HALT, WHO GOES THERE? [friend or foe at the London Book Fair]

Tuesday 16th April – London

Whilst the progressive and ever expanding Authorlounge at the London Book Fair was vibrant, a matter of yards away some were still debating the same old thing… and the ‘friend or foe’ in question of course is Amazon. There seemed something very reactionary about the debate, with the fear of change itself being as much an issue as its nature.

Few would doubt that Amazon remain vulnerable to attack, though much of that relates to the understandable fuss over their tax affairs. In terms of Amazon’s role in the literary world however who exactly are Amazon’s foes, and what are they afraid of?

The London Book Fair has been a hive of activity this week, and much of the buzz was emanating from the Authorlounge. A series of panel debates on a whole range of publishing issues and trends were brim full, and remained so throughout the first two days. Many were packed several deep at the back, in fact so much so that a couple of slightly bemused security men were posted specifically to keep the crowds from blocking the aisles. There was a clear sense that this is where things were ‘happening’.

Many of the panels and seminars focused on the direct publishing revolution, where, as the main player, Amazon were well represented. Now I’m duty bound to declare an interest, in that I was invited as their guest along with fellow indie author Mel Sherratt. But that ‘interest’ wasn’t in the company, but in their drive to deliver platforms for writers… platforms that didn’t exist up until a few years ago.

There was a time when self publishing was a dirty word, but so much has changed, and so quickly. It’s a fact that surprises many, but the reality now is that over a quarter of Amazon’s best sellers are now written by independent authors. That would have been unthinkable as little as two years ago. It’s making some publishers nervous and only goes to highlight just how difficult it is to predict the future.

A few years back if the writer/agent/publisher relationship didn’t gel, and no deal was forthcoming, it would be the end of the road for all three. The publisher would look elsewhere, the agent lost a client and the writer had no means of finding an audience for their work.

These days however things are very different, and constantly evolving. Whilst many are still clinging rigidly to their traditional roles some of the more progressive folk in the industry are moving with the times. We are all entering new territory, and writers are leading the way in this publishing ‘wild west’. However, some literary agents are also discovering that there may be ‘gold in them thar hills’.

It was often the case that if an agent couldn’t secure a traditional deal for their client their journey together would come to an end… sometimes a rather abrupt one. However, rather like the way some music industry A&R folk adapted to change, some literary agents are now continuing to back their judgement, thus venturing beyond the old frontiers imposed by publishers.

In doing so, some independent writers are now succeeding in a domain which was exclusively occupied by the big publishing houses… and there perhaps lies the rub. In effect, all Amazon have done is provide vehicles for an alternative journey by offering writers an opportunity to publish ebooks direct via KDP and paperbacks via CreateSpace. Some of the larger publishers bristle at Amazon’s ‘nerve’, but only because they are a potential threat to their vice like grip on the great reading public.

For many years the books we read were strictly controlled. Decisions on what was made available to the public were in the hands of a few. If a publisher thought a particular writer wouldn’t sell, or a particular genre was ‘out of fashion’ they could dramatically affect the literary output. These days however readers not only have a far wider choice of material but a largely uncensored one. This has given them the chance to find independent writers, many of whom are writing what they want to read.

So be careful when you find yourself taking an automatic stance on the ‘friend or foe’ debate. Yes Amazon have some issues, and ones which need to be addressed, and yes a rise in online sales is bound to have an impact on bookstores, but as far a publishing in general terms is concerned Amazon are a company who are at the vanguard of change, and that change is as progressive as it is liberating. For writers there is certainly nothing to be scared of, and if agents adapt to change with them they too have little to fear.

The larger publishing houses held the keys to the doors for many years, and perhaps it’s no surprise that they haven’t taken kindly to someone turning up and barging those doors open. Many writers have taken advantage, and the fact that some are now outselling their own cherished charges has led to a good deal of head-scratching.

How publishers adapt is a matter for them, but spending their time bad mouthing an easy target is unlikely to bring them much joy. The foe, if there is one, could be their own lack of vision. With things changing so rapidly it may be that those who stand still and throw stones will end up with the largest bruises.

All the fun of the fair…

Very sorry it has taken longer than anticipated to post again. So much has been happening, and so quickly, that I haven’t got anywhere near catching up. If I owe you a reply, to an email or the like, I promise I will get there this week.

So, DEFENDING ELTON is now released, as both an ebook and a paperback. Exciting times, and with my invitation to the London Book Fair there is much to look forward to. I will be joining others on a couple of panels to discuss ‘the writer’s journey’ and ‘the future for authors’. I’m not sure at the time of writing this whether my blog in the Huffington Post has gone up, but that will give more of a clue as to where some of the discussion might be going.

I’m thrilled to be taking part, not least because writing can be a solitary business and though the likes of social media can keep you in touch with fellow scribes, and like-minded others, it’s good to have the chance to meet folks face to face. I know the Author Lounge is a big part of this year’s Book Fair and I’m looking forward to saying hi to a number of authors, plus many others connected to the literary world.

I know from mails and tweets I’ve received that my own writing journey resonates with some, and has inspired others to keep on track. Writing comes from within. It’s a drive that has its own energy, and I know how difficult it is when obstacle after obstacle is put in your way. Whether it’s a rejection letter form a literary agent or a ‘not quite what we’re looking for’ from a publisher, or even your own inner voice doubting you, it can be a troublesome path. Of course it always will be to an extent, but I really do think things are moving again, and in the right direction.

Yes it’s been tough, very tough for new writers, because fewer were being offered book deals, but the likes of Amazon have been forcing the industry as whole to take a good look at itself. A literary agent told me recently that she felt utter dejection when she was unable to secure a traditional deal for a talented writer. She had been working with this writer for six months, helping to polish drafts etc. The agent in question was, at first, unashamedly ignorant about direct publishing, but when she learned a little more she was soon delighted to be helping her writer to launch her excellent debut novel as a paperback, via Amazon’s Create Space. I don’t know what their agreement was, but at least it was an agreement, and at least there would be some reward for both writer and agent.

More and more new novels are seeing the light of day, and thank goodness writers now have such platforms. What’s interesting is that it seems to be the writer who’s adapted first, with some agents also beginning to follow on the yellow brick road…

Some will tell you that they are fed up with being bombarded by ghost written celebrity life stories or copy cat versions of well know novels across the genres. I tend to think that we’ve been through a ‘safety-first’ period, perhaps indicative of precarious economic times. It’s been a culture of ‘better the devil you know’ with writers nervous, agents apprehensive and publishers jittery.

Despite all this some fresh blood is now finding an audience. Direct publishing has helped, so too the digital revolution, and as the stigma dissolves an increasing number of people are both taking part and taking note. I read an article via twitter recently headed something like ‘Amazon – friend or foe?’ I don’t think there’s any need for anyone connected to direct publishing to be ‘the enemy’… far from it. Indeed, instead of casting the modern against the traditional many are now beginning to see that they might just be mutually beneficial.

Who knows how things will look in the publishing world in five or ten years time? Nobody could have guessed how things have changed these few years. Words and phrases such as ‘Kindle’, ‘ebook’, ‘direct publishing’ ‘Create Space’ ‘Kobo’ ‘hybrid author’ and many others were off the radar only a few years back. What is probably beyond doubt though is that when things are changing so quickly it tends to be those who stand still who lose out. Adapting to change isn’t really an option, it’s more of a necessity. In fact writers, agents and publishers will all have to adapt to some extent, just to survive, but they can, and I expect in time they will.

Anyway, it will good to listen to what a wide range of people think at the book fair seminars. Back to matters more personal. DEFENDING ELTON has only gone live this last week or so and I’ve already had some amazing feedback. Thanks for that, and I hope the book can reach as wide an audience as possible in the coming months. The process is always a bit of a slow burner, and perhaps even more so this time. As some of you know my priorities have been elsewhere recently since my partner’s cancer diagnosis, but I’m pleased to say that the future is now looking considerably rosier. Kate has a mega sore throat due to her radiotherapy but with just the one week left she’s getting there.

That reminds me, the chemotherapy unit at North Devon Hospital are currently trying to raise funds for a new unit… any donations most welcome! They have been brilliant. And maybe when that’s done we could raise funds for a radiotherapy unit at NDH too, so North Devon folk don’t have to do a 120 mile round trip for up to 30 consecutive days! I certainly know the various routes to Exeter now!

Well hope it’s not too long till the next post. If I get a chance I’ll do one from the Book Fair.

NEW BOOK!

So glad to be able to tell you that my new novel ‘Defending Elton’ will be officially launched on Tuesday 2nd April.

However, I’d like my blog readers and Twitter followers to know that ‘Defending Elton’ is now available as a pre-release via Amazon – both as a Kindle ebook and a paperback.

I would welcome reviews running up to the official launch on the day after Easter Monday.

This has been a very exciting time, with considerable interest in both my journey as a writer and the book, some from quite unexpected sources. A fair bit will be happening when ‘Defending Elton’ is officially released, can’t say too much more on that at the moment… but will be able to soon.

Hope you enjoy the read.

Amazon links:

to Ebook: http://amzn.to/1026e0h

to Paperback: http://amzn.to/13hDIOA

New website for Agent Hunting

A most comprehensive list of agents and publishers. Really useful writer’s tool, courtesy of crimethrillergirl.
http://www.agenthunter.co.uk/

Elton on his way…

‘Defending Elton’ will be released towards the end of this month [March]

Though my second release chronologically, it was the first book I began, and has finally taken shape this last few months. So may good-willed souls have helped along the way. Literary Agents Kate Jones of ICM and Broo Doherty of Wade&Doherty were incredibly supportive and helped me get this far. My author pal Tina Orr Munro has helped by sharing her own experiences, as have other authors including Mel Sheratt and Tim Kevan. And thanks especially to Gina Skinner, for her patience with me on matters technical, and Rebecca Keys for her ‘understanding’ editing.

In any event, it was with some relief that I approved the final draft this week. A ‘review’ copy will shortly be available as a .mobi file for Kindle, with the book launching on or about 30th March. Hopefully both for Kindle and in paperback.

As those who have read previous blogs will know, the very first person to read an early draft was literary agent Kate Jones. Alas, she is no longer with us, but her support gave me tremendous confidence… particularly when I found out how well respected she was as a literary figure.

‘Defending Elton’, I suspect, will remain my favourite book, because so much energy and passion has been invested in it. The few who’ve read it so far, mostly industry professionals, say it’s an original and inventive tale with plenty of thrills and spills. I hope readers find it just as gripping.

And before I forget, a huge thanks to book cover designer Jamie Keenan. He might be used to designing covers for the likes of Stephen King and Nick Hornby, and being commissioned by a whole range of major publishing houses, but he read a draft of the book a couple of months back and said that not only did he want to design the cover but that he would would help to promote it too. Not many Indie authors have such support and I was chuffed by that Jamie, thanks.

Well I’ll keep you posted on Elton’s release.

Meanwhile, my next book will see the return of Jill Shadow, the lead in ‘Kiss and Tell’… and a big thanks to those readers who have given such positive feedback, and encouraged me to write some more stories for her. I’m just about to get cracking on it!
Be back again soon…

‘Kiss and Tell’ – available now on Amazon http://amzn.to/WZbNPp
‘Defending Elton’ – available shortly.

http://www.tjcooke.com

News from the front…

Hello all from a sunny but cold Devon this morning. Much has been happening on the book front. Here’s the summary:

‘Kiss and Tell’ had a free promo period in January, which sparked a lot of interest and a large number of downloads. As ever these free mini periods seem to lead to an increase in sales during the following period, as to exactly why that is I’ll leave to those more au fait with the nuances of marketing.

There was also some much appreciated coverage on various blogs including interviews with Lloyd Paige and Mel Sherratt, and review posts from ‘CrimeThrillerGirl’ and ‘Confessions of a Mystery Novelist’. I’d like to thank bloggers Steph and Margot, and others, for their respective comments on ‘Kiss and Tell.’

Margot [Confessions] went into considerable detail, as she tends to do, with an in-depth insight into the book. Her reviews are always fascinating. Read her posts and you’ll soon see that she has both a healthy interest and a detailed understanding of the genre. I always find her themed blogs, where she explores particular aspects of crime fiction, the most revealing. Here she draws on her wide reading and knowledge to compare and contrast authors across the board, past and present.

In the not too distant future ‘Kiss and Tell’ will also be available as a paperback. I wanted to find out how ebook sales would go first, and they’ve gone well. A fair few folk have expressed an interest in a paperback version and it will be out fairly soon, hopefully sometime next month.

It’s a very busy time writing wise, as I am now in the final stages of editing and proof reading my second novel ‘Defending Elton’. I am very excited about it because it’s been my ‘baby’ for some time now and I want to get it as ship-shape as possible before release. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I will say it is a bit ‘different’ from the norm, and those who have read it for me, mostly professionals in the industry, have been enthusiastic in their support.

A very early draft was read by literary agent Kate Jones, a few years back now. Those of you who’ve read my previous blogs will know that I met Kate quite by accident. In fact it wasn’t until after I’d met her that I found out what a respected figure she was. She had taken me under her wing and promised to find me the right agent/publisher cocktail, as she put it. I was chuffed when she described the book as ‘a stunningly inventive crime fiction tale’.

Kate and I shared a few coffees, actually hot chocolate I seem to remember in her case, and chewed the fat over the legal world, which we both shared an interest in. She had an instinct for injustice, which led her to publish Gerry Conlon’s book ‘Proved Innocent’. She was bold in her support, and not many would have published such a no holds barred account of his wrongful imprisonment for IRA bombings.

To me Kate was just a friendly acquaintance who was effervescent in her support. To others, I later found out, she was a mighty figure in the literary world, working for high profile publishers including Penguin and Viking. At one time she also looked after Ian Fleming Publications and was responsible for the ‘Bond estate’. In fact some put Bond’s resurgence of the last decade as much down to her as anyone.

Much of this I had no idea about. She could have bragged about all sorts, but spent most of her time with me just chatting and making me smile. She had a sharp sense of humour. In fact she was sharp at everything, with an acute and often instant understanding.

She was just about to contact agents and publishers for me when tragically her cancer returned. I didn’t know that it had struck before, all I knew is that one minute she was a bright and bubbly soul and the next she was gone.

That’s why it has taken so long for ‘Defending Elton’ to re-surface. I was so rocked by Kate’s demise that it took me another year just to write in her suggestions for amendments, a job that should only have taken a week at the most. After a while an agent called Broo Doherty took it on for me, but found that the commissioning editors at the time were both restrained by the financial crisis and wary of new writers to take too many risks. Broo was very deflated about it and couldn’t understand why it was taken up. However, the more I’ve learned the more I realise what a lottery getting published can be.

That’s when I decided to go down the direct route. By that time Kiss and Tell was also nearly written so ‘Elton’ had to follow in the queue… and that’s where I am with it at present.

I just wanted to take the time to mention Kate Jones though. She was an inspiration to me, and when ‘Defending Elton’ is launched I will be thinking of her.

Say What You See…

I’d like to share my guest blog courtesy of http://jilledmondson.blogspot.co.uk

Having written many tv drama scripts over the years, I was asked recently if the experience helped when it came to writing my two novels ‘Kiss and Tell’, and ‘Defending Elton’…

For those of a certain age ‘say what you see’ will be associated with the popular tv game show ‘Catchphrase’. I expect it’s a formula adopted all around the globe, but essentially it involves contestants trying to guess a popular saying from a visual ‘cartoon’, which is revealed square by square. ‘Say what you see’ is the presenter’s own catchphrase, whereby he encourages the contestants to think aloud, prompting them to guess the phrase being portrayed.

It’s a saying however which could be turned on its head when applied to the construction of character in a novel. For rarely do we actually ‘say what we see’.

Portrait of character can be painted as much through dialogue as descriptive prose. In ‘Kiss and Tell’ engagement with character is crucial to the unravelling of the narrative. Jill Shadow has to judge a number of people in a short space of time. Some of those people she has known for many years, some intermittently and some for only a matter of days. Her verbal exchanges with them hopefully tell us a fair deal, about both Jill and those she’s interacting with.

The way someone speaks can reveal as much about their own background, education and status as any descriptive passage. Indeed, using the ‘show don’t tell’ principal, which is the core of many a writing class, dialogue is an essential ingredient.

Many writers will say that it’s often a character’s ‘voice’ which can be the most difficult aspect to pin down. Through writing a number of different scripts, for a variety of dramas, I had been forced to concentrate on the art. So yes, it certainly helped, especially of course when it came to writing scenes which were largely dialogue based.

However, the real key to writing dialogue is simply to listen. I’m not sure it’s possible to write with authenticity unless you are fascinated by all things human. Almost every other writer I’ve met has a deep engagement with the myriad marvels of life, and that includes the complexities of conversation.

Jill Shadow is an interesting example when it comes to the verbal. The vast majority of lawyers still come from privileged backgrounds. Jill however breaks the mould. She was brought up on a rough and tough London estate, and had to learn how to cultivate an ‘acceptable’ court voice.

There is a tendency for her to be quite thoughtful and deliberate in certain situations. On the other hand, when left to her own devices, say with her best mate Kate, or when otherwise totally comfortable with her company, she is likely to be more naturally fluid and expressive. What was really fascinating about Jill was that in times of stress and anxiety her old ‘street drawl’ would suddenly cut in to her more refined court manner. Though she’s often aware of this herself she sometimes struggles to stop it occurring.

‘Goodies’ and ‘baddies’ are essential ingredients in crime fiction, but aren’t they all the more intriguing when you have to work out who is who, and which is which?

One drama guru, whom I came to admire, would often underline the importance of character in developing story. ‘Never put in a cipher to fit the plot’ he would tell us. ‘They stick out like a sore thumb’. Each character, no matter how trivial, ought to present themselves, as they see fit, and not merely be planted as a device.

Dialogue is a crucial aspect of this ‘presentation of self’. True, there will be some who can’t help but give themselves away, with their dialogue flow and cadence being easy to read, but perhaps the most successful villains, and sleuths, are those who don’t readily ‘say what they see’. Indeed, those who are very aware of the presentation of self are often the most difficult to second guess, having an almost chameleon like quality.

Having an acute ear, and really listening to the way people talk, is vital. Many folks communicate by way of banter, often being light in an effort to show that they are ’happy’ or ‘doing well’. Their real mood may range from mildly apprehensive to deeply troubled, but rarely do we overtly communicate this to others in a social or formal setting.

These are a couple of examples of where it pays to be attentive to detail, and it can really help in exploring a character’s depth. Unless psychopathic, in the true sense of the word, a character will inevitably ‘feel what they see’, but might say something entirely different.

Sometimes the best dialogue emerges when there is a natural juxtaposition, often involving a menacing or dangerous setting with a nervous and seemingly irreverent discourse.

‘Kiss and Tell’ is currently available via the Amazon Kindle Store. ‘Defending Elton’ will be released shortly. See http://www.tjcooke.com for details.