East of England festive update

Hi all

Here's where we are with East of England. The book's done, I've approved the final artwork for the back cover, and the project's being sent to print. It'll be rolling through the presses shortly after the Christmas break.

That means that subscriber copies will be posted out mid-January in advance of the official launch of the book on the 24th, for those of you that have gone for paperback options. If you've got an ebook coming your way, then you'll also get an email from Unbound with instructions on how to download your copy. 

I'd hoped to have included a pic of the full back cover, not least because there's a couple of lovely quotes on there from two writers who have read East of England and claimed to have liked it very much indeed! When I've got something to show you, I'll let you have a sneak preview. 

For everyone else, the book’s out on 24th January.

If you want to read East of England before its release, then you can do that by subscribing (it's free) to the bookclub app The Pigeonhole, and signing up to their serialisation of the book; East of England will be released in 10 daily episodes starting 4th January. There's more details on that here

On the assumption that I don't darken your inbox again this side of 2019, then have a fine Christmas and New Year, and I'll see you on the other side of the festivities. 



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East of England: cover reveal

Hi all

Here’s the cover for East of England:

East of England cover

East of England cover

Not bad, is it?

As I've mentioned before, the book's released on 24th January. At the time of writing, there's still a last-minute change to be a patron of the book via pledging to the project at the publisher's website. This closes on Monday 3rd December and is the absolute last opportunity to have your name immortalised in the book's credits. Get in while you can! 

East of England can be pre-ordered at all of the places that you can buy books from, both in ebook and in paperback. There's a list of links to East of England's page with a range of booksellers here

If you've already pledged to support the book, then your copy will arrive shortly before the 24th January. 

In a few days, I should be able to give details of a handful of book signings and the like...

Thanks for your support!



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Authors Unbound: Nottingham Waterstones 6th October

As part of the ongoing crowdfunding-related shenanigans for my upcoming thriller East of England, I’m involved in a day-long writing event at Waterstones in Nottingham on Saturday 6th October.

Authors Unbound offers a keynote speech from award-winning author Alice Jolly, plus five themed panels with discussions - and audience Q&As on contemporary writing, genre fiction, historical writing, non-fiction and documentary writing, and on comic writing. There’ll be a few readings to round out the day also.

Here’s the running order:

6 Oct running order.PNG

All the writers featured have works either in-progress or published by Unbound. Tickets are £% plus book fee (the fiver’s redeemable against book purchases, which makes it almost free, really!), and can be bought here in advance from Waterstones.

Also, in support of the event, we’ve put together an e-book sampling a fair selection of those in Nottingham on the day. That e-book can be downloaded here (It’s free for a limited time, so gt in quick and you might snaffle a freebie!).

Lastly, many of the writers who’ll be there have been interviewed on this very blog in my 10 Questions series. Have a look-see here:

Eli Allison

Lulu Allison

Tim Atkinson

Stephanie Bretherton

Erica Buist

Sue Clark

Alys Earl

Eamonn Griffin (yes, I interviewed myself)

Maximilian Hawker

Paul Holbrook

Stephen Leslie

Miles Hudson

Patrick Kincaid

Amy Lord

Virginia Moffatt

John-Michael O’Sullivan

Emma Pusill

PJ (Philip) Whiteley

Hope to see you on the 6th October if you’re available, and if not, at least consider downloading the ebook (it’s free until the morning of Tues 25th Sept, 99p thereafter - that’s the cheapest it can be made), as well as checking out these fine author types.


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10 questions: Stephanie Bretherton, author of Bone Lines

It’s been a few weeks since the last 10 questions; time for another! Today, my guest writer is Stephanie Bretherton, whose novel Bone Lines is published by Unbound on 19th September. That’s more than enough from me, so here’s Stephanie:

1.          Who are you and what’s your book about?

Great question. The whole process of being published for the first time demands that you ask those two questions until you are no longer sure which way is up! In short, I am a word peddler who feeds her body through copy-writing but has fed her soul by pouring years of love, sweat, tears and lost weekends into a genre-bender of a novel that asks that very same question: ‘who are you?’ 

But in this case the net is cast a little wider to explore what lies at the heart of being human.

SB headshot.jpg

2.          Why should folk read your book?

Because they will never have read anything quite like it! While my tongue-in-cheek ‘elevator pitch’ goes something like “Sole survivor of Clan of the Cave Bear hits The Road with Professor Alice Roberts” it’s always been hard for me to sell the book along the lines of “if you loved (insert bestseller here) then you will love Bone Lines.” It’s a distinctive book that will probably divide opinion, but which, thankfully, every reader so far has seemed to really enjoy. 

3.          What’s the appeal of your book?  

It explores some of the bigger questions but also day to day dilemmas of love and survival... and, so I am told, keeps you rooting for its pair of unique; and courageous heroines, whose stories are told in a dual narrative set many millennia apart.

4.          Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy? 

It is available from 19th September paperback or e-book on most major retailer sites (Amazon UK and Waterstones as examples), and a wide range of indie and high street bookshops.


5.          Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

I still run my PR and communications business full time, so there’s no typical day for writing fiction, except the weekends. I was so fired up for the first draft of Bone Lines, however, that for the first six months I was up at the laptop every morning from 6 to 8:30! Then researching at lunchtimes and evenings. The various rewrites and edits (and the skeletons of the two sequels) were written mostly during weekend  afternoons - at no small cost to my back or my personal life. But like most authors I’m passionate about what I do and have little choice but to do it. 

6.          Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

 Oddly enough, I found something called Fiction: The Art and the Craft on a neighbour’s wall among other cast offs recently, but haven’t opened it. I tend to write organically then edit later, but the whole process of editing Bone Lines with professionals (even before I submitted to Unbound) has taught me so much. Otherwise I tend to find useful essays on writing or the creative process online. For example, Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is a fantastic site. 

7.          Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

I know everyone must say this, but only 3? That’s brutal. But in terms of early inspiration for unforgettable characters and atmosphere, Perfume, for ‘social’ influence then To Kill a Mockingbird, and for sheer mind-blowing literary mastery, The Road

8.          Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without: 

Not sure I couldn’t live without any of these, but because I can have only 3 then range and variety would be a good thing:

Poem for the Day, an anthology edited by Nicholas Albery for Random House – yup, 365 of them from classic to contemporary

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (might go as mad as Lear on my blasted island, but there’s nothing about human experience that the Bard hasn’t covered.)

And the book I’m re-reading now and so would hate not to finish, The Chymical Wedding by Lindsay Clarke, which would also offer some great inspiration on being ‘one’ with my island.

9.          Any words of writing wisdom?

Write the first line. Just write it. Then a paragraph, then a page. Delete if nothing works, but something probably will. You have to keep the cogs oiled and machinery moving. Look for ideas and inspiration everywhere, documentaries, news items, overhead conversations. Don’t bend your style or passion to suit a genre or a trend – write what you want to write, and from the heart. But (and this is one I need to keep learning) don’t fall so much in love with your characters that you find yourself protecting them from the plot! 

10.          Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

Oh, yes please, let’s! But I have already covered that above? Though maybe in the movie version, the cave woman would ‘meet’ the scientist on some kind of hallucinatory trip? There’s so much you can do with the medium of film that you can’t with prose, so I’d like to see all the audio-visual potential explored. And the soundtrack! How much fun would that be? Anyway, Cate Blanchett would be ideal for Dr Eloise Kluft, and the young prehistoric shaman character would be a great ‘breakout’ role for an up-and-coming actress of colour.

Web/Social media

Website:  http://stephaniebretherton.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BrethertonWords1/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrethertonWords

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/brethertonwords2/?hl=en

Huge thanks to Stephanie for her time! I’ve got a copy pre-ordered, so I’m looking forward to reading Bone Lines


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East of England - update 17th July

Hi all!

Here's where we are with East of England. Those of you fine folk who have already pledged to the support the book should have received an email spelling out some of this, so apologies for any duplication. As noted in that email, Unbound break down their route to publication into ten stages:

  1. Funding target reached

  2. The final draft of the manuscript is delivered.

  3. The editor edits. And edits.

  4. Cover and artwork design begins.

  5. The copy editor reviews the manuscript for consistency.

  6. Typesetter formats manuscript for printing

  7. First proofs come back and are sent to the proofreader

  8. Final edits are made

  9. Artwork finalised

  10. Final proofs go to press

Where are we? We're at stage 3 of that process. I delivered the manuscript of the novel at the weekend (after two full drafts and what felt at the time like a thorough tidy-up), and it's now in the wildly-capable hands of its editor. Those who pledged to have their (or a loved one's) name featured in the novel have had the appropriate name included... 

There'll now be a period of to-and-fro between the editor and me, first on the overall structure of the book, and then on the writing at the level of paragraph, sentence and word. Basically, the editor acts as a critical friend / constructive critic to help ensure that East of England a) makes sense b) is great c) doesn't have any errors / mistakes / unwarranted weirdness in it.

This part of the process will take a few weeks, not least as it's summer and we'd all rather be outside making sandcastles and flicking towels at each other than being hunched over a laptop, grumbling at a manuscript.  

There'll be update emails from Unbound throughout the process to publication, and I'll do the same, hopefully explaining stuff along the way. 

In the meantime, writing on other stuff continues apace. I'd tell you more, but I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise. 

The pledges / pre-orders will remain open to let other fine folk get on board to receive the acclaim and glory that being a crowd-funder and an arts patron brings. So, if you either want to get copies for others, or simply like having multiple copies o the same book on your shelves, you can make those pre-orders here

Also, if you're so minded I thoroughly recommend pre-ordering (also from Unbound) my brother Maxim's book Field Notes




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10 questions: Toby Howden, author of Paper Tigers: Martial Arts & Misadventure in Japan

Today's interviewee in the ongoing series of questionnaire-style friendly interrogations of fellow Unbound Publishing authors (my noir thriller East of England is on its way from Unbound - details, including how to pre-order special advance copies are here) is Toby Howden. Here's Toby to tell us all a bit more about his book:

TH pic.jpg

1. Who are you and what’s your book about?

My name is Toby Howden and my book is Paper Tigers: Martial Arts & Misadventure in Japan, a memoir about an ill-judged attempt to become the real Karate Kid whilst working in a traditional Japanese paper factory during the nineties.

2. Why should folk read your book?

Because it’s a hilarious and heart-warming tale of friendship, following your dreams and how, when things don’t go quite as planned, there’s a better story to be told. It highlights many of the funny and painful faux pas you can end up committing in foreign cultures, plus, it’s all embarrassingly true.

3. What’s the appeal of your book?

I think travelling to the “mystical Orient” to train with martial arts masters is something many people have dreamed of doing, but few have ever considered the reality of such an endeavour. There’s an enduring curiosity about traditional Japanese culture, but most Westerners experience it through the polite camera lens of a tourist, or as a well-paid, segregated English teacher. I’ve yet to come across anyone else who has worked there doing manual labour whilst attempting to become a ninja - with good reason.

4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?

It’s out now in paperback and digital in the usual places – Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones etc.   

TH book.jpg

5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

My beautiful girlfriend usually wakes me with a martini as the sun rises over our private island hideaway. The sounds of the warm sea lapping on the sandy white beach drifts in through the billowing linen curtains. I fight off Ursula’s advances donning a tight black polo-neck over my muscular, tanned body and begin the first task of the day, pondering the tricky second novel.

Sorry, you mean my day…

I wake when it’s still dark, then commute far enough to ensure the complete destruction of the environment. Boring meetings, teaching and admin whilst daydreaming about writing. Home, family, kids, bedtime, wine. Not always in that order. Around ten o'clock I turn the computer on, stare at it wistfully and hit the PlayStation for an hour. At eleven o'clock I’m almost ready to begin. I open my current ‘work in progress’, check Facebook, Twitter, put some tunes on, mess about with Instagram, the news, then back to Facebook again. I‘ll then re-read my latest sonnet, ponder different fonts and maybe open more wine.

Around midnight I ignore the angry texts from my partner telling me to turn it down and come to bed, and suddenly, as if by magic, I’m in the zone and begin to write…

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

I’m guessing everyone’s already read On Writing by Stephen King. Brilliant for so many reasons and reassuring proof that truly great writers are not simply born overnight. Slightly more obscure but well worth checking out is Joel Stickley’s blog ‘How to Write Badly Well’, very funny and informative. 

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

Lost in Place by Mark Saltzman, a truly hilarious and superbly written coming of age memoir about trying to get high and master Kung Fu in Connecticut USA during the 1970s.

Fantastic Mr Fox. Having three kids I get the joy and privilege of re-reading stories from my childhood. Re-visiting the Roald Dahl classics is pure inspiration. They’re a masterclass in creativity and the art of making supremely clever writing appear effortless.  

Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger. A year in Japan completing the infamous Tokyo Riot Police Aikido course; made me reflect about my own martial arts experiences and persuaded me that it was something worth writing about.

8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

I guess something by Ray Mears or Bear Grylls might be sensible on a desert island.

Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe-Hill is pretty epic and definitely worth a re-read. The story of the Native American Sioux tribe. A heart-breaking book that forces you to reconsider modern definitions of ‘civilisation.’

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, a truly masterful writer, she created worlds and characters with such depth, I feel as though her books are old friends.

Can I take some pencils and a pad of paper and write one?

9. Any words of writing wisdom?

Writing a book is like reaching the summit of a mountain only to be confronted by the far more challenging mountain range of publishing; think Mordor rather than The Sound of Music.

Most people don’t care that you’ve written a book, many publishers are actually quite annoyed by the fact. Deal with it. Conversely, some people will immediately assume that you’re going to be the next famous millionaire celebrity JK, and a precious few will believe in your writing to the extent that you will be utterly humbled.

Also, ignore twats who tell you it can’t be done.  

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

‘Wax on, wax off, wacked out!’ (Courtesy of Unbound). Or, ‘Man goes to Japan to master martial arts. Will he do it? No.’

Social media contacts:

Website: LLToby@twitter


Unbound URL: https://unbound.com/books/paper-tigers


Huge thanks to Toby for answering my questions! As he says, Paper Tigers is available now from all good retailers, so you really don't have a reason to not pick yourself up a copy ...


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10 questions: Tim Atkinson, author of The Glorious Dead

As a means of supporting others who are going through - or have gone through - the process of crowdfunding their book projects via Unbound Publishing (my own humble effort East of England is here), I'm interviewing fellow Unbound authors. Today it's the turn of Tim Atkinson, whose post-WWI novel The Glorious Dead is being published later in 2018. Here's Tim:


    1.        Who are you and what’s your book about?

Tim Atkinson – The Glorious Dead tells the story of what happened AFTER the guns fell silent at 11am on 11th November, 1918. Who cleared the battlefields and buried the dead? And why did so many men who fought – and survived – stay on?

    2.        Why should folk read your book?

It’s the untold story of the First World War. Thousands of troops volunteered to stay in France and Flanders for meagre pay, doing the Empire’s dirty work. Once the British Army finally withdrew (in 1921) many stayed on in a civilian capacity. Some never came home. People need to know why.

    3.        What’s the appeal of your book?

 War is universal and the fascination of the Great War shows no sign of diminishing. But there are still so many stories that need to be told. Perhaps the biggest of all, though, is the story of our own mortality and what facing it – as these men did, first in battle, then combing the battlefields for fallen comrades – does.

    4.        Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy? 

Before midnight on Sunday (July 1st) you can still pledge on Unbound. After that, it should be the shops (and be available online) in November.

TA cover.jpg

    5.        Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

My job is to get up, get the kids to school and then get in front of the computer. The walk back (from the children’s school) is great thinking time, and I’m usually ready to start writing as soon as I get through the front door.

    6.        Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

Modesty prevents me choosing my own, of course! And I have to admit although I’ve taught creative writing classes, mentored authors (and written my own ‘how to’ book about it) I don’t actually read many books about writing. But one I unfailing recommend to students is the very funny How NOT to write a novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.

    7.        Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

Three? Impossible! Ok, then... but I’m going to have to make rules (for myself) like ‘no classics’. Otherwise, I’d seriously be here all day trying to whittle it down. So... I really really admire Sebastian Barry – not only as a prose stylist but as an insightful and intriguing writer. And The Secret Scripture was a masterpiece. I’ve only recently discovered Helen Dunmore and especially liked ‘Counting the Stars’ (although I could so easily have picked ‘The Lie’). Finally, I’m going to choose ‘The Emperor Waltz’ by Philip Hensher – Dickensian in scope but with the inevitability and tragedy of Dostoyevsky.

    8.        Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

Some might well come from the list above, but... the Authorised (King James) Bible would have to be there, as would Homer’s Iliad (in the translation by Robert Fagles). Finally... impossible to choose! More Homer? The Odyssey, maybe? Or something from Russia? Perhaps, The Idiot would be appropriate!

    9.        Any words of writing wisdom?

Keep it simple: one, write. You can’t be a writer without writing. (Sounds obvious, but it’s the most common error!) Two, write what needs to be written. Tell your story your way, or tell a story no-one else has told. Three, edit like mad. But only once you’ve finished. And preferably a long time afterwards.

  10.        Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

It's 1918 and at last the guns of the Great War fall silent. But for Jack Patterson the war still goes on. The enemy now is mud and unexploded shells as well as memories – both of the horrors of war and the dark secret back home that first led him to enlist... a secret Jack hopes isn’t about to be dug up on the Flanders battlefields!

Social media contacts:

Website: https://www.timatkinson.info

Facebook: https://www.Facebook.com/AuthorTimAtkinson

Twitter: @dotterel

Unbound URL: https://unbound.com/books/the-glorious-dead/

Previous publications:

Writing Therapy (2008)

Discover Countries: India (2010)

Discover Countries: The United Kingdom (2010)

Tiny Acorns (ed.) (2010)

Fatherhood: The Essential Guide (2011)

Creative Writing: The Essential Guide (2011)

Homer’s Iliad: A Study Guide (2017)


Huge thanks to Tim for his time. Hopefully, The Glorious Dead shrikes a chord and it'll be of interest to you! The novel's available via Amazon here - other physical and virtual book retailers are also available! 


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Derby Writers' Day 17th Oct 2015 - part 1

On Saturday 17th October I went along to the Writers’ Day held at Derby Quad that was supported by Writing magazine and Writing East Midlands.  The event was co-ordinated by Alex Davies from Boo Books (@BooBooksDerby).  As is the way when I go to these kinds of events I took notes for the talks and panels that I intended.

This post is the first of two. This time out, I’ll cover the two morning sessions that I attended, and next time out I’ll summarise the three afternoon sessions that I went to.  As ever, these are my notes only, and not a verbatim record!

10am.  Successful Self-Publishing with Tracey Bloom (@TracyBBloom), author of No-One Ever Has Sex On A Tuesday: interviewed by Alex Davis.

TB: self-publishing came out of not getting a UK publishing deal for my first two novels via UK agents.  I was inspired by Nick Spalding and his success story with Amazon.  I spent three months researching and planning before self-publishing.  According to Spalding, 99% of self-publishing sales are in ebook format.  Amazon dominates.  I read around self-publishing / pricing / advertising and marketing strategies.  I have a marketing background – it’s not rocket science – but you have to approach your books as though they are products.

My first novel was edited by my agent.  I always work with a skilled editor.  If possible, get a recommendation.

There is a Holy Trinity to self-publishing.  The title / the cover / the blurb.  Get these right.  The use of professional designer is important for your covers.  Remember that you are designing a thumbnail for Amazon and not a full size cover for a book.  Remember 99% of your sales will come from Amazon.

Look for other good examples.  Amazon has a White Glove programme that only literary agents can access.  To enables agents to sell publish directly to Amazon.  Otherwise, formatting your ebook is pretty straightforward their professionals will do this for you.  This costs me about £40.00.

Self-publishing led me to being picked up for traditional UK publication.  Publishers don’t like Amazon.  Commercial publishers are still biased towards physical copies and away from ebooks.  This has meant that I have gone back to self-publishing for the sequel to my first book.

The perception of self-publishing is changing but slowly, especially in the industry.

As for reviews and other coverage, book bloggers are gold but it’s a hard slog.  Bloggers need treating with respect, just like traditional journalists.  It is hard but not impossible because there although some bloggers do not touch self-published work, others do.

I spent approximately 20 hours a week over 3 ½ months marketing my first book.  But you need to keep writing as well.  You need to have more books for readers to buy.

Any advice? Do it. I learned so much by doing it. But be clear about a divide between writing and marketing.

Answers to floor questions

Agents?  I was dropped by my first agent, but foreign deals enabled a second.  I found my first agent through the writers’ and artists’ yearbook.  Some agents to work with self-publishing authors.

Editors?  Get a recommendation.  Writing East Midlands may have a database.  Look for people with previous experience.

There is always benefit to a self-publishing writer in having an agent.  Access to the White Glove programme, plus potential access to Amazon's own promotions etc.  The potential there is excellent.

Also there are more digital only publishers out there; people who are more attuned to ebooks.  Also sometimes a publisher will come to you if there are signs of success.

Pricing structure?  Models: seem to be very low for the first book and then build up from there.  99 pence for the first one then up from that point.  Also, you can do your own promotions via Amazon.

Amazon reviews? This can be good feedback and also useful for sales.  Is important to set up your ebook so that it is easy for people to sign up to mailing lists.

Amazon vs. traditional publishers?  Amazon have 80 per cent of the ebook market so you have to deal with them.  Plus the commission is a 70/30 split to you.


11am. Promotion and Publicity for Writers, with Julia Murday (@jules_murday) Campaign Manager, Penguin Books: interviewed by Alex Davis.

Debut hardback fiction sells about 400 copies.  We get involved us in as the commissioning editor gets an interesting prospect.  Lead times of 12 months plus.  Social media / online profiles / events / the cover / the look of the book – we’re involved in all this.

Big releases get the big push with Tube and rail advertising.  For new authors the challenge is to raise their and their book’s profile.  We give advice on GoodReads, book clubs, and non-traditional publicity means also.

Author led?  It's key for them to be invested.  Bookshop tours etc.  

Be objective.  Profile your consumer.  Who would buy this book?  Focus your attention accordingly.  Target your social media.  People want connection and conversation.  Social media can be great for this.

What not to do?  Don’t spend himself too thin.

There is a more cautious spend for new writers. The big players get the big spend. The new writer spend is on proof copies for review in advance of publication.  The goal is to create buzz and a domino effect.

The timescales are usually 12 to 18 months in advance. We put about 4/5 debuts a year. About half of these get a big push. To meet the sales budget and to break even is the key.

What defines a big buzz book? What strikes the right chord? A combination of the author themselves, a relatable story, the quality of the book.

Audience Q and A

Promotion - do I have to? If the author is unwilling to promote, then that can make things really tricky. It might even feed into a decision to purchase the book or not. So get some practice.  Do a reading, be involved with local reading groups, writing groups, and booksellers.

Is the paperback threatened?  Not necessarily.  Physical book sales are bouncing back (see also Waterstone decisions to stop selling e-readers).

Agent relationships?  A targeted agent is key. Their relationships with editors need to be in place and be strong.

What about anonymous authors and pen names?  It’s tricky but not impossible.  It’s not advisable for a debut writer.  Pen names are more common but total anonymity is difficult. Existing media and public profiles are useful but more so for non-fiction.

Brand name authors?  These are standout names within audience demographic that is clearly defined, for example Lee Child and Jodi Picoult.

Release strategies? Hardback and paperback release strategy depends very much on the book and the audience, but there is greater flexibility these days to model release strategies per book. Hardbacks are more profitable than paperbacks, so it makes sense to maximise these where possible.

Cross-genre? Cross genre books can be difficult.  Often we have to make a genre decision for positioning.  We do post-mortems afterwards though.  We work with the author regarding positioning.

Trends? Colouring books are a current fad, but book publishing is slow. Editors have to be cultural forecasters.  Unreliable narrators are popular at present, as are psychological literary thrillers.  Also we tried to predict and provoke trends for marketing purposes; the next Gone Girl, etc.

And that was it for the morning. I went off for a mooch round Derby, and was back in time for the afternoon's sessions on historical fiction, literary fiction , and the keynote panel at the end of the day. The notes on those will be up next time. 


My novel The Prospect of This City is available from this very website in paperback and also in ebook and paperback via Amazon


Second-hand and other book shops - thinning out the stocks

All bookshops are great. Let's not forget that, They do, after all sell books. Even most branches of Waterstones have a few at the back of the shop. I'm exaggerating a little there - as the UK's last mainstream book chain standing, they have a necessary part to play in the cultural life of the nation - even if it is a little irking to find them increasingly dedicated to toys / film merchandise /  colouring items / stationery / chain coffee shops than to maintaining some depth to the shelf stocks. Nevertheless though, all bookshops, by definition, are good. 

That being said, there's also shops that sell books that aren't bookshops. Supermarkets feature prominently here. Deep price cuts skew the perception of the value of a book, and the Tesco/Asda offer might not stretch much further than the current bestseller lists and the occasional disconcerting pallet of the zeitgeisty book-of-the-year, but they at least offer some convenience as well as - more importantly - putting books out there in public, attracting attention in a more visible way than the window display of your local independent.  

Then there's the secondhand shops.  First, the book specialists, be they tweedy antiquarians or chirpy one-street-back-from-the-High-Street post-breakdown downsizers. Then the specialist charity-run shops, like Oxfam's bookshops. Then your everyday charro with its single bookshelf of Jean Plaidy historicals and early Jeffrey Archers. And then the oddballs; pubs and supermarkets with a windowsill or a dump bin of donations, usually associated again with a charity.   

And then there's the remainder stores like The Works; whole shop units dedicated to remaindered sock, to publishing industry hubris and to retail buyers' folly. Often as not nowadays these have crept into the pound shop chains, where a supply of as-new books are as likely to be found as off-brand liqueur chocolates and flimsy gardening gloves.

And that's before you get to the internet. Or libraries. 

The thing is, books are everywhere. Old books, new books, re-read books, books that should have never felt the press of Gutenberg. All of them competing for attention, for sales, for shelf-space, for landfill, for reasons to exist. 

So, here's the question. Are there too many books? Do all books have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of finding another reader? I don't mean books in the sense of the title, but of the copy. Do we need so many of the darn things? Isn't it time for a cull? Should books be coppiced, like woodland? Sustainably farmed? Or should they, like pigeons and rabbits, be allowed to reproduce uncontrollably because they have some kind of a right to life?

The more I think about it, the more I'm in favour of a little management. I'd start with some second-hand books, and here's why. Too many of them don't produce a return for the writer and for the publisher. Fewer second-hand copies can only be a good thing for publishing as an industry and for writers individually and as a collective. Let's start a little weeding, and let's start with ourselves. 

I spent five years (a few hours a week only) as a books guy in the local Oxfam. I daresay that experience has flavoured my outlook here. I'd guess that a good half of what was donated was unsellable for one reason or another. Too many charity shops end up spending too much time sorting out other people's rubbish. That may be the price of the donation, but it chafes at the soul. 

So, to commit the tiniest of revolutionary acts. Next time you're weeding out a carrier bag of old holiday reads or whatever for the Cancer Research folk (other charities are available), think this: who benefits from this book being bought again? If there's a genuine utility in the donation, by all means make it. If there isn't, then consider your recycling options! 


My novel The Prospect of This City is available either in paperback from me (signed copies if you prefer!) or in ebook or paperback via Amazon.   




Hardbacks and paperbacks and ebooks, oh my.

Or, why do we have all of these formats? And is it time for a change?

Back in the day, whenever that was, there were only hardback books. If you wanted a book, it came with a hard cover. On the upside, the book was well-presented,  durable, and looked and felt good. On the potential downside, book were comparatively expensive, not least because they were a status item, but also because they cost money to be produced. 

Then along came the railways. Mid-Victorian publishers sprang up offering cheap paper-covered volumes, often smaller in size, that were lighter, thus more portable, for the new rail-travelling markets, both to commuters and to leisure travellers. Chains like WH Smith grew on the back of such novelties, and for many these inexpensive alternatives were a way into book ownership for the first time.

So part of the history of books is the history of the available technology; innovations in mass printing, the developing rail infrastructure, changing leisure patterns. Add to this the rise of literacy among all classes throughout the 19th century, and there you have it. 

It wasn't until the inter-war years that paperbacks took off as a mass-market alternative though. Imprints such as Penguin bought reprint rights to ranges of books; offering again portability, the eye-catching immediacy of the distinctive Penguin cover and branding, and also price.

Now, until comparatively recently, publishing was not as vertically integrated as an industry as it is today. In other words, there were publishers, and there were paperback publishers. The two co-existed uneasily. There was a delay, often of years, if not decades, between original and paperback reprint publication. For in-demand books, there'd be bidding wars, not for original publication rights, but for reprint rights in paperback. Stephen King, in On Writing, tells of such an auction for the paperback rights of his first-published novel Carrie.       

But that was forty years ago. Through mergers, acquisitions and internal development, there's no longer the organisational divide between hard- and paperback; the same company will tend to publish both. As such, gaps in publication between the two formats have come down to a few months, perhaps a year. 

So here's the question: why? And how do ebooks complicate matters? The hardback remains a premium product, and profits per copy on their sales outweigh those of the paper alternative, so there's both kudos and cash to be had in hardback sales. Plus, some people prefer the format, and they're hard-wearing, so handy for long-suffering librarians to allow out on loan.  

But there's no hard-and-fast rule for ebook follow-on publication. Traditionally (if I can even talk about there being ebook traditions) the ebook price shadows the cheapest available real-world version, being pitched at just a little less. Sometimes, there's a delay until the ebook is available, sometimes not. 

In the world of movies, matters are more standardised. Either a film is released across all formats at once (limited cinema release to gain some reviews, home sell-through, video-on-demand) or the more traditional cinema release, followed twelve weeks later by DVD/Bluray and virtual rental, and then a few weeks later to other on-demand services. 

So are there options here for publishing? Release the book in all formats at once, so that the reader can enjoy the writing in the format (and price band) that suits them best? Many self-publishers and genre publishers do this in some form or other.  

Or is there value, use, and profit (let's not begrudge margins for all) in maintaining a lengthy staggered release system? And where do ebooks fit into this? I'm a little dubious of current mainstream ebook pricing policies, which seem (to an outsider) unduly attached to the price of the alternative, rather than to the value of the electronic file itself. Of course there are the hidden costs of publishing (design, production, marketing, editing, agent commission, writer's advance and royalty, storage and distribution, retailer's percentage and so on)  but some of these are either minimal or co-opted in to the physical book's existing costs where an e-version is concerned. 

I think I'd rather pay the same price for the ebook as the print version rather than something different. The paper/e-ink is, after all, merely a delivery system. A price differential raises questions about what you're buying. 

Then again, though, there are the intangibles. The smell of the paper. The softness of US paperbacks compared to their UK alternatives. Folding the page over (yeah, I'm a folder-over) rather than clicking the top-right-hand corner to have a virtual fold icon pop up. The display function; books as interior design, as conversation piece, as conspicuous consumption, as social identifier and as accessory. 

A Kindle or an iPad draws attention to the technology, not to the book.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but who'd ever sneak a second peek at that person over there who's staring at a screen when there's that automatically-more-interesting other person. The one with the book. 

Maybe some things are worth paying for, after all. 


My novel The Prospect of This City is out now and is available in paperback from me (signed if you prefer!) or in both paperback and  ebook via Amazon