Monday 31 October 2011

Self-Publishing Moves into the Mainstream

The idea that The Bookseller magazine, that venerable trade organ for the traditional publishing process, would dedicate four pages of editorial for a "Flagship Feature" on self-publishing would have been unthinkable even a short time ago, but that is what happened at the end of last week Bookseller. The very suggestion of people publishing their own books has in the past brought forth patronising smirks at best, and howls of derision at worst, from those who believed such things should be left to the professionals.
All that has now changed and leading the charge is Alison Baverstock, (the author of the Bookseller feature), with the publication of her guide to self-publishing The Naked Author.
It would be hard to overstate what a seismic change in attitude this represents. Self-publishing does not in any way threaten the livelihoods of the existing publishing businesses that are able to add value for their customers in matters of packaging, distribution and marketing, but it does mean that a whole new cottage industry has been allowed to spring up and is now thriving thanks to a variety of factors coming together at the same time.
The Naked Author is an absolute milestone in this exciting journey.

Monday 24 October 2011

Ghostwriter and Assassin Entwined

A ghostwriter is once more in the spotlight in Haruki Murakami’s much publicised new novel, 1Q84.

Tengo is commissioned by a maverick publisher to “re-write” a compelling piece of prose written by an equally compelling teenage girl, leading him into the sort of adventure that tempted me to become a ghostwriter in the first place. (I haven’t finished reading it yet so it’s quite possible a fate will befall him which will make me reconsider my position there).

The chapters following Tengo’s adventure alternate with those following Aomame, an icy, glamorous, professional assassin. The stories of these two protagonists become increasingly entwined and there are, as you would expect from Mr Murakami, enough subtexts to feed the minds of several million ravenous readers.

I know I’m biased to an unreasonable degree, but I just love the idea of a ghostwriter being used alongside an assassin as a device to unravel plots and characters and trains of thought – just as Robert Harris did with his very different ghostwriter in The Ghost, (his protagonist ghosted non-fiction rather than fiction). Unravelling plots, characters and trains of thought is, after all, exactly what we are hired to do in the real world.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Books and Authors on Television

Despite the phenomenal success of Richard and Judy’s Book Club, the myth persists that books and authors don’t play well on television. Never mind that virtually all the major drama series are adapted from books, (“The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas being the latest one to be heavily trailered), and that virtually every major television personality writes books more often than cheques, (Jamie Oliver and Jeremy Clarkson must virtually support Penguin these days). In the last couple of days however I’ve seen two cheering little programmes.

First there was Diana Athill on Imagine. Ms Athill breaks virtually every rule of television; she is old, (women aren’t supposed to appear on the screen after their fortieth birthdays unless they are willing to don sequins and be mocked on the dance floor), she is unashamedly posh, (although she has a sexual history which would make an Essex reality girl blush), and she is mightily and unapologetically intelligent and literate. The reason she makes good television is because she is genuine and because she thinks and talks with an honesty and clarity which fairly takes your breath away.

The second programme was produced by The Culture Show and involved carting the Booker shortlist up to the village of Comrie and getting a variety of locals to read, comment and meet some of the authors. The result was a gentle half hour of interesting characters telling interesting stories. (The book which came off the worst was later announced to be the winner of the prize, which I guess goes to show just how far the literary world’s tastes sit from those of the majority of the reading public).

Surely there must be a wealth of this sort of unexploited television fodder gathering cobwebs in our remaining bookshops.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Chocolate Addiction and the Pursuit of Literary Excellence

In the course of learning about Twitter, I have been stalking, (sorry – “following”), a number of authors and I have noticed an inordinate number of us flag up chocolate addiction in our personal profiles, (i.e. our identities as we see them). Where once authors were expected to be booze-soaked, chain smoking, serially promiscuous, unwashed and generally antisocial types, we are now more likely to list chocolate, caffeine and “the occasional glass of wine”, as our credentials for being considered bona fide garret-dwelling Bohemians. Speaking as someone who can never be too far from an espresso pot and a bumper bar of the dark and bitter stuff, I find this trend interesting. Have Messrs Starbucks and Costa done this to us, or is it the combined seductive powers of Joanne Harris and Juliette Binoche? I think some serious research is required. Good subject for a media studies dissertation or two, I say.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Rare Interview with Maggie de Beer

Maggie de Beer has been famously reluctant to give interviews, reputedly on the advice of her management, who worry that some of her views might not chime well with modern sensibilities. The following extract from a Q & A with a literary journalist is therefore a rare, and shocking, glimpse behind the very controlled image that she normally allows the world to see.

Q. Many readers have been shocked by the apparent ease with which you put your career before your personal life. Some have suggested that it is a very male approach to ambition.

A. Well I can assure you I am all female, but I think people forget how different things are now to when I started in the seventies. The idea then of trailing a child along behind you to auditions – I assume that is what you are talking about – was just unthinkable. If you felt you had a destiny which you had to follow then you had to be single minded about it. It wasn’t just me. It happened to Shirley Bassey and many others. We had to make choices.

Q. Giving up your child for your career is certainly one thing that people have pointed to. But not many women would be able to walk away from their families when they are fifteen and never even look back. That is a very ruthless sort of ambition.

A. Ruthless is a horribly negative word, don’t you think? I prefer “focused”. I was totally focused on what I had to achieve. I couldn’t afford to have any excess emotional baggage. Women are now coming to realise that they really can’t “have it all” – they have to make choices.

Q. Do you feel you made all the right choices?

A. Yes, of course. I’m not saying they weren’t painful. They were, but there is no point in going on about it. All this weeping and wailing that goes on now, with everyone traumatised by the terrible things that have happened to them. Bad things happen to everyone. It is just boring. You have to focus on the positive, on the beautiful, on the exciting, the glamorous if you want to be a star in the true sense of the word.

Q. Sex has played a big part in your career.

A. I don’t know about that. Sex appeal certainly has, that is all part of the glamour, don’t you think?

Q. But you don’t talk about sex in your book (The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer). Is that deliberate?

A. I don’t choose to talk about sex much anyway. It’s not that interesting is it? Everyone does it – well most people, just like they go to the bathroom each day. I don’t want to read about it all the time.

Q. But for many years you were a stripper …

A. That’s a stupid, ugly word.

Q. What word would you prefer?

A. Exotic dancer, perhaps. Erotic actress. Real sex appeal is about what is hidden. It is a tease, a flirtation. Once everything is out in the open it is just farmyard rutting, don’t you think? Just anatomical descriptions. Whatever happened to romance and glamour? Can you imagine Audrey Hepburn describing what she did in bed in anatomical detail? Or Princess Grace? Of course you can’t.

Monday 10 October 2011

Video Trailers for Books

Marketing books must be the hardest task in the media world – even harder than writing the damn things. No one has ever found a reliable method of raising a book above the bubble of competitive noise apart from the unpopular, (to other writers), move of linking up with celebrity names. Beyond that it is all a lottery – always has been and perhaps always will be. But new media give birth to new possibilities, and one way of bringing an unknown book alive for potential readers, (or potential publishers), is to make a book trailer, because with the internet we now have somewhere to showcase the resulting films. I had a go at it myself with an actress performing a monologue from the opening pages of “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” (to see the result go to the home page of, below “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”). But others have taken the idea further, producing what look pretty much like full blown movie trailers. Terrence (Terry) King has produced a trailer, (go to ), to showcase his unpublished novel –“The Silent Partner” – which I think is a pretty compelling and digestible taster for the book.

Tweet Right Masterclass and Twittering Pirates.

Determined to get on top of this Tweeting lark I purchased Tweet Right, by Nicola Morgan ( ) who is the world expert on assisting numbskulls to navigate these choppy seas – and at the same time experienced a baptism of fire when boarded by Twittering pirates last night. The pirates sent out mischievous and self-serving tweets in my name, (one had me telling my followers I had seen a really “bad blog” about them – which is dispiriting at any number of levels – the other merely had me recommending a weight loss article, which at least shows that the Twitter Pirates have some of the sharp entrepreneurial instincts of their seafaring ancestors). Nicola is wonderfully calming in her advice, and the Twitter police seem to have been quickly on the pirates’ trail, so hurrah and onward we sail on our voyage of discovery.

Friday 7 October 2011

The Naked Celebrity

Reflecting upon the simple brilliance of Alison Baverstock’s newly released title “The Naked Author” – I’m beginning to wish that instead of “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer” I had suggested “The Naked Celebrity” as a title for Maggie’s frank revelations. It has that lovely film noir ring to it – the sort of thing you might see scrawled on a newspaper vendor’s board. Celebrities like Maggie are so very brave and selfless in baring their souls to their public, but the phrase also conjures up dark images of bodies in the woods and sinister subplots – Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson, Hendrix and Hutchence, Morrison and Mansfield, Polanski and Presley – so many vivid images have seeped into our brains from the fabulous, tragic, celebrity circus.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

If You Don’t Appear in the Media, Do You Really Exist?

Liz Hurley famously talked about people in the non-celebrity world as “civilians” and working with Maggie de Beer on her memoirs - "The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer" - has led me to think a little more deeply about why people like Liz and Maggie yearn so painfully to be famous and why they work so long and so hard to acquire and hold onto fame.

Maggie never really believed she existed until she read about herself in the papers or saw a picture of herself outside a theatre or flickering across a television screen. The moment she left home her family became invisible to her and only the faces she saw in the media remained real. The majority, those of us who are never photographed or filmed or talked about in the media, are a sort of grey wallpaper around the colourful contents of her celebrity room.

The media of course is a bigger playground now than it was when she first ran away from home in 1970. Now you can be famous simply for being on-line, for blogging, for having a YouTube video that goes viral. To Maggie that is not real fame, not the sort of iconic status that she dreamed of from the first moment she learned the legend of Marilyn Monroe, first saw the headlines that lifted Jackie O and Christine Keeler from the crowd, first felt the eyes of a crowd upon her.

Monday 3 October 2011

Authors Stripped Naked

Intrepid authors are now heading into the future alone, stripped of our protective layers of literary agents, editorial and publicity departments, (deprived also of the joys of rejection letters and remainders piles and saved from the jaws of the pulping machines).

Self publishing and electronic publishing are the future and Alison Baverstock – possibly our nation’s greatest living authority on the worlds of writing and publishing - has created a survival guide for us all in her new book The Naked Author, (published this week, ironically, by A&C Black, a particularly distinguished member of the old style of publishing houses).

I have seen the great Baverstock in action in both the lecture halls of Academe and amongst the denizens of the Society of Authors and the idea of her marching, naked and brave, into the future is a fine one indeed. She is our Lady Godiva. Where Jamie Oliver led, Baverstock will follow, where he opened up the secrets of cooking to everyman, she promises to do the same for publishing.

Amazon author profile

The Naked Author: a guide to self-publishing