Amazon Academy for Authors

It’s all very well writing a book and getting it published but it’s not going to find any readers without some well planned and targeted marketing. And like many authors, the whole selling and marketing thing is something I find difficult. It’s not only reaching potential readers that’s daunting, but also how to find the time to do it – especially when I’d rather be writing.

So a couple of weeks ago I was delighted to get the chance to spend the day at a free marketing information event for authors held in Edinburgh’s International Conference Centre.

It was sponsored and run jointly by Amazon and by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI) and it was excellent. I certainly learned a lot about marketing and can see I need to take a fresh look at what I do in this respect.

As well as the welcome and introduction from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) UK head, Darren Hardy, and author and ALLI representative, Paul Teague, there were four main sessions – and a free lunch.

The programme was as follows:

  • Making a Book
  • How to Write a Bestseller
  • Marketing Your Book
  • Making it Happen – The Business of Being an Author.

All the sessions were well judged as to length and content and all proved informative. The suggestions as to how to best go about marketing were also feasible, sensible and realistic. It was especially reassuring that all the experts who spoke at the event presented their views as based on their personal experience of what works and on their preferred way of working. There was no one right way, one true path, or one size fits all preaching. And because of that it’s probably safe to say that all the delegates got something out of the day that they could take away and use.

I particularly liked and related to author, Linda Gillard’s experience and advice, but also got something from the contributions made by Kindle’s Darren Hardy, and authors Paul Teague, Murray McDonald, Steven McKay and Harriet Smart.

It was good to hear ALLi getting so many favourable mentions throughout the day too. They are a fantastic organisation for authors to belong to and worth every penny of the membership fee.

My advice to fellow authors is that if you get the chance to attend a similar event, go for it. I’d be interested to hear from fellow authors how they feel about marketing and if you’ve attended any training events like the one above. Do leave your comments below.

And, a question for book readers: How do you find out about books you might enjoy reading and what is your preferred method for doing so?

As for me – I’m off to completely rework my marketing plan…

Writing News: January 2017

Some writing success:

I’m a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and yes, living in the Scottish Highlands, I certainly take the definition of a ‘country’ membership to its limits. I originally joined the club about seventeen years ago when I lived in the city, and when I relocated up north I wanted to keep my connection to this lovely group of writers. I don’t get to meetings, but I do catch up with fellow members at the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers and by maintaining my membership I get to enter the club’s annual competitions.

This year I was challenged by a fellow member to enter in categories outside my writing comfort zone. So as well as the short story competition (still to be adjudicated) which I always have a go at, I decided to give the poetry and the article competitions a go.

And amazingly I had some success! I got third place and a commended for my two poetry entries and I came second in the article competition.

It was good to take on the challenge of writing in different formats from my more usual genre of novel writing, and although i found the poetry writing especially difficult, I’m pleased I did.

The article competition was judged by Anne Hamilton the editor of online magazine Lothian Life and entrants had to write an article that would be suitable for the magazine’s readership. I wrote about my six favourite Edinburgh parks – what they have to offer and why they mean so much to me. Since the article will soon be published in the magazine, I won’t publish it here on the blog just yet.

But I’m happy to share the poems with you. Both were inspired by the landscape and nature of the Scottish Highlands.

 

Sea Eagle

Cliff-soaring, loch-skimming,

Thermal-riding, high-gliding,

Mighty-winging, eye-spying,

Fell-swooping, fish-scooping,

Jaw-dropping, show-stopping,

White-tailed eagle.

 

The Long View

Breath-stealing, steep climb,

Slippery scree and wild wind

Threaten the balance.

High plateau, broad view

Ancient granite mountains

Set a scene of possibilities.

Perspective changing,

Universe overarching, and

Myself, regrounding.

(Both poems are Copyright © of Anne Stormont and cannot be reproduced or shared without permission and attribution)

images are from shutterstock.com

 

November Writing News

its-time-to-inspire

November is turning out to be a busy month for me. There’s lots of writing and writing-related work to be done. And I’m really looking forward to it all.

So what’s on? See below…

As well as the final push to complete the first draft of the novel-in-progress, I have both teaching and author talk commitments.

The librarian at my local library in Portree has asked me to deliver three weekly afternoon sessions this month teaching creative writing to interested adults. The first session was a couple of days ago and I certainly enjoyed it  – and the participants seemed to as well.

book-week-scotland

I’ve also been asked to do two author talks during Book Week Scotland (run by the Scottish Book Trust) in the week beginning 21st November.

New Change of Life Cover SMALL AVATAR

 

The first talk is, again, at the library. It is scheduled for the 21st and is for adult readers. I’ll be appearing as my Anne Stormont novelist persona and speaking about my already published novels as well as giving a preview of my new one due out in 2017. Its title is Settlement and is a sequel to Displacement.

Displacement Cover SMALL AVATAR

 

But I will also be speaking as Anne McAlpine, children’s novelist, and talking about The Silver Locket, my novel aimed mainly at nine to twelve year-olds. Folks who come along to the talk will also get the chance to buy my books.

The Silver Locket Cover SMALL AVATAR

My second author talk during Book Week will be at my local primary school where I’ll be presenting myself only as Anne McAlpine and talking about The Silver Locket to pupils in Primary Six. There will also be a sneak preview of The Silver Axe, my planned follow up to The Silver Locket.

All-in-all I’m quite excited!

Click here to find out about lots more happening throughout Scotland during Book Week.

 

Scottish Writers’ Conference 2016

SAW Conference

I spent last weekend at the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) annual conference. As with last year’s conference which I wrote about here, it was well worth the long journey to the lovely Westerwood Hotel near Glasgow where the event was held.

                                 

Not only did I meet up with fellow members of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club who I see far too rarely, (yes, I stretch the ‘country’ member definition rather far) but I also met and chatted with writers from all over Scotland.

The hotel provided a conducive setting for the weekend. Food, service and accommodation were all first class. The gala dinner on the Saturday night was superb. Not just the delicious food, but also the attention to decorative detail––huge silver candelabras on every table made for a real glamorous feel––and the outstanding young waiters and waitresses for whom nothing was too much trouble.

There were a lot of competitions run in conjunction with the weekend and most of the adjudicators went above and beyond with the quality of their adjudications and the level of written feedback given. And it was nice to win a prize for The Silver Locket.

SAW Prize Winners 2016
SAW Prize Winners 2016 – that’s me at the end on the right.

The range of workshops was comprehensive with the only problem being not being able to be in two places at once. I particularly enjoyed the two-parter delivered by crime writer Caro Ramsay on Pen to Publication and Beyond. I certainly came away from her sessions with lots to think about. Agent, Jenny Brown, also gave a realistic and, for me, thought-provoking, talk on the place of the Literary Agent in today’s publishing world.

Caro Ramsay was also the keynote speaker at the gala dinner and her speech was highly entertaining. She certainly lives an interesting life!

What particularly struck me though, was, as with last year’s event, the level of hard work that goes into organising the weekend. The members of the SAW council are all volunteers and put a lot of time and effort into getting the competitions organised, the adjudicators on board and the workshops planned and timetabled.

This conference is always, above all, a friendly event. While the workshops, competition adjudications and the keynote speaker were interesting, inspiring and entertaining, the chance to talk with fellow writers about writing and publishing was just as enjoyable and informative. The chance presented by the conference to share experiences, tips and advice is invaluable.

All in all the SAW conference was pure magic. Thanks to everyone involved in its success.

The Scottish Association of Writers, through the work of its council members, provides year round support to affiliated writing groups from all parts of Scotland. It operates an outreach programme and two annual events in the north and south of Scotland. And this year there is also the Solstice writing competition with several categories of entry invited and it is open to all––you don’t need to be a SAW member to enter. If you’re a member of a writing group in Scotland that’s not yet affiliated to the SAW, it’s definitely something worth considering. Find out more about all of this at the SAW website .

Bring on 2016: Diamond Year

              photo via Shutterstock © Love the Wind

I’m back at my desk today after a two week, festive season break from all things writing. I’m keen to get going on my 2016 writing plans and projects and to share these with readers of the blog as the year unfolds.

Yes, it’s going to be my diamond year, in the sense that it will be my sixtieth birthday in 2016 and I’m borrowing the ‘diamond’ tag from wedding anniversary classification. But more of that later.

But for this first post of the new year, I thought I’d pause to do a quick look back at 2015 first and then finish with how I intend to approach 2016.

The Year Just Ended

On a personal level, 2015 was the usual mix of ups and downs, both at the desk and in real life, but I’d definitely say the ups won and it was a good year. It was my first full year of being retired from teaching and working instead as a full time writer.

My writing life was busy and varied during 2015, the main highlights being:

  • Attending the stimulating and interesting Scottish Association of Writers annual weekend conference in March and having my second novel awarded runner-up prize in the independently published category.
  • Attending a master class in editing with novelist Allan Guthrie.
  • Publishing The Silver Locket, my first novel for children.
  • Being invited to be a participating author in the Skye Book Festival

 

                         ‘Our’ bookshop – The Open Book

But it wasn’t all work and no play. In March, me and the husband enjoyed a fortnight away in Wigtown (south-west Scotland) where we were volunteer booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book, bookshop. This was an exciting project to be involved in as the people of Wigtown attempted to keep this small independent bookshop open. I blogged about it here.

In May we had a week away in sunny Cyprus during which we attended our son’s wedding – an altogether perfect day. Then in the autumn we went to beautiful Galway in the west of Ireland. And of course I also made sure I had regular grandma time with my two lovely grandchildren and timeout with friends and family.

Christmas week was spent down in Edinburgh with our children and grandchildren. High winds, flooded roads and a broken Forth Road Bridge made for challenging driving conditions but it was worth it.

During the year I read and enjoyed lots of books in lots of genres and reviewed many of them here.

I also had several trips to the cinema – I do like the big screen experience – and my favourite movies of 2015 were Interstellar – it starred Matthew McConaughey (what’s not to like?) and told an intriguing time travel story; Macbeth – a convincing and original take on the play and starring lots of Skye scenery – our island was one of the film’s major locations; Spectre – second only to Skyfall in my Bond chart and with Daniel Craig (again, what’s not to like?); and then there’s, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, squeezed in on Christmas Eve. Unlike the husband, I wasn’t a big fan of the earlier films in this series, but went with an open mind and really enjoyed it.

I even managed two outings to my beloved Lyceum Theatre in faraway Edinburgh where I saw two marvellous plays. These were Waiting for Godot with astoundingly good performances from veteran Scots actors, Brian Cox and Bill Paterson; and the theatre’s beautiful Christmas production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with a small but very talented and versatile cast.

                                       Seapods by Jan Hendry

While in Edinburgh at Christmas, I managed to go to a three art exhibitions, two on the Jacobites – a part of Scottish history close to my heart and, of course, relevant to The Silver Locket and another organised by the Scottish Society of Artists and featuring a piece entitled Seapods – two little baskets woven from seaweed, by my friend and fellow blogger, Jan Hendry.

And that’s not all, me and the husband went to the city’s wonderful Museum of Childhood. This is a museum I’ve loved since my own childhood. My grandmother took me there every summer while I was at primary school and it was a highlight of the school holidays. And on this most recent visit I was delighted to see so many of my favourite exhibits from the 1960s, such as the dolls’ house collection, were still on show. I was also amused to see toys from my children’s childhood in the 1980s, such as the Fisher Price phone, now included as museum pieces. There was a bonus, too, in the form of the 26 Winters Exhibition. The museum had picked out twenty-six toys from their collection which represent memories of childhood winters and invited twenty-six Scottish authors to write a sestude – a sixty-two word response to the one toy allocated to them. And there amongst the writers’ contributions was one by anther fellow blogger, writer Helen Mackinven, who had written a charming and funny piece in response to a sledge.

The Year Ahead

Image via Shutterstock © Jakub Grygier

As I said at the top, 2016 is the year I turn sixty. I can’t quite believe it as in my head I’m only around thirty-four. But I do know I’m grateful to have made it this far. And I do look forward to whatever life post sixty holds – there’s a whole post for later in that sentence.

Yes, in the ‘big picture’ sense life can seem a bit daunting at times, what with extreme weather conditions, people in areas of conflict forced to flee their homes, and the threat of terrorist attacks just about anywhere. And all the while there’s the feeling that the people in charge are neither committed to, or up to, the task of putting any of it right.

But I do believe there’s hope. I do believe each of us can make a difference even if only in a small way and I do believe there’s a lot of good in the world – but, yes, that’s another post for the future.

For now, suffice it to say, I have no new year resolutions as such, other than to try to maintain perspective and equanimity, with whatever my writing life and life in general throws my way.

At the desk the big project will be to get adult novel number three written. It’s a sequel to Displacement and I’m enjoying being back with Jack and Rachel again.

And here on the blog I plan to do lots more writing, reading and reflecting.

Have you made any new year resolutions?

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Marketing and Being Mentored

Writing a Book is the Easy Part

Writing a book can sometimes seem like the easy part when it comes to establishing yourself as a writer. Building a readership is much more difficult. It is a hard but necessary slog. For all published writers, the marketing of their work is crucial in getting their books in front of potential readers. Of course it is. We write to be read.

I don’t feel any sense of entitlement to fame and fortune just because I’ve written some books. I have no problem with the idea that an author, like any other seller, has to work to get their product not just out there,  but visible to prospective readers.  But what I have struggled with over the last five years, since my first novel was published, is how best to do this. How, does an indie author author, with a limited budget, effectively advertise their books? Read More »

In The Chair 42

Source: In The Chair 42

I’m interviewed over at Jan Ruth’s blog today. It was fun to do and I hope you enjoy reading it. You can, amongst other things, find out which character I fell in love with whilst writing him and can you guess my favourite word?

Thanks Jan for having me.

The Silver Locket: – 21st century schoolgirl meets Bonnie Prince Charlie and he needs her help.

The Silver Locket

Out now paperback and e-book. Online and in bookshops
Out now paperback and e-book. Online and in bookshops. Published by Rowan Russell Books

The Anne you know from this blog had a previous life. Oh yes, I’ve not always been Anne Stormont, old bat and writer. I had an earlier incarnation, pre-wifehood, as Anne McAlpine.

So it seemed fitting, when I was looking for an author name to go by when writing for children, that I resurrect my younger self. And guess what? She’s only gone and written her first novel for children.

Cue fanfare and skirl of bagpipes-

‘Bagpipes? Why Bagpipes?’ you say. Well that’s because I guess you could describe the novel as a sort of modern day Alice in Outlander Land – only it’s Caitlin not Alice and it’s suitable for children and––oh, anyway you get my drift––or you will if you read on.

Yes, The Silver Locket is published and available for sale in paperback and as an e-Book.

I wrote it mainly for nine to twelve-year-olds, however, I hope anyone who likes a story with a bit of history, danger and time-travel in it will enjoy it.

It’s set in Scotland and tells the story of three twelve-year-old friends from the 21st century who travel back in time to 1746 and the Battle of Culloden.

Battle of Culloden monument
Battle of Culloden monument

Blurb alert – try reading it in the voice of that bloke who voices the film trailers––it’ll get you in the mood and you’ll not be able to resist the urge to read the book––

The Battle of Culloden, 1746, and Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite cause are defeated. Can three young friends from the 21st century ensure he escapes and that history stays on track?

It’s the last week of the school holidays and twelve year old Caitlin Cameron is bored. But when her new childminder turns out to be the eccentric Bella Blawearie, otherwise known as Scary Lady, everything changes.

Scary Lady lives up to her name. She seems able to read Caitlin’s mind. She sees visions in a snow globe and tells the time from a patchwork clock.

And things get even weirder when Caitlin and her two best friends, Lynette and Edward, accidentally open a time portal in an old tree and are hurled back through time to the eighteenth century.

They find themselves caught up in the blood-soaked aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at the battle of Culloden, and discover they’re there for a reason. A reason Scary Lady knows all about.

But all the friends have is questions. What is the significance of the silver locket passed to Caitlin by her grandmother? Can the locket help them ensure Bonnie Prince Charlie makes the right decision about his future?

And if they fail, will Scotland’s history books rewrite themselves, meaning  Caitlin and her friends will not even be born?

Join them in their 18th century adventure as they make new friends, encounter great danger and strive to carry out their mission.

Now before you dash off to your local bookshop to buy it, or fire up your tablet to get it online, just wait a minute and I’ll give you a bit of the background to how I came to write it.

First of all of course, as for many of my fellow Scots, the chapter of  Scottish history headed The Jacobites, sub-heading Bonnie Prince Charlie, is one of my favourites. What’s not to like?  A stirring cause, a handsome prince, gruesome and bloody battles, a stunning and dramatic backdrop… Need I go on?

Culloden Visitor Centre, Inverness, Scotland
Culloden Visitor Centre, Inverness, Scotland

Then  a couple of years ago, when I was still a teacher, I went with a class of Primary 6 children to the amazing Culloden Visitor Centre  in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a wonderful museum built at the site of the battle – do visit it if you get the chance. It also has an excellent education unit. There, me and the  children got to dress up as Jacobites and Redcoats, and we re-enacted parts of this important battle on the actual battlefield. And inspiration struck. I had one of those ‘what if’ moments and I thought, ‘what if we were all suddenly transported back to the time of the real battle?’ And that was it.

Yes, the rest truly is history.

 

The Silver Locket by Anne McAlpine is available from your local bookshop – just ask them to order it if it’s not in stock. It’s also available online from Amazon (click on image of book above to be taken to it in the Amazon UK store), both as a paperback and as an e-book. It is published by Rowan Russell Books.

 

 

 

 

The Writers Craft: Four Days of Learning

 

'Write Enough' production centre
The Garret

Writing is both an art and a craft. As such it’s something that requires inspiration,  skill, ability and knowledge. So it’s important that writers sometimes leave their solitary garrets and go ‘fill up the well’ .

image via shutterstock
image via shutterstock

And that’s what I like about attending writing conferences, events and courses. I love the buzz and intensity and I really love those light-bulb, now-I-see moments that arise when listening to a speaker or conversing with a fellow delegate.

image via shutterstock
image via shutterstock

And so it was that from Wednesday to Friday of last week I was a virtual participant in a worldwide book event and then on Saturday I was an actual participant at a local workshop for writers. I got a huge amount out of both. I made contact with other writers and with professionals who had so much expertise to offer. I learned a lot.

ALLI badge-185x185-author

IndieReCon: Indies at the London Book Fair

Last week was a big one in the world of publishing. It was the week in which the London Book Fair (LBF) took place. And it wasn’t just the big publishing houses who were there. Indie publishers – that is individual authors publishing their own books and small co-operatives of authors pulling resources and expertise in order to self-publish – had a real and significant presence there too.

The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) ran an Indie Author Fringe Festival in association with the LBF. It was delivered in  live-streamed and  watch-when-you-can formats over three days and it was called IndieReCon. So while some events were live and interactive and could be attended in person, some (including those live ones) were video (vlog) presentations that could be watched at your own convenience and some were written presentations in blog format where ‘attendees’ could leave comments. All the presentations, whatever the format, were designed to either inform self-publishers how to improve their products or to tell them about the sorts of services, expertise and marketing that are available to them – just as at any trade fair.

And on the third day of the fringe fest there was also an indie book selling event at Foyles bookshop  where indie authors could promote and sell their own books.

So, despite being hundreds of miles from London, I was able to take part. And I’m very glad I did.

The online organisation was mostly slick and with only a few technical hiccups – and it’s important to bear in mind this was a first time and a unique event.

Below is a roundup of the events, talks, discussions I attended.

  • Discussion between ALLi founder Orna Ross and Smashwords (eBook publisher/distributor) chief, Mark Coker. It was a good introduction to e-publishing for those who’ve not done it before and a good round up/reminder of the pros cons and possible future developments for the more experienced.
  • David Farland shared his recipe for fiction that sells well.
  • Ben Galley led a lively and useful interactive discussion on online bookstores.
  • Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware did a live session on the need or otherwise to register copyright.
  • Miral Sattar gave a talk on the basics of online book selling – excellent for first-timers.
  • David Penny and Joel Friedlander shared an often amusing, as well as enlightening, conversation on the principles of good book design. As Friedlander said, the design should be so good the reader doesn’t notice it. He also flagged up his Book Construction Blueprints available free on his site bookdesigntemplates.com
  • Guido Caroti also did a useful presentation on cover design and on copyright issues around covers.
  • Neil Baptista of Riffle and Katie Donelan of Book Bub gave good advice on how to optimise your book for inclusion on their promotional sites.
  • One of the best talks, for me, was the one given by Rebecca Swift of the Literary Consultancy. She stuck her head above the parapet by addressing quality in self-publishing. She made comparisons with the Victorian era’s Penny Dreadful novels. She wasn’t dismissing or deriding self-publishing, but she was making a plea for high ethical standards of editing, for good content both genre and literary and for expert reviewers. She made the point that it shouldn’t be the writers with backgrounds in marketing and with money to spend who flourished. Good thought-provoking stuff.
  • Other highlights were Jessica Bell on self-editing. As an experienced editor as well as a writer she provided a first-class editing checklist which I’ll definitely be using. Ricardo Fayet advised on finding and working with publishing professionals such as editors. Yen Ooi’s excellent ‘What is your Message?’ addressed how to grab readers’ attention. She talked about the importance of crisp, precise description of your book and how to apply it. She suggested thinking in terms of newspaper headlines followed by a suggestion of content. Jay Artale advised on the use of Pinterest for authors – something I’d been wondering about. And finally, Robin Cutler’s piece on getting your manuscript together and on the four most lucrative genres was also interesting and helpful. And finally, author, poet and campaigner Dan Holloway performed his outstanding new poem calling for social diversity in publishing. You can read it here.

All of the above people have their own websites, blogs, twitter (etc) accounts and I recommend you check out any who grab your interest. It’s also my understanding that most of the events will be available to view on the ALLi/IndieReCon website within the next fortnight.

Orna Ross and her team and all the presenters deserve a very big thank you for all the hard work they put into this successful event.

image copyright Suriya KK via shutterstock.com.
image copyright Suriya KK via shutterstock.com.

 

Emergent Writers Workshop

Then, on Saturday, I was off out into the real world to a local arts centre for a day’s workshop on self-editing for novelists. This was run by community interest company, Emergents, which as XPONorth offers support to writers in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Novelist, literary agent and editor, Allan Guthrie delivered the workshop. Now, when I was at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference at the end of March,  I’d attended an interesting and informative workshop given by Allan on the topic of getting published (which I wrote about here) so I had high expectations.

I wasn’t disappointed. It was superb and I came away with sheets and sheets of notes and again, I learned a lot.

Writing can be a lonely pursuit. It’s easy to let self-doubt eat away at motivation, to wonder if it’s worth it. It’s easy to be daunted by all you don’t know. It’s easy to get stuck. Having a network of fellow writers and of publishing professionals is vital. And striving to improve is vital. So for me those four days were sound investments in my writing. I learned so much and my own writing-well is full to the brim once more.

If you’re a writer, or other type of creative artist, how do you ensure you keep learning, developing and continue to be motivated?

 

 

 

Scottish Association of Writers Conference 2015

It’s fine to be indie and judging a book by its cover…

Seizing the Day and Getting Our Work Out There seemed to me to be the main themes of the above conference held on 27th to 29th March 2015. It was also the year that conference finally and fully embraced going indie as a legitimate and positive choice as a route to publication.

As writers, most of us can also be expert procrastinators. We allow self doubt, the rejection and criticism of others, the difficulties of getting published traditionally, the effort required to self-publish, the muse being away on leave, the dust on the shelves, the ironing in the pile, the worms in the dog – anything – to get in the way of just getting on with the job. We get distracted. We get discouraged. We get lonely. But writers groups, clubs and conferences – online and in the real world – can be a great antidote to the writing blues. There we find we’re not alone and, hey, we’re not weird after all, no, it’s just that we’re writers.

Although I live on the Isle of Skye, I am a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club (EWC). Yes, this is probably taking the club’s definition of ‘country’ member to its limits, but it’s such a good, friendly club with access to annual competitions, informative and inspirational speakers, and general writing support, that I was reluctant to give up my membership when I left the city many years ago. One of the advantages of belonging to such a club is that it’s affiliated to the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) and therefore my membership of the EWC entitles me to attend the annual SAW conference weekend.

This year’s conference took place last weekend in Glasgow, and I made the long trek south to be a part of it.

It was definitely worth the effort. I caught up with old friends and made some new ones, I was inspired, encouraged, and I learned such a lot.

The keynote speaker was Alexandra Sokoloff,  an award-winning  thriller author and Hollywood screenwriter. Her talk was both inspirational and motivational. She has no truck with doubt, fear or procrastination when it comes to pursuing a career as a writer. Her determination and self-belief have been hard won, as has her success, and she urged all of us to believe in ourselves as writers and to ‘just do it’. She ended her speech with the following Goethe quote – Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now. This is a quote I’ve had above my own writing desk for years.

During the weekend, Alexandra also delivered two very informative workshops on story structure and pace. She talked about the three-act-drama format and about how the hooking process used in films and in television drama can and should be used when writing stories. She’s written a book on the subject if you’re interested to know more.

There were workshops on several topics including  writing non-fiction, writing for children, writing drama, writing dialogue and writing for women’s magazines. All of them included advice and information sharing on getting our work published. All of them embraced both traditional and self-publishing and in the case of non-fiction all of the workshop participants were encouraged to find their markets, no matter how niche and were also advised on where to look.

One of the workshops I attended dealt specifically with getting published. It was delivered by Allan Guthrie. Allan is a literary agent at Jenny Brown Associates in Edinburgh, the biggest literary agency in the UK outside of London. He is also an editor and an award-winning author of crime fiction. And as well as all that he’s a co-founder of publishing company, Blasted Heath. He began by acknowledging how publishing has changed in the last decade and he also pointed out how self-publishing has evolved and how the quality of books produced in this way has improved.

He then went on, in an excellent workshop, to point out why having an agent is a good thing if you’re going to be traditionally published.  He offered advice on how to get an agent and gave us copies of both good and bad query letters. He also gave us a ‘skeleton hook’ – that is a brief (less than 75 words) agent-slanted blurb containing all the essential information about your book.

It was refreshing and reassuring to hear that he, and in his opinion, other agents are open to taking on previously self-published authors. Although he did say that the first thing a prospective agent will do will be to do an online search of the author’s profile with a particular interest in level of sales.

Of course not  all self-published authors want an agent or to be traditionally published. But for those who do, and for those who are hybrid, it was good to see how the conference in general, and the guest professionals in particular, now accept the indie route as legitimate and of an acceptable standard.

Also on that note, this was the first year that there was a competition for self-published novelists included along with the other dozen or so annual conference competitions. I entered my own novel, Displacement  and I’m proud to say I was runner-up. Yeah! First prize went to Dundee International Award winner, Chris Longmuir. The adjudicator of this competition was Michael Malone.

Michael is both an author of several crime thrillers and a sales rep for a major publisher. His job as a book rep involves him going round bookshops and getting the store buyers to give shelf space to the books produced by his employer. In his adjudication speech he emphasised the importance of the book cover for getting a book into bookshops. He advised a matte finish, saying that for booksellers gloss equals amateur, and the same goes for not using cheap, white paper. He said how bookshop buyers will often neither look at the blurb nor the inside of the book, but will make a judgement based purely on the cover. Food for thought there.

I’ve only provided a snapshot view of the SAW conference here. It was an amazing and worthwhile experience – even more amazing when you realise what a lot of work the SAW council must have put in to organise it and make it all go so smoothly. The council members are all volunteers fitting in SAW work around day jobs and otherwise busy lives. It’s obvious when they speak that it’s a labour of love, but labour it is and the results were awesome.

Thanks to President, Marc Sherland, and all the council members, to the workshop deliverers and speakers, to the lovely staff of the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld – and of course to my fellow delegates – for making the 2015 SAW conference such a worthwhile experience.

Oh, and a PS –  I was also highly commended in the conference Book Review Competition for my review of crime thriller Cold Pressed by JJ Marsh. I’ll post the review here on the blog very soon.