A Crowded Marketplace

At this time of year where I live, you can hardly walk along the street without dodging people with suitcases on wheels, many of them young. Quite a few of these seasonal visitors are hoping to make a name for themselves by showcasing their talent, which often involves trying to be funny. But however good they are, this can only work if people come to see their show. And so we have a serious outbreak of posters.

These railings at St Patrick’s Square bear a heavy load, as do many other places such as Chambers Street and the South Bridge.

Those responsible for marketing and publicity often try to make their charges stand out from the crowd by having them adopt a zany expression and even zanier posture. But sometimes they do come up with an arresting image.


So what do we make of this one? It’s a steam iron, no dloubt, but on this occasion Miss Clarke is supplying the steam. Are we hooked? Just in case the image isn’t sufficient, someone called Jordan Gray is quoted as claiming that the Sian Clarke Experience is a “Funny and Terrifying Anus Tightening Mind F*ck.” I don’t know about you, but I can get along just fine without Miss Clarke having this effect on my anus. Ultimately, though,  the only way to know if this advertising is effective is to discover how many people turn up for the show each night.

For those of us who write books and try to sell them the process, though not so obvious, is similar. We don’t compete with each other by displaying large clover blow-ups side by side on railings, but our titles can be found next to each other in bookshops and – more akin to the St Patrick’s Square situation – side by side on web pages.

Songs in Film and TV Drama

Your attitude will depend on how you think fiction works. For example, you might like to feel, as you watch a cast of characters in action, that the events on the screen are actually taking place. You’re well aware that this isn’t the case but suspend your disbelief till the drama is over.

Now imagine two lovers reluctantly bidding each other farewell in an airport never to meet again. You might expect public service announcements in the background: Would passengers for flight ABC1234 for Dahomey please report to gate D8. What you would not expect is their dialogue to be intercut with a song. Where is the singer? In that fast food outlet over there? Lurking out of sight at the Delta Airlines desk?

As the parting plays out you realise that the singer isn’t there at all. So how come you’re hearing her? If this touching scene is really happening, as you would like to believe, then she would not be there at all.

Of course there will occasions when a given scene will justify music, or even demand it. A private eye in a car plays the radio, two characters sip lattes in a café where music (Wallpaper Volume 3) is playing in the background, three old friends sweat it out at a comeback gig of the Grateful Dead.

But increasingly, the custom is to zap the viewer with music in the absence of any such justification. Since we already know this cannot add credibility, we have to ask if it contributes something else, for example, adding meaning or significance to the action.

So . . .

Have we noticed how often people begin statements with the word ‘so’? In the past (a time zone I cheerfully inhabit) ‘so’ used to signify a consequence. I punched him on the nose SO he punched me back. These days, though, the word is deployed in much the same way that the Angles and Saxons used the word Hwaet! But I realise I’m going back a bit here.

So there is a television show called Hanna, three seasons in all.

Are songs used in the delivery of these episodes? They certainly are. According to the website Tunefind, if you watched all 22 episodes you’d be hit by a grand total of 150 songs. One hundred and fifty! And I have to reveal that this viewer has been hit by all of them and he didn’t like it one bit. So much so that he had the mute button handy whenever a song started and was therefore obliged to follow the dialogue through subtitles.

When it comes to Hanna and many other series, I find that songs compete with dialogue for our attention.  I have no idea why programmes are made in this way. In the old days, when CD albums were the thing, films were often made with enough songs to make up an album as a part of an associated merchandising campaign. I’m not sure if it works in quite this way now, when individual songs can be streamed or downloaded. Maybe it does.

Another niggle. I have often noticed that the makers of TV series/film have an unwelcome desire to play an individual song in its entirety. This, of course, stops the action dead in its tracks. So they attempt to cover the problem by a sequence of visuals; the femme fatale in her shower thinking her thoughts, the assassin preparing his or her weapon, complete with silencer.

Sometimes, despite all of the above, a film is made which does very well with songs. An example of this would be O Brother, Where Art Thou? Yes, for reasons which will obvious to anyone who has read this far, I too am a man of constant sorrow.

All is Revealed

You can’t tell a book by it’s cover. This well-known saying is sometimes true, but not always. I dimly remember scenes from an old film where a passenger in a railway carriage, male of course, concealed the pornography he was looking at behind a worthy cover. The Bible perhaps. But publishers would prefer that you could tell a book from its cover since they want to market their titles and knowing what genre a book is helps them in this.

Writers have complete control of the text, but unless they are artists as well their publishers may come up with cover designs they don’t care for but can’t do much about. To avoid this, they might commission artwork directly.

My first attempt at recruitiing a designer produced a cover for Interleaved Lives which completely ignored every word of the brief (shown in a previous post), so I tried a second designer who did his level best to fulfil it.

I liked what he had come up with, but while the publisher felt that his design had its good points they also felt it was not effective for the genre in question, namely crime. So after a week or two I found myself looking at a cover design they supplied.

And I could see what they meant. The publisher’s cover clearly shows that the book is in the crime genre and gives an indication of the content. Even more surprising to me, the artist explained his design by referring to the text. Since keeping an eye on a suspect from a car was not referred to in the blurb or the synopsis, he had actually read it!

So this is the cover I’m going with.

Nostalgia Sells

I have no idea if this is true or not, but McSorleys clearly think it is.

Quality Libations

Quite a few people in these parts would not know the word ‘libation’ if it changed itself into a haddock and slapped them in the face, and most of those who do know it are over seventy. Yet here it is in all its glory and, I’m guessing, it is thought to suggest quality. And no doubt the same is true of ‘sustenance’.

But Armstrong and Son has more reason to call themselves an emporium, since they sell clothing from, or modeled on, the clothing of years gone by.

Armstrong's Emporium - Web

 Armstrongs 2Armstrongs 3

Are authors who write historical fiction tapping into a nostalgic vein? I’m thinking here of fiction set in the Victorian or Edwardian periods rather than further back. I am tempted to write like this myself so that I could ‘pen’ lines such as:

‘I don’t believe a word of it,’ Philpott asseverated stoutly.

Two books are better than one

I have read that publishing only one book isn’t such a good idea when it comes to marketing. However good that book may be, having a second title already published or on the way gives added credibility. Some authors work hard to build up interest in their next title, using their blogs to announce ‘cover reveals’ and publishing extracts in advance – sometimes to seek reactions which may lead to edits but also to whet the reader’s appetite. How effective all this is I don’t know.

I think I agree with the basic theory, though. If an author has a website listing only one title then prospective readers may not be so interested. The site will probably look sparse and they know that even if they like the only title on offer they can’t move on to the next if there isn’t one.

And if the website looks sparse so will the shelf in the bookshop. A single title can easily go unnoticed: the author will plainly have greater presence if more than one title is visible. My local bookshop was already selling my first book (by which I mean that it was both on sale and being bought) and is now taking the second as well.

My Titles Blackwells

It’s good to see them snuggling up like this and I entertain the foolish fantasy that being so close and personal they might breed, saving me the trouble of writing the third.

Fantasy seems to be a popular genre right now, so if I can contribute in however small a way . . .

To publish or self-publish

The choice you make may come down to your psychology. You may feel the need to be in print the day before yesterday. Why might that be? You may be young and used to things happening quickly, or old and persuaded that there may not be so many tomorrows you can afford to pick wildflowers along the way and lie on the river bank under a tree with grass in your ear.

In either case, you might succumb to negative thoughts. You might try to get an agent and ply your wares from one to the next. After two years you will have succeeded or given up. But even if you have succeeded your agent, after another two years, may not have been able to place your work with a publisher.  And now four years have gone and you cannot get them back. So this option is not for you. You have just ruled out traditional publishing. At this point you could give up and be happy instead, you could self-publish or you could become a publisher.


Self-publication is not without its pitfalls, especially if your eye is caught by the promises of a vanity press. But once you have done it, then you must market your work, which will entail – whether you like it or not – marketing yourself. Not everyone is good at this and it requires intelligently directed effort. You will hope to be selling online to a potentially world-wide audience – though it is as well to bear in mind that several other people will be doing exactly the same.

But what if you want to see your title in bookshops. (Does your book really exist if it’s only visible online?) In fact, you can self-publish and sell your book in bookstores. It is possible, but only on a limited scale. You approach your local bookstore with a copy of Archangel of Fire (#1 in the Sword of Destiny series), tell them what you would like to do and they will either say yes or no. If they say ‘yes’ you will agree terms, provide the store with copies and hand them an invoice reflecting those terms. Should they find stocks running low they will ask you for more copies and will certainly look more favourably upon Forged in Fear (#2 in the Sword of Destiny series).

I have done this myself (minus archangels and swords).

Bookshop 2

With chains the situation is little different. In my experience, the manager of each store has the discretion to take your book or not. If you live in a city with five branches of Better Books, you cannot approach head office and do a deal covering all five, you will need to approach each store individually. So getting your book into stores is a time-consuming business, and that is just to speak of the area in which you live. Shall we now move on to the nation as a whole? I don’t think so, somehow. Are you really going to spend the next two years trudging from one town to the next with a suitcase full of books? If you want potential country-wide coverage you have to be published rather than self-published and one way to achieve that is to set yourself up as a publisher.

Becoming a publisher

To achieve this you pay for ISBN numbers (unless you live in Iceland, where they will be free) and set to work preparing your first book, publishing it to critical acclaim, and having the great joy of seeing it in bookstores.

In theory, at least. But how is it in practice? (Remember, we decided to become a publisher to achieve this end.) A member of the public walks in to Bargain  Books looking for your title. (She knew of it from your website). To her disappointment it isn’t in stock, she can’t believe it but, never fear, because it has been published by a genuine publisher it is registered with Nielsen Bookdata, carried by a wholesale distributor such as Gardner’s, and so shows up on the store’s computer where it can easily be ordered.


So, yes, becoming a publisher can be done, though it isn’t advisable without first figuring out the angles. If you haven’t been involved in publishing before there is a lot to learn. With each title you have to deal with the interior text (by no means as easy as it sounds to make this error free) and the cover. And times being as they are you will wish to convert your physical book into one or more e-book formats. You will also have to keep accounts and, if you aren’t in the system already, be obliged to submit annual tax returns.

If you succeed in all that, you have done well. But if your main interest is writing you may find that you have no time left to do it and even less energy. And whether you self-publish or turn yourself into a publisher (I was thinking of becoming the Hart Head) you will still have to handle marketing whether you like it or not.


Two scams in one day

The first was from someone who claimed to like my work because of its ‘snappy dialogue’. The message was fairly long but generic in that it could have been sent to any author of fiction – unless there are some who don’t use dialogue at all. While laudatory in tone it was entirely lacking in specifics.

A little research brought out several things, but the most notable were that an author who wrote only in French had received this message, as had a man who didn’t write fiction of any sort. Producing snappy dialogue when you don’t write is quite an achievement.

How had the sender found me? Through Goodreads where, it turned out, he had read nothing, reviewed nothing, rated nothing and had no friends. Since mentioning all this on a Goodreads group I find his account has been deleted.

Why had Emmett Moten (a real name, but not the real name of the sender) bothered to do this? What was his game? He was directing authors to a website which would publicise/market their work. Only quality writers like us need apply. At some point down the line money would change hands.

Hi Roderick Hart.

I just want to say hi and introduce myself – I’m a huge fan of your books! Your dialogue is snappy and it’s like I could physically hear every word. Thank you so much for sharing your talent.

As an aspiring author myself, I thought I’d send you a quick message to share a recently discovered website specifically designed for authors to increase the sales of our books. I’ve personally tried what’s offered on that website for the last month and honestly, I was blown away with the results I got! I love your work and admire you as an author, I want more people to experience your books! Everyone deserves to hear your stories so I’m excited to share this website as friendly act of kindness.

You can find it here: http://goo.gl/Wkt2Fy. This website features only the absolute best products for independent authors and publishers.

I want quality work to receive the audience it deserves – nowadays it’s so hard to increase sales. P.S. I assure you – I’m not affiliated with this website in any way. Good luck, Roderick Hart!

Reply to this message


The second scam came in a phone call. The caller said his name was William. While there may be some gentlemen in the Indian sub-continent called William, I’m fairly sure he wasn’t one of them. According to him, I had been mis-sold insurance with my credit card or, failing that, a loan I had taken out. He could reclaim this on my behalf.

Firstly, I hadn’t been mis-sold insurance and secondly, even if I had been I could have reclaimed the money myself without paying him to do it for me.

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The Writer is Missing

Unlike the disappearing blogger of the previous post, The Writer in this one is a category.

Today I visited a place used by many different people on a drop-in basis to promote their business.

It was an old building, the interior spacious and full of light. I wished I had my camera so, guess what, I was invited back again to take some shots.

Corn Exchange, Leith

I brought some leaflets back to show my wife, whose reaction was interesting. ‘Ceramicist, actor, musician,’ she reads, ‘animator, dancer, filmmaker, jeweller.’        Giving me a hard look she adds, ‘You know what’s missing, don’t you? Not a writer in sight, don’t writers count?’

She was right. I suspect the reason is that writers can easily work from home and don’t require a place like this. Unless, of course, they intend to market themselves as a brand. Now there’s a thought.


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Wanting to write a positive notice?

You may find it hard going, especially if you have to write several for a book-festival brochure. Every book in your festival is good or it wouldn’t be featured, but every book is good in its own way. The trick is to ring the changes. Fortunately, some ready-made words and phrases already exist. This is a small selection. Feel free to rape and pillage for your own fell purposes.

hilarious and heartbreaking
steeped in psychological tension
a fleet-footed paean
breath-taking ability
a coruscating analysis
an evocative memoir
pin-sharp, hilarious snapshots
a deliciously sharp sense of humour
compelling insight
by turns tragic and hilarious
riveting and horrifying in equal measure
a complex and rewarding tale
a razor-sharp collection of stories
profoundly moving
astute and perceptive
a riveting and moving tale
a dystopian tale
startlingly original
playfully innovative
deceptively simple
deeply moving
succinct and highly personal
lyrical, subversive and hilarious
a captivating tale of betrayal and revenge
a sensitive evocation