Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Lots of Good News For Authors: What I Learnt At The London Book Fair Day 1 #LBF14

Not strictly at the Fair, but first, the difference between learnt and learned had to be Grammarly Googled... learned is used much more frequently in the US, but as I'm in the UK, learnt it is...

I made straight for The English PEN Literary Salon at the back of EC2, an oasis of calm, nearby coffee and seats, to meet with author friends from my old writing group, Jacqui Hazell and Louise Voss. I told them about signing up for IPR License and recommended the free App Afterword which tracks Amazon sales, and Louise told us she'd heard great things about Amazon Audiobooks ACX. Nah I said, only for those in the USA; but a later visit to their stand confirmed that they have indeed just this week opened for business to authors and publishers outside the USA. This is very good news - a whole new revenue source.
The London Book Fair
Jacqui went off for a meeting with her agent; Louise to a meeting with her writing partner and I for lunch with Sarah Tomley, my ex-editor at Hamlyn and now DK editor, MD of Editors Online (just love their website design) & associate editor at Blackbird Digital Books, amongst her many hats.

We made for the famous (Dylan/Hendrix et al) Troubadour Coffee House in nearby Brompton Road. They have a great buffet salad thing going on, I'm guessing for the duration of the Fair. My publishing focus this year is on developing the company and the site before we start growing the content side some more, and Sarah had lots of good mainstream publisher's advice for me and I was able to fill her in on how digital publishing is developing.  BookBub is still the buzzword - again, this is US only, but at least they are open to all comers. It's difficult to purchase a slot with them as they're so picky, which is what makes the whole thing work so well, especially in collaboration with Kindle Countdown. So we talked about how there needs to be some quality review, recommendation initiative that is outside the (all US-based) Amazon/Goodreads/Library Thing rating system - and later I saw on Twitter that Penguin Random House are about to launch My Independent Bookshop which is simply more good news. On top of that The Guardian, in association with Legend Times, has announced a new, monthly literary prize for self-published authors.

Time to get showered and ready to set off again, I'm going to a talk at 2.30 and will probably leave it at that for today. Unless I bump into anybody. Yesterday, I was standing with a friend as they were having a bump-into moment and a not unhandsome man came up to me and kissed me on the cheek. He then realised I wasn't who he thought I was, his face did a kind of combined twist of shock, embarrassment and drop to the floor in disappointment and he literally turned and ran.

Oh, a friend has just called. More Troubadour now scheduled for later... & more fun at the Fair.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On Writing - By Joanna Trollope

I love this Decca Aitkenhead interview with Joanna Trollope (last week's Guardian). I loved her, too, with Mark Lawson on TV a week or so ago.  I confess I haven't read any of her books. I am a new fan. I wish there were more serious, in-depth interviews with contemporary women's fiction authors:

"Were Trollope a young woman today, however, she's not sure that she would become a writer. "That's a very good question. I think it's 10 times harder now, because you see, when I started it wasn't a sexy profession at all. It was a rather dusty thing you did by yourself, and nobody took it seriously. I remember people would ring up and say, 'I'm going to come round for coffee,' and I'd say, 'Well, no, actually I'm writing,' and they said, 'Oh that's fine, I'll only be 10 minutes,' you know. Now people are always saying to me, 'I'm writing my novel.' "But I think it's incredibly hard now....." Read on..

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hidden London: Beaches, Hangmen & Pirates

Sandy bay, Wapping
Spent the morning away from the computer in Wapping, East London yesterday. A real "I've lived in London all my life yet never set foot..." off the beaten track place suggested by friend J. We met at The Tower of London and turned our back on it, walking instead through St Katharine Docks and on to Wapping High Street, ending at London's oldest riverside pub, The Prospect of Whitby. So much to see, so many stories - ghosts, pirates, a hangman's noose and even a treasure hunt, all before too much wine for a lunchtime (just the one I add, but what size the glasses) &, last but not least, "driving" the train back into the centre. A real walk through history this one. Superb! 
Execution Stairs Beach, Wapping
 See the old oyster shell, and the old clay pipe fragments? Beaches beneath pubs are happy mudlarking hunting grounds as in the olden days they'd smoke their clay pipes and throw them out of the window. Oysters were once cheap, plentiful and eaten by many. "Perhaps Wapping's greatest attraction is the Thames foreshore itself, and the venerable public houses that face onto it. A number of the old 'stairs', such as Wapping Old Stairs and Pelican Stairs (by the Prospect of Whitby) give public access to a littoral zone (for the Thames is tidal at this point) littered with flotsam, jetsam and fragments of old dock installations. Understandably it is popular with amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters - it is surprisingly easy for even a casual visitor to pick up a centuries-old shard of pottery here." Wikipedia
Shardhorn on Execution Stairs Beach


"The pub was originally frequented by those involved in life on the river and sea and it was a notorious haunt for smugglers, thieves and pirates.  Other notable customers have been Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, Judge Jeffries and artists Whistler and Turner." The Prospect of Whitby recommended: very friendly, good food, large wine glasses, resident black cat.


Hangman's noose, Prospect of Whitby
 "It was formerly known as the Devil’s Tavern, on account of its dubious reputation. In the seventeenth century, it became the pub of choice of the brutal “Hanging” Judge Jeffreys. According to legend, criminals would be tied up to the posts at low tide and left there to drown when the tide came. It is here that he sat and watched criminals he had sentenced die. Judge Jeffrey’s ghost is believed to still haunt the area."
Prospect of Whitby

As one of the early  members of the FB group "Travelling At the Front
of the DLR Train and Pretending to be The Driver", this was a perfect end to
the morning out.

Further reading: The Pirate's Who's Who, first published Burt Franklin, New York,1924, Now available as a free ebook, with thanks to the Gutenberg Project.

"KIDD, Captain William, sometimes Robert Kidd or Kid.
The trial of Kidd proved a scandal, for someone had to suffer as scapegoat for the aristocratic company privateers, and the lot fell to the luckless Kidd. Kidd was charged with piracy and with murder. The first charge of seizing two ships of the Great Mogul could have been met by the production of two documents which Kidd had taken out of these ships, and which, he claimed, proved that the ships were sailing under commissions issued by the French East India Company, and made them perfectly lawful prizes. These commissions Kidd had most foolishly handed over to Lord Bellomont, and they could not be produced at the trial, although they had been exhibited before the House of Commons a little while previously.

It is an extraordinary and tragic fact that these two documents, so vital to Kidd, were discovered only lately in the Public Records Office—too late, by some 200 years, to save an innocent man's life.
As it happened, the charge of which Kidd was hanged for was murder, and ran thus: "Being moved and seduced by the instigations of the Devil he did make an assault in and upon William Moore upon the high seas with a certain wooden bucket, bound with iron hoops, of the value of eight pence, giving the said William Moore one mortal bruise of which the aforesaid William Moore did languish and die." This aforesaid William Moore was gunner in the Adventure galley, and was mutinous, and Kidd, as captain, was perfectly justified in knocking him down and even of killing him; but as the court meant Kidd to "swing," this was quite good enough for finding him guilty. The unfortunate prisoner was executed at Wapping on May 23rd, 1701, and his body afterwards hanged in chains at Tilbury."

Extract from The Pirates' Who's Who, courtesy of the Gutenberg Project.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Writing Magazine

Could there be a better place for Blackbird Digital's first print exposure - Writing Magazine:

April edition out now.

Writing. Ah... My own writing hasn't been going anywhere for about 6 months. Editing and publishing took over - it's all been a bit too enjoyable... and necessary of course, and very exciting as Susie Kelly's memoir  I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry... took off on

Now things have settled down, I'm getting my writing mojo back again.

The hardest bit was opening the novel file again, scared of what I'd find. I'm not going to let myself stop this time... starting is just too difficult. I have a few friends who are starting out writing for the first time and I tell them over and over, starting really is one of the the hardest parts of all. At the moment I'm still at the turning up stage, editing the first draft I completed (minus ending) last summer. Turning up and not a great deal of progress either. But experience tells me it will get better. Eventually. I may have said that before.

Time management is the key this time. A friend suggested devoting different days to different tasks, 3 days publishing, 3 days writing, that sort of thing. But I think I agree with whoever it was I was reading the other day who said s/he writes 700 words every day. 500 is too few, 1000 is too many. Something like that anyway. So for me it's now publishing for half a day, writing for half a day, publishing PR in the evening when the telly's on with bits of exercise in the middle. That's the plan.  Hmm...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Confessions Of A Publisher

I confess that when I started Blackbird Digital Books to publish a PDF ebook collection of my  Guardian Space Solves cleaning columns, Done & Dusted - The Organic Home On A Budget, I was a little ashamed of being an author. 
Blackbird Digital Books
If I'd been a publicist, a marketing expert, a lawyer, a computer geek, a cleaner, a helicopter pilot - anything but a writer - going into the publishing side of things, I would have felt more comfortable.  At the beginning of 2010, whilst digital was exploding in the US, independent publishing in the UK was still very much "it's vanity publishing therefore rubbish". This continued for a few years. The Guardian was one of the worst offenders, publishing several lunatic articles by a self-publicising type whose name escapes me. Probably just as well, even though I wanted to link to one of his pieces here for fun. There was much less of the old-fashioned publishing snootyness in the US and more of the generous, friendly get up and go. Big-hitting bloggers and the mainstream press reviewed independent books from the get-go.

At the end of last year I attended a Saatchi & Saatchi X marketing seminar and had a bit of a branding lightbulb moment, described in an earlier post The Psychology Of Book Marketing. We are a different sort of publishing company and we should be shouting about it. That's our strength. We're authors. We're fair. And we care. We're also highly selective. This year we're concentrating on building our brand and the list we have grown rather than publishing more titles. We do, though, have a few new choice books coming later in the year, including a new Susie Kelly. Last week, thanks to a BookBub ad, Susie Kelly's memoir, I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry..., took off, reaching #5 in the Amazon US Paid Nonfiction charts:

There's lots of humour, as in all Susie's books, but this one is an emotional rollercoaster, the only book I can think of where I've actually wept real tears as I read. The proofreader Andrew Ives was the same and - as he said in his comments - he's a roughty-toughty bloke. Read Susie's blog piece on how I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry... took ten years to write.

Susie and I met through this blog. She liked one of my E-cloth cleaning tips, and we struck up a correspondence. She's a remarkable woman and this is an extraordinary story. Thank you, Susie. Thank you, blogosphere.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Would Virginia Woolf Have Made Of It All?

I use Grammarly's for proofreading online because if it just picks out my repeat words just once it'll be worth it. 
Happy Christmas! 

I hope you had a peaceful, special day - alone, with friends, with family - wherever you found yourself. I had a lovely lazy day at home with my partner, daughter and all the trimmings. 

I gave, and received, several books of course, and was absolutely blown away to receive this one from my friend J:

J and I visited this 17th century house and garden, now run by the National Trust, back in July. It was a perfect midsummer's day and we managed to get her Room Of My Own bedroom (complete with her hand-bound Shakespeares) to ourselves for a bit.
Virginia Woolf's Bedroom, Monk's House Photo c.  Stephanie Zia
And her (see it and weep) 100% magical Writing Hut.

Virginia Woolf's Writing Hut, Monk's House Photo c. Stephanie Zia
If you love poking about into great writers' lives, or just love gardens, it's in Sussex, an easy day trip from London by car.
Virginia Woolf's Writing Hut, Monk's House Photo c. Stephanie Zia
Go midweek, out of high (school holiday) season, if you can. If you're lucky you may get the house and garden virtually to yourselves as we did.
Virginia Woolf's (lookielikie) teapot. Monk's House Photo c.  Stephanie Zia
As it's all a bit quirky, double-check that it's open before setting off. Or, if you are the booking-years-ahead, money-no-object, sort, you can even stay there!

Garden, Monk's House Photo c. Stephanie Zia
In other news, my boomer lit novel The Widow's To Do List is currently part of a special Awesome Indies Holiday Bonanza 99c sale (26th - 30th December). Awesome Indies, based in Australia, evaluates independently published ebooks and gathers them together on one site under their individual categories, making it easy for readers to browse quality ebooks in their favourite (English spelling there Mr G/favorite) genres.  Earlier this year The Widow's To Do List was awarded their special gold seal for outstanding independent fiction. It was  heartening to see that, whilst posting her 5* review on US Amazon, the Awesome Indies reviewer, Tahlia Newland, noticed a run of low* 'dislike' reviews and began her considered review thus:

"The lower starred reviews here seem to be by people disappointed because the book is not what they expect..."

She went on to talk about genre, placing it in Women's Fiction or Contemporary Fiction rather than Romance or Comedy, though there is both romance and comedy. It is difficult to place a new-genre book - boomer lit is still in its infancy; but with Hilary Boyd's Tangled Lives #1 Contemporary Fiction and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones, Mad About The Boy #1 Fiction, the future looks bright.

Virginia Woolf's Writing Desk, Monk's House Photo c. Stephanie Zia
What would Virginia have made of it all, tucked away in the leafy folds of the Sussex downs with her flowers, pens and paper? 

The Widow's To Do List is 99 cents in the US until 30 December 2013. Check out all the titles in the Awesome Indies sale & win gift voucher prizes here:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Psychology Of Book Marketing

Descruffed from writing slops into Zara jacket & pencil skirt a few weeks ago to attend the Business Startup Show. Dressing up is not needed at all but it was a good excuse to feel a little sharper around the edges for a change. This is an annual free event held at Olympia, London, a kind of London Book Fair for startup businesses. Lots and lots of free seminars, bags, chocolates, iPad competitions, exchanging of business cards and all of that. A good day away from the computer.

This is the third or fourth year that I've been (I live right close by) so I knew I'd have to get to my top pick seminar early if I was to stand a chance of getting a seat. I was prepared to queue for an hour to hear the Facebook advertising talk but, when I arrived, there were still seats going for the earlier Caprice talk on how she started in business. It's all very friendly, one of the few places in London where you don't have to have a dog with you to talk without being introduced. I sat next to a man who worked for a student travel firm on one side. On the other, a man who had just set up his own trophy and awards business. When student travel firm man left he was replaced by somebody who sold One Direction calendars. Caprice was lovely, delightfully frank and honest. It's an up and down process was one of her main messages. Her worst time was when the US exchange rate crashed.

The Facebook advertising seminar was useful as was the following talk, given by a lady from Saatchi and Saatchi X, market leaders in marketing. More than anybody, they make it their business to know about the psychology of selling. So, here are a few notes.

1. The driving keyword 

Emotion. Emotion was mentioned a lot. Emotion sells. Your message must appeal to hearts and minds but it is the emotion that leads to action.

63% of car sales are driven by emotional decisions.

25% of food sales are driven by emotional decisions.

What would book sales be then? 100%?

2. Branding

Define what you want to be known for. Be single-minded. Be a brand that does not a brand that says. What is your purpose as a brand?

So I woke up the next day (good old subconscious) with a brand definition for my publishing company. Instead of "Ebook & POD Publisher", my flag line now incorporates our USP: "The publishing company run by authors for authors. We're fair and we care."
Blackbird 'eye' logo designed by Jennifer Copley-May at Armadillo Central

3. Understand your audience
Build your brand through love and respect.  Have a point of view before you send out our material. Not too much copy. Less is more. People shop visually online. Ask: how people can interact with your product. The biggest threat to a brand is deselection.

4. Create Your Own PR
Blog your brand POV (remember what your cause is). Send out free products to bloggers. (So bloggers most definitely mainstream targets now then.) Richard Branson was the example given. When Virgin airlines started they were tiny compared to British Airways but by using clever visuals and stunts like Virgin hot air balloons, they looked a lot larger than they were.

5. Say thank you
I don't know what it's like now, but there used to be a strange culture of non-communication in the old mainstream publishing model. I'm old school BBC-trained so that's all in hand. Where the 'we care' bit comes in to the brand identity.


Facebook advertising has been going through some changes recently. Promotions are now allowed (eg 'like' or 'comment' to win a prize). It's an art that has to be studied and learned, as with Google Ads. But the talk was a good general introduction:

The potential Facebook advertising audience is 8 x the readership of The Sun.

Lesson no. 1: complete the page. Have you filled in your contact details (if you want them out there), your links, your Twitter handle etc? Obvious but apparently so many don't.

Lesson no. 2: Use images. The more emotional the better. (that word again).

Lesson no. 3: Be responsive. If anybody comments, respond... Again, obvious but sometimes it slips.

Lesson no. 4: Use Page Insights (button at top of page). Another recent development.

Lesson no. 5: Target your ads. The order of importance she put them in was 1. age  2. demographic. I learnt elsewhere that this is the crux of it. If you don't target your ad but let it go out to all ages, sexes etc all over the world, you're wasting time. You can take it right down to precise areas. Think about the content of your book and target accordingly. eg if you have a novel set in London, try targeting London audiences. If it's a novel about first-time mums, target women of first-time mum age etc. We were also told we must remember to think differently at Christmas when 84% of spending is done by women. On which note...

Saturday, November 09, 2013

András Kepes Book Launch

To the Hungarian Cultural Centre, Covent Garden this week for the launch of a novel by the Hungarian TV personality, writer and film-maker András Kepes.

The Inflatable Buddha was first published in Hungary under the title Tövispuszta (2011)My friends at the arts and digital book publishing site Armadillo Central commissioned the Hungarian language expert Bernard Adams to translate the novel into English and the result is really quite something. Tövispuszta is already a bestseller in Hungary, where it has sold something like 80,000 copies. I had an advance proof of the translation and sped through it, thinking awards, awards, awards.

Mátyás Sárközi, András Kepes, Sharif Horthy, Mrs Horthy
It is the story of 20th Century Hungary told via the lives of 3 friends Pál, Isti and Dávid - an aristocrat, a peasant and a Jew. An epic tale of 20th Century Hungarian history told in a beautifully intimate way which is both profoundly sad and moving and laugh out loud funny. It is a good, fast literary read. The style reminded me a little of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa. It felt very special to be there at its English language edition birth.
Sharif Horthy introduces András Kepes

András was interviewed by Hungarian Holocaust survivor and former BBC World Service correspondent Mátyás Sárközi, and introduced by his friend Sharif Horthy, the grandson of the last Regent of Hungary. András explained that his aim was to somehow cut across the "cookie cutter" mentality that Hungarians cannot help but be a part of when it comes to the telling of the history of their country. If you come from one background you will have grown up with the telling of the history in one way; if you come from another background you will have grown up with the telling of the history in another way. András confirmed that, whilst the aristocratic character, Pál, is a blending of himself with his friend Sharif, amongst others, like most novelists, parts of him were also in many  characters. That readers from all different backgrounds are recognising "their" story in the story is testament to the skill of the author and the success of the book.

Ken Drury
Extracts were beautifully read by the actor Ken Drury, who has recently completed a long run in the West End play The Woman In Black. Bravo!
My meet the author moment -  photo c. Sylvia Selzer

If your bag is an absorbing, highly readable, epic tale told against the dramatic, tragic backdrop of 20th Century Hungarian history, of which I knew pitifully little before coming across this novel, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Read the full synopsis at the US paperback sales site, for UK & international paperback sales go to Armadillo Central. The ebook and paperback are also on Amazon worldwide.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How To Be A Literary Genius

Publisher's hat on today to announce exciting news. I'm delighted and thrilled to announce that Jacqui Lofthouse's new novel, How To Be A Literary Genius, will be published  by Blackbird Digital Books on Nov 1st. This is a new novel by a wonderful writer, a satire on the writing world that I am sure is going to be enjoyed especially by anybody who has ever entertained the thought of writing a novel, taken a creative writing class or joined a writing group.  It will be available worldwide via Amazon. A summary of the story follows below.

If you'd be interested in being one of the first to read this ebook in return for an honest review on Amazon/ and/or Goodreads, please email me at blackbird/dot/digibooks@gmail/dot/com stating your preferred ebook format: Mobi for Kindle or PDF and we'll get one off to you straight away.

A comedy for anyone who has ever faced the blank page and survived it

Anna Bright never wanted to write a novel. At least, that’s what she tells herself. She has a beautiful home, a halfway decent job and is engaged to Will Isenberg, a Cambridge graduate with the looks of a Romantic poet. When her best friend secures a six-figure publishing deal, Anna remains in denial. But a chance encounter with a famous novelist cuts a chink in Anna’s resolve and before she knows it she has enrolled on a creative writing course, fallen for her tutor and is mixing with the literati.

Will’s writer mother flies in from New York and whisks Anna off to a Greek-island writing retreat, owned by her ex-lover, the writing guru James Loftus. Back home, Anna's relationship with Will descends into chaos and it looks like the wedding is off. An invitation to take part in a televised literary competition hosted by the unscrupulous Loftus creates further confusion.

Under the gaze of the camera, Anna navigates her new literary life. She is part of a TV circus, she has sold out. Will she manage to save her sanity, and her wedding, before she becomes a by-product of the literary world?   

Praise for Jacqui Lofthouse's Novels

“A remarkable, often beautiful and startling piece of writing. A considerable achievement.” – John Mortimer.
“Deceptive; entertaining and unusual.” – Louis de Bernières
“A very impressive book… a superbly recreated historical period and a passionate investigation into femininity, all wrapped up in a mysterious and well-paced narrative.” – Jonathan Coe
“There are many elements to savour in this novel. Lofthouse has a fine eye for the bleak Norfolk landscape and how it both reflects and affects characters’ moods.” – Tracy Chevalier, Author of Girl with a Pearl Earring
“Every word is magical, almost luminous.” – Daily Mail
“Grand fun and quite naughty in parts.” – The Times

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Donna Tartt Talks About Writing

 The gems are in the 2nd half when she talks about writing. On ditching 8 months of work: it was OK,  all part of the process, still there beneath the surface, and she talks about the silent characters in novels who don't say much, and Hemingway's iceberg.

"If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing." Ernest Hemingway in Death In The Afternoon

Having just ditched a chapter I'd been worrying at for far too long, I love this. I got a lot from listening to her. It makes me want to be more serious with myself.

Seven days left. Watch it here if you can (UK only? not sure).

More about Hemingway's Iceberg Method

More about her new novel, The Goldfinch

Extract from The Goldfinch