Musings and mind leaks... Typewriter

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  1. It’s fair to say that most people who work in bookshops primarily do so for one reason. It’s not for the glamour, or the adrenalin rush, and it’s certainly not for the wages! It’s because they love books. That’s it. I know, because I was a bookseller for Waterstones for almost ten years.
        In my humble opinion, booksellers are often the most over-qualified and arguably some of the most passionate people you’ll meet in retail. They know their stuff and they read an awful lot of books. If a bookseller likes a book, they will tell their customers all about it – they can’t help it! – and their recommendations will certainly help to sell your book. When you see a ‘bookseller review’ online or in store, it means they actually read it and enjoyed it; not because they’re the authors’ best friend, but because it was a good read. Customers will trust that.
         I left Waterstones a couple of years ago to pursue my writing career full-time. I must confess that I’d looked along the fiction shelves more than once to see where my novel might sit (usually between John Le Carré and Angela Carter, to my delight).  So, when I chose to publish my debut novel, Sleeping Through War, with Matador, I couldn’t imagine a better place for my first book launch than my old shop.  The manager was more than encouraging and we fixed up a date for the launch to coincide with the official publication date. We planned it together and she was as enthusiastic as I was. She’d already read Sleeping Through War after I’d dropped a copy in for her and, to my relief, she loved it! Even before the launch, Matador were ready with finished copies and the next time I popped into the shop, there it was – right next to Angela Carter!
         Planning a book launch as an author was a new experience for me. I’d worked at book launches, signings and author talks behind the scenes, but thrusting myself centre stage was pretty daunting. Where do I start? What do I say when all those eyes are looking at me? Then an American author friend of mine gave me the best advice ever about self-marketing. She said: “Don’t try to be clever. All you have to do is share your love for your book with other people.” Read that sentence again…it’s simple but it relieves stress massively.
         Think about your book, where it’s set, what the subject matter is, and plan your launch around it. Sleeping Through War is set during 1968, so I trawled the internet for images from that year because I wanted a context for the book that people could see when they walked in.  I found lots of amazing pictures and prepared boards around the shop, which worked really well. It brought people into the world of the story as soon as they arrived. There are three narrators in the novel, so I asked two other people to read short extracts with me, which really brought the words to life. I’ve been a playwright and theatre director for some years, so it was natural for me to want to ‘animate’ the words with real people.
         At 6pm the doors opened and both friends and strangers started to arrive. Even more people than I expected. I’d made posters for the event, had bookmarks printed that people could take away with them, publicised the event on social media and local radio, and it worked. After all, you only get out what you put in, like everything else in life. We had glasses of wine and nibbles ready, and somebody even made delicious, book-themed cupcakes. After a short introduction, some readings and time for a couple of questions, people actually started buying the book and I happily signed copy after copy. The atmosphere was relaxed, people were happy and I was in my element; surrounded by books.
         One person that I’d never met before told me that she’d come along because she saw it advertised on Waterstones’ facebook page. She said she’d made a bucket list and ‘going to a book launch’ was on it. She’d never been to one before but enjoyed it so much that she planned to go to many more. And that’s what it’s all about. Book launches should be enjoyable, interesting and, above all, inspiring. They should inspire readers to read and writers to write.
         Of course, a bookshop is not the only place to hold a book launch. What about an autobiography at your old school; a book about fishing by a riverbank; a historical novel in a museum…? You can be as inventive as you like. However, for an old bookseller like me, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a pile of my paperbacks in a bookshop.
         So, next time you’re in a bookshop, look along the shelves to find where your book might be sitting one day. It can happen.

    Book launch

  2. ...or even the small idea? Where do they come from? Where do they live? Are ideas born inside our minds/bodies or do they come from outside of ourselves? If they come from outside, how do we invite them in? I once had the opportunity to ask some questions of one of Britain's top neurologists. I asked her where ideas come from. She told me that she'd spent her whole life studying the brain and still could not answer that question. She could show me how an idea might affect or stimulate different parts of the brain (depending on the kind of idea it was!) but she couldn't say where it might come from. The only thing she was sure about was that we only understand the brain by about one tenth, and that's what kept her passionate about researching it. So, the next time you have a big idea, and before you delve into what it is, why not try and figure out where it came from? Is it yours? Is it someone else's? Or is it totally original? Or is it different every time? And the next time you have an original idea and you do figure out where it came from, please let me know because I would like to attract a few more of them!


  3. I'm at that tricky time in a debut novelist's career when the subject of 'agents' looms up on the horizon. "You need an agent," they say. And then it gets scary. Do I need one? Aren't they just for the big guys? Where do they hang out? How do I go about snaring one? And it goes on. Like most writers at all levels of their careers, I have a well-thumbed copy of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook sitting on my shelf. I buy one every two years, but it's impossible for a printed list to  remain up to date when human beings will insist on changing jobs, closing lists, etc. It's so selfish of them! So while the Yearbook is great for contact details and a rough idea of what agents don't want, you still have to look up each individual website searching for the right info and (if you'll excuse my language) it takes flipping ages! Then a friend said, "try Agent Hunter." "Who?" I said. "" they said! So I did. And here's my review: Curated by the folk at Writers' Workshop, Agent Hunter is the most useful resource I've found so far and would recommend it to anyone seriously looking for an agent. The search filters are really useful, enabling the hunter to select by genre, size of agency and (most useful of all) whether their lists are actually open! Every literary agent in the UK is covered, and for each agent and/or agency there is lots of information on what they're interested in, tips and guidelines for submissions, contact details, personal background and history or (and equally useful) they even tell you if they know very little info about that agent...honesty, how refreshing! You can then save searches, build a favourites list and find up-to-date info, which the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook - while it's an essential guide - can't really compete with. In many cases, I found there was even more info about an individual on Agent Hunter than there was on their own company website. It's not a free service, but subscriptions start at only £6 for 1 month or you can go right up to the most expensive Platinum package for 12 months where you can even get your cover letter, synopsis and the opening chunk of your novel reviewed. I went for the Gold Package; the most popular one costing £27 for 12 months. I found it very user friendly and have been able to easily put together a list of half a dozen agents that I might have half a chance with. It's saved me days of work. Of course, Agent Hunter can't guarantee to secure you that elusive deal, but they've saved me hours and hours of hair-pulling stress and wasted submissions. Try them for yourself. I'll let you know if one of them agents bites!

  4. This week I went to visit my little book in its new home; the kind of home you always hope your children will move into when they leave you. It could have ended up in a seedy squat in King's Cross, living off Pot Noodles and never cleaning the oven - sure I'd still love it, but I might not boast about it to my friends. Or it could have got tangled up with a massive mortgage on a studio flat in Battersea with a shower in the kitchen and a view of the local KFC's air conditioning unit. At least they're trying to get on the ladder. Luckily, for my baby, it ended up landing on its feet in the best home a book could wish for: face out on a shelf in Waterstones. And, thanks to having a surname that begins with 'C', it's even in that most perfect of levels - eye level! It's even got a bookseller review attached, so it's not just me that loves my baby. Move over Angela Carter, and thank you to Valda Fisher at Waterstones.

    Sleeping Through War at Waterstones