The days of snail mail and letters to pen pals in other countries might be behind us, but thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to form friendships with people overseas whom we’ve never met. I have a few such friends, people I correspond with via blogs and lengthy emails. It’s the modern version of a pen pal, but better because you don’t have to wait so long for their reply.
The end result is the same—getting to know someone through their written words. I’ve come to value these friendships, and, sometimes, I feel as if my pen pals know me better than many of my real life friends.
Today’s guest is one of these friends, someone whom I’ve never met yet regard as a close friend through our correspondence:
Helen Jones was born in the UK, then spent many years living in Canada and Australia before returning to England several years ago. She has worked as a freelance writer for the past ten years, runs her own blog and has contributed guest posts to others, including the Bloomsbury Writers & Artists site.
When she’s not exploring fantasy worlds, Helen likes to walk, paint and study martial arts. She lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and daughter and spends her days writing, thinking, cleaning and counting cats on the way to school.
Helen has self-published three books in the series, ‘The Ambeth Chronicles‘, and there are more to come. Her most recent novel is ‘A Thousand Rooms‘, which has one of the best opening sentences I’ve ever read: ‘You don’t wake up expecting to die.’
Writing … as a self-published author
I’ve always been a writer.
Gods, that’s an awfully pretentious way to start this essay. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say, I’ve always been fascinated by words. I can still recall, at the age of six, making my teacher laugh with a story about ‘a widower and his wife’ (I learned a lesson that day!). Later I won a school-wide creative writing prize, then moved into advanced English and Creative Writing during my secondary school years, words swirling through my mind and onto the page, the joy of crafting stories within me. Yet, for some reason, when offered a place in a prestigious university Creative Writing Degree at the age of eighteen, I turned it down.
And so my path changed, taking me towards the bright lights and flash of advertising, a degree in Visual Communications and years working at agencies before I realised I really wasn’t happy being on the Production side of things. Instead, I wanted to create. But create what? I dabbled in painting and visual display, working freelance for a while. Then, while working in a bookstore, I met someone who was willing to give me a chance at writing something for them. So I did. It was the start of finding the path again. And I didn’t look back.
I worked as a freelance writer for several years, writing words for other people, finding their voices, their angles. I wrote about weddings and beauty treatments and factory supplies, interviewed chefs and entrepreneurs and artists, and had the pleasure of seeing my words in print. Then, on a cold snowy day about four and a half years ago, I sat down and started to write for myself. And it was eye-opening, on so many levels.
I discovered that words are my favourite creative medium—in them I see endless possibilities, endless moods, ideas, pictures and thoughts. They are how I express myself, literally and artistically. I also discovered that I had a lot to learn. Despite my years as a freelance writer, it took many drafts and rewrites and patient beta readers until I felt I had my book at a point where I could share it with the world.
I’m going to be honest—I went down the path of trying to find an agent, and I was not successful. Looking back, my book was in no way ready to be sent out, but I’ve chalked that up to being part of the learning process. Still, I believed in the story—my beta readers all loved the book and demanded more. So I decided to explore the idea of self-publishing.
Self-publishing, when done well, is akin to running a small business—the writer is responsible for the product from beginning to end, and it’s up to them to find the best way to manage, market and promote that product.
While my years in advertising had given me something of a head start, I still had to tackle cover design, editing and good writing practice. It was important to me to present the best possible book, so I worked with a professional editor and cover designer, which made a huge difference. Through blogging I found a wonderful worldwide community of writers, all willing to share advice and help with promotion. I worked on creating a platform, figured out the intricacies of formatting for paperback and e-book, edited, then edited again.
Finally, about a year and a half ago, teeth gritted and eyes half-closed as though about to unleash dragons, I pressed ‘Publish.’ And that was it. I was a published author.
It was a strange and wonderful feeling, the culmination of a dream and several years’ work. It was also quite terrifying. I knew that there was a very large chance nothing would happen, that no-one, beyond family and friends, would read my book, so it’s been a nice surprise, to say the least, to find I have an audience around the world. I’m nowhere near bestseller range, and perhaps never will be, but that first book is still selling, still being reviewed, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Are there things I would change about it? Maybe. But they would only be minor things, and I look at it as part of growing as an artist.
We, as writers, are all creators, beset by the same compulsions as any other artist—the desire to create, to tell tales, to engage with an audience as we share our work. And whether the story we tell is about where to book your wedding, or why mezzanine floors are interesting (they are, believe me!), or about finding another world between two trees, what we want is for people to read them.
Self-publishing has allowed me to find an audience, and I’m grateful for that every single day.
Well, Writers in the Attic has turned out to be a successful series, more successful than I thought it would be when I started. I’m pleased to report that I’ve filled every week until Christmas, and the pieces coming up over the next few weeks are beautiful, so stay tuned …
I’ll have a break over Christmas but will return in 2017. So, if you’re a writer and would like to pen a few words about what writing means to you, your essay would be most welcome in the attic. Please let me know via the Contact page.
With two of my children at University and another in Year 11, there have been some heavy-duty exams happening around here, and little else. I made myself available for watering and feeding, and listening and chauffeuring, and decided not to even try to write—with all the stress and interruptions, there was no way I could get into the ‘zone’.
We all survived—just waiting on results—but I do get antsy when not writing. Yesterday, I pulled out my journal for the first time since October 11 and wrote eight pages. What joy! It felt so good, like taking the stopper off a shaken bottle. I added another five pages this morning, and with each line I can feel my normal self returning, although I suspect I’ll need a few more lengthy entries before I’ve cleared all the slough. I’m hoping to open Scrivener and add something meaningful to Novel #2 within the next couple of days …
I’m also preparing my November newsletter. This month, I have a lovely giveaway for subscribers—a reading journal, which, as you can see from the photos below, is very pretty.
To be in the running, all you have to do is be on the subscriber list, so please sign-up. (If you’ve already subscribed, there’s no need to do it again as you’re in the running!)