It’s a good time to be a reader. Never before have there been so many books published and available in such a wide range of formats. When I was growing up, I spent hours in the library reading hardback books – and lamenting the fact that I was only allowed to take out ten a fortnight. I’d devour those ten books, and read them over and over, sometimes keeping them past their due dates and paying a fine just to read them again. And woe the times when I’d look for my favourite book and find that it was out on loan! Maybe that was a simpler, more innocent age. It certainly feels like ancient history.
A lot has changed even since I moved to the UK in 2000. Amazon, tablets, e-readers, millions of books published and self-published each year – as readers we are spoiled for choice. And as writers, it’s a brave new world full of opportunities and pitfalls. Traditional publishers have tightened their belts, and their lists. Some people believe that chick lit, along with many other genres, is in danger of becoming compartmentalised – is it romance? Is it humour? What about books that fall between the cracks?
When I wrote Finding Home, I knew I wanted to combine several different genres that I love: romance, mystery, humour. Some publishers saw this as ‘risky’ or they couldn’t figure out which ‘box’ it fit into. I was lucky to find a new publisher Aria (Head of Zeus) which was just looking for a good read, willing to take on new writers, and able to take a risk.
When asked what suggestions I’d give to people who are writing their first book, I would definitely say to read everyday and write everyday (or, at least as often as you can). It’s also important to learn the ‘craft’ of writing and structuring a novel. When I was first starting out, I took an evening course which taught me some valuable basics, and more importantly, introduced me to other writers. We formed a critique group that still meets regularly almost ten years on. It’s important to get support in what can otherwise be a lonely pursuit. Eventually, even your family can get fed up with amount of time you spend with your ‘imaginary friends’!
Beyond the writing itself, even established writers need a thick skin to handle rejection, criticism, and the subjective opinions of others. It’s not possible to please everybody, so first and foremost – to paraphrase Toni Morrison – I suggest that you try to write a book that you would want to read. There’s a good possibility that there are others out there who would like to read it too!
Lauren Westwood’s debut novel Finding Home is published by Aria (Head of Zeus). Originally from California, she now lives in Surrey with her partner and three young daughters. She is working on her next book – working title ‘Finding Secrets’ – which will hopefully be published in spring 2017. She loves hearing from readers and getting feedback. You can contact her on: