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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