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Bed is for books, not the telly.

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Watching property programmes is a guilty pleasure for my daughter and me. We particularly enjoy the BBC stalwart, ‘Escape to the Country’. Presenter Jules Hudson is a favourite of ours, we like his country gent manners and the way he deals with the most picky and grasping couples with an effortless and disarming charm. But what we are most interested in is having a nosy around the houses of others. It’s endlessly fascinating for us. I find it also gives me a great insight into current lifestyle trends, which then helps to inform my writing (that’s my excuse anyway).
What always strikes me on these programmes, is that whenever the couple is taken into the ‘Master Suite’, be it in a modern property or a quirky little thatched cottage, more often then not, the room’s dominant feature is a huge flat screen television, taking pride of place in the centre of one wall. It never fails to surprise me, and to jar somewhat. For me, bedrooms are for dim lighting, a bedside table full of paperbacks and, just possibly – in the bathroom perhaps, a small transistor radio.
Old fashioned? Of course. But I simply can’t see how television fits in. Do you lie in bed and watch it? Surely that would wake the kids? It might be switched on in the morning whilst you perform your pre-breakfast ablutions, but again, this is something for the kitchen maybe and personally, I prefer the radio at this time of the day anyhow, as you can carry on with other tasks without missing anything.
You may think these observations are intellectual elitism or snobbery. I can assure you they are not. I love my T.V and I’m certainly not snobbish about the programmes I watch. But the telly is for living rooms, or snugs. Places with sofas and coffee tables upon which the Radio Times can be rested. Then, when it’s time for bed, as you tromp up the stairs with a glass of water in your hand, you enter a whole other domain; the place where you can escape into the pages of a great book. It is a totally different experience and one which lulls you into the conditions necessary for sleep (unless you are gripped by a particularly good page-turner of course). I would not wish to lose this important division between day and night. The blurring of the boundaries would unsettle me. Telly is entertainment that comes at you with bangs and flashes and bursts of stirring music. Books are a quiet, even silent pleasure, where all you can hear are the nocturnal noises outside your bedroom window, the odd jet plane passing over high above, as you make the transition into a world which comprises solely of your own thoughts and dreams.
Better than the telly any day, I’d say.

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How small publishers and independents should prepare for Christmas

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As I am now a small retailer, having been up and running for over a couple of years, I know that Christmas is a crucial selling time and I need to be fully prepared for it.
First and foremost, I am a writer and an editor. Fine. That declaration is out of the way. But, I design and publish my own books so it is essential that I adopt a pretty good business head too.

The busiest season for ebook downloads tends to fall over the summer months and some independent author/publishers may have felt the sting of lower paperback and hardback sales as a result. Don’t worry. This is a perfectly natural pattern and will only become more pronounced as the ebook market continues to grow, as it inevitably will. This phenomenon is a good thing for independents. We are blissfully free of pen-pushing middle-men and can keep our ebook prices down accordingly.
All this being said, we authors do love our print books. I don’t feel as if I’ve really written a book until I’ve held the physical copy in my hands. But never fear, the run up to Christmas always marks a resurgence in print book sales and small publishers need to be ready to take it on.
If your books only appear in ebook format then I would recommend looking into producing hard copies for the festive season. Consumers are buying for gifts- so they need a solid product to wrap and put under the tree! Createspace is always a great option here and the end product – with the correct design and input on your part – is absolutely terrific. Their books are produced to an extremely high standard and have the obvious benefits of being P.O.D.
For me, I will be spending the next couple of weeks ensuring that my print books are in tip top order for the Christmas rush. I will check the formatting and the covers to make sure they are absolutely perfect. I may even consider producing a new set of covers especially to appeal to Christmas buyers. Boxed sets may be another idea, where this is possible.
Indies be aware that now you are proper retailers, the Christmas season has to be taken deadly seriously. Get your product polished up and ready and price it to sell. A new book release in the weeks before Christmas also makes commercial sense, but you need to leave long enough after going live for the word to get out and for people to order and receive your book well before the 25th December, otherwise it will defeat the point!
There will be local fayres and shopping evenings that you could get involved in too. Pop up shops in businesses and pubs/restaurants are becoming increasingly popular, so that busy workers can get a chance to purchase some unique gifts during their lunch hour. You will need a healthy supply of books in preparation for this. Signed copies make superb gifts and if you can slip a well designed and striking business card between the pages then your customers may well go on line to order more from the series in future.
There are plenty of opportunities out there to reach your readers during this quarter of the year so don’t miss out on it. Be prepared, and you will definitely see a boost in sales.

Will the growth of self-publishing allow the ‘ordinary’ voice to be heard?

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Whilst completing the research for my first novel, ‘Aoife’s Chariot’, I read an amazing book called ‘No Mean City’ by A.McArthur and H. Kingsley Long. The book itself is very famous, not least for providing the most memorable line in the theme song for the Glaswegian crime drama, ‘Taggart’. It was first published in 1935 and is a near autobiographical novel about the savage life of a young man growing up in the notorious Gorbals area of Glasgow. McArthur, we assume, was that very same young man, ill-educated and subsumed into the all-encompassing culture of poverty and gang-violence.
Yet McArthur was able to tell his story. With the help of Kingsley Long, a journalist and writer, his experiences made it to publication. Even with the book’s heavy use of colloquial language and harsh scenes of violence and degradation, the book became an international bestseller, with over 500,000 copies sold.
But this is not the norm. Occasionally, from a particularly gifted or driven individual, we get the chance to hear a truly ‘ordinary’ voice – by this I mean those people in society with no access to the educational privileges which the majority of us take for granted. Television and the internet have done a great deal to break down this barrier and allow the ‘ordinary’ voice to be expressed. However, the publishing world has long been reluctant to open their doors to this section of society, largely because the folk I am referring to do not have access to the tools necessary to make themselves heard within this world of electronic manuscripts and literary agents. What publisher these days would take a chance on a person like McArthur? I really can’t see it happening. Yet what a fantastic tale he had to tell.
After finishing my pile of summer reading, I reflected upon what I had read. It surprised me to note how many of the novels I’d chosen were set in the cosy middle-class world of the professional classes. My books are no different! My lead characters are similarly well educated and middle-class. Perhaps this is inevitable, as they reflect my own comfortable background growing up in the affluence of the south east of England, in a home in which books and education were given the highest priority.
Despite the limitations of my own life experience, I am aware that there are other ways of looking at things and that our cosy existence should be shaken up every so often, particularly in the novels we read. Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell did this through their writings over a century ago and it’s about time we revisited the concept.
I am hopeful that as the metropolitan elite’s grip on the controls of what we see on the shelves of our bookshops begins to weaken, we will get to hear a far wider range of voices and that the worlds this will open up for us in the future, will be very far from ordinary.

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