Yours truly features in The Bookseller, the publishing industry’s bible, this week.
Why review the books you read? I can think of five gold star reasons.
- Reviews matter. They really do. Studies have shown that 95% of consumers read reviews before deciding on a purchase. I’m willing to bet that figure is even higher for books. Think about it. How many times have you bought a book without checking the reviews first?
- Reviews increase visibility. They are how readers discover new authors and make sure their favourites are up to scratch. Authors benefit from honest reader feedback. And yes, most of us do read reviews – the good, the bad and the occasional ugly – despite what some writers say.
- Success breeds success. I’m talking algorithms here. Not that I pretend to understand this dark art. But it seems common sense to me that reviews influence them. The higher a book’s ranking, the greater the number of reviews (and stars) it has, the more likely it is that readers will find it via the algorithms. And being found by new readers is what turns an unknown work into a chart-topper.
- Reviewing is good manners. It seems to me, if you’ve read a book, especially one you enjoyed, it’s only polite to let the author know what you thought about it and spread the word to other readers. Reviews don’t have to be long, editorial analyses – though they are welcome too! A few lines saying what you liked or disliked about a book are fine.
- It’s good to take a moment. I review every book I read – with the possible exception of the blockbusters that can manage fine without me. I find it therapeutic to sit and think about what I’ve read, and articulate my response to it while it’s fresh in my mind. It’s like when you’ve watched a film and just have to talk to someone about it. The experience isn’t complete without that pause for reflection. Reviews give you that space.
Obviously, here I’m thinking about my own books: Note to Boy and the anthology Taking Liberties. But not only them. Once you’ve read a book, do please share the experience with other readers on Amazon, Goodreads, booksellers’ websites, or wherever you read and write about books.
Doing it for ourselves
For a writer, there’s little to beat the thrill of holding a book you’ve written. And today, I had that thrill as I unboxed paperback copies of Taking Liberties.
This has been a remarkable experience for several reasons. Firstly, it happened unbelievably quickly; the wheels of the publishing industry usually grind exceedingly slowly. Not in this case. In only a few months, a group of authors were able to put their heads together and, sharing their various skills and talents, produce a short story collection to be proud of. I was pleased to be a small part of it.
Secondly, the anthology has already achieved success as an ebook, staying at #2 in the short stories ‘hot new releases’ chart for quite some time and getting blush-inducing reviews: “wonderfully eclectic”, “funny, moving, thought provoking”, “offbeat”, and “wonderful, uplifting and sometimes surprising”. Fingers crossed, the success continues with the release of the paperback.
And thirdly, amazing though all that is, even more amazing, in my opinion, is the way in which all this came about.
It’s tough out there. I know how hard, how very hard, it is for an unknown writer to find a publisher and then, almost as important, to get their book in front of a sufficient number of readers. New authors, without an existing fanbase to call upon, can – and do – get lost in the white noise of today’s big-name celebrity marketing promotions.
But what can the poor indie writer do against such juggernaut forces? As my old granny used to say, if you want something doing properly, do it yourself.
And so the Breakthrough Book Collective was born. We are a group of friends and colleagues, all proven and published writers, doing it for ourselves. Many have other skills, such as editing, design, art, journalism, photography, podcasting, presenting and marketing, which we pool for the good of the collective. We write in different genres, have different backgrounds, but we share a commitment to putting the creative and financial power in the hands of the creators. And in producing engaging, exciting and professionally presented books, of course!
Taking Liberties is our first initiative and is now available as a paperback. You can order it here. And please do remember to leave a review. We’d be so grateful.
And if you want to read more about the Breakthrough Book Collective and other ‘commons’ projects, my fellow collective, the author, artist and presenter Stevyn Colgan has explained it better and in much more detail in his blog here.
Taking Liberties out today!
I’m chuffed to bits to let you know that Taking Liberties, the anthology of short stories by twelve writers, of which I am proud to be one, is released today and is available to order from Amazon and Kobo as an ebook. For those who prefer a real-life paperback, that will be coming along very soon, in the next week or so.
My heartfelt thanks to Stephanie Bretherton, Ivy Ngeow, Philip Whiteley and Zena Barrie for all the blood sweat and tears, and to them and my fellow Breakthrough Book Collective writers for being so flipping talented.
Taking Liberties is the first venture of the brand new Breakthrough Book Collective.
Of Madness and Miniskirts
Farewell, Mary Quant, spirit of the 1960s. I owe you a lot. You brightened up my life as a young teenager and twenty-something with your short skirts, hot pants and sharp haircuts. You were there for me when I left home, started my first job, and when I met my husband. And when I got married, I wore a minidress. Of course.
And, much, much later on, you and others in the fashion industry were the inspiration for my debut novel, Note to Boy.
Not that I’m suggesting Mary Quant was in the least little bit like my main character, Eloise Slaughter. Eloise is an unprincipled, egotistical monster who shamelessly uses everyone she meets on her way up the fashion ladder. And I am very fond of her. What does that say about me? In contrast, Mary Quant was a retail pioneer and visionary who brought affordable style to the high street and changed the face of fashion forever.
People – nosy people – sometimes ask why I chose to write about the madness of Swinging London. How could I not? It was a crazy, creative and colourful time. Britain was the hub of all popular culture, with the rest of the world taking its lead from us for films, music, books and, of course, fashion. And I had the inside track on all of this. During the late 1960s and early 70s, when I was single and carefree, I worked for an American film company, shared a flat near Oxford Circus, bought my clothes in Carnaby Street, and went to the sort of parties where you might bump into a James Bond actor. Glamorous, hey?
Not so glam when you’re living it. I was an underpaid office dogsbody at the film company, the occupant of the flat next door to ours advertised her ‘modelling’ services on a handwritten postcard pinned to the door, and the James Bond actor I met was the Australian one whose name no-one can ever remember.*
Ok, so real-life wasn’t quite so ‘fab’ and ‘trendy’. Nevertheless, those times became a rich source of material for me as a writer of humorous fiction. I wanted to explore celebrity, from the point of view of someone who’d had it and lost it. As I had observed that glamorous lifestyle, and the behaviour that sometimes goes with it, from the sidelines, it was the obvious time and place in which to set Note to Boy.
So, thank you Mary Quant. Thank you for everything.
*Oh, and the James Bond actor? George Lazenby
Taking Liberties Now Available to Pre-Order
Your patience is rewarded! Taking Liberties, the exciting new anthology of short stories, is available for preorder NOW, and will be released into the wild on 17th April. Each of the twelve stories in the book takes freedom as its theme. Among them, you’ll find my contribution, On The Brushes.
“A collection that is full of surprises. But it is no surprise that this talented group of authors have found so many unexpected and entertaining ways to write on the theme of freedom. A great read.” says Lulu Allison, author of Salt Lick (Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022 Long List)
Be one of the first to dip into this fascinating collection of stories from established and emerging writers by pre-ordering your copy today.
Taking Liberties is published by The Breakthrough Book Collective.
Shrouded in Mystery
All good things have to come to an end. Much as I find editing satisfying, it was time to call a halt, bite the bullet and send A Novel Solution onto my lovely publisher, SRL, for their verdict. That happened yesterday. My nails are now chewed down to the quick. Hope they love my characters and story as much as I do.
What’s next? Write another novel, of course!
Editing, I Love It!
I just luurve editing, though I know some writers hate it. I can see their point. You’ve written a book. Typed ‘the end’ at … well, the end. You sigh with relief. It’s over. It’s done. Another one under your belt. But it’s not. Not by a long chalk.
Because, unless you’re the Mozart of writing and produce a perfect, error-free manuscript at the first attempt, then comes the editing process. I understand how it can feel tedious, nit picking and an anticlimax after the excitement of creating that first draft but, for me, editing is where the real magic happens.
My first drafts, you see, are rough around the edges, written in short bursts as ideas come to me. I do my editing in – meals, sleep and family commitments permitting – longer, more continuous writing sessions. This means working long hours, often unwashed, sometimes still in PJs. I edit late at the night, wake early and put in a couple of hours, or sometimes stay in bed til lunchtime.
This half-awake state seems to suit me. Inconsistencies and repetitions jump out. Typos become glaringly obvious. Plot holes loom into view and, with luck, are filled in. New, more lively ways of expressing a thought pop into my head. In short, my rough story becomes a more polished and professional creation.
I suspect other writers feel the same. I seem to remember reading that Daphne du Maurier said something along similar lines: that when she first starts to write, all that comes out is rubbish but if she keeps at it, keeps producing rubbish, eventually the rubbish turns into something rather good. Well, it worked for her!
That’s where I’m at now. Producing something, I hope, that is rather good that will become my second comic fiction, A NOVEL SOLUTION. The next stage – and this is a really scary one – is sending the manuscript off to the publisher, in my case SRL, for an editor’s verdict. And after that? Probably another round of polishing but I don’t mind. As I say, I just luurve editing!
When satire becomes reality
Singer Sam Smith strutting his stuff in a Harri-designed black latex outfit on the BRITs red carpet has been grabbing plenty of headlines. No-one had heard of anything like it before. Apparently. I hate to break it to Sam but he isn’t the first to go for this look. Eloise Slaughter in Note to Boy got there before him with her Anti-Fashion Fashion. Not to mention, David Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane costume.
Here’s a description of Eloise’s creations:
‘Big bulges, humpbacks and pot bellies, lolloping bums and carbuncle-y swellings … designed not to disguise imperfections in the body but to exaggerate them … With Anti-Fashion Fashion body shape was irrelevant. The tyranny of striving for unattainable physical perfection was over.’
Could it be that Sam Smith’s motives were the same as my own in writing the novel? Wait long enough and satire turns into reality!
Comic fiction Note to Boy just 99p while stocks last!