Exclusive Competition

Sometimes, naming characters is as easy as breathing. Mostly they jump into my head, fully formed, and their names just pop onto the page without a second thought. However, on occasions, minor players are harder to place. Whilst they have their parts to play, and some of them are quite integral to a certain section of the story, their formation isn’t always quite as complete as I’d like.

In Heart Search: Found, I have a character who needs naming so I decided to run an exclusive competition on my Facebook page. To enter, all you have to do is ‘like’ my page and come up with a name to suit the character, whose profile is shown on there. The winner will have the chosen name in my new book. To find out what else you can win, you’ll have to visit the page, but be quick – the competition ends midnight GMT tomorrow! Good luck.

Click this link to take you straight there:

http://www.facebook.com/CarlieMACullen

Oh, and before I forget, watch out for the cover reveal of the second book in the Heart Search trilogy – coming very soon to a blog near you. I’m also going to be looking for reviewers in the next couple of weeks so if you’re interested in showcasing the cover reveal, the book trailer &/or reviewing the book, please leave me a message below. I’m only looking for a certain number of people, so get your name down fast. Heart Search, book two: Found is nearly here!!

#AprilPrompts Day 19 – Guilt

A couple of days ago, I gave you a little insight into Remy, the female protagonist in Heart Search: Lost. It’s only fair I give Joshua, the male protagonist, the same opportunity. His story is very different to Remy’s . . .

Guilt

Day 19 - Guilt

Day 19 – Guilt

After being bitten by a vampire, Joshua’s transformation is very slow, but he begins to change in subtle ways. You see this for the first time when he meets Remy off the plane from America and kisses her too hard.

In the days which follow, he becomes violent during lovemaking. Remy’s body, covered with bruises and scratches, appals him. How could he do this to the woman he loves? What has made him so vicious?

With no explanation forthcoming, and wracked with guilt, he packs his bags, leaves her a note and walks out of her life mere days before their wedding.

Joshua’s guilt doesn’t end there.

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He begins a new relationship with a member of the vampire coven he’s inducted into, and as his feelings grow for Jasna, Joshua suffers pangs of conscience. He still loves Remy, you see, and is conflicted. Despite abandoning Remy, ending their relationship in the letter he left her, he struggles with the notion he’s being unfaithful. At the same time, Joshua knows he’s being unfair to Jasna.

It’s unusual for a vampire to experience human emotions like guilt – they certainly don’t when they feed – but Joshua’s love for Remy and Jasna makes the difference.

Heart Search Test Cover 1 (2)

Affirmation

It’s strange how our minds’ work. It has this strange habit of sowing doubts, making us question things we were once confident about. Let me explain . . .

After finally publishing Heart Search, book one: Lost, I was euphoric. My dream of seeing something I’d written on the pages of Amazon had come true and I was riding a wave of triumph; I’d achieved my goal!

I knew early on in the writing of Heart Search: Lost that the story wouldn’t fit into just one book and made the decision to spread it over three. It didn’t faze me in the slightest, at the time, and I looked forward to getting the next section drafted. Once the blog tour was underway, I began making my plans to push forward with it during NaNoWriMo. It would give me the discipline and momentum I needed to get it written quickly, I told myself, and was eager to start.

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November 1st came and I sat down to write, full of ideas and inspiration, confidence running high, and then my mind decided to throw a spanner in the works.

Despite the fact the story was flowing quite well and I’d written over ten thousand words by the end of day three, I began to doubt my abilities. I suffered a crisis of confidence. Just because I’d successfully written one book, did that automatically mean I would be able to complete another one? Did I have another novel in me? Would I find enough of a story to finish it? Was I a good enough author to write a second book?

doubt

All these questions and more spun around in my head like a Tasmanian devil on crack, and it was a horrible feeling. On one level I truly believed I could achieve this second goal, but those niggling doubts had taken root and the tendrils were spreading. I kept my own counsel during this worrying time, dug my heels in and gave myself a strongly-worded lecture. And I carried on writing.

As the word count grew, and one chapter led to another and another, my confidence began to come back a little at a time. The fears didn’t go away, but instead of letting them overpower me, I took back control. I was determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t a ‘one-trick pony’!

I finished the first draft of Heart Search, book two, on 11th January – just eleven days ago – and have now begun the revisions and edits. I can honestly say I experienced the same sense of achievement and joy as when I finished writing book one; I’d overcome my misgivings, my confidence crisis and affirmed that yes, I did have it in me to produce another novel.

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I have no idea where the doubts came from or why my mind decided to throw me a major curve ball. What I do know is, I can fight it and win!

You, Me and Mr W B

Next up on the Heart Search Blog Tour was this post written for my ‘stable-mate’ at Myrddin Publishing Group and dear friend, the fab Connie J Jasperson. She asked me to blog about the scourge which affects virtually all writers at some point – the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ – and how to deal with it. Here are some thoughts for you.

Block

The vast majority of us authors have day jobs and families, so we try and squeeze in some time when we can to write. But it’s just not that easy.

Picture the scene; you’ve had a rotten day at work so you’re feeling kind of up-tight and frustrated – angry even. When you get home you find some bills in your post box so now you have to work out which ones you can pay now and which will have to wait a week or two. Your spouse/partner is worried about money, the kid(s) and is fed up because he/she broke a favourite ornament. One of the kids is ill; they’ve got a bit of a fever and keeps throwing up, and the dog has decided to expand its’ culinary repertoire by chewing on your slippers.

After all this and having had dinner, you manage to find half an hour to sit down and write. You fire up your PC or laptop, open the relevant page and nothing. Mr Writer’s Block has taken up residence in your head and you can’t think of a single thing to write. You re-read some of what you’ve written before in the hope it’ll spark something, anything, so you can continue with your story. But what happens? Zilch, zip, nada, nothing. Before you know it, your half an hour has gone, it’s time for bed and now you’re even more frustrated.

Is it any wonder?

Our busy lives get in the way of our writing and just trying to find the time is hard enough, but when you’re worried about money, job, kids et al, it’s really no wonder so many of us suffer visits from Mr Writer’s Block, is it?

For us to be productive with our writing, we need to be able to put aside all the stresses, strains and problems thrown across our paths. We need to allow our imaginations to soar in a creative way rather than imagining what will happen if a particular bill is not paid by the due date. We need to find our zone and shut everything else out. Sounds easy, right? Like heck it is!

So how do we do it?

Preparation is key here and there are a few techniques you can use to get past it. I’m going to share three with you here.

If you’re the sort of person who listens to music when you write, put on a CD or your iPod for a good 10-15 minutes before you start and really concentrate on it. If it’s instrumental, listen to how the notes rise and fall, the harmonies created by the different instruments and think what scene the music conjures; if there are vocals, listen to the words very carefully, and try to picture the artist’s mood when they were writing it or how they would look performing it on stage. By concentrating on the music, you’re beginning to free your mind.

Another way is deep breathing relaxation exercises with a twist. Sit or lay – it doesn’t matter as long as you are comfortable – and close your eyes. Start breathing deeply then begin by thinking about your feet and mentally picture the muscles relaxing and the stress as a puff of black smoke or a black cloud which appears outside your feet as the muscles relax. Then you start working your way up your body; ankles to knees, knees to top of thighs, hip / groin / stomach area, chest, shoulders, arms and hands, neck and last of all your head. Then you picture a shape, any shape you like. It starts off small then gets increasingly larger until it fills your vision. Then you allow the shape to morph or distort itself, bending in on itself, twirling around, basically anything your mind can invoke. Now you’ve spent that time relaxing and playing with the shape, it’s pushed out the worries and let your imagination go to work.

The final one is ten minutes of free-writing, using pen and paper. Most, if not all of you are likely to know what this is, but in case you don’t I’ll explain. Pick a word, any word you like, at random. Now you just write anything which pops into your head about that word. Spelling, grammar and punctuation go out the window. You don’t even need to worry about sentence structure. You can write a list of words you associate with your chosen topic, you can write sentences. It doesn’t matter what you write, how it sounds, how arbitrary it is, the important thing is concentrating on your chosen word and just keep writing. The mere fact of you concentrating on something else has opened your mind and allowed the creative side to emerge.

After doing one of these exercises you go straight to your computer or writing pad, whichever you use and begin to write. Allow your mind free rein on your work in progress; it’s primed and ready to accept the sparks of inspiration your preparations have encouraged. It might be a little hokey at first, a little off compared to how you normally write, but that’s okay. The important thing is you’re now writing and as you progress your style, sentence structure and all the things you’re used to will materialise and ‘hey presto’ you’re back in your groove. The worst thing you can do is concern yourself with your first few lines which may not be up to your normal standard – it can always be edited later – you’re putting words on the page or screen and that’s what matters.

So the next time you’re tense and Mr Writer’s Block come knocking on your door, slam it in his face, do your chosen exercise(s) then write to your heart’s content.

I really hope you find these techniques useful!

My 5 Top Tips for New Authors

Getting back to the posts from the Heart Search Blog Tour, Elaine Hillson was my next fabulous host. She asked me for my 5 top tips for new authors. I could have written more than five to be honest, but I think these are the most pertinent and important.

Writing, like any skill, needs to be honed. You need to study the craft and never stop learning. I could spend ages giving you the benefit of my experiences, and it’s all useful stuff, but I’m going to pass that by and talk about things you need to ponder once you’ve finished your manuscript.

Editing and Beta Reading:

It’s incredibly difficult to see our own mistakes in our manuscripts. We see how we want it to read and not how it actually does. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to take our work and turn it into a polished gem. Editors don’t come cheap yet good ones are worth their weight in gold. There are two levels of editing; copy/line editing and full editing.

A copy/line editor will look at grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. They will also look at overused words and repeated sentences beginning with the same word which are too close together. In addition, they check for inconsistencies within your manuscript. They won’t make the changes for you, but will point out where the problems exist and leave you to correct the mistakes.

A full edit will encompass all the above plus a developmental and structural edit. This is where the editor will look at redundant phrases and paragraphs, timelines and the story as a whole. They will suggest changes based on experience and the way the story reads. Ultimately they want to make your manuscript the best it can be for you.

A good editor will gently guide you in bringing your work to ‘submission ready’ status. You may not agree with all the changes an editor suggests, and that’s okay because it’s your right as the author to take or discard their recommendations. But don’t dismiss them out of hand – never forget the editor has the experience you lack, so consider each comment carefully and be prepared to compromise on occasions.

After all the editing, I would always recommend getting a Beta Reader to go through the novel. Pick wisely. This should be someone you trust to give you good honest feedback and criticism, preferably not a family member as they will feel obliged to tell you how wonderful it is because of your relationship with them. It needs to be someone impartial. Take their critique on board. They are, in a way, representative of all the readers who could potentially buy your book. If they find something confusing, lacking in substance or explanation, you can bet other readers will too, so be prepared to rewrite in places and once again, get your editor to check the changes.

The important thing to remember here is by self-publishing a book (if you decide to take that route) which is full of typos, mistakes and bad grammar, you are setting yourself up for bad reviews and a tarnished reputation. Mud sticks!

ISBN’s:

If you plan to publish your novel as an e-book through Kindle only, you don’t need an ISBN. If you decide to go through one of the ‘print on demand’ companies like CreateSpace or Lulu you can get a cheap or free ISBN. However, you are quite limited by where you can make your book available for sale.

Let’s take CreateSpace as an example. You can obtain a free ISBN when you upload your book, but you are limited to their sales channels. Sure you can pay for ‘Extended Distribution’ which would open up further outlets in which your book can be bought, but you cannot go outside of their network and sell your book wherever you want.

By purchasing your own ISBN (please note: you need one for each medium your book is published so if you decide on e-book and paperback, you will need separate ISBN’s for each), you are in control. You own the legal rights to your book which gives you the freedom to select your own sales channels anywhere.

ISBN’s aren’t cheap, but well worth the investment in my humble opinion. I have bought a block of ten through my publishing group, which has worked out very cost effective.

If you are one of the lucky ones who get picked up by a traditional publisher, this is all done for you, but the publisher owns the ISBN not you!

Social Media Platforms:

If you’re not very social media savvy, you better start practicing before your book comes out. Don’t try and spread yourself too thin – just pick a couple which are manageable and start building a following/friends list. These people are the first ones who will be exposed to news of your book and if they like the sound of it, they’ll keep watching you closely. Feed snippets of news of your progress to keep them interested, make and cultivate new online friendships as you never know where it might lead. You can also pick up useful information from other authors recommending editors or beta readers, plus hints, tricks and tips which you can utilise to your advantage.

Blog:

Start your own blog. This is, by far, your most useful platform and what’s more, the vast majority are free! You can utilise this space to allow your potential readers to get to know you and your writing. The more you engage them, the more they will talk about it to their friends and the wider your reach and potential readership becomes.

You don’t have to blog every single day – I don’t. Some authors do, but that is their choice. Set yourself a goal of blogging, say once a fortnight, to begin with (and don’t forget to publicise each post on your social media platforms). If you begin to feel you can increase it to once a week, then do so. You’re the one in control – just make sure you leave enough time for writing outside of this and the previous activities mentioned for Social Media.

And finally . . .

Marketing:

Whichever route you take to publishing, you are still going to have to market yourself. And if you haven’t done it before, it’s quite a daunting task. Look on social media to see what other authors are doing, read blog posts devoted to the subject, research what is available, what is free and what you can afford.

I have an advantage. I’ve had quite a bit of experience in marketing in my ‘day jobs’, so already have the ethos entrenched in the old grey matter. I’ve followed the advice and tips given to you above and orchestrated a marketing plan leading up to and following on from the launch of my novel. I’m told I’ve created a bit of a ‘buzz’ about it on the internet/social media platforms which is what I set out to do. I know my plans aren’t going to generate humungous sales overnight (although it would be nice), but each person who buys my book and enjoys it is likely to recommend it to their friends. Each reader who posts a good review on Amazon or Goodreads is showing the world that they think my novel is a worthwhile buy. All this adds to my credibility as an author and little by little the network expands.

I hope you find these tips useful and I wish you all the very best of luck in your published career!

Ria’s Birthday Surprise

My next fabulous host for the Heart Search Blog Tour was Donna L Sadd who writes children’s books. She threw down the gauntlett and asked me to write a short kid’s story for her blog. This was quite a challenge as I’d only ever written one children’s story before, but never one to shy away I accepted and wrote Ria’s Birthday Surprise.

Ria jumped out of bed. She was so excited as it was her seventh birthday. She rushed downstairs into the kitchen to find her mum waiting to fix her breakfast. Opening her arms she said,

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” as she gave Ria a big cuddle. Ria grinned up at her.

“Thank you, Mummy. Where’s Daddy?” Ria asked stepping away and looking around.

“He’s gone to pick up Nanna and Poppa. They should be back soon so hurry and eat your breakfast and let’s get you washed and dressed,” she replied, placing a glass of orange juice and a bowl of cereal on the table.

Ria finished her breakfast in record time and dashed upstairs to get ready. Just as she finished pulling the tangles from her long brown hair, she heard the front door open. A familiar voice drifted up the stairs.

“Is the birthday girl up yet or do I have to go upstairs with my tickle fingers?”

Ria giggled and rushed to the top of the stairs. “I’m up!” she declared looking down at her dad. He looked like a giant from where she was standing and he had a huge grin on his face. She rushed down the steps and launched herself at her dad.

“Ooof!” The noise exploded from her dad as she knocked the breath out of him and Ria giggled again. “Happy birthday, rascal,” he chuckled. He put her down and she ran into the lounge where her grandparents were waiting.

After lots more cuddles and kisses and birthday wishes, Ria noticed a pile of brightly wrapped presents in all shapes and sizes, complete with ribbons and bows, on the floor in front of the TV. She gasped and her face lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Are these all for me?” She asked excitedly, her eyes as big as a basketball.

“Go on, open them,” her mum said, chuckling at the expression on Ria’s face. Ria didn’t need telling twice and soon the floor was covered with torn wrapping paper as she ripped into each one.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Ria exclaimed as she uncovered each new gift. There was a pretty dress, the same colour as a summer sky, for her to wear at her party that afternoon, books, DVD’s, a doll, a board game, a CD and some other nice clothes.

At the very bottom of the pile was a very flat present which she hadn’t noticed before. She paused before picking it up and took some time feeling it before carefully tearing the paper away, a curious expression on her face.

Inside was a book. She turned it over, read the cover and gasped,

“It’s got my name on it!” she exclaimed. She opened the cover and to her surprise, the whole story was all about her and her family. Mum, Dad, her grandparents and even her dog, Misty, was in there. “Mummy, Daddy, look! It’s got all of us in here and Nanna and Poppa and Misty!”

Her parents moved closer so she could show them, smiling at her amazement. At the very end of the book was a message. It read ‘To our darling Ria, Happy 7th Birthday, lots of love, Nanna and Poppa xx’. Ria got up from the floor and rushed over to her grandparents, hugging them both as tightly as her little arms could.

“Thank you. It’s the bestest surprise present I’ve ever had!”

I hope you enjoyed this!

Wading Through the Publishing River

Michelle Birbeck was my next fabulous hostess on the Heart Search Blog Tour. She wanted me to write on the subject of publishing and this is what I came up with.

You’ve spent untold hours writing your story. You’ve lovingly crafted your character and skilfully designed your plot. Having gone through editing and beta reading, your manuscript is now as perfect as you can make it and now comes the hardest decision of all – how to publish it.

As writers, most of us dream of getting an agent and being contracted to one of the ‘Big Six’ publishers, but it’s not as easy as that, is it?

Basically you have three choices; attempt to get an agent who will tout your masterpiece until you get a publishing contract, go through an Indie Publisher, or self-publish.

Traditional Publishing:

These days, it’s even harder to get an agent than ever. They are inundated by manuscripts and you can wait months for a response. The wait is agonising – I know, I’ve been there! You have to pen a killer query letter which will grab them in the first couple of sentences (no longer than one page), write a single page synopsis which will highlight the most exciting parts of your book and send in two or three chapters for them to consider. Writing a query letter which will have the desired effect is, in some ways, harder than writing the book itself. You need to research your potential agents thoroughly and adhere to their submission requirements to the letter with every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed. No mean feat that!

Having done all of that, you send it off with hope in your heart and wait. Several weeks or months later comes the email you’ve been dreading – the rejection. However, if this is your dream, you keep trying other agents and wait some more. It’s like a never-ending circle. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets picked up by an agent, but there’s more waiting in store as your agent suggests possible changes to the book and you may have to re-write sections and then there’s the time to kill while your agent tries to get you a publishing deal. While all this is going on, you are depriving potential readers of your work of art. Still, if that’s your dream you must follow it.

Indie Publishing:

This is a similar process to traditional publishing except that you submit direct to the publisher. Again, you need to do your homework and ensure the publishers you choose want the genre your novel is based in and most of them only accept submission at certain times during the year. If you send your submission in speculatively outside of their ‘open window’, it will either be deleted or thrown away.

Again, it’s important to follow the submission guidelines to the letter, and you still have to wait and be prepared for rejections.

Self-Publishing:

This is, by far, the quickest and easiest way of getting your book out to the public. You can sign up to Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and upload your manuscript. It’s a simple process and quite quick. If you want a paperback as well, CreateSpace or Lulu are the best, and again the process is simple. You can get free or cheap ISBN numbers through both (an ISBN is not needed for e-book through Kindle, but it does limit the availability – more on that in a minute). However, you may be limited to their distribution networks only.

If you purchase your own ISBN number, you have the flexibility to place your novel in so many more sales channels for either your e-book, paperback or both, and is something I would recommend. However, if you don’t have the time to place your book on Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble et al, you may be content to go with the distribution packages offered by these print on demand companies. Your choice!

One word of caution – don’t think about putting your novel out there before getting it professionally edited. Readers will be put off by typos and inconsistencies and ultimately this could be the kiss of death for your work. The money spent on getting your novel edited will pay off in the long run when weighed up against a tarnished reputation which is unrecoverable.

I’m lucky – I have the best of both worlds! I’m self-published under the banner of an Indie Publisher, Myrddin Publishing Group. This means I own the legal rights to my book and not the publisher, but I have the support of the team behind me.

Whatever you decide to do, you will still have to be prepared to market your book yourself. This takes time and dedication and where some authors fall down – they have no idea where to start. My advice is to look around on social media platforms and see which individuals or companies offer advice on marketing to authors and learn fast. Marketing is a whole different post so I’m not going to go into that now.

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At the end of the day, only you can decide what’s best for you and your book. I have one or two theories of my own which are yet to be put to the test, but ultimately you need to follow your dream. Good luck!

I hope you found this useful!