Why Does My Book Not Sell?

I don’t claim to be an expert on ebook sales, neither do I sell many thousands of copies; but I do receive a variety of emails relating to the subject, and I often spot frequently missed opportunities for sales and some rather more obvious reasons why books don’t sell.
EDITING. The single most important process of publishing a book is structural editing and proofreading. nick-morrison-FHnnjk1Yj7Y-unsplashThe lack of consistent, industry standard editing will kill sales in record time. Readers can forgive a smattering of minor mistakes throughout an 80,000 word novel, but if the first thing they see when they look inside the book sample are glaring grammatical errors – then there’s little chance they will buy. It’s a false economy to skip the editing process simply because your sister said it was ‘ok’. Or someone you met in a Facebook group said they’d edit the entire manuscript for £100. Only employ a recommended editor with a good track record and be aware there are many, many plausible fakes out there. Be super critical and don’t publish too soon. 
Picture-4COVER. The cover can and should work in a number of ways to help sell your book. Mostly it needs to match the content and the expectations of the genre – ie: not a photograph which you happen to like and may be related to the material in some vague way, but means absolutely nothing to a prospective reader on the other side of the world. Do some research and look at other books in your genre. Unless you have an eye for design, understand book marketing, and own the relevant software to be original and creative; pay someone who does. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to make your own cover with free software through Amazon’s publishing platform or something like Canva, but if the end result looks homemade – and you want to reach beyond friends and family – then consider the commercial impact.
FONT. Often overlooked, but the font is a vital bit of selling kit. Nothing screams homemade more than a bog-standard font scrawled across a third-rate cover image. If the cover and the font look third-rate, then the reader is fully entitled to presume that the content is much the same. Do the research: you will not find a loopy font on a cold-blooded thriller. Consider the impact of this and apply accordingly.
FORMATTING. If you can’t handle the formatting, then please pay someone who can. It might be the best story ever and perfectly well edited but if there are blank pages, irregular indents, or oversized margins, then after a while it just becomes too irritating to read. Your text needs to look consistent on a variety of screen sizes.
BRANDINGIf you’ve got all the above in order then do also consider branding. If you write across different genres this can be difficult but covers which are easily recognisable as one of yours, do help follow-on sales – so at least consider keeping the font of your author name consistent. Four or five cross-genre books with variable cover styles are notoriously difficult to sell. Same applies to using more than one author or pen name. This is why traditional publishers like material which is easily branded to match their current list. It’s easier to market and sell, and the reader knows what to expect. More on branding here: https://janruth.com/2016/06/24/the-importance-of-branding/

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SHORT LINKS. Every time you talk about your book across social media add the buy link! Potential readers will not go searching, and if you also use a pen name which is different to your social media persona, this can be an impossible task. Why make it so difficult and confusing? The social media audience has a very short attention span at the best of times. Make a short universal link – it’s so easy – and use it. I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve tried to find a book and given up because the author didn’t use a buy link and I couldn’t remember the exact pen name or the specific use of initials.
perfecto-capucine-2gllPE42ouU-unsplashPRICE. Study the market and take note how much is free or priced at 99p. How much do you spend on ebooks? Personally, I’m cautious at anything over £1.99 if the author is unknown to me. It makes more sense to sell 10 books at 99p than one book at £2.99. Free books have lost their impact in raising visibility. Still useful if you’re offering the first in a series as a free download – which hopefully will attract readers to buy the next, and the next. But always price the first book in the series less than the sequel – as a loss-leader – not the other way about! 
KINDLE SELECT, CATEGORIES & KEYWORDS. The Kindle Select programme (staying exclusive to Amazon) is worth considering, rather than spreading yourself too thin and being available on every other sales platform. Amazon Kindle remains the most popular so why not use this to your advantage – at least initially – and use the free promotional tools available. Select also means you can enroll in other programmes such as Kindle Unlimited. This allows readers unlimited access to books in the Select programme and for the author, pages read can earn as much – if not more – than those elusive sales. Experiment with categories on Amazon, the smaller ones are more likely to get your book noticed. Likewise the keywords – it’s worth doing some research, there are plenty of articles about keywords and which are trending and are currently effective
SOCIAL MEDIA & WEBSITES. snapchat---illustration-957668776-5b2e9008a474be0036c4c507Build a social media platform before you launch the book, not as an afterthought a few months later because ‘you really don’t do promoting, advertising, Twitter, or all that stuff…’ Your ebook is an internet-based product which is targeted at an internet-based audience who own an e-reader and therefore browse the internet for their next read. A commercial page – use your author name for this, not your book title – on Facebook and a website are both worth having because they are public sites and allow readers to discover you. They will not discover you via a personal Facebook profile. A website is more static – a ‘go to’ place to locate the books and hit that universal buy-link. Keep it clean and simple. Get rid of the dancing cats, change the white text on a black background to the other way about, and fix the links that don’t work.
REVIEWS. Reviews do help to sell books in that they increase customer confidence in the product. Approach book bloggers and reviewers who are interested in your material and whose opinions carry some weight; they will also have a good presence across social media. Don’t approach other authors or send multiple requests through Messenger to all your friends begging for reviews. And the other biggie: don’t respond to negative reviews in public. Nothing looks worse to a prospective reader than to witness an angry response to someone who didn’t enjoy your book. florencia-viadana-1iyGImW84cQ-unsplashThey are entitled to their opinion and if it’s malicious then interacting in any way will add fuel to the fire. There are plenty of people who will enjoy a good to-and-fro at your expense. Not only does it look desperately unprofessional to join in, but it’s wise to remember that reviews are not directed towards the author. Neither are they an easy, cheap critique service – they are there to help other prospective readers decide if they might enjoy the book. Only take them to heart if there are several reviews flagging the same issue. And then… get it fixed.
BLOGGING & NEWSLETTERS. The clue is in the title… these are not meant to be hard-sell sales platforms. Blogs are a good way to build a slow but sure fanbase, but your blog needs original and interesting content. Write articles you can share across social media and build followers. I’ve written some equitation-based fiction so blogging about horses brings me into contact with the right audience. And if you cannot produce engaging, interesting, and informative content on a regular basis, don’t start a newsletter. Sending advertising copy through email disguised as a newsletter is SPAM.
MARKET TRENDS. Are you writing fiction the public are looking to read? If it’s a complicated contemporary romance set in Newcastle and your main female character is aged 45, it won’t sell as well as a formula romance set in Cornwall with a heroine aged 25; even if your book is more original and better executed. Sadly, this is the way commercial sales and marketing works for the big guys, and the independent publisher can either try and swim with the mass-market tide, or accept that writing to their own agenda and enjoying creative freedom will always produce books which are more of a struggle to sell.

The Wisdom of Hindsight

A few funny words of wisdom for very new authors, and those in charge of household appliances.

Self-Publishing. If I could go back and start again, would I do anything differently? Yes, all of it! You see, I never read the instructions for anything. Half the programs on the new washing machine will never be used because I don’t have the patience to read the manual. I learnt about self-publishing the hard way, but maybe that’s not necessarily a negative. Sometimes, if you make horrible mistakes along the way, you’re not likely to forget them, or repeat them. Now, where’s that powder, the one that doesn’t foam? The one I was told not to use under any circumstances, the one that clogged the entire cycle… 

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The Pre-Wash:

  1. Editing & proofreading.
  2. Cover design & formatting.
  3. Website & social marketing platforms.

Editing & Proofreading. 

There are many, many books out there which are badly in need of a good soak and a pre-wash. I confess to having a head-start with regard to the actual business of writing fiction. Thirty years ago I went along the traditional route of trying to find agents and publishers. I had a modicum of success, but the most it taught me was how to write (and re-write, and re-write) and construct a novel, how to build character and how to observe the basic principles such as ‘show and not tell’. 

Editing covers a broad spectrum of skills, from advising on all of the above to merely checking punctuation, or that names and timescales are consistent throughout. Your product needs to be as near perfect as you can make it if you want to be taken seriously, and sell books to the reading public with confidence. It is not a good idea to wait until the reader-review stage to get your work critiqued publicly on Amazon by the very reader you wish to please! 

Anyway, to cut a long story down a bit, I decided to self-publish my languishing semi-edited manuscripts. I made mistakes, I chose the wrong people to work with. I was on the wrong spin cycle and foaming at the mouth in no time.

Then I met John Hudspith.

rawpixel-561415-unsplashSome say he has the eyes of an owl and the body of a crow. (He’s already admitted to the droppings). He can edit any genre. He’s not only comfortable with freaky – such as double-jointed women in gingham – but he also has a handle on quite ordinary things like school puddings and little dogs. What I like about Mr Hudspith is that he personally hand-washes everything; there’s none of this short-cut business with pre-programmed software. He can cope with any kind of material, just check that care label out. He actually enjoys shrinking swathes of narrative such as short stories and blurbs. Hey, he shrunk my shorts but they’re a much better fit. Not only this, but his personal machine can vigorously rid a manuscript of the most stubborn stains, or it can tumble the softest silk into an even smoother ream. As for fluff, he openly admits to being especially obsessed with cleaning that particular filter till it’s sparkling.

Cover design & Formatting.

Formatting the interior of the book is something which is more readily learnt if you have good basic computing skills. The cover, on the other hand can be a challenge. Homemade covers are fine if you have the right skills. The attention span of most people browsing for something to read is actually only a matter of seconds. Ideally, the book’s cover needs to sum up what the reader can expect to find on the inside. Trying to sell a book with the wrong cover is like working in a dry cleaners wearing dirty clothes. Image is everything. There may be a brilliant book inside that plain brown cover but we’ll never know because no one, not least your target audience, can be bothered to open it. 

Do consider that your cover needs to work hard as a tiny thumbnail around the Internet. I didn’t. Anything dark or difficult to read will not do the job. If it looks poor and ill-thought out, readers will assume the same will apply to the writing inside.

I made mistakes with all of mine, they were far too subtle. Virtually everyone would say ‘Yes… very nice, but what’s it about?’ 

Then I met Jane Dixon-Smith.

Working with someone who knows exactly what independent authors are faced with, makes the process so much easier. Many self-published authors write books which cross genres, and although my novels are often labelled as romance, I was anxious not to portray the softer side of this genre, that meant no pastel colours or smiling happy people. In fact, I didn’t really want faces or figures at all, but I studied the market with a more critical eye and put personal feelings to one side. In collaboration with Jane, we went for a more commercial look which not only increased the readership but started to form a brand as well. Another important plus: my books were more readily accepted for promotions on advertising sites.

Your cover is part of your story, and deserves the same thought and effort. That old idiom, about not judging a book by it’s cover, is wrong.

 

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  Read more about the process here:

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/publishing-why-i-love-working-with-indie-authors-by-a-book-designer/ 

Websites & Social Marketing Platforms.

A good-looking simple website with easy access to the books you want to sell is the single, most important piece of advertising you can do. It is your hub, your shop window to the world. If someone wants to find you or one of your books, the first thing they do is hit Google. Links to your blog, Facebook- Author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and so on, all those social networking sites are worth adding, and it pays to use all of them. 

Simple, clean and fresh always works. I can’t imagine anyone searching for your books will be interested in cats dancing round the edge or fish swimming up and down the sides, but maybe that’s just me. If someone really hates cats, they might, just might… look elsewhere. Are you selling your books or telling everyone you like cats? I’m always turned off by those sites that look hugely complicated, books revolving at a rate of knots, tiny writing, too many badges, too much everything!   

Hanging Out to Dry.

So, assuming you don’t have any of these editing and design skills, all of this is going to cost. Of course it will! You’re asking someone with professional credentials to spend time working on your product; those jobs which used to be down to the agent and the publisher. 

‘Oh no!’ I hear you cry, ‘It’s free to publish. All you do, is upload a file from your computer, it’s really easy! If you have a problem along the way with any of this process, there are plenty of experts to help you on Facebook and Twitter.’ 

All true, of course, but if you want a fully functioning product, please read the instruction manual first.

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Once Upon A Time…

I’m in the pub with my editor John Hudspith, talking about school puddings and prose, Snowdonia & the science of story-telling.

*Setting: In a darkened bar on the edge of Snowdonia, where the wild buzzards roam. *Characters: Jan Ruth, Snowdonian Author, and John Hudspith, writer, editor and Magical Wordmaster. *Plot: alcohol-fuelled ramblings. (Pantser) *Dialogue: read on...

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Jan: I know you have the eyes of an eagle, but some folk say you also have the body of a crow. Is it true, or just a nasty rumour spread by Kimi? John: Probably true, going by the droppings. Jan: I think of you (only in private) as the brain of Brian. I couldn’t believe how many brains were confused by Brian, and how much sand my characters ate for dessert in Silver Rain. How do you focus on typos and daft mistakes and still manage to keep the overall shape of a novel, the plot and the character development in mind? John: Practiced instinct. My reading cursor hits each word, checking for choice, position, requirement, punctuation  – one at a time and also in context – and, if approved, paddles it along to the story-collector, who sits there like some humongous wicket-keeper, catches each word in a fat mit, and adds it to the growing story-tree. If a character reaction isn’t right, or a plot hole gapes, or if something can be improved, the tree will sag and rattle and the catcher will know how to fix it. Like a dual processor, the paddle is programmed for errors of word, and the catcher for shortcoming story elements.

tumblr_inline_nfqr4hed321rqjcsmJan: So, you think like a computer? John: No. Computers don’t think. But realising that your brain does act in a similar way to a computer, is good way to hone your writing/editing eye/processor. Jan: Is that how you’re able to edit so many different genres? Are there any that have you running for the hills? John: No running. Editing must remain wholly objective. Understanding the conventions of genre and the needs/requirements/expectations of each genre’s reader means putting subjectivity to one side. And yes, I have a program for that. Jan: The man with two brains? John: Five, actually, but I’ll keep the other three under wraps… for now. Jan: What makes you roll your eyes? John: Rolling one’s eyes is a subjective expression of emotion, so if you’re referring to when editing, no eye-rolling can occur…the paddle and the catcher do not know how. And, while they’re paddling and catching, I’m off elsewhere, rolling my eyes at humanity. Jan: Does that mean you never enjoy reading the stories you edit? John: Oh hell, yes. I do allow my subjective nose to poke in and get its thrills. Jan: So what thrills you the most when you begin to read a manuscript? John: That the story is one of my preferred genres, or that the writer is adept at plotting/dialogue/characterisation/scene-setting, etc. Jan: Has anything given you goosebumps recently?  John: I went out the other day in t-shirt and shorts. Foolish at only five degrees. You could have hung your hat on them. 

Jan: Either you’ve got the hide of a rhino or your head was clearly elsewhere. This happens to me a lot. Is it normal? My hubby says I look vacant (not all the time, but he says it quite a lot!) A rhino hide can be useful for an author to deflect the inevitable barbs along the way, but there is a fine line between a head in the sand job and confidence rooted in acceptance to learn and take advice. How do you deal with ego, because we writers are such ahem… sensitive souls. tumblr_inline_nfqrvgxty31rqjcsmJohn: Showing the writer the `good` things and explaining what makes them good is the key. Then when you explain what could be improved and how, the ego usually gives a satisfied nod. Nothing wrong with egos, of course. Getting the balance right keeps the ego at bay because such balance is what the ego seeks. A smart young girl taught me that. Jan: Aw, Kimi. That’s given me goosebumps now! No, what I meant was, those goosebumps you get from words alone? John: I could associate that with a scene in Stephen King’s latest: Doctor Sleep, where Danny wakes from a pissed-up night to a flabby whore, a stinking mess of booze and drugs, and has to run to the bathroom to puke onto his own floating turd. Beautifully written. Word perfection brought the setting alive via mood and tone. Makes me shiver just thinking about it.

Jan: Sounds wonderful. How important is setting? Are you bored with my hills yet? John: You see, Jan, they’re not just any old hills, they’re always different, be they sullen peaks draped in sunset ribbons or sheened with sleeting rain or suffused with morning mist or dripping snowmelt like icing, you choose your words to carry the story’s tone…every time! I was especially impressed to see equally masterful settings in your novel Silver Rain when you take reader halfway round the world, using all the elements of place to bring the settings alive and drop the reader right in there. silver-rain-cover-medium-webJan: Thanks. Now let’s talk about sex. We all know sex sells, but it’s just as important to keep the tone consistent in a novel. No one wants to reads a sex manual, nor do they want to hark back to the old style Mills & Boon. Do you think it’s become a lot more challenging to write good love scenes which are satisfying to the reader without making them cringe? John: You said `love` scenes. Of course, they are challenging because the love portrayed must be believed by the reader, and that takes build-up. Sex scenes, on the other hand, differ from genre to genre from author’s style to another author’s style, and even to individual reader perception. Honing said sex scenes are therefore challenging to write and difficult to master. Jan: Any tips for writing good sex? John: Less is more and succinctness is sexy. Jan: Apart from the sex, what was your most challenging job ever? Can you tell? John: Easy answer… a memoir: Where Petals Fall, written by a mother who lost her daughter to leukaemia. My first go at editing a non-fiction – and at the same time, a heart-breaking – `story` – working with the author was an immense privilege, a humbling experience, and the finished work is huge testament to a courageous, determined individual.

genre-guideJan: That must have been difficult to write too, but possibly cathartic in a small way. I’m a strong believer of the adage ‘write what you know or at least have a deep understanding of what you’re trying to convey’.  Would you agree that the power of her writing came from having lived through the experience, and she succeeded in a way another writer who was merely observing, would certainly fail? John: Perhaps an `observing` writer might not convey the raw emotions as well as the writer who actually experienced it, yes. Jan: In the days of agents I used to get told ‘Well, yes, it is romance, it’s almost romantic comedy, but then there’s a dark thread in it too so we can’t place you in a box, so thank you and goodbye!’ Is it possible to blend genres do you think, or is there a limit? Do you think the boundaries are too relaxed now or is that a good thing? How would you describe my genre? John: Where to start? I hate the genre label but they are necessary pointers. It is possible to blend genres. I know of one writer who experienced similar knockbacks for blending `crime` and `supernatural`. Look, it’s all about story and style, and the style of your work certainly has dark threads, certainly has romance/love/attraction, certainly has a wry touch of the comedic, but all this brings a great read. Those agents really should have been snapping you up and hawking your work. As for the boundaries being too relaxed, if it works, if it entertains, then write it.

tumblr_inline_nfpqz1fnyb1rqjcsmJan: What about your own writing? I know you’re working on something new, and after the amazing Kimi books I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Any clues as to what it’s about? John: Many years ago I tried writing the book I really wanted to write… but I lost the plot. I hope that now I can tell the story in an entertaining way, and that involves five POV characters weaved into a plot of deceit and destruction. Jan: So it’s a romance then? John: Ha-ha! In a way I suppose it is; human reliance, dependence, devotion, and the rudeness of death. Jan:  Sounds like a night at our local. (It’s your round by the way… Mine’s a large Sauvignon) Five POVs is a challenge. I did this with White Horizon and I have to say it gave me quite a few headaches along the way. Is there a limit to heads? I read somewhere it was seven, before it gets too complicated for the reader. John: A POV limit? Interesting. Good POV takes time to build… five or seven would perhaps make a satisfying amount, i.e. enough space within the average (high-end) word count. Any more than that and the pages would surely need to stack up. You handled the multi-POVs very well in White Horizon. Jan: There was a good deal of planning for that book, but I have to say, in general I’m a seat-of-the- pants’ writer, whether I’m wearing tight shorts or a fetching yarn of waterproof for climbing the hills. Can you tell without looking or feeling? John: Nope. Seamless.

Midnight Sky Cover LARGE EBOOKJan: Always more comfortable. What about characters? Is it true you fancied James Morgan-Jones from Midnight Sky? Do you always fall in love with good ones? (Not good as in saintly, just meaty in character.)  John: Oh, yes. You see, this is why blokes would like reading your novels, not just for the sultry heroines but the male characters: clumsily strong, adeptly inept, ruggedly handsome, stupidly sensible… attributes the male reader might recognise within themselves – add to that the chance of showering with a curvaceous, freckled, milky-fleshed redhead and it’s a no-brainer. Jan: Good point. *makes marketing note*. I like to write from the male POV. Does it work in general? The way I look at it is this; my target audience are women 35-65. They want to get into Al’s head, don’t they? Don’t be rude… John: They want Al’s head, you mean? Your male POVs are always great, it’s the little touches you employ, like nuts in a bathrobe pocket (sounds painful), or the clown suit, the pork pie hat, the brooding roughness of the horse-whisperer with his jumble of a kitchen, fat steaks, and lots of wine… every time you do this without fail, and every time the character is totally different from the last. It is this that makes your male POVs more than work `in general`, they’re always totally real, convincing, and the resulting reader empathy enormous. Jan: Thanks. They are my forte! What’s your favourite type of character? John: A good one. In other words I like every character… as long it’s convincing, believable, written well. Jan: Dialogue is a good builder of character, don’t you think? I find it the easiest discipline too. What advice would you give to a novice writer about the use of speech? I remember some thirty years ago trying to think of different words for ‘he said.’ Big mistake! John: Ah, yes, the invisible `said` – use it whenever it suits the flow of speech, which happens to be pretty much most of the time. And read the dialogue out loud and in character, doing so shows up errors and shortcomings with ease.

no-fluffJan: Do you find male and female writers are different to edit? John. No difference at all in the writing, but men seem less eager to ask for help. It’s a caveman thing. Jan: It’s an ego thing, possibly? When I sent my first badly typed manuscript to an agent thirty years ago (it makes me cringe now when I think about it. I had no capital L on the typewriter so I had to use a number one instead) she said it was a good story with perfectly good characterisation but littered with mistakes. She sent it to an editorial company in London, who then passed it back to me for perusal and it was covered in red pen… I was speechless! Then I got over it and re wrote it, and re wrote it again… and again. I just didn’t realise what editing and proofreading could do, and how essential it is. I didn’t make that connection; from the story in my head to the polished books you see for sale. I had no idea what happened in the middle to make it all come together. But I am forever grateful to Jane Judd for seeing that potential to develop Wild Water. So, what do you look for, initially? What do you like to see in a book? John: A crisp, clear opening paragraph that will instantly engage me, instantly drop me into place and POV, followed by the same crisp clearness … no fluff! Jan: You’re always on about fluff. Common problem? John: The number one. Over-writing, suffocating most books on a shelf near you. Jan: I must admit, you’re bloody good at hoovering up that fluff. And not just unnecessary words, you even spot misplaced spaces and commas that are italicised when they shouldn’t be. How did you get so eagle-eyed? John: Practice. When you do anything every day for years and years you will get reasonably proficient at it. Jan: You’re too modest. John: It’s my biggest fault.

tumblr_inline_nfqqmyebav1rqjcsmJan: How do you get in the zone to edit, is it a different zone when it comes to your own writing? John: Exactly the same:peace, quiet and gallons of tea. Jan: Of all the editors I’ve worked with, I have to say you are the most ‘switched-on’ in more than one sense. I think it’s maybe because you are an indie author yourself and know exactly what we are faced with in terms of market trends and so on. John: Yes, it helps that I’ve been down the bumpy road: written rubbish, made mistakes, and learnt a lot along the way. Jan: Oh, and I love the funny cheeky remarks about my characters too… your margins are so interesting. How important is it to have a good working relationship with authors in this way; does it help to have a similar sense of humour/borderline insanity? John: Insanity always helps. And editing SHOULD be fun. Jan: I like how you always explain the need for the edit. I’ve learnt a great deal about the finer tricks of the trade from you. John: What many authors who have never engaged with an editor realise, is that in working with an editor you’re also working with a teacher. You will learn, improve, become a better writer. Jan: Makes perfect sense, of course. Only don’t undersell yourself, Johnny. I employed a few editors before finally finding you. And believe me, they weren’t teachers. voices-2John: There’s cowboys in every trade, I guess. Jan: Doesn’t that bug you? John: Not really. Look, it’s simple, if you’re looking for an editor ask for a free sample. From the sample you will know if the editor connects with you and your work. Jan: Not every editor offers free samples. John: Then use one that does. Jan: Good advice. We’ve covered a little of everything except plotting. I think this is my weakest area and no matter how hard I try to plan, my characters tend to take over; which can be good, it means they are developing and moving the story along, but it is easy to write yourself into a dead end. I tend to be a seat-of-the-pants plotter rather than a planner. What advice could you offer to rein-in those crazy voices in my head? John: Whether you’re a careful plotter or not, it doesn’t matter: write the way that works for you. As for those dead-ends, try and at least have some plot markers in place, something to aim for, like the end and one or two middle bits.

mr-pink-whistle-interferes-5Jan: Dessert Island time. What book would you read in the sand, and which favourite pudding would you choose to accompany the experience? I’d have to say Panna Cotta or Eaton Mess with The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna. John: Choosing one book is hard enough but only ONE pudding? Yikes! Okay then, I’d go for Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher – multi-POVs and multi-themed, all so beautifully weaved, one can read it over and over and keep on getting hit with surprises. As for the pudding, something with custard… sticky toffee and fig or jam roly poly or spotted dick. Jan: You can only have one. John: Okay I’ll have a spotted dick. Jan: Mine’s another wine, thanks. What about childhood favourites? Mine would be The Wind in the Willows and school chocolate pudding with custard. spotted-dick-custardJohn:  Oh, I’d forgotten all about school chocolate pudd. It came with chocolate custard, lovely stuff. But there was one school dessert to beat that, most kids hated it but I loved it… semolina with those gooey brown little egg-like things plopped in the middle. We called it frogspawn. Always went for seconds. As for the book: Mr Pink Whistle – he used to love blowing his own magic flute, and such a skill might come in handy on a desert island. Jan: Ha! I loved books from an early age (and puddings). Although much can be learnt to hone a skill, I think it’s important to have that genuine love of words and read lots of different styles to become a rounded author (in every sense, I am getting too fat sat at this desk!) What other attributes would you consider important for a writer? John:  You’re right about the genuine love of words, and to read lots of styles/genres is an enormous source of education. If I could add one important thing it would be the ability to step back and view one’s own work with an objective eye. So many don’t or can’t do this, and it shows in the writing. Jan: Good point. My round I think, what’s yours? John: All that talk of puddings has made me hungry. Chippy? Jan: Chippy? Bit of a walk from here! This is Snowdonia and it’s dark… get ready for  goosebumps…

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Short Stories: How Short and How Tight Should They Be?

When someone says shorts what does it mean to you? I always used to prefer those continental jobs that the tennis players favour. But are they short trousers, or long shorts? These days, now that I am back to writing ‘shorts’ mean something totally different.

I’ve always written novel length stories, and I’m thinking now that my penchant for long trousers may have a subjective effect on all of this. I hate my legs in shorts! Does it explain why I find writing short stories so difficult? They are time capsules, a brief but intense insight into someones world. They still have to carry all the same criteria as a novel, but all the principles have to be honed to within an inch of their life, or hems, if you want to stay with the theme. The length can vary from ankle grazing continental style (almost a novella, but not quite?) to an old fashioned pair of budgie smugglers… flash fiction?

I think mine are the discreet kind, just on the knee or maybe slightly above. Is all this the first signs of madness? Oh, very probably, and yet I found someone from the same sewing box. John Hudspith is a man with pins in his mouth and a pair of pinking shears in his hand. I send the big roll of material to him and it comes back all cut out into smaller, more pleasing shapes. He can turn any billowing sheet of raw silk into a pleasing pair of shorts. A silk purse from a pig’s ear. This is my editor’s comfort zone without a doubt, he devours the over-worded paragraph with the tenacity of a royal dress maker. When I’m writing I see him in my minds eye with a machete, bearing down on the over-grown narrative until I give in and hit delete.

Let’s be serious for a moment now. I have a small but tortured history of working with editors, agents and publishers and one develops a ‘nose’ for the real thing, like the fragrance of fresh washed cotton… Oops sorry about that, lapsed into analogy again. When I was introduced to John Hudspith I don’t mind admitting I was on the verge of despair. I’d had dealings with a big editorial company from London some thirty years ago, so I know how editing and proofreading should work but of course with self publishing we don’t have the cash advances and the backing, and we have to make all of these decisions for ourselves. I wanted to find someone with those same skills who didn’t charge the London prices. I struggled. I was let down, and disappointed. The internet is a very messy sewing box and not everyone puts the needles and pins in a safe place.

Until I found John Hudspith. I want to see his shorts. I’m betting they are very very small.

shorts