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On The table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, members of The Christmas Collective talk about writing The Mistletoe Mixtape anthology book as part of their writing community.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed some of the authors of The Mistletoe Mixtape from The Christmas Collective about what it’s like to work together, and the creative process that goes into their work.
What has been like establishing/organising a group self-publishing project?
Sarah Shard, 2022 PM, author of ‘Stay Another Day’
Daunting! Blá did an amazing job on the first project, but we all saw how big a role it was. However, in my day job I’ve managed projects, so logically, I felt best placed to take it on. I started by asking everyone to think about three key things: what worked well in 2021, what would we love to do better in 2022, and what were their personal goals for the project.
The first half of the year concerned finding three new authors, agreeing the theme and title, and writing our stories. The second half of has been focusing on how to achieve our definition of success. We have different teams set up across marketing, project management, PR, Blog Tour co-ordination and sales. We will only know how well our strategy has worked in the months following publication but fingers crossed, everyone loves the stories as much as we do!
Bláithín O’Reilly Murphy, 2021 PM, author of ‘Sausage Rolls for Everyone’
Last year was exhilarating, challenging and a steep learning curve for all! What made the process easier, was not just the terrific group of talented writers, but also the many useful skills, abilities and hobbies that each member of the group had. Amongst us we editors, a typesetter, those who have knowledge of the law, graphic designers and some with experience of traditional/Indie publishing that benefited us hugely and made my role a lot easier.
While this helped greatly, none of us had any real idea how More than Mistletoe would turn out. Clear communication, regular contact and scheduling kept us all in check. It can be challenging to stay motivated when you’re not sure what the outcome will be. While some might think it would be crazy to write a book with eleven strangers, having so many to share the work load definitely helped to keep us all going.
How has the experience changed for you between More Than Mistletoe and The Mistletoe Mixtape?
Joe Burkett author of ‘Wrapped in Red’
Between the two projects, my confidence as a writer has definitely grown, allowing me to cultivate my author voice.
During the first project I was moving counties and planning my wedding. I was juggling a lot of plates but I loved writing ‘August In December’, though it was a very emotional story, as the theme was grief and overcoming loss.
This year, I struggled to get my story to land for a long time! ‘Wrapped in Red’ went through many incarnations before the central question I wanted to explore finally hit me: what if hiding away leads you to finding yourself again?
I write LQBT+ stories and I love creating stories for the queer community. I think there still needs to be far more representation for the gay community in media, but I am happy to be a very small part of that representation.
Amy Gaffney (pen name: Cici Maxwell) author of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’
Like Joe, I’ve also gained confidence as a writer, which I attribute to the support and encouragement of the Collective. Although we all haven’t met offline, we care about each other’s struggles as writers and as friends. The prompt this year was super exciting. Write a story based on your favourite Christmas song? Whoop! – except I’ve far too many favourites to choose from. I decided to press shuffle on my year-round Christmas playlist, and pick the first which played … “Twelve Days of Christmas”!
When my character Gemma came to me, she was the perfect lead. I also knew who the love of her life would be, and he was a dream to write. Unlike last year, this is a contained short story. It was a challenge as I tend to overwrite – the final version has been whittled down by hmm, I’d say three thousand words! But I loved and learned a lot by cutting those words out!
What advice would you give to other authors thinking about self-publishing?
S. L. Robinson, author of ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’
The first step is writing your book – there’s no point learning anything about the process if you haven’t got anything to put out. I’m a pantser (in all aspects of life), and I prefer to learn things practically, and as the need arises. There are tons of self-publishing communities out there – take advantage of them to avoid being taken advantage of.
Finding a community is so important, whether it’s online or IRL. Before forming the Collective, I was overwhelmed by just the thought of starting on the road to self-publishing. Now, I’ve got a bunch of pals to walk along with me and we’ve all benefited from the mutual support. I could never have thought that starting a Facebook group for writers in competition with each other would lead to me being confident enough to pursue my dream of writing, but I have zero regrets for how it turned out.
Jennifer Bromham author of ‘A Winter’s Tale’
First of all, don’t rush. You owe it to yourself to make your book the best it can be to make it a success.
1) Whether Plotter or Pantser, before you publish, make sure you learn the craft of writing. Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody is a great place to start, or, Savannah Gilbo’s podcast Fiction Writing Made Easy.
2) Learn about self-publishing from authors who have taken/are taking this route. WriteMentor’s Stuart White is blogging/making podcasts about the process as he works towards self-publishing his first book if you want direct insight into the struggles, choices, and the joy of being in control of your publishing journey.
3) Connect with other writers/readers and tell them about your book. Tell your friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances too! It’s not showing off; it’s celebrating your achievement. Everyone loves good news, and if you’re releasing a fantastic, new book into the world, people will want to hear about it.
What do you wish you knew about the process before you started?
Marianne Calver author of ‘White Christmas’
Everything! I was a total novice when I joined the Collective last year. I had only just started writing, had no idea about the publishing process and was pretty clueless about social media. It has been exciting, and sometimes daunting, to learn as we’ve gone along. Personally, the collaborative nature of our project has suited me really well and I’ve loved being part of this driven and dynamic team. There’s so much to learn and I wish I’d known from the start that there’s no better way to educate yourself than jumping in at the deep end.
Michelle Harris author of ‘Fairytale of New York’
What I wish we had known from the start was just how much goes into self-publishing; it wouldn’t have deterred us as we believed in the project so strongly, but it’s so much more complicated than I think we realised at first. The stories themselves are just the beginning. The minefield of trying to reach people with our book has been frustrating, overwhelming and bewildering at times, while also being really enjoyable and exciting too. We have learned a lot about the process, which has informed us the second time round.
What has it been like coming into the Collective for the second project?
Helen Hawkins author of ‘Santa, Baby’
I spent most of last year watching the journey and success of More than Mistletoe from afar and wishing that I’d jumped in the first time around; so, when the opportunity arose to get involved with book number two, I was there for it! The Collective is so much more than a group of writers publishing together. In The Christmas Collective, I’ve found a network of supportive writer friends, experts in the individual aspects of writing, publishing and marketing of a book – and a group of friends who cheerlead for each other along the way.
I’ve enjoyed the process so much and I’ve also learnt more than I ever thought I would. One of the best bits? Soon, I’ll get to hold a book where my writing is published for the first time!
Karl King author of ‘Carol of the Bells’
Becoming part of the Collective has been, more than anything, a great honour. It’s been a steep learning curve and I feel surrounded by intelligent and supportive group of people whose only objective is making everyone’s writing better and to publish an amazing product. I was a complete newbie to the short story format, Christmas or Romance genres, but the team really helped me hone the craft and guided me along the way.
I think The Mistletoe Mixtape really speaks for itself in the diversity of our writing and how we can all cross genres but create a romantic Christmas book at the same time. I can’t wait to see my story in print!
Hayley-Jenifer Brennan author of ‘Under the Mistletoe’
To have been asked to be a part of The Christmas Collective this year has been such a wonderful and fulfilling experience for me as a writer, but also as someone learning about the publishing space. I feel like I’ve gathered so much more intel on the written word from this incredible group of writers, that I will carry with me into all of my future projects.
I really enjoyed reading all of the stories in last year’s anthology, and I couldn’t believe it when I was asked to be part of this year’s one! Christmas and romantic comedies are two of my favourite things, so this was such a fun project to work on! I’m so grateful to all of the amazing writers (and just generally legendary people) involved in this book! I can’t wait to finally hold it in my hands!
Cosplaying Instagram: @hpdlfdl
What has been the best part of this process?
Donna Gowland author of ‘Dominick the Donkey’
I think I echo what my fellow authors have said when I say that the collaboration has been the best part. It’s been such a joy sharing the journey with like-minded people with shared goals, dreams and visions. I still pinch myself that I’m part of this team, as I constantly read their stories and think they are so much better than mine! I feel like I’ve developed so much as a writer and editor through this process and it’s great to be part of the community. Everyone needs their own Christmas Collective gang!
How many of you are working on separate projects and can you give us a hint?
I have many works in development (thanks to my ADHD!) but chief among those is finishing “The Last Christmas”, which was teased in More than Mistletoe, and is a historical gay romance, mainly set in London.
I have three novels at different stages of development. My first, “Then There was Two”, is a story of a forever single girl whose world is shattered by her father’s death bringing not one, but two, men into her life. I am also working on a series which starts with “The Crystal Shop on Blueberry Hill”. Finally, the standalone Christmas novel “December for Dad”, which is the follow up to my story “Christmas at the Little Blue Bookshop” from More than Mistletoe.
Bláithín O’ Reilly Murphy
I have two current works in development. The first “It started with a Gift” is the follow up to my story “Sealed with a Christmas Kiss” from More than Mistletoe – hopefully being released in December 2022. And the second is a non-fiction wedding planning book that I’m ghost-writing for a client, which should be released in 2024.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
The Mistletoe Mixtape: http://mybook.to/themistletoemixtape
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