When I came home last night I found an unfamiliar jug being soaked in the kitchen sink. It was white, decorated with swirls of blue and orange, and had Made in Italy written on the bottom. After being cleaned up it proved to be in perfect condition. My husband had picked it up from the pile of rubbish awaiting the annual ‘inorganic collection’ from the pavement of our street.

Besides feeling delighted to have such a beautiful jug, I was amazed. A few days ago (unknown to my husband) I resumed editing the short novel which I hope to publish next year, and had been wondering where to find a cover image featuring the Italian jug which is a key part of the story and is painted in just the same colours and patterns as our own new acquisition.

This is an example of synchronicity – often defined as ‘meaningful coincidence’. As described in the writings of Carl Gustav Jung, this phenomenon suggests the presence of a deeper order of things, a spiritual framework organising and connecting all aspects of life.

When researching my ebook Life’s Labyrinth I was surprised by how many of the contributors described synchronous events which had turned out to be important in shaping their personal destiny. Such incidents might include apparently chance meetings or opportunities which changed the course of a life, or financial windfalls which equated precisely to the sum of money needed at the time. In recent years I have experienced several instances of synchronicity myself. One somewhat disturbing variant, which has happened on several occasions, is seeing a photo of an old friend come up on my computer screensaver on the day that they died.

Not all these incidents appear to have any future consequences, for example it may not be technically feasible to use a photo of our new jug on the cover of my forthcoming book. Perhaps the purpose of ‘synchronicities’  is just to remind us that there is more to life than we can understand from our limited human perspective. Or perhaps, as skeptics affirm, they represent nothing more than random chance and we exaggerate their significance because we are biased to notice things which confirm our preconceptions, and to seek for patterns and meanings where none exist. 

Judging a book by its cover

Although it may be true that ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’, it is often just a split-second glance at the cover image which decides a potential reader whether or not to look inside.

A good cover is one that immediately attracts attention of an appropriate kind. ‘A picture tells a thousand words’ but these may be different words for different people. This is illustrated by the so-called ‘Gestalt’ images which can be seen in two ways: a face or a vase, a young woman or an old witch. Elsewhere I’ve described a bad experience when I showed a picture of a trapeze artist during one of my talks; this was intended to represent courage and joy, but one member of the audience thought it was a woman hanging herself.

Does your chosen cover image accord with the content of the book, and convey the corresponding mood of adventure, mystery, romance or relaxation? Colours are important, and all colours have psychological qualities, which can be modified by the shades and combinations chosen. Red, orange and yellow are usually stimulating; green, pinks and blue are calming; violet and indigo are spiritual. Cultural background affects the interpretation, for example in my own European tradition the colour of mourning is black, but in various other parts of the world it is white, purple, yellow, blue or grey. 

The lettering on the book cover needs to be reasonably large and clear, otherwise the title and the name of the author will not be legible from the thumbnail image often used on computer screens.

The cover image for the ebook version of my recent book Persons not diseases on Smashwords was designed with professional help. I was pleased with it, but when it came to self-publishing the same book in paperback on Amazon CreateSpace – the first time I had used this system – uploading the existing image was beyond my limited computing skills, so I opted for making a brand new one with the easy-to-use templates provided. The two covers are completely different – personally I like them both, but would be interested in readers’ comments about which they prefer. You can view the Smashwords one here and the Amazon one here.

Goal-setting for writers

Is it better to structure the process of writing a book by setting goals, timetables and routines – or to let yourself be spontaneously guided by opportunity and inspiration?

Many successful professional authors approach their work in a highly organised way. For example they might have a system of completing one new book each year, like the late Dick Francis who wrote over 40 best-selling thrillers set in the world of horse-racing. He began writing a new book every January, and finished it in May, ready for publication in September. Then after a summer holiday break he combined promotional events for the new book with planning and researching the next one, to be started the following  January. Some set themselves a rule of writing for a certain number of hours per day, often at the same time in the same place. Some like to produce a consistent daily word count, while others might be content to spend all morning revising a single paragraph.

The structured approach is suitable for those who like a regular lifestyle, who need to maintain a steady output of new material to earn their living, or who tend to procrastinate unless they discipline themselves. But goals, timetables and routines are tools to help with achieving your broader aims, rather than ends in themselves, and allowing yourself to be rigidly controlled by them can produce needless stress. Sometimes it pays to be flexible in response to variations in your own energy levels, or to external events. If circumstances prevent you from meeting a ‘deadline’ this can seem most frustrating, however it may turn out that the delay was all for the best in the long term; perhaps it gives you time to polish your work, or for market conditions to improve, or for better ideas and opportunities to appear. Even if you never achieve the goal, this could be a blessing in disguise; looking back, I am glad that the manuscript of the novel which I once tried so desperately to get published was never accepted. As the Dalai Lama says ‘Sometimes not getting what you wanted can be a wonderful stroke of luck.’ Also, goals need to be reviewed from time to time to see if they are still appropriate. When I started this blog I resolved to write one post each week, but only for so long as I had plenty of ideas for topics, and then to space them out. This time is now coming so I shall be posting less often here, but more often on my other blogs Jennifer Barraclough Bach Flowers and Woman of Aquarius.

If you are passionately involved with your current writing project, there is no need for rules and routines. Intensive bursts of creative inspiration may only come once in a lifetime and it can be worth making the most of them, even if it means going short on sleep, exercise, and time with family and friends for a while. In her autobiography, Agatha Christie describes how she wrote Absent in the Spring, published under the pen-name Mary Westmacott. After an incubation period of several years, the story and characters suddenly fell into place in her mind and she wrote the entire book as a single draft ‘in a white heat’ over three days, determined to get it all down on paper without interruptions to break the flow. After it was finished she was exhausted, went to sleep for 24 hours and then ate an enormous dinner. This book, though not nearly so well known as her crime novels, is the only one which satisfied her completely. 

Why many writers don’t like marketing

Like most authors I know, I feel more comfortable with writing books than promoting them. But I realise that publishing a book, and then making little effort to market it, is a bit like giving birth to a baby and then failing to look after it properly. To continue this analogy, just as pregnant mothers need good nutrition to help protect their children’s future health, experts recommend that authors need to start marketing their books several months before publication.

Marketing is essential to make your own book stand out from all the many other competing titles, especially if it is self-published. So why do so many of us find the process daunting, or have negative perceptions towards it?  I think there are three main reasons:

1. You regard your work on the book as complete. After putting so much time and effort into writing and publishing it, you are (hopefully) proud of the finished result, but also perhaps feel rather tired of the whole thing. You would like to start on the next book, or to do something completely different from writing, rather than  focus on marketing. But in this situation it is not enough to visualise high sales and then ‘let go of the outcome’; you need to take practical action to get your book noticed and reviewed.

2, You feel diffident about putting your book forward. You may fear being rejected, criticised or ignored. If you were brought up to be modest about your achievements, you may feel there is something ‘not quite nice’ about marketing, that it smacks too much of self-promotion. It may help to think about the process as being about your book rather than about you as a person, and to remember that no readers will be able to enjoy or benefit from your writing unless they know of its existence.

3. You do not know how to do it. Many writers do not have a business background or any training in sales and marketing techniques. But there is a huge amount of free guidance online, as well as a variety of paid courses. These suggest many different methods of marketing, to suit different personalities. Some writers enjoy giving public talks or taking copies along to bookshops and meetings, whereas others would rather develop their websites and blogs or take advantage of easy-to-use platforms such as an Amazon author page – you can see mine here. There are professional agencies which will mount a campaign on your behalf, but my own single experience with this method proved an expensive failure, and so for my latest book Persons not Diseases I am tackling the marketing myself.

Pendulum divination

Until recently I had would have agreed with the conventional scientific view that seeking answers to personal questions by asking a pendulum was a ridiculous idea. Now I am not so sure.

A couple of years ago I visited a colour therapy clinic. The assessment did not include any questions about my presenting symptoms and medical history, but was carried out with a pendulum and a set of multicoloured threads. It came up with some remarkably accurate statements about my past and present health.

The treatment involved having wires, coming from a machine in the next room, attached to my body via bands around my neck and wrists. Sitting on a comfortable chair for several hours, with nothing to do except read a book or look through the window at the pleasant view, was relaxing if a little dull.  During a quiet afternoon when I was the only client present, the therapist offered to show me how to use a pendulum. I was skeptical, but agreed out of politeness and to pass the time.

He gave me a key on a string and told me to hold it with one hand above the palm of the other, and to ask ‘Please show me a YES’. To my surprise it started to sway from side to side and then, when I asked ‘Please show me a NO’, it swayed in a direction at right angles to the first. The pattern of movement varies between individuals and is sometimes circular, for example clockwise for YES and anticlockwise for NO. The next step was to confirm the system by asking questions to which I already knew the answer, for example ‘Is my name Jennifer?’ and ‘Is my name Margaret?’. It gave correct results.

I was intrigued, and soon afterwards I bought a small crystal pendulum to experiment further. It almost always gives me an answer to ‘Yes or No’ questions ranging from the trivial (‘Is it safe to eat that curry?’) to the serious (‘Is it a good idea to move house this year?’). Many critics would say that its answers merely validate decisions I have already made, but I am not sure this is so; some of them have surprised me and they have never turned out to be ‘wrong’ as far as I can tell.

Googling ‘pendulum divination’ or ‘pendulum dowsing’ yields many articles and videos from intuitive and psychic perspectives, for example this one from Helen Demetriou which emphasises respect for the spiritual context. There is very little objective research about whether pendulums work, and if so whether the mechanism is physiological or supernatural. Theories range from subtle changes in muscle tension resulting from subconscious thoughts and feelings, to the influence of angels or spirit guides. This is a field of study in which the attitude of the investigators could easily bias the results, and most writings on the subject come either from committed believers or from cynics determined to debunk the whole thing.

I am sometimes asked whether I use a pendulum in my Bach flower practice to help choose the most suitable remedies for my clients. The answer is no, because this would go against the Bach Foundation’s code of practice, one reason being that such an aid could bypass the process of interview and self-inquiry which is an important part of the system developed by Dr Bach.

And what about the colour therapy? Again, there has been limited formal research. I met some other clients at the clinic who had been diagnosed with major physical diseases and said they had benefited a great deal, but whether it had much effect on my own various minor ailments is difficult to say.

Pendulum divination, colour therapy and Bach flower remedies are just three of the energy-based modalities which are well established in alternative circles, but are largely ignored or dismissed in orthodox ones.