When my novel My Sister's Secret hit the number one spot on the paid-for Kindle store in the UK, I spent time pondering why this particular novel of mine connected with so many people.
I think there are five reasons, and these five reasons...
1) The reader needs to learn something new: I’m not talking about getting all preach-tastic. I mean actually shedding light on a new phenomenon. Anyone who reviews or talks about My Sister's Secret mentions the inclusion of submerged forests.
Most people haven’t even heard about these beautiful phenomenon, let alone seen them. By introducing people to something new, it gets them talking about it to friends, family, colleagues and fellow readers, fantastic for word of mouth.
And what’s great is this is where it all started: I knew I wanted to write a novel about these unique wonders and it all spun out from there.
2) A clear focus: This is summed up in the title: the novel is about a sister’s secret. Of course, it’s about many more things too. But this is the core of the novel: a secret, lots of secrets, that completely change the direction of people’s lives.
It’s my former editor Eli Dryden who really rammed this home to me in her first editorial letter: ‘My duty to you is to ensure we hook in the retailers and the reader with an instant “yes, I know what this is and I know why it connects with me and why I want to read it immediately’”.’
She was right!
3) Twists that keep people guessing: There are several twists in My Sister's Secret (I like to make my readers dizzy!). Eli and I were so deep into the novel, we often asked ourselves: ‘will people guess?’ We tested it on people, they didn’t guess. But still we worried. We didn’t need to. Hardly anyone is guessing some of the twists and to me, when I read a novel, that can be the key. If a twist comes along and blindsights me, I’m left reeling… and can’t help but tell people to read the novel too so I can discuss it with them!
4) Writing to deadline… with a baby and a job: This is the bit that often astounds people. ‘How did you do it?’ they ask. Structure. Organisation. Weekly deadlines. With my first novel, The Atlas of Us, I wrote it from the heart, no planning, just splurged onto the page (then there was lots of editing and refining of course).
But this time I didn’t have the luxury of time. I had to know where I was going and by which dates I needed to get there because otherwise, I simply wouldn’t have finished it. I think this lead to much more finely structured, carefully planned, clearly defined drafts then in the past. It also led to some grey hairs and more dark shadows under my eyes!
5) A great team behind you: When people say ‘traditional publishing’ isn’t worth it due to the lack of editorial and marketing support, I have to laugh. The team at Avon go above and beyond the call of duty. My publisher Avon has just been brilliant. It all started with my former editor Eli who had such a clear vision for My Sister's Secret after she read the first draft, a vision that dictated everything from the words on the page to the title and front cover. She saw right into the heart of the novel and pulled out the very best bits. Of course, if you’re an aspiring writer, you might not be at that stage yet. But you might still have a team: people who read your novels, cheerleaders, people who support you in different ways. Make the most of that! I also believe the media coverage it’s received has made a difference, from a great review in the Daily Mail to a short story in the Sunday Express. Having worked in PR and currently working in social media, I know what an important role that plays.