Cover Reveal – is there any point?

It’s been a looong time between posts, mostly because I didn’t really have anything to say. To be honest, I’m not sure if I do now. But what I do have is a book cover. I really like it too. I’ve had it since last year because I had it done to try to inspire myself to write more quickly. Needless to say, it didn’t work. My writing just seems to come at the speed that it comes. I could no more write a book in three months than I could flap my arms really hard and fly.

It seems to be a part of the marketing process that you do a cover reveal. I’ve done it twice already, mostly because my publisher told me it was a thing, but I have to say it did seem rather pointless. So what if lots people can see the cover – even if they cared, they still can’t buy the book! Maybe it’s just me, but as a reader, when I see the cover of a book that’s not going to be out for over a month, I dismiss it instantly from my memory banks. I’m not particularly interested in a book if I can’t actually read it. I won’t store that information for weeks, because like the name of the neighbour down the road who I have no interaction with, if I need to know later, someone will tell me. Clearly, the plotlines of “Nashville” are far more important and take up the space otherwise allocated to such unnecessary things like books I can’t read and names.

So new book, new attempt at marketing. I’m not going to bother with a cover reveal, I’m just going to put it on my website. I hope you like it! “The Ragged People” should be out around April.

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Bed Porn and Failure

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Bed porn is the name I’m giving  for the bed equivalent of food porn. I’m not sure if it’s been named as such before because if I do a google search, I just get regular porn in beds (as opposed to the other, frankly less likely scenarios, that you see a lot of. Stairways? Seriously, they weren’t even carpeted. I can tell you that in reality, the person on the bottom is moving that one on fairly snappily for more hospitable surfaces). But I digress – what I was talking about was those lovely bedding pictures in homeware stores (I’m looking at you Pottery Barn) that lure you in with unrealistic bedroom outfits. I have tried, but even if I buy everything in the damn picture, my bed still doesn’t look like that. It gets close, I’ll give them that, but after one wash it is never the same. Like the haircut that looks completely different when you try to do it yourself, there is something the professionals do that is just different. A tilt of a cushion? The way the doona is just so fluffy it’s like cotton marshmallow? And no wrinkles, even on 100% cotton! In a fit of fury, I once even got out the garment steamer to go over the doona cover while it was on the bed, but still couldn’t get the crinkles out. Here’s some more pictures of what my bed does not look like just for fun:

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The reality in my house is that any more than two pillows and my husband looks confused. Once I put on European square ones and a couple of throws, it descends to looks of ridicule. I’ve accepted that he doesn’t share my love of linens, and living in a house of boys, I’m Robinson Crusoe. I only have to make the bed before it’s quickly unmade by a Pokémon battle waged by small writhing bodies. Small pillows are weapons of choice and quickly disbursed to the far corners of the house to be smeared with the nearest condiment in two seconds flat. Their enjoyment of projectile pillows is followed closely by an adoration of scissors and unfortunately in the past they’ve been combined. I, of course, get very cranky but the mulish expressions on their faces tell me that they don’t appreciate the aesthetic appeal of a well-made bed and don’t understand why I’m making such a fuss.

So why am I focussing on the ridiculous topic of bedding? Because I can tell myself that it’s not my fault that my bed is not picture perfect and it distracts me from the rejection emails currently pouring into my inbox. I’m assuming from the current trend that the latest novel probably will not find a traditional publisher so I’m busy scouring stock images for cover art. I think I’ve found the perfect image, which is a beautiful thing and puts the whole rejection process into perspective. If it doesn’t find a home, at least it will have the perfect cover, fitting the novel according to my imagining of it with no compromises for anyone else’s vision. It’s hard because I love this book, in a way I haven’t felt for any of my others. But every rejection gives a kernel of advice, some indication of the area where it is lacking. I’ve been forced to take a harsh look at my writing – too many similes, for example – and make it better.  Who knows, maybe in my future there’s a perfect bed and a perfect book. Until then, I’ll keep trying for both.

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When Authors Struggle – A Call to Arms

Even doing what you love, there are times when you have to question the sanity of it all. So few writers make it big, but like the majority of the actors, chefs, film makers and all gamblers out there, you mostly try not to think about it and keep going, hoping the next one will be the big one. Everyone faces rejection and disappointment, its part of being human, but there’s never a time when its easy.

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Giving away books for free doesn’t bother me much. I just hope people like it and are potentially interested in purchasing more from me. I see it in a similar way to the pirating sites that I appear on. At least they care enough to rip off one of my novels (but not the other one – what’s with that?) What doesn’t feel good is when you do a KDP promotion and while sometimes you get huge amounts of downloads, other times you only get a few. There is nothing worse that the feeling you can’t even give away work that took years of your life.

Publishers you expect to be quite impersonal in their rejections. We all know about it and have for years. The new development is that they now don’t even respond with a rejection. If you don’t hear anything, then the answer is no. This is the equivalent of calling someone to arrange a date and having them block your calls before you’ve even been for coffee.  You have not the first idea what you did wrong.

I’m not alone in wondering sometimes whether anyone wants to read my work and if I should still write. I struggled with this, on and off, until I read something written by the head of a large international literary agency. It got me so irate that I wanted to write just to spite them, if nothing else. The quote is “In all of this, only one thing is guaranteed: there are more and more people writing. I’d like to hope that this trend will be reversed sometime soon, and that only the very best and most talented people write, and the rest of us read, read and read some more!” I get that this was to publishers at a conference and that the speech was tailored to the audience, but what I took from this was basically that any writer who was self-published was rubbish and all those authors should go back to their day jobs and leave it to the agents and publishers to decide what we can read. Oh and that they should just buy lots of books in future to keep profits going, instead of making pitiful attempts at writing their own. It’s a few years on and now that same agency is all about assisting the self-publishing authors, for a fee of course.

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What this tells me is that neither publishers nor agents are in the business about caring for authors. But then again, neither is Amazon. Because they are businesses and their aim is to make money. So where does this leave the author, without whom none of this would happen? Do we give up and stop writing because all the social media requirements are driving us nuts? Or do we persevere, hoping that either we make it big or the situation improves? I think everyone walks the line, hoping that the difficulty of the publishing side is never so bad that it outweighs the joy you get from writing. No matter if you’re successful or …not so successful. And there’s usually someone out there who thinks you’re a genius, even if it’s just your Gran.

Embarrassment – the writer’s last frontier

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When you write a book, it’s pretty clear you write about the stuff that interests you. Why otherwise would you bother? It takes a long time, for no definite reward at the end. Most writers, unless you’re a Clive Cussler or James Patterson, aren’t doing it for the money. Even then it’s apparent that Mr Patterson isn’t doing the writing himself anymore. Why bother when whatever you put your name to will be a bestseller? That might sound bitter, and you’d be right. A fine example of this is the man publishing under the name Stephen King, but what most people don’t realise, because they don’t read the reviews first, is that it isn’t the Stephen King.

So I write about stuff that interests me. Unfortunately, I’m not really the sunshine and cups of tea sort of writer, such as Alexander McCall Smith, whose genius lies in making the everyday interesting. The things I write about can get a little embarrassing, particularly when close older relatives want to talk about your book that has some pretty full on sex scenes in it. My standard response is to stick my fingers in my ears and sing the theme song to The Muppets until they give up.  The downside to that is the song gets stuck in your head for days afterwards. I bet its in your head right now, going round and round because, like me, you can’t remember all the words.

I tried something new with my last book. It was clean – no sex or swearing, though still pretty dark, because that’s just the way I roll. I wanted at least one book in my career that I’d be okay with relatives and my kids reading at some stage. I am quite happy with it, and am now waiting, hoping that my agent agrees. So, whatever happens with this one, there is no font for embarrassment, on subject matter at least. The writing may be crap and the storyline line complete rubbish, but there’s no hanky panky or bad words. Because nobody knows about those. Right…

I’m going to admit something embarrassing here, because why else does one write a blog except to expose yourself: I get a ridiculous amount of enjoyment out of some pretty questionable reading material. I’ll read almost anything from space opera to historical bodice rippers, crime fiction to teen fiction. It doesn’t even have to be the best of its genre, sometimes its better when its not. And though I sometimes laugh at the ridiculous premises, I love a good hot alien capturing a human woman whose been done wrong by men all her life. Entertaining shenanigans ensue, because she’s feisty and he secretly loves it. Even though I know from the first page that they’re going to live happily ever after, I can skim the fluffy pages at the end, because that’s not what I read that sort of book for. I just like to know its there.

But what about the not so pleasant stuff? I just finished Tight by Alessandra Torre and though I’ve loved her other books, particularly Black Lies, the imprisoned and torture topic just doesn’t work for me. I realise it was a side line to the main part of the book, but interestingly she referenced the genre that’s out there and quite a lot of women like to read it. It’s one thing to like something in the privacy of your kindle, but the authors who write the stuff are the ones who are really deserve the bravery award. Some of them are hiding behind some pretty obvious nom de plumes, but some aren’t. Are they also having these awkward conversations with relatives? It makes my level of discomfort kindergarten stuff. So even though I don’t want to read about women being tied up and whipped or having sex with Big Foot, I applaud the writers like E. L. James who take their most secret thoughts and fantasies and put it out there.  It can’t be easy when there is a wild and windy plane of mortification to cross, knowing you may never reach the other side.

To self-publish or not to self-publish? That is the question…

It’s that time again, the early months of the year when I have a finished manuscript. This one took a bit longer for a number of reasons, the main one being the first time I thought I’d finished it and proudly handed it off to beta readers to peruse, the feedback was… underwhelming. In the brutally honest words of my husband, who has the dangerous and potentially life threatening dual roles of staunchest supporter and harshest critic, “it needs work”. Cue the arrow straight to the heart. After a year of harsh labour, someone called my baby ugly. Sobbing on the inside, drowning my pain with coffee and a surprisingly good Irish whiskey aptly called “Writer’s Tears”, I muscled up some internal fortitude and completely rewrote it.

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So now it’s done again and off to the beta readers. Feedback has been better, but I’m a bit scarred now. What if it’s really crap, even now? I think every writer has this fear, which makes attempting to market yourself and your work excruciating. We all know those people who are in complete denial about the level of their skills, whether it’s work, sport or ability to pick up in a bar. You don’t want to be that person, ever. That fear can be paralysing though, stopping you from doing anything in case someone, somewhere is laughing at you. Traditional publishing is great in that you can constantly reassure yourself that your book must be okay otherwise these people who don’t know you and aren’t your friends wouldn’t also like it and invest a whole lot of money in it.

 

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 Having been equally unsuccessful with both traditionally and self-published books, I think I have a sound working knowledge of the good and bad points of each. If you have success one way or the other, your perception would naturally be skewed in favour of the way that worked for you and accordingly less objective. Like the purchaser of a thermomix, you tell everyone how great it is, despite the fact there are not that many people willing and able to spend $2000 on a kitchen gadget. If it works for you, it will work for everyone, right?

So what to do with this one? I no longer have expectations of immediate critical and commercial success, which helps. One of the good things about self-publishing is the control, which people talk about a lot. It is probably the best thing about it and comes with good data about how much you’re selling and where, which helps with book promotion and knowing when you’re doing something right. The information is available quickly, so you can be responsive. The downside is that you don’t have professionals get your book polished and out there without major financial outlay and to reassure you when the doubts creep in. You pay for this though, by handing over control and the majority of sales revenue. Whether it’s worth it or not depends on the writer and the book and can only be decided in hindsight. There is no right or wrong answer, but the best thing you can have is options. If publishers are likely to be interested, it’s worth finding out even if you don’t end up taking that path. If it isn’t the sort of book they are looking for, then at least the decision on what to do becomes easier. Just strap on the chainmail before the sharpened arrows start heading in the direction of your heart. And put some make up on your book baby.

 

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Death by Caffeine

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I’ve been silent the last few weeks, which given I have a book I’m about to start shopping around, meant something was seriously wrong. It’s a well-known fact that the bigger your profile, the more likely you are to get a publishing deal, even if you’re a crap writer. I believe it was Elle McPherson who uttered the astounding comment that ” I haven’t read anything I haven’t written”. The Kardashians have also had at least one book published that I know of, despite their lack of literary cred.

Much as I love amusing with my musings, it was put in the too hard basket three weeks ago. I did almost finish a blog, but then somehow hit this small innocuous label-less circle on the toolbar on the side and deleted the hours of work I’d just done. My computer laughed at my attempts to control z and giggled when I tried to restore previous versions, the only options being the first rough draft from two days earlier. Rather than see if my expensive laptop could fly, I walked away.

Then sickness descended on our house like the plague. First one child then the next fell with a brilliantly timed week long incubation period which handily skipped the weekend so that I had sick children home during the week two weeks in a row. When I succumbed the following week with the same symptoms, I naturally assumed it was ebola. I know I haven’t travelled overseas since 2012 and Canada, like Australia, doesn’t actually have any outbreaks, but I maintain that the temperature, chills and overall feeling of death more closely resembled that than a common cold.

This may not be the first time that I’ve slightly over-reacted to a health issue. There was the time when the kids were very little and my husband was away and around midday I came down with a cracking headache. When none of the over the counter pain pills worked, I reach the inevitable conclusion that it was a brain aneurism. Workshopping various scenarios of how my immanent death would affect the kids (I concluded that they were small enough that they wouldn’t remember so it wouldn’t be too traumatising), I belatedly realised that I had forgotten to have my morning coffee. Thoroughly embarrassed by my dire imaginings, I had finally worked out that it was actually a caffeine headache.

On a similar note, there was also the time when I was lying in bed, heart racing, unable to sleep, feeling my pulse pound in my neck like a timpani drum. Certain it was a heart attack, I dithered on what to do. My husband was again away and I didn’t know what to do with the kids. My life was flashing before my eyes, which turned out to be a good thing when I realised my current predicament was probably because I’d had three coffees and a diet coke that day.

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Though hypochondria is funny in hindsight, at the time it’s anything but fun. I like to think that on an evolutionary level, it’s probably a good thing to worry about your health. If you think every lump is cancer, you’re more likely to get it checked out and you might actually be right. One thing I’ve noticed about my particular type of hypochondria is that it is selective in its appearance. It usually only visits when I’m sole parenting. When my husband is at home, he out-hypochondriacs me by miles so it doesn’t get much of a look-in. The man has had more full body scans than anyone else I know. I might stop there before I relate any stories that might get me into trouble, but trust me there are some doozies.

Anyway, we’re all back to health now and I’ve learnt to make sure I have two coffees a day, no more, no less which does tend to limit the number of brushes with death that occur. I do feel more alive and grateful, knowing that I’m going to live after one of them, but its best that I don’t encourage too many of those types of thoughts. Responsible caffeine consumption is a way of life for me now.

 

Losing the plot

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When books are reduced to their most basic “A” leads to “B” leads to “C”, there are only a few unique plotlines. Buyers in the romance sector are mostly women in the first world, so there are even fewer applicable plotlines and you’re pitching to a relatively tolerant society. Now you can’t just have people meeting and getting on famously like they do in real life, because that’s a very short and boring book. Accordingly, you need to cause conflict. The question is, what? There needs to be an inherent or created incompatibility between the main characters to create tension. Their drives or desires need to be at odds, but at the same time surmountable, because there needs to be a happily ever after at the end.

So what could possibly hold two people apart in a reality based contemporary romance novel, without being too manufactured or done to death? No longer can you just use the Romeo & Juliet excuse of “the families don’t like each other” because that’s not how it works for most people in modern societies. Many people couldn’t pick their cousins out of a line up, let alone generate a deep enough family loyalty that goes beyond their immediate relatives to prevent them from doing anything. Certainly not enough to stop them getting their freak on at the club on a Saturday night.

I had a conversation about this with the always delightful Jennifer Lane, who has a book coming out where the protagonists are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Politics used to be one of those things that you could never talk about in polite company in case you started an argument, but that no longer seems to hold. Politicians don’t have the glamour that they used to have back in the 50’s and 60’s, when they seemed to have almost rock star status. The media’s attitude to them and intrusion into all facets of their lives has taken away any mystery. We know they are all just people with regular people problems and their job seems to have a whole lot of drudgery attached, which is all very unromantic. And maybe it’s just me not really caring too much about politics, but to be honest I don’t really mind what my partner’s political beliefs are as long as I never have to attend another political fundraiser (dear God, those things are as relentlessly boring as a primary school talent show and the wine is usually crap).

Religion? This one’s a tougher cookie and most romance writers won’t touch it with a hundred foot stylus. With this one there is too much conflict and the real potential to offend. When your main aim is entertainment, the last thing you want to deal with is death threats.

Race? Society is generally too tolerant for that to be a significant enough issue to keep people apart. What would once have been scandalous is now commonplace and not even remarked upon. Creating conflict around this would be hard without sounding like a bigot.

Status? Done to death. Cinderella and all those Billionaire books (seriously? Has anyone checked out the photos of actual billionaires before they write these? There are only 23 of them in the world under 30 and they look like Mark Zuckerberg not Robert Pattinson).

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So where am I going with this? Nowhere to be precise. I struggle to create realistic conflict without alienating readers (my second book about an unfaithful wife received very mixed reactions) so I have no answers. The market wants what it wants, which is good looking billionaire alpha males (who don’t seem to work much) seducing impoverished virgins. Given the restrictions on what you can write (check out the list of rules on a lot of the publishers’ websites if you don’t believe me) it’s no wonder many novels sound the same and the market is saturated. Novels like Fifty Shades are great because the conflict was new even though the characters themselves were clichéd. Although those novels were heavily criticised, the fact that they broke out of the Romance novel box should be acknowledged.

I’ve nearly finished my third book, which like my first is paranormal. I’m often asked why I write books with supernatural elements, and this is the reason. Aliens, vampires and dystopian stories appeal to a lot of writers as new conflicts can be created because the rules of reality don’t apply. When you spend around a year writing about something, you need to make it interesting and internally coherent for yourself or the delete button starts singing its seductive siren song.

 

Minions Required

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Fuck me, I need a drink. And a minion. Maybe a host of minions (is that the collective noun? No idea but I’m going to go with it.) If I had a host of minions, there’d be one just to get me a drink and another look up the collective nouns for things. The rest would be hard at work, doing all the shit that I either don’t have time for or the necessary fucks to give one away willy-nilly. I might even dedicate one to swearing for me, as it’s unladylike and my mother always thought it important that I be a lady, not that I think that’s been overly successful.

I like writing. I enjoy it and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. What I am quickly coming to not enjoy so much is the other stuff that you have to do. I’m sure it’s been raised by other people, but if you’re responding to facebook and twitter constantly, when exactly are you supposed to write? What about joining groups? Start up a conversation, with witting sayings inserted in appropriate places, until everyone is madly in love with your writing style and will instantly download your book. Excellent strategy, except everyone else is doing that too and once everyone does it, the forums quickly becoming extraordinarily boring with everyone trying to market to each other. There really is nothing more desperate that writers trying to get other writers to buy their stuff.

Host an event! Invite people to attend and they will invite their friends and soon you’ll be famous! Another excellent strategy except I have no idea how to do that. The only parties I’ve held successfully have involved darkened rooms and lots of alcohol. How can I be witty and exciting when, being on the other side of the world, it’s the early hours of the morning and I can’t see anyone’s face? Hmmm… actually maybe that does have some possibilities. If no one knows what I look like, I can be Batman!

Rant over, I do need to knuckle down and listen to my lovely PR person, who is only trying to help. The market is saturated at the moment, so I’m given to understand, and it’s hard to stand out. And dressing like Batman really won’t be enough. Damn it!

 

When does marketing become cheating?

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Being a less than successful author leaves you open to a whole lot of helpful hints on how to make your book sell better. Given than none of the people offering advice have been in publishing, and I know almost nothing about marketing (what the f**k is a hashtag anyway?) these conversations tend to go round in circles. Friends in marketing for other industries have offered some useful insights, but none that my PR retarded self has converted to actual sales.

Several times the subject of “buying” reviews from India has come up as a suggestion. My immediate reaction has been “can’t, that’s cheating”, but the reply I got today was “no, that’s marketing”. The theory is that you have to spend money “advertising” your product, which in book terms means getting reviews and your book noticed. If you have a few hundred dollars to throw at it and it’s the most effective way of getting a return on that investment, then the logical path to follow would lead to the sub-continent.

Is it morally any different from buying a cake from the supermarket and dressing it up to pass off as your own? Taking the tags off new items of clothing and pretending they’re old? Buying ad space on a website that will then give a glowing review to your product? Pretending you have the degree you nearly finished? I knew someone who did that and I don’t think they were ever pulled up on it. These are all things that go to your credibility, but are hardly going to bring about the apocalypse.

The thing is, I’ve read a few books that had lots of amazing 5 star reviews, and realised after finishing that there was nothing redeeming about it and a book with that many typos and grammatical errors, as well as leaps in logic would never on its own get such a good rap. So I know they bought the reviews and I won’t read anything by that author again. Their next book might be a huge improvement, but I’ll never know (unless one of my favourite book bloggers recommends it and everyone else is reading it, then my militant stance will be out the window).

“But your book is good!” is the next response. Thanks, but everyone thinks their book is good or they wouldn’t put it out there. Also, you like me so you’re biased.

Marketing is never going to be my thing and I have enormous respect people who do it well and come up with new and exciting ways to promote their books. People outside the industry might not get why most of us will never buy reviews for $5 a pop, but writers in there for the long haul want to build up goodwill and loyal readers. After all, who is actually doing it for the money?

When exactly are you a “success”?

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I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what it would take for me to consider myself a success. It could be the less than overwhelming response to my last book or the approach of a large numbered birthday, but there has been an unusual amount of navel gazing. If I don’t figure this out shortly, I’m likely to run into something hard and its going to hurt. I don’t do a lot of the angst-filled woe-is-my-life thing generally, so it could just be that I’m not that good at it, but I can’t figure out exactly when or how I could get to the exact spot where I nod my head sagely, decide that I have made it and have a lengthy lie down. If it’s money earned, how much? If it’s book sales, how many? There’s really no end point. Number of books published? What did the last one do?

Lying down is something that I do well (which could be another reason for the aforementioned issues with success) but even so, I have trouble picturing myself relaxing, job done. And this is from someone who has envisioned multiple battle scenes between imaginary creatures with barely a passing sweat. I’ve jumped a few hurdles – I got an agent and a publishing deal – but even then, that’s not quite enough. The agent didn’t sell either of my books and even with a publisher, there is no guarantee of sales. Like a desperate miner panning for gold, I’m hoping the next one will be the one to make it (or the one after that possibly). It’s the hope that keeps you going and the fact that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. But what if I stopped chasing success? It would do away with the nagging feelings of disappointment when things don’t go as I envisioned, but would that just be accepting failure? If there is no hunger (or more superficially the ability to haul out some actual accomplishments when meeting people at parties) is there a reason to get out of bed in the morning, other than small children bouncing on my head?

It was suggested to me by someone recently that maybe I could write a non-controversial, sweet, formulaic novel and possibly make some decent sales. My immediate reaction was NO! Absolutely not! but then I thought about it some more. There is nothing wrong with me doing that, it’s not like I have delusions of grandeur, but deep down there is a fear that even if I did that, sold myself to the devil of commercialism, it still might not sell. And that would leave me in the completely untenable position of having nothing else to blame. I need to hold on to my excuses, along with the idea that I’d rather write something I find interesting than solely for the money. But between you and me? I’d write anything if it was certain to be another Fifty Shades and I defy you to find another writer who’d disagree.