Three years ago I lost my father and a great sadness for me was that he never saw that I FINALLY became an author.
I won international deals for my debut Recipes for Melissa (by auction at the Frankfurt book fair ) just a few months after he died.
That breakthrough followed ten long and tough years of trying so my dad certainly saw all the heartache en route, as did the rest of my family and friends.
All the time I was trying to become an author, I felt a little guilty inflicting the rollercoaster of near misses and rejection drama on everyone around me. I had a good life. It felt unfair to moan. I was a journalist and TV presenter and had always earned my living from words. I was lucky. Right? But the truth is becoming an author was always this big dream deep, deep in my heart. Right from childhood. And because of this every rejection really hurt.
I’m currently sorting out my office – shredding a lot of early manuscripts which go years back and are now stored digitally. So it stopped me in my tracks when going through old writing files to come across this very special letter from my father that I had long feared lost. (I have looked in vain for it many, many times since he died.)
OK; so my dad and I didn't have a perfect relationship ( who does?) but we loved each other very much and were fiercely loyal. We were always especially careful to be there for each other when the chips were down.
And he sent this special letter to me when I had just suffered a particularly difficult disappointment in my writing life. A major publisher had been championing one of my early novels. The whole editorial team said they loved my book. And so I agreed to do some editing with them out of contract, by which I mean unpaid and with no promises. I worked like a lunatic for months – stupid hours on top of a full-time job (and two children). The book finally went to an acquisitions meeting (crucial stage) where it was much praised...but, ahem, fell on a close vote.
My literary agent of the time had been sure we had a deal in the bag. So had I. And this one was such an especially near, near miss that I cried bitterly, not least because I was leaving my television work and I needed a new source of income.
And so yet again I had to make the round of calls to family to say that in my writing life, it had gone a bit pear-shaped; from a delicious 'maybe' to a 'no'.
I lost my mother to cancer as a teenager so it was my dad who then sent me this special letter to try to buoy my spirits ,enclosing a newspaper article about Dan Brown’s writing struggles before The Da Vinci Code success.
My dad wrote : ‘ even bestselling authors struggle before they make headway…I am sure you know this but seeing it in print might help to slightly sweeten disappointment…’
I found the letter in an old file with the email telling me that the acquisitions meeting had turned down that early book.
The letter has brought tears to my eyes today. And it has only just hit me how spooky and especially wonderful it is to read dad's words again in such different context. For my debut is about a woman hearing from her mother years after she'd died...through a journal which helps the daughter to go forward in life.
Letters are rare these days...but so very special, aren’t they? It is something about seeing the handwriting and imagining the person with the pen in their hand...
I remember that when I read my father’s letter that first time years back I thought he was just being loving and kind but that things, writing wise, were looking hopeless.
So thank you, dad for believing. And I hope you are somewhere smiling ....that you were right. I did keep going, and I did get there in the end...
No surprise perhaps that my two books so far shine a light on the theme of loss…and how we learn to carry the sadness because the love lives on in our hearts.
I will be keeping this letter very, very safe.
And to all writers reading this and still waiting for your break, I hope you have someone very special cheering you on too.
Chatting on writers' panel - Sat Oct 22, Plymouth Literature Festival 3pm to 4pm. FREE. Plymouth Athenaeum.
Just to mention that I am joining this panel tomorrow and all are welcome - writers and readers. It is to be a fun and informal session, chatting about publishing and sharing tips. Looking forward to it!
For more information about the festival, click on the image for the website link.
I recently finished a new book. It’s now with my agent for pitching and it suddenly hit me that getting published doesn’t end all the ups and downs and the worrying and the wondering. It just allows you to step onto this marvellous rolling road. It’s then down to you whether to go with the flow – whether to let the rolling road determine the speed or whether to walk as well. Or run. Or race...
Whether, in short, to worry, to run so fast you trip...or smile in wonder.
Facing up to this for a moment gave me a wobble. Fact is, it is much too easy as an author to glance around too often. I’m so delighted with what I have achieved…but glance too much and there is a danger you will put yourself down because there will always be others doing better. Selling more books. Making bigger deals.
The important thing, I learn, is to remember always how very lucky we are to be here at all. To this end, I have deliberately positioned my little bookshelf of published novels en route to my kitchen. It means I pass it every day – an important reminder that the dream has come true already.
And so if I get a momentary worry about a current project, an edit or a pitch, I simply pick up the Korean version of my debut. Yes...Korean. My words....in Korean. I remind myself how completely crazy this is and tell myself to give thanks.
You are published in Korean, Teresa. Stop worrying. Sure - keeping this dream alive is now down to me. But choosing how to live it is also down to me.
I write because I love to write. And I want to get better, not to compete with others, but to be better than the writer I was yesterday. Which is why I wanted to use this quote for my blog.
So I share it today with pride and thanks to all those who have helped me on the journey so far. Also to sign off to do the only sensible thing after any writer types THE END and is going on sub all over again..
Which, of course, is not to think too much about how the pitching is going...but to start a new book….
When I first set out on this amazing author journey, I had no idea how much I would need to learn. Not just about writing – though that has, of course, been the greatest joy. ( I cannot begin to tell you how much I have grown as a writer from working with a terrific editor and agent throughout the publication of my first two novels).
No. The constant surprise which I just want to mention in this blog is how non-techy little ol’ moi has managed, one way or another, to grapple with all the marketing bits and bobs which are so crucial these days for any author.
Rewind just a short time and I was watching You tube videos trying to work out how on earth to set up this very website (it really was a self- taught crash course, trust me!). Next I had to learn how to improve my social media technique – playing with apps to jazz up the visuals I was using on Twitter and Facebook.
And today? Well today, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I am immensely proud ( and just a little bit shocked) as I have finally set up my own Reader Group using Mailchimp so that I can keep my lovely readers informed of new books, exciting news, discounts and competitions etc.
This follows months and months of me pulling a face whenever a savvy author said to me in passing: ‘You do have your own reader list, Teresa?’…. Er….*coughs into hand* ‘Working on that’.
I did at first wonder how exactly my Reader Group might work. I certainly hate spam myself so don’t want to be pestering people when we all have such very busy in-boxes. But my readers have been so very gorgeous and kind with their feedback, I realised that I did want to find a way to be in touch personally and directly with IMPORTANT news about releases, discounts and competitions.
But setting up the Reader Group list was another steep learning curve. For any author planning to do this, there are lots of terrific blogs out there with basic step-by-step advice. I just googled the process, so you can too. The only hiccups I can report were as follows:
If you would care to sign up right now to reassure me that the whole system actually works, I might just love you forever! Meantime – do enjoy your own writing.
Today has been a really big day for me – exactly a year since my debut novel Recipes for Melissa was published.
I find it strange even to type that last sentence without smiling, actually, because there is still this surreal feeling deep inside, waiting to find myself in that episode of Dallas. Mature readers will know the one – Bobby steps out of the shower and we find it was all a dream…
So in this bizarre (80s flashback!) state, I thought I would share a few thoughts on what I have learned during this special first year as a published author.
Lots actually but two key things especially. First – patience and an awareness of the long game. And second - not to be too sensitive and ridiculous when a (thankfully rare) negative review rears its ugly head.
Let’s kick off with patience. After Melissa was published in the UK, I was almost in this dreamlike state. I had a champagne celebration with friends, gorgeous reviews started to come in. I was walking on air….and then? I suddenly realised as the launch euphoria died down that it was not going to be about one single book. One launch. It was a career. A long game. I had to retreat to my writing cave on my tod as I had always done to crack on with book two while waiting to liaise with my German publisher about book one in translation.
I worked for a very long time as a journalist and TV presenter so I have been used to things happening very, very quickly. Constant buzz. Daily deadlines. In publishing it’s very different. You have your moment in the sun and then you have to put your head down and get back to solitary hard work quietly in the shade.
I’m certainly not complaining but I do have a much better understanding of the cycle now – having repeated it all with my second book which came out in March. All quiet work solo in the cave… and then suddenly a great rush of activity and PR.
The trick is to learn patience during the stints in between. What is the saying….all good things come to those who wait.
And now onto the second crucial lesson - how to cope with a negative review. Thankfully I have to date only had a few….compared to well over a hundred gorgeous five stars ( phew!). The truth is I knew it was inevitable that not all readers would like my work and I am very, very respectful of every reader’s right to their opinion. You can’t please everyone. Tastes vary. But it is still very hard not to be upset when someone does not like your book.
The advice is not to take it personally but that, of course, is easier said than done. Hear this….at first it really does feel personal. How can it not hurt when a reader dislikes your work? So if you are a new writer or newly published then I would share the same advice I was given. Try to distract yourself by reading your best reviews all over again. Be respectful of subjectivity. Let yourself be a bit sad ( it certainly feels sad!), go eat a large quantity of chocolate and then DO get it into perspective. This is what I have learned. If the vast majority of readers like your book very much, you’re doing great!
And so this evening as I raise a glass to my first anniversary as a published author, I know exactly what I want to say ….
I want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to those bloggers who have supported me this past year by giving a new author a chance and taking the time to read and then write about my debut and my second novel. I owe you so much.
And thank you to each and every one of my new readers who have bought my books and also so kindly reviewed them. You have made all those years of rejection worth every bit of the heartache on the long journey to publication.
I feel very, very blessed and very lucky, doing a job now that I absolutely love.
So this evening I raise my glass to YOU.
Thank you xx
Take a quick peek in my garden right now and you will understand why I am so in love with the new German cover for my second novel. This is Droemer Knaur’s edition of Last Kiss Goodnight which is retitled The Joy of Bright Days and is out in paperback in August.
Anyone would think I had picked the colours for this cover myself! I really do feel so incredibly blessed re cover designs just now. Regular readers will know how much I also love the new edition of Recipes for Melissa in the UK which got its delicious new look to celebrate the release of my second novel.
Many people really liked the original cover for my debut but the more contemporary look is clearly going down well too. As I write the book is in the top #200 on Kindle so I am absolutely thrilled!!
But isn’t it extraordinary how my writing – the very same books - receive such different titles and treatments in different countries? I find it all absolutely fascinating.
Book covers are, of course, a MAJOR topic of conversation among authors. And rightly so. It can be quite tense and emotional waiting to see a new cover and often the ‘reveal’ though pleasing, may not be quite what an author expects.
Like it or not, a cover can make or break a book and so I’m learning that it is most important to be professional rather than purely emotional. First question has to be the bottom line, after all. Will this cover sell my book? Attract readers? Send the right signal to the right section of the market?
So just now I feel incredibly lucky that all my publishers (get me with the plural!) are putting in so much thought and work into my designs.
In the UK my primary sales are on Kindle and so my covers here need above all else to be striking in thumbnail version so that they ‘pop’ on the page when potential buyers are skimming the Amazon shelves. I’ve written here before about the recent branding update which saw Recipes for Melissa given its beautiful new cover to tie in with my second novel Last Kiss Goodnight. Both novels now work extremely well in partnership, I think, and as I said earlier are selling very well at the moment so crossed fingers and three cheers for my publisher Bookouture for putting in this extra effort for me. I’m incredibly grateful.
Meanwhile back to Germany where Droemer Knaur are targeting book shop sales as well as ebook sales with their lovely covers.
For my first novel (retitled For All the Days to come) they went for sheer BEAUTY. A gorgeous hardback with gold front and backplates, a gold thread bookmark and a stunning design. It is a book to treasure. I am so proud of it.
Now – moving onto paperbacks, the German designers have come up with this nature/berry theme to tie my two books together. And I LOVE them!! The new paperback for my first novel features forget-me-nots which tie in with the theme of the book just beautifully. And for the second? Well, as I said from the off, someone must have told them about my garden.
So I will sign off here today with a little montage of all my covers so far (and some shots of my garden too so you will understand the colour reference). There are still editions of my debut to come from Israel, Korea and Brazil. I honestly cannot wait now to see what they come up with.
It’s been a very hectic month since the release of my second novel so it feels like time for a little update here.
I can’t thank readers and reviewers enough for all the support for Last Kiss Goodnight. As I write, it is sitting in the top ten for Literary Sagas on Kindle alongside my debut so I feel chuffed to bits, as well as a little bit amazed. The second novel actually made #111 in the whole Kindle chart at one point so forgive me for admitting that I took a screen shot of that as a little keepsake.
I’ve had a lot of fun chatting on various blogs about the new book as well as interviews for BBC Radio Devon and Talk Radio Europe. After all those years as a television reporter and presenter, I can tell you that it still feels very weird to be answering the questions instead of asking them.
But the best thing now? As all the excitement slowly dies down after that first surge of publication PR, it’s very much back to the day job…ie getting on with the next book.
And the good news is I am finally getting used to this. The rhythm of the published author - which is the transition to true acceptance that you really do have to …..keep going.
In interviews, I have likened this transition to getting hitched. You spend all that time planning the big wedding…and almost forget that you have to be married afterwards.
What? You mean….I have to live with him now?
What? You mean….I have to write another book... straight away?
As someone who celebrates my silver wedding anniversary later this year, I seem to have adjusted to marriage just fine. So let’s all hope this new life as an author goes as well.
My thanks again for all support, especially those who have been kind enough to post reviews. I have some more exciting news to share very soon but my publisher has asked me to keep it secret for now (which, trust me, is very difficult!)
If you're a writer yourself, have a good writing week. And to all book lovers, I hope you are reading something wonderful.
I feel a bit hoarse. Well…not actually, but figuratively, you understand.
For the past week, since the publication of my second novel, I have been running around the house and on Twitter and Facebook, screeching like a kid full of too much sugar.
I apologise. I do see that it’s not been very controlled or humble or modest. It’s all been a bit ‘look at me’. But the truth is it is very hard to get the tone of this marketing malarkey right and I am just genuinely overwhelmed with the beautiful things people have been saying about the book.
And then there’s the shock issue of the rankings! (I may have, ahem, mentioned them once or twice on social media).
Yesterday, for instance, I hit #170 in the whole of Kindle and practically fell off my chair. Me? In the top #200?!
This, I promise you, is not false modesty or me seeking compliments. I am truly astonished. The DH meantime is all smugness, wearing his ‘told-you-so’ face…which I will explain in just a mo.
You see I am both terribly proud and very fond of this second novel but I also have this massive soft spot for my debut Recipes for Melissa (for all sorts of personal reasons). And I kinda thought Recipes was the book that would get the higher ranking of the two, being the first etc.
I was utterly thrilled when my debut made it into the top #500 on Kindle for its launch last June and really hoped, quietly, that this second book might nudge near that too. But everyone says the second book can be a bit tricky, blah blah,…and so I was very nervous and didn’t want to go building up my hopes too much.
Meantime hubby has a massive soft spot for this second book ( in the same way I do for the first). It has always been his personal favourite…so he, as I say, has been wandering around saying…..told you.
I honestly do not know why we authors get ourselves into such a stupendous tizz over book launches. We long for them. We work towards them. It is what we dream of…seeing our work in print.
And then we go and have this last-minute complete meltdown panic, followed by the polar opposite sugar rush when things go better than we dared to dream….
So please forgive all this…including the self-indulgent selfie with this post! Please try to overlook all the running around this past week, shrieking on social media.
I promise to calm myself down and get back to the business of writing the next book.
But I feel I really must say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has bought the new book. And for all the kind reviews. I am genuinely surprised and delighted. You have made a nervous author very, very happy.
In short...I love you all!
Drum roll, please....for it's a double celebration! Not only is it the eve of publication of my second novel but I have also now been able to share the stunning new cover for my debut Recipes for Melissa. Can't tell you how difficult it has been to keep this little beauty a secret.
This new edition is to celebrate the release of Last Kiss Goodnight tomorrow - March 25th - and to tie the two novels together with a little bit of subtle 'branding'.
Though the first edition of Recipes for Melissa was very pretty, my publisher wanted a vibrant new look to tie in with book two. So the new design has the same white lettering across both titles and a similar shaft of sunlight as background to the subtitles in red font. The new cover is already being delivered to kindle and will be used for a second edition of the paperback too.
I think the two novels with their strong colouring now match rather beautifully and I do hope you agree.
Meantime early reviews for Last Kiss Goodnight have been lovely so this very happy author has a bottle of something fizzy in the fridge ready for tomorrow.
Have a wonderful Easter and forgive me for mentioning that Last Kiss Goodnight is just 99p at the moment!
A lot of people ask where the idea for a book comes from….so here is the story behind my second novel.
The truth is it all stemmed from a haunting. Or rather a haunting image.
A long time ago when I was a television reporter in London I was sent to cover a campaign launch on a little green opposite the house of commons. I arrived with my TV crew to find a group of women releasing dark balloons against a clear sky.
I learned, to my great sadness, that they were all mothers and each balloon represented a child they could not find. The stories of the estrangements were many and varied. Runaway children. Custody disputes. Crime...The list went on and on. But though the stories were all so very different, the look in the eyes of all the mothers was the same.
I was young. I was not a mother then but it still broke my heart. I interviewed a number of the women and one took me back to her house to show me the bedroom that she had kept exactly the same since the day her two children were “lost” to her.
I have always been a little haunted by the memory of those balloons and when I was looking for an idea for my second novel, I realised that I wanted to write a fictional story that would capture something important I learned that day. For those brave women taught me the real difference between empathy and sympathy. Through their campaign they gave each other strength and hope and a lot of love. They were able to help each other so much, I realised….because they truly understood each other.
My second novel tells the story of two women who strike up a powerful bond of friendship born of an empathy they don’t at first understand…as they each deal with secrets from their past. The story is entirely made up, of course. It’s a novel and I would never use the facts of anyone’s true story for my fiction. But I do hope I have captured the emotional landscape of what it means to search for someone you love. And the huge importance of true friendship…and the healing power of love.
The book called Last Kiss Goodnight was published in March 2016 and has received more than 100 wonderful reviews. Thank you, readers. It means so much to me to see people enjoying the result of watching those balloons. One reader recently wrote: 'One of the best books I have read this year'. That certainly made my day!
I hope your own writing life is full of wonderful inspiration.
Teresa Driscoll - journalist, author, mother of two and lover of great coffee.