By Jenny Kane (Jennifer Ash)
While the University of Leicester is busy celebrating its centenary, I am celebrating my own half-century.
There is something about turning 50 that makes a person take stock. Sometimes, I think that the fact I’ve made it this far is a miracle. I’ve done so much with my life – from selling posh cheese, to making Welsh Hats, to excavating a Romano African city and teaching erotica classes! And yet, it still does not seem nearly enough.
Back in the early 1990’s I was an Archaeology student at the University of Leicester – I had no idea I would be a writer one day. In fact, I was 33 before I wrote my first short story.
In the 18 years that have disappeared between then and now, I’ve managed to squeeze out over 200 publications – including short stories, scripts, poems, novellas and over 30 novels - and there is so much more left to write.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on a few of the lessons I’ve leaned as I’ve worked in the mad – often cruel – frequently inspiring – world of fiction writing. I thought I’d share a few of those thoughts with you today.
Never underestimate the importance of reputation
While you need to be able to write well to get on as an author - that isn't enough. Building up a readership and good networks with publishers and reviewers is vital to your survival. To do that you need a good reputation.
Always keep deadlines; be known for being reliable. There are lots of good writers out there – you need to be a good writer who always delivers.
Never cut corners
Just don't. All that work you've put into writing a story will be wasted if you are in too much of a hurry to be ‘out there.’
If you are self-publishing and your cover needs improving- improve it. (Use a professional cover artist – very few of us are good at cover design).
If you need to do one more redraft - do it.
Cutting corners might get your work out faster. But readers aren't stupid: they can tell if an author has rushed their work. If you don't care enough about your work to address every issue and make it as good as you can, then why would a reader care enough to come back to you a second time?
(Of course, no one's work is ever 100% perfect - but we should try to get as near to perfect as possible).
Never take any success you have for granted
If you get a good book deal - embrace it. Love it. Enjoy every second of it. But do not take it for granted. One deal does not mean they'll be another one. Never assume you won't have to work just as hard for the second, third, fourth … (Sounds cynical - but it's true).
Don’t write if it isn't fun anymore
Writing is hard work – so, if it isn't fun anymore - stop. Life's too short!
It’s a job
Remember, to be a professional writer you need to treat it like a job. Put in the hours, look at the marketing and control your budget. Stick to deadlines and keep all your options open for new opportunities.
People can be cruel
Sadly, people can be cruel. It is ironic that writing attracts so many people with low confidence and low self-esteem – and yet we offer our words up for public consumption, making us vulnerable and open to attack.
As writers, we all want good reviews – but they aren’t guaranteed, and we can’t possibly hope to please everyone, so poor reviews are a fact of life.
While one nice review will make you happy for an hour or so, a bad one will niggle for days - weeks even. The worst are the reviews that attack the writer, rather than critically assessing the book. I've been called some horrendous things over the years by people who have no idea who I am, or what I'm like. Assumptions are made and opinions are freely shared, in a very unhelpful/hurtful way. Authors are humans - that can be forgotten all too often.
Write what you want to write
Write what you want to write, not what you think you ought to write, or what other people tell you to write.
Give yourself permission not to be perfect
Perfection does not exist - and trying to find it will stop your writing in its tracks.
Get that first draft down - do not worry about how good or bad it is - just write it.
Then, once it's on paper, you can start to improve your story. Slowly, through the editing process, it will get better and better, until it's ready to be released. Even then, there will be things that have been missed. While you want your words to be as good as possible, remember, we are humans, not machines.
Talking of editing …
Never skip this process. While seeking perfection too soon is a bad thing, not taking the time and trouble to edit properly will stop a good story in its tracks.
The more you read, the better you'll write.
If a publisher or agent is interested in you, the first thing they will ask is – “What else have you got?”
Don’t stop writing while you are waiting for your first novel / short story to get taken – publishers are interested in your ongoing work, not just the words already on the page.
In truth, I could waffle on for ages in this vein. Everything I’ve learned within the writing world has come from the hundreds of mistakes I’ve made along the way: from signing dodgy contracts (always get contracts checked by the Society of Authors or other reputable agency), to sending the wrong manuscript to be formatted (Whoops- not my best move).
The main thing I’ve come to realise, however, is this – it isn’t a competition. You aren’t up against your fellow students/writers/colleagues – you are only up against yourself.
Most of all – enjoy! I mean, can you think of a better way to live your life than to make up lies all day, and then get paid to write them down!
About the author
From the comfort of her cafe corner in Mid-Devon, award-winning author, Jenny Kane, wrote the contemporary women’s fiction and romance novels, Winter Fires at Mill Grange (Aria, 2021), Spring Blossoms at Mill Grange (Aria 2021), Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange (Aria, 2020), Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange (Aria, 2020), A Cornish Escape (2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020), A Cornish Wedding (2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020), Romancing Robin Hood (2nd edition, Littwitz Press, 2018), Another Glass of Champagne (HeadlineAccent, 2016), and Another Cup of Coffee (HeadlineAccent, 2013).
Jenny has also written 3 novella-length sequels to her Another Cup of ... books: Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014), and Christmas at the Castle (Accent, 2016).
Her latest novel, Frost Falls at The Potting Shed, will be published by Aria in October 2022.
Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015).
Under the pen name, Jennifer Ash, Jenny has also written The Folville Chronicles (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw, Edward’s Outlaw, Outlaw Justice - published by Littwitz Press, 2016-2020), The Power of Three (Spiteful Puppet, 2020) and The Meeting Place (Spiteful Puppet, 2019). She has also created seven audio scripts for ITV’s popular 1980’s television show, Robin of Sherwood.
The Waterford Boy, Mathilda’s Legacy, The Baron’s Daughter, The Meeting Place, Fitzwarren’s Well and more were released by Spiteful Puppet between 2017and 2021.
Jenny Kane is the writer in residence for Tiverton Costa in Devon. She also co-runs the Creative Writing business, Imagine. Jenny teaches a wide range of Creative Writing workshops including her popular ‘Novel in a Year’ course.
All of Jennifer Ash’s and Jenny Kane’s news can be found on her website here. She is also on Twitter @JenAshHistory, @JennyKaneAuthor, @Imagine_Writing. As Kay Jaybee (erotica - over 18s only) you can find her here.
You can read an earlier article by Jenny for Creative Writing at Leicester, "The Accidental Author," here.