Celebrating 6 years as a published author

Six years ago today on 23rd May 2015, my debut book was published. Happy anniversary to me!

I’ve written a few posts in the past celebrating all the amazing things that have happened since joining Boldwood Books in 2019 and my challenging journey prior to joining Boldwood. I’m therefore not looking to repeat that. Instead, I’m going to look back at what happened when I first became published as it was one of the most exciting but also one of the most stressful periods of time as one door opened but another closed.

My anniversary would originally have been 3rd June as that’s when my debut full-length novel Searching for Steven was released (now available under the revised title of New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) but my publisher at the time had asked if I could write a short story to give away for free before publication day. It needed to be linked to the series (Searching for Steven was originally the start of a trilogy).

Short. Hmm.

Well, I tried, but I’m not so good at thinking ‘small’ and ended up writing a novella!

We weren’t going to just give that away so it went up for sale as a 99p eBook on 23rd May 2015. It was called Raving About Rhys and, a few years later, I wrote a follow-up short novel called Callie’s Christmas Wish. These two have since joined together and are now available as Making Wishes at Bay View, the first book in the four-strong ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series.

I remembered staying up late the evening before both releases to watch them appearing on my Kindle at midnight which was a very surreal and magical experience. I know I barely slept at all after Searching for Steven was published as that was the big one: my proper, real, full-length debut novel.

These two publication days saw the start of a new era for me as I became a published author. Eek! But late May/early June that year also saw unexpected change.

I was a Learning & Development Advisor for a large food manufacturer at the time and the company had been going through some major restructuring so it had been quite a difficult period. The HR function was already slimmed down to the bones and a couple of job vacancies on the structure chart were removed so the remaining HR staff were given repeated reassurances that there would be no HR redundancies.

Guess who got made redundant?

It was a hell of a shock and the timing of it pretty much took the shine off the release of Raving About Rhys. I’d been out of the office for the week prior to Rhy’s release – which I’ve just realised makes it sound like he was coming out of prison! – running a special community event I’d organised for the apprentices I supported. It had been a huge piece of work which I’d planned to run with a colleague and good friend of mine who did the same role as me but for the more southerly factories. Last minute, she got pulled off it and I was told I had to run it on my own which was a disaster because the whole programme had been planned around two of us so I had to put copious extra hours in – including evenings and the weekend before the event – re-working everything we’d so carefully put together.

Thanks to all that additional hard work, the week with the apprentices went fairly smoothly but it was exhausting. I was so relieved that I’d tagged an extra day’s holiday on after Spring Bank Holiday Monday so I had four days to recover before returning to work.

I got back into the office on the Wednesday – four days after Raving About Rhys was published – and my manager asked if she could see me. She was working in a different building to me so I walked across the site thinking we were meeting for a debrief about the week. As soon her manager came into the room, my stomach sank and I knew something bad was about to happen. I frantically tried to think what it was that I might have done wrong as their sombre faces suggested I was in trouble. Job loss never entered my head.

I cried when they told me I’d been made redundant, but mainly because it was such a shock after the reassurances that nobody in HR would lose their job.

Even worse, I was the only one.

And even worse than that, the decision had been made several weeks previously but they’d wanted me to run the brilliant high-profile event I’d masterminded first!

That was a bit of a punch in the stomach. I did understand from a business perspective why they’d done that, but I was a little insulted that they might think I’d be so unprofessional to run a sub-standard event just because I’d lost my job. If they knew me at all, they’d have known that’s not how I work and, if anything, I’d have pulled out all the stops to make it even bigger and better in order to leave an impressive legacy behind.

What also hurt was that they’d taken my support away from me, meaning I had re-work the entire thing and have the most stressful week ever, when they could have softened the blow of redundancy by letting that week run as planned.

Fortunately, I’d put feelers out with a local recruitment agency during the apprentices week as, although I definitely hadn’t foreseen redundancy, I wasn’t happy with the way things had been heading lately. The apprentice week incident had been the last of many uncomfortable situations.

The day before I was made redundant, while I was on holiday, I’d coincidentally had a conversation with the recruitment agency to explore my CV and consider if there may be an opportunity to join the team, but I had no idea if that would come to anything. I had years of recruitment experience in big and small companies but never in an agency role and I wasn’t sure if my skills would be a good fit.

On Wednesday 3rd June when Searching for Steven was released, I was out of work. I had been invited back to the recruitment agency for a conversation the following week and I had to keep focusing on the hope that it would be a positive outcome otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my special moment for worry about the future.

I had a launch party for my friends and family on Saturday 6th June and still had no idea whether I had a job. My dream was to write full-time but I was under no illusion about how unlikely this was. I knew the statistics. The vast majority of published authors make less than £10k a year from their writing and most make nowhere near that. I wasn’t with a big publisher. I wasn’t even with an established publisher. If I made £100 in the year, I’d probably be doing well! So it was essential that I found myself another HR job.

The problem with where I live is that HR roles are few and far between. Those that exist tend to be more generalist (dealing with contracts, grievance and discipline, ill health and so on) and that’s not where my expertise (or interest) lay. I was a recruitment and training specialist; roles usually associated with large companies in their head offices and not many companies had HQs in Scarborough. I’d just been made redundant from the biggest!

My launch party was emotional and I remember being in floods of tears a couple of days before when I had it confirmed that the printer had made a mistake and I wouldn’t have any books. A launch party with no books? Well, that was certainly going to be interesting. My publisher had a couple of sample copies that they could send to me so I could at least show what the book looked like and, bless them, they sent me a gorgeous teddy bear to say sorry, but it did mean the day I’d dreamed of for years wasn’t going to be quite as I’d hoped.

Despite the lack of books, the party went reasonably well but it was a boiling hot day and there was no air-con so everyone was melting, especially me.

Hubby was going to take photographs but got so distracted talking to people that he didn’t get a chance so I have very few photos of the event.

My sister in law made an amazing cake and I completely forgot to cut it. I didn’t get to speak to half the guests and I didn’t manage to get any buffet to eat so I was starving and my celebratory wine went straight to my head.

But it was still lovely and I’m so appreciative of everyone who came, some of whom had travelled quite some distance, and all the lovely and unexpected gifts.

The following week, I did get a job offer to join the recruitment consultancy and, after serving my notice on gardening leave (lovely), I started in early July.

Just to close the loop on that, it didn’t work out in the end. Eek!

It was a learning experience on both parts. I might have skills and experience at recruitment but what the role needed was a salesperson and I’m not that. I shed so many tears knowing I was a square peg in a round hole, loving the company and the team, but hating the role itself, knowing that I’d be found out at any moment.

The first few months were a fluke because I was able to secure business with a large manufacturer the agency had been desperate to work with for ages. I’d worked there many years before and one of the managers had rated me highly and was delighted to work with me again. On the back of that, I filled several vacancies, secured bonuses, and was crowned ’employee of the month’.

But once those vacancies were filled, the reality was I couldn’t do the job and that was a horrible position to be in as I’ve always been good at roles I’ve previously held.

There were no other roles around so I couldn’t jump ship, even though I wanted to. The day my manager called me into a room and said ‘this isn’t working’, I also cried. Shock? Yes. Relief? Oh, yes! Time to pack up my desk again…

Fortunately, I’d put feelers out once more. I’d held a very part-time job for several years as an internal verifier for a company who offered the HR professional qualification by distance learning. I’d been scheduled to verify a tutor on a workshop but, when his wife took ill, I was asked if I could train the workshop instead and had the opportunity to meet the manager who managed the tutors as he was tutoring on a workshop that same weekend. I explained my predicament and asked him if they might be looking for any more tutors. It so happened that they would be as the company had expansion plans for later in the year. Yay!

I got straight onto the phone to him while I was waiting for hubby to pick me up after losing my job at the recruitment agency and, within a couple of weeks, I’d secured a tutoring role alongside the verifying role and did that for the next five years.

Last June – roughly five years on from first being published – I marked my final assignment and became a full-time author. This was always my dream although the struggles I had in the first five years as a published author meant I never expected to achieve it. I never gave up hope, though.

To all the readers and bloggers/reviewers who have been with me since the beginning or those who’ve discovered my writing more recently, I cannot thank you enough for putting this square peg firmly in a matching square hole. I’ve finally found my place.

And to my editor Nia and the team at Boldwood Books, you know how grateful I am for being selected as one of the first twenty authors when you first set up and for everything you have done to take my books to an international audience and achieve so many dreams. Thank you doesn’t seem enough.

So I’ll raise a glass (of water – it is only lunchtime after all) and toast a happy sixth anniversary. And it truly is a happy one now that I’ve found the place I was always meant to be.

To quote Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are they day you are born and the day you find out why”. The day I became an author was the day I found out why, but this last year or so has been the year I’ve experienced why. The gorgeous reviews, social media posts, and messages from readers about how much my books have meant to them have meant so much to me.

My hubby had canvases made for me on the publication day for Searching for Steven with Rhys’s and Steven’s covers on them and the Mark Twain quote. It hangs above my desk and I look at it several times each day and am so grateful to have found my purpose in life.

Thank you for all the support.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

All you need is love to help you achieve your dreams…

Today is the publication day for my latest Boldwood release, All You Need Is Love. Publication days are always special but this one is extra special. It’s my husband’s birthday, it’s my sprocker spaniel Ella’s fifth birthday (happy birthday my lovelies xx) AND this is my tenth book to be released through Boldwood Books. Ten! Eek!

I first thought about writing a book a long time ago – back in 2002 – when a manager at work told me my business reports read like stories and I should write a book. Great idea but what would I write about? Then something happened to me that gave me the premise for my debut novel and I started writing it the following year.

Back then, I never thought about the next stage. Getting the book published wasn’t something I was aiming towards. The goal was simply to get to the end, to write a book. Could I even do that? Could I construct an interesting page-turning story with engaging characters?

It took me a decade to finish the book due to a combination of big life events – wedding, baby, house moves and job changes – but I kept chipping away. I started to think beyond finishing, especially as the idea for one book had developed into a trilogy.

After two critiques through the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme, my debut novel was ready to seek a publishing deal. For most authors, the road to publication is a bumpy one paved with rejections and disappointments and my experience is no exception. Ten months and twenty-three rejections later, I was seriously thinking about going indie when two very different offers came along: an established US-based digital only publisher v a new UK-based publisher who’d publish in ebook and paperback. I chose the latter.

My debut novel and a prequel novella were released in May and June 2015. My amazing husband surprised me on publication day with a set of canvases: one of each of the book covers and a third with the release date on it and this quote from the author Mark Twain: 

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

The quote made me cry. We both knew that I’d found my purpose in life and, having secured a publishing deal, I was now on my way…

But it didn’t work out. The company failed to make an impact in the publishing world and ceased trading shortly after my final book was released. I was devastated. With my rights back, I re-released the trilogy and prequel novella independently. They tanked.

I thought things might change when I released a brand new book the following year but they didn’t and, for the next few years, I struggled. I was working long hours in a full-time job, I led a Brownie Pack, and I had a family. Finding time to write was a massive challenge. Finding time to explore how to be a successful indie author was an impossibility.

I released another four books – all Christmas ones – and enjoyed some success with them but, mostly, it was days of zero sales and low chart positions. My reviews were great. Those who discovered my books seemed to love them but not enough readers were discovering them so, in summer 2018, I decided that it was time to try to secure a publisher again.

First time around, I had no idea if I had something a publisher might want and saw it as a process: Rejection? Okay, that’s a shame, but who’s next on the list? Second time around, each rejection floored me. A brand new novel provisionally titled Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye received five rejections. I also tried one of my back catalogue, Bear With Me, which gathered three passes. It was really hard to focus on the positive feedback when phrases like “Not suitable for our list”, “Not ‘hooky’ enough to stand out” and “Didn’t quite hit the mark for me” kept leaping out at me.

As 2018 drew to a close, I’d never felt so low about my writing and questioned whether it was time to give up. What was the point in spending months writing a book when hardly anybody was reading it and no publishers wanted it? But the reality was that writing was part of me. I was bursting with ideas. I had stories to tell. It was the only thing I wanted to do. I kept looking at that Mark Twain quote and believing that, one day, it would happen. One day my manuscript would land on the right desk at the right time and my world would change.

And it did.

I spotted an advert for the newly-formed Boldwood Books who’d be opening for submissions in February 2019 and knew I’d found my perfect home. I just hoped they agreed. Thankfully they did and I was offered a whopping 9-book publishing deal for four new books and five from my back catalogue. Another couple of contract addendums added in the remaining three previously-published books.

The book that secured my deal with Boldwood was the five times rejected Wish I could Tell You Goodbye. It was released in September 2019 under the title of The Secret to Happiness and has since sold nearly 50,000 copies and been in The Works. And the rejected Bear With Me is now re-edited and reissued as All You Need Is Love out today.

I’m writing my thirteenth book at the moment; the first for a new 12-book contract with Boldwood. If somebody had told me when I was writing my first novel that I’d be a full-time author releasing my tenth book through the most incredible publisher while writing my thirteenth, I’d never have believed them. When I went through my second submission round and devasted by the rejections, I wouldn’t have done either.

So today as I celebrate my tenth Boldwood release, I am so grateful to my husband and daughter for the canvas that hangs above my desk and reminds me each day of my purpose in life and for their constant encouragement. I’m so grateful for the rejections I had along the way because they brought me to my perfect home with Boldwood Books. And I’m so grateful to all the readers who’ve bought or borrowed my books and audios, particularly those who send me messages or write gorgeous reviews telling me how much they love my books. My tenth book is called All You Need Is Love and it’s a message that applies to authors. We need the love from readers to keep going through the tough times, the love of a publisher who believes in us, and family and friends who support us every step of the way.

If you have a dream, don’t give up on it. Sometimes when it feels like things are falling apart, they might actually be coming together. It might not happen for you immediately … but it could happen down the line. It did for me.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

What’s on my wall? (Part 8) Monday Motivation

For part 8 of my ‘What’s on my wall?’ #MondayMotivation series, I’ve selected a really special canvas and probably one of the most important pictures/signs I have on my wall.

My husband, Mark, presented this to me on the day my debut novel was published in June 2015 as part of a 3-set of canvases, the others being the book cover for my debut and for a novella that was released a couple of weeks before.

The two book cover canvases are no longer on my wall because these were the covers from my original publishers who ceased trading. Both books then received a fresh cover when I re-released them as each an indie author. Then another revised one. They have since been re-released through Boldwood Books with different titles and a fourth new cover each!

The quote on this sign is so special:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain)

Isn’t that just fabulous?

This quote came up on the credits at the end of a film Mark was watching and it resonated with him as being so appropriate for me in relation to how I feel about writing. If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be lost. It is very much a part of me and I feel strange when I’m not at my keyboard creating, as though part of me is missing.

The day I finished writing my first book was the day I found out why I’d been born. Writing gave me a purpose and a goal. But this year has brought something unexpected. My books have actually helped others. I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the number of messages I’ve had from readers saying that they have discovered my books and binge-reading them has provided valuable escapism, helping them through these challenging times. It’s really humbling to think that my imagination and words have touched others in this way.

I can’t thank my husband and daughter enough for how supportive they are with my writing and the moments when I’m so lost in my creative world that I’m unable to concentrate on anything in reality. I’ll always cherish this canvas from them, reminding me of the day I fulfilled my first goal of becoming a published author, and the day I became the person I was always meant to be.

Do you agree with this quote? Have you found out your purpose? I’d love to hear from you if you have or you’re on your way.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

What’s in a name? Quite a lot!

Shakespeare famously wrote: “What’s in a name?” I say, ‘Quite a lot actually. And it’s got me confused!’ Let me tell you why …

This weekend I’ve been to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Annual Conference. Looking down the attendee list, I was struck by how many of my fellow romance writers use a pen name. Some of them were completely different names (NWS organiser Melanie Hilton writes as Louise Allen), some were same first name but different surname or vice versa, some were slight changes (e.g. Write Romantic Alex Weston writes as Alys West) and some were just a change of spelling (e.g. Lynne to Linn).

I found myself wondering why all these writers choose a pen name. Three of The Write Romantics use pen names but for different reasons. One wanted to distance her writing persona from her professional persona and have a name that felt more closely aligned to the type of book she writes, one changed hers because there’s already a writer with the same name, and another wanted to use her maiden name.

P1050384My maiden name is Williams and in the days before eBooks, I always knew I wanted to use a different surname because Williams would feature at the bottom of the bookshelf! Fortunately I married a Heslington and moved right up to a prime eye-level position. Except my book is more likely to be an eBook so the bookshelf-browsing scenario isn’t really an issue anymore.

In the early days of my writing, when I fantasised about one of the big publishers taking me on, I imagined a scenario where they asked me to change from Heslington because people couldn’t spell or pronounce it. (Personally I think it’s easy to pronounce but when it comes to spelling, we’ve had post addressed to allsorts – Heslerton, Hesletine, Hessington and even Heffalump!) I toyed with an alternative name and the one I kept coming back to was the name I’d given to the munchkin: Ashleigh Brooke. I adore that name (obviously or I wouldn’t have picked it!) But I dismissed it and decided I’d fight for my right to be myself and write as Julie Heslington. Only now I’m having doubts …

P1050385Pen names have been around for centuries. Anyone heard of Sieur Louis de Conte? No? Me neither. I bet you know his other name though: Mark Twain. But neither of them are his real name. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Lewis Carroll was really Charles Dodgson and George Orwell was Eric Blair. CS Lewis was his real name but he also used Clive Hamilton and NW Clark for his writing. Crikey! That’s a lot of pseudonyms floating around.

So why use a pen name? There are a stack of reasons. Many years ago, females found it difficult to be taken seriously in the publishing world so Mary Ann Adams brought her books to the world as George Eliot and all of the Bronte sisters wrote under male names. This reason hasn’t gone away today. It’s widely known that JK Rowling used her initials to make her book appeal to a wider audience as males are typically less likely to pick up a book penned by a female than they are by a male. Female crime or horror writers often go for male names or initials too for this exact same reason ☹

P1050383The “right name for the right audience” is a key one that goes beyond gender too. Names can age a writer and a woman in her mid-twenties looking for some romantic comedy is more likely to be attracted to a writer with a young-sounding name like Sophie Kinsella than an older-sounding name like Mavis Winterbottom (apologies if there is a Mavis Winterbottom out there writing rom-coms aimed at twenty-somethings!) Speaking of Sophie Kinsella, she was born as Madeleine Sophie Townley, married to a Wickham and brought out her original books as Madeleine Wickham but then changed to a lighter style of writing with her Shopaholic series and, with this, used her middle name and a new surname to launch a new identity and appeal.

So changing genre is another reason for having a pen name and why several writers such as CS Lewis have more than one. Hiding one’s identity, writing something controversial, writing as a pair or a team but presenting the work as one author identity are all other reasons. So is being such a prolific writer that not all books are released under the same name due to a worry that readers would perceive more than 1-2 books being launched in a year as being poor quality. Don’t think I’ll struggle with that one given that it took me ten years to write my first!

These are all great reasons and, until now, I thought the only reason I had to use a pen name was that my surname is a little unusual. But then it struck me that my first name ages me. I like the name Julie. I’ve always liked it. Unfortunately, it’s dying out. In the 1960s, there were 4,307 Julies for every 1 million babies born in the UK. Whilst it’s currently the number five most popular name in Belgium and Switzerland, hardly anyone in the UK names their baby Julie anymore. Which now ages me as someone in my forties or fifties. Not someone currently in their mid-late twenties experiencing the relationship traumas I write about. Hmmmm.

Something else that struck me recently is social media. I’ve had my own Facebook page for several years which, like most people, I use to share family photos, news and pictures of cats in funny poses. Linked to this is my Julie Heslington Writer page. However, (and please shout if I’m wrong here) in order for me to invite fellow writers to like my writer page, I need to friend them on my own Facebook page first which means they get to see my family photos, news and pictures of cats in funny poses. Do I want them to? Maybe not. Do they want to see these? Almost definitely not. I’ve always had a strict policy of only accepting friend requests from people I actually know well with a few exceptions of people I have encountered, find interesting, and would like to keep in touch with. I’d rather build my writing relationships elsewhere and, let’s face it, me rabbiting on about writing is probably dull as a dull thing for my family and friends who aren’t into writing so do they really want their newsfeeds filled with my writing exchanges. Solution: develop a whole new persona, have a FB author page off that for when (!!!) I get published and keep my own FB page for what I always intended it to be: a way of keeping up with family and friends who I don’t get to see very often.

P1050382The other thought floating around my head is around the idea of going indie. As readers of this blog will know, this is the way I anticipate going. I have a few more subs in although I don’t anticipate any of them leading anywhere so I’m getting myself ready. I feel that the success of being indie will be in me viewing myself (and therefore my writing) as a product that I’m taking to market rather than thinking of it being me. In my mind, I find it easier to take a business approach to the idea of marketing “Pen Name” as a product rather than trying to promote myself. Promoting myself gives me the fear. Promoting Pen Name is a little daunting but not nearly as much so – after all, I’ve worked in recruitment on and off for twenty years and have promoted many companies and graduate schemes. This would be the same principle; different scenario.

I’m there aren’t I? I want a pen name. But do I go for Ashleigh Brooke or something else. Eek! What would the something else be? Time to dig out the baby name dictionary. Any suggestions? Watch this space!!!