Rising to the challenges

maxwellcarrickThe editor of the Wychwood Magazine has asked me to write an article for the Wychwood about the perils and pitfalls of being an author. However, I prefer to call them challenges and I can tell you there have been many.

The first challenge was losing my job in 2011. I had enjoyed an exciting career as an editor of various business magazines and to receive a letter telling me my services were no longer required, owing to something being rapidly referred to as ‘Austerity,’ was quite a shock.

I had to regroup, collect my thoughts and also come to terms with the fact that what I did for a living, producing a paper-based magazine, was being superseded by websites which, at that time, were all written in code. My time had come.

Once I got over the blow my husband, Paul, asked me what I wanted to do next and I told him I wanted to write a novel. It was my childhood ambition but in order to concentrate on writing I had to take a huge cut in income. I retrained as a Creative Coach to help the new, the nervous and the rusty to find their inner creativity. I also had a lot of dependency on Artweeks. Most artists, like me, make the lion’s share of their annual income from those seven days they are open to the public.

Front Cover The Seven LetterscolourThe second challenge was learning how to be an author. For that I was indebted to the Chipping Norton Literature Festival which was set up just at that time. They offered a range of workshops, author talks and lectures that gave me a real boost in confidence and helped me develop new skills. I attended a weekend writer’s retreat, a wonderful one day course with author, Arabella McIntyre Brown, and I read copiously, watched Youtube, trawled Facebook and Twitter and began to build my ‘Author Platform.’

The third challenge was the research. I had decided on the women of the French Resistance as my subject, but after that it was all to do. It took two years of research, including two trips to Paris, to gather all the information I needed. Those of you who read The Seven Letters, will be interested to know that the two main characters pretty much reflect the work Paul and I did in tracking down elements of WW2 Paris that brought the story together.

Perhaps surprisingly, actually writing the book was the easiest and most ‘flowing’ part of the experience. I had written as a journalist throughout my career so I needed to retrain my brain to write prose. Thankfully all my studying and research held me in good stead and I was able to put everything down pretty much as you see it in both published books. The stories in both eras just magically came together. How I wish it were the same for book three which is proving to be a real test!

The Slow Death Of Maxwell Carrick CoverEvery author these days is expected to be ‘hands on’ in marketing and selling their books. Only the very big names have the luxury of having everything done for them, which is why you see us at festivals and doing talks. To date I have given thirty six talks, including meeting with some lovely book groups and I have bookings right up to the end of 2020. This has been the real joy of being an author because hearing other people’s feedback on your book is absolutely wonderful and there have been some very lively debates I can tell you. Thankfully, this was not a challenge for me; I love talking with people and meeting readers in person.

The final challenge was reviews. As long as you have an Amazon account you can write a review and authors do need them. Once a book has received fifty reviews Amazon will actively promote it. The downside of Amazon is that it takes 60% commission! A publisher and agent then take their slice of the cake and the author is at the end of the queue so you can imagine how little they actually receive. Whilst it’s no problem if you’re Dan Brown it is quite a different story for a new name.

Reviewers in the main are wonderful and they really provide encouragement, but the bad ones do haunt you especially when they are unfair. One USA reviewer wrote. “I’ve given this book one star, everyone else has given it a five, I guess I speed read it, I skipped lots of chapters, but I just didn’t like it.” That does hurt, especially for a book like The Slow Death of Maxwell Carrick which took two years to write. It would be nice if people at least read the book before giving their opinion on it. Thankfully, I am able to say that virtually all of my reviews have been extremely positive and trust me, I feel a thrill as I read each and every one.

Challenges there are many, but the joys outweigh them. The joy of our village shop selling so many copies; the support of The Wychwood Inn and our local B&Bs and the absolute thrill of people coming up to me and telling me they loved my novels. The books have done their job; they have entertained and told stories that have been lost in time. They are about women who have survived against the odds and the next book, based this time in Burford as well as Paris, carries on the theme.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me. It has been a huge learning curve and at times I have been a hermit, but I can truly say it’s all been worthwhile and losing my job was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

Jan Harvey

October-November 2019