Monday 24 May 2010

The Holy Grail of Word-of-Mouth

The British publishers of “Sold”, which I wrote for Zana Muhsen some twenty years ago and which has sold around four million copies worldwide, have just re-designed the book's cover. The image of the sad, beautiful and frightened girl’s eyes peering out of the burka remains but there is more black in the surround which, coupled with the new red lettering, brings to mind the vampire books which have come to dominate the shelves of book shops in recent years.

I have an enormous affection for “Sold”, partly because it was one of the first books I ghosted and partly because hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive at least one email from a reader. Sometimes they start by saying it is their favourite book of all time, (always an endearing thing for any writer to read), and that it has left them unbearably moved. They all then go on to say that they feel an overwhelming need to know what happened to Zana and her sister, Nadia, after the close of this book, and its sequel “A Promise to Nadia”, which we wrote about ten years later.
As far as I know the book has never been advertised or reviewed in any media, apart from readers’ comments on sites like Amazon. So its steady sales of around 200,000 copies a year must be solely down to word- of-mouth. People simply like Zana’s story and tell their friends about it.

Zana and Nadia were two Birmingham sisters who thought they were going on holiday to Yemen when they were fourteen and fifteen but found once they got there that their father had sold them into virtual slavery as child brides. “Sold” is the tale of how Zana managed to escape after eight years and then started a campaign to free her sister and their children. The main platform of her campaign was the writing of the book.

It is wonderful to see a refreshed cover coming out in the country where the whole thing started twenty years ago.

Friday 21 May 2010

Putting a Story on Facebook

Having been inspired by a talk from the internet marketing guru, Miles Galliford, at a recent meeting of United Authors, I decided to take the bull by the horns and try using Facebook to disseminate a story to the world.

It looked like being a bit of a long plod up yet another steep learning curve, but I got the hang of websites and blogging so surely this can’t be too hard. Miles certainly made it all sound very simple indeed.

The hook is the announcement of the autumn publication of my book “The Change Agent – How to Create a Wonderful World” by Tonto Books.

The story behind the book is that I received an urgent invitation to a mysterious private island in Bermuda from a man who has just donated £100-million to Oxford University.

The island gradually revealed its labyrinthine secrets as the host, futurist James Martin, explained the choice that faces us all: to create the greatest Utopia ever, or plunge ourselves back into the Dark Ages, maybe even destroying Homo sapiens completely.

At the same time he explained how a shy boy from a poor family in Ashby-de-la-Zouche had come to be Oxford University’s biggest ever donor and the founder of the extraordinary James Martin 21st Century School.

Given the nature of the story, it seems appropriate that we use all the most futuristic methods of marketing available, especially as Tonto have created a cracking cover, complete with a quote from Bill Gates.

The scary thing about the whole Facebook thing is that once you have pressed the button things happen very fast indeed and within a few seconds the bull’s deceptively greasy horns had slipped from my grip. So, can I take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who might have emailed me many years ago and is now wondering why they are suddenly being greeted as my very best friend in the world and encouraged to “look at my photos”.

I will, I promise, get this demented bull sedated as quickly as possible before it flattens the whole china shop, and then I can return to being as cool about the whole “future” business as Miles Galliford – and indeed James Martin himself - seem to be.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Books Written for Strictly Private Consumption

Just back from a week-long editorial meeting in the mountains of Tuscany with a distinguished international investment banker, who is now a resident of Monte Carlo.

The banker is writing his memoirs but, unlike most memoirists, he has no desire whatsoever to see his book on the bestseller lists. This is a strictly private affair, just a few copies to be produced for his grandson and other descendants to stumble across and pore over in the future. It is the literary equivalent of having a portrait painted for posterity.

With so many of us currently obsessed with tracing our family histories I’m guessing this is a trend which will grow. I have an Ancestry Addict in the family and I can imagine just how excited she would be to stumble across a privately published book of this nature commissioned by one of her ancestors a century or two ago. A full length book can go into a far greater level of detail than virtually any other accessible medium, while providing a thing of beauty to look at and hold in the future.

The grandson in question was also in the mountains with us and, unsurprisingly at eighteen months of age, showed no interest whatsoever in tales of his illustrious ancestors. In forty or fifty years time, however, the book will still be in his library and available to enlighten him on his colourful family past.