From Writers Block to Fairytales

I began writing Almost Midnight as a writing exercise to jog myself out of a major writing funk. 2014 was not an easy year for me personally, and I wrote very little prose after launching The Edge of the Woods. After busying myself with some script work, I was determined to get back into it, but every time I tried to think of something new or work on one of the concepts I’d started plotting before my dad died, I’d come up blank. My fingers would hover over the keyboard, tap out half a sentence, delete, and hover again. I’d groan, sigh, swear, make another cup of tea, do my nails, swear some more, close the computer and give up and watch a TV show. The part of my brain that tells stories was asleep behind a wall of thorns and vines and I couldn’t find the right sword to cut my way through.

I decided that if I couldn’t work on my novels, I could at least try to update my blog more often (which, if you follow this blog, you’ll know how well that went!), but I struggle to think of topics to write about. I’m not a journalist or a columnist, I’m terrible at essays and my opinions evolve so often I don’t really want to commit to that many of them on the eternity of internet. So I thought I’d use a shortcut and try to retell a story I already knew (that was safely in the public domain). I began with one of my favourite fairytales, Hans My Hedgehog.

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I barely remembered the actual structure of Hans. I’d never read it, only watched the episode of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, and not in years. I knew that Hans had been cursed to be a hedgehog by some fault of his parents, I knew that he was reviled, that he rode a rooster and lived in the forest, that he tricked a king into letting him marry a princess, that he became human for one hour every night, that the princess ruined his chances of breaking the spell, and that she walked the world to find him in a pair of iron shoes and broke the spell with love. Most of these are unique to the Jim Henson version. The original was, like so many fairytales, incredibly cruel.

So I used what I remembered as the framework, and almost at once something new began to grow from the gaps in my memory. I wanted to know who Hans’ parents were and what they’d done to doom him to life as a (actually pretty cute) monster. As if hearing his name called, out stepped a poor but ambitious young woodcutter from behind the wall of thorns.

That first day, I made my personal best for words written in one session. Hans was the sword I needed to free the storyteller trapped in my head and I wrote all day for two weeks until his story was done. Too long for a blog post at 13,000 words, but a story finished and one I felt proud of. Rewatching the episode of The Storyteller afterwards, I found I’d also written something quite new. My Hans didn’t look a thing like Jim Henson’s. Nor did our princesses, or our kings. I had added a fairy godmother in the form of a little hedgehog, and Jim had faceless magic and John Hurt. Our endings are different – though both happy – and every character’s motivation is different. But they’re both Hans My Hedgehog in that special way a fairytale can be told a thousand ways with a thousand endings and still be the same story.

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Writing fairytales didn’t completely cure my writers block. It was another six months before I really got stuck into my Cinderella retelling, which was less the labour of love I felt for Hans and more an attempt to understand a heroine I’d only ever been able to connect with in one retelling – 1997’s Ever After. Cinderella, in all the other adaptations and all the stories, didn’t make sense to me, which always bothered me given how popular a story and character she’s always been. It took much longer to write than Hans, and it’s by far the longest story in the collection at 25,000 words, but to my very great surprise I found myself more at home in Ella’s head than I had in any other character before (which, naturally, means she will be everyone’s least favourite heroine!). Ella is at first held back by the terrible things that happen to her, and then by her own fear of further disappointment or rejection. Cindersoot became a story about finding the strength to speak up and not waiting for someone else to change your life for you. At last, I feel like I understand Cinderella. And more than that, I like her.

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The story I knew I always wanted to have a go at rewriting was The Little Mermaid. It’s been my all-time favourite story for as long as I can remember. When I was young I watched the Disney movie at least once a day (but more like three) for years, but at the same time also watched the 1975 Japanese animated film (featuring the sea foam ending) and a low budget direct adaptation we found at the local video shop. So while I worshipped at the new feet of Ariel, I was always aware of the original ending, the little mermaid’s quest for a soul and the prince’s love for someone else. I thought it would be the easiest of the three stories to write, given that I knew it and loved it so well.

So, of course, it was nearly impossible. I knew it too well. I was basically trying to rewrite the original but with a prince who wasn’t a condescending prat (read Andersen’s original, he is the least dreamy prince of an already impressive cast of unappealing romantic heroes) and without the mermaid’s quest for an immortal soul (which is actually an aspect of the original I love, but as someone who isn’t religious I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing it). Everything I tried to write was terrible. It was bland and unoriginal and it, somewhat appropriately, had no voice. I was back in 2014, writing and deleting and swearing and coming dangerously close to ditching my laptop at a wall.

But I couldn’t give up. I’d always wanted to write this story. And besides, I’d already told people I was writing it. So I started again, and figured out who my mermaid was. Was she a princess? Did she have a family? Why would she give up her voice? Why does she fall in love with the first human she sees?

The answer to all these questions, as it turned out, was pretty much ‘no.’ No, she wasn’t a princess. She didn’t have a family. She was alone, and had always been alone. She was searching the ocean for someone who looked like her, and found the closest thing in the humans who travelled upon it. She didn’t give up her voice, because she had never had to speak anything but the language of the sea, which I discovered was a song. She didn’t fall in love with the first human she saw, but the one who looked as lonely as she felt.

And then it went from there. The story I wanted to tell was one of love, that loving someone doesn’t entitle you to be loved back. That true love expects nothing but gives everything, and that the love of a friend is not worth less than the love of a lover, even if it’s not the love you crave.

In the end, The Mermaid was exactly the story I’d always hoped to tell. I’ve gotten reports now from several people that it made them cry, which is a very high compliment.

Fairytales mean a lot to me. I think they’re always relevant, parables reshaped by the time and the teller, a game of Chinese whispers through the ages.

Will I write more? Absolutely, one day. But for now, I’m outlining a story set in rural Australia in 1994. Which, weirdly enough, might not have been possible without a magic hedgehog.

Almost Midnight

You can read Hans My Hedgehog for free here.

Almost Midnight: Three Classic Fairytales can be found on eBook for US$2.99 from AmazoniBooksNook and Kobo.

The paperback is available for US$11.99 from Amazon.

 

 

Almost Midnight: Three Classic Fairytales is HERE!

When I had the idea to publish a small collection of fairy tale retellings (back in June), I thought it would take maybe four months, tops. After all, I’d already written a retelling of Hans My Hedgehog that I felt very proud of, I’d started my own version of Cinderella and I’d always wanted to have a crack at my favourite fairy tale, The Little Mermaid.

What I didn’t expect was for Ella to have so much to say that her story stretched out to 25,000 words (the accepted minimum for a young adult novel) or to be so intimidated by completely rehauling a story that meant so much to me as a child that I had to rewrite The Mermaid nearly five full times.

But here we are, nine months later. The stories say everything I want them to, and they’ve been beautifully illustrated by my very talented friend Ben Sigas. I’m very proud of this book. I hope you like it.

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You can buy the eBook for US$2.99 from Amazon, iBooks, Nook and Kobo. The paperback is available for US$11.99 from Amazon.

Almost Midnight: Cover and Blurb reveal!

Well, I’m officially a hermit. I’ve been chained to my desk for weeks hammering away at rewrites and rewrites and rewrites, and I still have plenty more rewrites to go. But while I do that, why don’t I finally introduce Almost Midnight to you properly?

Almost Midnight is a collection of three classic fairytales: Cinderella, Hans My Hedgehog, and The Little Mermaid. While we all know the basic stories of all the great fairy tales, I think the details, themes and lessons change depending on the person telling them. So these are my versions of the fairy tales, and while they still have happily ever afters, the getting there involves a lot more talking hedgehogs and dancing scarecrows than you’re probably used to.

So without further ado, here’s the cover, the blurb, and a sneak peek of one of Ben Sigas‘s stunning illustrations, featured in both the eBook and the paperback.

Almost Midnight

 

‘Keep a careful eye to the hour,’ said the white bird. ‘Our magic will last only until midnight, and everything we’ve changed will be as it was.’

Meet Ella, a young woman who has lost everything; Hans, a boy doomed by his father’s greed to live as a monster; and Nameless, a lonely mermaid who yearns to be loved. Each seeks their happily ever after, but wishes and magic will only get them so far…

Almost Midnight takes three beloved fairy tales and retells them with new twists and turns, uniting them with the powers of love, courage, hope, and the magic of midnight.

 

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Release date to be announced!

First Draft Doozies

Sorry, I just wanted to alliterate a little bit.

I am knee deep in a first draft! I’ve been flirting with some novel concepts since finishing The Edge of the Woods, but for whatever reason – I still love all of them – I just couldn’t commit to any. Wrong timing, maybe. Wrong headspace, probably. But last week I took the plunge, and I’ve pledged the next few months to a YA/Children’s fantasy adventure story. I’m 12,824 words into what I hope will be a 30,000 – 40,000 word novella, and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Everyone approaches first drafts differently. Sometimes they even approach them differently between ideas. I have a method for writing first drafts for scripts, which I’ve adapted a little to suit my prose writing, and have adapted again between The Edge of the Woods and my current project.

Cei’s Killer First Draft Battle Plan
Step 1. Get a bit of an idea. Take a lot of showers and baths and think about it until it ignites into a full-on, sustainable, must-write idea.
Step 2. Write down everything you know about the plot, in order. It might be the inciting incident, the ending, a really great scene. Whatever.
Step 3. Plot! Fill in the gaps between what you wrote down in Step 2. How are they linked? What leads to what? What choices does our hero make to get themselves there? It’s like the most fun puzzle ever.
Step 4. Write! Expand all of your plot points into scenes. Write from the beginning through to the end. No editing. The writing will not be good. The story will not make heaps of sense. The characters will not be consistent. It doesn’t matter. Let the story and characters find themselves. Fixing everything is for the subsequent drafts. If you get stuck, leave a placeholder and come back to it. If the style isn’t working, try a different one. Just keep moving forward.

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 I do all of my best writing in re-writing, but I can’t fix what isn’t there. So for me, slapping the story down in it’s barest form works best. I also work best when I know, generally, where I’m going. It’s probably been ingrained in me from scriptwriting, but I need to plot out my story. I didn’t do this for The Edge of the Woods in my first attempt at the first draft, instead ‘pansting it’ as the cool kids call it. But I found myself running into dead ends a lot, so I started plotting a few chapters ahead and writing up to there. Like checkpoints in a video game, if you will. It worked better, but it wasn’t ideal, so this time I’ve plotted the entire story and I feel much better about it.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned character work or character sheets. I don’t really bother with either. This is not to say I don’t think character is an incredibly important aspect of all books and writing (personally it’s my favourite aspect of writing and reading) but I like to find my characters through writing the story. I do the same with scripts. I like to spend a draft on story, then a draft on character, and let each one shape the other. It’s kind of a drawn out process, but again, it works for me. When I start my first draft, I just have the name of my protagonist and their motivation, and maybe a few secondary characters.

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There are some people who prefer to make detailed character charts or do intensive world building, or people who prefer to completely wing everything, or edit as they go. There’s no one correct way to approach it, and there might not even be one correct way for you. Just play around and find out what works for you.

Creating My Cover (plus resources)

In my last blog, I had a bit of a ramble about covers and what I think makes good ones.

So how did I apply all that to my novel?

I found my cover through 99 Designs, but this process will apply if you use a specific designer (as I intend to in the future).

TONE

I thought about what I wanted my cover to say about my story. I knew that I wanted it to go with my title (The Edge of the Woods… fairly specific), but more than that I wanted it to evoke the feel of my book. Emma, my protagonist, lives in a village surrounded on all sides by thick woods, and has grown up hearing myths about the dangers of wandering into them. Although the majority of my book takes place in the village, the simultaneous call and threat of the woods are constantly there. So it made sense that the look and feel of the woods should be evoked on my cover. I also thought about colours. Blues are very popular in YA, and can evoke a sense mystery and magic, so I asked for blues with pops of gold in the form of fireflies, which are a frequently used symbol in the novel.

I received several mock ups of the cover featuring woods, but most felt too safe. They were pleasant woods, daytime woods, woods you wouldn’t think twice about going into. Or they were flat out horror movie woods – woods you wouldn’t need to hear stories about to want to stay clear of them. Only three designers really nailed the beautiful-but-deadly tone I wanted to to convey. (I’d like to show you the designs, but as I only own the winning one I won’t).

I went back and forward on including Emma in the cover. My own preferences said no, but I didn’t want to rule out a very popular marketing trend out of prejudice. So I included an optional Emma in my brief with a description (which I made up for the brief, as Emma is only described as being tall in the book) and waited to see what came in. Most were pretty, bland stock models staring bored into the middle-distance. But again, three (and not quite the same ones) designers used her in an interesting way that I felt added rather than detracted to the cover.

So I ended up with four finalists. Three featured Emma. Three featured the woods. Two featured fireflies. All conveyed the tone I wanted.

GENRE

So then it came to genre (fantasy) and target audience (young adults, primarily girls). And here I enlisted a test audience.

One cover was immediately put out of the running because it skewed quite young. It appealed to boys more than the other covers, but looked like children’s fiction. And while my book is appropriate for children to read, I didn’t want to turn young adults and older readers off. Another looked great and appealed to young women, but my test audience interpreted it as a historical drama rather than a fantasy.

So I was left with two covers I loved: one showed the woods and Emma, the other only focused on the woods. Both gave the tone I wanted, and both featured fireflies which gave the test audience a sense of magic. But in the end, I found that the cover featuring Emma actually skewed older, appealing to 30+ readers while the woods-only cover appealed unanimously to 13 – 25 year old readers. With their results in, the decision felt clear. Only one design ticked all the boxes and even fell in line with my character-free preference.

And here it is! And how I love it.

Cover KINDLEI know, you’ve all seen it. 

These are my woods, and this is my book.

TYPEFACE

I haven’t discussed typeface, which I should as it can make or break your cover. In the brief I specified that it should be clear and readable, pretty but not too ‘girly,’ and not exceed more than two fonts. The font on the runner up was difficult to read, and the fonts on the other two rejected designs complimented the children’s fiction and historical fiction feel of them. Both good title fonts, but neither appropriate to my book.

I love this typeface. I love that my name is simple and small, but readable. I love that my designer used the same simple font to balance out the flourish on edge – feminine but strong – and I like that she picked one word to focus on. I also like that she gave the weight to ‘edge,’ rather than ‘woods’ which reflects Emma’s position in the story. My designer had no idea about that of course, but she did a great job and made me very happy. The only real complaint I could have is the obscured ‘w’ but if I’m being honest it doesn’t bother me. And who doesn’t love an ood?

The original title was in light blue, which was pretty (and I still use in my banners) but we decided later to change it to white so it would really pop.

RESOURCES

Are you in the market for a cover? Is that the whole reason you clicked read more on this post? Well aren’t you in luck! I’ve come across some cover designers with great portfolios over the past few months and I’m going to share my favourites.

Now, if you haven’t heard of premade covers, you are missing out. Great for writers on a budget or for something as simple a short fiction, premade covers are, as the title so handily implies, ready made covers. You just chose your cover and the artist will swap out their interim title and author name with yours. You have to be willing to make compromises and go a little more vague with your imagery (unless you find THE PERFECT COVER), but they tend to range between $30 – $100, and some designers run specials so you can get them for even less.

My absolute favourite premade designer can be found at GoOnWrite, who offers unbelievably professional covers for $40 and updates regularly. Another great resource is the Cover Art Collective, a Facebook group which highlights premade work from various artists. And if you like the look of an artist’s premades, you can always click through to their site and request a custom cover.

Custom covers cost more, especially if you want to make a full paperback version and/or audiobook cover (and Facebook/promo banners). Depending on the designer, a custom cover can cost you anywhere between $100-$1000. My favourite designers portfolios are: Art By Karri ($175 – 225), M. S. Corley (contact to negotiate price), Yocla Designs ($95 – 145), and Jason Gurley ($350 – 750). My designer, Destiny Marie, doesn’t currently have a website but if you contact me I can pass on her email address.

You can also find an artist whose style you love and negotiate to purchase the rights to an image they’ve already produced or commission new work for your cover. You’ll often have to come up with your own typeface to lay over the image, or you can see if another cover designer would be willing to negotiate a typography only price for you (if you can’t do it yourself – and if you don’t have decent photoshop skills, don’t!).

Any cover artist recommendations? Name drop in the comments! 

 

The Edge of the Woods: Happy One Month-sary!

Today marks one month since the launch of The Edge of the Woods! Happy days! Although I still have much to learn about the world of effective marketing, I’m very happy with how things have been going and the feedback I’ve been receiving.

To celebrate, I’d like to share my favourite review so far, from Brandi on Amazon:

‘I truly enjoyed this book – as in, I was laying in bed at 2am in the morning trying to finish it knowing full well that my alarm was set to go off at 4am for work, but I could not put it down! The characters were all well written and I loved the little world she created. I love that as I was reading and thinking ahead to what I thought was going to happen, I would be surprised when Langley took the story in a different, but refreshing direction. I loved the main characters strength of character and loyalty to her loved ones, friends, and town. She had great morals and principles that we all could learn from.

I also have to add that my pre-teen daughter is reading this book right now and is thoroughly enjoying it as well.

I hope to see more great books from this talented author!’

This isn’t my favourite review because it’s so positive (though frankly that is nice!) but because it reminds me of what I loved most about reading when I was younger: sharing books with my Mum. I’d read them first and pass them on, or vice versa, and then we’d talk about them. I especially remember doing it with Isobelle Carmody books, which we still share today. Knowing that somewhere in the world a mother and daughter have done that with my book is more special than anything else I could hope for.

So happy month-sary, The Edge of the Woods! And happy month-sary, readers! Thank you to anyone who has bought and read the book, anyone who has spoken about it or recommended it, and to anyone who has taken the time to send me a kind word of support. You’ve all made the first month of my publishing career a wonderful one.

x

PS. I know you’re not supposed to read your reviews, but I’m a month in and there’s only about eleven of them so how can I not?

Self Publishing: My Process So Far

Quite a few months ago a friend asked if I could write a blog post about my self publishing process once The Edge of the Woods was out. So here we are! My heavily summarised journey from person-who-would-quite-like-to-write-and-publish-her-first-novel to person-who-is-now-an-author-yay.

Note: most dates are approximate as my memory for time is completely rubbish.

July-ish.
WRITING.
Deciding to write a book. Lots of feelings were felt, optimism and joy at the forefront. Sat down at computer and vaguely remembered a romantic short story I’d written as a much younger person that even younger persons had reacted well to. I used the setting and conflict as inspiration. Assumed it would probably only be a novella.

My drafting process was pretty straight forward. I made a schedule: I had to be sitting down and writing by 2pm every day (I’m useless in the mornings) with two days allowed off per week (they could coincide with weekends but didn’t have to, and didn’t have to be consecutive) and I wasn’t allowed to write after 10pm. This ensured I didn’t burn out if things were going well and that I didn’t feel overwhelmed if they weren’t. I also wasn’t allowed to go back and edit, and I wasn’t allowed to read further back than a page or two or jump ahead and write out of sequence. It worked, and in August-ish I…

August-ish.
DRAFTING AND DECISIONS.
Finished the first draft! It was only 26k words, but I was very proud of myself. Of course on reading it back I felt a lot less proud. It was much heavier on the romance, and the story and my protagonist hadn’t quite found their focus. It was much more woods based, which wasn’t working.

Around this time I came across a blog about self publishing via Amazon and decided to read more. After researching, I decided it was the best option for me as I didn’t think any publishers would be interested in a novella.

September/October-ish.
DRAFTING AND COVER DESIGN.
Worked on the second draft, which was about an 80% rewrite. Many of the same ideas were kept but expanded, re-ordered and reworded. I grounded the story and pushed the supernatural element back a little, concentrating on my protagonists real life. The story clicked, and the characters flourished. However I still hadn’t settled on an ending I liked and I hadn’t made the supernatural element make sense to me. My supernatural love interest was much more of a black hat villain, but his motivation wasn’t working for me. This draft came to about 45k words.

I came down with the flu sometime during this period and decided to use it to find my cover design. I hadn’t yet stumbled across the kboards or any other self publishing community, so I had no idea where to start. Google only turned up Damonza (who is very good, but was out of my price range) and a few designers I didn’t really take to. So I decided to run a 99designs competition which, although the process was stressful and honestly not very fun, I found a small group of covers and designers I really liked, and whittled it down to one I was very happy with.

800x1100The cover as it emerged from the competition. 

November/December/January-ish
SELF EDITING, DRAFTING AND PROCRASTINATION.
After draft two was out of the way, I spent a very long time going over everything with a red pen and a lot of post-it notes. My goals at that point were to track character consistency and development, sort out the supernatural storyline, go deeper into the world I’d created and come up with a satisfying ending. It was easier to identify the problem areas and restructure some chapters than it was to write the solutions, but I got there in the end. Some areas of the manuscript remained entirely untouched, some were rewritten, some flat out deleted and one character I was very fond of but served absolutely no purpose and actually messed up the plot was cut and absorbed into two existing characters (Nicole and Roslyn). 

With this draft coming in at 68k words it was officially a full length novel, but after all the work I’d already done myself I decided to ride out the self-publishing experience. I was already learning a lot of interesting things about the publishing industry and, however I decided to publish future books, I felt a well rounded knowledge could only benefit me.

January/February-ish
PROFESSIONAL EDITING AND BETA READERS.
Satisfied as I could be with my draft, I scouted out various editors and editing services and decided on BubbleCow (who now offer free pre-made covers from FAB cover design site GoOn Write with every edit). They took just over three weeks to edit my manuscript (one week earlier than they predicted) and I spent that time working on my blurb and starting a YA zombie dystopian novel I like a lot but can’t quite figure out how to crack. The editors report I got back was really detailed and positive, and I accepted most of the suggestions. It made the novel much stronger.

Next I sent the novel out to my trusty test readers (I hate the term beta reader, and no, I don’t know why) who each took two weeks to read through and send me their notes.

March
EVERYTHING WAS TERRIBLE
Went though a family tragedy. March sucked. Nothing was achieved.

April
PROOFREADING, COVER FINALISATION, FORMATTING AND GOODREADS.
I eased back into productivity with the final proofread, which a friend and I did independently and compared notes. Between us, the editor and my test readers I’m confident we picked up 99.5% of errors and if you show me one now (I do know where one is in the manuscript) I will actually spear tackle you.

Having decided later on, and at the insistence of friends and family (and a deep desire to have my own book on my shelf) I decided to publish a paperback version via CreateSpace. This required me to get back in touch with my cover artist and work on a wraparound cover. While we were at it, I’d noticed that the title didn’t pop as well as I’d like in thumbnail and we decided to make it white. The result was kind of perfect. I decided on a 5×8 book size as opposed to their default/recommended 6×9 as I find 6×9 books a bit clunky and hard to shove in your bag (if I could have gone smaller I would have), and cream paper over white as I wanted a more authentic reading experience. Both options increased the production cost, but I’m happy I chose them.

Cover KINDLEFinal cover. Very poppy. 

While we worked on the cover, I contacted Polgarus Studio and they very quickly came up with a simple eBook format and a very pretty paperback format. I needed a finalised paperback word count so my cover artist could figure out the width of the spine.

Finally, I set up a Goodreads page for the book, an author page for me, and began my giveaway. As I wasn’t sure when exactly I’d be publishing or when I’d have paperback copies with me, I set the giveaway to run until May 31st. It was slow going at first, but now has over 1700 entries and is on the front page of the most requested giveaways. Pretty cool!

May
PROOFING AND PUBLISHING
Despite a month long internet blackout (the previous months work was all done on my tiny phone screen), everything was finally ready to go! I uploaded the files to Createspace and ordered my proof copy. When that came the following week (perfect!) I decided on an official release date: May 20, the week following. This allowed me time to upload the files to Kindle Direct Publishing and let the paperback and kindle versions sync up, and time for the other platforms (iBooks, Kobo and Nook) to publish my books as they take a little longer. This way by Launch Day everything was ready and working.

And here we are! I ran a Facebook ad during launch week, and will run another sometime soon. I had an article in Birdee Mag and my hometown’s online newspaper, and am going to attempt sending out some press releases to local newspapers and radio stations, and I already have some really lovely reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

And what have I learned?

So much, and probably still nowhere enough. I can say that I fully respect what publishing houses do and what they offer – this has been an expensive venture and I’m terrible at numbers and keeping track of things and figuring out this marketing stuff is kind of doing my  head in.

Will I self publish again?

Absolutely. I might still be figuring it out, but I’m having loads of fun doing it. And I’m a published author now. I can’t even tell you how much that means to me.

And now, back to it!

x