Thursday 25 September 2008

Why OJ should be very afraid of this author.

In the Daily Telegraph today an article by Cassandra Jardine is headlined “Why OJ should fear Ann Ming”.
Ann is the extraordinary woman who fought for 17 years to get the law of double jeopardy changed so that the man who was openly boasting in the pub about killing her daughter could be retried. Her courage, firstly in coping with being the one who found her own daughter’s body three months after her death and after a team of 29 police had failed, secondly in relentlessly pursuing a man who was known to be highly dangerous and thirdly in taking on the legal and political establishment, is the stuff of legend.
The book recounting this legend, which I was honoured to be able to help her write, called “For the Love of Julie”, is now out, and is a great testament to a great woman. OJ should indeed be looking over his shoulder at this redoubtable avenging angel.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Paranoia on the Amazon Roller coaster

I have discovered a wonderful new game that feeds both my paranoia and my ego as a writer in a dizzying succession of highs and lows – it is called “The Amazon Roller coaster”. My addiction to chart-watching no longer satisfied with the weekly fixes provided by publications like The Bookseller and The Sunday Times, (more or less identical charts with a few minor adjustments by the ST to try to level the playing fields when television heavyweights and the Highway Code come on to play), I can now get fresh highs and lows every few hours by logging on to Amazon and looking up “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” or any number of other titles.

Like all drugs you take your first hit out of curiosity, thinking that you can handle it. You see that your ‘sales rank’ is pleasantly high – let’s say you are at number 1,000. Thinking this is a good omen you go back the next day to see if you have climbed any higher – you have, you are now down to three figures. Now they’ve got you.

The next time you tune in you have plummeted, maybe in the space of just a few hours, to number 150,000. How can this be? You are filled with angst. Has your publisher failed to send them a new order? Has a bad review appeared somewhere and halted sales in their tracks? Or are you simply doomed to a future of abject failure?

You tentatively go back in a few hours later and, miracle of miracles, you are back in three figures. You are high again, thrilled with yourself and the world. Now you are Amazon’s slave. It will now only be a matter of time before you are unable to stop yourself from checking in almost every hour. It will become a new distraction from the job of writing as irresistible as making another cup of coffee (each cup a little stronger than the last, but that’s another story).

To purchase a copy of The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride for a discounted price of £6.00 (inc p&p) please call John Blake Publishing on 0207 381 0666.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Keira Knightly as a Packaging Concept.

The Bookseller charts are out again “Cry Silent Tears” by Joe Peters has slipped to number two in paperback non-fiction, despite selling virtually the same number of copies as during the four weeks of its reign at number one. It has been overtaken by “The Duchess”, the Amanda Foreman biography which has just been released as a film starring the divine Keira. Although it is always annoying to be knocked off the number one perch, there are some silver linings to be found here.

Firstly it is great to know that a book of the quality of “The Duchess” can be taken to the top of the charts with the right packaging and promotional push. It proves yet again that there are lots of people out there who want to read good stuff if they can just be shown where it is and why they will enjoy it.
My second hope is that if Keira’s porcelain features on the cover can work such wonders for Amanda, fellow actress Olivia Grodd’s porcelain features might work a similar miracle in the cover picture of “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”.

All we need now is major feature film of Steffi and Bob’s your uncle.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Latest Fix for Chart Addict

Just had another jolly email from a pleased publisher to say that “Cry Silent Tears” by Joe Peters will be number one in the next Bookseller and Sunday Times paperback bestseller charts for the fourth week running.
If anyone deserves a run of success like this it is Joe, a boy who was struck mute at the age of four by the sight of his beloved father burning to death in front of him and then fell into the merciless hands of a mother who eventually sold him to a paedophile ring. It is a story of someone who spent his childhood in the very depths of hell but somehow managed to grow up to be a kind, forgiving and charming man, husband and father.

Quote - unquote

‘I look pretty crap without make-up - and that isn’t me being modest, it’s a fact. I’m about the only person on our estate from a mixed family who has come out looking like a f***ing albino.’

– Steffi McBride, from “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”.

Monday 8 September 2008

Steffi McBride is in the Shops

“The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” is published today, and so far everyone who has read advance copies has been incredibly kind. Below is a lovely review by a young writer called Eliza.

Writers’ Forum magazine has also published an article I wrote about the whole experience of making a promotional film for the book with the actress, Olivia Grodd, playing Steffi, and putting it up on YouTube and on the website So far we have had over three thousand viewings of the film, which seems more than healthy considering the book is only out today.

In the same issue of Writers’ Forum there is an article by the great writing guru Alison Baverstock on how all authors have to expect to do their own marketing as publishers just don’t have the time, (I paraphrase but that is the gist and of course she is absolutely right).

Eliza’s Review:

This is a read-it-in-one-sitting modern-day fairytale - princes, villains and ogres included. Bridget Jones put those pants on and move aside! There is no swanky media job here; Steffi is, for most of us, the modern day young woman.

A pot washer from the wrong estate with a junky boyfriend and family who would rather you snort a line than read a book, Steffi has a dream and no one, not even her dad, can stop her.

When talent scouts spot Steffi the ultimate young girl’s dream starts to become a reality. Steffi, a lifelong fan of The Towers, is overjoyed at the chance to work on the infamous soap.

Nothing can prepare her for the tidal wave of fame that hits, but has Steffi too many stars in her eyes to see that the wave is in fact shark-infested?

A truly gripping read, Crofts encapsulates the rocky road of today’s vulnerable celebrity status. A tale we have witnessed so often in the media, told fascinatingly from the other side.

Narrated by Steffi, this story should be a textbook for all budding wannabees. Crofts’ style ensures Steffi is a lovable character, making you love and despair alongside her. You find yourself willing her dreams to come true. Now that I have finished reading the book I feel bereft and cheated that she is not real.

The princes, fairy godmothers and villains are all there just as in every good fairytale. There’s boy band has-been, Luke, a pin up for Steffi since her early teens. And Gerry, every mother’s dream son-in-law, you love him but is he Steffi’s prince or just another knight destined not to get his princess? And we mustn’t forget fairy godmother Dora, the chain-smoking agent - but does Steffi really need another mother?

Enjoy the emotions as Steffi grows from a girl with a boyfriend living in a squat, to the nation’s sweetheart. Live the dream alongside Steffi and experience the highs and lows. Have the tissues to hand, sit back and indulge yourself in a truly beautiful read.

Many thanks Eliza

To purchase a copy of The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride for a discounted price of £6.00 (inc p&p) please call John Blake Publishing on 0207 381 0666.

Sunday 7 September 2008

Addicted to the Bestseller Charts

It’s time to confess; I have become as addicted to the bestseller book charts as I am to wine, caffeine and emails; desperate all the time for a new fix, even though I know it will inevitably lead to another painful come-down.

I can completely understand why ego-crazed pop stars are driven tantrum mad when some giant selling track from a rival act squats at the top of the charts for months on end, forever depriving them of the ultimate glory they believe to be their right. To be number two or three is great, of course, but to be able to label your book merely “a Sunday Times bestseller” is never going to be the same as being “a number one bestseller”.

So many times I have ghosted a potential chart topper, only to be held off the top spot by the mega-selling likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Bill Bryson, Richard Hammond or Russell Brand, (the literary equivalents of the Beatles, Whitney Houston, Bryan Adams and Ken Dodd).

I know my addiction is illogical, that a book which sells a thousand copies a week for twenty years is an infinitely better earner than one that surges out of the starting gate with a ten thousand sale in the first week and has completely petered out by the end of the year. I know it because I have had those too, but I am still addicted to the adrenalin rush of the quick number one surge. The pleasures and rewards of sensible moderation are subtler and require a degree of patience that I am having increasing difficulty in mastering as the addiction takes hold.

Time to seek help, I think.

Saturday 6 September 2008

The Future of Books as Big Events

The big fear in the publishing world seems to be that books will go the same way as CD’s, rendered redundant by the wonders of the Internet. But maybe books will survive and prosper in the same way as blockbuster movies and pop concerts have.

Movies that you have to travel to and then pay to see should have been put out of business by television, by the DVD and by downloading, but still people flock to the multiplexes for the big screens and the social experience. Live pop concerts should have been destroyed by CD's and Ipods, but actually they have been fed by them instead. CD’s were just a way to listen to music, whereas books, like movies, live theatre and music, are much loved and user-friendly products in themselves.

That’s not to say that technology shouldn’t be changing the whole way we think of books, many of which do not need to be published in the traditional way. Business books, for instance, and topical academic works are often served much better by the convenience and speed of the computer download, (and the Kindle and the Sony Reader et al will take the concept to the next stage).

Peter James, now one of the world’s most successful thriller writers, has been predicting such things for at least twenty years and is finally being proved to have been both right and ahead of his time. His own enormous successes in the traditional publishing formats however, demonstrate that the book is still a long way from being dead.

What I believe the developments show us is that we have actually been publishing books the wrong way round, starting with the hardback format and then, if that is successful, republishing in ever-cheaper paperback versions. What if we turned the whole process on its head?

Imagine a writer has created a 70,000-word piece of work. We start by circulating it on the Internet, maybe doing some print-on-demand to test the market and build word of mouth. Maybe it will get no further, in which case it probably wouldn’t have worked as a book either, but at least trees will have been spared in the new process. If it does well, however, and shows that it has a potential market, it could then be published in paperback for a wider market.

If the paperback proves successful then beautifully designed, hardback souvenir editions could be produced as gift items and to be treasured on bookshelves for future generations. Hardback books would then be the equivalent of the great pop concerts that cater to demands that have initially been fed with downloaded tracks, videos on MTV, CD’s and all the rest.

There would still be exceptions like sure-fire hits, (a new Harry Potter for instance or a lushly illustrated companion to a popular television cookery programme), but I believe the vast majority of books would suit this route to market. It is as ridiculous to put a first time, unknown novelist straight into a glossy hardback, as it would be to book an unknown band into the O2 Centre.

Friday 5 September 2008

Arts Council Website Backs Celebrity Short Story Competition, the Arts Council sponsored website that helps new writers get published, is backing a competition for short stories around the theme of modern celebrity. It is linked to the publication of my novel, “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”.

The site is backed by some of the biggest names in the world of publishing, editing and literary agenting and has already produced a couple of best sellers.

The Steffi McBride competition is linked to the website and I have agreed to judge the entries and help the winner to develop their 1,000 word or less story into a full-length book. The entries are already coming in and I’m hopeful that we will be able to find a future best seller amongst them. Nothing, of course, is ever certain in the publishing world, as we all know only too well, but it seems to me that is providing pretty much the best opportunity around for new talent in search of free mentoring.

Steffi McBride herself is due to be published on Monday, so this is going to be a nerve-wracking weekend.

To purchase a copy of The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride for a discounted price of £6.00 (inc p&p) please call John Blake Publishing on 0207 381 0666.

Thursday 4 September 2008

My Editor Gently Weeps

I find myself in the interesting position this week of having two hardback books I have ghosted coming out from two different publishers on virtually the same day, and competing pretty much for the same shelf space.

Both are strong contenders for chart success, (although I know enough never to bank on anything). “For the Love of Julie” by Ann Ming is such a powerful and moving story that our editor informed me she wept all the way through the editing process, while the publication of “Disgraced” by Saira Ahmed is potentially so life-threatening to the author that she has had to be shrouded in layer upon layer of disguise.

Ann Ming is the redoubtable Yorkshire mother who set about changing the law of double jeopardy in order to see her daughter’s murderer brought to justice. The manner in which her daughter died and the way in which Ann herself found the body would have been enough to defeat most of us, rendering us unable to function like normal, thinking human beings, but Ann is made of some of the sternest stuff I have ever come across. It is an absolutely stunning story and it’s making me water up just to think about it.

Born and brought up in Britain, Saira Ahmed escaped from an arranged marriage back in Pakistan and then went secretly on the game in Britain in order to make enough money to settle debts run up by her parents and dissolute brothers. Any young Muslim girl from a strict family will understand just what risks Saira has taken and how extraordinary her courage is.

Ann’s story is published by Harpers Element and Saira’s by Headline Review, both highly experienced and skilful publishers of these sorts of human interest tales. So, now the race is on.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Talking to the X-Factor Generation

Any young hopeful scouring the website of The Stage for auditions and lucky breaks over the next few weeks is likely to be exposed to a startling pink banner ad proclaiming the message “plucked from obscurity to become the nation’s hottest soap star” and going on to promote my forthcoming novel, “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”.

This is a story aimed squarely at anyone who has ever dreamed for a moment of winning The X-Factor or a lead in EastEnders or Hollyoaks, the tens of thousands who turn up to the talent show auditions in search of an escape from the mundane into a world of stardom, however fleeting.

These people are not habitual book-buyers – they prefer to spend their entertainment dollars on music, films and magazines – but I am convinced that can change. If publishers and writers can just create stories that are irresistible we can get the fame-seekers as hooked on books as they are on I-pods and Apple Macs, Skyplus and Heat.

The job search pages of The Stage have long been the first port of call for anyone with big, bold dreams.

To purchase a copy of "The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride" for a discounted price of £6.00 (inc p&p) please call John Blake Publishing on 0207 381 0666.

Andrew Lownie and the Biographers' Club

Anyone coming accidentally into the Biographers' Club Prize dinner in the spectacular Louis XVI-style ballroom of the Savile Club last night could have been forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon one of the oldest and most venerable literary clubs of London. The fact that it was founded by one man a mere ten years ago is astounding.
Andrew Lownie, who was already one of the most industrious and successful independent literary agents in London, somehow found the time to create a club whose meetings are invariably packed with the great and the good. His creation, however, has finally grown too large for him to control alone and last night he officially handed over power to a distinguished committee. I suspect in a hundred years time members will still be talking with reverence of the energy and imagination of their founder ,(maybe even discussing biographies of him).
Anyway, I was there because I was one of the judges, (the others were Nicola Bowman who runs the extraordinary Persephone Books which is enjoying a huge success with a certain Miss Pettigrew, and Richard Davenport-Hines, who is also currently enjoying a triumph with his new biography, "Ettie - the Intimate life and dauntless spirit of Lady Desborough").
We had been presented with proposals and sample chapters for twenty books by first time writers, at least half of which I believe, with the help of a good agent, could find publishers, and asked to reduce them to a shortlist of five, with one winner. It was not an easy choice but we eventually decided on Michael Bundock's biography of Francis Barber, the slave who was also Samuel Johnson's friend. I think it will be a fantastic book, but I quite expect to see the rest of the shortlist published and in the shops within a couple of years as well - I hope so.
The prize is sponsored by The Daily Mail and is undoubtedly money very well spent if it kick starts careers for some of these excellent writers.
It was a beautifully organised and glittering evening - Simon Callow spoke and everyone gossiped and the splendid Andrew Lownie was roundly toasted. Personally, I can't wait to see what he does next with all the free time he must now have on his hands!

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Why Katie Price deserves to earn more than most other writers

Every so often there is a burst of indignation in the media about how little serious authors earn. Figures are bandied about and ludicrous comparisons are made, such as complaining that Katie Price, (aka Jordan), makes considerably more money from the books that come out in her name than the whole Man Booker shortlist put together.
Of course she does. The owner of IKEA turns over more than the local craftsman who makes individual items from expensive raw materials, Ronald MacDonald turns over more money than Raymond Le Blanc.
The average earnings of members of the Society of Authors are often brought up to illustrate how poorly writers are rewarded, but we are all able to exercise at least some control over our earning potential eventually, simply by working harder. No one can predict a runaway success story like J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown, but it is a dead cert that someone who can write to a publishable level and who puts in a steady eight hours work a day, is not going to starve. If you just write one novel a year, having no idea until it is published whether anyone else is going to want to read it, then you are quite likely to be disappointed by your earnings for the year. If, however, you spend a couple of days a week on that novel, and put the rest of your time into writing articles, non-fiction books, press releases, speeches or any other work you can get your hands on, then I’m willing to bet you will be making a reasonable living within a few years of setting out.
It’s the same for artists. An artist could spend a week on a painting and then be able to sell it for no more than a hundred pounds, but if he or she also does some illustrating work, arranges to have prints made and sold of their most successful works, and accepts commissions to do portraits of children and pets, then they are more likely to be able to support themselves through the slow times. The great “masters” of history nearly always had busy studios filled with apprentices turning out the sort of pictures that clients wanted to pay for. An artist who spends his or her life painting pictures and then hoping to sell them individually will always have a hard time.
Great playwrights must create works that will sell tickets, journalists must cover subjects that editors believe their customers want to read about, but if any writer labours long and hard enough they will eventually create enough of a reputation to be able to influence a little the nature of the work that they are asked to produce.
The secret to getting launched as a successful freelance writer is always to have a mixed portfolio of work; some speculative, some satisfyingly creative and some purely to generate bread and butter.
There is also a considerable benefit to being forced out into the world to write about things that we might otherwise not be interested in. It gets us away from our desks, broadens our minds and gives us a greater understanding of the world, which we can then draw on for our other writings. If we were fortunate enough to be able to support ourselves just on the workings of our imaginations from the start, many of us would take the opportunity to shut out the rest of the world and would soon be reduced to writing books about writers shutting themselves away. We all need to be given a push every now and then to remind us that we have to join in with the rest of the world at least part of the time if we want to learn and understand how everything works.
The day we hand over our manuscripts to our publishers, many of us breathe sighs of relief and begin to think about the next book, assuming, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the publishers and the general public will take over from that point on. That is never going to happen. With very few exceptions, the most successful writers are the ones who are continually promoting themselves and their products. From Lord Byron to Jacqueline Susann, Jeffrey Archer to Will Self and, of course, the ubiquitous Katie Price, the evidence is all around.
It’s easy to deride the more blatantly marketed brand names like Katie Price, but in fact her ascent to the top of the bestseller lists is a lesson to us all in being true to ourselves, refusing to take “no” for an answer and effectively marketing whatever assets we have. She had to overcome a shameful amount of snobbery and lethargy to get where she is today. Five years ago she was just a glamour model with a tabloid reputation. When she approached publishers with the idea of writing a book about her experiences of “being Jordan” she was met with sneering distaste. Only John Blake, a man famed for his open mind on such subjects, was willing to give her a chance and bought the book for about two per cent of the price Katie and her people had initially been hoping for.
The publishers who had turned her down had misjudged their customers just as surely as the people who rejected J.K. Rowling or the Beatles. By teaming up with Blake, Katie was able to appeal to the general public over the heads of the publishing elite who have traditionally set themselves up as the gatekeepers of what the public should or shouldn’t get to read about. Having got to know her on television the public responded with a resounding cheer and immediately wanted to find out more, and more and more. The success of the book meant that one of the publishers who had previously turned her away came back with a mighty enough offer to lure her away from Blake, and the next stage of her publishing career has been nothing short of a phenomenon. As well as the fiction which appears in her name and goes straight to the top of the charts in hardback as well as paperback, and the endless stream of memoirs and diaries, she also puts her name to a series of books for children about horses and riding.
Katie’s rise contains several lessons for writers. Firstly she was not put off by the fact that every publisher in London bar one refused to have anything to do with her and secondly she settled for an advance that would not make her a profit, just to get the show on the road. She did not then sit around waiting for the publisher to make her rich, she made herself an object of interest to the general public so that they would want to read more about her. The woman’s work ethic is beyond reproach and if we all put as much imagination and as many hours into our projects as she does we too would be reaping our just rewards.
Most of us, of course, would no more want to swap lives with Katie Price than we would like to trade places with Gordon Brown or Prince William, but that doesn’t mean we can’t watch and learn from their triumphs and their mistakes.
So before any of us complain about how neglected we are by the market, and how impecunious we are left as a result, we should all think very carefully about whether we have brought it on ourselves. The rewards of a writing life are out there for the taking, but it may require a little more sweat than you first imagined before you will be able to bring in the harvest.

Monday 1 September 2008

When is a "misery memoir" just a "powerful story"?

There was yet more coverage in the publishing trade media this week of "mis-mem sales dipping" - but how is anyone measuring what is or isn't mis-mem?

Misery memoirs are just powerful stories starring great heroes and the world will never grow tired of reading them, however the trade chooses to label them.

Over the last few months I have been involved with four books that might be included in the genre; "Cry Silent Tears" by Joe Peters, (currently number one in the Sunday Times paperback non-fiction chart), "Daddy's Little Earner" by Maria Landon, (which went to number two in the same chart a few weeks ago), "Disgraced" by Saira Ahmed, which is the newly published story of a girl who escaped an arranged marriage in Pakistan and went on the game to support her family and "For the Love of Julie" by Ann Ming, a woman who spent 17 years battling to get the law of double jeopardy changed in order to bring her daughter's murderer to justice.

They could all be labelled as "misery", or perhaps "women in peril", or "crime", or "culture gap stories" - or perhaps they are just powerful tales about heroes and heroines who battle against adversity and have extraordinary and extreme experiences that the rest of us are fortunate enough to avoid. If it is the latter, doesn't that cover virtually every great story ever told?

Or are we saying that "mis-mems" are only the stories told by abused children? If that is the case how can they be said to be in decline when Joe Peters, Maria Landon and Judy Westwater were all in the paperback top ten together a couple of weeks ago?

Powerful tales, with strong and likeable heroes battling against adversity are always going to appeal to readers, whether you pigeon-hole them as "misery" or just call them "powerful stories".

People overcoming adversity, (or misery if you prefer), always make for gripping reading in both fiction and non-fiction and the subject matter they deal with will always develop as we learn and understand more about the world about us. No publisher would have been willing to touch the incendiary material contained in "Cry Silent Tears" five years ago when Kevin Lewis's "The Kid" was first published. We have all learned a lot in those five years and I suspect there are many more moving, inspiring and powerful personal stories to come, whether we choose to call them "mis-mems" or not.