Summer writing plans

School is out for the summer and that means I am off work for eight weeks. My little one is also off school for summer, which means I’ll be spending the bulk of each day away on day trips, though I plan to squeeze in some writing time here and there. Here are my (vague) literary plans for July and August:

1. The Blue Man will be released on 29th July, so I’ll be busy with lots of promotion for it, starting with ARC reviews, which are currently ongoing.

2. Chipping away at horror novel WIP#5 which is kind of, sort of, almost done…if you squint and look at it through sunglasses. (Yep, I’m being silly.)

3. I’m planning to release the full collection of one of my published poetry pamphlets later in the autumn. But which one? (Twiddles fingers, willing brain to work, but it won’t…not enough caffeine).

4. Reading the Bindweed submission pile of poetry and stories submitted from every corner of the globe. (Wait, it’s a sphere, there are no corners…) Submissions are open for our Winter Wonderland 2022: Bindweed Anthology. There’s no theme, but I’m hoping for more genre fiction – would love to see some more horror or speculative fiction sent our way!

5. Read, read, read! And review. I’m doing a Goodreads challenge on both my author and reader accounts. I’m at 8/20 on my Leilanie Stewart account and 16/20 on my Indie reader account.

And that’s it. Ta ta for now, as I’m off to ride a Ferris wheel.

June reading update

Much has been going on this month for me. I’m still chipping away at horror novel WIP#5, which is up to around 43,000 words. I released an ebook version of my 80 poem poetry collections, The Redundancy of Tautology, which Dr Agarwal at Cyberwit Publishing (who published the paperback version of the collection back in April 2021) kindly supplied the cover artwork for. My hubby and I also released Midsummer Madness 2022 as the first creative writing anthology after the big rebranding of our literary journal, Bindweed Magazine, that we’ve been running since 2016. In between all of these things, I still made time for reading. Here’s my latest book shopping haul:

Did you know that I have an author account on Goodreads, but I also have a separate reader account that I use to post my reviews of Indie books? Yep, and I keep this account separate from my author brand for two reasons: 1) It allows me to post honest reviews of the books I read; 2) It keeps my own books as an author separate from the ones I review.

I’ve had a few requests for ARC reviews through my reader account, all of which I do under a pseudonym. A lot to manage, but I enjoy it, and like to help Indie authors out by reviewing their books. It’s hard enough to get people to review books in the first place, so I like to do my bit to help other authors gain more visibility for their books.

Of course, most of the books in the picture above are by well-known authors, and my personal policy is that I tend to review books with upwards of 100 ratings on my main author Goodreads account, which isn’t connected to my Amazon account (the Indie reader account that I run is connected to Amazon and I post all Indie reviews on Amazon too). Why do I do that and not post on Amazon for big names? For the simple reason that they already have thousands of reviews: I’d rather post reviews of Indie books on Amazon to help smaller, unknown authors to spread the word about their books. After all, that’s what I like other readers to do for me too. Writers are also readers, and as a literary community, can’t we all help to boost each other’s books? We can certainly try.

Are book reviews for readers or authors?

A couple of months ago, a writer connection of mine released her debut novel, which was speculative fiction. She had amassed a couple of dozen ARC reviews prior to release, all of which were four and five star ratings. Within her first week of launch, a three star review appeared and the author was gutted. She took to social media to discuss how she was having doubts that anyone would want to read her book, and that she was at a low point as a result. On a professional level, I felt that personally I don’t consider three stars a ‘bad’ rating. But on a personal note, I felt for her: what author doesn’t want only four and five star reviews?

But are reviews for authors?

Yes and no. Let’s start with ‘yes’. Good reviews, as in four and five stars, give an author validation that they have written a story that customers want to read. Critical reviews, as in three stars, show authors how their book was received, and a reader’s opinion can sometimes be different from what they, as a writer, might have been thinking.

So let’s look at ‘no’, and start with bad reviews, as in one and two stars. I’d read in some articles on the topic of reviews that authors shouldn’t read negative reviews. To be honest, I think negative reviews say more about the reviewer than the book they are reviewing; especially if they are offended by something in the story. Negative reviews serve readers more than authors. They help readers decide whether or not to bother buying a book. So long as the negative reviews aren’t about typos or plot holes in any given book, then I’d say they are there to help readers decide, ‘is this book for me, or not?’.

Personally, I think that even if reviews are positive, they are still there for readers, not authors. They serve to help other readers decide whether a book would suit their tastes, or not. Poor or critical reviews also help readers decide if a book may be a worthwhile investment of both time and money. Unless reviews are intentionally malicious, either by a reviewer with a personal grudge against the writer, or in a blackmail attempt (there’s an article about extortion scams here) most reviews are not aimed at attacking an author personally, or vilifying a book; they’re one person’s opinion on whether they liked a book or not and should be taken as such.

As a writer, does it mean that I personally don’t read reviews of my books? No: I read all reviews of my books, both critical and good. But I take it all as food for thought; after all opinions on books are subjective. What one person may love, another may hate so whether you’re a reader or a writer, it’s good to read reviews and think, is this a well-balanced opinion, regardless of the star rating?

How long should a novel be?

Recently someone asked me about how many words I tend to aim for when I’m writing a novel. Generally speaking, I tend to aim for 80,000 words as a good benchmark, which works out at about 330 or so pages in a 5.5 x 8.5 paperback book.

There are so many different opinions about how long an adult fiction novel should be, particularly depending on what genre you write. I’ve heard that speculative fiction should be on the longer side – up to 120,000 words, though around 100k is a good aim, especially if it’s a debut.

Of course, if you’re a children’s author or write YA fiction, your books can be on the shorter side: I’ve heard that between 40-80,000 words is a good length, with a 60k word count a decent goal to aim for.

As for my own books, my debut novel, Gods of Avalon Road, was 102,000 words. My second novel, The Buddha’s Bone, was 90,000 words. My forthcoming third book, The Blue Man, is the shortest of the three at around 81,000 words.

What about for any budding Indie writers out there? As a general rule, I’d say aim to write above 40,000 words as that is the baseline for what constitutes a novel. In a KDP paperback of their smallest template size (5 x 8 inches) this would work out at maybe 180 printed pages.

The Redundancy of Tautology is free on Kindle Unlimited

My poetry collection, The Redundancy of Tautology, is now available for free on Kindle Unlimited. The paperback was published on 4th April 2021 by Cyberwit; thanks to Dr Agarwal for providing the cover artwork for the ebook as well as the paperback.

The Blue Man novel excerpt reading from proof copy

It’s official! My not-for-resale copy (proof copy) of my forthcoming third novel, The Blue Man, came last week. Listen as I read from the back cover and prologue.

The Blue Man is a literary horror/ psychological horror. It started out as a short literary story that I wrote back in June 2020, which was published in Scarlet Leaf Review in May 2021. I began expanding it as I had more ideas to develop the story further and finished the final novel draft on 3rd December 2021. After another round of edits, a more polished final draft was ready on 18th March for my proofreader.

If you like Irish ghost stories, and tales of haunted friendships, stay tuned as I’ll be posting more teasers over the next few weeks.

The Buddha’s Bone is available on Kindle Unlimited – why I’m going exclusive with my ebook

Go wide or go exclusive? It’s a question that all Indie authors will ponder at some stage before publishing their books. Last summer when I was busy formatting the ebook of The Buddha’s Bone for publication and typesetting the paperback and hardcover versions, I made the decision to go wide with all versions. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms and are curious, please read on; I’m going to give a quick overview before going on to share my experience.

Continue reading

Update on current novel work in progress

I’m up to 40k words on my current novel WIP#5. It’s turning out to be another psychological horror, and quite metaphysical too. I suppose I enjoy reading psychological horror best, so it makes sense that this genre would grab me most to write about.

Writing in the park on a sunny day

I was busy last week making final amendments to my soon-to-be-published psychological horror novel The Blue Man and getting it ready for pre-order: all done now and more on this coming soon. My proofreader has the sharpest eyes and caught some last minute bits that needed changed. It’s all in a day’s work!

Exciting news! My third novel, The Blue Man, is available for pre-order

Cover reveal! My third novel, The Blue Man, is now available for pre-order.

It’s a psychological horror – here’s the back cover blurb:

Two best friends. An urban legend. A sinister curse.

Twenty years ago, horror loving Sabrina told her best friend, Megan, the terrifying Irish folk tale of the Blue Man, who sold his soul to the Devil in vengeance against a personal injustice. What should have been the best summer of their schooldays turned into a waking nightmare, as the Blue Man came to haunt Megan. Sabrina, helpless to save Megan from a path of self-destruction and substance abuse as she sought refuge from the terror, left Belfast for a new life in Liverpool.

Twenty years later, the former friends reunited thinking they had escaped the horrors of the past. Both were pregnant for the first time. Both had lived elsewhere and moved back to their hometown, Belfast. Both were wrong about the sinister reality of the Blue Man, as the trauma of their school days caught up to them – and their families.

Why did the Blue Man terrorise Megan? Was there more to the man behind the urban legend? Was their friendship – and mental health – strong enough to overcome a twenty year curse?

The Blue Man will be released on 29th July. More soon…

Entering novel competitions

Finding ways to promote your work as an author with a book in an endless sea of new books is rather like getting caught in the swash and backwash at times. How do you ever get your book out into the wide ocean if it can’t even leave shore?

Since The Buddha’s Bone was released back in October, I’ve placed a few advertisements in KDP Sponsored ads, Ingram Advance Catalogue, Bargain Booksy and Myslexia. These have helped to get my book in front of readers, and my sales peak on days when I run promotions – though sadly I have no money tree in my garden to keep doing this on a regular basis.

Recently I decided to enter a couple of novel competitions too, in an attempt to garner more publicity for my work: the Rubery Book Award and the Bath Novel Award. I chose these two after considering the balance between payment and expected outcome: the reasonable fee for each was worth the opportunity to get my work in front of a new audience; in this case a panel of judges. For reference, I paid £44 for the Rubery Book Award and £29 for the Bath Novel Award.

What now? The longlist for the Bath Novel Award is due this month, and winners for both will be announced in July, so it’s a short wait for me. Regardless of the outcome, it was an experience worth doing as I have learned about the process involved in relation to entering future books into novel competitions. Either way, I’ll be writing another post on the topic, if you’re interested.