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I Read A Book, Once.

  • Published in Writing

             ‘I read a book once, by … I can’t remember now. It was about this woman whose husband who was living a double life.’

            ‘What was it called?’

            ‘No idea. It was last year sometime. Made me think at the time.’

            Fiction, unlike its more robust counterpart, non-fiction, can easily fall into the twilight zone of fragmented recall, its authors vanishing into oblivion, once the hype and spin of the publicity machine is exhausted.  

The most fashionable authors of today need to consider, when they stand before adoring crowds at literary festivals and book signings, that they, like those who have gone before them, are not permanent features of our consciousness. Some gather accolades from the grave – those underrated writers who are rediscovered and rebirthed under a Classic imprint.

            Thousands of books are stillborn the moment they leave the publishing houses, despite the promises of radio shows, TV appearances and endless articles regurgitating the story, simply because they don’t resonate with current readership trends. Success today, is as much about the author’s personality and platform as the book itself.

Whatever the fate of your newly printed novel, you can be sure it’s in the hands of a capricious reading public.  It’s almost as if we are embarrassed to say we like an unknown author or out-of-fashion style of writing, especially if everyone is devouring the latest best-seller which you really must read, if you are to be considered someone of substance. It reminds me of the time I would read Penny Romances behind the cover of an O’ level Geography textbook.

            I’ve rediscovered the works of Barbara Pym, delighting in her dark, but highly amusing observations of the lives of ordinary people in “Quartet in Autumn,” (original publication 1977), which was once nominated for the Booker Prize. It was republished in 2015 as a Picador Classic.  I understand she fell out of favour with her publisher at one point and didn’t write anything for several years. Philip Larkin described her as one of the most underrated novelists of the twentieth century. I have to agree.

A society in her name, keeps her work alive and whilst many people today would consider her writing politically incorrect  ( a bit like the radio comedies of the 1970s) and lacking a plot, her powers of observation about the detail of daily life provides an ideal model for character study.

She wouldn’t fit in with today’s editorial thrust towards manuscripts with inciting incidents, conflict and tension to keep readers on the edge of their sofas. I turned all the pages of her book this weekend, savouring each one, rather than feeling a pressure to race through to the denouement. (I do love that word).

My personal view is this – books that speak to you and maybe only you are to be treasured. Publishers can’t be indulgent with their authors since they have to recoup their investment, but there may come a time, when one or two of your loyal aficionados, talk to someone of influence and say, ‘You really must read this book. It was quite a find, ( on Amazon, in the charity shop, in the bus- stop litter bin). Books, like people, provide legacies, linking fragments of the past to possibilities for the future. One tiny sentence or phrase can be enough to create impact.

You might be long gone when that novel you birthed some years before is reprinted as a classic and nobody is saying… ‘I can’t remember the title.’


My recent blog tour - a few rambling thoughts.

I’ve recently been the star of a blog tour for my new book, The Future Can’t Wait which ran for over two weeks. It’s a popular form of online publicity which helps to create a real buzz around your newly released book and is the virtual equivalent to a physical location, bookshop or library, where traditionally the author  would turn up to talk about their book and sign some copies. For many authors, published by small independents or self-published, this is a model that isn’t working unless there are sufficient numbers to make it worth their while.

            This exciting form of promotion means authors can reach a much wider audience, either by offering up a guest post or asking the blogger to post their reviews of the book which will hopefully be supportive. I found the reviews of my book to be an author’s dream.

            My blog which ran from Nov 2nd to 17th 2017 was managed by an organiser, (you can find her here) https://annebonnybookreviews.com/ throughout the whole period and whilst authors can approach bloggers independently, I found this to be very helpful as it took pressure of me and let me do what I do best… write.

            Each blogger on the tour took a slightly different approach and picked out issues in the book that resonated with them personally. This meant that every review was not a rehash of someone else’s. It was clear that a lot of time and dedication was devoted to each blog even if the genre I was writing in wasn’t a particular interest of theirs.

            When I was informed about who would be participating in my blog, I took some time to look at their websites and without exception, have to say all are beautifully laid out and professionally presented. I am amazed at how much reading these bloggers are able to do, particularly as publishers are constantly sending them books and authors are bombarding them for help. It’s good to see that they’ve drawn up some clear guidelines on the practicalities. Agents and publishers have specialisms and rules of engagement so why not bloggers. They are a valuable part of the publishing business.

            I didn’t realise how much work was involved for the author. Quality guest posts of between 500 – 1000 words need time to plan as these will create an impression about the author. If you throw something together because the blogger is reminding you time is running out, then what’s it going to say about your book (which may be fantastic).

            Authors need to remember that they are not the only ones the blogger is working with over a given period of time.  Your blog organiser and the team are doing you a huge favour so co-operation is necessary to make the tour as successful as it can be. If you want it to be the start of a professional working relationship, then good communication, rapid responses and getting involved with the frenzy of retweeting and uploading or sharing their posts to your social media is a part of the process. It is tiring but also exciting. I woke with trepidation every day during my tour to see how the book had been received by total strangers but real readers, many of whom consume hundreds of books in a year. They know what appeals and they’re good at picking out what makes a novel “tick.”

            What really impressed me was the way the organiser took several quotes from the reviews throughout the day and flagged them up on social media, Twitter in particular. They’re carefully selected to be inspiring and encourage followers to check out the book with a view to purchasing. It’s a soft sell approach with an emphasis on connecting authors to readers as people not as another product.  

A few tips for authors on a tour

  • Help out with the promotion banners – post them to your social media and shout about it.
  • Keep track of your own tour and be sure to thank the blogger that day.
  • Engage with the buzz throughout the tour but be subtle.
  • Keep your publisher informed. He/she has many other authors to look after and can’t always be following every mention of your book.
  • Agree guest posts well in advance and send them off early.
  • Be flexible if there have to be changes.
  • Whatever you do, don’t engage in an argument because you don’t like what the blogger/reviewer has said about an aspect of the book. Everyone has their own opinion. Accept it.
  • Enjoy it… it’s great fun and I have made some new contacts some of whom have become friends whom I hope to meet next year.

Make a Promo Video for your Book.

  • Published in Writing

Readers like to connect with writers and a photograph in the back of your book with your biography is a good start as long as it’s not one of you scowling into the camera.

Just as I’ve never liked hearing my voice recorded and played back to me, I don’t like being photographed and definitely not at my age. However if you want to another tool to help get your book out there, you may want to consider a short promotional video. It’s about your book, not your glamorous looks.

You can pay up to a thousand pounds for a two minute clip if you want the best possible quality or you can focus on the content of what you say, the warmth of your personality and not worry too much about the technicalities.

I invested in a good microphone, as sound is important and took some time to design a story board to keep my new video within a 2 minute time frame. It’s worth bearing in mind that people might watch it on their phones or tablets and lose interest very quickly if you don’t get your message across quickly and succinctly.

 You don’t need expensive equipment. In fact a tablet or smart phone with the right adapters for a microphone are good enough.

For anyone considering doing this, here are a few tips I learned from my mistakes.

  1. DO plan in short sections what you want to say. A few words of introduction and not a whole paragraph.
  2. Mention your book in the first couple of sentences and whether it’s your debut or your thirtieth. Show the cover.
  3. In less than 50 words, outline what the book’s about. Don’t read the blurb on the back like I did in my first take.
  4. Explain why you wrote the book – think back to those days when it was simply an idea and get inject that passion into your voice.
  5. Thank people for watching and include some links so they know where to buy it from.
  6. Think about changing scenes but not too often. To control sound and environment you might prefer to film inside your home. Make sure it’s clear of clutter. If you film outside think about suitable locations where it’s quiet and not too busy. Keep your face out of shadow and bright light.
  7. Practice each section a few times until you feel confident. Get several takes to choose from.
  8. Add a simple title slide with a few graphics on the front and important links with a copy of your book at the end. A bit of music ( check for copyright) is optional. I get a bit fed up with long musical introductions so keep in mind what your viewer wants and rather than showing off your technical expertise.
  9. Be professional. Keep your voice strong, your language neutral ( no swearing) and smile. Be yourself. The aim is to relate to your readers as a human being so they want to support you.
  10. Don’t stress over it. If you don’t have fun doing it, then it’s not worth it!

Look out for my 2 min promo coming soon!  


The Controversial Writer

  • Published in Writing

It takes slog to write an article, even more so a full length novel, but at this stage of the writing game you are in control. If you change your mind about something or are not sure of your facts you can scrub it and start afresh. When you are in your private world anything goes. I guess this is why many people put a protective arm round their work and don’t give in to requests by family and friends to “offer an opinion.”

Publishing for the world to grind its teeth on your words needs courage. Great courage. Especially if you are writing something that is likely to be deemed as controversial, a definition of which is: - of, relating to, or characteristic of controversy, or prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention; polemical. In other words you take an opposing view from the mainstream.

Let’s say you write a book on Fairies in Icelandic Folklore. If your narrative is supporting them then you risk ridicule by most of the world who don’t believe in the supernatural. If you argue they don’t exist, you risk the wrath of many Icelanders who set up road blocks to protest against a new construction which might disturb them. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/icelanders-protest-road-would-disturb-fairies-180949359/

See, your writing will be controversial to somebody the moment you wave your ideas above the parapet. We all want our books to be noticed in this screaming marketplace and that’s where the trouble begins. Too much bad language, sadomasochism, abuse and violence, bits from other writers slipped in and awful writing will draw attention to your work but not in the way you might want. High content is the mantra for novelists at the moment and sod the writing style. High content can mean writing a story about LGBT issues from a strong religious point of view with the character stating that gay people can be “fixed,” or it can mean sharing with the world a different kind of love.  Just writing about gay relationships can drain the blood from the cheeks of some publishers. Not everyone is prepared to take the risk of upsetting their regular readership.

Even the memoir is not without risk. Not everybody has enough stories in their life to warrant mass readership so maybe a little embellishment here and there isn’t going to harm anyone. Let’s say I write about being captured in the Middle East and held hostage. It’s partially true as I was held against my will by my former husband but that isn’t as dramatic as being held by the Druze militia or Al Shabab.

 Do I ham it up for my reading public and hope I don’t get found out? Not me but others might. Controversy sells especially today when there are facts and “alternative facts”. Lying seems to be de rigeur.

A book like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is considered a brilliant piece of fiction although opinions differ on the quality of the writing. He blended facts with fiction thus rattling the cages of historians with its alleged swarm of inaccuracies. I swallowed the whole story as a truth which shows how gullible I am.

Many publishers steer clear of controversy as a) it is unlikely to appeal to a wide readership if they can’t relate to the issue and b) fear of bad publicity. Having said that is there no such a thing as bad publicity but book retailers are risk averse. They like books on their shelves that are tried and tested and have a following: crime, romance, thrillers, and cosy village sagas with a soupcon of naughtiness.

What does that mean for writers? Should we stick to what’s safe just to get a publishing deal or should we risk writing from the heart about what matters to us but dress it  down to make it more palatable?

Andrew Smith’s powerful  novel, The Speech, is fiction woven around the very real but controversial Enoch Powell, who in the author’s own words, is usually perceived as a two dimensional character. Instead he chose to flesh him out as more rounded and therefore believable, balancing weaknesses against his strengths without underplaying his evil rhetoric against immigrants.

 All characters no matter how heinous their actions and behaviour are multi- dimensional but readers who have knowledge of Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech would not want to recognise some of the MP’s finer qualities. A classics scholar with a brilliant mind, he was as quoted in his obituary as, “hated by many, loved by many, but never regarded with indifference.”

What makes The Speech such a compelling read is that we are drawn into the fictional lives of some characters from that era who were affected directly and indirectly by the harm executed by Powell. We experience and feel the harm he did by firing up racism and intolerance.  

I too have staked my claim as a controversial writer. The Cruelty of Lambs is about the uncomfortable subject of domestic abuse which maybe doesn’t affect the majority of people but, let’s face it, we all know or suspect somebody that might be a perpetrator or victim but we prefer to turn the sound up on the TV than worry why the shouting next door has suddenly stopped and the kids are crying. 

My new novel, The Future Can’t Wait also challenges controversial themes; mother-daughter estrangement, terrorism and psychic addiction. Published by Urbane Publications September 2017. Some of us feel a strong urge to bring truth into the open and hang the consequences.

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