You may have noticed the Australian Women Writer's Challenge icon on the sidebar of my blog. It is a yearly event that is close to my heart, given that I am a female Australian author. Started in 2012 as a way to correct the gender imbalance in Australian literature, the whole premise of the challenge is to encourage people to discover the vast talent within our female authors and share what they have read either through simply listing their books read or by posting a review. Through the tireless work of volunteers, the AWW challenge has grown and flourished.
You can check out the Australian Women Writers website HERE. You can also click in the sidebar to see books I have read and reviewed in previous years. As readers this is a way you can support our local industry, so please check it out and share with other readers and friends.
I wrote this article just after my first novel The Beach House was published back in 2011. Since then I have published two more novels and I have to say the editing process was NOWHERE near as painful for either of these books. For those of you still in the early days of your writing journey, I hope you find some of the information useful.
Long before I became a publisher author I believed myself to be a “good” writer. All through high school and university I did well on written assignments because I had an engaging writing style and my spelling, grammar and general formatting were always correct. Having loved books from an early age, I knew how to construct a story and had a fertile imagination. Besides I actually enjoyed writing – whereas other people hated the idea of sitting down and even writing a letter - that was a walk in the park for me. I regularly helped family members and friends write all kinds of things as well as edit assignments, speeches etc.
So, when I finally got around to writing the novel I’d had floating around my brain for years, I was fairly confident. After all, I knew how the story was going to pan out and, besides, I was sure in the knowledge that I was a “good” writer. My biggest challenge was going to be actually sitting down and getting the thing written!
It's always gratifying when you hear from a reader how something in your novel has had an impact on them - be it funny, sad, thought-provoking etc. But the best kind of impact is to inspire someone in some way. A reader once told me how four words in a sentence one of my characters, (Kate), spoke helped her through the last semester of her university degree. Bogged down, tired and discouraged, she was on the verge of giving up but when she read the words "sheer force of will", it gave her the focus and determination to just push through with her own studies and finish what she'd started, even though she wasn't sure it was even what she wanted to do anymore.
Although most of my writing energies these days are directed towards creative writing (I am working on my fourth novel), I began my writing career as a biographer. No, not a well-known A-list kind of biographer, the opposite, in fact. I helped everyday people who wanted to write their life story but didn't know how to go about it. The idea started with a university assignment - to record the life story of any person. It didn't have to be an "exciting" life, the assignment was more about how you recorded and collated the information. The person I chose was so enthusiastic about the project, I couldn't help but be the same. It was the first assignment I can say I loved from start to finish and, realising what a powerful thing the recording of a life (any life) was, I knew that at some point I wanted to do more of it.
Can I just say to begin with that I do now (and think I always will) prefer reading a "real" book than a digital one. There is something about the weight and texture of a real book and the feel of turning paper pages, not to mention the sight of a physical "to be read" pile (and crammed bookshelves) that cannot (in my opinion) be replicated with an e-reader. Yet as an author (and a reader), I can see the real appeal of electronic books and I am incredibly grateful for the way e-books have transformed the publishing industry for ever.
When my book was first published it was initially only created as a paperback. My publisher did not deal with e-books (although he gave me the option of exploring that possibility myself) and I must admit I was not that fussed about creating an digital version of my novel. Although I was aware of e-readers I did not own one and had never really seen one in operation. Besides I figured that if anybody really wanted to read my book then they would buy a paperback. It didn't take me too long to realise that was not the case! In fact I soon realised that when asked if there was an e-book and I said no, rather than offering to buy a paperback many potential customers simply asked me to let them know if and when the e-book was released.
It's always so exciting to announce that your new book is published and ready for sale. It's hard to believe this is my third, but I must say that the process has become more streamlined and I like to think I'm getting a bit better at it. The gap is shrinking too, it is just over eighteen months since my second book was published. So, you never know, the fourth might be even quicker. But, I'm not going to make any great predictions about that. It will be ready when it's ready.
My new book is called Third Offence. It is a sequel to one of the characters from The Beach House, Jack. For those who have read The Beach House, Jack was the character whose life was changed after meeting a young boy, Danny, and forming a close friendship with him. In Third Offence, Danny is a teenager and their story continues in a different direction. I loved developing the characters of Jack and Danny further and revisiting some other familiar characters from The Beach House.
For more information about the book, just click on the Bookshelf tab above. It is available right here from the website as well as Amazon. It will be coming to other e-book retailers soon.
There are pros and cons about becoming a published author in this day and age. On the pro side is how technology has not only revolutionised the way we write, but also the way we publish, advertise and sell our work. Authors are no longer held ransom by major publishing companies or exorbitantly priced self-publishing and have the option of going it alone and using social media to promote their work. On the con side, these things can also hinder an author's journey. Because there is so much more written work out there competing for the same amount of readers, it is very difficult to get noticed (especially if you are an unknown).
One of the best ways readers can help an author get their work noticed is by rating and/or leaving a review. As mentioned in a previous blog post Amazon.com is the king of the on-line book stores. If a book is listed on Amazon, there is no better place to leave a review and rating. While many people have tried (and failed) to understand the way that Amazon's algorithm's work, it would seem that books with a higher number of reviews rate higher and show up better when searched. Reviews are especially important when a book is newly released - there is nothing more lonely than seeing a book up with no ratings or reviews.
In what has become an enjoyable annual ritual, I am happy to once again be signing up for the Australian Women Writer's Challenge for 2017. This year I hope to read 25 books by Australian women and review ten of those.
Started in 2012, the AWW challenge has inspired hundreds of people to pledge to add books by female Australian authors to their reading lists and has inspired thousands of reviews. You can get further details at the Australian Women Writer's Website. Anybody can join the challenge, as a reader only or reader/reviewer.
Even reading (and hopefully reviewing) just one book by an Australian woman writer will benefit our home grown authors, so jump on board.
Like most authors I don't like giving my books away for free. However the horse has already bolted on this one - the reality is that giving books away is how many authors (including traditionally published) gain new readers and it is something almost all authors need to consider in order to get their book(s) out into the big, wide world. While you can do a paperback giveaway (Goodreads allows you to do this), the more effective (and less expensive) way is to give away digital copies. It is something I tried with my second novel Room 46.
There are many ways you can do an e-book giveaway, but the most popular is through websites such as BookBub (the leader of the pack by a mile), Freebooksy, The Fussy Librarian, Robin Reads and way too many more to name. As much as you might not like signing up for Amazon KDP Select (this allows you to give your book away for 5 days each 90 days on Amazon with the caveat being it has to be exclusively available on Amazon), it is a necessary evil if you want to gain any traction. Bookbub is the holy grail for most authors but as well as being the most expensive, it is also the most difficult to get accepted by. I chose Freebooksy as they were not too expensive and had dates available within the next week. They also have have a large following.
Helen McKenna's books on Goodreads
ratings: 80 (avg rating 3.98)
The Beach House
ratings: 77 (avg rating 3.86)
The Perfect Proposal
ratings: 12 (avg rating 3.75)
How Do I Write My Life Story?
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.11)
The Perfect Proposal And Other Stories
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.22)