Self-published authors dominate end of the year book charts

As the year draws to a close, authors across the world have had their eyes peeled for the year’s bestseller’s list to see how far up the list their novel came. As we said in a blog recently, the bestseller’s list isn’t the be all and end all of novel writing, but one can’t lie and say that seeing one’s name on it doesn’t give a little thrill.

This week, Apple released their bestseller’s list of top iBooks sold online, revealing that self-published authors have dominated the free book chart, with critically acclaimed books such as Natasha Preston’s Silence reaching the number three slot, and The New Girl by Tracie Puckett achieving number four. Other self-published authors including Portia Moore (If I Break) and Terry Schott (The Game) also made the top ten.

And it’s not just the free book list which self-published authors, or at least those that started out that way, found their acclaim this year. One of the most famous self-published authors of recent years, now published by Arrow, E.L. James of course published another book in her Fifty Shades of Grey series, and although this time it wasn’t self-published, it certainly showed where self-published authors can find themselves as her latest instalment was number one on Apple iBooks’ UK bestseller list, and number two on Amazon’s 2015 bestseller list which includes both Kindle and physical book purchases.

We have spoken before about how the success of E.L. James has bred a succession of self-published authors hoping to achieve the same amount of fame that she accomplished, and it seems that her success is going to continue to spur on wannabe self-publishers. As she proved, anybody who has an idea can write a book, but it’s what you do with it that counts. Find a niche, write something that people want to read, and publish it, no matter what the critics think. It’s unlikely that a few years later you’ll be publishing under a traditional publishing house, and have four books in the top five of Amazon’s 2015 Bestseller List, but you never know.

And if you need some help in your writing, why don’t you take a break and read something to give you inspiration? Take a leaf out of the rest of the reading world’s book, and perhaps try one of the other top five books of the year, such as The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As we’ve said before, it’s not reading that’s difficult, it’s finding the time to do so. So make sure you make some!

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The publishing world is not the same as it was

One evening last week, Ian Rankin, bestselling author of the Rebus series of crime novels, spoke at the Ottawa International Writer’s Festival in Ottawa, Canada, where he told budding writers, keen readers and super fans about his journey to becoming an author, a real author who could live off the books that he writes without working another job at the same time.

Together with host Peggy Blair, who also talked about her travels towards finally getting published, telling the audience that she “received approximately 156 rejections from publishers, not that I was keeping count,” before she got anywhere close to finding a publisher, the two crime writers talked about how getting published in the 80s, when Ian Rankin first tried to get his foot in the door, was a completely different game than it is now.

But both of them were careful to insist that it was never easier then, and it isn’t easier or more difficult now, but that it is equally difficult in a very different way. Ian Rankin, a world-famous author and writer of dozens of books, 20 of them a series about the same character, struggled immensely when he was first trying to get published, and told the audience in Ottawa that when his first book, The Flood, was published by a small Edinburgh publishing house, 200 hardcover books were printed and barely one of them was sold. But in that time, it wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, he soon found an agent, and his next novel was published by a London publisher who was able to distribute it further.

However, when asked by a member of the audience how long it took for him to be able to make a living from his writing and that alone. “I don’t want to discourage anybody,” he said, before answering that he was probably on his 15th or 16th novel before he finally found that he was able to live off his writing. But from the murmurs in the audience, it didn’t sound as if people were discouraged, it sounded like people were inspired, perhaps relieved, even.

Here is a bestselling author, one who is known and loved around the world, telling the world that he struggled, too. So it is okay if you are not successful right off the bat, and it is okay if it takes you a while to find your groove. Because if Ian Rankin can do it, then so can you.

Talking about the differences in the publishing industry today, Peggy Blair’s story was very different, and both of them admitted that today, with the rise of the eBook, they might have both chosen a different path had they been starting out at this time.

“I’d probably be self-published if I’d started out 25 or 30 years later,” said Ian Rankin, proving that he’s just one of us. So if you can’t publish, self-publish. You’ll get there.

Indie bookstores launch worldwide community book club

Have you ever joined a book club that had trouble getting off the ground? It was a little more club than it was book, and sometimes it was only two of you sitting around a bottle of wine talking about the book that you’d both only read half of?

Good book clubs are sometimes a little few a far between, and with the existence of eBooks, it’s harder to sit in a room with others and talk about a book, when you don’t have a physical copy in front of you. So to give readers an alternative to the Amazon Bestseller’s List and to help them get out of the eBook habit, a new National Book Club has been set to.

Developed by merchandiser Litographs and four independent bookstores: Harvard Book Store of Cambridge in Massachusetts; Green Apple Books in San Francisco; The Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle which if course is most likely now competing with Amazon’s very first physical bookstore which opened close to the University of Washington just a few weeks ago; and Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri.

The National Book Club, (which may seem as if it is only for readers within the USA, but really, how are they going to stop you?) enables these independent book store to hand curate four books per season for members to read, and when you buy a book from one of these stores, Litographs will send you a free gift. Members of the book club will then be invited to write their very own shelf-talker for the titles that they enjoyed which will be featured on the Litographs website, and maybe even on a real life bookshelf in one of the indie bookstores themselves.

In an effort to encourage readers to stick to the bookstores and keep off the internet, this book club is a fantastic way to reassure community, reading, conversation and buying local. And, if you buy from the Harvard Book Store, then the four titles will be sold at 20% off.

The selection of books for the first season of the National Book Club are:

  • Speak by Louisa Hall, recommended by the Harvard Book Store
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, recommended by Green Apple Books
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, recommended by The Elliot Bay Book Company
  • Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon, recommended by Left Bank Books

So visit the Lithographs website, sign up, and get reading with your very own international community book club. Let us know how you get on!

Amazon Books on the high street: is it bringing the bookstore back to life?

Twenty years after it took book sales online, Amazon is taking them right back to the store with its brand new bookstore… made of bricks and mortar.

The online retail corporation, which now sells everything under the sun but began as a book seller, opened a new store, “Amazon Books” this week at University Village in Seattle in Washington State, USA. According to The Seattle Times, the new “physical extension of Amazon.com” will stock up to 6,000 titles all chosen based on customer ratings and sales from its website.

Vice president of Amazon Books, Jennifer Cast, said that the store is aiming to combine the benefits of both high street and online shopping in one place, and books in the Seattle store will cost the same price as their online counterparts, which might be a relief for those who have grown used to Amazon’s reasonable prices and free home delivery.

However, on the other side of the fence, other traditional booksellers including UK brands like Waterstones and Blackwell’s and US stores such as Barnes and Noble, have long been enemies of Amazon for cutting the cost of books and taking customers out of the comfort of their stores and into the ether of e-commerce. Many independent bookstores have gone out of business in the two decades since Amazon began, and so some critics might have something to say about the giant business bringing its cut prices to the high street.

For the staff working at struggling stores in Seattle, the good news is that the Amazon Books store has promised that it will hire directly from those stores who might be letting staff go, but the bad news is that those stores should be closing at all. The question here is, is Amazon finally gratifying itself for taking the business off the high street in the first place, or is it in actual fact just coming back to finish off the kill and make sure that those other businesses have no place whatsoever in the bookselling industry.

Issie Lapowsky, writing from Wired, modified an old expression by saying that Amazon’s latest move is “both beating them and joining them,” and pondered whether Seattle-based bookstores will be too thrilled about their employees being poached by a larger, trendier competitor. On the other hand, however, Leonid Bershisky writing from the Denver Post pointed out that Amazon’s new store points to the fact that software has not actually destroyed the bookstore, as many believe that it is, but instead forcing all competitors in the industry to play to their strengths.

Remember, says Bershisky, it is about personal preferences, not progress, and Amazon is simply trying to cater to all of those differences.

 

Finding the time to write: it’s not impossible!

Writing the next great novel is everybody’s dream, and finding the time to do it is what is standing in everybody’s way. If I had the time, I expect I could have published more than a couple of novels by now, but unfortunately I just don’t have that kind of luxury.

So how can you fit writing your next great masterpiece around a full-time job, a family life and a social life on top of it all? Some of our best tips are below.

  1. Don’t get hung up on your word count. You can aim to write every day, every other day, or three times a week, but don’t set yourself word counts to aim for, because if you don’t meet it you will only get downhearted. Set yourself realistic expectations, and even if you only write for five minutes one day, then that is better than nothing.
  2. Make the most of your down time. Think about the points in your day when you are sitting around doing nothing. At the dentist’s office, on the bus, waiting for your kids to finish at swim practice? You could be writing! Get yourself a Bluetooth keyboard or a notebook and take it with you everywhere you go; that way your writing can be done before you even get home for dinner.
  3. Keep momentum going. If you have a great few days of writing, then keep it going, keep writing, and don’t stop. The minute you stop, the minute you take a break, that momentum slows down and so do you. Then it will be harder to get going again, harder to get yourself in the right frame of mind the produce fantastic prose.
  4. Turn off. Of course, you might need your computer to write, but you don’t need the internet, your phone, and your social media. Some of the best writing I have ever done was while disconnected from the internet and cell service for a weekend, and some of the best procrastinating I have ever done included both of those things.
  5. Finally, have faith in yourself. You can write, you are good at it, and you can finish. Don’t rush, don’t lose the quality, simply make sure that you stick to your own realistic objectives, and if you slip off, don’t be dispirited, simply pick yourself back up and get going again.

Get better habits: Get into the habit of reading more books

Mary McLeod Bethune once said “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read” and she wasn’t talking about how literacy can help your advance in education and in your career. No, she was talking about reading for pleasure. Reading books.

I once asked a group of about eight ESL students between the ages of 18-24 how often they read for pleasure, and the answer to that question, for every single one of them, was never. They never read for pleasure. I made them read the first chapter of Anne of Green Gables, and that task was met with as much enthusiasm as if you asked me to birth a calf every day for the next month.

Reading for pleasure is, sadly, not as common as it once was, but for many people that is not because they don’t want to read, it is because they don’t have time to read. Reading for pleasure is a pleasure, a treat, a sanctuary that many people simply don’t have time for any more. And as our lives get busier, it gets harder to make time for reading. I know that when I am on vacation, away from the distractions of daily life, I read so much more than I do on any given day when I’m at home. In fact, I have been known to blast through ten or more books in a one-week holiday. If only I had the time to do the same thing when I’m at home.

But it is possible. And here are a couple of tips to help you, and me, to start reading more during the week when you might not think you have time to do so.

First of all, you need to think about times in your day when you could be reading but you’re simply not doing so. You can tie your reading habits to those triggers, so that you eventually begin to automatically pick up your book when you’re having your breakfast, you lunch, dinner or afternoon coffee. Just before you go to bed, or first thing when you wake up in the morning. I don’t know about you, but those times are, unfortunately, where I have got into the habit of watching something on the television, and so exchanging those habits for reading can only be a good thing.

Make sure you enjoy what you’re reading. Don’t force yourself through something that you’re not enjoying after a few days, and don’t see reading as a chore. It should be a break, a relaxing part of your day, so make sure it is not a chore. It should also go without saying that your reading time should be a break from everything else, so leave your cell phone, iPad, laptop or any other distractions in the other room. Enjoy the action, and enjoy your book.

Take a book everywhere you go. This is where an e-reader can be your best friend. If you always bring your book, then any time you spend sitting in the doctor’s office, on the bus, waiting for a friend in the pub, can be spent reading, and before you know it you’ll have finished a book in three days that would previously have taken you four weeks.

Good luck, and happy reading!

Want to improve your writing? Read more

Not everybody is a writer. Sure, everybody can write, but not everybody has the skills needed to produce truly moving, involving and marketable prose that can actually make them a living. Creative writing, while offered as a course at university, is not often described as a skill that can be taught, better it is a talent that can be developed and nurtured as we grow.

So how do we develop and nurture our creative writing talent without paying thousands of dollars to attend a university or college course? The answers is of course, read more.

Reading is great for the human brain. It is great for your entire being, your daily life, and your mental abilities. Reading does so many things for us that you might not even realise, some of which are not even directly related to making you a better writer.

For a start, reading makes us smarter. Pretty obvious, right? Reading can increase our knowledge and our intelligibility in almost every area. It keeps us sharp as we age, and it gives us better general knowledge, much of which can be useful for those weekly pub quizzes.

Reading also reduced stress and increases our feelings of calmness. It allows us to take a step back, relax and slow down. A book can distract you from the real world, transport you somewhere completely different, and forces you to be still, far away from distractions of the real world.

Reading can also cultivate our compassionate skills. Feelings of empathy for others, understanding of feelings of peers, and broadening of opinions and imagination, all of which can allow us to understand others better and thus create better relationships with those around us.

Of course, however, the main point of this article is to talk about how reading can make us better writers, and a lot of that starts with language. Reading increases our vocabulary and helps us to understand language better. It gives us ideas and revelations as to how we can use our own language in ways we might never have imagined.

Reading also helps us to cultivate our imagination and find inspiration for our own subjects. One perspective from another well respected author can certainly help us to develop our own perspective or our own idea about something similar, all the while showing us secrets of how to write for the real world.

Reading also enables us to improve our analytical thinking, our critical skills, and our evaluative skills. And the quicker we can analyse somebody else’s work, the easier we will find it to do the same thing with our own work.

All in all, reading is not just good for your writing, it is good for your life. Enjoy what you read, let knowledge, vocabulary, imagination and creativity seep into your pores, and allow yourself to relax all at the same time. What could be better?

I’m writing a book

How long would it take you to count how many people have uttered those four words to you over the last year? And how many fingers would you need to count how many of those people will actually succeed in writing a book? Could you name off the top of your head the amount of writers that you know who are already published, or close to getting there?

I am writing a book. And I know that it won’t be easy. The writing, as laborious as it seems sometimes, is actually the easy part. And when I say laborious, I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy it, of course I do, I’m a writer, I love to be creative, I love to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let myself write, only stopping at the end of the day to go back and read what magic has materialised in front of me. I mean that writing a book is time-consuming, it can be frustrating, it can be infuriating, and it can be confusing. There are no many questions, so many problems, and so many re-writes until you are actually satisfied with your work that sometimes I wonder if it is worth it at all.

But the writing is not the hard part. Publishing; that will be the hard part. A friend of mine self-published a short story last year and every now and then she receives a bright and cheery email from Amazon informing her that she just made $2.37 on the sale of one of her books. And that is great. But I’m writing a book for an audience. I’m writing a book for people to read it en masse, not for one person to stumble across it once or twice a month and download a free sample before actually choosing to read my book.

So my choices are as follows: I can spend a year, or more, chasing traditional publishers and agents, hoping against hope that somebody will take a chance on me and decide to pay me for my book, or I can take my own chance on a self-publishing firm such as Mereo where I know that my book will get out there. As much as I believe in myself, I know that those feelings will not always be reciprocated throughout the traditional publishing world, and so recruiting the help of a company of experts will certainly help me to get my book to where I want it to go. On the shelves, on the e-readers, and most importantly, into people’s hands.

Mark Zuckerberg’s reading challenge: will it make a difference to the reading industry?

At the beginning of 2015 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced (on Facebook, how else?) that his new year’s resolution was to read one new book every other week, and in doing so he began an online book club aimed at getting more of his social network users to read for a hobby.

The public Facebook Page, “A Year of Books” has more than 450,000 members all of whom are informed of the books which are being read and invited to discuss it, as long as the conversation stays relevant. Readers are invited, also, to make suggestions about books that Zuckerberg should read and let him know of any further developments surrounding them.

The question is, just what will Zuckerberg’s challenge do for the industry of reading? Albeit Mr Zuckerberg is not exactly a celebrity that everybody dreams to follow in the footsteps of such as Brad Pitt or Taylor Swift, but he is successful and with it he is also persuasive. Those that are following his challenge and even joining him in it are likely to be fans of Facebook, of course, but they are also more likely to already be avid readers.

That being said, in the last year or so there have been many more book clubs pop up in my local community, and I’m sure in your community as well. The opportunity to read, share and discuss a book with like-minded people is an unmissable opportunity for anybody who enjoys reading, and anybody who just doesn’t have time to do it. The pressure (for lack of a better word) of having to read a book for a book club is surely enough persuasion for somebody who has little time on their hands to make some space, sit down, read and enjoy.

Zuckerberg also uses his book club to invite authors into the discussion, something that most of us would not be able to do with our community book clubs. Authors are invited to hold a question and answer session with other members of the book club to allow them to delve deeper into the meaning behind the book and the motivation behind the writing of it. How much Zuckerberg himself has to do with the actual book club remains to be seen, as all posts on the Facebook page are done under the alias of the book club itself, although as somebody who has publicly completed several New year’s challenges in the past, we have no reason not to believe that he is reading the books along with everybody else.

Here’s hoping that Zuckerberg’s profile and well publicised book club has invited many more readers into the folds of reading for pleasure.

The self-publishing journey, how to know which stop to get off at

The journey of publishing your first book, or your first self-published book, is like getting on a train that doesn’t announce its stops. You have to stay awake, alert and astute to make sure that you get off at the right stop, otherwise you end up getting off too soon and having to wait for the next train to come around, or you miss your stop altogether and have miles to trudge backwards.

The self-publishing train will take you through a huge multitude of stops including paralysing self-doubt, writer’s block, editing frustration and marketing nightmares, but if you get off the train at any of these stops then you’ll fail at getting to your end point, and you will get stuck in the bureaucracy or self-criticism that so many authors fall at.

As you pass through the periods of self-doubt and writer’s block you’ll need to take advice from other self-published authors about procrastination, motivation and how to keep going. Clear your head, clear your desk, bargain with yourself and find the space, the sound and the view that motivates you. You’ll pass through editing choices, from friends and trusted family members to professionals, and as you speed through the station you’ll have to make that decision, the one that is best for your situation, your book, and your budget.

You’ll also slow down at the marketing station, where you’ll have to decide whether to self-market your book through word of mouth, social media, your own website or blog, or whether to pay somebody else to market for you. This could include hiring a professional company, or paying other businesses to simply advertise your new book on their websites and in their stores. The marketing station is one of the most important pauses you will make, because how else will your book make its sales, but you need to be careful not to disembark here because the train might keep going without you.

Don’t forget, that the publishing train will also pass through traditional publishing before it reaches self-publishing, and this is where you have a big decision to make. Do you want to pass your book onto big named publishers who might change some of the meaning behind your book in order to ensure that it attracts a bigger audience? Perhaps you want the security of having marketing, editing and royalties sorted out for you, but make sure you take some time to work out exactly what that will mean for your end product before you get off the train.

If you stayed until the last stop, then self-publishing is your goal. Your book is written and edited with a marketing plan and a confident writer behind it. Get off the train, quickly, because if you dither and stay on too long, worrying about your finished product, the train will whisk you off and it will all be too late.