Did you ever get the feeling 2021 might not happen? We’d somehow be stuck in a 2020 Groundhog Day? Or were you the opposite, confident a new diary would create this worn-out world anew? Well, here we are, with some things as bad as ever – or worse: in the UK, with the new variant, hospital admissions are higher than during the first lockdown – but with the promise of life edging towards normal sometime this year.
Although I read fewer pages than normal last year, I easily cleared my goal of 100 books. I’ll keep the same objective for 2021, but try harder to meet my target of 25% BAME authors. As usual, I’ll also make sure to read a fair number of female authors in translation, but won’t pin myself down to a specific number. But one new goal for this year is to reread at least one novel a month. Having got a lot of pleasure from reading The Corrections for the third time over Christmas – I’ve written the review but saving it for next December to chime with the (not) jolly Christmas theme – I decided to give myself permission to revisit well-loved books!
I’ll continue to review most of the books I read and post them here, along with compilation posts elsewhere, such as Lockdown Literature at the Ranch, and a couple upcoming on my publisher’s blog. But I’ve noticed a decline in my blog engagement in the last few years, and I’ve steadily decreased my frequency of posting from an all-time high of 152 in 2015 to 102 in 2019 to 87 last year. But I want to reduce the time I commit to blogging even further, perhaps with around five posts a month. It will continue as a place for reviews, 99-word stories and, if I can’t rein myself in, rants about government incompetence.
I intend to transfer that time and effort from blogging into my newsletter. For the last few years, I’ve read several articles extolling the newsletter as the author’s prime promotion tool, but I haven’t always used mine to best effect. At the end of last year, partly inspired by an online course, I switched platforms to one that enables automations within the free account and changed the style from a bits-and-pieces magazine to a straightforward narrative (more like a blog post) with a single call, or at a pinch two, to action.
Although I was pleased to double my subscriber list last year, with the help of a giveaway e-book Somebody’s Daughter, the actual numbers remain small. I want to gain 100 new subscribers by April and keep them engaged at least until my next novel is published in May.
As part of my strategy to entice new readers, I’m offering my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, as a free download to newsletter subscribers during LGBT history month in February. If you haven’t yet done so, you can reserve your copy by clicking on the image. I’ll let you know how it goes!
My third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, deserves to reach more readers than its predecessors managed and, with a small press with a miniscule publicity budget, I’ll be doing most of the legwork. Besides drumming up interest among my newsletter subscribers, I’m hoping for blogger support through guest posts and reviews. With some reluctance I’m resigned to my dependence on Amazon, and will actively encourage readers to leave a review there, aiming for 50 Amazon reviews within a month of publication. (That’s actually more than Sugar and Snails has on Amazon UK five and a half years since publication, although I hope the giveaway will bring a few more.)
With the way this government is mismanaging the rollout of vaccinations, I can’t count on having a same-room launch party when my book comes out at the end of May. But even if it is safe to congregate indoors, I’ll probably do an online event as well. That’s one gift we’ve got from lockdown, as we’ve all adapted to Zoom. In fact, I have an event pencilled in already with fellow author Mia Farlane whom I met at one of those newfangled webinar thingies last summer.
It’s too early to decide whether it’s worth approaching bookshops for signings, but I reckon there’ll be opportunities to do outdoor bookstalls over the summer. I’ll grab every opportunity I can.
I’m much happier writing fiction than publicity plans and newsletters. Unfortunately, I’ve neglected the former while prioritising the latter, and my brain doesn’t switch smoothly between the two. But I’m determined to get back in the groove and finish and edit 100 Candles, my follow-up to Matilda Windsor, by the end of June. Plus, with only five to go and two already in the pipeline, I really ought to reach my century of short story publications.
What are your plans and aspirations for 2021? Do you think I’ll meet mine?
Of course, I’m not the only author blogging about what we are looking to achieve this year. One thing that struck me after reading Charli Mills’ post on visioning (click on the link to read it), is how easy it is to mismanage our pipedreams and highfalutin goals. We can lose the plot as easily from taking our ambitions too seriously as by not taking them seriously enough.
I haven’t yet interrogated that dream to find out what lies behind it, but I suspect it boils down to that old chestnut of being properly seen and heard by my mother. That’s when I have to remind myself how hard I’ve worked to replace that with the aim of being properly seen and heard by myself. Which is about authenticity – almost impossible to measure, so these goals will have to suffice!
This leads so neatly into my 99-word story, you’d think I’d planned it! My response to the prompt “butterfly and stone” is about a character afraid of being properly seen and heard, based on Diana in my novel Sugar and Snails.
At three she was a butterfly. At thirty, a stone. Prancing, dancing, in a stolen tutu, no-one warned her butterflies soon die.
At thirteen, she learnt of other insects, with other-coloured wings. At fifteen, she became one, but found the winds so fierce, she never learnt to fly.
By forty-three, she was settled, merged with solid rock. She recognised her former dreams for what they were: fairy tales, ephemera, lies.
Then came a lepidopterist, brandishing a chisel. When he chipped away her armour, it hurt. She feared it would kill her. Or could a butterfly emerge from a stone?