Saturday, 18 February 2017

Don't Give Up The Day Job!

I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. Yep, I know that sounds heretical, but from a writer's point of view ( especially a self-published one like me) bookshops are the reason we are bottom of the financial food chain, even though WE are the reason they exist in the first place. It is unfair and I am miffed about it.

Bookshops do not have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 48% discount. This means that for them to stay in business, publishers in turn offer writers such measly returns on books (10% - if you are lucky, and that's on the discounted figure) that it just isn't worth bothering. The growth of ebooks is as much the greed of bookshops as it is the development of technology ~ they signed up to the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement, allowing them to discount titles and then discovered Amazon/supermarkets beat them to it.

I was recently in a blog discussion about small publishers and royalties, and one of the participants (Dr Teika Bellamy: @MothersMilkBks) helpfully provided the following breakdown of costs:

On a £10 RRP (please note, these are approximate figures)

50% retailer (£5)
10% distributor (£1)
10% author (£1)
20% printer (£2)
10% publisher (£1) ← That 10% needs to cover things like ISBN costs, advertising, free books that are sent off to reviewers (and postage and packaging), illustrator’s costs, editing, proofreading, typesetting and all the various running costs of the business (including salaries if employers are paid).  
Based upon this, the writer at the bottom of the pile ends up with so little for all their years of hard graft that they might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).

Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. And most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous/hyped authors' because I can't get beyond page 9, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.

My local Waterstones had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. Now it has reinstated it, but they don't take my Victorian Detective books as I am self-published on Amazon and Bertrams & Gardiners (the 2 big suppliers) won't look twice at me.

More evidence of discrimination. Even though the quality of Createspace books rivals many other publishers' stock (and they frequently resort to using POD companies anyway). Same policy with WH Smith. Same with most independent bookshops. Same with their suppliers ~ same suppliers.

I am lucky in that a local gift shop takes my books (at a slight discount) and sells them like hot cakes as I am not in competition with shelves and shelves of other titles. Now I am, let's face it, at the latter end of my career. And most of my sales now come from Ebooks.

But for a writer just starting out, full of expectation and hope, I'd have to say: Be realistic. Love what you do, be proud of your end product, but don't give up the day job. As a fellow writer remarked: 'unless you sell gazillions of copies, writing books is mostly for pleasure, or a little income to subsidise what else you have.'

Is it worth it then? Yes ~ a hundred times yes, as long as your definition of 'worth' is not measured in pounds and pence

Saturday, 11 February 2017


'If I write it, they will read it' ~ thinks many a fledgling author with a quiet smile.
Oh no they won't!
It is estimated that a new author on Amazon may sell as little as 50 copies of their book in a year. 95% of writers earn less than £5k. The 'top earners' are a teeny tiny % of the market, and usually get there on the back of a publicity department. But you don't have one, do you? Nor do I. So where to dive in?

Writing a book and getting it published, by whatever conduit you use, is only the start. To get any sales, you have to make people aware of your masterpiece. In this blog, I'm exploring some of the portals I use to promote my work ~ if I don't mention something, it's because I don't specifically use it for book promotion. Feel free to expound on how useful you find it in the comments section, because unless we are all out there, loud and proud, nobody will notice

1. Pre-Publication: At least three months before you are ready to gift the reading public with your masterpiece, it is good to offer it to a few REPUTABLE book blogger sites to read. I say 'reputable' because you want an honest opinion. One of the best sites is Rosie Amber @rosieamber1  Getting your manuscript to them early means that you will have a few (hopefully good) reviews up as soon as your book is published. And yes, I can vouch for their integrity : a reviewer posted a less than enthusiastic review of one of my YA ebooks. I am sure there are other book bloggers out there. Maybe people could identify them in the comments section.

2. Twitter::  I make Twitter my main platform. Most of my sales come from Twitter  eg:

I have been looking at your books on Amazon and all look great, will buy two of your favorites. Select please.

 I also encourage readers to post pictures of the actual book (and then they get a surprise signature sent to them in the post)
It's next on my 'to read' pile 🙂
And practically all sales come from me chatting, posting stuff etc or people recommending the books to other readers. In other words, I'm a friend first, an online character second, and a writer selling books third.

2a Twitter Hashtags: I use #histfic or #Victorian and #historicalfiction. This places my book alongside the others in the same genre and makes it easier for readers to find them. Your genre will have a #. Or there are general ones #bookboost @IARTG ... check other people's promo posts and you pick them up quickly. You can also follow readers via the authors especially if they have the magic words Avid Reader in their bio. Don't send them promos though. If you want to see some Twitter book promos, check out @TerryTyler4 or @paul_cude (or even me) for ideas.

Make sure you RETWEET other writers and say a general or personal thank-you when people retweet you.

 3. Press Releases: The local press are (usually) delighted to receive a press release, a publicity pic and a free copy to review.

3a. Press Releases: Anywhere your book is set will be delighted also.

3. Local Radio: Contact them via Twitter, phone them up, arrange to do a studio interview. Listen, I sound like a 15 year old mainlining helium, but I still do it.

4. National Press: Will be interested if you have a brilliant backstory, particularly if it involves abuse, or hardship. Also if you earned shedloads of advance shekels or you are very very photogenic. I haven't cracked this one yet. Maybe you will. Also if your partner/family member is 'famous'. However I was told by the wife of someone well known in public life that this could be a two-edged sword as the press can jump on you if said famous person is not liked.
Bernie Steadman in W H Smiths

5. Literary Festivals: Everybody's doing it. Local library will have contacts of yours. Organisers have a Twitter site. Get in touch. I did the first St Albans Literary Festival two years ago and last year. I ran a workshop on how to get published ... ooh, and I had some books on a side-table.

6. Signings: Local bookshop is worth approaching (see pic). Make sure you are professional in your set-up and your conduct ~ do not hassle people to buy your books.

Harpenden Writers, 27th Jan 2017
7.Talks: WI ~ you have to audition and be approved, but it's worth it. They pass you round like a sweetie. Local book clubs/writers' groups are also worth contacting. Library should hold the list. If you write YA or children's fiction, schools are always keen to have a visiting writer. Make sure you get paid ~ the Society of Authors has recommended fees. WI expects you to donate 10% of any book sales to their group.

8. Blogging: Worth a whole post on its own. Maybe I'll write one. Sufficient to say that blogs are great for writing interesting posts around your book. I have blogged on Sex, Food, Child cruelty, Poisons .. did I mention Sex? Some people arrange Blog Tours to publicize their book. I host other writers and write posts for other blogs. It's getting your name out there, building your profile and being part of the writing community.

Writing Magazine
9. Writing Magazine (@WritingMagazine) : The 'bible' for any writer. It has comps, helpful articles, lists of publishers/magazines that are open for submissions, everything you need to stay in touch with fellow writers etc. It also has a Membership Spot where you can happily plug your new novel. I always do them a small write-up. Worth the subscription (which you can claim as legitimate expenses against tax). You can also use their own marketplace to promote your book FREE!

10. Local Shops:: If you are a small published/self published writer with books, it is well nigh impossible to get them into the big bookshops. This is because they get 45% discounts from established publishers and usually only deal with 2 or 3 suppliers. But other shops like gift shops, & craft shops may well be happy to negotiate a better rate. I get a kick from seeing my books in a local shop window (see pic at top of piece). I've never had that happen at Waterstones!

Finally -  if you have published actual books, make sure you are registered for PLR ~ Public Lending Rights: that's the money paid by libraries every time your book is borrowed. You can register here. Every little helps.

What I do not do, and nor should you, is inundate followers, friends on Facebook, or total strangers with 'buy my book' promos 24/7. If you want to read one of my books, great. If not, hey. And I won't be constantly checking my sales figures or Amazon and informing you every hour of the day. That way madness lies. And somehow I have to find time to get on with the next book, (which is the other GREAT way to generate sales), so that IF you bought, read and enjoyed Diamonds & Dust and its three successors, there will be another book in the pipeline for you to read very soon.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Importance of Publicity 1

Excitement is building at Hedges Towers. Reviews of Diamonds & Dust on Amazon UK have just broken the magic 90 in number. This has never happened before in all my years of being published, so is very gratifying. Even more so, as those of you who are aware of the back story know, because I parted company with my agent over it, as she had told me that there was no market for this type of 'Present-tense historical stuff ' book, so she was not going to bother sending it out to publishers; comments that resulted in my almost losing heart and deciding to give up writing altogether. Take whatever lesson you wish to learn from this.

So, apart from sorting out the party fairy lights and discovering they don't work because one of the bulbs has blown, ordering in crates of prosecco and wrapping crepe paper streamers round the PINK SOFA who has been in launch mode since the series started, I am now wondering whether the villa in Tuscany and the black Maserati I promised OH might be a tad nearer. Meanwhile, because complacency isn't in my vocabulary, I crack on with the publicity machine.

Publicity has become vitally important in today's frenetic book market. In the 1950s when I was growing up, there seemed no need for authors to get involved in marketing their books. Nobody was interested in them. I could have passed Ruby Ferguson, Primrose Cummings, A Stephen Tring, Pamela Brown or Don Stanford in the street and not recognised them. Now if you publish a book, unless you are happy just to have achieved publication, and content that only your immediate family, and close friends will buy it, you HAVE to put yourself out there.

There are some myths still going round about publicity. The first says that mainstream published writers don't have to do much if any publicity, as they have marketing wonks to do it instead. Wrong. My own experience, based on OUP and Usborne, my two previous publishers, is that at my level of importance, publicity wonks will send your book out for review, feature you in the publisher's catalogue, and produce press releases, but that's pretty well it. The rest you sort yourself, unless you are a 'famous or favoured writer' - of which more anon. Sometimes, they don't even do that - one year, I was told by OUP that they were going to spend the entire marketing budget on a couple of well known children's writers who brought in more money than a mid-lister like me. Seriously.

The bottom line is always money. If you don't sell enough books, and make sufficient money, big publishers will drop you. Actually, most publishers of whatever size will drop you - so those authors I recently came across on Facebook moaning that ''they can't do publicity, it isn't ''them'' and why doesn't X (their small publisher) do it all for them like big publishers do'' really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

The other myth is that 'popular' mainstream authors get taken on lovely trips and outings to promote their books. Hollow laughter. I recently caught up with one such writer, just back from the US. It was a nightmare. Meetings with publishers, followed by book talks, followed by signings, followed by working dinners, followed by total exhaustion. And one of the famous OUP writers I mentioned earlier didn't get to write a thing for two years, had a nervous breakdown, and had to force herself to inch back into writing again. So there you are. Myths well and truly busted. Next week, I shall explore some of the publicity portals available and how to use them without annoying people too excessively.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Holocaust (Greek: sacrifice by fire)

 Results for:  Last / Maiden Name = Flatauer        First Name = Alma        Place = Berlin
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany List of murdered Jews from Germany    murdered
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany Page of Testimony                                   murdered
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany List of deportation from Berlin                murdered
Flatauer 1889 Osnabrueck, Germany Page of Testimony                          murdered

We live in a 'post fact' (or as I prefer to call it, downright lies) era. In this Holocaust Memorial time,  the internet is ablaze with Holocaust deniers, claiming that the massacre of Jews, gypsies, disabled people and gays under the Nazis did NOT happen.

The survivors of Hitler's 'Final Solution' are gradually dying. Those that are left, frail but undaunted, spend their last few days having to tell their harrowing stories over and over again, as the stinking sewage of denial washes through social media. When they are gone, who will bear the torch?

As many of you know, I am the daughter of German Jewish refugees, and post the fiasco that was Brexit, I have applied for restored citizenship, so that my descendants will never have their 'citizen of the world' status wrenched from them, as mine was by the alt-right German government. At the head of this piece is the visual proof, taken from German documentation, of the 'fate' of my paternal grandmother. 

But this is my mother's story, not mine: she was born in Berlin and as the anti-Jewish laws started coming into force, she was in her early twenties. She had to leave university, where she was studying art & design, and went to work for one of the many Jewish organisation that had started getting Jewish families out of Germany as they could see what was going to happen in the future.

UK Daily Mail pre-WW2 headline
She helped organise Kindertransports and her refugee organisation supplied the papers and documents needed for adults to leave. These organisations also helped make the situation of German Jews very public and were hated as a result. Eventually, Hitler decided to close the borders. The last train was scheduled to leave Berlin on December 7th, 1941.

The way my mother always told it: she sent her own parents to the UK where, as the Daily Mail article shows, the identical 'anti-semitic/illegal immigrant' rhetoric was alive and well then, as now, but she felt it her duty to stay in Berlin and help out to the end.

So it wasn't until the last day that she packed her suitcase and headed for the station. The queue stretched for yards. She stood in line, wondering whether she was too late. Then the German police started going down the line, checking passports and documents. Time ticked on. Finally they reached her, and roughly demanded her papers.

My mother handed them over. A brief scrutiny. A consultation. A list was checked. Then she was beckoned out of the line and ordered to go with them. Her heart sank. Was she about to be refused exit? Was she going to be imprisoned? Tortured? Deported to a work camp?  She followed the police .... along the platform ... past the waiting crowd ... straight to the barrier where the train was waiting.

A curt command and the barrier was raised. She was pushed onto the platform. The barrier was closed. Still not quite believing what had just happened, she took her place on the last train and came eventually to the UK, where she met and married my father, also a refugee. Nine years later, I was born in the UK.

My father's family refused to leave Germany, believing, as so many EU citizens, migrants and refugees believe today, that civilized people would never try to deny them their human rights. They perished at Auschwitz. I am the bearer of their story. If you read a tweet, or an article, or a book by someone denying that Hitler and his military machine ruthlessly and systematically exploited, tortured, and murdered eleven million human beings whose only 'crime' was that they were not ''them'', then remember this: the people who ignore their mistakes are destined to repeat them. Over and over again.
Some 2016 UK Brexit headlines

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Giving Author Talks 2: More tips

St Albans Lit Fest 2016
In the last blog, we looked at the mechanics of presenting a good talk. Now lets finesse this a little further. Here are my 'must-do' tips as the event approaches.

1. Make sure you have liaised with the event organiser. I usually email a week before to check they have got the stuff I need sorted. I then email/call 2 days before to say how much I am looking forward to meeting them and doing the event. I tell them when I will be arriving, and check parking arrangements.

2. On the day, arrive in plenty of time. Do not assume the organisers will have people to unload/help you set up. Be as independent as you can. Smile and thank a lot.

3. A few essentials: Wet wipes/hand sanitizer (stuff gets dusty; you will be signing books later). Water. Float for books. Notebook for sales/useful contacts. Two signing pens that work. Business cards.

4. Make sure you thank the organiser, his/her helpers, and the audience for turning up. I usually do this straight after I've been introduced, in case I forget.

5. When giving your talk, SIGNPOST clearly. 'Now let's move on to the second part: how I write the actual books.' 'Finally, let's look at some of my research tools.'

6. NEVER go over time. It's discourteous.

7. Send the organisers a little handwritten note a couple of days after the event thanking them for hosting you and saying how much you are looking forward to doing another event in the future.

I hope these two blogs have helped. I gather from the comments that many people have found the tips useful. I have sat through some pretty dreadful talks, given by top authors, and have learned shedloads. The main thing is: enjoy yourself! Your audience are there for you. They want to find out about you and your books. And on your success, other writers may be invited!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Giving Author Talks: Top Tips

St Albans Literary Festival 2016

Once it comes to public notice that you have published a book, or books, you may well find that you are invited to speak to a group about it. Or you may apply to one of the numerous literary festivals to be a speaker. Either way, it is important to plan and prepare carefully in advance, if for no other reason than it stops you panicking as the day draws closer. I have participated in the Edinburgh, Cheltenham and St Albans Literary Festivals as both visiting author and audience, and over the years I have sat through some pretty dire author talks ( I hope I haven't given any!). 

So for 2017, let's look once again at How To Give a Good Author Talk.

1. Your session should contain 3 elements

* You and your books ~ how you write, why you write, what you write. With readings from your books.
* Audience questions.
* Informal book signing and chat.

I suggest for an hour's session the ratio should split into: 25 mins talk, 15 mins questions, 20 mins chat and signings. Obviously the last two can overlap.

2. Set the Scene - including yourself

There is nothing more boring than a pile of books on a bare table. Or a bare table. People like to look at interesting stuff while you are speaking. THINK about your genre. I bring a Victorian top hat and hatbox, part of a Victorian tea set, I lay the table with a lace tablecloth, I also have opera gloves, a seed pearl bag and some of my original Victorian books, which I stand up so people can see the covers.
I wear a steampunk outfit. I put my books to sell on a separate table away from the talk area.
Start collecting interesting stuff for a table display.

3. Practice makes perfect

If you have never spoken in public before, or feel nervous, WRITE your talk out in full first. Then SAY it ~ speak more slowly than normal and time yourself. Keep practicing ~ how do you think actors learn their lines? Some people perform in front of a mirror, or film themselves so they can eliminate any unnecessary gestures. Once you know your talk pretty well, reduce it to one sheet of paper with key words.

4. Sit or stand?

Stand. Always. You command the room, and can check the back row hasn't dozed off. Also you can walk about and pick up some of the interesting objects as you talk about your books.

5. Q & A

Have some pre-prepared questions to stimulate a debate, in case nobody asks anything. Things like: what do they think about self-publishing ~ is it just an excuse for poor writing? Do they prefer ebooks to print and why? What was the last book they read that they really enjoyed? Do they think some writers get over-hyped?

Be prepared to divulge all sorts of stuff. Some audiences will ask how much you earn, have you ever got a bad review, etc etc. Laugh it up and don't get insulted. I frequently bring some rejection letters along and read them out to much merriment.

Next week, we'll finesse your technique, look at a few more tips and
 pick up on any comments left by you that need attention.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The PINK SOFA welcomes Seumas Gallacher

Having seen out 2016 in a blaze of glory which was almost just a blaze owing to some dodgy Christmas lights and a sparkler, the PINK SOFA welcomes its first guest of 2017. Debonair, urbane wit, writer and man about town, Seumas Gallacher pens the sort of fast-paced crime thrillers that keep you turning the pages from the first to the last. He has graced the PINK SOFA on a couple of occasions in the past, so it is a delight to welcome him back, with some sound advice for writers, to start off the year.

…self-published Authors, be careful what yeez pray for…

…as a scribbler of crime fiction, NUTHIN would please me more than to have one, and preferably more, of my wee literary babies become record-shattering bestsellers… when I began this incredible writing journey over eight years ago, my initial objective was to acquire one of those elusive mystical beings… a large international publishing house to carry my WURK to a grateful, anticipative, universal readership, who in turn would drool over every bon mot I produced… reality wasn’t long in pushing its nose in the way, and rubbing my nose into the mud of unrequited Nobelesque Prize aspirations… in turn, I have been a self-publishing author, then a ‘housed’ member of a good, modest-sized, literary stable, and now reverted to being my original persona, an ‘indie’ pensperson… and along the way, the dawning of a few reality-check-type home truths has settled in my brain… there are millions (yes, Mabel, millions) of titles on offer on Auntie Amazon alone… those whose tomes reach the pinnacles of the New York Bestseller lists et al are a miniscule fragment of the legions who reach for the Kindle skies… I’m told, however reliably or otherwise, that sales amounting to just 500 copies of a title constitutes ‘best seller’… most books don’t sell more than 50 copies… nowt wrong with that, of course, as many, many people write for their own pleasure and the real joy of having ‘written my book’… but back to those of us who do have dreams of ‘one of my books in every household’… allow me to share my experience in this… my sales/downloads (aggregated of all my titles) are somewhere in the region of 100,000… made me a millionaire, right?... wrong!… I’ll break it down for yeez… about half of these are ‘promo’ sales on various Amazon programs over these intervening eight years… Amazon counts free promo downloads as ‘sales’… I’ve no problem in letting freebies into the market, as I believe they generate real cash sales… however, and here’s a point to note… the resultant royalties spread over those years, while contributing somewhat to the rent, doesn’t put a Ferrari in the garage, or anything approaching it… as it is, self-publishing gives me much more than I was able to generate through a publisher, and in the event a major house came calling, I would have to think very carefully before I’d surrender my sales destiny to them… why?...  a few things… first of all, control would disappear… even the checking of my sales figures on a regular daily or weekly basis would be taken from me… the publisher sees them, not the author… regardless of whether or not you have a publisher, the writer still has the lion’s share of the promotional and marketing burden to manage… a publisher is more likely to be on yer case to produce the next blockbuster, and the next, and the next… the artWURK choice passes to sumb’dy other than yerself… more loss of control… payments are done usually semi-annually, and yeez would have the devil’s own job to audit and check if the figures are correct… with self-publishing on Amazon, it’s every-month payments straight to yer account… and oh, yes, the size of royalty per copy is normally peanuts when sold via yer publisher… and yer books can take up to a year and more to be published after yeez give it over to yer publisher… more control loss… one more wee issue before I leave yeez… consider this… when yeez look after yer own ‘business of writing’ only ONE author is being 100% looked after… yerself… with ANY publisher, let’s say with 99 other writers in their stable, the law of averages says yeez’ll receive at best 1% of their focus…  still wanna be ‘house-published’?... self-published Authors, be careful what yeez pray for, yeez might get it… meantime, I’m off to Guest Speak to another gathering of potential loyal readers of my books… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!

Find Seumas :
Twitter: @seumasgallacher

Saturday, 17 December 2016

In The Bleak Midwinter: Christina Rossetti, Victorian poet & feminist

'In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.'

Even if you aren't a christian, chances are you will have heard this carol being sung or played around this time of year. It was written by Christina Rossetti, sister of the far more famous Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a leading light in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Christina Rossetti was born in 1830, and died in 1894. Her life spanned the mid-Victorian and late Victorian period. She was the youngest child in an incredibly talented family. Her father, the Italian poet and political exile Gabriele Rossetti, immigrated to England in 1824 and established a career as a Dante scholar and teacher of Italian in London.

Of the two 'famous' Victorian poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Christina Rossetti, I find Rossetti the more fascinating. At a time when women were expected to marry and limit their sphere of influence to hearth and home, she never married, although one of the Pre-Raphaelite brethren, James Collinson, proposed marriage in 1848. She turned him down, citing her conversion to Anglo-Catholicism.

Rossetti was on the fringes of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. She witnessed the chopping and changing of partners, the artistic compositions and radical lifestyles of the set. Yet she never acted as a model, nor was included fully in the activities of the group. Her poems often convey a sense of the 'outsider', the unnamed and unnoticed woman standing in the doorway observing, but not intruding.

Much of Rossetti's poetry is strong and strident and passionate, which makes her unusual given that her sex was supposed to be self-effacing and emotionally docile. Her verse is very female-located. In her poems 'Maude Claire', 'Cousin Kate' and 'Jessie Cameron' none of the men are ever named. All the women are named or given a voice.

Over the centuries poetry has been considered the highest form of literature, and thus up until the late Victorian period, consigned to the 'male' domain. Its anti-woman critics have always pointed out the 'public' nature of the poet and how that sat at odds with the domestic nature of women. Rossetti subverts the traditional gendered expectation, firstly by being a woman poet, then by asserting female emotions, identity and superiority over and over again in her verses.

Rossetti's own life frequently filters into her work. For ten years she worked at St Mary Magdalene house of charity in Highgate. It was a refuge for 'fallen women', the 'soiled doves' of Victorian society. This experience colours such poems as 'Goblin Market', her finest poem, where the goblins (men) are seen offering luscious fruits to seduce innocent young women. Rossetti makes clear her disgust of the commoditization of sex, but also subtly shows how 'tempting' temptation really was.

'Goblin Market' is often mistakenly seen a children's poem. It goes deeper than that. Apart from a radiant depiction of sisterhood and the importance of female friendship in a dangerous and predatory male world, I think Rossetti is subconsciously exploring the radical idea of a 'woman Redeemer' in Lizzie, the 'golden haired/white dove' who saves her sister by offering money to the goblins, but refusing to taste their evil fruits. Instead, in a copy of Christ's last supper, she invites her fallen sister, who succumbed to temptation and is now dying, to 'taste' the juices she carries, and so be healed through her. (I am not sure Rossetti would have agreed with my feminist critique, but to me, the meaning is clear.)

Like her Victorian counterpart Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Rossetti suffered from a variety of illnesses all her life. She was variously diagnosed with angina, TB, neuralgia and once with 'religious mania'. It is a moot point whether these were actual complaints, or part and parcel of being a very gifted, sensitive and intelligent woman poet at a time when such an occupation was still not totally accepted. It was only a few years on from the 'shocking' unmasking of Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell as being women novelists (the Bronte sisters).

Many times during her life, Rossetti had to learn to control and subdue her nature. It was not always easy. As she wrote in later life to her niece “You must not imagine, my dear girl, that your Aunt was always the calm and sedate person you now behold. I, too, had a very passionate temper; but I learnt to control it. On one occasion, being rebuked by my dear Mother for some fault, I seized upon a pair of scissors, and ripped up my arm to vent my wrath.''

 In 1893 Rossetti was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy that was performed in her own home. The cancer recurred the following year, and after months of acute suffering she died on 29 December 1894. She left behind a body of verse that is largely unread and unknown today, apart from the carol In the Bleak Midwinter, Goblin Market and the plangent Remember Me which is often recited at funerals. If you get a chance over the Christmas period, she is well worth seeking out.

Friday, 9 December 2016

How Not To Plan A Novel (Some Tips)

Whatever we write, be it short story, play, novel or poem, we all go through the same initial process: Planning. There are more ways of planning a piece of writing than there are pieces of writing - please read on quickly as I'm not sure this analogy works.

It is said you are either a ''planner'' or a ''pantster''. As the world's weirdest combination of the two (more anon) I don't think I am in the slightest degree qualified to lay down the law on the Hows and How Nots. Nevertheless, given that my lack of expertise has never stopped me piling in and sharing my ignorance, and several people who've read my three Victorian crime novels have asked me how I went about it, here's what I do:

Thinking: Every book I've ever written has started in the same place. Inside my head. I spend an inordinate amount of time before starting, and during the writing process just mulling over ideas for story development, or characters. Many of them will be discarded. Sometimes I do this lying on my bed, sometimes I go for a walk, sometimes I carry the story around whatever I'm doing. But however it happens, nothing begins without a lot of thinking taking place. No notes are made at this stage. The thinking will recur regularly right throughout the writing process.

After a lot of cogitation, I progress on to:

Sketching: This is where I might make a few notes on paper. More likely I will write up small sections of the book, or small pieces of dialogue that I quite like. I know the names of the main characters (secondary ones get named as they appear). At this stage I usually have a couple of ''pages'' at the end of a file named ''new book'' with phrases or descriptions that I think I might incorporate.

When I think I know, very roughly, what I might want to say, I progress to

Researching: For Diamonds & Dust, Honour & Obey, Death & Dominion and now Rack & Ruin I visited London and took pictures of the areas I thought I wanted to use. I went online and searched for original documents (there are loads on various Victorian sites). I transferred the entire contents of 3 local libraries' Victorian history section to my TBR pile (rotating as necessary). And I read every novel written in the period that I could -- frequently skimming to get a sense of it.

At this stage, I have a couple of random pages of notes, some online, a pile of downloaded articles, and books with bits of paper and bus tickets poking out of them. Again, researching is not a finite process and will change as I write and need to find out different things.

And now finally, I start:

Writing: I always do this the same way. I write the end. Then I write the opening section. Then I write a bit more of the opening ... a bit more of the end. Then I kind of join them up. Yup. Weird. And AT NO STAGE do I ever have a clear idea of the overall structure of the book or what is going to happen next. It's like fast downhill skiing in the dark.

No serious pre-plotting is ever done. None. No story arcs. No narrative graphs. No cards files. Nothing. The story evolves as I write it. And I write in short episodic sections, rather than chapters, tracking the story through a host of different characters. It's a spirally way of doing it rather than a linear one. I think it makes the story far more pacy and exciting - certainly for me as the writer, although it is sometimes like herding cats as bits of plot wander off into the long grass and have to be rescued.

As I write, I also revise in the light of the direction the story is taking. The whole thing takes about eight months. And then I have to go back and edit. So that's me. Chaos and madness.

How do you plan ....?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Three Reasons to Self-Publish

With publication of the fourth Victorian Stride & Cully detective novel (Rack & Ruin), I have now firmly moved into the entirely self-published category. And I been asked once again by several people why I decided not to go with a commercial publisher. 

Here are my reasons: 

1. Control: As a self-published author, I  have a lot of autonomy. I can do whatever I like, publicity-wise, and if you follow me on Twitter (@carolJhedges) you will know that I do. I had very little autonomy with Usborne and OUP and I gather that some big publishing houses like to keep a close eye on their writers so they don't run amok on social media, which could rebound back on them. Also I gather that many houses prefer writers to promote other writers on their list (possibly why I rarely get promoted by Choc Lit writers, lovely though they are).

2. Choice: I  chose the covers of my books, which remind me of contemporary newspaper headings, or theatrical posters. They are designed by a local graphic artist, who is also a friend. I have been told they are reminiscent of very early Penguin covers. They are certainly quirky and different ... just like the stories .. and, dare I say it, like the author of the stories herself! I can also choose and change the key words that help readers locate my books, and I can fiddle around with Amazon's book categories, if I want to. As I am an inveterate fiddler, I do.

3. Cash:  As a commercially published writer of adult fiction I was getting 40% of all ebook sales, less on printed books. As a published children's writer that dropped to 12% of all book sales. As an Indie, I can command 70% of sales. The difference in my monthly figures has been remarkable.

Ok, I know it is all too easy nowadays to write a book, cobble together a cover and upload the finished product to Amazon (actually, it damn well isn't, as you can read here:). Advances in technology have opened up enormous opportunities for self-publishing that were never there when I started writing books, and that is a good thing.

I also acknowledge that inevitably, there is a lot of dross out there and it lets the side down. Poorly written and produced books with typos, badly designed covers, sold at rock bottom prices or given away for free, which is not the way I want to go.

Despite the many ''Hey, I produced a book for virtually nothing'' blogs, the writers of the best self-published books have usually used beta readers, then payed out for professional editing, proofreading and cover designing. It is hard work and not easy and having done it five times now, I can attest to the pain.

But in a world where celebs are sneaking all the good publishing deals, and agents are less and less able to place books (and take 10% of your meagre earnings when they do), I still think that going solo, if you can, is the best and most lucrative way of presenting your work to the reading public. 

So what's your publishing experience? And as a reader, do you ''prefer'' a book that has a 'proper publisher' behind it? Do share ....