell contain both. My editor wanted to check there definitely was a romance in book 3 as it hadn’t come out strongly in my summary and she also said that the friendship had to be a background story with the focus being on the romance. I panicked. Big time. You see, before I’d had the offer, I’d made the decision to go indie. Part of the reason was that I couldn’t bear the waiting times to hear news from some publishers and part of it was so that I could get the control; tell the stories I wanted to tell, with the covers I wanted on my books, the pricing and timescales I wanted and so on. I knew I’d not be able to resist a publishing deal if one knocked on my door as a foot on the ladder to getting my name known but I also wanted to be sure the deal was right. And there were some alarm bells ringing that this one may not be quite right after all.

I emailed back and expressed my surprise at the significant wordcount reduction. I also outlined where the romance came into book 3 and asked it if it was ok. An email came back the next evening saying the romance was fine and not to worry about the wordcount. Again. But we’d been there before. My contract would be with me by Friday 19th September.

But on Wednesday 17th September, another email arrived. It would seem that publishing deals are like buses because this email contained another offer from a completely different publisher. This was a publisher who could offer me a deal for a print version of my book as well as an eBook but who presented a risk because they were new.

So what did I do? Come back later in the week and I’ll let you know!