Thursday 19 December 2013

The Mighty Power of the Digital Promoters

All authors have now got the message that they need to “create a platform” for themselves. We understand that the bulk of the marketing burden for any book will lie on our shoulders until we are a big enough brand for the publishers to be able to justify on-going advertising or public relations budgets for us.

No one is ever going to give us or our careers as much thought and attention as we are - why would they? - so no one who wants to earn a living from their writing can hope to escape the responsibility of being their own marketing department on a day-to-day, year-on-year basis.

Having said that, when the big boys do wade in with some promotional help the power of their clout can be stunning.

This month Amazon put the price of “Secrets of the Italian Gardener” down to .99p in a promotion negotiated through their White Glove Service and the book went straight to number one on Kindle’s political books list. Whenever Wattpad puts “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” or “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer” on their “featured” pages, the number of hits soars from hundreds to thousands per day.

The only individual authors who could hope to rival this sort of promotional power would be celebrities with millions of followers on Twitter, or people, like J.K. Rowling and E.L. James, who manage to become front page news stories.

Authors once longed for their books to be picked as Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 or to be selected by their publisher for window displays in Waterstones, but the potential power of the great digital promoters now bestriding the globe makes such efforts seem quaintly parochial.

Monday 2 December 2013

Daisy White and the Ultimate Empowerment of Authors

Whenever authors get together we can be heard complaining about those who we work alongside. We complain that our agents never return our calls; our publishers never promote our books and the booksellers then refuse to display them with the prominence they deserve.

Digital publishing has called our bluff on the first two because we can now publish and promote our own stuff, so we have no one to blame but ourselves if things don’t go as well as they did in our dreams.

Now a young author called Daisy White has gone one step further and is running pop-up bookshops, not just to sell her own books but also those of other participating authors. Any author who thought they could do better than Waterstones now has a chance to put their money where their mouth is and back Daisy White’s “Booktique”.

This Christmas Daisy can be found in Tunsgate Square Shopping Centre in Guildford, nestling up amongst blue-chip names like Barbour and Heals. She will be there until January 12th.

If authors can be their own agents and their own publishers and their own booksellers we will never be able to complain about anything ever again – apart from the readers of course, and no author ever complains about their readers, only the lack of them.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Home Baking While Cities Burn

I was invited to take tea with Mrs Mubarak at her husband’s palace in Cairo, just before the Arab Spring broke through and brought hope to a city darkened by storm clouds of popular resentment. Inside the palace Mrs Mubarak, who is half Welsh half Egyptian, was a gracious hostess. White coated waiters dispensed cakes, which she assured me were home-made. The tranquillity inside the gilded salon was reminiscent of our own Queen’s garden tea parties – where they also provide excellent cakes – completely insulated from the boiling stew of hatred festering in the hot, overpopulated streets outside the heavily guarded walls. It was that contrast, which I had experienced in similar palaces all over the world, that made me start writing “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”. The initially peaceful revolutions that erupted at the beginning of 2011 seemed to promise something wonderful for the world, but it proved to be as brief a moment of optimism as the hippy “Summer of love” in 1969. Now Egypt is plunging back into the familiar cycle of violence and hatred and it is like nothing has changed, except that someone new is no doubt now taking tea in Mrs Mubarak’s elegant palace quarters. “Secrets of the Italian Gardener” is now up on Amazon and Kindle. When he first read it my agent told me it was, “a contemporary re-casting of Ecclesiastes, a story about the vanity associated with the desire for power and possessions and ultimately about the cycle of birth, growth, death and re-birth". As we see another President dragged from power and more corpses piling up in the streets it does seem we are indeed all trapped in an endless cycle.

Friday 28 June 2013

Agents Claim E-Book Success

The lead story by Benedicte Page in this week's Bookseller is headlined "Agents Claim E-Book success", and many of the starriest names in agenting have been quoted.

"It's quite lucrative" Andrew Lownie admits. Johnny Geller at Curtis Brown says they are "looking into doing a further range of titles", Ed Victor claims he is "very happy" with the performance of in-house e-books.

With a book just appearing through the White Glove Service, with the help of the good folk of United Agents, I can only feel optimistic.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Secret “White Glove” deals between Amazon and the Literary Agents.

It is my belief that almost all the innovations that Amazon has brought-to/forced-on the publishing and bookselling industries over the last couple of decades have eventually worked to the advantage of authors and readers.

I am quite sure if I were a publisher or a bookseller I would feel very differently about the rise of Amazon to virtual world dominance, but I’m not. As both an author and a reader I love the many ways in which they have enriched my life.

There have been rumblings recently of “mysterious and secret” deals being done between Amazon and some of the biggest and brightest literary agents. They are calling it their “White Glove” service, and from the point of view of authors whose agents love their books but are unable to persuade traditional publishers to take them on, it’s a brilliant innovation.

Last year I wrote a novel, Secrets of the Italian Gardener, set inside the palace of a dictator about to be overthrown in the Arab Spring. The narrator is a ghostwriter who, while inside the palace writing a book for the dictator, meets a wise, elderly Italian gardener who gradually unravels the story of who really holds the power and wealth in the world. He literally discovers "where the bodies are buried". As the rebels draw closer to breaching the palace walls the ghost is also struggling with his own breaking heart. I have spent much of my ghostwriting career amongst the dictators, politicians, arms dealers and billionaires who hold the reins of power and control the wealth of the world, passing time in their lavish palaces and heavily guarded compounds in the wildest parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as in tax havens like Monaco, Geneva, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

I sent the manuscript to one of the biggest and best agents in London, who I have known for many years, and he came back brimming with enthusiasm. He wanted no re-writes and he was sure he could get a sale. He told me the book was a "contemporary re-casting of Ecclesiastes” and was about “the vanity associated with the desire for power and possessions and ultimately about the cycle of birth, growth, death and re-birth" - which was a surprise, but by no means an unpleasant one.

Six months later he had to admit that he had failed to convince any publishers to come into business with us on this one. In the old days that would have been the end of the story. Simple self-publishing was now one option, of course, but with Amazon’s “White Glove” service we had another, and to my mind far preferable, alternative.

Highly skilled staff at the agency proceeded to do a totally professional copy-edit and then did all the heavy lifting with getting the book up onto Amazon, ready for print-on-demand as well as electronic publication. It has become a team effort rather than a lone author’s voice in the crowd and should the book start to “gain traction” in the market place the agency is already fully engaged and ready to handle the business side of taking it to the next level.

The book is now available at

So, bravo Amazon for inventing yet another route to market for authors.

Monday 18 March 2013

A Publishing Fairy Tale

In the beginning there were only storytellers and those who made up their audiences. Then the storytellers learned to write and the audiences learned to read.

Next came the middlemen offering bags of gold and countless ideas on how to bring these two sets of people together more effectively. Some offered to print the words, design covers and transport the results to the audiences. Others offered to open shops where the stories could be displayed and promised they would be able to ensure that the stories were talked about and praised by all the right people.

Then they offered the possibilities of displaying the most favoured stories on stages and screens, building cinemas and theatres for the audiences to come to and inventing radios and televisions which would carry the stories into people’s homes.

All these services that the middlemen were offering were so useful to the storytellers and their audiences that both became lazy, willing to allow the middlemen to do all the hard work, leaving themselves free to do the things they liked the best – writing and performing, reading and listening.

The middlemen grew more and more powerful and soon the storytellers were more worried about pleasing them than they were about pleasing their audiences. The business people became the ones who decided what stories would and would not be told.

The storytellers spent all their energies trying to impress the middlemen and trying to persuade them to help. Those who failed to do so grew despondent and bitter. Then, when the middlemen became too busy to read everything that was sent to them, the storytellers had to turn their attention to pleasing the agents who sprang up to serve the publishers.

And so it had come to pass that it was now the poor storytellers who were offering their services to the middlemen rather than the other way round, and the audiences could only gain access to the stories that had been blessed by the middlemen.

A lot of people were able to make a lot of money of course, because that is what the middlemen are particularly good at, but this was not the way that things were meant to be when the storytellers first started and they began to feel ill at ease.

Then one day, with a dazzling flash of light, the internet galloped into everyone’s lives on a white charger and suddenly the middlemen with all their bags of gold didn’t seem so important. Their services did not seem quite as useful because the storytellers found that with a little more effort they could go straight to their audiences again, using a service which seemed to be almost as free and open as the country roads they had strolled along from town to town before the middlemen first arrived. Self-publishing, which had been damned as mere vanity during the reign of the middlemen, suddenly seemed a perfectly reasonable way to lay your goods out for the public to view.

As with books, the same thing seemed to happen in television. Storytellers no longer had to have the approval of any commissioning middlemen if they wanted to make a programme, they just needed a camera.

Which brings me to the point of my story, which is to draw the world’s attention to a website called , which has dramatised my book “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” into five minute segments for YouTube. The production values are as high as any to be seen on broadcast television and the authenticity of everyone involved is glaringly obvious to anyone who comes across the material on-line. Maybe this finally is “The Age of Aquarius” that we were all dreaming about in the sixties.

Those middlemen will always be there, of course, offering the gold pieces needed to keep the storytellers alive while they seek out their audiences. Undoubtedly they will come up with new ideas on how to help with the distribution and promotion of stories, but hopefully this time the storytellers will remember that it is the middlemen who have to sell their services to them and not the other way round.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

A Faff About Plath

Faber design an eye-catching cover for a new edition of Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar and the grumbles start to rise. Literary folk who are just as likely to be complaining that their publishers are “useless as marketing” raise their hands in horror, suggesting that the Philistines have now made La Plath look like a purveyor of “Chicklit”.

At the same time, a true purveyor of writing to and amongst the world’s masses, proudly prepares to launch its own “Chicklit” genre on February 11th, (, spearheaded by the fabulous Marian Keyes, a woman who has never shrunk from any label which will help her to talk to wider audiences. (23 million books sold so far and constantly rising).

Naomi Wolf, when asked her opinion of Faber’s scarlet cover, has very fairly suggested that those who might be attracted to the book in the hope of finding something frothy within might be a little disappointed by what they actually find – but then again Marian Keyes, and other writers perfectly willing to be branded as Chicklit, also tackle some pretty depressing themes.

Personally, I love any “label” and any cover design which coaxes more people to read whatever I have written, and I had better declare an interest here and admit that Wattpad are including my novel, The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride, in their Chicklit launch next week. I am looking forward to a great deal of correspondence on the site as a result, since connecting with readers is the whole point of coming into this game in the first place.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Wordsmiths to the World

Monocle Magazine hit the headlines a few months ago by putting Britain number one in its “Soft Power” league, claiming we were the “most powerful nation in the world in terms of cultural influence”.

Admittedly that was in the wake of the Olympic/Jubilee euphoria, but even if you discount the hyperbole, British writers should still be feeling pretty cheerful about the future. If we cast our minds back to Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, a huge part of the show referenced characters who originated in the minds of British writers – Messrs Potter and Bond obviously, Mary Poppins, Captain Hook, Cruella de Vil – all now clichéd images certainly, but our clichés none the less.

Looking back over my ghostwriting client list of the last few years I am struck by how many of them are international – India, Nigeria, China, America, Uganda, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, Monaco, Bermuda, Brazil, the Netherlands, Australia, the United Arab Emirates ….

This seems to have come about firstly because the internet makes hiring a ghost in a different country a relatively simple process, and secondly because British writers and publishers have a global reputation as steeped in heritage and folklore as our pop musicians, fashion designers and royal folk. When the world thinks of British writing a number of mighty figures spring readily to mind; from Austen, Shakespeare, Byron and Dickens, through Fleming, Orwell and Greene to Rowling and the rest.

Fortunately for us there is also the fact that English is now the second language of the majority of literate people on the planet, while it is our “first” language, giving us a definite advantage when it comes to spinning tales.

We can now proudly set up our stalls as wordsmiths to the world, just like the educated scribes who plied their trade in the marketplaces of the ancient world, and exercise our newfound “soft power” to the advantage of all.