How Blogging Turned My Career Around, Improved My Life, and Left My Hair Bouncy and Shiny

 Day Three

Yes, it’s true. I’ve finally discovered womankind’s best-kept secret. Conditioner!

Okay, so the title of this blog is not mine. It was actually written by today’s guest, the one and only Anne  R. Allen, blogging guru to the masses and font of all wisdom on matters literary.

Anne, of course, needs no introduction, so let’s get back to the important thing here: conditioner.

My daughter is eight. And of course eight is the perfect age for a daughter to be. All daughters should stay eight forever. Of course, when she was seven, seven was the perfect age too, and when she was six…

Anyway, being eight and living in West Africa, she asked last year if I would grow my hair long, having been fascinated by some crazy tourist who came by with hair almost down to his waist. “Anything you want, precious,” I replied, just thankful she hadn’t asked me to shave it all off!

Of course the last thing I expected was for her to hold me to it.

A year on and my hair is down to my shoulders. And with only a bucket of cold water for a shower here, the daily hair wash was becoming a nightmare. Or at least the de-tangle afterwards…

After child birth, the second most painful thing on the planet must surely be combing out long tangled hair. Who’d be a woman?

Then a few weeks ago, raiding the occasional European supplies that turn up here, I mistakenly picked up some conditioner instead of shampoo. Having spent an hour failing to work up a lather I threw it out, assuming it was a duff shampoo consignment.

No, it;s not me!

Ten minutes later I was retrieving it and giving it pride of place in my shanty-town shack. The comb was sliding through my hair like a hot knife through butter! Bliss!

And bouncy and shiny, too!

Which almost brings me back to Anne.

Those of you who have been following the comments recently will know I’ve been extolling the virtues of e-publishing to Anne, and in turn she has been following our remarkable story with Sugar & Spice.

But while our chart success (#2 best-selling ebook in UK on three occasions, # 1 variously across six genres) was inspirational the consensus was that this was a fluke. The UK market was not ready for indie e-books. Sure, we had a “breakout” novel, but no other indie published ebook this side of the pond was competing with these crazy sales numbers and chart positions.

Enter, stage left. Louise Voss, followed by a bear. Oh no, make that Mark Edwards. Fellow co-writers. In fact, they were co-writing long before Saffi and I even met.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of them? No surprise there. They were just another couple of upstart wannabes with big ideas but no talent, that the gatekeepers put firmly in their place.

Phew! Where would we be without the gatekeepers?

If you’ve been with us a while you may recall Mark Edwards was a guest here back in April, to talk about his road to redemption. Check out his feature here.

Regulars will know by now I’m a huge fan of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Pay It Forward. The film is not quite the same as the book, but the ethos behind both has been a guiding light for me for a long time. So no suprise to find unknowns here on MWi that I believe have something to offer in the future.

I thought Louise and Mark showed promise. Ah well, you can’t get it right all the time.

Fifteen years ago Mark was an enthusiastic wannabe writer, and sending out queries like there was no tomorrow.

I spent half my income on brown A4 envelopes and printer ribbons, I landed myself an agent. A proper agent with best-selling clients. She LOVED my novel. She was going to make me a star. I was going to be rich and famous. I truly believed this was a certainty. The day the agent phoned me to tell me she was going to take me on was one of the happiest of my life.

But then… rejection. None of the publishers she sent my novel to wanted to buy it. I was gobsmacked. Sick as a parrot. I wrote another novel. She loved this one even more. The same thing happened.

Rejection… Now where have we heard that word before?

But there’s happy ending to this story. Because Mark met Louise. In a writing sort of way, I hasten to add. And Louise had an agent too, and was a published author! And then the BBC…

Well, I’ll let Mark explain:

We came up with the idea for a stalker novel, written alternately from male and female perspectives, with a delicious twist in the middle and another at the end.

For the zillionth time I was sure I was finally on to a winner, especially when the BBC hove into the story:  a drama producer who had read and loved one of Louise’s other novels optioned our book, Killing Cupid, before it was even finished.

Talk about a happy ending. From nowhere to the exalted BBC, being broadcast to the nation!

You probably remember seeing it. No? Well actually, no. No-one saw it.

Mark explains.

When the book was finished, Louise’s agent tried to sell it.

Yes, both of them had agents!!! What could possibly go wrong? Back to Mark:

Unbelievably, although I was by this point punch drunk on rejection and should have seen it coming, she couldn’t find us a publisher.

The book didn’t fit neatly into a genre: it was part thriller, part comedy, part suspense, part literary fiction.

Still, we had the option. It was going to be on TV.

Yeah, right…. This is real life.

The production went into development hell. The BBC changed their policy around two-part crime dramas. Somebody upstairs didn’t like the main character. The option expired.

Anne says, below:

Like a lot of writers, I suffer from anxiety and depression. Not surprising in a business that consists of 99% rejection, year after year.

So were Louise and Mark depressed. Of course they were. Absolutely gutted. But they got over it and tried again. Back to Mark’s story:

We wrote another thriller called Catch Your Death, a Dan Brown-esque chase novel about a killer virus. Louise, by this point, no longer had an agent or a deal.  We finished the new novel the same week my first daughter was born. We sent it out to agents. Several said they liked it, but not enough. Getting published, it seemed, was getting harder and harder.

And life, I had realised, could be enriching without being a writer. Real life was more interesting and infinitely easier without the relentless stress of trying to find a bloody agent and publisher.

That was it, I decided. I had given it my best shot. I read about other writers getting big deals and didn’t feel a thing.  I could see a novel by a celeb in a bookshop and not feel the urge to projectile vomit.  I had stopped caring. Nobody could say I hadn’t tried. It was time to concentrate on my career and my family. I felt liberated.

And so another writer’s career bit the dust, sacrificed on the gatekeepers’ altar of commercial viability.

Quality is important, of course, but the bottom line is the cash register. Can a publisher risk a huge investment on an unknown name? Time and time again the answer is no.

Louise Voss and Mark Edwards were no more. Game over.

Well, almost. Years passed. Fifteen in total. Can you imagine? Then the Kindle arrived.

Finally emotionally recovered from the years of rejection, Louise and Mark dusted off their old manuscripts and brought them up to date and stuck them on Kindle. F**k the gatekeepers. Let the readers make their own mind up.

Killing Cupid went live first. The second book Catch Your Death joined it more recently. Unknown books by unknown names that the gatekeepers had rejected.

Louise and Mark watched our story and thought, if only…

Mark finished his post back in April, having just launched the first book on Kindle, saying:

And one day I’ll be able to tell the world about how it took me fifteen years to achieve overnight success.

Or maybe twenty years.

I don’t really mind.

Exactly, another five years and they might make it. But the gatekeepers had already given their verdict. Deluded wannabes.

A classic case of hope triumphing over experience. Shame. They were nice people. Just couldn’t bloody write!

Since then Mark and I have corresponded regularly, and Louise is doing a guest post here at the end of the month.

I’ve watched Killing Cupid climb up the charts. Last week it was hovering outside the top 100. The top 100! Out of almost a million books. And Catch Your Death was coming up behind. It was remarkable to see.

Today, as I write this, Killing Cupid is just outside the top twenty best-selling ebooks in the UK. The charts update hourly. By the time you read this it might actually be in the top twenty.

But what of  Catch Your Death though. It can’t be far behind, I thought.

I was wrong.

Catch Your Death was nowhere to be seen. Sunk without trace.

Of course, I knew it was crap all along. My mates the gatekeepers never get it wrong. But it least Louise and Mark had tried. Better to have loved and lost…

Ah well. They gave it their best shot. Life sucks. I guess that Sugar & Spice success story was a fluke after all.

But as I was composing my condolences to Louise and Mark I happened to glance at the top ten chart.

And there it was, nestling comfortably among the top ten best-selling ebooks in the UK!

Mark sent the following message just before this post was due to go live:

This morning, seeing Catch Your Death sitting inside the Top 10, I feel a mixture of euphoria, disbelief and paranoia that it’s all going to go wrong any minute. It seems hard to belief that 15 years after I first wrote a novel and submitted it to an agent, 5 years after I finally gave up, I am sitting on a bestseller list. I actually sat and shed a few tears this morning, blubbing like a big girl just like I did when my daughter was born. Not tears of pride but tears of relief. It’s been an intense few months. But this is actually just the beginning. Next stop: America! Oh, and the moral of the story: never, ever give up. (And thank god for the Kindle!)

Amen to that.

And now, as I’m about to click the publish button on this post, I’ve checked the charts again. Catch Your Death isn’t a top ten best-seller any more. It’s in the top five!

Real life… You just couldn’t make it up!

Update: Just twenty-four hours later I have to add this: Louise and Mark have now made UK e-publishing history by being the first indie authors to have TWO gate-keeper-rejected novels in the Top Ten. 

And the cheeky b******s have jumped in front of Sugar & Spice! As I write this there are two indie books in the top five. Three in the top ten. Previously Sugar & Spice managed # 2, three times. I have a feeling Louise and Mark might just equal that in the next few days.

And we could be about to see an indie  published gate-keeper reject take the number one spot!

~

Anne R. Allen, my sincere apologies for hijacking your guest slot to share that. But I know you won’t begrudge them it one iota.

And actually you’re probably quite relieved. Because it means there’s no room left to dish the dirt I’d spent all week digging up about you. Next time…

Anne, the floor is yours.

How Blogging Turned my Career Around, Improved My Life, and Left my Hair Bouncy and Shiny.

by Anne R. Allen

OK, I lied about the hair.

But blogging has been good to me.

All a complete surprise, since when I started blogging two years ago, my expectations weren’t so much low as non-existent.

It was a pretty abysmal time in my life. My publisher had gone under, leaving me out of print, unpaid, and stuck with an unpublishable third book in a series. Soon after, the popular e-zine where I was a columnist ceased publication. Most of the magazines that were my bread and butter were going belly-up or no longer paying. I wrote another novel and rewrote the others for the US market, but couldn’t even get a partial request.

I feared nobody would ever read my words again.

I started surfing publishing blogs to find out why my queries weren’t getting nibbles. (They sucked. Seriously.) I haunted agent blogs, especially Nathan Bransford’s. But commenting was difficult without a Blogger profile, and the easiest way to get one was—start a blog. Voilà.

I left a short, dismal post and promptly lost the whole thing for a month and a half.

Then I started reading about how even fiction writers need a platform and Web presence. So I did some Google archeology, unearthed my blog, and posted a couple of updated versions of my old columns.

I started getting comments. Which brought some followers. I was amazed.

I was even more amazed when the third or fourth post got a visit from agent Janet Reid—the Query Shark herownself! She even said the post was “nicely written.” OMG, I basked.

So every Sunday, I’d write a post. I’d never blog more than once a week, since I was concentrating on a new novel now my confidence was beginning to come back.

Sometimes people would read my posts; sometimes they wouldn’t. I was completely clueless about reading and following other blogs, or responding to comments in the thread. Or anything like using Twitter to drive traffic. I thought if I just sat there, people like Janet Reid would continue to stop by. But I soon learned that lightning doesn’t strike the same blog twice. My readership was evaporating.

But a few months later, I got a rare Google alert. A blogger named Sierra Godfrey  had included one of my posts in her “Google Roundup.” I went over to her blog and made friends.

On her blog I met the Literary Lab triumvirate , and one sleepless night I decided to submit a story to their first anthology, Genre Wars. They accepted it. My fiction was going to be in print again. That felt great—so great that I submitted a post to a contest Nathan Bransford was running for a guest blog spot.

I won! You can read my post here .

Less than a year after I’d written that first, sad little post, I was guest blogging for the most popular blogger in the publishing industry. I got other invitations to guest blog and a couple of mentions from Writer’s Digest’s Jane Friedman.

I even got the attention of one of my long-time idols, Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde. She commented on a post and asked if I’d be willing to promote a workshop she was giving on a similar subject.

Nearly everybody who signed up for the workshop came through this blog.

Catherine was impressed. She asked if I’d like to collaborate on a book for writers—a combination of the kind of advice I give here and the stuff she teaches in her workshops: equal parts instruction and inspiration.

I found most “how to blog” advice came from professional marketers and full time bloggers with a “boot camp” approach. So I spent months visiting hundreds of blogs—to see what worked best for creative writers. Last November, I wrote a four part “how to start a blog” series. Part I here.

It went viral. Two internet marketing gurus pronounced my series the best place to learn basic blogging. I was tweeted and retweeted. I was getting 1000 hits a day.

In December I got a Google alert saying blogsbusiness.net had valued my blog at $25,000. (Right—who’s going to buy it? But it was kind of nice to hear.) Offers from advertisers started appearing in my inbox. (Not that I’m going there at this point.) But when I was asked to join the staff of the Best Damn Creative Writing Blog   and invited to teach at the Central Coast Writers Conference , I realized I what a difference my blog was making in my writing career.

For the past couple of months, Catherine and I have been working on our book. I’m happy to announce we’ve now finished our proposal. Working title: HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE 21ST CENTURY.

And now I’m getting offers from small presses who are interested in my backlist. Publishers I haven’t even queried. I didn’t know that happened.

But the best part of blogging doesn’t have to do with my career at all. It’s improved my whole outlook on life. I’m connecting with the kind of writers I used to have to go conferences to meet—and I can talk to them any time.

Here are some ways blogging has changed things for me:   

 1)      I feel I’m making a difference. I think most writers write because we want to share something of value with the world. With my blog, I’m offering advice to help new writers avoid the clueless, time-wasting screw-ups I’ve done. If I can keep one newbie from getting scammed, help somebody rebound after a nasty critique, or relieve the growing pressure writers feel to squander too much time on social media, it’s all worthwhile. And who knows? Maybe I’m helping the next Kurt Vonnegut or Margaret Atwood on his/her road to literary greatness.

2)      I get instant gratification. When you’re a novelist struggling toward publication—either as a beginner, or after your career has tanked a time or two—you can spend years alone in a room, read by no one. But with a blog, your words reach other humans instantly. You can be heard—satisfying one of the basic human needs.

3)      It gives my life structure. I treat my blog like a newspaper column, with a set-in-stone deadline. I’m not getting paid now, but I figure it’s part of a career strategy that will pay off at some point, so I treat it like a paid job. The deadlines keep me disciplined and help me get the most out of my writing time.

4)      I get emotional support. Like a lot of writers, I suffer from anxiety and depression. Not surprising in a business that consists of 99% rejection, year after year. But blogging writers provide mutual support and help each other through the bad patches. Not that bloggers are a bunch of whiners, but we give each other lots of attaboy/girl support and empathy. When the rejections roll in, I can go look at comments people have made on my better blogposts and realize I’m getting some acceptance, even if it isn’t from the New York publishing world.

I know there are some agents and their assistants who say that no writer should ever talk about the down times on a blog, but I disagree. As long as you keep comments general—without mentioning names or specific rejections—sharing the ups and downs keeps us from feeling so alone. And when we do have a success to announce, readers will care, and be more inclined to buy our books.

5)      I’ve stopped dumbing myself down. I grew up in a rural area where nobody liked a smarty-pants, so I’ve spent a lifetime hiding my brains to avoid confrontations. But here in the blogosphere, smart is good. This has drifted into real life, and I find I’m censoring myself a lot less. Offended by a large vocabulary? Go defenestrate yourself!

6)      I’m letting myself read more genre fiction. I meet people online and want to read their stuff. It doesn’t feel like simple guilty-pleasure reading because I’m supporting friends.

7)      I’ve stopped frittering time on mind-numbing TV. I still have my Netflix—I adore BBC things with costumes—but otherwise, I’d rather surf blogs or read. This has not only helped me get back in touch with my own smarts, but it’s weeded out some of my less than beneficial friendships. People who only want to rehash TV shows and gossip about celebrities have drifted away. Amazing how I don’t miss them.

8)      I’m connecting with my tribe. Every day I can talk to hundreds of people who are mentally alive and intellectually hungry. Writers are shy people. It’s hard to meet each other except at expensive writing conferences. Here in the blogosphere, it’s easy and free!

You can read my blog—updated Sundays—at Anne R. Allen’s Blog Writing about Writing. Mostly What about you, fellow scriveners? Do you blog? Has it made a difference in your world?

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    • Mark Edwards
    • June 5th, 2011

    Thanks Mark for sharing our tale again. Catch Your Death is no 4 now and Killing Cupid no 19. I see S&S is back in the top 10. You can’t keep a good book down.

    • As the evening closes catch Your Death has reached # 3. Killing Cupid is at # 11. And SO desrved!

      Sugar & Spice is back at number five, after several days when we plummeted out of the charts due to an Amazon glitch.

  1. Congrats to Louise and Mark. I LOVE these stories!

  2. Wow, Anne! Congrats on your amazing blogging success. I’ve only gotten serious about blogging in the last couple of months and my readership is growing VERY slowly. Still , it’s gone from 4 followers to 40 in that time and the monthly views have gone from 10 to nearly 1000. I’m headed over to check out YOUR blog. 🙂

    Mark – Congrats on discovering conditioner. As any woman will tell you, it’s worth its weight in gold.

  3. This is yet another great post! I haven’t had much success with my blog, as yet. But was so excited after a year to get my very 1st follower. Now I’m up to 3 Yippee! I will definitely check out Anne’s blog and her book, when it comes out. It looks like it will be very helpful.

    Thanks, Anne. Thanks, Mark.

  4. I don’t even recall now how I came across this blog but I’m applauding the serendipity. Countless times I’ve hovered my fingernail over the ‘publish’ button, feeling diminished and ridiculous by the subtle rise of an eyebrow by the resident ‘evil demon’ perching on my shoulder. But I continue regardless. Though my ‘web’ presence is a mere quark in comparission to yours I resonated with your description at your personal ‘need’ to write. Is all passion (this is how I describe it) mindless…without logical or rational? Look at surfers…bobbing patiently as frigid waves pass through them, for hours at a time to wait for that one wave that brings them to shore in glory. Because of you (yes…all your fault!) I am going to continue writing. I have renewed hope. More that I can find kindred souls who understand the ‘bobbing’. They will help fuel the…whatever it is..and keep me going. At last I find an ‘anything is possible’ attitude in the UK. Yippee! Thank you. Congratulations and the very best of literary success to you all. I shall lurk in the wings, following your unfolding stories with interest.

    • Indialeigh, if you write blogs, books, love letters and recipes with the same eloquence shown here then I’m certain your blog wil be fascinating, your books delightful, your partner happy and your dinner table amply covered!

  5. Congrats on your personal and professional successes. In a world where millions waste hours a day on MMORPGs, blogs are the forum of people who actually want to talk. You’re right; it connects us with like-minded people, who have the same insecurities, share the same struggles, etc. I can’t believe it took me this long to start one of my own, and I’m still discovering great people out there who speak to my experience.

  6. Anne, what a reassuring, defining post (Thanks Mark).
    I adore my blog… not necessarily because of what i write but because it has led me to online fellowships with kindred spirits across the globe. Serendipity indeed. The fact that they buy or might buy my fiction novels in the process is immaterial because there are a number of them who make my heart beat faster when I see that they have commented on a post.
    We engage at a cerebral level and because writing is solitary and I only belong to a ‘virtual’ critique group, that other communication is a saving grace.
    Being a writer one doesn’t want to bore one’s friends over daily vagaries with plot, POV and ‘killing the darlings’, so to be able to engage online with blog followers can make my day.
    Since Mark introduced his followers to you, I’ve been following regularly. A big thank you!

    • “there are a number of them who make my heart beat faster when I see that they have commented on a post.”

      I’m guessing when you see markwilliamsinternational on your blog comments list it’s more heart attack than beating faster! 🙂

  7. mesmered–I really appreciate your thoughtful comments on my blog. You’re right: as Nathan Bransford hath taught us–Social Media is Social!

    • gerrymccullough
    • June 7th, 2011

    What an enjoyable blog – not just Anne Allen’s very encouraging bit, but yours and Mark Edward’s as well, Mark! (How to avoid using the same word twice in this sentence? You shouldn’t refer to people who have the same name as you, Mark. There it is again!)
    Like some of the other commentators, I’ve recently started my own blog, about books I’ve enjoyed, and am having fun writing it. Blogs are a great invention – I wonder who thought of them first?

    • No idea who it was, but I bet they wish they had patented them!

      Haven’t been able to access your blog for several days, Gerry, nor anyone else using blogspot.com sites. Is it just me?

  8. I loved this piece of blogging. How interesting is seeing the trials and tribulations of authors, and how the Kindle has finally brought success.

    I will certainly be looking those two books up for my Kindle and then heading over to Ann’s blog.

    A real interesting piece of writing. Thanks.

  9. Mark – the one with the hair! 🙂 – How could you not know about conditioner??? I hope your long locks remain forever silky now!

    Mark & Louise – that’s so inspiring. I amassed over 200 rejections (scary!) so I know exactly how you feel. Congrats on your huge success. And it just goes to show that publishers aren’t always right. Thanks to Amazon Kindle and the ebook revolution, I now consider it the gift of rejection!

    Anne, great post. Writers all need guidance and help in the indie-pubbing world. I’m going to add your blog to my blogroll.

    🙂

  10. Update — Now a blog follower of Anne’s too. Also two new book purchases to my collection, Killing Cupid and Catch your Death.

  11. who would guess I’d love a post about conditioner! boo ya!

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