Monthly Archives: July 2012

Bookshop Originals

The Bookseller announced today that a book list, compiled by publishers this Autumn, will be presented to booksellers around the UK to select their ‘Top 10’:

Delegates attending the Booksellers Association’s annual conference at Warwick University over 16th-17th September will be asked to select a list of 10 titles, which will form a package of ‘Bookshop Originals’ that indies will then hand-sell onto their customers.

This initiative is designed to promote sales in bookshops and local retailers and to determine the role booksellers play in readers’ choices at Christmastime.

The brains behind the proposal is Patrick Neale, president and owner of Jaffé and Neale bookshop. He said:  “Bookshops play a crucial role in the discovery of books, running literary festivals and events, and they are instrumental in launching many new authors. There is no doubt that it is a challenging time for bookshops so it couldn’t be a better time to meet together and discuss the future of the industry.”

So when you’re dallying around WHSmith or your local bookshop this December, keep an eye out for the Booksellers Favourites — an opportunity  to pick up quality presents!

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Independent Author makes Top Ten Bestsellers on Amazon UK


Smashwords author Nick Spalding is selling his novel Love…from Both Sides for £1.59 on Kindle, the description for which reads: “Based on real-life tales of dating disaster and relationship blunders, Love… From Both Sides is a warts-and-all romantic comedy for everyone who knows how tricky (and occasionally ridiculous) the quest for love can be. ”

The book is currently #22 in the Amazon UK Top 100 Bestsellers, where it has featured for four months. According to an article in the Bookseller, Spalding has sold over 245,000 units on Kindle.

On his website, one of Spalding’s fans asked, “Considering some of the rubbish that has made it onto the book shelves, I dont understand why an agent/publisher hasn’t snapped you up yet. It can only be a matter of time. Presumably, given your success, you would suggest this aspiring author takes the self-publish route to get started too?”

Spalding’s reply is revealing: “I’d honestly say do both: self publish and go for the traditional route as well. The two are no longer mutually exclusive, thanks to how the self-pubbing route is starting to mature and become more credible. I have had some interest from agencies, so the stigma is thankfully disappearing. Do everything you can to get your name and your work out there.”

This stigma is something that Smashwords founder Mark Coker has also spoken about — click here for more information.

Things are looking up for independent authors!


(If you’re interested, these are the links to Nick Spalding’s Twitter and Blog.)

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Good News and Bad News

Today in the literary world, there are bookshops closing down, publishers desperately trying to keep up with changing readerships, and 100-year-old manuscripts found. Enough to be getting on with in one blog post!

To start, Suw Charman-Anderson interviews Mark Coker, founder of the eBook publishers Smashwords, on Forbes this week (original article here).

In its first year, 2008, Smashwords published 140 books. Last year Smashwords helped authors publish more than 92,000 books, and in 2012 the running total is already at 130,000.

In his interview with Charman-Anderson, Coker discussed the changing attitudes to self-publishing: “The stigma associated with self-publishing is quickly disappearing as we see more and more indie authors becoming commercially successful on their own merits, and as some of the problems with traditional publishing become more apparent.”

“What we’re seeing is that most successful authors are those who are adopting many of the best practices of the best traditional publishers. These are the authors who honour their readers by producing high quality books that are as good or better than what the big New York or London publishers are putting out. They’re hiring professional editors and proofreaders to make sure that the books are high quality. They’re hiring professional cover designers, and their books are starting to become indistinguishable from what New York is putting out.”

As can be seen from Pearson (the parent of Penguin) buying out Author Solutions last week, the race now is for traditional publishing houses to find new ways of adapting to the increasingly self-publishing-friendly industry. In an article in the Guardian last Sunday, Vanessa Thorpe outlined the repurcussions of eBooks:

Further proof of the onward march of ebooks comes from BookStats, which has collected data from 2,000 publishers across America, including fiction titles, as well as higher education, professional and academic publishing products. It found ebook revenues for US publishers doubled to more than $2bn in 2011.


Of course, one of the greater disadvantages of all this change is that bookshops are suffering. The Willesden bookshop that inspired Zadie Smith is about to close.

Figures from the Booksellers Association showed there were 1,094 independent bookshops left in the UK by the end of 2011, down from 1,159 in 2010 and 1,289 in 2009.

As outlined in the Guardian article,

Helen Sensi, who has worked at the shop since it opened, called the latest closure “heartbreaking”. Sensi is also known as the mysterious “Helen” from Zadie Smith’s recent New York Review of Books article in which the novelist lamented the shop’s closure and praised her as the woman who “gives the people of Willesden what they didn’t know they wanted. Smart books, strange books, books about the country they came from, or the one that they’re in.” […] The bookshop is being forced to close by Brent council’s redevelopment plans for the area. The council believes the current centre, which also houses a museum and a library, is “not fit for purpose.”

Owner Steve Adams is trying to find alternative space which could be used. We can only wish him the best of luck.


However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the literary world. Last week, a PhD student, Chris Mourant, was rifling through the archives of the ADAM International Review (published from c.1903-1995) — a literary magazine published in English and French, its title an acronym for Arts, Drama, Architecture and Music — when he alighted upon four short stories written by Katherine Mansfield that have been lost in those archives for almost a hundred years. As outlined on the King’s College London website,

One short story, ‘A Little Episode’, written in 1909, is arguably the most poignant, as it sheds light on an important year of Mansfield’s life of which little was previously known. Chris explains: ‘The narrative conveys Mansfield’s bitterness and disillusion following her abandonment by the musician Garnet Trowell and her subsequent marriage of convenience to George Bowden.’ Having burned all records of her life during this period Mansfield hid these details from biographers and ‘A Little Episode’ now grants researchers access into her experience during this time.

The four stories will be included as appendices in The Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Fiction of Katherine Mansfield, due to be published in October by Edinburgh UP.

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Changing Times: Penguin’s profits drop, The Writer is on hiatus & Classics are rewritten

After 125 years, The Writer magazine will cease printing.

Editor Jeff Reich sent an email to his subscribers on Thursday to break the news:“I’m sorry to announce that The Writer magazine will go on hiatus after the October 2012 issue, which is in production now. Kalmbach Publishing Co., which owns The Writer, is currently looking for a buyer for the magazine, and our hope is that The Writer will re-emerge under the careful stewardship of a new owner.”

The Writer magazine was founded in 1887 by Boston Globe reporters Robert Luce and William H. Hills who outlined nine goals for the magazine, including, notably: “To collect and publish the experiences, experiments and observations of literary people, for the benefit of all writers.”

The magazine’s website is still up and running with its huge resources of writing aids, such as writing prompts, tips on getting published,  advice for the many common stumbling blocks of bad writing, and support in not losing hope.

More financial difficulties were met by Penguin in the first half of this year, as reported by the Bookseller. The company is down 4% compared to its sales from the same period last year; however, its e-book revenues are up 33% and now represent almost 20% of its total revenues.

The online magazine GalleyCat maintains that this drop in sales is due to the overwhelming success of Vintage Books’ Fifty Shades of Grey and Scholastic Press’ The Hunger Games.

Looking to the next six months, Pearson, the new parent of Penguin Books, said: “We expect Penguin’s publishing and its competitive performance to be stronger in the second half of the year, and we expect the structural change to continue.” It also said that over the next six months, Penguin will “continue to take action to adapt to the rapidly-changing industry environment”, and will over that period be expensing integration costs associated with its acquisition of Author Solutions. (For more information on that controversial business move, click here).

(Illustration by Dale Stephanos)

It may be a sign of the times, and needless to say, the influence of E.L. James, that even the Classics are getting rewritten for commercial benefit. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (both with gay themes) and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey inaugurate the series, titled “Clandestine Classics.” For more, see here.

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Josh Ritter’s new Audiobook!

Bright’s Passage, the debut novel from singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, was published in June last year, but since then Ritter has voiced his own audiobook, with an accompanying score composed by Royal City Band bassist Zachariah Hickman. Mine came in the post today & I was delighted to find a bonus music CD in with the rest.

But on to the book itself.

Henry Bright is a WWI veteran who returns from the war to his native West Virginia, alone, except for an angel who follows him back from France, instructing him in what he has to do for the wellbeing of humankind. He has a newborn son, whom the angel claims is the Future King of Heaven. The narrative begins with the death of Bright’s wife and the angel’s instruction that Bright bury her quickly and then burn down the house. (Chapter 1 of Bright’s Passage is free to download from Josh Ritter’s website here, and to hear some famous and infamous friends of Ritter reading it aloud, click here).

The strengths of the prose are the occasional descriptions that capture moments perfectly. When you read this novel, take note of Ritter’s similes — I couldn’t find one that wasn’t ideal:

Here, I think, Josh Ritter’s musical background shines through his prose in the most positive sense. These descriptions are just a few that I picked out at random and illustrate the power of storytelling that he has. (The Twitter for Bright’s Passage does this too!)

More than anything, the end is one of the strongest aspects of the book. At first, the storyline — a man called on by an angel (presumably, by extension, God) to raise the next King of Heaven — worried me that I was about to start a religion-heavy novel that would read and end like the Bible. Interestingly, the end of Bright’s Passage works against that idea, but still leaves room for a biblically inflected story that develops beyond the scope of the narrative. Ritter leaves it up to the reader to decide how the story really ends. And it will be a lovely experience to hear the author himself read it aloud.

The paperback is available to buy here, and the audiobook here.

I’ll leave the last note for Josh himself.

I’ve been listening to audio books ever since I was a child. Thrillers, classics, sci-fi, history, mystery, bodice-rippers, seat-grippers, swash-bucklers, hard-boilers, noir, fantasy, short stories, pop-psychs, biographies, hagiographies and travelogues, if I could get my hands on a recorded book, I devoured it.

Maybe it goes back to the cavemen telling stories around a fire. Maybe it has something to do with the way my parents read to my brother and me when we were small. Maybe it’s just about wanting to close my eyes and have the world of the story wash over me. Maybe it’s all those things. As I’ve gotten older my audio book habit has grown to the point where I’ll probably listen to twenty of them year in addition to my music and reading habit.

One of the most exciting things about publishing Bright’s Passage was realizing that I could record the audio book if I wanted to. So, this past February, I flew to Detroit and did just that.

To accompany my (stellar) narration, Zack Hickman wrote a beautiful, heartbreaking score. I also collected five songs that I’ve written involving angels and recorded them with my friends Chris Thile, Tift Merritt and Josh Kaufman.

Writing Bright’s Passage was so exciting and entertaining and fun. Getting to record it as an audio book has only added to that adventure. I hope you enjoy it!

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Man Booker Prize Longlist Announced!

Today the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize winner was announced. Much mixed feedback has come back, such as this article from the Telegraph and this from the BBC, as it seems that the longlist (of just 12 titles out of an initial 145) is in favour of new writers and small independent publishers.

Tom Tivnan, features editor of The Bookseller, told The Independent: “It’s a nice mix of young gunslingers and some of the old guard. It’s a bit more literary than last year.”

The longlist titles are as followed:

The Yips by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre)
Philida by André Brink (Harvill Secker)
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon)
Skios by Michael Frayn (Faber & Faber)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt)
Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury)
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber)
Communion Town by Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate)

Each one is given a brief outline and introduction here.

Peter Stothard, chairman of the judges, said:

“Goodness, madness and bewildering urban change are among the themes of this year’s longlist. In an extraordinary year for fiction the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ proves the grip that the novel has on our world. […] We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through.”

The shortlist will be announced on 11th September and the winner of the £50,000 prize on 16th October.

According to the poll in the Telegraph, Hilary Mantel is set for a sure-fire second Man Booker Prize. Who would your favourite be?

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Twitter Book Clubs?

The Bookseller this week blogged about a new online phenomenon — Twitter book clubs.

It all began with Sian Meades and ‘Domestic Sluttery’, the “lifestyle website, covering mainly design and food (with our tongues firmly in our cheeks). Whenever we mentioned books—be it a gorgeous collection like White’s Fine Editions, or a scheme like Mr B’s Reading Year—people got really excited. After a little bit of logistics and planning behind the scenes (let’s be honest, book clubs can be a bit of a nightmare), the Domestic Sluttery Book Club began. And then the #SlutteryBookClub hashtag started trending across the world on Twitter.

The advantages to this are such that it beggars belief there have not been social media-based book clubs, on a global scale, prior to this. Not only do you open up discussion to people across the world, occasionally you will also be able to discuss the chosen book with its author, as Sian Meades did with the author of Sister, Rosamund Lupton.

As Sian herself said, “The whole point of the book club is to discuss and chat—you don’t have to be sat around a table to do that. You don’t even have to be in the same country as us. And you can definitely type with one hand while drinking a glass of wine.”

The next book Sian has planned for the Twittersphere is not E.L. James’ bestseller as everyone seems to expect of her — “Twitter is a fickle beast and I was awake until 1am explaining to people that we hadn’t read Fifty Shades of Grey (that’s what you get for choosing a deliberately contentious hashtag)” — but Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, after which “we might switch to a classic or get our readers to choose.”

Keep an eye out on Sian’s Twitter and blog for the next post — you can pitch in for a worldwide discussion!

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What We’re Reading This Week… Invisible Cities










“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”

Invisible Cities is a novel in which a fictionalised Marco Polo outlines to the Great Kublai Khan all of the cities he has ever seen. The book is a short one, split up into two- and three-page chapters, in which Marco Polo describes a city as he experienced it. Most cities are fictional, but some may be real. So, for example, a place like Beersheba, a city in Israel, Polo describes the handed-down belief that, “suspended in the heavens, there exists another Beersheba, where the city’s most elevated virtues and sentiments are poised, and that if the terrestrial Beersheba will take the celestial one as its model the two cities will become one.”

As you can probably tell already, a lot of the subjects in this book operate on metaphor and symbolism. The strength of the story lies in the interludes that occur between Polo’s descriptions — the italicised entries in which the narrator recounts the intimate discussions between Polo and the Khan that deal with Polo’s travels. For example,

Kublai: To me this conjecture does not seem to suit our purposes. Without them we could never remain here swaying, cocooned in our hammocks.
Polo: Then the hypothesis must be rejected. So the other hypothesis is true: they exist and we do not.
Kublai: But we have proved that if we were here, we would not be.
Polo: And here, in fact, we are.

This book, as described by a friend of ours who read it, is “like eating candy” — each chapter is a short, sweet journey into another world, and all the journeys when read at once tend to blend into each other.

Invisible Cities has been lauded as “an exquisite work” — Gore Vidal, in the New York Review of Books, described it as “perhaps the most beautiful work … the artist seems to have made peace with the tension between man’s ideas of the many and of the one.”

Perhaps the best thing to do with a novel like this is to curl up with it on a rainy day and transport yourself to places you have always wanted to see, and fictional places that could not exist anywhere but in a good book.

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The 14th West Cork Literary Festival, 8th-19th July 2012

The tradition of celebrating literature has not gone away yet, and, it seems, will not soon find a stopping place in Bantry. The 14th West Cork Literary Festival ran last week with events as rich and varied as an Antiquarian Book Fair, nightly Open mics, Children’s readings, a conversation with Paul Muldoon, heritage walks, and daily workshops (11 workshops running for five days, and 8 others).

One of the many highlights of the festival was the Editor-in-Residence, Suzanne Baboneau, who was available for hour-long sessions in order to go through manuscripts with aspiring authors and offer advice.

Michael Parkinson also featured on the programme, and his chat with Miriam O’Callaghan was one of the most popular events of the festival. This event, held on Thursday evening, sold out, and no wonder, as the charismatic host was in top form. According to RTÉ.ie, Miriam looked back on the night with joy:

“Sometimes when you meet people in the public eye you have admired forever, it can be very disappointing – Parky didn’t disappoint. He was even more wonderful than I hoped he would be – funny, really interesting and very kind. I loved interviewing him – it was a great experience and a great night.”

Watch the whole interview online here.

The feedback on social media to the Festival has been tremendous; it seems that “a great experience and a great night” was had by all. This was a festival not to be missed, and we can only sit and wait with bated breath until it comes around again next year!

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Self-publishing comes of age?

The news and social media have been buzzing lately with updates on how self-publishing is turning over the literary industry.

The Alliance of Independent Authors (AIA) is making huge ground in self-publishing, having given a full endorsement as the site of self-published authors to advertise, and engaging the help of the literary agency AM Heath — the agency that represents Hilary Mantel — to establish translation and international rights for independent authors. This agreement between AM Heath and the AIA is the first of its kind, and marks a turning-point in the path of self-publishing. Why is this so significant? The AIA’s blog is the perfect place to find out.

Only a few days ago, there was another huge move forward for self-publishing when Pearson, a global education and learning company, announced its acquisition of Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), a leading provider of self-publishing services. ASI works in tandem with Penguin, which contributes, “design, editorial and sales skills, and its strong international presence”. This essentially means that independent authors will have the opportunity to market their work under Penguin’s banner, with the support of two global companies. The CEO of Penguin, John Makinson, released a statement to coincide with Pearson’s announcement, in which he outlined that this acquisition will allow Penguin, “to participate fully in perhaps the fastest-growing area of the publishing economy.”

He also said, “Self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry over the past three years. It has provided new outlets for professional writers, a huge increase in the range of books available to readers and an exciting source of content for publishers such as Penguin. No-one has captured this opportunity as successfully as Author Solutions, which has rapidly built a position of world leadership on a platform of outstanding customer support and tailor-made publishing services.”

Neill Denny, Editor-in-Chief of the Bookseller Magazine, outlined that this announcement marked the day self-publishing came of age.

However, some people were less enthusiastic at the prospect of Pearson, ASI and Penguin joining together, as one commenter on the Bookseller article protested that, “Author Solutions (owners of Author House, Trafford, Xlibris, and iUniverse) is one of the worst self-publishing ‘service’ companies out there. […] [They] continually over-charge for their services (both in the form of huge up-front fees AND taking a huge chunk of authors’ royalties), have an awful service record, and industry watchdogs such as Writer Beware have received a litany of complaints over the years. What is Penguin thinking?”

The Print-on-demand publishing site,, wrote a controversial article when ASI took over Xlibris  in 2009, and outlined the pros and cons of Xlibris under its new parent company., the website dedicated to analysing how well jobs and companies work, gives ASI quite a negative review, with only 18% of employees recommending the job to a friend.

*Edit*: Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, criticised the acquisition in a recent essay. Carla King also wrote out against the move on PBS.

While the ambiguity surrounding ASI seems to differ from person to person, what can absolutely be said is that this move has heightened awareness of self-publishing in the industry, and with the support of Penguin, Pearson may herald a new momentum of success for independent authors.

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