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.

Monday, 9 January 2012

All roads lead sales

Thought I had to share this with you. As authors, we are always looking for imaginative ways of drumming up sales - often going for the direct route of plugging on our blogs, on Twitter or Facebook etc.

But watch out, the strangest things may well lead someone to your book. Over Christmas I decided to watch again a BBC comedy that was on a couple of years ago called 'Off the Hook'. It was a pretty hit and miss affair about a group of teenagers going to university for the first time. In episode 4, their reclusive flatmate, who they called 'weird bloke' is revealed to be a pretty, if rather deranged girl (who is still known as 'weird bloke' right up to the end of the series). I wanted to find out where I had seen the girl before and so went onto imdb. I discovered she is called Georgia King, and on reading her resume, saw that she had recently made a film called 'Austenland'. Seeing as I have a strange hatred/fascination for things Austen-related (usually so I can just slag them off) I clicked into this film and read the premise - that a modern day American girl, with a fixation on Mr Darcy goes to a Jane Austen theme park in England, to 'discover' herself. I also saw the upcoming film stars JJ Field, who is one of the scrummiest actors around, so I was so sold on the film. But I decided to check out the book it was based on, and so downloaded a sample of 'Austenland' by Shannon Hale. I enjoyed what I read and downloaded the whole book. In all honesty the book turned out to be a disappointment and I doubt I would read any of her books again. (Still going to see the film of course). But what I wanted to highlight was that from a tiny thing like out of boredom, watching an obscure sitcom I'd seen before, on youtube, I ended up buying a book.

So, you never know, the strangest thing in the world - something you never even imagined, might just lead to that coveted book sale.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Happy New Year

I have about sixteen books on my Kindle. There, I've said it. I have sixteen books and yet I have only read two all the way through. One I've given up for a while because it was a long long saga. One I'm reading and another one is lined up for afterwards. The others? Well, they're samples I'll probably get to at some point and eventually buy the whole book. My need to confess to this? Well it is because I can now see why sales of my e-books are slow, and yet sampling is steadily growing day by day. I'm guessing that the (now over a thousand) people who have downloaded Mrs Osbourne Regrets, Winner Takes it All and Maudie, have (hopefully) liked what they read and have thought they'd like to read more of my books, and so have downloaded samples of the others. But, these same people are probably like me and have other books lined up on their Kindle, Kobo, Nook whatever, to read and so mine have to wait patiently in a queue.

So I've stopped sulking and have decided just to get on with the business of writing. I have a lot to do, and that's when I'm happiest, when I have one novel cooking and several others in various states of completion. I'm currently writing my next book, which will be out in the autumn. Without giving too much of the plot away, it's set in the fifties, about a young woman who uses a family secret to make a better future for herself; and for the first time ever in one of my books there is also a murder mystery thrown in. I'd like to think of it as Downton Abbey meets Miss Marple but with a bit of added grit.

Writing Paradise Lost taught me a lot about myself. What prompted me to start it was that I bought an album called 'Comedy' by the old Liverpudlian band, Black, primarily for the track 'You're A Big Girl Now'. But there was also this other wonderful track called 'Paradise Lost' and I thought, for some reason 'Paradise Lost' was an Evelyn Waugh style novel about aristocrats and the death of the British Class system. But I wiki'ed it and discovered it's an old poem by Milton about man's descent into hell (or something like that), so I thought, okay, I'll write the novel I thought it was. So I wrote thirty pages, in the first person, about this girl who comes home from Girton College in 1951 to her old family home and these terrible things happen at her family home blah blah. I got the most terrible writer's block, which in turn made me depressed and I realised I was writing out of my comfort zone. I'm not good writing in the first person, and I also realised that girl wasn't the sort of person I can write as. I wasn't interested in her story, so I wasn't sure if anyone else would be. So I threw it all away and re-started the story. The new one is far more me, with secrets, class struggles, revenge etc etc.

Added to this, I'm getting books two and three of The Line of Passion ready for publication. 'Kate' the next book will be out Monday 30th January in e-book form.

Finally, there comes my 'magnum opus'- Never Forget. There is a special reason why this is being released on Tuesday 10th April, as it the 100th anniversary of a very special – and tragic event, which the book is based around. On April 4th I will be doing an interview with author Kelly Moran on her blog and giving the very first copy of Never Forget away. I am genuinely excited about this book because I know it's probably the best thing I've ever written. More about it soon....

So, for now, I'll say adios, and get on with my many tasks. Remember, Maudie - book one in The Line of Passion trilogy is free on Smashwords.

Take care