Jan Harvey is the author of The Seven Letters a split time novel set in The Cotswolds and Paris. The book was published on 28 February and already has 76 five star reviews on Amazon. We asked Jan what got her into writing and her top tips for budding new authors. Here’s what she told us …
How I started:
I used to contribute to school magazines, both in writing and designing them. I loved collating information, presenting it in a clean, crisp layout and knowing that the content was being read and enjoyed by someone else.
It was of little surprise that I found my way into magazine production after getting my BA in graphic design, illustration and photography. I was a Production Editor laying out pages, sub-editing (making corrections to the text to make it fit on the page) and responsible for the overall design of two trade magazines.
Then I started a new business:
I left two years later to work in the design department of the local newspaper. I wanted to do more advertising work, but I didn’t enjoy it so I set up my own business, a design and marketing agency, that was much more like it. Once clients heard I had a background in publishing they asked me to edit and design their in-house magazines.
And then another one:
Eight years later, I left the exciting world of design, marketing and public relations to focus on my real passion, magazines. I set up a new business and worked on one title, a forty-four pager, published every two months. I was responsible for everything: commissioning articles, writing features, editing, designing, illustrating and quite often, drawing on my photographic skills, the photographs, but I must point out that no-one can take a photograph like a true professional.
I loved typography best of all. I enjoyed playing with fonts, laying out each page so that it was beautiful and making sure that a standard was maintained throughout. It was incredibly hard work in the middle of the publishing cycle, but for every six weeks of graft I had two weeks off to spend with my son and be a Mum. The job gave me wonderful opportunities such as flying in a helicopter to take photographs, interviews with famous people, racing an AC Cobra around a formula one circuit, being wined and dined, and I met the Queen. It was a fabulous career.
But things don’t always go to plan:
I really loved it, so when the magazine closed down because it was taken over by another title I was bereft, it was after all my baby and my lifestyle. Even worse, the other title then folded very quickly. Luckily, I was headhunted at precisely that time by a business organisation that wanted me to design and edit their magazine. It was only sixteen pages, but it involved being much more interactive with the organisation’s members.
After twenty-five years in magazines the march of progress relentlessly moved things forward and print media was diminishing fast. My magazine became part of a website at vastly reduced costs to my client.
Having thought about it, I decided not to go that route. It was a very different world in those days, all html. There was no control over layout and, for someone who sweats the small stuff such as the amount of space between lines of type, it wasn’t for me.
I had to make a big decision:
I knew I had always wanted to write a novel but I had to find a way to make it work financially and time-wise too. I set up creative workshops for the new, the nervous and the terrified. I then had to train as a Life Coach to gain the skills I needed to understand why my students were finding so many obstacles in the way of exploring their creativity. This evolved into one-to-one tutoring, which I still do because I really enjoy it. My youngest client is twelve, my oldest is ninety-five!
Researching my first novel:
This part-time work gave me the chance I needed to write and I began work on researching my novel. I have always had an interest in the French Resistance and I began to look into the subject more closely. I found images on the Internet that got me thinking about the occupation and liberation of Paris and then my husband said one sentence quite out of the blue and an idea sparked in me. We travelled to Paris and began piecing together a story, looking for settings and visiting all the wonderful museums and archives the city offers.
Finally, I had the historical framework I needed and the story just needed to be told. I began to type the words ‘The old woman’s shrew face tightened above mean, thin, lips…’ Ninety-six thousand words later and I had a novel that seemed to come from no-where, but sure enough it was there in front of me on the page. I hardly changed a word but I did edit as I wrote each chapter. Naturally, my background did me a huge favour there.
I thought I’d done all the hard work and from then on a good book would be snapped up by an agent and published. I’d be an instant success and very wealthy. That didn’t happen.
The publishing world is going through a huge transformation:
The successful independent author is rare as there involves a lot of PR and marketing know-how to get noticed and, equally a new author who is traditionally published also has to do a great deal of their own marketing. The lines between doing it yourself and being taken up by a publisher are becoming blurred.
Tips on how to succeed:
This new world is very exciting and brim full of opportunity, but I have to stress one thing, you must have talent and a work ethic to succeed. If you want to write a book you need to be prepared to work very hard. It is a huge project. It takes a great deal of commitment, energy and huge amounts of positivity.
When I wrote my book I had to change from a journalistic style to creative writing which took a bit of doing. I had to learn a whole set of new skills too. How are books put together? How does the marketing and PR work? How does the publishing industry work? I attended as many workshops and talks as I could. I became part of the scene talking to agents, publishers and writers and finally I did something called ‘Author-led publishing.’
There are so many different roles behind the scenes:
I could have just uploaded my book and self-published then willed it to make an impact on the market. Instead I employed a team of professionals to do it all for me. I had a typesetter, (a specialist who dealt in book production), a superb cover designer, a marketing controller, an e-book designer, an e-book marketer and a reputable publisher which is why The Seven Letters looks so good and is doing so well with lots of five star reviews.
I have a sales team and a distribution network and possibly the best thing of all, advice at every turn. I found all these professionals under one roof with one publishing company and have not looked back. It is one of the most satisfying achievements in life to hold your own novel in your hands and for me it represented four years of hard work, so it meant a great deal.
The work doesn’t stop when the book is printed:
In fact, the hard work begins at that point. Whilst my publisher took care of the national marketing I have organised local book-launches and signings. I have written articles, blogs, blitzed social media and talked incessantly about the book. It’s all worked I’m pleased to say and the book is selling like hot cakes, but had I not had a background in design, marketing and PR, I certainly would have struggled.
Learn to write:
So, in conclusion, I would say this and it might sound strange, if you feel you have a book in you, learn to write. Attend every seminar, workshop, talk, webcast and signing you can. Learn constantly and perfect your skills. It is not a world that has patience with second best and, unless you’re a celebrity with a ghost-writer, you will find it hard to make headway in a writing career without grit and determination and, most of all, talent. I know it sounds trivial in today’s ‘spellcheck’ world but learn to spell and always read back everything you write, and yes, even Facebook posts. Reading aloud will help you spot errors.
If you are truly an author it will have to come out; you cannot stop the creative flow, but if you want to be successful always do everything to the highest quality. You might need to invest money because you will need a team of professionals around you to stand out from the crowd. However, you will find the literary world is mostly populated with the kindest, most inspiring and genuine people who will give you a leg up if you need one.
The other thing is you should write every day. Just one sentence will do, but make it a good one.
The best piece of advice I can give you is this: Do not give up. Ever. Go for it and let nothing stand in your way.
Thank you Jan. The Seven Letters is available on all platforms with information on Jan’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTheSevenLetters. More information is available at janharveyauthor.com.
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