Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Why I’m a bit hacked off

It had to happen some time – the backlash against the self-publishing revolution. For the first time ever, ordinary Joes (like me) have had the chance to publish their work for free and let the world read their books and decide if they like them as an author. For me personally, I knew self publishing was never going to make me rich, but I write because I like telling stories, and I enjoy hearing other people’s interpretations of my weird thoughts. Hey! I even laughed at my 1 star review on Amazon for Summerset. It’s all feedback and I welcome it.

I guess if I was a punk, back in the day, I’d be the one in the band who always had their eye on the main prize. I’d moan about record companies and not wanting to do deals with the devil etc, but as soon as EMI came knocking with £25k I would have bit their hand off. For me, self-publishing has been a learning curve and I always knew, one day I would end up going down the traditional route and trying for an agent and ‘proper’ publisher. It saddens me that while I self-pub, I’ll never have the joy of walking into my local Asda or Waterstones or wherever and seeing my paperback book on the shelf. My sales are through e-books, and while this is a fantastically expanding market (up until now), I grew up reading paperbacks and long to see my own, readily available for anyone to buy. But companies like Lulu who print paperbacks charge so much it’s not in shops’ interest to buy them in and risk them not selling.

And this where I get hacked off. The front of The Daily Mail one day last week had one of their usual hysteria stories about children being in danger from the ‘disgusting’ self-published books for sale on the WH Smith site. As I know from experience, books that are published via sites like Amazon and Smashwords are not vetted for content; they’re vetted for formatting errors. I myself have had to turn the adult filter on whenever I go onto the Smashwords site because some of the book titles that come up are quite horrific (or cringeworthy – I’m not sure which), but I was horrified when I read that WH Smith (via Kobo) are now withdrawing all self-pubbed books until these books about paedophilia, incest or rape are withdrawn.

Now, am I being na├»ve, but hasn’t writing – since the Chatterley affair – been the last bastion of free speech? Isn’t Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert a paedophile – lusting after Lolita (who in the book is 12 years old)? Aren’t Angels and Insects and Bouquet of Barbed Wire both about incest? And there are not many Catherine Cookson books that don’t feature a rape?  Surely wouldn’t it be a better exercise to go after those people writing books that glamorize paedophilia rather than punishing people like myself and hundreds and thousands of others who are writing books about romance or wizards or vampires or teach yourself Esperanto or sexy billionaires who want sex slaves.....hang on...

Isn’t it ironic that the biggest selling British book of all time is pornographic? It’s also ironic that I was offended by Fifty Shades of Grey. Whilst Christian Psycho never raped Ana in the two hundred or so pages I managed to read; some of it was pretty near the knuckle. One of the things that offended me the most was when Christian - without checking her medical history – gets Ana on the pill (a potentially fatal drug if not monitored properly). As I always say, if your friend started dating someone like Christian Grey, you would tell her to get the hell out of there.

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this hoohah is down to the traditional publishers kicking off because they’re losing sales to the self-pubbed authors. Someone looking for a bit of smut is more likely to pay 99p for a self-pubbed book than £3.99 for something published by a traditional publisher.  I knew the time would come when the traditional publishers started putting pressure on booksellers to stop selling self-published books. Authors will always want to be heard and if they can find no audience from self-publishing, they will be forced to go back to begging agents for representation and appeasing publishers that always have one eye on the market – looking for the next bestseller, rather than new talent.

I have loved my experience of being a self-published author and will carry on doing so until I can find the right agent, and it’s not fair on me or my readers to be denied my books because booksellers have given in to media hysteria. It seems ridiculous that in any bookshop or  supermarket, someone browsing a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, could accidentally put it down next to a Jacqueline Wilson or Roald Dahl, and a child could pick it up. But honestly, how many children have access to online bookstores? Surely their parents have to make the purchases for them if they have Kindles or Kobos? And adults should be wise enough to spot one of these horrible books and just not click ‘buy’.

And before anyone just thinks I’m being hysterical and whinging. Take a look at what happened to independent record companies during the 1990s. Seeing they were making big profits, especially at the high of Britpop, big companies bought them all up, so the bestselling acts would be on their rosters instead. It happened with music and now it’s happening in publishing, and I’m quite glad that my punk ethics are dubious and I’ve always had an eye on being a sell-out.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Thank You Helen Fielding

Strange things are afoot.  Whilst Mad About the Boy is one of my own personal favourite books, it has never been a big seller for me. I’m not sure why, the premise is interesting – Hollywood star with a big secret recounts her life to a journalist, highlighting all her ups and downs and scandals. But it’s not resonated with readers for some reason.  So, seeing as I have books to spare and MATB is five years old, I decided to make it a freebie via Smashwords, which means as we speak it’s becoming free on Barnes and Nobile, iTunes, Kobo, Sony etc. But never on Kindle. Amazon rarely ever follow the example of other sites and make books free, or if they do, it’s for a short time, which means my sales on Amazon always lag behind other sites.
But I’ve noticed in the UK sales of MATB have started to occur on Amazon and I wasn’t sure why. I haven’t promoted it in any way and it’s not part of a series. So I went onto and noticed that when people have been looking at my Mad About the Boy. They have also been looking at the latest Bridget Jones book. So obviously, they have been typing in the name and mine has come up in the results and they like what they read and are buying it.

Now I’m not advocating copying the titles of other famous books in order to sell your own – after all, I have a clear conscience, I wrote my book first. But I’m not complaining, especially as I am working on my next novel entitled The Da Vinci Code.*
In other news, for those of you who love reality TV, I will be writing a weekly X-Factor blog for Tomorrow’s News. I was hoping to go and review The Fifth Estate for them today, but as I’ve had a bad fall and have busted my left ankle, I can’t walk very far and a trip to the cinema is out of the question.  I am gutted about this; my dream job would be spending my days reviewing Benedict Cumberbatch films! ***

Finally, as advertised on my website, The Lucky Ones - book four in the Never Forget series, is released on Monday 25th November.  Book Five is forming in my head, but of course I can’t reveal anything about that now. I’m a bit concerned that there are parts of The Lucky Ones that reminds me of a Jackie Collins and I do wonder what has happened as I used to be compared to Catherine Cookson! I guess I’m the writing equivalent of Oasis. I’m an amalgam of loads of great artists, but just not quite as good!**
**Another joke – sort of
*** Definitely not a joke – I would do that job for free

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Meet me in public!! Saturday 21st September

Sorry for the pretentious title to this blog but I wanted to get your attention!

I will be making an appearance at my friend's Holistic Fayre on Saturday 21st September. I'm mainly there to help out but I will also be handing out flyers and other goodies about my books. If you're in the Croydon area and you have one of my books and would like it signed, feel free to come down and say hello. You can also have some groovy treatments and therapies done too while you're there.

I will be there from 11am - 4pm. Feel free to contact me via this blog for more details.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Bring Back the Bonkbuster!

Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely loathed Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s always awkward when you’re a writer and you admit to people you hate FSoG; you get that pitying smile and the knowing nod that says ‘you’re jealous aren’t you?’ I can honestly say I am not jealous of EL James (well, maybe her bank balance). It just shocks me that something so badly written, repetitive and quite frankly disturbing in places (I won’t go into the tampon episode) could become such a huge-selling novel. Women would strut around town this summer with it tucked under their arm like it was some sort of fashion accessory like a Chihuahua in a Gucci bag and it’s quite interesting to discover that it’s the only novel some women have read. Should I be glad that it’s got them into reading? Maybe. But I could say the same about the autobiography of someone from The Only Way is Essex (I have read one of those and it was better than FSoG!!). I’ve read a couple of Harry Potter books and I think JKR is a genius. I read the Da Vinci Code and whilst the ‘American saves the day as usual’ sentiment sticks in my throat, it was a good romp and I feel no resentment that it became a huge seller. What disturbs me most about FSoG is that the Ana/Christian relationship is verging on abusive and it worries me that in real life men could get confused about boundaries and what women want.

Anyway, enough free publicity for that book. Back to me! I have been on the dole for several months now after being made redundant and I have found myself whiling away many an hour watching, on Youtube, uploads of those glossy ‘rags to riches’ 1980s mini series, like Lace, We’ll Take Manhattan and Lucky Chances. Being on my uppers makes me yearn to know of people who make it from the gutter to unbelievable riches. All fantasy, but it gives me hope. For years now, literature has been dominated by misery-lit – woeful tales of abused children, battered wives and gypsy boys. This all coincided with a healthy economy, rising house-prices and unemployment of under one million. Well, things have changed, we’re living in tough times, money isn’t in abundance, so isn’t it time that we went back to having some fun and enjoying a bit of fantasy (that doesn’t involve handcuffs, love eggs and gray pants)? I want a return to the bonkbuster, the books that populated my youth in the 80s by people like Shirley Conran, Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz and Danielle Steel. I want to read about women who are down on their luck and through hard work and a smattering of good fortune, they become rich and powerful - bedding and marrying handsome men along the way. If you’re on the dole or in a poorly paid job, surely paying a couple of quid (dollars) for a 400 page book about a girl who goes from a Soho hostess to one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world, has surely got to be more appealing than reading about a child who was locked in a cupboard for six years before being found by a kindly social worker?

So, I am making it my mission for 2013 to be my year. 2012 has been quite frankly the most horrid year I’ve had in a long time. I never thought one of my highpoints would be the Olympics, but there you go. Those few weeks in the summer gave me light relief from worrying about money, crippling toothache and trying to find a job. But didn’t we all love the Olympics because it showed people reaping the rewards for years of hard work? It gave us all hope. I am determined to make 2013 the year of fun, and that’s why I’m busy writing and editing The Exciting Life, my latest free novella and its follow up (name to be revealed). A continuation of the Never Forget saga and the start of many novels to come, telling the story of a rich and dysfunctional family. I’d like to think this time next year I would be writing a blog telling you how well my books have done, but even if I don’t, I’ll sure have fun writing them.

Happy New Year everyone and I hope 2013 brings all that you wish for.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Not just a ship that sank

Anyone who reads my novels will know that class features heavily in them – in Summerset, Lou’s lack of class prevents her winning the heart of the man she loves; in Maudie, our eponymous heroine is constantly reminded of her lowly birth status by her aristocratic mother-in-law. I can’t say why I’m so obsessed with class – maybe it’s being English; maybe it’s because my mum worked for many years as a cleaner, and school holidays were spent in the homes of my ‘betters’ - seeing them for how they really were – the strange customs and quite often shocking slovenliness that any working-class woman wouldn’t dream of. Whatever my motives, I find the fact that I live in a society where your life’s path is more often based on your position at birth, rather than your subsequent achievements, quite fascinating.

I have to confess I knew little about the Titanic before the film in 1998. To me, it was always just the ship that hit the iceberg and sank, and a source of fascination for my oldest friend, Lynn, who was slightly obsessed with it! I sort of saw the film because everyone else was, and I was blown away – not by the cheesy love story, but by the fact that there was more to the Titanic than just the ship that sank. It came to symbolise the end of the Victorian era, and the values that English society had been built upon. Even as far back as 1998, I wondered how a First Class passenger, sitting in one of the many half-empty lifeboats would have felt, hearing the screams and cries for help of those who were doomed, just because they had been born poor. Of course, two years after the Titanic sank, came the First World War, when suddenly the very rich and the very poor were fighting alongside each other and the divisions of class started to erode. The poor found a voice, and after sacrificing so much for King and country, found it harder to return to bowing and scraping to those ‘above them’.

But first came the Titanic, and after a century of industrialisation, when machines transformed how we lived and worked, it could be argued that these metal gods were seen as infallible; and the Titanic came to represent man’s absolute faith in that which had been manufactured. The disaster came to show that when push comes to shove, Mother Nature can defeat anything that is man-made. I would imagine that by mid-April 1912, society would have felt the jolt when the ‘unsinkable’ ship was knocked out by an iceberg, and along with it, those who survived could speak of the horrific prejudices that prevented the poor from being saved.

I had no intention of writing a book based around the Titanic disaster – quite frankly it had been done to death; until, for a birthday present, I took Lynn to the Titanic Artefacts exhibition at the O2 in 2010, and I read the story of a woman who snatched a baby from another passenger just to get onto a lifeboat, refusing to hand it back for several days afterwards, claiming it was hers. Reading this, my vivid imagination came into play, and I wondered what it would be like if that happened, and the other woman refused to hand the baby back full stop. I originally wanted to write it as a sort of Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, where a woman is killed and it’s revealed she was the true mother of this rich man blah blah. It didn’t work, so I returned to my normal ‘romance’ genre – although there is very little traditional romance in Never Forget.

So many books and films based around the Titanic focus on what happened before, and during the disaster; but I’ve always wondered what happened to those people who survived. These were the days when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was unheard of, and people just ‘had to get on with it’. To witness such a horrific accident would affect survivors forever and their lives would never be the same. I thought it would be far more interesting to write a book about the aftermath of the Titanic, and so Never Forget came to be. The story of two women from very different walks of life, who are brought together during one of the most extraordinary events in modern history, and from a random act – one woman snatching the baby of the other, their lives become intrinsically linked. The book spans from 1911 to 1940, and touches upon subjects like the First World War, the increasing power of America, the growth of the Socialism, women’s rights and finally the Second World War. So my book is about more than just a ship that sank. And indeed the Titanic itself was more than just the ship that sank. To me, it was the end of an era, and the start of modern society as we know it.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Why I've Had It With Amazon!!

I've always been a champion of Amazon. As a consumer, I like the fact that you can buy practically anything under the sun on it, and normally whatever it is, arrives on time, is usually cheaper than elsewhere and you are given the option to leave feedback, which let's face it, you're not allowed to do in a shop. As an author however, I think Amazon sucks big time. I don't even want to consider their Amazon Select scheme as it limits who the books get distributed to, but I'm guessing if you opt in, you stand more of a chance of your book being listed for free. Dare to publish with anyone else, and you get left to fester in the mire, ignored by everyone.

One of the best things I've ever done is publishing with Smashwords, their distribution network is fantastic, and as I stated before, I discovered, by chance that my free books were flying off the shelves on Barnes and Noble. I received a lovely comment on my website from a lady comparing me to Lesley Pearse, and she had read my books on Kobo, which they never would have appeared on should I have stayed purely with Amazon. In my opinion, offering free books is the best way of introducing yourself to an audience. Look at this way, take a pop-star such as Adele. She is a major success on both sides of the Atlantic, but in the UK, her big breakthrough came at last year's Brit Awards, when she gave such a moving performance of 'Something Like You', people sat up and took notice. If 5 million people watched the Brits, let's break it down and say that three million had it on as background noise, one million hated Adele, and one million loved her. Of that one million, five hundred thousand would no doubt go out the next day and buy her album '21' and possibly'19' too. They tell their friends, who didn't watch the Brits and it escalates from there. All that started with someone watching her performance for free, on their television.

The same goes for books. Unless you’re already established, or else a TV or media celebrity, without the aid of major public relation campaigns and a huge marketing budget, no-one is going to know who you are or that you've published a book. Whereas if you publish a book for free, even if you get 1000 downloads, discount 500 of those, because people just love free books and don't bother to read them. But of those 500 that are left, even if 200 people don't rate your books, you are left with 300 people who want to read more of what you done. Who have friends, family and colleagues they will recommend you to. This isn't going to happen without them finding you in the first place.

I contacted Amazon, pointing out that Maudie, Mrs Osbourne Regrets and Winner Takes it All are all free on Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, Sony, iTunes etc and asked if they could price match for a while, and I received a generic reply saying they controlled the pricing of their books and that they use their discretion. In other words – get stuffed! They are shooting themselves in the foot. They don't know if I'm a rubbish writer, or the next Catherine Cookson, but if they took a chance and made my books free for a week, there is always that chance that people would love my work and go on and buy other books - all of which Amazon takes a cut from. But they're not interested. Here in England they have the monopoly on online book sales and know they don't need the likes of me to boost their coffers.

Well, it's their loss, but it does sadden me that I am missing out on readers in my home country because Amazon do nothing to help promote authors who won't play ball with them. I'll goon buying things with them, and downloading books onto my Kindle. I'll even upload ‘Julia’ onto Kindle on 5th March when it's released. But I won't expect anyone to notice it. I'll just wait for it to come out on Nook.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

What a lovely surprise

The other day I was mooching around Smashwords, checking my downloads, smug at the fact I’d reached over 2,000 downloads for all my novels (admittedly most of these are for free books), when I thought I’d check my sales for other channels. Not expecting much, I got a wonderful surprise to discover that I had 499 downloads of Maudie on Barnes and Noble. I guess it’s being a Brit, but I’ve never given much thought to B&N, it’s not a site we use – it’s all about Amazon to us. So I thought I’d check B&N and was delighted to see that I was indeed high up in the sales rank, not only for Maudie, but for Winner Takes it All, and even better – for Summerset. It seems those who are downloading freebies of WTiA are wanting to read the novel from which it spawned. People are also downloading Two Become One as well, and hopefully this will lead to other sales. On Diesel, another ebook website, Maudie is at 312!! Not sure what their ranking system is like. 312 might be really low, but I’m kidding myself that it’s high!

Either way, the giving away of free books certainly seems to work. It’s fairly lazy marketing, but I can only shout out how good my books are, so often and also people need to see proof of the pudding, and the only way they’re going to do that is by reading them. Facing redundancy, it’s good to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and just maybe, my book sales are on the increase. It’s a slow process, because unlike a song which is instant, books take time to read, and a thousand other things get in the way. I wouldn’t recommend offering free books if you’ve only published one book, because by the time people have read it – if you haven’t got another one to offer – they’re likely to forget about you. I would say it’s only a good idea if you have a whole arsenal of books on offer, and also the ones you do offer for free, try and link them to something else. I’m giving away Maudie, which is book one of a trilogy (the other two aren’t free), or Winner Takes it All, which is the sequel to Summerset, and as I said before, more likely to entice people to buy the original book.

Sceptics will laugh, but many years ago I went to see a palm reader, who told me that my success in life would come overseas and I poo-poohed it, not being one of life’s travellers. But of course, the whole self-publishing phenomenon has been driven by America, and so my outlets have become mainly based in the US. In America I have had thousands of downloads, and lots of people know my name. Here in England, I still have work colleagues who don’t even know I write! Maybe the psychic is right and my literary success will be in the States. Whatever happens, I feel more positive about the future, and this is down largely to giving away free ebooks. And for anyone who has more than three books to offer, I would say certainly consider it. But please, make sure you edit the book first, one thing I have come across, being a Kindle owner is the awful amount of typos in self-published book, making the most well-written book appear shoddy and un-readable.