Wednesday, 2 November 2011

N is for NaNoWriMo

Considering all the NaNoWriMo excitement around at the moment, I just had to make it N in my A-Z. November is a month of furious novel writing, a creativity-filled four weeks with thousands of writers around the world bent over their keyboards hammering out a little over sixteen hundred words a day. I'm not actually signed up for it but quite wish I was, given all the goings-on and banter at the moment.

So what is NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month and began in 1999 in San Francisco. In brief, it's based around a website where writers register and commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in just a month. The site will help you plan your novel, keep track of your progress, you'll get loads of support during this brain-crunch time, there are forums covering all aspects of writing and publishing, and you have the chance to join regional meets during November. Sounds like fun. It also sounds like hard work.

Or does it? I suppose that very much depends on how much time you have each day to devote to your task. If you're working a fifty hour week already, add these words on top and it's going to be a pretty hard slog both physically and mentally. The opposite is also true. If you have all day to give to NaNo then it's an easy prospect...surely?

In my experience (and I'm writing my ninth novel now with seven so far published) no two days of writing output are the same. Writers don't have a measurable rating, sadly, and experience doesn't always mean the words will come on demand (though I don't believe in writers' block). Some of my best writing stints happen when I'm severely under pressure either from deadlines or other commitments. While it's luxurious to amble through a novel with no one breathing down your neck for a delivery date, this can also result in a bit of procrastinating and the self-imposed deadlines get kicked back and back on the calendar until you wished you hadn't set one in the first place.

If you're a newbie writer, then leaping into NaNoWriMo will probably feel a bit like running a half-marathon without having trained. In fact, I've always likened writing to exercise. Writing's a bit of a muscle in my book (haha) and needs to be exercised regularly. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Really! And I don't mean that the ideas, the language, the skill will necessarily become easier - I mean the actual discipline of sitting down and writing solidly for two, three four, ten hours at a time will become second nature the more you do it.

For the more experienced or published writer, NaNo might seem like just another day at the coal-face. Words come, hopefully the right ones, and the book progresses. But in both cases, the added bonus of fellow participant motivation (if she/he can do it, then so can I), the brilliant community where you can post about your head-bashing word count of fifty or boast about the five thousand you knocked-off before breakfast, shouldn't be underestimated. Writing is a lonely business. Support is vital. And then the sense of achievement at the end when you type the fifty thousandth word and write, well, The End, will be immense. Though remember, most published novels are usually between eighty to a hundred and twenty thousand words, so there's a little way to go once you've 'got down the bones.'

But that's the whole point of the novel writing month, so say its fans (and I am one!). Get it down, bash/churn/hammer it out however it comes, do not go back and revise, do not stop and do not give up. I completely agree. I've never written a novel that way exactly but I can certainly relate to the process. When I'm writing, I like to write about two thousand words a day. I will cheat a little and edit the previous day's work the next morning but not very much. The big edits come later.

So, NaNoWriMo - it's fast, it's furious, it's fun and gives a huge sense of achievement to have completed such a large body of work at the end of the month. I'm sure the website will have lots of advice about editing your novel once it's written. My suggestion would be to forget about it for about a month or so then re-read it, say, in the New Year. Do not cringe in horror, do not delete or burn. Do remember how many hours of work you put into your novel and do believe that it can be added to, edited, polished and improved by applying a good dose of your November discipline. This is normal. All writers go through it.

And if publication is your aim, you're going to need an agent. Being absolutely certain of your work, knowing it's the very best it can be, is essential. If another month of polishing is what it needs then do it - the agents aren't going anywhere. I can't stress this enough. Agents aren't looking for a way to reject you - they're really hoping your work will be stunning. But a rushed manuscript isn't going to do you any favours. A few typos can certainly be forgiven but a novel without a compelling story, believable characters and brilliant ending can't.

There have been a number of NaNoWriMo successes. Julia Crouch and Elizabeth Haynes (their books are fab - I've read them both) spring to mind and both bagged publishing deals from spending thirty days one November writing seventeen hundred words a day. Of course, there was a lot of work subsequently but it certainly got them off to a flying start!

So if you want to write a novel and fast but haven't signed up, don't despair. There are still twenty-eight days left in November. That's only 1785 words a day compared to the original of 1666. Happy NaNoWriMo to all participants and good luck!

Sam x

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Shortlisted for The Big Red Read 2011!

So the holiday season is pretty much over and autumn seems to have set in rather early in Warwickshire. I even lit the fire over the weekend as I seemed to be doing a weird shaking thing. Shivering, I've heard it's called. A post-Crete adjustment, I suppose, and I don't really mind. I like log fires and I like autumn. I seem to produce my best writing during this season so bring it on!

Meantime, my novel SOMEONE ELSE'S SON has been shortlisted for The Big Red Read 2011 and I'd be mighty chuffed if anyone fancies taking a quick trip to the website to vote, especially if it's for my book! All you need to do is send an email to and say which book and author you're voting for. I'm really pleased to have been shortlisted in such good company!

I was messing about in Crete trying to be a bit arty with my camera and thought I'd post a couple of my favourite pics (click to enlarge). The first one had me staring thoughtfully. Taken rather lazily from my towel on the only bad weather day we had all fortnight, it screamed New Novel Cover at me and youngest She-Devil was rather pleased to have been of assistance. Rather moody and dramatic, it could so easily be the Cornish beach in the novel rather than a beach in the Med.

There were lots of cats draped around the place and they seemed to love nothing more than a nice snuggle in a rubbish dump (not that I went sightseeing around bins).

Yes, the sky was always this blue...wasn't sure what the white stuff in the sky was when we came home.

Someone's house in the old town of Rethymnon.

A little caff in Rethymnon. Not Costa.

It'll be Christmas before you know it.

Sam x

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

TELL TALE goes to Norway

Here's my Norwegian cover for TELL TALE...absolutely beautiful! Thank-you so much to everyone at Cappelen Damm!

In other news, I'll be mooching around at Harrogate this weekend at the Crime Festival so hope to bump into some tweeps!

Sam x

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

M is for Marketing

This is a huge topic and not one I'm going to scratch the surface of in a quick-fire, catch-up post on my slightly neglected A-Z of (my experiences) in publishing. In fact, what I know about the subject has been largely gathered from my own books being published. So these are just some of my thoughts/experiences regarding marketing.

Obviously, marketing a book costs. And from what I gather, to do it properly costs a lot. These days, there are many ways to market a book--newspaper adverts, tube posters and other poster campaigns (taxis, buses, mainline stations etc), television adverts, in-store promotions such as the lovely 'front table' or the 3 for 2, other paid-for promotions...maybe competitions, perhaps alongside another 'compatible' product (think books and chocolate!). This is just scratching the surface and, as an author, it's completely out of my hands. I'm not the one with the budget (or not), the publisher is. And they decide how best to implement a marketing campaign for their titles. I've been much more involved with the publicity side of things (think marketing but for free!) as that's where an author can really help get things rolling at a book's launch and beyond. But that's another post.

I've been very lucky. My first novel BLOOD TIES was published within a fanfare of tube posters and in-store promotions. It's very hard to have a novel picked up by a supermarket or chain bookshop for their precious shelf space, but my first was stacked high in all three big supermarkets in their chart promotions, as well as appearing on the front tables in Waterstone's, WH Smith and poor old Borders. I remember accosting a woman in Asda. She was holding a copy of my novel and another book, weighing up which one to buy. 'Pick that one,' I suggested. 'Have you read it?' she asked, surprised I'd even shown an interest. 'I
wrote it,' I told her. I don't think she believed me.

I went on a whirlwind tour of the underground with my publicist at the time. She proudly showed me some of the many posters plastered all over subterranean London (and a good number of mainline stations nationwide, too). I was hot from dashing around but immensely proud to see my book, my name, decorating tube stations. I have one of the posters. It's still rolled up in its container as I don't have a wall big enough to put it on!

The marketing campaign, along with lots of lovely publicity, really helped spread the word about BLOOD TIES. The book sold a lot of copies and it makes me wonder: Would this have happened without the marketing spend? Would publicity have been enough? Would 'word of mouth' have achieved the same figures?

Like I said, it's a huge subject and I'm not even a tiny bit of an expert on it - just a speculator, a consumer, a person whose books have been marketed. As a consumer, marketing works on me to a certain extent. If I see a poster or an advert for a new book and I like the sound of it - either by a favourite author or a new one - I'll certainly make a mental note to look it up online later. Then, based on the blurb, a quick flip through, perhaps online reviews, I'll decide whether or not to buy. So, for me, in that respect, marketing works. It draws my attention to books I perhaps wouldn't get to hear about. Or would I?

These days, most people (not all, I realise) have internet access and many will do as I do and check out books online, even if that's not where they end up buying. And of course with the rising popularity of Kindle and other e-readers, you're more likely than ever to research online. I suppose the perfect marketing food chain goes like this: Reader spots advert for book, reader comes across a piece in a magazine written by the same author featured in the advert, reader looks at author website and reads an excerpt of the book, reader buys book from local independent bookshop (as well as a Kindle edition or similar) and then reader, publisher and author are happy. All for an average price of around £4.50.

I have no breakdown of the cost of producing a book and neither do I know the average spend (or the smallest and the greatest) for a marketing drive. I'm convinced that for certain titles, the figure would be immense. We're all used to seeing huge advertising campaigns for the giant names but surely it's a circle that will only continue to grow once the wheels of paid-for promotions have begun to turn. What would happen to these authors if they didn't have marketing? I doubt Dan Brown would suddenly stop selling if his books weren't on the sides of buses or that John Grisham's loyal readers would quit waiting for his latest title if there were no posters. What would happen if unknown and debut novelists had a massive marketing spend instead? Would it be wasted? Would it be the start of great things for authors who wouldn't otherwise have been heard of? Is it fair that the book-buying public only get presented with a small number of books as we go about our daily business, the occasional advert for a new novel catching our eye?

I don't know the answer to these questions. The publishers hold the key to successful advertising. They have marketing departments filled with people who know their stuff. Authors trust them and keep writing books. It's the readers, the great book-buying public, who hold the key really, I suppose. We're the ones who respond to the advertising, we're the suggestible ones who maybe unconsciously react to what our brains have soaked up. So perhaps next time I'm in a bookshop I'll walk on past the front tables and the cardboard promotion stands and do eeny-meeny on some authors I haven't read before. Not that I don't anyway and I'll no doubt grab an armful of 3 for 2s on the way out.

BLOOD TIES had a television advert in Germany. The first cover for this title in Germany had the heads of two rather freaky porcelain dolls on the front. I had no idea what the advert said (apart from the 'Krimis und Thriller' bit). The dolls' eyes popped open at the end and everything. Three books down the line in Germany and 'Das Verbotene Zimmer' (TELL TALE) is currently hanging around number 10 on the crime and thriller list. Clearly dolls with popping eyes work well over there!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

WordFest Crawley

Just a quick plug for WordFest beginning this weekend in Crawley. A whole week of fab literary events is planned, including everything from an illustrative lettering workshop to an open mic night to author panel events...which is where I come in.

On Saturday 2nd April, I'll be doing a 'Meet the Crime Writers' panel discussion with fellow Headline author Julia Crouch as well as Peter Lovesey and Andrew Martin. We'll be talking about our books - we're all quite different in terms of what we write - the writing process and how we ramp up the tension. Of course, it wouldn't be a panel event without lots of questions from the audience, so come along and give us a good grilling!

The event is being held in the Food Court at County Mall, Crawley and begins at 6.30pm. Tickets are £3 each and you can buy our books there too - and get them signed, of course!

Hope to see you there!
Sam x

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

World Book Night in Crawley

Live in or around Crawley? Then why not pop along to Waterstone's and get me to sign a book (preferably one that I wrote, although I'm happy to sign anything really). I'll be there from 4PM with copies of SOMEONE ELSE'S SON and fellow Headline author Julia Crouch.

Here's a link to County Mall where you'll find Waterstone's at 83-84 County Mall, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 1FD Telephone
01293 533471.'s off to Crawley Library for an event for World Book Night. It starts at 6.30PM and costs a mere £3 which includes a free book (Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or
Shadow Magic, a young adult book by John Lenahan) so you can't say fairer than that. Plus I'll be reading from my latest novel along with several other authors.

Crawley Library is on Southgate Avenue, Crawley - close to County Mall (exit via Debenhams). The postcode for SatNavs is RH10 6HG. Contact the Box Office on
01293 651751.

If you think about it, you can come to the signing in Waterstone's, grab an early supper (or carry on shopping) then come on over for a glass of vino and some quality fiction. Sorted!

See you there!
Sam x

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Another one from Russia with love...

Russian cover of TELL TALE - 'THE INFORMER'

This time it's Big Bird and a little ballet dancer but oh how I love it, despite it being rather sinister-looking! It's the cover of Tell Tale and my Russian contact (aka my Dad's wife - see my piece in the Sunday Times Style magazine this week for more on that story!) informs me that it translates as, well, The Informer. Quite fitting. I seriously would love all my Russian covers as big framed pictures in my house. Of course, put these images on my books in the UK and my readers would stand in the bookshops scratching their heads wondering what on earth I'd written about. If you take a flick down the side of my blog you can see how the different countries have their very unique ideas for covers, with the German edition of Tell Tale (The Forbidden Room) looking quite different to the previous two.

And soon I'll be adding Dutch and Norwegian covers with the ink still wet on contracts for more titles sold in these countries.

I'm now a paid-up official member of the
Crime Writers' Association (why didn't I join before, I'm asking myself?) and I'm very excited about going along to my first get-together and meeting other members. I hear that they like the bar. I'm not sure they mean the legal one.

Meantime, I'm nearly done ploughing through an office stuffed full of paperwork and accounts - it suffers for my art, you see (well that's my excuse) and I will be starting work on my new novel next week. I've been tinkering and planning and plotting for several weeks now and I'm ready to begin in earnest. I'm not keen on the little gaps between books but alas they are necessary to sort the mess that grows while I'm immersed in writing. I think new curtains and a lick of paint might well be in order too. I may even post a pic of the 'writer's workspace' if it turns out well. I'm always intrigued to see other writer's places of creation.

Sam x

Friday, 28 January 2011

Nice Review from Downunder

A little trumpet-blowing never hurt anyone on a Friday afternoon. I've just been sent a nice review from Australian Women's Weekly so thought I'd share in the hope it will tempt you to dash out and buy my new book, SOMEONE ELSE'S SON. Have a great weekend all!

Sam x

Click on image to enlarge

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A bit of book stalking

So She-Devil and I did a little bit of book stalking at the weekend. Hey, tell me an author who doesn't? Or vanity-google (or lay in bed really late - ahem). Here are a couple of pics. And did you see my fab book trailer yet? Go to my website to take a look. There's a link on the main page. Not following me on Facebook or Twitter (@samhayes) yet? Please do! Oh, and you can buy my book online here.

In good company WH Smith

Youngest She-Devil doing a bit of promotion work

It might look as if I did an impromptu, in-store reading...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

SOMEONE ELSE'S SON Out Now In Paperback!

So it's been that kind of day again...a paperback publication kind of a day - yay! SOMEONE ELSE'S SON is released into the wild. You can buy it at WH Smith in the chart section of their shops and of course from Amazon...or, dare I say it, you can find it in your local library. Assuming you can still find your local library.

The theme of this book was clear from the outset. It's about being different, about not fitting in, about being true to yourself and your beliefs. The main characters, from famous daytime TV presenter Carrie Kent to blind mathematician Brody to the two teenagers and their love-hate affair, all suffer for their differences, their quirks, their circumstances.

The book opens with a tragic event. A teenager is stabbed in his school grounds. Knife crime is something we read about almost daily in the news and every time it makes me shudder. I'm a mother of three (two of them teens) and, not long after I began writing this book, I was shocked to find my home town silenced from fear as yellow police crime tape cordoned off a section of our town centre one Sunday morning. A young man had been stabbed to death only a short distance from our home. Yet we all think This will never happen to me...

Carrie Kent believes just that and is thankful on a daily basis that she's nothing like the no-hopers she interviews on her Jeremy-Kyle-meets-Crimewatch TV show. But then she gets the call every mother dreads--her son has been stabbed at school--and she's suddenly plunged into a nightmare she'd always believed happened to other people. The only witness is a girl too terrified about consequences to speak out. Determined to find answers, Carrie enters an unknown world of fear and violence and gradually discovers things about the son she clearly knew little about. The novel asks: Do we really ever know our children?

Even after four books, it's still a thrill to know that a book I wrote is Out There, being bought, being read, being reviewed, being talked about. Be sure to let me know what you think as there's nothing better for an author than the sound of the inbox pinging with some nice (hopefully!) words. Enjoy! (Although it's quite sad in places so have a box of tissues close.)

Meantime, I've finished next novel. Haha to 'finished' but it now lies in the hands of Lovely Agent and I will await comments without destroying my non-existent nails. You hear about authors saying 'This book wrote itself' - well, of course it didn't - *I* wrote it, but it seemed to have a momentum all its own. I began it during the second week of Septemeber last year and finished the first draft at the end of November. At a hundred and twenty thousand words, that's physically no mean feat, but it's true that the story flowed faster than my fingers could manage. I even have high hopes that no one will chew the end of their pencil over the title on this one. Not saying owt yet but news to follow soon.

I have a number of events coming up this year and a couple of panels with some other lovely writers (does that mean I'm lovely too - oops!). I'm planning on attending Harrogate Crime Festival in the summer and also Crimefest in the middle of May. I had the pleasure reading a fellow Headline author's debut novel recently and I'll be posting a review of CUCKOO here soon. But why not take a look at the author Julia Crouch's site and blog to find out how she got published. NaNoWriMo was involved. We'll be doing a panel event together soon along with author Barbara Nadel. Details to follow soon.

Happy reading!

Sam x