A fabulous fortnight for the hedgehogs and a heartfelt thank you for your kindness

Two weeks ago today, it was publication day for the third book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – and I am so in awe of how much readers have taken the hedgehogs to their hearts and wanted to convey my heartfelt thanks.

When I had the idea to set a book in a hedgehog rescue centre, I was only thinking of writing a standalone book but, as is often the case when I’m writing, the setting and the characters burst into life and had so much more to offer than one story. And the hedgehogs had me too. The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to write about them. Just gorgeous. (Photo credit for top photo: Sarah Howell).

It’s quite scary not only committing to writing a sequel but to working on it before knowing whether readers like the first book. Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow was released on 2nd July 2020 and, at that point, all of my books had been set in the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay. I was worried that readers might not like the change of setting and not want to take a trip to Hedgehog Hollow. It never even entered my head that a whole new group of lovely readers might be attracted because of the mention of hedgehogs and would discover my writing through this series instead.

I’d almost finished writing New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow when the first book in the series was released and it was such a huge relief that readers responded really positively.

But when New Arrivals was released in January this year, the fear set in again. Would readers love book 2 as much as book 1? I was particularly nervous about this because my confidence had been knocked by two particularly negative reviews from readers who’d received an advanced reader copy (ARC). I have always been open and honest about the writing process and the highs and lows I’ve experienced along the way so I shared this negative feedback in my acknowledgements at the back of Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow:

“…The first few reviews were gorgeous, but then two came in together that stopped me in my tracks. Both reviewers declared that it had been a big mistake turning the first book into a series and one called book two ‘cringeworthy’ with ‘nothing to add, just padding’ before concluding that she was ‘very disappointed’. Wow! How was I supposed to continue writing a third book when I’d read something like that? The answer is, I couldn’t. I was creatively paralysed for days. I’d pitched the idea to my editor for a fourth book by that point but was now questioning whether I should even finish writing the third one. Yes, I’ll admit it, those reviews made me cry.”

I always read the acknowledgements but I’m conscious I do this with my author head on, curious about the journey the author has been on, where they got their idea (if they share that detail) and getting to know them a bit better. I have often wondered whether readers look at them.

Some certainly do because I have received so many gorgeous messages from readers and have read reviews which specifically address what I put in my acknowledgements. I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness, asking me to never let the negativity get to me as those readers love my work and don’t ever want me to stop writing! I appreciate all of the lovely comments I’ve received so very much. In a world where you can be anything… be kind. And those readers absolutely have been and it has been so touching.

While I know and understand that there will always be readers who don’t like what I write – we all like different things after all – I suffer quite badly from imposter syndrome and comments like this really play to my insecurities. I continue to work hard on this and, with every kind message and review, I’m finding it easy to mute the voice that says, ‘You have no right to be here, your recent success is a fluke, you’re not good enough, and you’ve just been found out!’ Gosh, I hate that voice!

Me when Imposter Syndrome attacks!

Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow went up as an ARC earlier this year and, funnily enough, the same two reviewers I’d referred to in my acknowledgements came back for more, despite having hated book two. They both gave me a 4-star rating this time although they still choose to have a dig about book 2: ‘I love all of this author’s work. Wasn’t a fan of book 2 in this series but this book certainly makes up for it. Absolutely gripping!’ and ‘I will literally read anything by this author. Book 2 of this series was a bit of a let down and after the first couple of chapters of this book I wasn’t holding out much hope. BUT things then began to come good and I suddenly found it was 1am and I really needed to sleep but couldn’t until it was finished!’ Perhaps a bit of a backhanded compliment, praising book 3 while still criticising book 2 but I’ll take it and keep focusing on the lovely parts!

I did get some negative ARCs from readers who struggled to get into the story but they mainly seemed to be from those who hadn’t read the first two books. The blurb did make it clear it was the third book in a series and readers would have a richer reading experience starting at the beginning so I wasn’t too concerned by those.

Overall, I didn’t get as positive a reaction from the book 3 ARCs as I’d received for the first two books so I approached publication day for Family Secrets with some trepidation once more. Especially as I knew how much one of the main characters, Chloe, was not a fan favourite.

I have, however, been blown away by the response since release date.

Not only did this book gather the most pre-orders I’ve had on any other book – something which helped place me in a chart in industry specialist publication, The Bookseller (see above), for the first time ever – but the hedgehogs and I have received more than 800 reviews/ratings in just two weeks. With 83% of those at 5-star and a 4.8 star average, it is also my joint-best reviews score on Amazon (tied with Charlee and the Chocolate Shop whose reviews have been transferred onto the fresh version coming out in August under the new title of Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop). Absolutely thrilled with this!

At this rate of reviews, I think we could well be at 1,000 within a month of release but… ssshhh… I didn’t say that as I don’t want to jinx it!

Speaking of milestones, New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow has passed a massive 2,000 reviews/ratings milestone recently and the hedgehogs are holding big celebrations. Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow just needs 130 at the time of writing to hit that milestone too.

As well as the lovely comments about the story and my writing that I see in reviews, something that absolutely makes my day is when a reader comments on what they’ve learned about helping hedgehogs. I’ve had readers going out and checking their gardens to make sure they’re accessible for hogs, setting up feeding stations, leaving out food and water, and even volunteering at a local rescue centre on the back of reading my books. Wow! How amazing and humbling is that?

Since publication day, the third instalment of Hedgehog Hollow has held fast in the Kindle Top 100 to which is absolutely amazing so thank you to everyone who pre-ordered or and downloaded across the past fortnight.

Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow is now finally out on Audible as of today so thank you to all those who have been patiently waiting for that. Woo hoo!

It also appears to be properly available as a paperback via Amazon although it’s showing a UK price of £9.99. The RRP is £8.99 which is showing on the Waterstones website and you can ask at any good book shop and they’ll be able to order it in for £8.99. Or if you want a signed copy, get in touch with me via DM on any of my social media platforms. It’s £12.99 including UK p&p for any one book but I’m offering signed copies of the series so far for £35 including UK p&p.

Thank you again for all the hedgehog love. Have an amazing week.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx


		

What an amazing way to end 2020!

Anyone who listened to my Facebook Live ‘in conversation’ last night will have heard the amazing news from my editor, Nia, that I’d just had confirmed earlier in the day.

The figures were in for December’s sales and my books have surpassed 250,000 units sold. That’s quarter of a million! I know you can work that out for yourself but I kind of need to write it down for myself as I can’t quite believe it! Eek!

This is a figure I never dreamed was possible in my days as a struggling indie author when an amazing week would be shifting more than ten copies.

Units mean a sale in any format – eBook purchase, paperback sale, audio, borrow etc. – once released by Boldwood Books so doesn’t include any sales under previous indie titles and, as it is up until the end of December 2020, doesn’t include my latest release – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow.

The figure does include ‘sales’ when books were on free promotions which both Making Wishes at Bay View and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes were at some point last year. But even so!

Thank you so very, very much to anyone who has discovered my stories and helped make this happen. I could not be more thrilled.

Wishing you a lovely weekend.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

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.”