Rebecca Bradley’s remarkable publishing journey
In July 2012 I interviewed crime writing blogger, Rebecca Bradley. At the time she was an aspiring crime writer. Last December she self-published her crime novel Shallow Waters, which has since become a great success. Rebecca is now in the final stages of writing her second book, and has just been signed up for a three book deal from Audible.
I wanted to interview Rebecca again to talk through the remarkable writing journey she has undertaken.
Would you go through what has happened since I last interviewed you?
That was about three years ago. I had a blog and I was in the process of writing my first crime novel Shallow Waters. I did get an agent and we did some edits on the book after which it was put out for submission. These were not major structural edits, just line edits to tidy the book up and tighten up the writing. This was helpful because I got some great feedback from the publishing houses the book was sent to. I got some straightforward ‘nos’ and I got some positive ‘nos’. They liked the book, but found the subject matter, child abduction and murder, a difficult subject to deal with. But they did like the characters. The nicest ‘no’ is the hardest. Probably because you feel you’re getting so close to getting published. It’s actually much easier to take a definite ‘no’.
So I stalled at that point. My agent wanted me to work on a second book so we could submit that with the same characters, but with a different subject matter. I didn’t want to bin Shallow Waters, because there are a lot of books out there on this subject. I felt very strongly about Shallow Waters and had a lot of belief in it as well as in the characters. This was when my agent and I parted ways quite amicably, and when I decided to self publish it.
How did you psychologically cope with the fact that you weren’t getting a traditional publishing deal?
I was fine about it, because for me it’s not about having a traditional deal. Being published is about being out there for readers. I wanted to write and get a story out there for readers to read and enjoy. All that mattered to me was that someone was reading it and enjoying it. So there was no psychological hurdle to get over at all.
You may have self-published, but you still went through the same type of process that you would have done with a traditionally published book.
Yes. It helped that I have a friend who’s already gone through this process. I had also been reading a lot of blogs and engaged with social media for many years, while I was writing the novel. This meant I knew how to go about the publishing process in a professional way. I knew the novel needed editing professionally and proofreading. I have a friend who is an editor at a small publishing house. So I was able to use her services.
A professional cover for the book is also important. Don’t just photoshop your own cover, because you can tell a photoshopped cover. There are some atrocious covers out there. They say ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – but you do.
You’re being judged on what goes out there, so you need to do it properly. If you want people to read it and enjoy it and leave a positive review about it, then you’ve got to give them something presentable. You have to put your best into your writing or you can’t expect someone to want to read it and give you something back for it.
How many drafts did you do?
I have about six printed out drafts in my loft and then multiple revisions on my computer.
I’ve never had any training in creative writing. I learned about the craft of writing from reading blogs on how to write. This seems like an odd way to learn but there are a lot of good writing blogs out there that give you really good information. Things that you need to put in and leave out. This is how I taught myself.
Anyone’s first novel is never considered their best novel and mine has taught me a great deal about writing and what I need to do as I progress.
Many people when they begin writing cannot see what they need to redraft. How quickly did you get to grips with that process?
I looked at something different as I went through on each pass. During the first draft, I got to about three quarters of the way through and realised there was a problem with continuity, because the characters had shifted to a location that they couldn’t possibly be, given where they were earlier in the book. So I stopped writing and corrected this before moving on, but this created a gaping hole. That meant I had to do a great deal of scribbling on the manuscript about what should be happening there. So the first pass of that draft was about filling in holes and making sure the structure was right. The next pass might have been sorting out the timeline. Another pass would be character traits. Another pass as the writing began to tighten up was the adverbs and overused words, using the finder on the word document. This method of doing passes was all picked up on a blog. I seem to overuse the word ‘just’ a lot. Now I have a list of all my overused words so I can look them up.
How did you begin to start to write, when you had never done it before?
I knew the beginning and the end of the novel. They say you’re either a pantser or a plotter. That was something I didn’t know how to do. Because I didn’t know how to write I was a pantser. I didn’t know how to get from A to B so I just sat down and typed. This was why there were big plot holes and why I had to go back in.
I plotted out book two to make sure I had direction.
They do talk about ‘write what you know’. Did your professional background act as a trigger for you writing?
Not entirely. I’ve always loved reading crime novels. As a child I started with ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘The Secret Seven’, then moved on to Agatha Christie, then progressed through a wide range of crime fiction. So I’ve always loved crime fiction.
I had always wanted to be a police officer, because of my fascination with crime. This has certainly helped with writing procedural crime and the situations the characters find themselves in. Everything in the book is authentic. But I had to be careful not to bog down the story in procedure. Although I’ve have friends who tell me that they want to read my writing because they know it is authentic. People do read police procedurals because of the police procedure. So there is fine line between authenticity and slowing the reading process down. So far the feedback from this first novel is mostly positive with regards to that potential problem.
Did you use any beta readers during the writing process? If you did, what did they bring to your writing?
I did use Beta readers, but because I was new to the process I didn’t give them any specific directions. You need a beta reader not to be too kind and tell you how it is. Being critical is much more helpful than being kind. So you need to make sure your readers are prepared to be helpfully critical. I have experienced this from the other side and found it very hard to give feedback if the writer is a friend. But you do need to be able to see your writing from another perspective, a potential reader’s perspective, In other words the person who is going to pay to read your book. This is why a good beta reader is invaluable.
The next time I use beta readers I would give each of them specific instructions on the types of things I want them to concentrate on, for example characterisation, plot, continuity and so on. I would also want them not to hold back on their criticism or direction.
Now your book is out there and subject to a range of reviews, have you found the critical reviews a helpful thing?
The good thing about self-publishing is the early critical reviews were about things I could go back in and alter. After which I could easy upload another version. But so far, the reviews have been generally positive.
The one thing I’ve realised is that not everyone is going to like what you write. Reading a book is a very subjective thing.
So you’ve written the book and you now have an electronic copy of it and you have to upload it to Amazon. Your book is both a hardcopy and an e-book. How difficult was that to do?
It was difficult. I did it just before Christmas, Christmas Eve in fact. I sat at my desk for hours and I’m surprised I had any hair left. It was initially frustrating because I did it myself.
Now I’ve done it the process actually seems quite straight forward, but that’s down to practice. If you’re uploading to Amazon they’ve made it quite easy to upload a word document. You also have a preview page. This is really helpful, because you do have to check every page. And I mean every page, because you will undoubtedly find blank pages at various points. So you have to go and find that page and, for example, remove the page break. I kept finding random page breaks scattered throughout my book. This meant I had to keep returning to the book and removing the page break or any other odd things that might be happening. Once I’d finished that I then had to go through the whole process of checking the book again in the preview facility after I’d reloaded the book. I did that about eight times, which took me all day, to make sure all the new chapters started on a new page. It did take a great deal of patience while I was learning to master the process.
What about the hardcopy/paperback? There’s usually a margin required so that when the book is bound the text sits clear of the binding.
This was even more of a nightmare. That really did make me want to cry. But it was just a matter of sitting down at my computer and getting on with it and figuring it out. Once you’ve learned how to do it the whole thing’s much easier next time you come to do it.
You can actually pay people to do it for you and it’s not too expensive. But I wanted to do it myself because it gave me the satisfaction of taking my book from start to finish, and going through all the stages. I also had the satisfaction of knowing I’d figured it out for myself. The first option costs you money, the second your time.
So you’ve loaded your book up onto Amazon, complete with the blurb and author information, where do you go from there? I know you spent a great deal of time on social media publicising the book.
I published Shallow Waters in December 2014, but my Twitter account was created in 2009. I didn’t create the account for writing, but I did want to connect with authors and interesting people. However, by 2010 I was engaging quite a bit with writers in the crime fiction world. I continued to do this for the next four years.
This is what many self-published writers forget. They need to engage with the world they want to write in. It’s no longer a case of sitting alone at a desk writing, social media is very much a part of any writer’s life. You talk not only with authors but people who may want to read your writing.
It was one of the reasons I had a blog. To connect with other people who have blogs. It’s all about conversing and being sociable. You have to do this, not just because you want people to buy your book, but because it is really great fun to have conversations with people and also pick up tips and information which social media is very useful for.
I like social media, because the people I talk with are interested in the same things and understand why I’m so passionate about writing. My enthusiasm for reading and writing is hard to convey to someone if they don’t understand this passion. So social media allows me to indulge in something I really love doing.
You brought up how social media is useful for learning about books and writing. Would you tell me how this works?
I had a great deal of support from the blogging community when I released Shallow Waters. I asked if anyone wanted advanced reader copies. Several bloggers said they would, and they read it for me. This really helped the sales of the book because it got the word out in the community.
‘Woman’ magazine picked it up. They were highlighting Sarah Hilary’s No Other Darkness (Sarah is just one author who had been very supportive both before and after my book launch). Below the review of No Other Darkness the magazine said ‘if you’re interested in this book then you might want to try these others’. I was blown away by this because it was getting up to nearly a year since Shallow Waters was released.
I have certainly been surprised how well it’s done.
The take home message from this is that if you’re going to self publish you must do it properly and you need to connect with people who are going to read it. But it is also nice to engage with people and discuss your writing and interests.
Certainly you need a professional editor and book cover designer. Engaging with social media means you don’t feel on your own tapping way on your computer. You may be on your own while your writing your book, but social media is the equivalent of the water cooler where you can take a break and have a chat.
Would you like to suggest some useful writing blogs?
It’s been a long time since I read any writing specific writing blogs, I tend to engage with bloggers who simply enjoy the art of reading books now as well as those sharing their won writing journey, but if you google writing blogs then you will find a whole host of them out there. I think writing.ie is a good resource for writers.
Any other tips you can think of?
The Writers and Artists Yearbook is a great book, filled with advice and information for writing and trying to get published, whether that be by traditional means or by the self-published route.
I would also advise going to festivals of the genre in which you write. For me it was crime festivals. This way you get to meet and chat, face to face, with people in the same place as you and also people who may be further along their journey, as well as readers who will love to sit and talk books with you. Very often the festivals host opportunities to get a one-to-one with an industry insider like an agent. They really are good places to be. Get out from behind that desk once in a while and talk to people. You’ll have a great time.
Rebecca’s Twitter feed is @RebeccaJBradley