On air #2

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If anyone’s interested in listening to me disappearing down conversational crevasses, I was on BBC Radio Guernsey on Thursday. Despite having no connection with the Channel Islands for over 500 years (very distant ancestry) I can be heard via this link just around the 02:03 hour mark. Right after Aretha Franklin.

See if you can work out where Jenny Kendall-Tobias is reading from the promo pack she was sent. And keep on listening to hear an interview from a Strictly contestant and to catch up with all the local news.

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Chasing sales

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In case it passed you by, I’ve been doing a bit of self-promotion recently. Night Shift came out (available from all good bookshops and some really rather dodgy ones too) and I had not one but two launch parties to celebrate/shift some books.

Both these events went well. Better than I could have hoped, really. But there is a truth that we should address before we get too further, and it’s this: they’re not going to help me at all.

Reason the first:

I was given an advance upon signing my contract. Any copies that are sold on the back of my efforts – appearances, interviews and the like – will go to the publishers, not me. Not until I’ve earned out my advance, which isn’t going to happen overnight – and, indeed, most advances are never earned out. Most authors never see a penny in royalties.

Reason the second:

No cash from my efforts is going into my pockets. It’s all going to bookshops and, through them, to the publishers, to staff, taxes, bills and the like. But the money I spend on travel, accommodation, sustenance and the like – that’s coming straight from me.

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The frank truth is that you are going to spend more on an event then you ever see back. Even if you self-publish, and at least a share of the takings is going straight to you, you’re likely going to have to spend on refreshments and maybe split costs with the venue*.

Don’t think that inviting the local press will help either. I mean it will help – you might get the odd extra sale that way. You’re unlikely to get the tens of sales you’d need to cover all the wine you’ve drunk to give you the courage to do the event in the first place.

Besides, despite the best efforts of my publicist – yes, I do have such a thing, I’m slightly embarrassed to say – no local press turned up at either of my events. Apparently journalists don’t like working into the evening.

So is my advice is for you to shun all such opportunities for appearances and remain solely a keyboard-warrior? Hold on there, youngster! Be not so hasty.

First, though you may not get immediate rewards, the more books you sell the more likely you are to get a second book published. You may never earn out that advance, but the closer you get the better.

Second, appearances are fun.

You’ve worked damn hard to get a book out. You’re entitled to a celebration. There aren’t many times in your life when you’re the centre of attention**. Why not make the most of it?

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Sales come from word-of-mouth recommendations and repeated mentions; in my A-Level General Studies course (my only A grade, fact fans) I learned that you need to hear of something five times before you’ll consider checking it out. This may or may not be true but it’s not a bad way to think.

So do events; get out there and be seen.

But don’t do it to chase sales. Do it for the sheer unadulterated hell of it.

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*Okay, I’m sure it is possible to run an event that costs you nothing; maybe a local bar will host in exchange for drinks sales. But the point stands. Even if you have an event in your own front room you’d best provide nibbles

**I realise that, to some people, this might sound like hell. If you’re one of these people – and I oscillate wildly between loving the spotlight and loathing it with a fiery passion – then you don’t have to do it. Don’t let anyone – least of all me – tell you that you must make personal appearances

Sledge-Lit 2018

Those of you who have been following me for years may know that this blog (and my Twitter feed) was originally inspired by several seminars I went on at Winchester Writing Festival 2013. I even wrote a blog post about it, which I’m linking to even if I’m now pretty embarrassed by everything I wrote in the first few years of this blog’s life.

Well, 65 months (and a lot of words) later and I’ve finally made my second writing convention. This one was almost entirely different: Derby’s Sledge-Lit. It was a one-day event and was a lot, lot smaller that Winchester. Smaller is no bad thing. Smaller is more intimate. Sledge-Lit (Edge-Lit’s winter cousin) is also a genre convention, a gathering for followers of science-fiction, fantasy and horror.

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So, without further ado, here’s my thoughts on the event. There may also be advice, though I promise nothing.

  • It’s great. Okay, this is definitely not advice, but I had a great time and am already planning my trip to Edge-Lit in the summer
  • Plan ahead. I made a big mistake in not properly scoping out the programme beforehand. I hadn’t realised all the information was available ahead of the day – which I guess shows my naivety – and this meant that I was immediately confronted by hard choices. The sign-ups for various workshops had to be completed straight through the door and I panicked and signed up for pretty much everything. This was not necessarily a mistake, but…
  • I found some workshops a bit basic
  • However, the workshops are still worth doing, if only to have a better chance of chatting with new people. Lectures, panels and talks aren’t so connective
  • I didn’t have the best morning because I failed to make the most of this, mostly because…
  • I’m a bit shy. I mean, you might not believe this because I work hard to appear outgoing. But come lunchtime I’m feeling all down because I’d not learnt much and because I was sitting alone whilst all around me everyone else (it seems) was having fun with friends
  • It follows that if you can find someone to drag along, do. It makes everything easier
  • HOWEVER I didn’t meet anyone – not a single person – who wasn’t happy to talk and wasn’t really nice. The people are what makes an event a success. If you are one of those lucky people who can talk to strangers as if you’ve known them all your life you’ll have an absolute blast
  • I was lucky because I had an ‘in’. I’m a Twitter-friend of Rod Duncan – we’ve met once previously in person – and I got chatting to him after a panel he was chairing. I managed inveigle myself into the company of himself and his colleagues Siobhan Logan and Penny Reeve. I had a great time chatting with them. Almost like I was a real human being
  • Remember a lot of people will want to talk to your hero. Talk don’t stalk
  • Sarah Pinsborough hosted the sweariest raffle in the history of conventions. Or swearing. Or raffles

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At this point I will step out of list mode momentarily because I’m kind of doing this chronologically and here I left the convention to go and check into my room. I’d booked an AirBnB near the station, about ten minutes’ walk away.

All my ‘friends’ had left. I’d eaten only a sausage roll and a slice of tiffin all days. I was seriously contemplating calling it a moderately-successful night (the chat with Rod and Penny was lovely; the only negative was sitting with Dave Hutchinson in absolute silence for ten minutes because I could think of not a single thing to say to him. I mean, I’d love to read his books – they’re on my mental TBR-shelf – but you can hardly start a conversation with ‘hey, I haven’t got round to you yet; what’s it all about, then?’ can you?), getting a curry and having an early bed.

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I checked in then strolled back to the venue just because it was a nice night and just on the off-chance that someone might approach me to chat. I got a beer and sat on my own; there were maybe a dozen people from the convention still hanging around.

After a drink and maybe another twenty minutes’ silence I finally found a way to sneak into a conversation. And so back to bullet-points:

  • Be patient. Don’t be in a rush to do things
  • Eat more regularly than I did
  • Be prepared to spend a little money. I know, this isn’t easy for everyone. But try and treat yourself to at least one drink – it doesn’t have to be alcoholic; no-one will judge you. Buy books. Enter the raffle. Come ready to have fun and hang your worries on the shelf for a little while
  • You will meet interesting people if you stick around long enough
  • There is no better place to network than the bar/pub…
  • …to which we thence repaired
  • …and it was at this point that the business cards I’d prepared in a last-minute panic came in most handy. See, I’d expected to be handing them out to indie publishers and lost-looking writers and all that. I did give out the odd couple like that, but I found them most useful in the bar afterwards. For although I’d managed to send the printers the draft without my blog or Twitter-handle on it, they proved really useful in getting my name across. We’d chat a bit, do introductions, and I’d whip it out – so to speak – so next morning they’d be able to link to me
  • Don’t stay longer than you feel comfortable. Don’t make yourself ill; if crowds aren’t your thing, don’t feel like you have to drag yourself to the dirty club. You’re not going to make a good impression if you’re asleep on your feet. Most publishers don’t take too kindly to being vomited on
  • Follow up on any contacts you’ve made. If you’ve got an email address just send a quick hello. I’m chronically shy and fearful of this sort of thing; social media makes it all so much easier. Connect on Twitter or Facebook or whatever the cool kids are on nowadays
  • It’s all about making friends. And girls just wanna have fun

And that’s it. I reckon I spent approximately £130 on the entrance fee, accommodation, train-fares, books, and sustenance. Was it worth it? Financially, probably not; maybe some of the people I met will offer me work in the future. I can’t count on that.

But I had a great time. I met a lot of fun, interesting people that I otherwise would have missed. And yes, there are other ways of having fun and other ways of meeting people (and yes, the crowd was overwhelmingly white). I don’t want you to leave this post with the impression that you must go to Sledge-Lit, or any of the other conventions that are sprinkled through the calendar. There are other ways to do it.

But I had a great time. I’m already starting to plan my trip to Edge-Lit 2019.

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Not-quite-a-launch-party #2

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Another day, another book-signing! This one was on a Friday night in the world’s smallest bookshop* and it went much better than I could have imagined. Not only did my daughter arrive too late to heckle me but the place was packed**. Huge thanks to the staff at Between the Lines, and the people of Great Bardfield, who gave me this wonderful book as a thank-you gift.

Whether they were there for me or for the free prosecco is a moot point***. Applause was polite. Books were sold. There was only one left in the shop when I rolled out at the end of the evening, all the customers (not, for the most part, my target market) having remembered cousins, sons and friends for whom it might make a good present.

In completely unrelated news, Night Shift is available now and makes a great Christmas present for all those cousins, sons and daughters (not just for boys!) and spouses and rabbits (tasty pages!) the world over.

And that’s it. That’s all the promo I’ve got lined up. Hopefully I’ll get something lined up for the new year, but, as we stand, it’s back to the real world for me.

It’s been a busy week. Maybe now I can get on with some real writing****.

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*It’s not actually the smallest bookshop in the world. That honour goes to this place. But it is pretty small

**It would feel packed with six people in. That’s how small it is

***Prosecco. No doubt

****Just been told that BBC Radio Guernsey want an interview. Reality is postponed. Here’s your surreality-replacement service. Please don’t wee on the seats

On air

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Fresh from Monday’s book-signing, I had my first ever radio interview on Tuesday. It went not horrifically – or if it did then no-one’s been honest enough to tell me.

Make up your own mind. I’m on from about nine minutes in, right after ‘Papa Don’t Preach.’ At one point I’m interrupted by Freddie Mercury, but as a Queen fan I can’t complain too much.

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As with yesterday’s extracurricular post there’s a lot more to say about this than I have time (or brain) for right now. Soon, my pretties, soon.

Be well.

 

Not-quite-a-launch party

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For those of you who don’t know, I did my first ever book-signing cum reading on Monday night. Huge thanks to Sarah at Mostly Books for hosting an event that, to my mind at least, went really well.

The only problem, in fact, was that I was heckled during the reading. Repeatedly. By my own daughter. It seems that being up two hours after bedtime and being sneakily funnelled chocolate by well-intentioned friends might not lead to perfect behaviour. Who knew?

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I’ve got another signing tomorrow night at Between the Lines in Great Bardfield. If you’re in that particular corner of Essex please do come along; I’ll be pathetically grateful for the attention.

Hopefully in the next few days I’ll get chance to set down a more reflective piece, and maybe even give some advice on how to go about doing a talk/signing/interview. Not that I know the second thing (the first is to get to the right place at the right time) about it, but still.

Oh, and I’ve not mentioned Sledge-Lit at all, which is a sin. I was there. It was great. More on that, too, shortly.

But for now I’m still trying to catch up with all the things I’ve let fall slack over the last week. Happy reading and happy writing, folks. I’ll be back when I’ve caught my breath.

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All photos copyright Sarah at Mostly Books, used with permission.

 

Upon further review

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Book burning at Wartburgfest 1817; illustration of 1883 (artist unknown)

So: reviews are coming in for Night Shift. This is, by and large, a good thing; It shows that copies are getting out to people – well, book-bloggers – and that, through them, the novel is getting a little attention.

Possibly the only thing I’ve remembered from my A-Level General Studies course is that you need to have heard of something (a band, a book, any sort of brand) at least five times before you think of checking it out for yourself. I’ve never been quite sure it’s true but if it’s not it’s still a good-enough lie.

So any mention of my work is welcomed. It doesn’t mean much if the only voice is my own constant nagging monologue; but multiple sources recommending a book makes a real difference.

Of course, not all mentions will be positive. The greater your fame spreads the more likely you are to hear dissenting voices. You’re going to have to learn how to take a negative review.

Last time I looked – I’m not going on too often – Goodreads reviews had been mostly positive. But one person had given me 2-star rating and another a fairly unimpressed 3. So here’s my ‘I’ll probably end up being a hypocrite over this’ guide to dealing with less-than-stellar reviews:

  • Remember that they’re not criticising you as a person. Yes, we all put a lot of ourselves into our work but saying that someone doesn’t like your work is not saying that they think any less of you as a person. Yes, there may be exceptions – if, say, your book is about something very important to you (transgender rights, for example) and someone disagrees fundamentally then it’s hard not to take it personally. Try and keep that distance, though: you are not your work.
  • They are not reviewing your best work. Your best hasn’t been written yet. And on that subject…
  • Publishing takes time. I’m not going to say ‘you should have been writing something else whilst the process was ongoing’ because life isn’t always straightforward. But you’re not the same person you were when you wrote that first draft. What you do now will be better because you’ve grown. (This might be less true of self-publishers, though the idea stands)
  • Try and take lessons. If your critics are consistent about over-simple plots, say, or wooden dialogue, try and take it on the chin. Learn.
  • Allow yourself time to recover. Words hurt. Allow yourself to feel that – cry if you need to, deny it if it helps – and don’t rush to a change until you’re ready…
  • …And for the love of all that’s holy, don’t respond to bad reviews. It’s okay to thank reviewers for a good one (via social media; don’t add to their blogs, it’s terribly gauche. And be careful about emailing as it might look a bit like stalking) but DO NOT complain about their poor taste, their personalities, or anything similar. It never ends well.
  • Write something else. Write better.

I’m sure you can find more ideas. Check this article for starters (and for another classic example of what not to do).

People will disagree with you. People will be unfair – they’ll review it as if you were trying to write a Mills & Book and not the star-killer grimdark space opera you were aiming for.  They’ll miss the point. And, of course, what one person sees as fussy, fiddly, over-perfumed prose will be another’s superlative imagery.

You can’t control this. Just remember that you’re in fine company. Every writer you’ve ever heard of has been shaken down at least once. Here’s the classic on Terry Pratchett:

…a complete amateur – doesn’t even write in chapters – hasn’t a clue.

–Tom Paulin on BBC2’s Late Review

And on Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye:

The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. Holden Caulfield, the main character who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him. …

In the course of 277 pages, the reader wearies of [his] explicitness, repetition and adolescence, exactly as one would weary of Holden himself. And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was.

–Anne L. Goodwin, The New Republic, 1951

Reviews matter, and bad ones hurt. But they’re not the be-all and end-all. You will be okay. And even a bad review is better than no review.

At least one person has read your book.