Joanne Phillips

A Writers Journey


insecure writers support group

Insecure Writers’ Support Group Day – Focusing On Support!

It’s the first Wednesday of the month which means it’s Insecure Writers Support Group day! Thanks as always to Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting and organising this fantastic event. You can check out the rest of the participants here, and pop along to visit some more insecure writers and offer your support.

Insecure Writers Support Group logo

Now, I kind of did my IWSG post last week – you can click here to read about my recent wobbles – and the comments and support I got there truly took my breath away. If you’re feeling low this month, feeling like giving it all up, read through the comments to be reminded how supportive this wonderful blogging community really it – you are not alone. So for this IWSG post I’m going to be focusing on the ‘support’ aspect of the title. Here is my own little bit of wisdom – heavily borrowed and adapted from Susan Jeffers – to getting a bit of perspective and balance in your writing life.

First you need to draw a square with ‘writing’ in the middle, like this (it helps to do it in pencil):


This square represents your world, and this is what it looks like when writing – thinking about writing, focusing on writing, talking about writing – takes over. Now take your eraser and rub it out:


Yup, big empty space! So not only can writing overwhelm us, it can also make us scared of stopping. If you’ve been giving too much to one aspect of your life, deep down you know the rest of your world is in trouble, which makes you cling to the obsession even harder. But if you get burnt out, or just plain sick of it, what’s left? That big old empty box.

Right, now take your empty square and make it into 9 sqaures, like this:


Now start to fill these squares with all the things that are important to you – all the things you would spend your time on, equally or otherwise, if you could. Here’s mine:


Susan Jeffers also suggests things like Contribution (charity work, perhaps, or going to church) and Relaxation, and you could of course have more than one box for hobbies. This is your world, so you make it the way you want it. Now, take your eraser and rub out Writing again:


Well, I guess this is a bit cheesy, but you can see that suddenly the gap it leaves isn’t so huge after all. And now for the most important point of this exercise:

If you give attention to every square, every day, your life will be more balanced and work better!

It’s true, try it. I’d forgotten all this, which was why my life was getting out of shape – hence last week’s post. Doing this exercise from time to time helps you focus on what’s important, and reminds you to give attention to the aspects of your life that tend to get ignored. It’s also incredibly useful – and this was Susan Jeffers’ intention – for helping you gain perspective after a relationship has broken down, or you’ve lost your job. But I think it works just as well for writing.

This is going out especially for Vikki Thompson, and you can read her IWSG post here. And I think Vikki makes a really valuable point – it’s definitely possible to get bored doing something you love, if you don’t do anything else. Most professional writers have other work and interests, and without this their writing may not be so rich and interesting. So I’m taking the advice of all the wonderful people who commented on the blog last week, and I’m going to have a break, plan other activities and projects, and come back to writing refreshed and reinvigorated. Happy IWSG day everyone!

Insecure Writers Support Group Day – February

Hi everyone – it’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for another IWSG day!

Later today I’ll be continuing with my We’ve Got It Covered series, but I wanted to take time out to connect with my fellow ISWGs first. What are you feeling insecure about today, guys? Let it all hang out, don’t be scared to dig deep and share your innermost fears …

What do you mean, I should go first? Oh, OK then. If I must. Well, this month I’ve decided to share with you a very big, very personal insecurity – speaking in public. Don’t groan – I know you think everyone hates this, but I have a very special reason to hate it more than most. When I was young I had a stammer, and there are vast chunks of my past which are marked by my inability to speak up. In school I was disadvantaged by not being able to read out loud (I remember all you evil teachers who showed no pity at all), and it made me overcompensate in some ways, and become very introverted in others. In my twenties it coloured other people’s view of me – the person who never likes to order in restaurants, who won’t make a simple phone call, who hates to be interrupted – and I’m sure it’s what made me retreat into my inner world and become a writer (every cloud …).

So why is this rearing its ugly head right now? Well, I’m fairly over my stammer. These days I can just about function, and phone calls are manageable, and it’s only when I’m very stressed it shows up at all. But speaking in public? Oh. My. God. It’s not just that I’m nervous – I know it’s impossible for me. I had to have intensive therapy just to say my wedding vows, for goodness sake! But this year I’ve set myself the challenge to overcome this fear.

This Saturday I’ll be at Market Drayton library helping to mark National Libraries Day, but I’ll just be standing by a table, shyly avoiding potential readers. That’s not how it was supposed to be – originally the manager of the library invited me to host a ‘Meet the Author’ evening, giving a talk and reading from my latest novel. Now, wouldn’t that be an amazing thing to do? Or how about speaking at literary festivals? Giving readings? Holding workshops? I could do all those things – I’m brimming over with ideas and enthusiasm – but this stammer thing is holding me back.

So, this is the year to overcome. Ideas and advice welcome – and please share your insecurities too, to make me feel better about mine!

National Libraries Day - MD
I won’t be doing much talking, I’m afraid!

When It’s Not OK To Judge A Book By Its Cover

A Post for Insecure Writers Support Group Day

During a recent writing workshop, a well-known author was overheard talking about the cover of my debut novel, Can’t Live Without. She said, ‘I could tell it was self-published just by looking at the cover.’ She didn’t say this in a nice way.

For IWSG Day, I’d like to talk about traditionally published authors casting aspersions on self-published books, particularly when based on nothing but the ‘look’ of the book itself. I’m going to ask the following questions: What qualifies them to do this? and, Is looking self-published actually a bad thing anyway?

Why a IWSG post? Because this remark did upset me, albeit temporarily. I’ve decided not to name the author in question because I have far more respect for her feelings than she clearly has for mine. Did she really think I wouldn’t hear about what she said?

Should Traditionally Published Authors Be Praised (or otherwise) For Their Book Covers?

It goes like this – you get a publishing deal, and from the moment the contract is signed you hand over control of many aspects of the production and publication of your book. If not all aspects. Editorial control, control of the publication timetable, and in most if not all cases, control of the cover, size, and quality of the book.

I know many traditionally published authors who are unhappy with their book covers. Kate Long has talked about arguments with designers; Linda Gillard disagreed strongly with the cover design for Star Gazing (and the title, but was overruled). At the Festival of Romance I talked to an author with a publishing deal, herself a professional cover designer, who was unhappy with the cover her publishers had landed her with. Her own design was ignored. What this proves is that authors have no say whatsoever in the design of their covers. And having no say or input, can they really take any credit if their book ends up with a good cover? I think not.

Large publishing houses have design departments with years of experience and hefty budgets – they have tried-and-tested styles and designs, access to top-notch photography and illustrators, all the best software; they can employ such clever tricks as spot lamination and embedded glitter; they can choose the trim size and paper quality to match the industry standard. Most (not all, despite the above) trad-authors get fantastic covers. But there’s no need for them to be smug about it.

Compare and contrast with the self-publishing author. We have limited budgets for cover design, and often have to rely on our own ideas and sourcing of images because to pay for a designer’s time on this would be prohibitive. We are limited by trim size, paper type and cover board with a POD printer; bookwove paper for bulk is often out of our price-per-unit range, as is spot lamination or glitter-style effects. If we want to make a profit, that is. And any self-respecting self-publishing author is aiming to make a profit. Which might be what p****s trad-published authors off. 70% royalties anyone?

I digress. With the odds stacked against us, I think most self-publishing authors produce stunning covers. Interesting, striking, clever, evocative covers. Here is a sample of indie covers which I think are pretty cool:

Talli BuildTerry Other SideDangerous WatersHouse of SilenceYours TrulyThe Family Trap coverthat time of the month

Yes, I put one of mine in there too. I love it. Some people won’t. That’s fine, obviously. But why be mean-spirited to a room full of writing delegates about a self-published book? Why slag off the cover? Which brings me to my second question …

Is Looking Self-Published Such A Bad Thing Anyway?

I’ve many read reports of indie authors being chuffed to bits when a bookseller tells them: ‘This is amazing – your book doesn’t look self-published at all.’ We know where they’re coming from – for a long while self-published books weren’t that great, production-wise, let’s face it. But times are changing, and now there’s no need to produce anything other than a stand-out ebook or paperback edition. When a bookseller says that, what they mean is: ‘It looks like a book.’ Well, yes. That’s the point.

But take another look at the covers above. If they look self-published it’s only because they look different. They look special. They’ve got that balance right between telling the reader something about the genre, but not being a carbon copy of every other book in that genre.

CLW cover small snipped

If Can’t Live Without had been taken up by a traditional publisher during my (admittedly short) search for one, would it have this cover? I think not. It would have probably been beautifully illustrated though, maybe with a woman holding some shopping bags (a burning house in the background?), some leaves, trees or flowers around the edges, a swirly font in pink, with a cream background. I’m sure it would have looked lovely. It would also have looked like every other book in its genre.

If self-published books stand out it’s because we are taking chances and dancing to the beat of our own drum. A LOT of hard work goes into our cover design, and I defy any traditionally published author to do a better job themselves. The next time you hear someone say your book looks self-published, be proud that you stand out from the crowd.

One final thought: I had a look at this author’s covers. They are very nice. But I can tell just by looking at them that they are traditionally published.

Insecure Writers Support Group logo

Find out more about the Insecure Writer’s Support Group here.

Insecure Writers Support Group Day – November

Hi everyone – it’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for another IWSG day!

Last month I was feeling insecure about the MA in creative writing I’m currently studying. Thankfully, last night’s session went quite well, so I’m not feeling like the class dunce today. Today I’m feeling insecure about something much bigger …

The Festival of Romance! (That moment needed a horror movie soundtrack to go with it.)

OK, weekend after next I’m booked to appear at the Festival of Romance in Bedford. Exciting, tick. But at the romance fair, I’ll be on a table with some big, big names in the world of writing, and I’ve also found out I’m one of only a handful of indie authors attending the event.

What will they think of little old self-published me? Will they sneer, laugh, and throw things? I know it’s ridiculous, but I have this horrible high-school-esque image in my head of them standing, en mass, and shouting: I refuse to sit at a table with her!

Well, I’m over dramatizing it (hey, I am a writer!) – I’m sure it won’t be that bad. But don’t you think that even if I don’t mention my indie status, someone is at some point going to ask me that dreaded question: Who are you published by?

I’m not ashamed of being indie – far from it. There are those who say traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing, with its lower royalties and tendency to make a lot of money for someone other than the author. We indies are a talented lot and we work very hard. But there is still this publishing snobbery that persists, the sense that those who have been accepted with open arms through the gates of the establishment are better than those who were sent away to do it alone.

So, that’s my story today. Insecurity is niggling away at me. Big hugs to everyone else out there who is feeling insecure today. Jo x

Visit the official IWSG page here, and offer your support to some more insecure writers today. And thanks for listening 🙂

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: