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Monday, 28 June 2010

Publicity, Book Signings and the Birth of a Book

Apparently if an author organises a signing in a place where they have no personal connections, then the average number of copies sold is 6, according to Will Atkins, my editor, who was talking to delegates at the Winchester Writers Conference. (More about that in the next post when I have had time to process it all! Highlights from this great event included an address from Terry Pratchett who described writing as "moving through a valley full of clouds")

I have two signings about to happen - my first apart from my launch a couple of weeks ago. I'm a little nervous I will be sitting in Waterstone's in Lancaster and Kendal on my own - a lonely figure surrounded by a pile of unsold books! So I was relieved to see that the  North West Evening Mail have just printed an article about The Lady's Slipper here explaining a little about the background to the book, and how I came to write it, so I'm hoping a few people will be prompted to come along.

I have been trying to time it right so that the publicity arrives in the paper just before the signings, and not afterwards, but the editors of local newspapers seem to be a law unto themselves and  frustratingly, it doesn't always work out. For example there will be a feature about the book in the Lancashire Evening Post on Saturday when the signing is the Thursday before. Has anyone got any neat tips on how to get these things organised? Or any tips on what the public like or want to know from an author?

I am however looking forward to them. I enjoy talking about the research I did for the book, and about how I kept track of it during the writing and editing process. And I'm looking forward to people's questions and how I might answer them. I will post up some of them afterwards with my responses so you can get a flavour of what I was asked.

And as my 'homework' beforehand I am reading Wolf Hall, winner of the Man Booker Prize, which is the historical book on everyone's lips right now. Only about two thirds through, so hope I will have finished it by Thursday. From a very strong start it is now taking a bit of ploughing through as the political complexities take a bit of unravelling. But I cannot help but admire the writing, a great fat book in the present tense, bringing the Tudor Court to life with shocking immediacy.
You can get it in the black cover or the white, I wonder if one has sold more copies than the other? Mine's the black version, so I've featured the white.

And if you want to read how a historical novel is born in the printers, Gabrielle Kimm has a superb description of it here.

The Events page has details of my signings in Lancaster, Kendal and Barrow-in-Furness.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

How to Sign a Book

For all you debut novelists out there who are about to be published, you need to decide how you will sign your books. I was given several tips on the day of my book launch, all of them too late to prevent my ad hoc signing!

Here are my tips:

Top Tip - It helps if you can spell your own name.

1. Use indelible ink (some people read in the bath or while standing in the rain at bus stops)

2. Take your time, nobody likes a mis-spelled dedication or a  crossing out, and you can't get Tipp-ex in shops any more.
3. Bookshops like you to sign legibly under your printed name (and no dedication). Looks like Dickens didn't listen to that advice...

4. Relations like you to dedicate it on the front left inside cover so it can never be removed except by dipping it in a bath of paint-thinners or blow-torching it off.

5. Some people look miffed if you sign it best wishes when someone else has very best wishes so try to standardise your greeting unless you want fisticuffs over the table.

6. Someone suggested I should write "for" so-and-so, not "to" so-and-so, which apparently makes it sound like a gift. (And they've just paid for it.)

7. If your book has a jacket, the signature should not be hidden under the jacket where nobody can see it - this means you must write either very small or sideways.

8. Practise writing your pen name a few dozen times even though it feels faintly ridiculous doing it, because otherwise it comes out looking like something you might have written on the front of an exercise book at primary school.

A Jane Austen signature, don't ask,
can't tell which body part that is...
9. Ask the person what they would like you to write and where. (see left)

10. Thank the person for buying your book - obvious, but easy to forget in the heat of trying to remember how to write your name!

As a historical novelist, I would like to have been able to sign with a lovely feathery quill, but my research has told me that in fact the fluffy part of the feathers was often trimmed off to avoid the feather tickling the writer's nose!

You can see details of my other signings on the events page, and I would love top hear from any other writers about their signing experiences!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Dressed to Impress (The Impress Prize)

In 2007 I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for The Impress Prize for Fiction with The Lady's Slipper. Also on the shortlist was The Courtesan's Choice by Gabrielle Kimm. Quite by chance Gaby and I were staying in the same B&B in order to go to the Awards at Exeter University. We got chatting over eggs and toast, and then again at the awards evening when we realised we were both historical fiction writers. We have kept in touch with each other's progress since then.
Neither of us was the lucky winner of a publication deal, that honour went to Carol Fenlon for her superb book Consider the Lilies.
"This is a story that will really stay in your mind. It's bold and challenging, experimenting with language and layout but at the same time it's an intensely gripping read. Carol Fenlon really cares about Vicky, the half-wild child raised in a shed, and her protector Jack, who can never come to terms with his own past."

But Gaby and I both have our books published this year too - Gaby is lucky enough to have secured a two book deal and her book, His Last Duchess is coming out in August as a Sphere paperback, followed by The Courtesan's Choice.

His Last Duchess, based on the poem by Browning, has been meticulously researched from real events in 16th century Tuscany. Visit Gaby's sumptuous website for more about her books.

But what about the others on the shortlist? I thought it might be interesting to pursue some of the other Impress Prize finalists to find out what they've been up to. If you know more, or have any extra news, please get in touch.

Carol Fenlon
"I have a second novel I Will Never Leave Here currently with my agent, it is a ghost story set in Lancashire with the backdrop of the draining of Martin Mere. I am currently writing a crime novel involving a female private investigator and have plans for another novel using the same character. I am also writing a non-fiction history of Skelmersdale New Town, where I live and plan some journal articles from the PhD thesis of which Consider the Lilies was the major part.

I completed my PhD in Creative Writing this year and continue to be a member of Edge Hill university's Narrative Research Group and am on the editorial board of a new literary journal Intellect. I continue to be involved with Skelmersdale Writers Group and have recently been involved in the publication of an anthology Tales From A New Town.

In addition to winning the Impress Prize in 2007, I have had several poems published in small press magazines and won the Jo Cowell poetry competition in 2008. I have had a couple of stories published by Byker Books in their regular anthology series Tales of the Inner Cities but I haven't had much time for short stories or poetry as I am making serious efforts to become a full time novelist. (Not easy!)
The Impress Prize is great for first time novelists. For the winner it is an introduction to a real publishing house, which is independent in the best sense of the word and small enough to nurture the writer through the publication process. Impress are really great to work with, I can't thank them enough for the start they gave me. Winning the prize and being published helped me to get an agent and gave me presence on the regional writing scene, with offers of library and festival readings. It also justified the work I had put in on my PhD thesis and gave me networking opportunities with university professionals and other writers. Even getting on the shortlist can surely bring some of these opportunities your way, so you have nothing to lose by entering."

Hannah Ferguson
"I'm still trying to write. I find it more difficult these days since my work life takes up such a lot of time and creativity. After a long break though I have started writing my own personal columns, or blogs, which don't really get shown to anyone, but it's a nice way of keeping the ink flowing!
My literary/creative skills are now mainly being used helping other authors to get published. I work as a Junior Literary Agent at The Marsh Agency and so by the end of the day, once I'm home and have my own space and time, I try to write, but it can be hard. I have had a long period of no writing which I'm pleased to say feels like is just about coming to an end. I have ideas for books all the time and feel like I'm gestating ideas that I'm hopeful will develop in the future, but at the moment I'm just enjoying working with other writers on their work."

Robert Ronsson
"Since the Impress Prize short-listing I have had my book, The Spaniard's Wife, professionally critiqued and edited and think I'm on the edge of a breakthrough. I think it's an even better book and, although, it is still attracting rejections(12 to date), I'm confident that there is a publisher out there who will share my faith in it. I'm looking forward to joining you to prove that Impress can pick them." (Dee's comment - and this from someone who has already been shortlisted for the Yeovil Prize too) Robert has an excellent website here.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Lady's Slipper - Giveaway

You can enter for this draw to win a free book, and read my article on "Why I love to write about Shoes" here at Historical Tapestry.

And Eliza has interviewed me about the book on her blog here.