Books I Loved in 2019

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Photo by Plush Design Studio on Pexels.com

Well, thank God that’s over. I am now over-weight and reluctant to do anything more taxing than switching channels on the TV. Thanks Christmas, thanks a lot!

But the sanctioned fun isn’t over yet folks, we have the New Year shenanigans to get through first! Although it is a bit exciting this year as we’re entering the 20’s. Still, not as edge-of-the-seat as 1999 when we were all worried about Y2K and the END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNEW IT.

Come what may, we will always have books and speaking of which, this is a little post to highlight the ones I’ve really enjoyed this year (which doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been published in 2019 – it’s just that this was the year I finally got round to reading them). I know, it’s an edgy, original concept that no-one else has thought of yet, so I’m thinking this is the post that’s gonna go viral.

A quick glance at Goodreads reveals that I haven’t been a voracious reader this year – as per my previous post, it’s been a funny old 12 months. But what is clear is that my one and only five star rating went to …. (drumroll)

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I stumbled across this book quite by accident (which makes it even BETTER!) while scrolling through my library eBook app thingie (BorrowBox). Saw the lovely Carmel Harrington’s quote and thought, yeah, I’ll give this one a go. OMG. You know when you find your book soul mate? Yep, this is THE ONE. I gushed about it in a full, dedicated, book crush post here, but just to give you a quick snifter –

This book is one of those rare treats that can surprise and delight and stretch the boundaries of genre. It’s got EVERYTHING; a little bit of history, a generous helping of clever, wry humour and tons of humanity. The characters manage to avoid the usual tropes and all bring their own very unique personalities to this quirky tale of family, love and finding your path in life.

Next on the list is …

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Came across this book thanks to the Reece Witherspoon bookclub. Loved the ‘prickly’ main character immediately – very reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant, so if you were a fan, this book is for you. I love stories that explore how being set in your ways is fine, but you can’t expect life to play by your rules. Life is chaos, basically, and trying to control things doesn’t always work. Funny, moving and clever, this book gets four stars from me.

Finally, one of my most recent reads (you didn’t think I could go a whole blog post without mention historical fiction, did you??) makes the list …

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Hello?? Cover envy – moi? It’s a beautiful book with a story that just reels you in and won’t let go. One of those books you can’t wait to get back to. Wonderfully written and depicted, a bit like Eternal Sunshine for The Spotless Mind but for historical fiction lovers! Lush, unnerving and romantic – this one gets four stars from me (the beginning is a little drawn out, so hang in there!)

So that’s it, I’m sure you will all be compiling your own lists and I can’t wait to read them so I can add to my list for 2020. That’s the only resolution worth trying to keep – oh, that and trying to write a book or two of my own! Best wishes to you all for the coming year, hope it will bring good things for us all ūüôā

 

Ye Olde Book Recommendations

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The year is coming to a close and we’re laden down in listicles, so it would be remiss of me not to jump on the bandwagon with some of my favourite reads of 2018. Now I should point out that I don’t necessarily mean books that were published in 2018, because that would be too straight-forward and I prefer to read in more of a zig-zag.

Eagle-eyed readers will remember that I got a bit trigger-happy during the summer and called my three favourite historical novels in May here (*spoiler* they were The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde, The Mermaid & Mrs. Hancock and The Essex Serpent). So here are another three for the latter half of the year, which I would highly recommend.

The 7√ā¬Ĺ Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleOMG this book. If you want to know what it’s like to be trapped inside a game of Cluedo, then read this book. You know that a murder will happen, but you have to figure out who commits the crime by seeing it (literally) with fresh eyes every day. Because the day will repeat over and over until the mystery is solved. Turton has done something truly wonderful with this story – he has taken a formula we are all familiar with (murder mystery) and created something original. (The bastard). I’m also angry that he has written one of the best opening sequences I’ve read in a long time. You are instantly in the middle of the action and rooting for the poor Sebastian Bell, who appears to have lost his memory but is adamant on finding a woman he thinks murdered in the woods. Since reading it, I wonder if the characters were written in a sequence to capture the reader, as much as they are to catch the murderer. THAT’S how clever it is! If you enjoy some retro Agatha Christie in a Groundhog Day mash up, all served with a twist, then this is the book for you.

26046312Time for some contemporary fiction. It’s hard to find a good contemporary novel that straddles the genres of literary fiction, humour and romance, but when you find a good one, it’s certainly worth the wait. The Clasp is clever, funny and utterly unsentimental. It’s strange how books find you at the right time. I’d been seeing an acupuncturist (for acupuncture – not dating) and we often spoke French together (because we’re total eejits) Anyway, she recommended I read some short stories by Guy de Maupassant and I found a copy of The Necklace in my local bookshop (Charlie Byrne’s literally has every book under the sun). As it turns out, The Necklace is a famous short story (with a twist that I won’t spoil) and it forms the basis of the plot in The Clasp, which fell into my lap a few weeks later. Three disenchanted college friends, who meet up at a friend’s wedding years later, are all trapped in the bourgouis pretence of trying to look happy and successful, while leading rather unfulfilling lives. But the legend of a priceless necklace sets them on an adventure that will shake up the status quo. It’s a story within a story and as I said in my Goodreads review, it reveals a universal truth; sometimes we just need to believe in somethingorder to believe in ourselves.

36589609Last but not least, a novella that was first published in 1978 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The Book Shop is a story about a determined young woman who wants to open a bookshop, despite the fact that the building is haunted and certain figures in the community do not want her there. Beautifully written, I only wish it could have been a bit longer, but that is the charm of novellas – the author uses such an economy of language to create the greatest impact. Reminiscent of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat – where an outsider comes to a community and their mere presence seems to shake things up, but not always for the better. Penelope Fitzgerald is a new author to me and one I plan to read more of in the future.

So there you have it, three very different and very absorbing reads. Of course, if the mood takes you, you might fancy something with a bit of magical realism, historical AND contemporary fiction…. Then look no further than my latest novel, The Story Collector. Inspired by a young anthropologist from Oxford University who came to Ireland in search of fairy stories in 1910 – it’s described by the Irish Times as having ‘all the warmth and charm of a fairytale‘. You can even read a preview on Amazon to see how BRILLIANT it is ūüôā

Shooting Stars

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You might think you need a degree in symbology or semantics to understand what the hell your book reviews reveal about your novels, but fear not lads and ladies, I’ve put a good half hour of research into some of my own books’ critical reviews and come up with practically no all the answers.
For starters, the star rating means different things to different people on different days. Do not attempt to find any correlation between high ratings and postive reviews (or vice versa). Sometimes the most critical reviews lie in ambush under a five star rating and likewise, a three star rating can often be accompanied by the most glowing review. Do not try to make sense of this – that way madness lies!
However, by using some examples from my own Amazon customer reviews (which I usually read with one eye through a tiny gap in my fingers) I’ve put together a highly scientific system of categorization to make things a little easier. Strap yourselves in!

 

1. The Back-handed Compliment Review
“If you are looking for literture for the ages, this isnt it. However, if you are looking to settle back in your favorite reading chair with a cup of hot tea and some lemon cookies for a delightful afternoon of light reading, this book is your ticket. I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
adrien brody wink GIF
I love you really

 

2. The Passive-Aggressive Review
“The story is readable. A good ‘waiting time’ read.”
“Easy & light summer read.”
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Ooh, did I say something wrong?

 

3. The Least Said, Soonest Mended Review
“Too slow”
“Boring”
ouch 40 days and 40 nights GIF
OUCH!

 

4. The Insult
“Fair warning.¬† I have better things to do with my time!”
“The cover art was the best part of this book in my opinion.”
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How dare you write this book!

 

5. The Have-They-Even-Read-The-Book Review
“Once you get past the fowl language and depravity”
(Fowl language? I don’t remember any poultry featuring in that book…)
Whaaat?

 

6. The Angry Review
“THIS ITEM HAS NOT ARRIVED ON MY KINDLE, ALTHOUGH THE MONEY HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM MY ACCOUNT !!!!”
zooey deschanel fox GIF by New Girl

So, what I think what we’ve all learned here today is that reviews can be confusing, but let’s be honest, we wouldn’t have them any other way, right?! Short, long, cogent or rambling, we love to read them – so please keep writing them ūüėČ

What Is A Review Worth?

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Out of every 100 copies of my book sold, approximately 2 people will leave a review. At least that’s what the statistics say, but empirical evidence shows that it is far less.¬† The fact is that most readers don’t see the connection between leaving a review and improving the book’s visibility on Amazon or Goodreads.¬† Yet, that is exactly what happens, every time someone writes a review. In fact, few people outside¬†of the publishing industry are aware of the importance of reviews. ¬†They are the lifeblood of authors and their books – a priceless promotional tool that is aimed purely at other readers. In this USA Today article by Elizabeth Weise, it claims that “Just going from zero review to one increases the rate at which online window-shoppers actually click the ‘buy’ button by 65%.”

The publishing industry has changed a lot. ¬†It used to be that you went to your local bookshop, picked up a book you liked the look of and if you enjoyed it, you probably loaned it to a couple of friends. ¬†There was no such thing as writing a review and word of mouth was the only way to spread the love. ¬†Nowadays however, leaving travel reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor has become the norm and something businesses rely on heavily for publicity and future trade. ¬†It’s no different for books and reviews can¬†make a huge difference to future sales, especially for Indie Authors and publishers.

If your book garners¬†20-25 reviews, regardless of how many stars awarded, Amazon will highlight the novel under the ‚ÄėCustomers Who Bought This Item Also Bought‚Äô and ‚ÄėYou might also like‚Äô section on a page. ¬†If your book receives more than 50 reviews,¬†Amazon will include the title in their newsletter and increase its¬†visibility on the site with spotlights, which means it will reach more potential readers.

Obviously, reviews are paramount to your book’s future success. ¬†But how do you encourage readers to write reviews without resorting to begging and losing any sense of dignity?! ¬†Readers are under no obligation to leave a review and to be fair, they’ve already paid you the highest compliment of buying your book in the first place. ¬†But I honestly believe that if readers knew how much of a difference their review could make in terms of an author’s ranking (not to mention potential revenue and ratings), I think they would be much more inclined to write one.¬† Especially if they are already a fan of the author’s work. When it comes to Amazon in particular, they make it extremely easy to leave a review with their ‘reminder’ email, asking you to rate the book. ¬†These ratings are so important, because even when it comes to promoting your book with sites like Bookbub, they take your star rating into account.

So why do such a small percentage of readers write reviews? Even readers who contact me personally to say they enjoyed my book are reluctant to publish a review online, as oftentimes, they don’t know what they’re expected to say.¬† If you scroll through the reviews on Amazon on Goodreads, you will find that a lot of reviews are written by professional book bloggers and are written in a standard format that includes the blurb and an in-depth critique of the novel. ¬†However, it is the reader’s choice what they decide to write – after all it is their opinion and they’re free to express it however they wish.

One reader told me that she didn’t like reviewing because it felt like being back at school and writing book reports, so I wonder if that’s what puts people off? It’s not like reviewing a lipstick, for example, because you don’t feel pressure to sound clever about it. Either you liked it or you didn’t! But the thing is, a review is simply to inform other readers – a brief review of your response to the book, saying why you liked the book (or didn’t like it), and maybe a similar book that it reminded you of. ¬†I am currently reading a book that I would describe as an ‘Entertaining read, very likeable characters and an interesting plot. ¬†Fans of Nick Hornby would like this book.‘ ¬†However, when I REALLY like a book, I go all out and write something more in depth. ¬†It’s really up to the reader – if you’re really moved by a book, you want to shout from the rooftops about it. ¬†But if it’s just okay or average, you might not bother. However, all ratings have value and even critical ones give a more balanced picture of readers’ responses.

The truth is that we all rely on reviews to some degree before hitting the ‘Buy’ button. Apparently, they drive 20% of overall sales.¬† I always check out the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon before buying a book, just to get a feel for it and even if there are negative reviews, it can sometimes influence my decision to buy. ¬†As an example, I recently bought and read an AMAZING book that I absolutely loved (you can see me gush about it here) and that was after I saw a negative review saying that it was a story about a girl who talks to squirrels. ¬†Talking squirrels you say? ¬†Count me in! ¬†Obviously, the story was about so much more than that and it’s clear the reviewer hadn’t read the entire book. ¬†But the point is that what turned her off (a little quirkieness) completely turned me on. ¬†So you see, all reviews have their own funny way of influencing future readers. ¬†Ultimately, I think most people make up their mind using a combination of the blurb, the cover and reviews, but it definitely makes a book look more appealing if there are more reviews beside it.

So I would always encourage readers to use this platform to provide feedback on books that traditionally, might only be reviewed by book critics or worse, not at all. Short or long reviews, they all count!¬† Your review has a big impact on, not only the book’s future, but also the author’s career.¬† Writers and readers are so important to each other, as the author John Cheever once said:

‚ÄúI can‚Äôt write without a reader. It‚Äôs precisely like a kiss‚ÄĒyou can‚Äôt do it alone.‚ÄĚ

3 Gorgeous Books For Historical Fiction Lovers

So it turns out that other people have also written books over the last couple of years – imagine that!¬† So instead of dropping not-so-subtle hints about my own book, I thought I’d take a breather and recommend some lovely books I’ve read so far this year.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was always going to be top of the list!¬† If you know me at all, you can see why…. Historical fiction, a long-winded title and MERMAIDS!!!¬† Nuff said.¬† But was this book all fur coat and no knickers?

Poldark meets Moulin Rouge!

I wasn’t one bit surprised to learn, while reading this book, that it had been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, because it has everything you want in a book – originality, personality and mermaids!

I hardly even read the blurb – I was already hooked by THAT cover and the intriguing title, so it was a pleasure to find that what lies within does not disappoint. Wonderfully written with characters that stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is like historical fiction with a generous sprinkling of Baz Luhrmann theatrics!

A truly wondrous book, full of excess and greed, grace and humanity. The author does a fantastic job of representing women who, born into a patriarchal society where property and wealth are always something to be attained through trickery but never to be owned, are forced to live by their wits. Yet there is no moral judgement here, which allows the reader to completely immerse themselves in the lives of these characters and feel forever changed by them.

I loved spending time in Imogen Hermes Gowar’s world, as she deftly weaves myth and magic into the harsh realities of 18th century life, and I would highly recommend a visit.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Okay so I arrived a little late to this party, but The Essex Serpent was so much more than I expected.  Again, I was caught by the lush cover, the hint of something otherworldly afoot, and yet again, I was not disappointed.

‚ÄúThey sharpen themselves on each other; each by turn is blade and whetstone”

Seriously, do yourself a favour and read this book. Masterful, elegant, authentic, quite funny and keenly observed – a study of feminism, religion and society in the 1800’s – this book is the epitome of soul-satisfying literature. There. If you don’t read it now, there’s no hope for you.

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

Just finished The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, a dual-timeline novel (my fav!) that has all the charm of 50’s England and the unbreakable bond of sisters.

I already have one amazing sister, but this novel made me greedy for more!  Eve Chase has captured the nature of sibling relationships perfectly in this gorgeous novel about one hot summer that leaves an indelible mark on the Wildling sisters.  If you like old country houses with hidden secrets, set against a modern family coming to terms with their own problems, then this book is for you.  Absorbing and charming, a perfect summer read.

Highly recommend these books and if you’re thinking, ‘hey, these are totally my cup of tea and if these are the books Evie enjoys, I wonder if her new book would appeal to me too?’ I couldn’t possibly be so brash as to answer that question.¬† But probably, yes.

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So I’ll just leave this here…

Early reviews for THE STORY COLLECTOR say¬†‘Simply magical’, ‘Captivating’¬†and‘Heartily recommended’.

Pre-order your eBook or Paperback on Amazon

The Author Is Dead, Long Live The Reader

 

 

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

Rebecca Solnit

 

A very strange thing is happening as my new book, The Story Collector, takes its first tentative steps into the world.¬† Advance review copies are winging their way to people and for the first time in my writing career, I feel content to let go.¬† With my first two books, I stood nervously by, watching my ‘babies’ like a helicopter mom, growling at anyone who deigned to pick on them, ready to steady them if they stumbled.¬† But not with this one.

My sister began her Masters in Comparative Literature in NUIG last year, which has been great for me because I’m learning all about critical theory without having to leave my house!¬† One day, over a pot of tea, she introduced me to an essay¬†‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author)¬†by the French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes.¬† Coz that’s our life now.¬† Ultimately, he claims that ‘The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.¬† I was furious as my sister told me that the reader is the new author!¬† ‘Do you know how long I’ve been writing this story?’ I said.¬† ‘This story was my idea, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me!!’¬† I was on my high horse and refusing to come down.

But weirdly enough, I’ve recently arrived at a similar conclusion myself.¬† In order for readers to interpret a text, they need to divorce it from the author.¬† To be honest, I think most authors would be happy enough with that.¬† We write stories to say the things we cannot – yet nowadays authors are expected to talk endlessly about their own work, which can spoil the magic and influence the meaning of the text.¬† Barthes argues against this kind of contamination and asserts that books are¬†“eternally written here and now”, with each re-reading.¬† I love that idea, because there is a kind of immortality in that.¬† Stories live on forever because they are constantly being reborn and rewritten by each new reader, long after the author has shuffled off to her great reward.¬† It’s up to the readers to assign meaning to the text now; my intentions are no longer important.¬† We produce the work, but the ultimate destiny of the work is in the hands of the reader.¬† It is now left open to their interpretation and I think that’s why it’s so important for authors to take a step back.

Maybe it’s having a (brilliant!) publisher this time around that means I don’t have that obsessive protectiveness I had over my first two books.¬† There are some major conflicts of interest when you are the author and the publisher.¬† Everything is taken personally because you are solely responsible for every aspect of writing, designing, producing and selling the book.¬† Or maybe it’s the length of time that has passed since I typed ‘The End’ and actually seeing the book in print that has given me a sense of distance.¬† Yet again, it could be the years of picking up good and bad reviews for my work and understanding that while some people might love what you write, others will hate it.¬† And that’s okay.¬† That’s normal.¬† I think I have finally realised that reviews don’t determine whether or not you are a good writer.¬† Chances are, those people aren’t even taking you or your writing career into consideration – they’re merely logging their own response to a work for (and this is the important bit) the benefit of other readers.¬† I’ve also taken to singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ when I get a one star review, which has been surprisingly helpful ūüôā

Either way, it’s a good thing, because The Story Collector belongs to the readers now.¬† Like our folklore and ancient stories, we don’t need to know who wrote them to appreciate them.¬† So the best thing I can do now is let this story out into the wild to make its own way – wave it off from the doorway, then turn back inside and seek out a new one.

Pre-Order your copy on Amazon now ~ The Story Collector

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The Perfect Book

Making art isn’t an exact science. ¬†So much is down to happenstance and luck, and I always admire authors who attribute their success to a strange marriage of dull slog and serendipity.

I recently read what was, in my eyes, a near perfect novel, but during a conversation with another reader, she pointed out some parts of the story that just didn’t ring true; things that, for her, made the rest of the story difficult to believe. ¬†I was surprised, because I had noticed those minor loop-holes too, but chose to ignore them for the sake of the story. ¬†The story just worked better if I chose to believe the author rather than question her. ¬†Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies is a cliche for a reason! ¬†I suppose we all read books differently, but for me, I am saying yes to an unspoken contract as soon as I open the cover: tell me a good story and I will believe.

Even though the reader had a completely valid point, it niggled at me. ¬†As a fiction writer, there are many times when you ask your reader to suspend their belief, in order to make the story work. ¬†But, are readers willing to do this? ¬†It goes without saying we have to ground our stories in reality and make our characters believable, but don’t we also have a bit of artistic license? ¬†As readers, are we expecting a perfection that doesn’t exist?

Just to be clear, I’m talking about minor infractions here, not great big bloody plot holes that push the entire story beyond credibility. ¬†Such questions are valid, but in this case, it caused merely a moment’s wondering. ¬†FYI, the novel was Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and the issue was her supposed ignorance of most modern cultural references. ¬†I also questioned if this was possible, but chose to believe that it was. ¬†Either way, this is a story. ¬†It’s not meant to be real. ¬†The writer is trying to create an atmosphere, not a documentary. ¬†You’ve got to allow for some artistic license when it comes to the business of show, or else, what are we all doing here? ¬†Do writers¬†really set out to write the perfect book, or is the pursuit of creating something greater than we can ever deliver, the art in itself? ¬†Critics might expect perfection, but we, as storytellers are more focused on telling a good story.

And what is art for anyway? ¬†Why do writers want to express themselves through stories and why do readers love hearing them? ¬†I think Matthew Arnold, Professor of Poetry at Oxford (Culture and Anarchy) expressed it perfectly when he said that all great artists possess ‘the noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it‘. ¬†I love this quote, because I think everyone who picks up a pen/brush/instrument wants to make something good, something true. ¬†We want to add our voice to the collective narrative, our unique take on life, our desires, our hopes and our fears. ¬†It might not be perfect, but it’s ours and no-one else can tell our story in quite the same way. ¬†If a book speaks to you, makes you think and makes you feel, then that is the perfect book. ¬†For you. ¬†Regardless of what the critics say.

 

Recommended Reads

Too soon? ¬†Never! ¬†I’ve stumbled across so many spectacular reads this year, that I thought I’d do an end of summer review of my favourites. ¬†So if you’re looking for ideas for your next read, this one is for you.

Historical Fiction

Golden Hill

GOLDEN HILL

Set in 18th century New York, this is a novel that will turn your idea of historical fiction on its’ head. ¬†Part caper, part mystery, this novel is beautifully written in a unique style. ¬†Small wonder that Spufford won the Desmond Elliot, Costa and Ondaatje prizes for his debut novel. ¬†As I said in my Goodreads review, ‘Some books are just perfection to read. ¬†This is one of them.’

 

 

 

Contemporary Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

Does this book even need an introduction?  Believe the hype people!  This is such a refreshingly original novel, written with a perfect balance of wit, intelligence and sincerity.  I defy you not to fall in love with this book and Eleanor.  An uplifting story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.  Check out my full review here.

 

 

 

Classic

Rebecca

REBECCA

It’s always good to read something timeless, and so, Rebecca. ¬†The best way to describe this book is if Downton Abbey was written by Edgar Allen Poe! ¬†I absolutely adored this book, the lush descriptions, the opulent setting, the dashing widower, the innocent ingenue, the creepy maid… it’s all there!! ¬†It’s grip lit meets gothic romance, all in a lovely English mansion. ¬†What’s not to love?!

 

 

 

Novella

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT

If you’re looking for a shorter read, this novella is certainly a quirky one. ¬†Falling somewhere between dystopian and science fiction, this is a curious story that is strangely unnerving and compelling. ¬†It’s about a very average couple who find jobs in a very unusual place. ¬†There is a lot of ambiguity and it’s probably best to read it with no expectations. ¬†Think Kafka-esque, without the cockroach!

 

 

 

 

Of course, you could always read MY novels!

THE DEFINITIVE SELF-PUBLISHING CHECKLIST ~ For People Who Aren’t Very Organised and are absolute beginners.

The definitive

You just hit publish, right? ¬†That’s what all the articles say. ¬†Any idiot can upload a book in minutes. ¬†And yes, I suppose any idiot can, but it takes a very informed, dedicated, professional¬†and talented individual to upload a book that people will want to read. ¬†A recent Facebook post from a first-time author seeking advice made me realise how long I’ve been doing this self-publishing thang and how I’ve kind of taken for granted that everyone has¬†‘the knowledge’. ¬†There are so many blogs, articles and how-to books on the subject, and yet authors can still struggle with the basics. ¬†The first author asked what she should be doing in the run up to her launch and another suggested that while there is a lot of information out there, it’s almost overwhelming. ¬†Where do you start? ¬†Where does it end?? ¬†So in an effort to share said knowledge, I’m writing a blog with an impossibly long title, which will (hopefully) be filled with all of the essentials, while trying not to bombard¬†you with too much scary stuff.

  1. Make a publishing schedule. ¬†promo-calendar¬† ¬† ¬† So you’ve typed those blessed words, THE END and you’re mooching around the Kindle Direct Publishing website wondering where the publish button is. ¬†Whoa there Tex, what’s your rush? ¬†You’ve skipped the bajillion steps between finishing your manuscript and sending it out into the world for people to read. ¬†So roll back your wagon and follow step number one – create a publishing schedule. ¬†In my opinion, you’re going to need at least six months to get everything done before your book goes live, so first things first, DO NOT RUSH. ¬†This is not a race, unless you’re hoping to win a medal for the person least prepared to publish a book.

2. Polish your prose. ¬†Has your book been edited? ¬†Proof-read? ¬†Again, don’t rush out there and get the first editor you find on Fiverr. ¬†There are so many ‘professionals’ who are feeding off the self-publishing industry, so you want to find someone who has a proven track record. ¬†A great place to find all of the professionals you’re going to need is Indie Author Alliance Services Directory. ¬†At the very least, get some Beta readers whose opinions you trust and respect. ¬†It nigh on¬†impossible to view your work objectively, so you need other eyes to see the things you cannot.

3. Hire a designer. ¬†Again, you’re going to need time to find a good cover designer and depending on their work load, you might have to wait a few months in a queue, so best to get in early. ¬†Again, look for examples of their work. ¬†Don’t worry if you are on a budget, there are plenty of websites that offer pre-made covers that are really good value and you simply add your name and title. ¬†The Creative Penn is a great resource for self-publishing and offers a handy list of tried and tested book cover designers. ¬†This is just one list however, there are lots of designers out there and a great way of finding them is finding covers you like and checking out who designed them.

4. The Blurb. ¬†You know, there are two sides to every cover and the back can be just as important as the front. ¬†The blurb. ¬†This is often the last thing authors think about and run up a quick summary in a ‘that’ll do’ kind of approach. ¬†Do not do this. ¬†Think about it, when you’re buying a book online or in a store, the cover is the first thing to catch your eye, but the very next thing you do is turn it over to see what it’s about. ¬†This is your moment to hook the reader. ¬†A few carefully-worded sentences are all that stands between them popping your book in their basket or placing it back on the shelf. ¬†Spend time studying blurbs in your genre, Google ‘blurb writing’ and keep refining what you’ve written until you’re satisfied with it. ¬†It’s not a summary and should be written in the same style as your novel. ¬†As author Susan Kaye Quinn explains on The Bestseller Experiement podcast, ‘a blurb is flash fiction, only you don’t end it‘. ¬†Write a killer blurb, or you’ll only have your shelf to blame (sorry!)

5. Formatting. ¬†Before you can upload your book to Amazon or Smashwords, you’re going to need to format it. ¬†You could pay someone to do this for you, but if I can manage it, I’m pretty sure you can to. ¬†Everything you need to know is in this post by Catherine Ryan Howard ¬†on Writing.ie. It’s pretty old, but I’ve yet to find a more user-friendly, dedicated formatting article that explains things as well as this.

The big question, should you publish a paperback version, is something you need to decide for yourself. ¬†Kindle Direct Publishing have made it easier than ever to do this, and as soon as you upload your eBook files, it asks you if you want to make a print version. ¬†In my opinion, you have nothing to lose but the time it takes to configure your cover (or pay your designer to do this). ¬†My print sales are relatively low, but it’s good to give your readers the option.

6. Pre-order. ¬†You know you can put your book on Amazon for pre-order, meaning that people can see your book before you launch (yay marketing!) and also order it ahead of time. ¬†This will give your sales a bump on launch day and it also means that you can start promoting your book earlier and creating a buzz, while you’re still doing all of the finishing touches behind the scenes. ¬†Confession: ¬†I did not do this. ¬†I was in too much of a rush. ¬†So is this a case of do as I say and not as I do? ¬†Well, yes I suppose it is, but only because I want you to benefit from my mistakes.

7. Reviews. ¬†Reviews (1)If you are a new author, you will most definitely need the help of book reviewers/bloggers to review your book. ¬†Now is the time to start approaching them, as the most popular ones work to very tight schedules that can be booked months in advance. ¬†You’re probably starting to see that six months isn’t very long at all! ¬†But how do you find book bloggers? ¬†Easy, just type #bookbloggers into Twitter or Facebook or any social media platform and follow the links from there. The Indie View also provide an extensive list of bloggers, so if you’re still baffled by blogs, start there.

My best advice is to treat this like your typical manuscript submission process – find bloggers that are interested in your genre and contact them according to their book review policies. ¬†You can get more information on how to approach book bloggers here.¬†¬†Advance Reader Copies (or ARC’s as they’re known in the business) are essential if you want to have some reviews on your book’s page when you launch, so as soon as you have completed your edits and finalised your cover, start sending these out. ¬†As a self-publisher, I only sent eBooks for review and used the preview file from my Kindle publishing page, so I could send reviewers a .mobi version.

There is also the hugely popular NetGalley¬†where readers can request your book for free. ¬†This is quite an expensive option and it’s difficult to say if you will hit your target audience here (as opposed to approaching reviewers personally), but if you can afford it, it’s definitely a powerful promotional tool.

8. Author platform. ¬†If you haven’t already created an online presence for yourself, now would be a good time to start. ¬†Yes, it can be time-consuming to set up and to maintain, but not only do you need a profile that people can connect with, you also need a profile so you can interact with other people. ¬†The best way to get people interested in you is if you show interest in them. ¬†Blogging is a great way to let people know who you are, what you’re interested in and what you’ve got coming up. ¬†‘But nobody cares!’ I hear you cry. ¬†Well, you can start driving traffic to your blog from your Twitter account and Facebook. ¬†While there is no way of calculating how much your online activity will result in increased sales, it’s definitely the best way to connect with readers and other people in the industry, which can lead to further opportunities for you and your writing. ¬†If you come from a marketing background, you’ll have heard of The Rule of 7, which basically means that a prospective customer needs to see ¬†your product at least 7 times before deciding to buy, so being active online can only help!

9. Price. ¬†I have never given my book away for free. ¬†Ever. ¬†It’s just not something I would endorse – you might get lots of downloads but chances are that most of those people might never even read your book. ¬†I also subscribe to the wacky notion that people deserve to get paid for their work. ¬†The prevailing wisdom is that ¬£2.99 is the average price for an eBook. ¬†It might not seem like very much, but you get to keep 70% of your royalties. ¬†It’s really up to you to decide what price you want to retail your novel at and the beauty of being a self-publisher means that you can change your pricing and experiment with what works best.

10. Promotion – As with your ARC’s, you need to start booking promo spots as far in advance as possible. ¬†Book bloggers host author interviews and guest posts and there are lots of online eZines where you can submit articles (with links to your new release). ¬†It’s also worth trying traditional media, like local newspapers or radio stations that might be interested in ¬†your story. ¬†As for advertising online – most ad sites require that your book has a minimum number of reviews, so you might have to wait a while for that, but you can run a Facebook ad or a Goodreads giveaway to create some hype around your launch. ¬†(Caveat: ¬†Goodreads giveaways are for print books only. ¬†They are going to introduce an eBook version, but it will not be free, unlike the paperback giveaway).

And now that you have your own platform, why not run a giveaway on your own blog? ¬†Use Rafflecopter, the gold standard for managing giveaways and I promise, it’s easy to set up and use. ¬†If your book is part of Kindle select (which is absolutely worth doing) meaning that your book is sold exclusively on Amazon, you can start preparing your kindle countdown deal which you will be able to run 3 months after you first publish. ¬†At that point, you can make your book available for 99p (while retaining your 70% royalty rate) and give ¬†your sales another boost.

So there you have it, 10 practical ways you can prepare for your book launch. ¬†HOWEVER, if you’re reading this and you’ve scheduled your launch for tomorrow and haven’t done any or all of these steps – fear not! ¬†You have two choices here: ¬†go ahead with your launch and try to do all of these steps in hindsight or just postpone it. ¬†Trust me, unless you’ve done a fantastic job of promoting the launch of ¬†your book online, no-one will even notice. ¬†I remember when I published my debut novel, I sat at home all day, staring at the screen and wondering when the sales figures would start increasing. ¬†Seriously! ¬†That’s what I did. ¬†And ¬†you know what? ¬†Nothing happened! ¬†I had a handful of sales, but to my disappointment, the Internet didn’t stop what it was doing and congratulate me on publishing my book. ¬†Do you have any idea how many books are self-published every day on Amazon? ¬†Someone self-publishes a book every 5 minutes! ¬†The best chance you can give your book is to follow all (or most!) of these preparations ahead of time.

Final piece of advice, try not to get sucked into the marketing vortex to such an extent that you delay starting your next book.  The best way to sell your first book is to write a second.

Best of luck! ¬†You’ve written a novel, now go publish it.

Reviews – The Sequel

criticism

My previous post about reviews (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) was all about garnering reviews without annoying people or driving yourself crazy. However, I think this subject deserves a sequel, because asking for something and getting it are two entirely different things.  I recently received a 1 star review on Amazon which read like this:

THIS ITEM HAS NOT ARRIVED ON MY KINDLE, ALTHOUGH THE MONEY HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM MY ACCOUNT !!!!

*deep breaths* ¬†Now I know that I have been a part of the movement which encourages readers to leave reviews, so I guess this was some kind of Amazonian karma, but I was kind of hoping for reader reviews. ¬†Seeing my ratings go down because of a technical glitch in the downloading process suddenly brought it home to me; my book is now a product. It’s no longer the organic, living, breathing story that I painstakingly translated to paper (well, screen). It has now become something that shoppers add to their cart, along with a whole pile of other miscellaneous items. ¬†All you have to do is look at the person’s buying history to see that your book entered their lives somewhere between an eyeshadow palette and an inflatable swimming pool. So when they leave a review, they are reviewing a product, just like any other. And lets face it, most people are motivated to leave a review when they’re either really happy with something or really unhappy. All of those in-betweeners tend not to leave reviews at all.

Yet, while Amazon is a marketplace, Goodreads is a platform purely for readers, or as they put it themselves, ‘a free website for booklovers’. ¬†None of your brow wow palettes or Avery address labels here! ¬†Goodreads is a place for people to share their reading lists, so despite the constant battle to feed the hungry Amazon algorithms with more reviews, I really appreciate the ratings from Goodreads readers, which can offer a more balanced picture of how my books are being received. ¬†I have 125 ratings on GR which average out to 4 stars, so whenever I get a scathing review, I just remind myself of that and get on with my day.

In my last post I spoke about book bloggers who sometimes felt harassed by authors when it came to writing honest reviews of their books, especially if those reviews were negative. ¬†It would appear that some authors think it’s best practice to pester someone into reading their book and then argue with them if they didn’t like it. ¬†Not exactly the way to ingratiate yourself to the book blogging community! It’s an unusual relationship because, for the most part, authors don’t usually get the opportunity to engage with their readers and to be honest, this is probably a good thing. Unless someone is contacting you specifically to say how much they enjoyed your book (which is a magical moment and one to be savoured) the golden rule is simple; DO NOT ENGAGE! However, when you send your book to a blogger for review, there is a teeny tiny connection there and for some, it’s enough to make some authors disregard the golden rule.

But the fact is, not everyone (and by everyone I mean even people you’ve given a free book to) is going to love your book. Believe me, I know how it feels to have spent years working on something, only to have some randomer trash it as though it were nothing. All of that effort, slaving over every sentence, every decision… it hurts. But this is all a part of it. The life cycle of a book includes having readers that just won’t get it. And as an author, you have got to make peace with that. ¬†*keep breathing!* ¬†What does strike me as odd though is the amount of authors who see 3 Stars as a negative. ¬†To me, 3 Stars says average, which, in the grand scheme of things is quite good actually. ¬†On Goodreads, 3 Stars means ‘I liked it’. ¬†Great! ¬†I’m happy with that. ¬†To be honest, as a reader myself, I give a lot of books 3 Stars and only edge up to 4 when I’ve been really moved by the story. ¬†5 is for pure perfection.

In the week that saw book blogger bashing become an online sport, lots of people made some interesting contributions to the whole discussion around reviews. ¬†I read one comment that suggested authors need to ‘disengage’ with their book once it has been published and let readers have their opinions. Another said that if you can’t handle negative reviews, don’t publish your book and just give it to your mother to read! ¬†It is difficult to switch off from your work and at times, it’s hard not to take the criticism personally. ¬†But they’re right – if you’re trying to avoid criticism, you’re in the wrong profession. ¬†Using your voice, however you choose to express it, is more important than making people like you. ¬†They might not like your book, but that’s not your business. ¬†Your business is to write.

Conversely, you cannot remain blind to constructive criticism that can actually help you grow and improve as a writer. ¬†There is a MAJOR difference between critical reviews and just plain bad reviews. And as an author, you can feel it. When someone reviews your book criticially, pointing out weaker sections or parts that didn’t work, you find yourself reluctantly nodding along and thinking, ‘Yep, I need to work on that.’ When you read a bad review, you just feel like shit. Reviews like, ‘This book is crap’, I mean really, where do you go with that? Nowhere – fast! I’m learning to let these kinds of review go. There’s a radio DJ here in Ireland called Larry Gogan who has been running the ‘Just a minute quiz’ for millennia. When a contestant is diabolically useless at the quiz and gets all the answers wrong, he has a catchphrase. ‘They didn’t suit you,‘ he’d say, with all of the kindness of an understanding grandparent. That’s how I try to see bad reviews now – my book didn’t suit them, and they didn’t suit my book.

When you publish your books, they go on a journey and will find their way to the right audience as well as a few wrong ones along the way. ¬†I’ve been able to form this new outlook because of all of the positive reviews I’ve had from readers who have really connected with the characters and enjoyed the story. So I know my books suits a lot of people, but they don’t suit everybody and that’s got to be okay. As authors, the most important lesson we were never taught at author school was that, once you hit publish, your book becomes a product that people either like or don’t like. Like a vaccuum cleaner on amazon, people will have opinions about it that have nothing to do with you – it’s their experience of the book. ¬†And you have to respect their right to express their opinions, whether you agree with them or not.

Joanne Harris, my go-to author on all things… authory, created the hashtag #TenThingsAboutReviews. ¬†If you’re looking for ways to deal with bad reviews, I would strongly recommend you check it out. ¬†And remember, negative reviews aren’t always bad. ¬†For one thing, it means your book is selling and sometimes, it can offer you a valuable insight into what readers want more of (or less of, as the case may be!). ¬†Use it as market research for your next book, but if there is nothing to take away from a review, leave it behind.

*Update* ¬†Since writing this post, I’ve come to another conclusion: Reviews are for readers, not for authors. ¬†Perhaps what people write in their reviews is simply none of our business because it’s not directed at us. ¬†Think about it, when you review a book, you consider your audience to be other readers – potential readers of the book and those that have already read it. ¬†I wouldn’t imagine for one second that the author is ever going to read my opinion of their book, or that it would matter to them one jot. ¬†So maybe we shouldn’t be reading them at all! ¬†I know there are authors who don’t, so at least this gives us an alternative to ‘start growing elephant skin and stop moaning!’ ¬†

You can check out my books (and my lovely reviews!) on Amazon