“Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin

self helpWhat certainty do we have that self-help books work? I have been flipping through one such book called ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ by Anthony Robbins. It’s a fairly taxing read, and contrary to the author’s intentions could be the death of me if I manage to read it all to the end. The edition I have is old and has a large photograph of Anthony in his younger days… posed, pulling the biggest and cheesiest of smiles. It is the kind of smile that just smacks of ‘hey look at me… I’ve made it’. I interpret it automatically and say to myself: ‘for sure I certainly haven’t’. Within the first few pages he describes how his life changed from feeling locked into a depressed state to being surrounded by good health and riches; having used the methods he writes about in his book. He describes how he flies around in a helicopter, presenting back to back workshops, seminars and coaching sessions, earning enough money to do what he wishes with opulence and style. And hopefully, I add, as if I could redress the imbalance, paying his fair share of tax. It’s a grand vision, and if everyone who reads his book were able to follow his advice it would be fair to presume that this successful and rich lifestyle is well within anyone’s reach. But how many of us who take an interest in self-help books actually start flying around with perfect teeth earning a shed load? Not many I guess, which I suppose is why I enjoyed reading a review  by Bony Bobbins on Tony’s 512 page book . He writes fairly scathingly and distils the book’s wisdom into four well meaning messages:

1) Make more decisions

2) Feel good about yourself

3) Don’t do things in the short term that will cause you pain in the long term

4) Reward yourself when you do something good.

Simple… but how often do we follow this advice? It is, after all, common sense. But don’t we too often complain among ourselves that we rarely see common sense being applied? So whether we believe self help books work or not, if all they do is help to guide some of us to see the benefit of thinking a bit more and using a bit more common sense that’s a good thing isn’t it?

One quote that Tony uses fairly early on in this edition is: “It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our belief as to what those events mean’ . This got me thinking and pondering on a recent turn of events. What do I want to believe about the fact that I have now sold one book. If what Benjamin Franklin says is true, that the ‘only certainly in life is death and taxes’, then common sense tells me that I can believe anything I want. I have a choice, and as Tony advocates, therefore a decision to make. Do I want to focus my attention on being kind to myself or not? Do I want to orient my thinking so that I feel motivated or deflated?

If you were me, what meaning would you attach to this event?

[Find out more about “Alice Wakes Up”: a work of fiction with a unique self-help theme HERE]

Photo by Robert Bahn

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‘Its not for me to reason why, it is for me to dare and die’ (Part 3 of 3)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo perhaps you are right and writing won’t prove to be my vocation in life; my life’s true purpose. But maybe this was never the intention. Certainly what I have gained are new insights, illustrated in ‘Alice Wakes Up’, that have helped me move along. Recognising the quality of existence is as important as the attaining of any goal. Are you like I was; fed up with being you? Lethargic, discouraged, wasted, angry, resentful… and there hovering close to the surface a strong sense of going nowhere? Any of those sound familiar? And would you like to feel changed; experiencing something different to how you appear to be now?  Many people do. ‘Alice Wakes Up’ is a novel approach to recognising the benefits of seeing how to consciously shift the focus of our attention so as to be kinder on the self. And when I suggest being kinder on yourself I don’t mean making excuses and rewarding ourselves with more cake… or the opposite; starving ourselves by drinking cabbage soup all week!  I’m not advocating being cruel or selfish or demanding more of the things that you think you need; exploiting others to meet that need. Rather showing respect to ourselves, as well as our neighbours, by learning to be as gentle and as kind on ourselves as we would be with our best friend. Sounds sensible and simple doesn’t it? But we often don’t do these things. Old habits are hard to break. It’s all there in ‘Alice Wakes Up’.

So do I speak in a language that resonates with something in you? Am I using words that hit home, make you sit up and want to investigate a bit further? Have I described a future that you would like to experience? Have I captured your imagination with the suggestion that there is a chance, a real chance, of you being able to feel differently from how you do now… without having to change anything other than how you use the focus of your attention?  If so ‘Alice Wakes Up’ could be just the book that gets you thinking on a different wavelength and helps you move yourself  into a more productive and supportive direction. Intriguing is it not?  And since you are still here with me now, are you wondering if there isn’t something in  ‘Alice Wakes Up’  for you?

Your response, your decision to buy or not is not for me to reason why

 For I have done my best, and now it’s time to say ‘good bye’.

 OK I promise I won’t take up poetry. All goals have to be realistic as well as attainable right? Thanks you for stopping by. 🙂

(Only a couple of quid and it’s yours – E version – HERE)

Image: Blue Moon 2012 by Jayne Franks

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‘Its not for me to reason why, it is for me to dare and die’ (Part 2 of 3)

eyeDid you do what I expected you might when I suggested you buy my book? You pulled a face. So what was your momentary thought? Can you recall it? Was it you saying something to yourself along the lines of: ‘she wants me to buy her book… it’s another scam… I didn’t come here wanting to buy a book…’? Am I right in my assessment? If so I suspect you might now be feeling a bit peeved, maybe even a touch frustrated, put out, repulsed even. And your next thought… was it you deciding on the most appropriate response? Are you going to give me a chance, hear me out, hang around a bit more with the notion of looking for the ‘what’s in it for me’?  But you can’t stop it can you. Your head is making more assessments and, depending on which way it’s running, I guess your finger might well now be hovering over the mouse. It’s twitching, as if ready to respond to another thought… something along the lines of: ‘Shall I do it now or later?’  And… oh dear… was that an exasperated sigh I heard, when again you reminded yourself that this post is all about selling a book, as another thought popped into your head that, actually, you could be wasting your time hanging around here? Well are you? I know you landed on this page because you were led here by your own curiosity, so there must have been something that caught your eye. Maybe you haven’t got it yet. You were definitely looking for something and I presume buying a book probably wasn’t it. That’s right isn’t it? I understand how you feel. I recognise that sensation. I’ve been here too.

Of course, as the author of this book I believe that there will be something in it for you. I wrote it with ‘me’ and ‘you’ in mind. So I’ve made it as readable and likeable as possible. It’s humorous because I think people like to smile and I like to make people laugh if I can. I’ve tried to choose the words that I hope are most likely to mean something to you, so that you feel as well as hear the words in your head. I do want to try and make things seem better. And of course I would say these things because I want you to buy a copy…! But you’re right; I don’t know anything about you. And what I want is not necessarily what you need or want right now. However, fate, destiny, or whatever you care to call it… don’t you think it’s a marvellous coincidence, despite what we are thinking on one level, that in this one instance both our minds are collectively engaged and invisibly connected in thinking about the same story, ‘Alice Wakes  Up’, but from two entirely different perspectives? And although your initial reaction was just as it was, how about, before you go, just taking a step back and sharing with me that feeling of utter delight, which I know you can imagine, of having just reached and accomplished your most important and valued goal. This is the feeling I have right now. I’ve come a very long way. I’ve written a book… unthinkable for me a few years back… and now that it’s finished I feel great. You know, right from the onset, when I told people at home what I was up to they gave me a look that I believed told me something I thought I knew. “Me an author…? Get real! I’m dyslexic for one. I can’t spell. I can’t even write a proper sentence most of the time. What a ridiculous idea!” And to be honest, at first I didn’t believe I had it either. But I found a kind voice. One that supported me and that I wanted to listen to; that inspired me and kept me going. It allowed me to feel excited and somehow empowered to strive for something different. Whereas before I used to tell myself that I was a stuttering dimwit, a failed English Literature student, now I can believe and see an acclaimed author. In one dimension nothing has actually changed, yet in another everything has. Maybe as you read those last few words your head interjected with a couple of points?  Bring me down to ground level as it were… such as highlighting firstly that I’m not actually an acclaimed author and secondly that I’m still a nobody… I’ve proved nothing yet other than to myself. And you would be right of course. But does it really matter who or what I am? Isn’t how I feel more important? ‘No’ did I hear you say? A natural response, as actually I know deep down… if you are being honest with yourself… that actually you don’t give two hoots about how I feel. But I do know that you really care a lot about how you feel…

Read about how Alice feels in the first chapter of ‘Alice Wakes Up’ HERE

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‘Its not for me to reason why, it is for me to dare and die’ (Part 1 of 3)

spinningThis is how I picture it…

I’m waiting over here and you’ve walked in through the door. I’m so pleased you came. I’m debating whether you picked up my invite or, by the look on your face, it’s more likely that you dropped in by chance. What’s important is that you’re here and that’s a fact. I need to do or say something quick, or you might not stay. Making a good first impression is so important. My head tells me that I should behave one way, while inwardly there is a small child bouncing up and down with excitement at seeing you here. The kid just wants to rush forward, give you a big hug and make you feel welcome. You know that she would really like to spin you around in joy and tug at your hand, so that she can lead you towards the table over there. I can picture her now; giggling and speaking rapidly:

“Come quick… look!… come on…. come and look at this…”

The child turns to peer into your face, for a thought has just popped into her head. She drops her gaze and lets go of your hand. Experience hasn’t yet taught her to be more careful and protect herself from the pain of reprisal or rejection. Instead she opens her heart and gushes with pride:

“Look…” as she hands you a book… “I did it…”

However the adult that dictates how things are done these days opts for a more conservative approach. The tall upright ‘me’ sees you and her face glows, breaking into a genuine smile. She steps forward as her head bows a little, letting her hand extend forward to take your hand in welcome:

“Pleased to meet you. How lovely. Thanks for coming.”  Cautiously we would no doubt exchange a few pleasantries: “Lovely day…  did you have a good journey?” I’m attentive. I’m listening to what you have to say. I genuinely wish you no ill. In fact I want you to like me… it’s my nature. And after what would be regarded as a respectable period, by now unable to keep quiet any longer, I would attempt to move the conversation round to what I really want to say…”I’ve written this book. I’m really pleased with it. It’s called ‘Alice Wakes Up’. Here…” I hand you a copy. You feel its weight. Your eyes cast over the cover. Your fingers flick through the pages. You’ve made no comment because you’re thinking. I fill in the silence… “It looks great doesn’t it?” I look into your face for the sign I want to see and push on regardless. “It’s really good! It’s taken me a couple of years to complete…” as if to persuade you of its credibility. I stammer… not wanting to appear too pushy, while knowing inwardly that that’s why I am here. “Err… umm…” deep breath… “Would you like to buy a copy?” I give you no time to think too much and instantly push you in the direction of the ‘To Buy’ links on the blog side panel… or suggest you visit www.jaynefranks.com where you can read extracts from it….

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Moving Forwards… by Going Backwards First.

The Time RabbitIt was a gathering of like minds. Not of the intelligence variety, but rather ones that have the same nagging voice; telling each of us to move off the couch on a Monday night and get our butts down to the weekly fitness class. This is not the sort of high energy tough motivational class someone would think to record on a DVD.  It is instead very much a low-key event, where lyrca and six-packs are not essential entry qualifications. It is simply a class that gets you moving and hopefully increases the quality of life in the long-term. Some weeks there can be 15 or more bodies moving around a crammed village hall, but tonight it was just me and five blokes. Not that I am complaining. For any woman, this is extremely favourable odds. But it really is not that sort of club.  The only thing you go to pick up there are dumbells. It is though a friendly group. We gyrate around a circuit and as we puff and pant we happily chivvy and goad each other along. Apart from this weekly gathering our paths don’t otherwise naturally cross. The conversation, as a result, is kept light and directed to no one in particular. At a surface level it can cover a variety of subjects, many alien to me. As a result I tend to take the easy option and just smile and listen; happy to enjoy the positive feelings running through the hall. If a topic piques my curiosity I try to remember the name (no mean feat) and look up the details later. My dependency on the internet for retrieving facts is immeasurable. How did we find out about things and gather information before it?  We managed of course: we didn’t know any better. But with the benefit of hindsight, wasn’t what we had to work with so limited in comparison to what we have now? This fact was recently acknowledged by the bestowing of a new award, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, on the five men whose names have been attributed to bringing the internet to us. It has been created to recognise engineering innovation and hopefully will encourage others to test and push boundaries.

I feel that I am testing and pushing my own boundaries of engineering and innovation with this book project. It feels good but it does bring with it its very own collection of frustrations. You think you are making progress only to find that you are falling backwards. Having to keep moving forwards means digging deeper into the reserves to keep going. For those who have recently arrived and reading this post, this blog is centred around my experience of getting a book, ‘Alice Wakes Up’, published. Easy enough you might think until it comes to actually executing the idea. My original plan was to firstly find an agent who could do all the leg work. However, recognising that this is by the nature of the beast a very long shot indeed, I have decided to focus my energy, for the time being, on self publishing. Not so quick or easy.  The first attempt to self-publish was with a company called Create Space, but the three-week delay to receive the proof copy back here in the UK seemed unreasonable, and for any potential consumer also unsatisfactory. Add to this US tax issues and the Company wanting to charge 8% on any cheque they raised didn’t make the wait any more financially appealing either. Which is why I turned to Lulu; another online self publishing site. It’s great to have the choice but with choice comes alternatives. The biggest difference between the two sites is that Lulu does not print books in all standard sizes, so the process of uploading another electronic version of ‘Alice Wakes Up’ took a long time. The original had to be altered to suit the new template. On the plus side though, once done Lulu did manage to get a proof copy delivered within three days. Impressed… certainly with the delivery timescales. The standard 5×8 inches sized book that Create Space produced feels familiar and balances nicely in the hand, whereas the Lulu copy, being marginally larger and wider, bends off the end of the fingers. But having said this had I not got the two copies to compare one with the other I would have been pleased to have either. Both are very good.

Producing a quality piece of work has always been a prime consideration and from this exercise clearly self publishing does not have to be as compromised an option as you might have thought. In fact, compared to the mass-produced mainstream detective fiction book I read over Easter, which had used ‘yellow’ thin paper and an overly large font that padded out the look of the book but added nothing to the content, ‘Alice Wakes Up’ in its self-published glory is a superior well presented book. ‘Alice Wakes Up’ is a book of honest and genuine quality.

Interestingly, another bonus that has come to my attention over the last few weeks is that while I have had to take some time out to find a second self-publishing supplier, Create Space have now changed their trading arrangements to be much more favourable to UK authors. They will now pay direct into your bank account, with no administrative charge. You need to have a reciprocal US tax arrangement, for which they give clear directions. Also, from a UK consumers point of view they have begun printing these orders in the UK, which I assume will reduce delivery times significantly. So for me at this stage in the game Create Space now looks like the self publisher of choice. But since  ‘Alice Wakes Up’ is loaded up on both self publishing sites  I see no reason, having done the leg work, not to make it available through both.  Not so fast though. I want to modify the cover, so it’s still not ready for printing just yet. But the good news is that the end is in sight, although those boundaries are still there.  They wait still to be pushed some more, because the next challenge is to create an ‘E-book’ version.  And who knows what might happen in the future? Like the five who won their award above, this  book  is also destined to inspire and innovate change.  ‘Alice Wakes Up’ is a piece of ingenious fiction with strong overtones of reality; combined to encourage others to think outside of their box, be more innovative and test boundaries for the good of themselves and others.

illustration credit

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freeHow true do you find the above saying? And is it just me, or are you also finding that it seems to be more of the norm these days when it comes to purchasing good and services. For instance how about the ‘free’ meal offers that seem to be all over the place? Don’t you find that these turn out to be not such a good deal as they are alluded to in the first instance? The cost of the starter you have to buy to be entitled to use your voucher and the overpriced drinks make up for any ‘savings’ made. Or how about the new revolutionary fad diet that promises fast results, but actually only has me losing pounds out of my purse buying the accompanying DVD and stocking the shelf with foodstuffs I would not have otherwise thought to buy? And another classic… the tortuous body undergarment that promises to create smooth lines and a flat stomach, but forgets to mention that if you squeeze flesh into any tight space it doesn’t just disappear. It has to spill out somewhere. Hardly flat or smooth! But I shan’t tell you any more; rather let you create your own image. Only to say that it looked nothing like the very attractive picture on the packaging that persuaded me to buy the garment in the first place… There again, what about the face cream that promises to iron out wrinkles? It’s only discovered, after purchase, that the model whose picture ‘sold’ it to me had been photo-shopped. The mascara that is also supposed to give me the equivalent of giraffe-length eye lashes was the same. But being wiser this time, I was able to point out the miniscule disclaimer to my daughter who was pouring over the advertisement; dreaming of spending her pocket-money on it.  And get this… the offer of a free night in a hotel, which turns out to be nothing of the sort when you are told that you have to buy a second night at a highly inflated rate! My latest ‘it’s too good to be true’ experience was when I came to cash in some ‘free air miles’ in exchange for a free flight. The cost of airport taxes and handling charges made it anything but. These are only a few of the examples. Don’t you wish that people were more honest and up-front, rather than wasting time in leading us up the garden path? Or am I just being old-fashioned here and actually it’s all about maximizing profit and ignoring the human element?

A slightly different version of the above saying was used by Mark Twain in 1876 in his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He wrote then: ‘It’s too good for true, it’s too good fortune’. For those who don’t know of this book, it’s a story about a young boy called Huckleberry who, in the company of a runaway slave, makes moral choices based on friendship and human worth; decisions which are made in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. When the book was first published it was branded as ‘coarse trash’. By way of a protest nine years later, copies were removed from library shelves. Rubbished it might have been in its early days, still regarded as offensive even now, it was in fact removed from USA school reading lists as late as 2009. However it still manages to sell about 200,000 copies each year. It would seem that not only does sex sell books (see previous post). So does material considered to be of an abrasive and controversial nature.

Another way of paraphrasing ‘If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is’ is with the comment: ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’… a topical point to note for anyone following the UK Beef/Horse meat scandal. For those who are not, let me bring you up to speed. In the UK, along with other European countries, officials have recently made the shocking discovery that many of our ‘beef’ meat products like burgers, lasagne, kebab, meat balls etc. consist either in part, or in one case 100%, horse meat. The question of the products being fit for human consumption is not the biggest part of the debate. It is the revelation of the audacity of some and the extent of the deception. We have clearly not been getting what we thought we were buying. Too good to be true?  Food too cheap and convenient perhaps, but what about the respect for our fellow human beings?

Another example of ‘being too good to be true’ is said to be Kate Middleton; Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Prince William. Says who? Hilary Mantel for one. She recently described Kate as a ‘shop-window mannequin’; a woman who has been so well-groomed for her royal role that she has no emergence of character. Harsh perhaps, but isn’t Kate just trying to present to us the image of the woman she thinks we want to see? No doubt in the fullness of time we as a nation will behave as if shocked and utterly astounded when Kate reacts or behaves ‘out of character’, as if it was not to be expected.

So tell me… how does a genuine product, that does not exploit sex or use offensive language, win people’s attention in today’s market?  How does a product that has not been dumbed down so as to appeal to the masses get a look in… especially when it seems that our attention is too easily attracted to the products that are glitzily wrapped? Such products often  lead us to disappointment when we concede that they were indeed, but only usually after we have parted with our cash or wasted time pursing them, ‘too good to be true’ after all.

This is the predicament I am in, having written the book; ‘Alice Wakes Up’ (which I am pleased to say will soon be available on Amazon and through the website www.jaynefranks.commore on this soon). ‘Alice Wakes Up’ has not been written by a mind that puts the words down on the page in order to conform to publishing rules and expectations. Nor have I created a plot that exploits sex or controversy as a hook to entice some to part with their cash. It is a book that has not been written from a perspective of what I think you would expect to read in a novel, an autobiography or self-help book. That’s not my style. It’s all three to be honest, but being dyslexic I suppose I tend to do a lot of things unconventionally. This is a book that genuinely wants to entertain, yet also be thought-provoking. It invites and challenges the reader to think beyond the surface of the story. It is a novel that illustrates, through the language of autobiography, the idea that if we learn to recognise our own thinking patterns we can learn to practice ‘shifting our attention’. If you are someone who is looking for new choices and new experiences in life, then this book could well be a genuine and honest agent for eliciting self-discovery and change.

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Just Purr-fect… Getting where you want to be

roaching catI’ve made a new friend. It’s a cat. Her cute face came to the patio door and looked in at me with big appealing eyes. I could well understand the rationale, if there was any, for why she might be standing there trying to elicit an invitation to enter… there is a most bitter arctic wind presently cutting across the UK. It was a pretty black cat with a white spot on its nose. She evidently has a home, for she wore a collar. I was curious, so I sat still and became completely fascinated by how her ears could move round picking up sounds from all directions. They twitched and rotated like satellite dishes, quite capable of  moving independently and often in opposite directions. Her big shiny eyes however never wavered and looked ahead directly into the room. We eventually caught ourselves looking at one another. She meowed, I responded and for a few moments we talked to each other in our respective foreign languages; the conclusion of which was that I conceded and let her in.

“Just for a few minutes, you understand”. I stood up and with my hand on the door lever, looking down at the upturned grateful face, added: “You do understand, it’s just for a bit”.

I opened the door and she hesitated, moving from side to side but not across the threshold. “Come on in if you’re coming… its cold”; perhaps sounding a bit irritated I suppose for having to be kept waiting. Another brief pause. Her ears twitched, moving as if listening out to hear whether there was any negative intention in the tone of my voice. After a brief upward look to check my face for more clues, she must have felt reassured as she slipped through the gap. Inside, with the door closed, a few sniffs later and with me encouraging her, she leapt onto my lap. Her paws were really cold. “No wonder you wanted to come in”; feeling her ears and talking affectionately into them. What followed then, after her initial circular pacing to find a comfortable orientation, was an intense stroking session, neck rubbing and ear caressing. The cat’s third eyelid drew over, a loud purr poured out and a little drop of dribble left her lips. She was in that moment in second heaven it seemed. The more she showed me that she was having a good time the more I wanted to stroke her and the better I felt. I enjoyed making her happy. But cats are independent creatures and once satisfied, as if sticking to our agreement, she jumped down and placed herself next to the door. “Till next time then?” as I pulled the door ajar and watched her go.  Her tail was the last I saw of her. ”Adios” it seemed to say as, with a flick in my direction, the cats head dipped under the fence.

So, apart from sharing with you my news that I might have found a new friend, I have something else to report: something which is perhaps more relevant to my purpose and motivation for persevering with this blog. However, new insights can come from all of our experiences, whether feline or otherwise. So what is my other news?

Tra la lar… pleased to announce… wait for it… wait for it…  I have my first real paperback copy of the book ‘Alice Wakes Up’; the book I completed in draft form just before Christmas. What an achievement eh? I’m so thrilled with it that I have to keep looking at it lying on the desk next to me. When my eye catches sight of the light bouncing off the cover, I just can’t resist the urge and feel compelled to pick it up and flick the pages over. The whizzing sound and the draught it causes against my cheek as I spread the leaves between my thumbs feels wonderful. All my own work… success at last… my own imagination captured in one neat volume. If I were a cat you would hear me purring with delight right now.

I got this hard copy printed through an American self-publishing site called Create Space. It was, as a site goes, relatively simple and clear to use. Unfortunately, the three-week delivery time taken to land a copy on the doormat here in the UK has, I think, struck them out as being a viable proposition. Who waits three weeks for anything these day? A bit frustrating, but hey ho… forwards… onwards… as they say, which is why I am now looking to achieve the same quality of printing with Lulu. Nothing is straightforward though or made easy is it? They don’t do the same sizes of book, so there are a few formatting issues to spend time working around. But I hope, with perseverence, they will at least be able to produce and deliver a copy much more efficiently. I will let you know how I get on.

It would have been so easy for me to have got irritated and complained about the three-week interlude, but the time given has forced me to take a break and re-evaluate my position. I believe I’ve used the time sensibly, like the cat did this morning before stepping over the threshold. I’ve tried to look ahead to see if I can identify anything that could possibly prevent me from getting where I want to be. I could make life more difficult in the short-term if I rushed ahead and dropped my guard; looking for a quick fix to get the job done. I have been thinking more about the contents of the query letter to be sent to literary agents and what, if asked, would be included in the submission sent to them. Research reveals that agents are likely to ask to see the first three chapters. I know that I only have a few seconds in which to persuade them to open the door to me. So during this forced break, I thought it would make sense to review the book by asking myself two questions: ‘Am I comfortable with what I have written… and can anything be improved upon?’ My head has been going round in circles. To help the process along I have re-read all the comments from those who have came back to me after downloading a copy of the original manuscript at Christmas. I’ve also re-run in my mind the conversations I’ve had over coffee with friends. I’ve tried to keep my mind as open as possible and really listen to what has… and hasn’t… been said. Looking at it from all angles, the result of my evaluation was that it would be appropriate to tweak and re-write the prologue, also elaborate on the ending. It was not an easy decision to make. The idea of having to re-write parts is depressing. Of course I don’t want the extra work. I’d rather not be bothered to be honest, but what I want in the short term is not as important as the long term goal. My priority, the utimate goal, is to produce a book of some quality that offers the reader a unique experience, which they can enjoy both in the moment and also afterwards. I want my readers to feel as good as the cat did on my lap.

So at this point in my jouney of trying to get a book published, I’d like to take the opportunity to say a very big thank you to those people who did come back and post their comments. With your help ‘Alice Wakes Up’ is really developing into something rather special and, I’m pleased to say, is taking me on my own little Adventure into Wonderland.

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Sex Sells; being different makes life harder

sex sells [119/365]What is 75 x 365 ?

You might be quicker than me, but I had to use the calculator function on my mobile to give the answer: 27,375. But 27,375 what somethings?

27,375 is the number of enquiries that one literary agent, namely Lorella Belli, reckons she receives in a year. Now guess how many she says she is likely to accept? I won’t keep you hanging on, as its far too depressing to dwell on… 3… THREE !!!!… that’s all. And that’s per year remember, not even monthly. I found this out while doing the research that is advised as necessary, by the Writers and Artists Yearbook, prior to approaching an agent with a query letter. This rather depressing revelation hammers home what the competition is like. Maybe I should have written a book about ‘managing disappointment’, although a quick Google search reveals that someone has beaten me to that one too.

On this latter point, did you know that the ‘self help’ genre of books is relatively new; 1970 onwards?  To prove my point, I bet that if you looked on your parents bookshelves, assuming they are 75 yrs plus, you will find very few such books. Dr Spock’s Baby and Child Care Book is the only title I can vaguely remember being quoted to me and maybe, even then, not by my own mother. Now contrast that with how we are these days. Without walking upstairs and actually looking at my own bookshelf I know you would find quite a few. The biggest volume covers pregnancy and caring for young babies. Now prompted, I can also recall two more titles relating to child development. Both investigate how to talk to toddlers and young children. I bought them when I felt that I must be doing something wrong, as I couldn’t elicit cooperation without a ‘fight’. Did they cause any lasting change in behaviour? Did they heck!! Got to laugh with the benefit of hindsight. Who can really consistently get a toddler to stop screaming and sit down in their car seat without a battle if they really don’t want to?

Continuing to scan my memory banks, I’m vaguely aware of smiling to myself now. My head has ‘seen’ the next book cover and it’s churned up some past memories and associated feelings . Called something along the lines of “Where do I Come From?”, it is an illustrated children’s book that does not spare any blushes to help broach the subject of sex and sexuality. This is not one we bought as it happens. It was inherited with the house; found by accident, tucked out of sight right on top of a fitted book shelf. Now thinking more laterally, ‘oh yes’…  how about  The Kama Sutra  as a self-help book?  I’ve just wiki’d it and it was printed, as a widely accessible book, in 1980. However, I can’t confess to ever owning this one. I did get a gander once at some of the illustrations when the book was sneaked into school, which I suppose is why I know of it. And before you ask, no… I am not one of the 10 million people reported to have bought a copy of the Joys of Sex either.

Before I go completely off topic, going back to our parents’ days I can’t believe that they didn’t at times feel like they might have wanted a second opinion; perhaps to have looked at some interesting pictures or get some friendly advice on how to make life more like we wish for. Can I conclude that, way back then, the self-help book was not regarded as something that might do well in the market place? Possibly thousands of promising manuscripts were rejected by publishers. This lack of flexibility by the industry might have had something to do with Susan Jeffers’ experience. In 1972 she first approached publishers with her novel new book: “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway“. It failed to make an impression and was scornfully rejected by some. But now look at the benefits that self-help brings to  the industry. In the UK alone, in the last five years this genre has earned 60 million pounds.

So… my research of today has stressed the importance, for any wanna be authors out there, of not making it any more difficult for yourself. Try and ensure that you write within a recognisable genre from the onset. Any book written outside a specific category, however well presented, exponentially increases its chances of falling out of a marketplace, rather than into one. This fact, when compounded by the eye-watering evidence of how stiff the competition is, makes getting through the initial screening and finding recognition far more challenging than I had ever at first imagined.  But there is always hope. Susan Jeffers persevered because she believed in her product… and I believe in mine. Despite the somewhat depressing conclusions I have drawn from todays research, I don’t feel quite ready to give up just yet. I need to keep focused on moving in a forward direction; trying to be as flexible in my approach as is possible. Thinking of calling it a day?… Nar!… Where would the fun be in that eh?

I take heart from the entrepreneur John Locke, who has succeeded and managed to sell more than a million copies of his books by self-promotion and self-publishing. Perhaps I shouldn’t even try to fit into the system, as this would oblige me to conform to literature rules that, as a dyslexic, have never been hard-wired in me. It doesn’t come naturally. For me, it would be the psychological equivalent of trying to push water uphill, with the intention of ‘going with the flow’. Plus, isn’t there a danger that the industry loses diversity by only backing writers who can churn out formulaic literature in other Shades of Grey; nothing critically reviewed as inspiring or challenging, merely delivering more of the same?

“A mistake is just another way of looking at things” Catherine Graham

Photo by Terence S Jones

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A proposition – How to mutually reduce Job strain

Re: Re: BMW Hell! - HEALTH AND SAFETYI was flicking through a magazine today called the’ Safety & Health Practitioner’. Not the most exciting of reads for most, but alas Health and Safety is something I do for a day job and keeping up to date is important. It was while I was reading this rather dry magazine that I came across one article in particular that caught my attention. It was titled Stressful jobs raise heart risk in older men. (http://www.shponline.co.uk/commentcommunity-content/full/stressful-jobs-raise-heart-disease-risk-for-older-men) Reading on and I quote: “According to the Society of Occupational Medicine, a third of all workers will be over the age of fifty by 2020”. At this point I recognised that any one of us who might have read this statement would have reacted differently to the news. My reaction went something like this…

First I became aware that my head was thinking:  ‘Gosh, a third, that’s’….. as I fumbled with the maths………  ‘1 in 3’  , ‘wow, that really is a high proportion’ ………’2020 ?’…….. ‘that’s also not that far away now, let me see…., seven years in fact…..’ Seven years, the number repeatedly sounding inside my head, was then less than sympathetically added to the number of my current age. ‘Oh no …. that would make me…..’ the  precise number was whispered in my ear but the assumption it drew for an answer was far more loudly announced and reacted to.  ‘That would make YOU …….. one of THEM…… OLD.  Ouch……..  When did that happen…. me getting old?’

The article went on to express an opinion as to how we might reduce this risk of job strain and  ill health. It mentioned sensible eating and drinking and taking regular exercise as being wise habits to adopt, as well as two  less obvious considerations. The first  is to find an employer who offers a greater degree of flexibility in working practice. The second is to be given a greater degree of choice in how we may complete the work asked of us.

So what have I learnt from today?  It has reminded me that ageing is inevitable and my sense of well-being  may be safeguarded if I get the balance right. Apart from adopting and leading a healthly lifestyle, another way of supporting this goal, and one that is relevant to having just written a book that I am looking to get published, is to identify a sympathetic employer, in my case a publisher/agent, who is flexible and maybe more open minded than some; one who likes and is prepared to work with me to make the most of my unique style of writing.  I could reduce my risk factors if I found myself a publisher who shares the same goal as me; one who is willing to take a punt at trying something a bit unique in the genre of women’s fiction

So if there are any agents or publishers out there as descibed, with tongue in cheek can I suggest we swap addresses. You never know, we might well be able to mutually help each other out, so as to reduce both our chances of future job strain. Now that’s not such a bad proposition is it?

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Nothing Personal

hurdlesIt’s dark and foggy out this morning. Rolling out of bed and peeping through the curtains to see what the day was promising, I discovered it shrouded in a dense blanket of fog; the light from the street lamps reduced to more like airport landing lights than street lighting. They were able to indicate the proximity of a path, but not bright enough to show where it actually was. I ventured onto the landing.

“It’s morning…”

I tried to sound cheerful. It was a vain attempt at stirring the teenage mound that I knew would be still asleep on the other side of the bedroom door. With no audible response to confirm if I had been successful, I pushed open the door and popped my head into the room. In doing so I let in a little light.  A groan escaped from the body that I saw so tightly wrapped in a quilt that an escapologist would have been hard pressed to escape. Her unenthusiastic response was no surprise, but I became more disturbed by any lack of intention to move. The knees drew up into the foetal position as if to try and nestle down some more.

“Sleep well?” With no response forthcoming I answered for her:  “Looks like it”.

She clearly was not  interested enough to want to argue the toss about my appraisal of her nights slumber. One more step inside the room and I found myself closer to the bottom of the bed; my advancement not enought to either threaten or disturb her. There was no outward sign or promise of upward movement. The quilt remained still.

“It’s really foggy outside.”

My voice was deliberately light, as I tried to ignore the sense of impatience creeping in. My attempt to abstract an energetic inquisitive leap out of bed didn’t happen. It might have done a few years back, but not now. The quilt rocked from side to side in annoyance. Her feet kicked out of the bottom and the imagined expletive was muffled by the pillow, which she pulled down tighter over her head.  I stood and watched as I imagined the train there was to catch, the school bag yet to be packed, the breakfast to be consumed, the time needed to apply makeup and thoughtful brushing and how this leaves little spare time to try and delay the inevitable start of the day. I considered my next move. I could flick the light on, but past experience has shown me that this can have the opposite effect. It can cause the creature inside the duvet to get more angry and respond like a hermit crab; retreating further back into its mattress and, as a consequence, become even harder to prize out.

“You look well wrapped up in that quilt..”

Again my voice was intentionally light, but the reply that it enlisted was tainted by the weight of having to suffer being a  teenager:

“I told you. The quilt’s too small”.

Nothing is right it seems. Feeling exasperated, with my attempts to be pleasant rejected and failing to get what I thought was needed, I sensed myself getting angry.

“Time to get up”.

An opinion not mutually shared.  Still no reaction other than mine, so  I consciously stuck to facts:

“It’s seven o’clock”; at which I turned on my heels and  left.

The tut that slipped from my lips half way down the stairs was probably loud enough for her to hear, as indeed it was for me. It made me realise that I was falling into the trap of wrapping myself in my own duvet of miserable thoughts; thinking how hard done by I felt. It is sometimes a thankless job I have, but then as a teenager I wouldn’t have  thanked anyone for trying to prize me out of bed either. I know it’s not personal … and to feel better I knew I needed to shift my perspective. I stood back and let events take their natural course. I am pleased to report that with no more intervention from me the house emptied and no one has sent a text… so far… to say that they have forgotten anything.  The fog is lifting, so I can see what I need to be doing too.

The task I have set myself today is to do a bit more research on how to write an effective covering letter to accompany my manuscript to a prospective literary agent. Plenty of websites reinforce how the query letter is crucial to the book’s potential success.  One site yesterday that I read commented that all I have is two seconds of the post shifter’s attention, in order to convince them that I am worth a second glance.  Two seconds…  I am guessing, but I reckon that’s about seven words to hook them.  Even in speed dating  you are given longer to introduce yourself. But having spoken to someone who has participated in this, they mentioned that actually two seconds can be sufficient to make a decision… and three minutes to become painfully embarrassed. So, like speed dating, it would appear that finding an agent is all down to creating the ‘right’ first impressions.  How do you do this? And interestingly, this is where the comparison with speed dating seems to continue.  I have read and I understand that embellishing  your submission with superficiality is to be discouraged. So, again like dating, some might be put off if we adorn ourselves with too much make-up, dress up a little inappropriately or try to rely too much on corny chat up lines. Use of these shallow and overt tactics to gain another’s attention could be counter-productive on both accounts.

Also like dating, it seems to be well worthwhile doing a bit of background research. Try and get to know the person, the agent you are wanting to approach  from a distance. Find out what they like and what their particular niche or interest is. And when you do make the first contact try and come across trustworthy and sincere. And… no surprises… remember to use and spell their name correctly. Presenting yourself as someone who is awkward by bumbling along does no one any  favours, so the advice is to be direct and state your intentions early on, using words that make it clear exactly what is it you are all about. It is suggested that unless I am famous… which I am not… there is no point in trying to boast about how good I think the book is or how lucky they are to have me approach them. Arrogance and coming across overly, though misguidedly, too confident is as definite a put-off  in the agents world as well it might on the first date.  No surprises either, but I am best advised not to mention or keep any reference to my past achievements a minimum, unless it is something really relevant and remarkable. No-one wants to read about how I didn’t win a school writing competition twenty years ago, just as they don’t want to hear about my first dates with past boyfriends.

You are however  encouraged to take a little risk  in your choice of phraseology by revealing something about yourself  that might make you stand out  from the crowd.  If you can make it humorous and  entertaining, all the better. It is important to make sure you turn up looking good and present yourself well. Wide margins and well-written are paramount.  Take no chances, make no mistakes and try and show them you have a passion, that you really care. The final presentation is important. Again no different from any first date. None of this is rocket science and most of it, if you think about it, is common sense. But knowing all of this may not prevent me making a ‘wrong’ choice, which could adversely affect my chances of success.  Again, what it seems to boil down to is that finding a publisher is linked to having a bit of luck on your side.

It’s all very daunting. I realise that not only do I have to make a covering letter that is original, entertaining, relevant and grammatically and politically correct, it also has to have an ‘X’ factor to make it stand out. A smile… with the accompanying right sort of body language… may help you get through your first date, but how do I make a letter smile and give it the visible albeit silent language of its own that will get it past the first hurdle; especially if the first hurdle could well be a disgruntled ‘emerging adult’  who would have rather been left undisturbed and still in bed this morning. Like a teenager, I can’t make a literary agent do as I want, however pleasant I might be, however good my intentions are or however well I wrap my proposal. All I can do is my best, believe in me and my product… and persevere.  At best there is some comfort in knowing that it’s not personal.

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