I would like to thank Rachael Johns for this insight into the non-writing life of a writer. I had the pleasure of meeting Rachael at one of my Stories on Stage events in 2013 and since then I’ve followed her career with great interest. Although she’s become known as a rural romance writer, she’s now making a foray into a bold new fiction style she calls contemporary life lit with her latest book, The Patterson Girls. Voted one of Booktopia’s Top Ten Favourite Australian authors after the publication of her first book Jilted, Rachael is a mum of three small boys and has recently moved from a small town in Western Australia to Perth. Connect with Rachael at her website, on Twitter or on Facebook.
When I first started writing all those years ago (17 if we’re counting), I imagined that should I ever be lucky enough to be published, my life would involve days at home wearing whatever hell I wanted and writing for hours on end in close proximity to the fridge. Although I didn’t have kids then, I thought that if I ever had them, it would be the perfect job for a mum because I would be able to set my own hours. While all of the above is true – and I consider myself very lucky to be able to write for a living – there’s a whole other side to being an author that I never even contemplated.
I once heard the amazing Eloisa James speak at a conference and she said “Being a author is fifty percent being a businesswoman and fifty percent being a writer. AND the businesswoman must come first.”
If you want to be a commercial author, to make a living from your writing, you cannot be just one book! You are a brand as much as Diet Coke (to choose something I love) or Tim Tams are and creating and maintaining a brand is hard work and time-consuming. I want people to see the name Rachael Johns and associate it with warm, feel-good fiction about contemporary life issues. I want them to see the name Rachael Johns and need that book now. Building and maintaining a brand is one part of my writing life – this includes keeping my website looking good, professional and up to date; interacting with my reader base on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc); running reader contests; putting out my newsletter every so often and, ensuring that any bookmarks and other promotional material I produce is in keeping with this brand.
Another big time muncher is author events, such as signings at bookshops and talks at libraries, festivals, etc. These are great for promotion, especially around the release of new books and often the organization holding the event will be able to get local media coverage, which is awesome. Sometimes there’ll even be wine and cheese.
As an author, you’ll also be asked to write articles or blogs for various newsletters, magazines and other author or reader blogs. Sometimes you’ll be given a topic, sometimes it’ll be a Q&A (which is awesome) and other times you’ll have to come up with something yourself. It’s hard to quantify the affect of this kind of promotion but I once read that someone has to see something seven times before they will buy it, so all these things are part of getting your name and brand out there.
I still feel like a newbie writer and every time I write a book, I feel daunted. I want each book to be better than the last and therefore I’m continually seeking professional development opportunities. The biggie here is being involved in professional organisations – my two faves are the Romance Writers of Australia and the Romance Writers of America – which both hold great conferences every year.
Recently I was lucky enough to attend my first RWA US conference in New York (I know, right). Yes, lots of shopping was done, but more importantly, I heard some of my idols speak. I was lucky enough to a chat session where Nora Roberts, where she discussed her writing process (basically bum in seat and just do it) and answered all sorts of fascinating questions. I also attended workshops with Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Kristan Higgins, went to publisher parties and made some priceless connections with other writers and industry connections.
Now I’m not saying that all these added things are bad. On the contrary, conference season is my favourite time of year, I love doing events and meeting readers face-to-face, and when you put yourself out there, opportunities come up that you would never have imagined. Writing today does not have to be the solitary profession that it once was but in many ways there are added pressures. All these non-writing author tasks take time away from the actual writing of books, which means you need to be very disciplined and focused to produce!
Jam-packed with secrets, modern romance and mystery, The Patterson Girls deals with the big issues that keep us all wondering – grief, belonging, complex family dynamics, the heartbreak of infertility and adult relationships that are not as black and white as they once were.
The Patterson Girls is a warm, contemporary, topical and intriguing story about four very different sisters, who live very different lives in Melbourne, Perth, London and Baltimore. Six months after the sudden death of their beloved mother, the girls return home for Christmas at their family motel in a small town just out of Port Augusta, South Australia. The motel teeters on the edge of neglect, as their grieving dad struggles to cope alone, contemplating selling the family business.
Each of the girls has a lot to get away from, and they bring their worries home. Abigail is hiding the fact she has been sacked from the orchestra in London, Lucinda is drenched with worry about why she’s still not fallen pregnant, Charlie feels unimportant and inferior beside her over-achieving sisters and Madeline’s life is so high pressure at the hospital that she hasn’t taken a break in years.
Together the girls look forward to comforting their father and reconnecting after so long apart. But amongst their mother’s things they discover a frightening family secret that has a cataclysmic effect. They are forced to make a big, brave decision.