Weaving through a Salon du Livre

On Sunday I had my first experience of selling my book ‘The Weave’ direct to the public who came to our village’s first Salon du Livre. Just to explain – this is an event where authors have a table, load it with books and potential readers/buyers come and browse. Such events are held all over France particularly during summer.

I had no expectations of mega sales or indeed of any sale. The book is published in English only (at the moment), the English-speaking community in our small village and environs is tiny and I am a totally unknown. However I thought the experience would be invaluable.

So, there I was. 8.15 on a wet morning armed with copies of the book and some props just to attract interest. I had thought that each author was to have an individual table so it was a surprise to find long rows of tables and chairs with each author’s space meticulously marked out.

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Setting up the Salon

Quick review of the ‘montage’ I had planned and most of my props, all of which play a part in the book, went back in the car.

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Planned montage – dress rehearsal in big bro’s kitchen

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Actual display

Learning point 1 – find out in advance just how much space there will be for the display.

Around 9.30 the public started to drift in. At first it was more like a social gathering as neighbour chatted to neighbour yet eventually people began to browse what was on offer. Many of the authors offered books about local and regional events, places and people. These were clearly very popular and little groups clustered around their tables.

By 11.30 my own display was looking a bit lonely. Fellow author Robert Rigby with a selection of his books  was the only other Brit novelist present and, bless him, he took pity on me and bought the first copy of ‘The Weave.’ I wish I could say that act of kindness opened the buying floodgates but no!

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The Paul Hanson book duo by Robert Rigby

There was more interest in the spider artistically draped over some of the books than the book itself.

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Never mind the book-tell me about the spider

However things picked up and I had people stop to chat and look at the book. What was interesting for me though was that Robert apart, all these visitors were the female of the species. Many picked up a copy, leafed through it and asked me to translate the blurb and then, with a regretful gallic shrug and a ‘je lis pas en Anglais’ put the book back.

Learning point 2 – more like a question – why were the ladies present attracted to my table? Was it the cover of the book? Because the author was female? They felt sorry for me?

To follow up these thoughts I began to ask the question – what attracted you to the table? The majority of replies was ‘the cover’ thus reflecting the advice always doled out – the cover is the first selling point.

I made a handful of sales in the period just before lunch – all to Brit buyers bar two. thank you, thank you.

The afternoon was dead for me saleswise so I spent my time cruising the other tables and networking. I received an invite to an authors’ group in a neighbouring village and signed up for another salon in Quillan in August where I’m told there is an enthusiastic English-speaking book-buying community. We shall see.

I picked up a few tips about presentation and…

Learning point 3 – I must get some sort of ‘business’ card printed.

Some authors had give-aways like bookmarks and pens; some placed a purchase in dinky little carrier bags with the book cover printed on them. All good stuff to think about for the future and at least I can go to the other two salons that I’ve signed up for with a bit more confidence and understanding of how they work – valuable experience.

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Paperback Writer

My first novel The Weave came out in paperback this week on Amazon and I’m eagerly waiting my copies of it. The Kindle version sold OK but I have this mental glitch that it’s not a ‘proper’ book unless it’s in paperback so I have used some of the Kindle sales to fund the paperback.

All that remains now is to boost publicity for it which I really don’t like doing but know it’s a ‘must’.

Where to begin? I’m using my social media as one prong of attack; have invested a very little in some paid-for promotion as a second prong and the third has been to take advantage of some very generous bloggers who will feature the book. A final thrust, when my copies arrive, is to have them on sale in our local cafe/bar (the village attracts a fair few English-speaking visitors) and the big supermarket Leclerc is also going to take copies on sale or return.

I keep being asked whether I will have it translated into French and have looked at the possibility but as yet I have not decided. Financially it would be an investment that I can’t quite rise to…as yet. I’ll see how English sales go.

So, if you are kindly inclined here are the links to:

https://amzn.to/2TKH4pu. – UK

https://amzn.to/2HZxk9F – US

where you can purchase the book. Happy reading.

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At Last!!

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It’s all over bar the marketing. The paperback is up on Amazon and the e-book shortly follows – “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” is a reality. It’s taken around two years to get to this point and the final product is not a bit like my original idea. Perhaps that’s inevitable and I’m happy that it’s so.

There are lots of questions to ask myself when I have time to reflect a little; four big ones come to mind:
Was it worth it?
Would I do it again?
What would I do differently?
What have I learned from the experience?

Perhaps in another blog I’ll share my reflections with you. For now, I’m putting my rather sketchy marketing plan in place and I’ll be back in the UK at the end of the month to drum up some interest…well try to at any rate.
In the meantime if any of you kind souls are interested in an eclectic and occasionally irreverent history of a unique stretch of English coastline, toddle along to Amazon and have a peek.

Here’s the link (I hope) and all reviews of whatever ilk will be much appreciated.

Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It’s hard to say goodbye to old friends particularly those who provoke strong memories. I am of course, talking about books -the real, solid ones that sit on shelves not the virtual kind. This is not, I hasten to add, a meandering about the virtues and vices of real v e-book – that’s a debate long past its sell-by date.

I have books…lots of books and over the past couple of days I’ve been sorting them out, moving some on and packing up the rest in anticipation of The Move. It’s been a slow job – the snail sliming itself on the window scaled the dizzy heights there and back twice before I finished the task and I still have some leftovers to wrestle with.

There’s Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach”. I snaffled it off my parent’s bookshelf where its vivid green and black dust jacket beckoned me. I was eleven and my dad said it was too adult for me and hence all the more intriguing. Then, I remember the moment came when the house was quiet, both parents were wacking a golf ball round some course and I was in bed, bored and recovering from an appendicitis operation. I read it under the bedclothes and it gave me nightmares for weeks. I can still see the giant green radioactive bunnies I dreamed up yet it proved to be the foundation stone for my taste in sci-fi and apocalyptic-type novels.

Roll forward a few years and JB Priestley’s “Saturn over the Water” reminds me of Christmas when I was fifteen and the book was a present from my sister. I open it and there is an inscription written with a flourish in bright turquoise ink –” to Bella – Happy Christmas”. I won’t explain the Bella bit – too embarrassing. Yet the book evokes a wealth of childhood adventures as my sister and I came, saw and conquered a host of imaginary worlds. It reminds me too of the schism now between us. I believe that Christmas was the last time we shared any real affinity.

Phyllis Bentley’s “Inheritance” and Thomas Armstrong’s “The Crowthers of Bankdam” appealed to my West Riding textile heritage.  I’m guessing neither author’s name will be that familiar however their work provided the impetus and inspiration to write my first book. At the time I was living the good life on a small-holding in the Yorkshire dales where in the intervals between rounding up a bunch of misbegotten sheep with wanderlust and persuading a novice bull to attend to its duties I cobbled together an appalling novel based on the story of the Luddites.  After a well-deserved series of rejections I turned it into a play which achieved one radio broadcast. Fame!

Coming further towards present time, I have a whole series of Georgett Heyer novels, untouched for years until I was dumped by my partner when I sniffled and snuffled my way through them, non-stop just to lose myself and get away from the misery for a while. She’s another author, probably not read much these days yet whatever you think about the style and genre, she is peerless in her historical detail and accuracy.

As I pulled these little memory boxes off the shelves, blew the dust off them, fingered their slightly yellowing pages, grungy at the edges I wondered whether those books now residing in the ether and called up, like the genie in Aladdin’s Lamp, to appear on my Kindle will capture and hold the same memories. On the other hand perhaps I’m just becoming a sentimental old trout.

Do You Really Want To Know What I Think?

About a month ago a friend of a friend asked me if I would read and give feedback on his first book – a work of fantasy – not a genre that I go out of my way to peruse. A bit reluctantly I agreed and I read the book twice and conscientiously made notes.

More than anything the dialogue in the book turned me right off. I clearly had a hidden expectation that characters in a fantasy novel would speak in a certain way. Not, I hasten to add, all “thees, thous and thines” but equally not “punks and assholes” and crying “wanna play hardball d’ya” whilst riding a dragon. I found the modern idioms just brought my subconscious expectations of fantasy novel dialogue crashing about my ears and from there, I became aware that I was developing a slightly jaundiced view about the whole book. But then, since I’m not a fan perhaps am I just a gnarly old bag totally out of step with fantasy fans ‘expectations?- (Rhetorical question, no reply necessary thank you.)

That wasn’t really the problem though. In my day job over the years, I must have run hundreds of workshops on giving and receiving feedback. When I reread my notes I realised something. Except for a few editor- type points, I didn’t give this guy real feedback – information that is:
• Specific
• Objective
• Not “right or wrong” but based on facts, evidence or observation.

Instead, I gave him criticism (and praise) that is:
• based on opinions and feelings
• couched in generalities and
• as happened in this case, leads to defensive arguments about who is right and wrong.

I have to say, to my eternal credit, despite being one who loves a good battle now and then, I resisted the temptation to engage.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in giving praise and criticism, except, as I’ve said to groups over the years: “What are you going to do with it?

As more and more of us self-publish and by-pass the conventional feedback routes from agents and editors, beta testing our magnificent opera on unsuspecting friends, relatives, friends of friends has become part of the writing process. Its got me thinking – of what value is what they tell us and, more to the point, what should we do with it?

Should my friend’s friend take note of my carefully and sensitively constructed objection to his dialogue and do a massive re-write? Does it depend on whether he’s looking to satisfy existing fantasy fans or pull in newcomers? Is he breaking new ground with his style and language? Does he go with a majority vote from his testing panel? Will he feel the strength of his own convictions and hold fast to what he’s created?

I’m still trying to put myself in his shoes but it’s Friday, the sun is out as is the tide, so I think a stroll on the shoreline is called for where I can keep mulling it over.

Crime Doesn’t Pay

I’m dividing my writing time between a perhaps overly ambitious family saga, “Ravensgill” – conceived as a trilogy but who knows how many tomes it will actually fill and a work of non-fiction, current title “The Uncertain Coast”. Probably I should focus on one or t’other but then I’ve never been someone who takes much notice of “should”.

The thing is I like the mix and I flatter myself that what wits I have are kept honed by the variety of fact and fiction, research and imagination.

The Uncertain Coast is a joint venture with a photographer friend and documents the lost and disappearing villages of the eroding Holderness Coast in East Yorkshire. We fossick up and down the coastline digging out (sometimes literally) the stories of people who made their mark on this landscape and the places they lived.

I have already introduced you to Drogo, alleged wife murderer and East Yorkshire big-wig back in the days of Billy the Conq. Now perhaps, you should meet Adam Alvin, aged 25, man servant, lover and priest killer.

In 1708 Adam was a man going places;an opportunist with an eye for a fortune. He declared his love for Mary Sinclair the eldest niece (and heiress) of his boss, the Rev. Enoch Sinclair. She returned his affections and our Adam decided that something must be done about Uncle Enoch since the Rev. was proving an obstacle to both his leanings for lucre and his love. The something was murder – carried out with the connivance of both Mary and her younger sister who also shared Sinclair’s household.

The deed done, the three of them put it about that the Rev. Sinclair had gone visiting on horseback. Later his horse was found, fully tacked up but sans rider. Despite an extensive search no trace of the Reverend was found. The marriage of Adam and Mary took place soon after these events.

However, the locals were a suspicious lot and, Adam, Mary and nameless younger sister all fled to London to escape the gossip. They lived there for 4 years – probably waiting for a loud knock on the door at midnight.

When the younger sister was taken ill, fatally so as it turned out, before expiring her last she ‘fessed up about the murder and the knock on the door finally came.

Rev. Sinclair’s body was recovered from a ditch near the house and Adam and Mary arrested and tried in York. Mary was acquitted but Adam was sentenced to hang. During the preaching of the condemned sermon Adam loudly declared his innocence. Scarcely had he done so when the preacher, a Mr Mace, dropped down stone dead. Not one to miss an opportunity, Adam shouted out that the hand of God had shown itself in support of his innocence and almost convinced the congregation that it was so. However, sanity returned the following day and Adam was hanged, confessing his crime at the very last.

The church, the vicarage and the village Owthorne where the dastardly deed was done have long given themselves up to the sea and the murder of Rev. Enoch Sinclair is merely a footnote in time.

If You Publish, They Will Come – Ha!

I’ve been tied up with the day job this week so have had little time to blog but did catch up with my Reader items plus read a book that I wish I’d found six months ago – more of that to come.

The posts that go into my Reader have one thing in common – their authors are working their butts off getting their books in print and promoting them. My own efforts look particularly feeble by comparison. If hard work, perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness count for anything they all deserve spectacular success.

It’s clear that being an accomplished writer is just not enough if you follow the self-publishing route. You also need to be entrepreneurial in spirit, a great salesperson not afraid to blow your own trumpet, inventive, think-on-the-hoof type, publicist and self PR and probably much more. It’s not enough to say “all I want to do is write” unless of course you’re happy for your pearls to languish unseen in the bottom of a drawer.

I suppose I was naive when I published Time for Your Life. Actually no I wasn’t naive I was just plain stoopid. I think somehow, somewhere I had this computation that the book would almost sell itself. Perhaps I have this subconscious arrogance that tells me “cream rises”. Whatever delusions I was suffering under they were put to flight with a vengeance when I read “Self-Printed – the Sane Persons Guide to Self-Publishing” by Catherine Ryan Howard (she blogs as Catherine Caffeinated). This book is an account of how she came to self-publish her own non-fiction and what worked for her in marketing and selling. She’s very clear that the book is about the way she did it and makes no claims for it to be the only way but her sales figures speak for themselves. She also is a very funny writer.

Well what an eye-opener. I think I can claim to have made every mistake possible and the really really really irritating thing is that what she writes just makes total sense if you are going to self-publish. At least it does to me…now. Grrrrrrr!

So I’m wondering if there’s some spore or virus that is released into the atmosphere when a writer is about to self-publish that unless you are really smart completely blinds you to the work that lies ahead turns your brain into a soft gooey mush and sucks out any last remnants of practicality and common sense – just for good measure.

Or is it that I have a very active self-deception gene? Please tell me I’m not alone.

Have a good weekend – I’ll be back next week.

Mulling in the Maldives

I’ve had a couple of queries about where I got the idea for my book Time for Your Life – though I’m not sure if the question was asked in admiration or disbelief. The answer is the idea came to me on a beach in the Maldives when I was lolling on a swing-seat with a fierce sun piercing an impossible blue sky. I had a large glass of very chilled something-or-other with a kick like a mule when I was struck by the truly original thought “this is the life.”

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All this was back in 2011. I was at a crossroads in my life. My partner and I had split up; I was living in a house I hated and in a town where I had never wanted to be in the first place and running a business that left me little time to do anything else. I was like a demented bluebottle in perpetual motion.

A friend managed to prise me away from the business for a couple of weeks and we went off on a diving/cruising holiday to the Maldives. About five days in I was just sitting on this beach with this idea flitting around in my sun-addled head; an idea about how to do more of what I wanted to do and less of what I have to do whilst not sending my finances to a critical care unit. I knew that if I didn’t do something to change the balance of my life I would end up a dribbling lunatic.(Just hang on whilst I wipe my chin…that’s better). Now where was I? Oh yes. Well this beach must have been covered in fairy dust because I had a second idea that day along the lines – I am a life coach – if I can’t sort my own life out how the devil can I help anyone else.

So, in between snorkling, swimming, sun-bathing, scoffing and swigging I began to map out what was really important to me and what I wanted to do the rest of my life – not quite a bucket list but heading that way. One thing I didn’t want was to find myself five years down the road, doing the same old, same old and regretting lost opportunities.

Back in Blighty I retrieved from my suitcase the paper serviettes, fag packets, coasters and other bits of ephemera on which I’d scribbled my ideas and I started to develop an approach to managing my life that didn’t require an Einsteinian brain or a second mortgage to pay for staff. This approach provided an outline for the book which eventually became Time for Your Life.

That, in a nutshell is how I came to write the book. There were of course many vicissitudes to bear whilst I tested out the principles now enshrined in the book but darlings, you know I’d do anything for my five readers. I’m not quite perfect yet but I have been fitted for a halo. Now, after that confession, I need to have a lie down. Where’s the beach gone?

Signing off for the weekend – so enjoy yours.

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John Paul Jones, His Lordship and Me

Last week I went in search of a cannon ball. Not just any old cannon ball but one supposedly fired by John Paul Jones, the scurrilous Scottish pirate or, if you’re a US patriot, the brave heroic scourge of those snotty, tea-swigging English.

It is rumoured that during the War of Independence he used to sail up and down the English coast, harrying shipping and every now and again firing a cannon ball at the local gentry’s houses. One such missile is said to have landed and thereafter resided, in the garden of a country house not too far away from where I live.

Since I’m writing a feature about the adventures of JPJ, I thought I would try to establish some facts and, if possible, get a photo of the cannon ball if it really exists. So, notebook in hand, camera over shoulder and my latest vanity – a biz card that declares I’m a writer – tucked in my bag, I went in search of my quarry.

The house in question is one of hundreds of minor mansions that dot the British countryside. This particular one is inhabited by a peer of the realm,thought to be somewhat reclusive and/or eccentric. Aren’t they all?

Be that as it may, cap in hand and forelock ready for tugging I drove up the winding gravel drive to the imposing front door. There my nerve fled as the shades of his lordship’s ancestors rose up in anguish at such an intrusion. I snuck around the back, looking for (no sniggering please) the tradesman’s entrance.

Before I could track it down my ears were simultaneously assaulted by that cut-glass English accent so beloved of cliché-ridden 1950s films shown on daytime TV and the twanging of an acoustic guitar coming from an outhouse.
“I say, twang, what are you doing, twang, twang twang?

I was confronted by a scruffy figure holding a guitar, wearing torn jeans and trainers that that looked as though they’d gone a hundred rounds with Mohammed Ali. His face, like mine, was all saggy but, unlike mine, he had what those who know would describe as a “good bone structure”. I explained my mission and handed him my card which he scrutinised for a tenth of a second before stuffing it in a pocket.

Then he sneered and I must admit it was one of the best ever; the Full Monty in fact – the raised eyebrow, the look-you-up-and-down glance, the scornful eye and the precise, clipped speech.
“Now let me see, have I understood correctly? You are almost certainly one of those new Kindle writers. What do they call you now, self-publishers is it? Was a time when it was called vanity publishing and produced the most appallingly written rubbish – “Memoirs of a Country Bore”, “The Reticulation of the Cabbage White Butterfly” – all utter fatuous, unreadable rubbish. Am I right? Am I right?”

His voice rose an octave as he almost danced around me. At one time I thought that his guitar and my head were about to meet in unholy union. I backed off a little but take credit for almost standing my ground and I repeated my enquiry about the cannon ball.
“Ha! Never heard of it. You’ll have to come back at the weekend when the house and gardens are open.”

He turned to go and I could see I wasn’t going to make any progress so despite the urge to cripple him with one of my devasting ripostes, I said politely,
“Well thank you for your time, your lordship. Perhaps I will come back at the weekend then.”

Without turning he gave me a dismissive wave and then, just before he disappeared back into the outhouse I heard him mutter,
“And I’m not his bloody lordship either. I am his lordship’s bloody butler.”

Just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted these days.
Oh how we self-publishers suffer for our art.

Kindle Revisited

My exclusive 90-day deal with Kindle Prime for Time for Your Life will soon be up and I thought now might be a good time for a bit of reflection.

The original idea for Time for Your Life was to start to build up a library of articles and e-books on my business website http://www.thecoachingcorner.co.uk to support my coaching activities. I never expected to sell many copies – just as well really as it turns out.

The book garnered 3×5* reviews on UK Amazon and 1×5* on Amazon.com (Thank you Gwen Bristol) but I have sold very few copies through Kindle. On the other hand I have negotiated three-year licence agreements with a couple of companies for it to be available to the staff via the company intranets. This alone has more than covered my costs and will keep me in jelly beans for a good few months. Both those agreements came about because I sent free PDF copies to Human Resource Directors and two of them got in touch with me. The next step is for it to be available as a PDF via an on-line training and personal deveopment resource website: http://www.glasstap.com. This will expose the book to a completely different market.

I also had some picture postacards printed with the front cover of the book on one side and message/address space on the other. These I sent out to my past and present individual coaching clients. As far as I know none of those has resulted in any Kindle sales but I have sold PDFs.

So what have I learned?

1. Publishing an e-book takes very little time if you have the tech skills or the right people behind you. However marketing an e-book and getting sales takes a very great deal of time. I haven’t put nearly enough time into marketing. I had a marketing plan but seriously underestimated what time it would need – particularly finding, getting and keeping active on different book forums, blogs etc.

2. Pricing an ebook is a bit of a thorny question for me. I didn’t do enough homework on prices and so, in comparison with other books that appear to be of similar content, Time for Your Life may look pricey. £6.00 as opposed to the £1.99ers. Perception is all here. I have a view that if something is offered for sale at what seems to be a very low price then I have very low expectations of it and am more likely to pass on it. I also hold to the belief that you can always lower a price but if you start low and then try to go up in price, you pretty soon piss off a section of your customer base.Maybe I need to review these beliefs…I’m not sure.

3. I’ve mentioned this in other posts but for non-fiction it still may be better to bite the bullet and go for hardcopy publishing. I’ve been asked so many times for a hard copy or “proper” book as many have called it. I think this is an issue of disposable v for keeps.

4. I’m not totally convinced of any advantage Kindle Prime offers for this type of book other than the % rate. With hindsight I would have preferred to have offered the book from the get-go in as many ways/formats as possible.

So just something to chew on this Friday morning. I’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts/experiences – perhaps between us we should put an ebook out on the definitive way to self-publish.

Anyhoo – signing off for the weekend which is predicted to be warm and sunny – so have a good one.