Monday, 27 June 2011

Times/Chicken House Masterclass in Children's Publishing

On Saturday I nipped up to London to attend a masterclass held by Chicken House Publishing at Waterstone's on Piccadilly: an event I'd heard of because I follow the head of Chicken House, Barry Cunningham, on Twitter. There were fifty places available at the masterclass, and unsurprisingly, the vast majority there present - whether delegates or representatives of the publishing world, were female.

The event began with a panel discussion: the members of the panel were Barry Cunningham, Neil Blair (a partner in the Christopher Little literary agency which represents J.K. Rowling), Amanda Craig (The Times' children's literary critic and novelist in her own right), Sarah Clarke (children's fiction buyer for Waterstone's), Sophia Bennett (past winner of The Times/Chicken House Fiction Competition with her novel Threads) and Michelle Paver, author of the children's series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, set in the Stone Age.

Quite a line-up, you'll agree. Why did I choose to go to this event? Well, I wanted (after being out of the loop for a little while) to update my awareness of current children's publishing. I was interested in the balance of publishing professionals and writers. I wanted to meet Michelle Paver - I have all her Chronicles books and think they're wonderful - as is her recent adult novel, Dark Matter. Nobody does descriptions of nature like she does. She's steeped in arcane knowledge and knows how to tell a pacey, gripping yarn. I hadn't read Sophia Bennett - because I have two sons who aren't much interested in novels about the fashion industry: but she was sharp and witty and, having written 17 drafts of Threads, had clearly paid her dues and deserved her success.

What struck me most, as I look back on the class, was the tone of it: so often when you attend publishing-related events, the atmosphere is one of gloom and doom. God knows, the industry is in a phase of intense self-questioning about the direction it takes in these days of recession, poor literacy levels, e-publishing and the like. Chicken House, which calls itself a 'plucky publisher of children's books', is cheerily crowing from the heights. There was a genuine sense of enthusiasm and positivity, a can-do attitude, an 'isn't this exciting' message - and I found that so refreshing. All too often you get the feeling that publishers really don't like writers (especially writers who may have their own opinions about how things should be done!) - but Barry and his team actively welcome interaction and debate with writers. They're actively looking for fresh new voices and seem keen on building a good editorial relationship with those writers they take on. If you're interested in seeing Barry's five top tips, go to his video on YouTube.

Anyway, if you're setting out to be a published children's author, what salient points were being made on Saturday? Neil Blair stressed that from the agent's perspective, it's a good idea to have international appeal and also for your work to have the potential for digital enhancement (graphics, animation, apps). J.K. Rowling's announcement of the 'Pottermore' site is a case in point: it will allow fans to interact with the stories and characters and it will be a platform through which she can sell e-books. There's been a big fuss in the press about how she has turned to 'self-publishing'  but I'm sorry: I do see a huge gap between what I define as self-publishing and what she, a 'brand' author with massive backing and audience awareness, might call self-publishing! When it was pointed out that there's nothing more English, less international, than Harry Potter, Barry came up with a great phrase which suits HP and other standard British texts which sell worldwide: 'universally English'!

Barry is less interested in the internationality (though Chicken House has very strong links with Germany) and talked with huge enthusiasm about the importance of voice, of being able to take yourself back into the thoughts and feelings of the age-group you're writing for, of the 'cracking big idea' you feel passionate about. He quoted Roald Dahl as having stressed the importance of employing 'the valour in children'.

Michelle Paver, who took sixteen years to be published (and I don't know whether to be heartened or discouraged by that!) said 'If you over-analyse the market you kill the story stone-dead' and that what 'matters is to write what you want to write'. Indeed, but this really is a case of steering between Scylla (cynical writing to an imagined market) and Charybdis (writing self-indulgently and irrelevantly). The balance between being in tune with the industry and fulfilling your own personal objective of writing your story is always so hard to achieve. I myself feel that in recent years, because I've been professionally involved in teaching writing and in editing, I've gone over to the dark side rather too much! I know too much and it's inhibiting. I need to get back to my first fine careless rapture ...

It's interesting that Michelle does not use the internet - gasps of disbelief from the audience. How is that possible, girlfriend! The irony is that I wouldn't have been sitting in that room listening to her, had it not been for Twitter.

Michelle's novels are set thousands of years ago, in the Stone Age. Previously, she'd written a book set in Viking times, only to be told the foreign setting and period detail would alienate readers. Doesn't that just make your heart sink? This is what they mean when they say 'write the story you want to write': who knew the world would love a boy and his broomstick at boarding school? Who knew the world would love a boy and his friend Wolf roaming the forests and glaciers of six thousand years ago? As Michelle says, 'Is there no market - or is there a gap in the market?'

Amanda Craig, after movingly describing what books meant to her as an asthmatic child, echoed the idea that you do need to know what else is out there when you submit your book and said that she thinks there is a current gap in the market for standalone books aimed at the 6-9 age group, because this is the time when boys often stop reading. Barry and Neil were interested in series books, but Sarah Clarke preferred standalone: after all, a series is a big commitment for a bookshop when ordering.

The panel covered the usual advice about submitting manuscripts: do your research, present your work well, show awareness of others in your field, write an excellent cover letter. Reassuringly, Barry and Neil both stressed how they like to work with a writer, ensuring that the work becomes as good as it possibly can be. You need to be open to this: you'll need to redraft your work more times than you thought humanly possible.

At the end of the panel discussion, we paused for tea, coffee, chat and networking, and then delegates were divided into groups to pitch and ask questions of individual editors. I was with Elinor Bagenal, Rights Manager, who was a lovely lady, kind, responsive and informative. Two or three writers in my group pitched ideas (and one of those  stories I think touched us all: I hope to see it published sometime soon!), others were on Creative Writing MAs and were on the point of completing or were struggling with maintaining output once the formal structure of a writing course (and the validation it provides) were over. During all this various members of the panel dropped by the groups to chat: I got the chance to embarrass Michelle with my enthusiasm for Torak and Wolf! I got into debate with Barry about self-publishing, which unsurprisingly, he does not approve of, taking the line that publishers and agents often do: that without the quality filter they provide, the volume of self-pubbed material out there becomes a deafening 'white noise'. I don't disagree (there is indeed a lot of dross out there, a lot of unedited, undisciplined self-indulgence) - but at the same time (as regular readers of this blog will know), given the enormous delays in the publishing process and the pull-up-the-drawbridge attitude of many agents/publishers, I do think that writers have the right to bring the work to the public in any way that works well for them. But please, please, please, if you're considering self-publishing, get yourself properly edited!

What about me? What did I get from the day? Well, I started by rereading my own novel the day before, having not looked at it for some time. I've been through the mill with this one and have spent some time in a dark cave with my hood pulled up over my head. However, this book, this idea, this series: it's The Terrier. It sank its little white teeth into the hem of my jeans some years ago and every so often it gives a little snarl and a shake and worries at me some more. The blighter just won't let go. When I re-read it, a great deal of it still made me proud, excited; some of it called out for restructuring, re-pacing. A work, you see, is never ever done. You just choose to leave it. I left it for three years, but now I'm going back. I'm going to redraft it during August and I'm probably going to submit it for the Times/Chicken House fiction competition. We'll see. If that takes me nowhere, well, it's not the end. You don't groom the Terrier and then not give him his chance to be Best in Show.

I end with two quotes from the panel:
Barry: 'Publishing is a cross between gambling and librarianship.'
Amanda: 'You must above all have faith.'

Thanks to the panel and to Chicken House - I think all those who attended enjoyed the day enormously and we hope you'll run more events like these!

Last minute chance to book Winchester Writers' Conference

Just a quick mention before I write my main blog-post of the day: even though booking officially closed last week, I understand the Writers' Conference in Winchester can still take some last-minute phone bookings: call 01962 826367. Check out what's on offer at the conference website.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Writers' Conference Winchester - Last Day to Book!

If you were thinking of attending next week's Writers' Conference in Winchester, today is essentially the last day to make your booking, as tomorrow (22nd June) is the latest date for accepting applications.

The conference offers all sorts of opportunities - you can attend for the full week, the weekend or the day. Workshops, mini-courses and talks galore are available, along with the chance to book one-to-one appointments with writers, agents and editors.

I'll be teaching my course on Character Building next Friday (1st July) and will be giving a talk on the importance of location in your writing on Saturday 2nd July. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and new faces!

Let's hope the weather perks up! Last year was glorious. For my previous posts on the Conference go to 2010, 2009 and 2008, to get a sense of what goes on. Also, get over to the Conference website and enjoy a good browse.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Hand-selling Phenomenon: Interview with Bobbie Darbyshire Part Two

It's interesting to return to my interview with Bobbie Darbyshire after posting a couple of days ago about the wonderful success Louise Voss and Mark Edwards have had by publishing on Kindle. This is because their experiences prove there are many avenues open for writers to reach their public which weren't available even a few years ago. Bobbie has chosen to work with smaller, independent publishers - and many of us do now, because there is a sense that their doors are still open while larger, conglomerate firms may well be more risk-averse and inaccessible than ever. She has also decided to create a direct bridge between herself and her readership - just as Mark and Louise have by means of publishing on the Amazon Kindle. In both cases, social networking has been incredibly helpful as a means of getting themselves known, making connections, spreading the ripples outwards and outwards. All of this should give us hope! As I've said before, working like this entails huge amounts of energy and commitment, so should not be undertaken lightly - but what appeals so much to struggling writers is the sense that we can have access, connectivity, control, interaction, autonomy - and an overall acceleration of the usual publication process, which is so often a soul-destroying plod into oblivion.

Bobbie's USP has been hand-selling: getting out there to talk to the public, making the sale of each book a personal interaction with an individual. Here's the second part of the interview:

What sort of advice would you give to someone who's thinking of hand-selling?

Two dos and two don'ts. Do work hard on a short, enticing pitch that encapsulates your book. I promise people I won't take a minute, and I don't. If they can't spare a minute, but look as if they would like to, I give them a flyer with the same pithy words on it. My pitch is 47 words for Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones, 33 words for Truth Games [see the end of this post for those pitches!]
Bobbie Darbyshire
Do smile, whatever happens. It's a bit like speed dating: not everyone you meet is going to love you, and some will be abrupt or hostile. Smile, say 'no problem', get out of their way. The next person you approach will be delightful; you'll soon forget the rude one.

Don't sit by your books and expect people to approach you. A lot of them are shy or will make negative assumptions about Ms Never-heard-of-her sitting there looking bored or desperate. Approach them politely, seek leave to tell them briefly about your book, be happy to take no for an answer. When they say yes (most do), deliver your pitch and point to the books. Say you'll be delighted to sign. Then, unless they start chatting, say, 'Thank you for listening,' and leave them alone. Lack of pressure impresses.

Don't expect a queue to form. It is slow, steady work. Sometimes footfall is low, no one browses fiction for half an hour at a stretch, or there's a long succession of people saying, 'I'm sorry, but I only read crime/vampires/biography/history' (delete as applicable). Hang on in there. An hour may go by and you won't get a nibble, but don't despair, soldier on. Three buses will come along at once and you don't want to miss them.

I assume that your publishers are delighted that you've been so proactive? What sort of support have they given you?

They are indeed delighted, which is support in itself. They lack resources to contribute practical help, and I don't expect it. Sandstone Press secured a 3 for 2 deal with Scottish branches of Waterstone's when Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones first came out. That galvanised me to start ringing branches around London, and helped my telephone pitch.

How have bookshops reacted to you? Any horror stories or particularly successful events?

No real Waterstone's horror stories apart from the occasional agonisingly low footfall day, but I do have one from the indie sector. I was booked to talk at a small lit fest last May, and the local independent bookshop volunteered to supply books. The event wasn't well advertised, and oh dear, only three people came and only one bought a book. I felt dreadful as the poor lady lugged the boxes back to the boot of her car. Solution: I offered to spend a Saturday with her. Her lovely shop was tiny, but I managed to sell nearly all the stock for her, hurrah. The moral is, it's often safer to take your own stock to speaking events.

A particularly successful event? Well, I still smile to remember the Saturday before last Christmas in my favourite Waterstone's branch, Windsor. The snow had started to come down thick and fast, and the wonderful manager, Fraser, said, 'I've rung the station. The trains are still running. But I think you should go now, in case they stop.'
I couldn't bear it. The shop was so festive, crowded with happy people with pink faces and snow on their hats, and my books were flying off the table.
'I expect they have hotels in Windsor?' I said.
'Yes,' Fraser laughed.
'And I did bring a spare pair of knickers, in case.'
So I stayed, sold sixty-three copies, Fraser gave me a big hug, and, what do you know, while many lines closed and the south east was in chaos, trains from Windsor to Clapham Junction kept running, and one was waiting to speed me home, no delay, through the stunning winter landscape.

How do you go about approaching bookshops and venues?

With Waterstone's branches, I ring and ask to speak to the events manager if they have one. I have a short upbeat pitch worked out in advance. Most of my signings now are return visits that I can arrange at the previous signing or by email. I got some reading group invitations by doing an email shot to libraries across London. More often now, the invitation comes from a Waterstone's customer. Part of my pitch is, 'And I visit book groups too.' I give away bookmarks with my email address.

One thing leads to another. I was invited to Nottingham University Creative Writing Society after selling my books to the mother of one of the students. And I have just been invited to speak to an audience of a hundred (a pensioners' forum) because one of them met me at a library reading group.
I approach almost all UK literature festivals each year by email. I've had no takers yet beyond small festivals in suburban London, but what's to lose, that may change. If anyone fancies the Oxfringe, I'm in a show 15,16 and 17 June called 'Sex, War and Madness' with two other Cinnamon authors.

What have you found most rewarding about this process?

At risk of being sentimental, I think the best answer is to quote you an exchange I had with the organiser of a writer's group I recently gave a talk to.
She: I'm pleased you sold out of books! The students were really struck by your honesty and the way you approach all aspects of your work, from the discipline of writing every day to 'accosting strangers' in bookshops. In the pub, one of the students said, 'She's not afraid of anything, is she?' Have a productive day!
Me: Wow, thanks! For too much of my life I was self-conscious and shy, and as one of your students said, this new career has trained up a different side of me that I didn't know was there. If only for that reason (though there are countless others) the writer's journey has been the best one I ever set out on.

And what have you found most challenging?

It's been hard to write a new novel with all this going on. For a while, I gave myself time off from it; I had invested so much in Truth Games and Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones, and felt I owed it to myself and those books to put all my energy into marketing them. With more systems in place now for marketing, it takes less time than it did, but some weeks it's still a struggle to find time to write. Also, being a publicity secretary is seductively easier than tackling the next blank page ... I can get sidetracked ...
But I'm nearly there. Four years after starting, I should have a complete draft of the new book by the end of this month, hurrah. It will then need reworking and polishing, but I'm looking forward to that.

Do you see yourself on the hand-selling circuit next time round?

Yes, absolutely. I enjoy it enormously. Sometimes when I pitch to a stranger, they stare with round eyes and say, 'I've never met a real, live author before,' and for a moment I feel like a real, live author!

Thanks so much to Bobbie for these insights - I wish her continued success with her sales tactics and with the new novel! I think we can learn a lot from her experiences. One main lesson is this: the old adage about nothing ventured holds true. Bobbie has had the courage, in spite of shyness, to make her approaches to venue-managers and to customers. The other, perhaps more salutary, lesson is that she finds it hard to balance this outgoing, commercial activity with finding time to write her new work. Bear this in mind if you are considering self-publishing or marketing your own work. In an ideal world, we would turn to publishers to take this load from our shoulders, and certainly there are excellent marketing campaigns run by traditional publishers (though often for writers who are already mega-successful and established in the public eye). Many writers do not feel suited to public speaking or any form of huckstering: they just want to be left alone to write. Think carefully about how keen you are on taking on these challenges. If the very thought of converting your text to Kindle or hand-selling your work to a passing customer in a book-shop fills you with horror, you have a choice: stick to the tried-and-trusted routes to publication and sales, or think of Bobbie, Mark and Louise - they did it for themselves. Maybe you can too.

Bobbie's books are available on Amazon: Truth Games and Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones. And here, as promised, are Bobbie's one-minute pitches for them:
Love, Revenge & Buttered Scones: A comedy of errors. Three troubled people dash off to the Scottish Highlands to find their destinies mysteriously entwined around a reading group in the Inverness public library. Twists and surprises, very funny with also some dark, serious threads, it keeps you guessing all the way through.
Truth Games: We're in 1970s London, the blazing hot summers of '75 and '76, and a group of friends are getting way out of their depth in infidelity. Thought-provoking, amusing and with guaranteed naughty bits.

You can find Bobbie on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter -  @bobbiedar.

Bobbie will be appearing at the Oxfringe festival in Oxford, with two other Cinnamon Press authors, on 15th, 16th and 17th June - their show is called 'Sex, War and Madness', so promises to be lively!

On Saturday 2nd July she'll be giving a talk at the Writers' Conference at the University of Winchester, called 'The Small Publisher Route to Seeing your Novel in Print'. Oh, and I'll be there too: my mini-course on Character Building is on Friday 1st July and my Saturday talk 'Place is Paramount' is about how crucial setting is to the effect of your story. Visit the Conference website for further details - we hope to see you there!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Kindle Publishing Success: Mark Edwards and Louise Voss Follow-up

I'm postponing Part 2 of my interview with Bobbie Darbyshire for a day or two (sorry Bobbie!) because I just had to write a follow-up to the interview I ran in two parts back in May with writers Louise Voss and Mark Edwards. (Check out Part One and Part Two). At the time they had published their dual-narrator stalker novel Killing Cupid on Amazon. They were enthusiastic, fired up, hoping for success - and aiming to follow up Killing Cupid with another thriller, Catch your Death, a pacey conspiracy thriller 'involving deadly viruses, mad scientists and robotic killers' - great stuff!

When I interviewed them, Mark and Louise had been working incredibly hard to promote Killing Cupid: and this is what it's all about when you're self-publishing. You have to let the world know, somehow, that your work is out there. That's the challenge - and they were rising to it magnificently. On 5 May, sales of Killing Cupid stood at 800 copies and they were averaging 40 sales a day. Mark said he was 'desperate to hit the top 100!'

Well, what say you to number 1 in that top 100? Yes, that's what's happened: Mark and Louise released Catch your Death and it's gone to number 1 with a bullet (or a viral bug ...). I have to say I had doubts about the wisdom of releasing their second book so soon, but it's turned out to be an astute thing to do. They've capitalised on the success of Killing Cupid, and are clearly building awareness of their 'brand'. I'm absolutely delighted for them. They are proof that this Kindle publishing approach works: I do hope they'll also bring out print copies, keeping the great covers that were designed for the e-books. And I hope that the film version of Killing Cupid comes out: the story is absolutely perfect for dramatization.

I've just checked Amazon: Catch your Death is at number 1 on the main list and on the Crime, Thrillers and Mystery list. Killing Cupid is at number 4 on the main list and number 3 on the Crime, Thrillers and Mystery list. How brilliant is that? Mark wrote for The Bookseller's futurebook blog on Tuesday, describing how Catch your Death 'went whoosh'. As of yesterday they'd sold 10,000 books and 8000 of them had been in the past week!

Respect, Mark and Louise. I couldn't be more pleased for you. All credit to you and all good wishes with your future publications! Thanks for showing us dreams really can come true and for proving what a transformative gizmo the Kindle can be.

Catch your Death on Amazon:
Killing Cupid on Amazon:
Mark's blog:

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Bobbie's Whirl: Interview with hand-selling phenomenon Bobbie Darbyshire

I met writer and human dynamo Bobbie Darbyshire at the Writers' Conference at Winchester last June: she had taken a stand at the book fair there and with the help of a staunch friend she was hand-selling her two novels, Truth Games and Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones, with a compelling mixture of friendly charm and commercial relentlessness! I came away, feeling slightly shell-shocked to be honest, having bought a copy of Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones, which is set in northern Scotland - the Scottish connection had given Bobbie the right angle to close the sale with me. Told in various voices, the novel is a lively romp, full of romantic misunderstandings, farcical twists and gentle satire of literary ambitions.
Since our meeting, I've noticed how Bobbie has waged a tireless campaign to get her books out there, into the hands of customers. Her approach is intensely personal. She appears at branches of Waterstones pretty much every weekend and has built up an enviable total of sales simply by being committed, positive and cheerfully determined. When you publish, you can sit back and expect your publisher to do everything for you (with a strong chance that they simply won't) or you can actively contribute to your own success. Bobbie is proof of how effective the personal touch can be in this book-selling business.
Having recently interviewed Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn and Mark Edwards and Louise Voss about independent and Kindle publishing, I thought you might be interested to hear how Bobbie achieved publication and how she got into hand-selling her books to the public. She's very kindly given detailed responses to my questions, so I'll be splitting this interview into two parts.

I see you've had a varied list of jobs in the past, ranging from mushroom picker to cabinet minister's private secretary! Tell us a little bit about how you came into writing.

Thank you so much, Lorna, for inviting me onto your blog. I was keen writer as a small child but somehow I got derailed. My secondary school wanted no fiction: just parsed sentences and essays about the classics, so I got out of the habit. I remember meeting a girl at university who said, 'I'm writing a novel', and thinking admiringly, 'Wow, I'd love to do that.' So why didn't it occur to me to actually do it? My twenties were all over the place; then I spent my thirties living with someone who was trying to write a novel. I was enthralled, gave him comments, but didn't think to write one myself, I was so busy working at the day job and fretting about life.
Gradually life calmed, I was writing some stories, doing some writing courses, and I formed the plan that I would save hard, quit work and write novels. The day after my last 9-5 - bliss! Aged 47, I immediately began to bash one out. Twelve weeks later it was finished. I remember sitting on top of a bus that day, flying along through the sunshine, thinking, 'I'm a novelist!' I soon realised that book was utter rubbish, but it taught me a whole lot about writing the next one, which was Truth Games.

How did you come to be published by two small publishers, Cinnamon Press and Sandstone Press? How has that experience been for you? Do you feel, for instance, that you are treated with more personal concern? What do you see as the advantages and limitations of this form of publication?

Fiction is a tough market to break into. After false dawns with excited agents, the editors at the big publishing houses were complimentary, but none of them offered a contract. I had a stubborn belief in my novels, kept rewriting, improving, resubmitting them. Unless invited to do so, you can't submit the same book to the same publishing house twice, so I needed to look at smaller publishers. Cinnamon, a well-respected small press, runs a regular novel competition, through which Truth Games was accepted.
I couldn't have wished for a more friendly and instructive introduction to the publishing world. Jan Fortune-Wood at Cinnamon taught me so much with her sensitive suggestions for improving the text, and she gave me a say at every stage, even allowing me to reject image after image in her hunt for an apt cover design. I love the one she finally found. It came from an image library, and it took me a long while to track down and thank the artist, who is a white witch living in Seattle!
My second book, set in Inverness, was not best suited to Cinnamon, who are in Gwynedd and supported by the Welsh Books Council. So when I realised that a Facebook contact I'd made, an up-and-coming independent press called Sandstone, were in Dingwall, only a few miles from Inverness, I crossed fingers and toes tightly before, with Cinnamon's blessing, enquiring whether they were accepting submissions. Twelve days later they said they loved the book and wanted to publish it almost at once.
Again, lots of attention from Sandstone, including a three-week, almost sleepless, joint brainstorm for the title - Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones. And so, after years of rejections, I had two novels out within eight months!
The advantages and limitations of smaller publishers? Hard to say as that is my only experience. Yes, I get personal attention, and my writing and my marketing efforts are valued, but might that not happen in a big press too? The print runs of my books are small, but both presses have speedily reprinted when necessary, so no worries there. I've not had much media exposure - independent presses generally don't have the clout to achieve it - but the big houses tend to concentrate their marketing on established authors, so would it have been so different with one of them? Cinnamon and Sandstone are pleased with my steady sales and my work to build on these, whereas I've heard that big publishing houses can pretty much dump you if you don't set the world on fire within a few weeks of launch. But is that actually true?

You've now spent quite some time out there hand-selling your books to your readership. How did this come about? Did you always intend to take this approach? How far afield have you travelled?

I was naive at the start and quite timid. When Truth Games came out, I nervously did one or two small local events, sat in on a few local reading groups, joined Facebook, approached a couple of book blogs, and called on the three nearest Waterstone's branches, who kindly agreed to stock a few copies. Not much came of this, but I was getting practice.
When Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones came out, I got braver. I began ringing Waterstone's branches further afield to suggest that they stock it. Some said no, but many said, 'Okay, we'll order in three or five. We'll see how it goes.'
I imagined this would translate into sales, but it never would have done. Few customers go to the A to Z shelves, and those who do mostly have a specific title in mind. As a new author, the cold truth is you have to be on the 3 for 2 tables, out there hand-selling, or finding some way to draw attention online. Otherwise your book dies.
A few Waterstone's managers suggested I could come in and sign. I was so green, I thought they meant if I happened to be passing with my pen I could sign the copies they'd ordered. Then the penny dropped. They meant come for a day, we'll get a whole pile in, and you can have a go at hand-selling. And we'll order in copies of both your books, not just the new one. I couldn't believe my luck. I was terrified, but determined to do my best.
My first Saturday signing was in Redhill in April 2010 and I sold 32 books. The manager was impressed, told his region about me, and I was on a roll. Since then I've been in a Waterstone's every Saturday, north, south, west, east, from Bedford to Eastbourne, Dorchester to Tunbridge Wells. It really helps that I live in Clapham Junction! And of course it helps to have no day-job, just a Saturday job now, hand-selling my books; and I love it.

What numbers of sales have you achieved in this way? Do you feel it's been worth all the effort?

I've personally sold and signed nearly 2100 copies in 30 different Waterstone's branches. Looking ahead, more than three-quarters of my Saturdays are already booked between now and next Christmas. All absolutely worth the effort, and not just for the sales. It is smashing to meet my readers, to get a better sense of the reading public and of my market, fabulous to get complimentary emails from readers I've met personally. I'm well-placed to notice trends - e.g more people confessing that they browse real books then go home and download on Kindle. I worry about Waterstone's future and hope the new management can find ways to make the chain flourish.

In Part 2 of this interview Bobbie will share her practical secrets for effective hand-selling, her advice for approaching possible venues - and her under-a-minute book-pitches!

You can find Bobbie on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter -  @bobbiedar.

Bobbie's books are available on Amazon: Truth Games and Love, Revenge and Buttered Scones.

Bobbie will be appearing at the Oxfringe festival in Oxford, with two other Cinnamon Press authors, on 15th, 16th and 17th June - their show is called 'Sex, War and Madness', so promises to be lively!

On Saturday 2nd July she'll be giving a talk at the Writers' Conference at the University of Winchester, called 'The Small Publisher Route to Seeing your Novel in Print'. Oh, and I'll be there too: my mini-course on Character Building is on Friday 1st July and my Saturday talk 'Place is Paramount' is about how crucial setting is to the effect of your story. Visit the Conference website for further details - we hope to see you there!