The fall of Falling Girl

fg-cover-24mar14

I reached a momentous decision today. I’ve basically unpublished my first novel, Falling Girl from Amazon. Why?

Well, there were a number of reasons really. If you believe (as I do) that your writing gets better with time and practice, then it follows that your earliest work may not be as good as your more recent output. I’ve heard it said that a first novel should be seen as a dry run, a place to make all your mistakes (or even more than usual anyway), and should remain locked in a desk drawer (literally or digitally) rather than published.

Which may not always be true obviously. But I was re-reading the prologue and first chapter earlier today and … I don’t know. I think there’s much there that’s positive. I just think that if I was writing it now, I’d do it differently. I believe I’d lose the prologue for a start. It’s quite different from the rest of the book and has a different POV. I’d say it’s a reasonable piece of writing in itself but, bottom line, the book doesn’t really need it.

There’s another reason. Since my first two books, which were both YA, I’ve switched to middle grade with Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer. Maybe that only accentuates the difference in my writing I see between then and now.

And besides, Falling Girl is available for free on this site now anyway, and has been for some time. It does occur to me that, if I don’t believe it’s a good advertisement for my writing whether I should make it available in any form at all, even for free.

But I’m not ashamed of it. It was my first novel, an achievement I remain proud of, and I’ll always have a special affection for it. I worked very hard, paying for a professional critique and redrafting many times, including one fairly significant revision several months after the original publication. Many people have said nice things about it, and I’m fairly sure most of them were telling the truth. It’s not a bad book. I still believe it’s a pretty good one in fact. It’s more that I’ve moved on and I don’t think it’s a quite good enough reflection of where I am and where I want to go.

And no-one was buying it anyway. Would I still withdraw it if it was selling well? Probably not, if I’m honest. But it wasn’t, so that’s a moot point really.

My second novel, BASIC Boy, is still on Amazon as a Kindle edition, though the paperback is no longer available. I do think that’s a better book and I’m more comfortable with keeping it on sale.

Have you published a book and then withdrawn it from sale, or thought about doing so?

 

PD James: an inspirational writer

PD James

British novelist Phyllis Dorothy James died in Oxford today – 27th November – aged 94. Many tributes have already been paid to the ‘Queen of crime fiction’; for my part, I find many aspects of her writing journey extraordinarily inspiring. Let me share why.

For one thing, her fame as a writer arrived late in her life. Very late actually.

From her school days she knew she wanted to be a writer. But her family’s financial troubles forced her to leave school at 16 and find a job as a filing clerk. Also, her mother was committed to an asylum when James was 14, leaving her to look after the house and her siblings. All in all, not the easiest of early lives, and one that forced her to put her writing dream on hold.

In fact it wasn’t until the mid-1950s, while in her mid-thirties, that she really began writing, composing parts of her first novel while on her work commute. But she didn’t make a serious start on that first novel until she was 40, while continuing to work full time and bring up a family. That novel was eventually published in 1962. There then followed a series of others (the second published just one year later) and so developed a modestly successful writing career with a small but loyal following.

And then, in 1980, with the publication of her eighth book she began to experience best-selling international success and acclaim:

‘Monday, I was ticking along as usual, and by Friday I was a millionaire.’

So, to re-cap:

  • She had to put her writing dream on hold for many years – about twenty in fact.
  • When she finally started, she was in her thirties and facing the time pressures of work and family.
  • Her first novel took several years to complete. (I would guess she went through all the false starts, setbacks, and the steep learning curve of all rookie writers.)
  • She was in her early forties before she was published.
  • And she was sixty before she achieved significant commercial success – so probably forty or fifty years after she’d first thought about writing, more than twenty years after she finally started, and nearly twenty years after first being published. A success for sure, but not what you’d call an overnight one.

Now if that’s not an object lesson in persistence and patience, I don’t know what is. But there’s more. Her husband, traumatised by his experiences in the Second World War, was eventually placed in an institution, leaving James to bring up their two daughters alone. Then In 1964 he died following an overdose of drugs and alcohol. So no sooner had she finally achieved her dream of being a published writer than life lobbed another grenade in her direction. But she carried on working and writing.

Of course, the publishing world has changed massively since James first ventured into it, and is changing still. No doubt some things about her career would have been different had she been born fifty, sixty or seventy years later. Perhaps also she was fortunate in at least two ways. First, and most obviously, she did achieve success in the end. Yet I feel sure that would have happened anyway, even if she started out today, even if by a different route – her talent and dedication would have all but assured it. Maybe it would have happened more quickly, maybe not.

Her second stroke of luck was her long life. Hitting the big time in your sixties isn’t so bad if your still have three more decades to enjoy it, and enough time to pen more than twenty books. She acknowledged as much herself, once saying:

‘I am lucky to have written as many books as I have. It has been a joy.’

Yet some might say that, by modern standards, twenty-ish books in a thirty-year-plus writing career is an unexceptional output. These days there is pressure to write almost with a production-line mentality: keep publishing, get your work out there, get noticed. The trade-off is that quality can easily suffer.

But James saw her writing as a craft. She wanted to get it right. Her books were known for being well-researched and well-written. She rejected the notion that crime novels were not ‘proper literature’. Perhaps if more writers were so fixated on quality, they would make more progress in the long run. In our fast-moving digital age, where we can all too easily be panicked into believing that tomorrow is too late (and even today might be), too much is thrown out into the world too quickly. The world needs better books, not just more of them. (Arguably it doesn’t need more of them at all …)

Speaking of research, here again is another way that James turned what might have been a negative into a positive. For many years her writing and her day job had to co-exist, as it still does for most writers. But she used her experience in hospitals, in psychiatric clinics, and in the criminal policy section of the Home Office in her books. In one memorable quote, she described seeing someone being fed through a tube during her time as a nurse:

‘I remember thinking, ‘that would be an easy way to kill someone.’’

That duly became the method she used to dispatch a character in a later book.

I admit I’m not into crime fiction especially, but James did range beyond that at times, for example in the dystopian novel The Children of Men, and the recent Austen tribute / Pride and Prejudice sequel / murder mystery Death Comes To Pemberley.

Finally, a few more pearls of wisdom and inspiration from the great lady …

Talking of her regret about waiting until she was 40 before writing her first novel:

‘I realized that there was never going to be a convenient time to start that first novel … If I didn’t make time, find the motivation, I would be a failed writer and that would be absolutely appalling for me.’

Her characters often died brutal deaths. But she admitted it could be hard to get under the skin of a killer:

‘When I am writing about a killer, I am that killer. I am in his mind, which is probably why I don’t have sadistic mass murderers as characters.’

She wrote all her novels by hand and then dictated the words onto tape for a secretary to produce the first draft – but she found that approach had certain advantages:

‘Dictating is quite useful … because you can hear the dialogue, hear the structure of the sentences, the very subtle and peculiar usage that is English prose.’

While she loved writing, she admitted it didn’t always come easily to her:

‘There are moments when I’m rather reluctant to get started; the sort of day when even cleaning the stove seems an agreeable thing to be doing rather than start writing. But on the whole it is a labour of love.’

… and just to prove it, she said last year she was working on another book. Which just goes to show you’re never too old to start writing – or to stop!

Is Amazon actually evil?

Jeff Bezos devil

Are you pro- or anti-Amazon? Or somewhere in between? Many people seem to be jumping to condemn them, especially now they’re in a not-so-secret dispute with the big publisher Hachette. Reading some of the increasingly lurid and extreme criticisms, I’ve felt my level of bemusement rising along with the rhetoric.

So, to get it off my chest, I wrote a piece on it a few days ago. I then had second thoughts about posting it, not because I changed my mind about the contents but rather because I’m never too sure how many people actually read longer opinion pieces like this. So if you don’t want to read it all (it’s about 1,400 words), here’s a very quick précis:

  • We don’t know the details of the Amazon-Hachette dispute, even though we can speculate.
  • So the fact that so many have jumped on the anti-Amazon bandwagon probably says more about their pre-conceived notions and/or their self-interest than anything else.
  • Much of the criticism levelled at Amazon has been extreme, hysterical, unfair, bizarre, short-sighted, hypocritical, or some combination of the above.
  • They are not a threat to the existence of books or literature – or at least, no more than the conventional publishing industry is.
  • Amazon aren’t perfect but they are generally very good at what they do.
  • They have, on balance, been a good thing for writers.
  • They are not an all-powerful monopoly, and what power they do have will not last forever.

That’s basically it. Do you agree or not? (And should I be saying ‘Amazon is ..’ or ‘Amazon are …’? Not quite sure.) Comments welcome.

And for those interested, here is the longer version …

Judging by the tidal-wave of criticism engulfing them during the past few weeks, since its dispute with the publisher Hachette first became public, you might easily conclude that there must be more than a whiff of sulphur lingering around the e-commerce giant. It certainly seems to have become highly fashionable to be anti-Amazon – a position that was increasingly popular even before the Hachette spat blew up, and has become exponentially so since.

Amazon have been accused of all sorts of things. A cynical monopoly, bent on using its dominant position to bully and control the whole publishing industry. (The fact that Amazon sells an awful lot of things that aren’t books doesn’t normally get much of a mention. Presumably TV manufacturers can look after themselves.) Attacking publishers, authors and readers. Even threatening the future of books, of literature itself. Tax dodgers. The mafia. Vladimir Putin. Darth Vader. I haven’t yet actually heard them being compared to the Infernal One, but I’m quite sure they must have been by someone, somewhere.

Here’s just one article summarising many of the criticisms levelled by Hachette authors, bookstore owners, and various industry spokesmen.

To be fair, I’ve also seen other opinion pieces that have attempted to restore some balance to the debate. See here, here, here and here for some examples. There are a number of reasons why I agree with much of what’s argued in these articles, and why I believe that the anti-Amazon frenzy is largely misplaced and bordering on the absurd. (Actually, more than bordering – it’s crossed the border, built a big house with a massive swimming pool, and taken up permanent residence.)

First, and most obviously, we don’t know the precise details of the dispute with Hachette. Too many people are assuming that it must be Amazon being greedy and unreasonable, because that fits in with an existing, widely-held narrative about them and their allegedly negative effect on the publishing world. But what if Hachette are trying it on? Or what if it’s simply a bit more complicated, less black-and-white than one of them being in the right and the other in the wrong? Things are rarely that straightforward in the business world.

Second, Hachette are not some weakling little indie. They’re a substantial multinational, one of the world’s leading publishers. Admittedly not as big as Amazon, but – crucially – be in no doubt they can hold their own in corporate guerrilla warfare. They know full well that the prevailing mood of the industry is solidly behind them, and that other major publishers will be secretly rooting for them. It’s not insignificant that it will soon be the turn of those other publishers to enter the ring with Amazon, and that the outcome of the Hachette negotiation and the precedent it sets will therefore be highly significant for them.

Also, the recent Apple saga demonstrated that the big publishers are not above collusion, and although there’s no suggestion that anything like that is happening right now, it’s clear that their interests are closely allied in this dispute. That might be another reason why Amazon doesn’t want to lose – they must know full well this isn’t a battle with Hachette alone. Also, Amazon are not the all-powerful mega-monopoly they are too often lazily portrayed to be. All those Hachette titles can be obtained from sundry other outlets, and already a number of those outlets have taken advantage of the situation by offering the affected books at a discount, including the new J. K. Rowling (sorry, Robert Galbraith). This is not a risk-free game for either side.

Third, much of the most strident criticism of Amazon has come from those with the most invested in the status quo, such as high-profile Hachette authors who have done very nicely from the conventional industry structures and business practices. Now those authors are entitled to defend their livelihoods of course. But never forget that this industry has given us inflated e-book prices, celebrity-penned ‘novels’, and Stephanie Meyer and an endless stream of Meyer wannabees. It is not necessarily the guardian of high literature, even if it’s very quick to claim that mantle at times like this.

Fourth, there’s a not-so-faint stench of hypocrisy clinging to much of the more strident down-with-Amazon rhetoric. Big publishers are suddenly earnest cheerleaders of the small bookshop, when until recently they’ve been too busy cozying up to the big chains to notice. Those same big chains have spent years trying to extract the best possible terms from publishers, yet now Amazon are vilified for doing the same thing. Big-name authors complain that Amazon have cut the discounts on their books – and yet the same company is criticised for forcing down the price of e-books, a move that will apparently destroy conventional publishing and the livelihoods of authors (and note how those two things are implicitly conflated). It’s not apparently such a big deal that publishers attempt to inflate e-book pricing while paying the same desultory royalty rates to authors. I know that publishing is a business, and a risky and (the rare Fifty Shades-like mega-hit aside) not outstandingly lucrative one at that. They have every right to fight their corner. But, please, spare us the woe-is-me, shining guardians of literature act. It doesn’t wash.

Fifth, it seems disingenuous at best to seek to blame Amazon for many of the changes that are sweeping the industry. To be sure they’ve driven much of this change, taking a key role in popularising e-books for one thing. But they invented neither the e-book nor the Internet. Electronic publishing was happening anyway. Of course, the major publishers would far rather have carried on controlling the whole thing themselves, rather than some upstart e-commerce company yanking the carpet out from under their feet.

I might also add here that the fear and loathing of Amazon misses the point that they won’t be dominant forever. The biggest players come and go. They always have and always will. Change was their making and change will one day be their undoing. It won’t be the defenders of the status quo, but another bright young upstart that works out the next big thing and does it quicker and/or better than Amazon.

Finally, I really think that Amazon has been a power for good in many ways. They have made a vast selection of competitively-priced books more easily available to everyone. They have made self-publishing easier than ever before (though they didn’t invent that either!) – and at royalty rates far higher than those offered by conventional publishers. (Not that you can directly compare them, as Amazon don’t of course provide all the value-add services of a conventional publisher. The whole topic of whether Amazon has been a generally good thing for writers or not is a complex one – but I think on balance they have.)

Crucially, their customer service is, in my experience, generally excellent and clearly superior to that offered by most other large (or even small) companies. When you deal with Amazon, they make it seem so easy you wonder why no-one else can get it right. Everyone plays lip service to this but very few other big corporations really take it seriously enough. This is no small thing – and I believe that it’s if and when Amazon stop excelling in this area that it could all start going wrong for them.

Note that none of the above seeks to paint Amazon as a paragon of virtue, an alloyed good thing in the world. They are a big corporation. They negotiate hard and take no prisoners. And sometimes they make mistakes. But they are exceptionally good at customer service, they have (for better or worse) enabled countless indie authors to realise their dream of getting their books ‘out there’, their website has made online shopping easier than ever before, and – best of all – they’ve managed to annoy a lot of people who probably deserved to be.

And they’re not actually evil.

 

Aagh!! Morrissey’s writing a novel! Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now …

Morrissey

New year, same old nonsense. Today came the depressing news that yet another celeb, famous for something not remotely connected to literature, has decided that they’ve got a novel in them and, by God, we’re going to have it whether we like it or not.

(Fair warning: I’m not usually given to good old fashioned rants, but this is going to be one. I can’t help it; this has been building up for a while and I’ve got to get it out of my system.)

He’s well known in the UK, but for those unfamiliar with the legend that is Morrissey, he’s best known for being the front man of 80s band The Smiths. Since then he’s remained famous partly for his solo output but mostly due to an uncanny knack for self-promotion. He’s vitriolic, entertaining and never found short of a controversial quote. Many people are very interested in his opinions, especially him.

Seriously, I’ve got nothing against Morrissey. I don’t agree with everything he says – some of his views are crazy or worse. But he seems to be a thoughtful and intelligent person whose ability to string more than two words together was demonstrated by his best-selling autobiography last year. I haven’t read it myself, but by all accounts it was pretty good and well written. It was certainly well reviewed. All of which should in theory give him a useful advantage over the majority of celebs who decide that a novel is a pretty neat idea when they get bored of doing whatever it is that they’re actually good at.

Morrissey’s novel might even be quite good – if he works very hard at it. Which almost certainly means much harder than he yet realises. Apparently he’s ‘midway through’ writing it. But halfway through what? The first draft? If so then you’ve got an awfully long way still to go, Mozza my lad. Of course he’ll be offered plenty of editorial help by his publisher, which he’ll take if he’s wise. (I’m not totally convinced of this however – he’s kind of strong-willed to say the least.)

But that’s not the point. Because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter if his novel’s good does it? There’s no mention of a publishing contract at this stage, but does anyone doubt that he’ll get one? No doubt the kudos of his successful autobiography helps, but mainly to lend a fig-leaf of respectability to this latest literary prostitution. Hell, even Katie bloody Price has published ‘novels’ to her name (the poor girl doesn’t write them unaided of course; it’s just possible she hasn’t even read them). 

At this point, you’re probably thinking this is little more than the bitter and twisted outpourings of an unknown writer, venting his spleen in an unedifying display of naked jealousy at the ease in which the already-famous get the publishing breaks. And to that I say: damn right.

Not for Morrissey and his ilk the perils of the slush pile. It’s not necessary for him to produce something so extraordinary that it will outshine 99.9% of the competition to catch an agent’s or editor’s eye. And then hope they get a publishing deal (not guaranteed even then), and then that their professionally-published book actually sells in any great number (because very many don’t). Nor do they have to join the torrential rush to self-publishing, to fight to get their work noticed, let alone sell, against odds no less daunting than those faced in the more traditional process. The bottom line is, Morrissey’s novel probably won’t be especially good for the simple, brutal fact that it doesn’t have to be.

I realise of course that plenty of stuff written by the non-famous doesn’t get published because it doesn’t deserve to be, because it’s not really good enough. I also concede that much of what is self-published isn’t up to much. But a lot is. There’s a great deal of talent out there; and every time a starry-eyed publisher lobs a contract at another celebrity, that already tiny crack of an opportunity for real writers narrows still further; the odds inch ever higher into the stratosphere. Even though plenty of those writers are producing wonderful work which totally embarrasses the sausage-machine output of the celeb fiction factory.

I mean, what is it with fiction? Why do so many famous people think they can write a novel worthy of publication? It doesn’t often happen the other way around. With very rare exceptions, you don’t get novelists (I mean proper ones, who got published by being actually good at writing) decide to record albums, take up professional ballet or go for an Oscar. And there’s an extremely good reason for that: they’re good at writing, not singing, dancing or acting.

I happen to think I can write. It’s one of my very few talents, and quite possibly the only one. I’m not saying I’m magnificent at it, not claiming to be the next big thing, but I can do it. Whereas my acting is bad, my singing is worse and you really don’t want to see me in a tutu.

Back to Morrissey. What makes it even worse are the reasons he’s given for trying his hand at the old writing game. It’s doesn’t seem to be because he’s got a great story to tell. Basically, it’s less to do with literary ambition and more about a great steaming Mozza-style hissy fit. Apparently the music business is hopelessly in thrall to hype, marketing and an obsession with shallow celebrity. Well fancy that. Like it hasn’t always been? And as if the publishing industry is much better when it falls over itself to publish the almost-certainly-mediocre-at-best offerings of people like him?

I know publishers have to make money and it will always come down to how many books they think they can sell. And Morrissey’s novel will probably sell. (Although celeb offerings don’t always; discount bookshops are the final destination of many an over-optimistic print run.)  There is also the argument, I suppose, that such high-profile publishing deals can help subsidise the riskier investments in genuine undiscovered talent. It’s just that I see rather more of the former than the latter, especially as mainstream publishers seem to become ever more risk-averse.

So – yes, I am bitter, I am fed up, and on behalf of all the unpublished and unsuccessfully self-published of the world I say: celebs, please stop ticking that box that says ‘I know, I’ll write a novel next! My agent thinks it’s a good idea and, I mean, how hard could it be ..?’

Of course I know they won’t stop. But I had to get that out of my system. And having done that I’ll keep writing because that’s what I do, I enjoy it; it’s part of me. If I ever achieve any kind of success it will be a bonus, and I know my own efforts and talent (along with a fair dollop of luck) will have got me there. Not singing ‘Shoot the DJ’.

My five worst book marketing ideas

Balloons image

Giant ghost hands! Eighties pop stars! Helium-filled balloons! It’s all here!

By making the borderline-certifiable decision to become a self-published author, I have embraced the joy of writing, of creative freedom, and the satisfaction of seeing the product of hundreds of hours of hard work actually on sale. But I have also taken on the sole responsibility for marketing and selling my work. Which isn’t exactly easy when your books are like microscopically tiny needles in a planet-sized and rapidly-expanding haystack of self- and conventionally-published books.

And while I’d like to be content to remain at number 11,467,232 on the Amazon sales ranking (OK, I may have made that number up, but it’s too depressing to check what it actually is), I do continue to cling to the deluded fantasy of one day actually making a living from writing. Which, however you look at it, means shifting some books, preferably sometimes in return for actual money.

So how do I sell enough books to make my dream come true? How to find a market beyond my immediate family and friends? In fact, how on earth do I even get my books noticed?

Of course there are lots of conventional answers. Hone your craft, become the best writer you can (completely agree). Don’t publish until you think it’s really good enough (ditto). Try to make your cover not look like it was thrown together by a colour-blind Photoshop novice who thinks Comic Sans is cutting edge typography. Try to get unbiased reviews which are hopefully broadly positive yet don’t look like they’ve been written by your mother. Blogging, your own website, social media … hmm.

Putting aside the fact that I’m currently writing a blog on my own website, I do have an issue with the whole social-media-as-a-marketing-strategy thing. For one thing, I can barely find enough hours in the day to write – which as all writers know is absurdly time-consuming – on top of my full-time day job, family commitments and other extraneous stuff like food and sleep. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that most of those authors with zillions of Twitter followers or Facebook friends got most of them because they were already successful, either as a writer or (frequently) something completely different. Now I’m sure there are other very good reasons to do social media beyond its sales-boosting potential. But, frankly, given the choice of how to ration my strictly limited time, I’d rather be writing my next book.

All this preamble is really just to set the scene, and perhaps provide a smidgen of justification, for the insanity that follows. You see (confession time): sometimes, late at night, my brain befuddled after hours of hacking away at the eighth draft of something or other, I allow myself to fantasize that maybe, just maybe, there’s another way. That there’s some amazing, quick, fail-safe, brilliantly successful way to promote my book that, miraculously, no-one else has ever thought of. That the very next day, when I get up, I’m going to make it happen. Whereas actually, that very next day – and sometimes much sooner – is when I realise that the reason why nobody else has ever tried to promote their book that way is because it’s dumb, bizarre, suicidal, ludicrous and/or borderline illegal.

So, in the interests of full disclosure, and to cleanse my guilty soul, here are the five worst book marketing ideas I’ve ever had. I have actually entertained these ideas, with varying degrees of seriousness, for upwards of several minutes. Which amply demonstrates what a deeply strange and disturbing place my mind can be.

So here they are, in all their, erm, glory, along with the glaringly obvious reasons why they would never work. (Aside from the common factor of complete impracticability.)

1. The big hand on Big Ben

The front cover of my first book, Falling Girl, features a ghostly white hand. (Which actually belongs to my eleven-year-old daughter – though she’s made me faithfully promise never to reveal that embarrassing secret … oh, whoops.) So obviously I thought – why not get / hire / buy / borrow one of those flood-lights that often light up famous and / or historic buildings at night, create an overhead projector transparency of that white hand and – hey presto, a giant ghostly white hand is projected on the side of – well, the Tower of London, Big Ben, etc. etc.

… and then, just to ramp up the sheer ludicrousness of the plan, what about arranging for it to happen on New Years’ Eve, the state opening of parliament, or any other event where TV cameras are present? And then everyone asks what that giant white hand means, social media is a-buzz, and I sell truck-loads of books.

What would actually happen

  • The chances of a shabbily-dressed, suspiciously-behaving individual with something under his jacket getting anywhere near Big Ben – especially on New Years’ Eve – are vanishingly slim. I would most likely end up in a police cell being interrogated by a terrorist squad cop armed with wicked electrodes and halitosis.
  • And the plastic hand picture would melt on the hot flood-light. The smell of burning plastic – yuck.

2. Balloons over England

I’m sure everyone has had this idea, right? Print of loads of cards bearing mysterious ghostly white hand motif (see above). Attached to dozens / hundreds / eight (depending on budget*) helium-filled balloons. Release. Eventually they all come down. And then everyone asks what all those mysterious white hand cards mean, social media is a-buzz, and I sell truck-loads of books.

(It even occurred to me that a west-north-west wind would be ideal, so as to carry the balloons from Oxfordshire down across London. Result: the spent balloons would rain down on grateful and intrigued publishing industry movers-and-shakers. Probably.)

What would actually happen

  • Not much.
  • I’d feel too guilty about littering the countryside and choking wildlife with bits of latex and card. Publishing industry movers-and-shakers don’t tend to take well to that kind of thing.

(* Probably eight, let’s face it. Looked up the equipment on Amazon. It’s expensive.)

3. Guerrilla bookmarks

Bookmarks are boring, right? Wrong! While browsing through the shelves of hyper-selling paperbacks in a major store one day, brooding on the massive unlikelihood of my books ever rubbing shoulders with such exalted company, I hit upon a brilliant wheeze. I’d print out some high-quality bookmarks on my inexpensive inkjet printer, featuring my book. Then I’d slip them on the shelves while no-one’s looking. Result: while leafing through The Hunger Games or The Hobbit, unsuspecting punters would stumble upon free advertising for my book – and obviously, inevitably order them from Amazon in their thousands.

What would actually happen

  • Not much.
  • In big stores, someone is always looking. It’s called CCTV. And said stores would probably be less than enthused by my cluttering their shelves with tawdry smudged bits of card printed on a cheap inkjet.
  • Two words: store security. I have no desire to become the first person ever to be apprehended for putting stuff on a store shelf. Kind of the reverse of shoplifting. I’ve no idea whether that’s actually a crime. I don’t plan to find out.

4. Getting shirty

A sinister, distorted space invader image adorns the front cover of BASIC Boy. I do think it (and possibly the title too) would look quite good on a tee-shirt. It’s easy to get your own designs produced relatively inexpensively. What if I produced some and gave them away or sold them very cheaply? (I’m looking to make money from books, not clothes.) All those people walking down the street, mobile adverts for my book. It could even become a cool brand it its own right.

What would actually happen

  • The economics don’t work too well unless I deal in any great volume. Tee-shirts may be relatively cheap, but it would still be a significant expense to give them away. (The same goes for branded USB sticks, baseball caps, umbrellas or surgical support stockings. Big money, not much hope of recouping it.) So this little enterprise would have to pay its own way at least to a degree, but …
  • In the world of fashion, I’m not just out of my comfort zone. I’m on a different continent from my comfort zone, and that continent’s on a frozen far-flung planet in the outer reaches of the next galaxy but three. There are probably zillions of budding clothing entrepreneurs hoping that their design will be the next big thing, and many of them will have far more reason to be hopeful of success than I can be.
  • So the net result is likely to be that instead of being an obscure wannabe in just the book industry, I get to be one in the clothing industry too. Great …

5. Eighties-pop-star-holding-my-book.com

Pretty self-explanatory, this one. I send free copies of BASIC Boy – which has a 1980s theme – to various pop stars of that era, especially those mentioned in the book. I ask them to send me a picture of them holding my book. Possibly I offer to make a donation to their chosen charity in return. I put the images on the above-named website. Pretty soon it’s the latest thing. Famous musicians, the young and trendy as well as the grizzled veterans of yesteryear, practically fall over themselves to take part. Harry Styles from One Direction literally begs me for a copy. My daughter finally admits I’m totally cool and not embarrassing after all. Social media is a-buzz, my books sell by the truck-load, etc. etc., you get the picture.

What would actually happen

Given that celebrities are not generally known to be especially fond of self-publicising nutcases asking them for favours, we can comfortably conjecture any or all of the following:

  • Not much.
  • And if it did – very slowly.
  • Might start to cost me a small fortune in donations (so at least someone might benefit I suppose).
  • Restraining orders.
  • Psychiatric assessments.
  • My daughter will not admit I’m totally cool and un-embarrassing.

So there you have it. Feel free to mock – I probably deserve it. Though as I said, I wasn’t quite crazy enough to actually do any of the above*. But would you be tempted to pull any of these stunts? Have you done anything similar? Did it work? Did you sell a ton more books? Or is your next title a scintillating expose of jail conditions – from the inside?

Oh well … back to the social media I suppose. Now where did I put those balloons …

(* OK … I did hide half a dozen bookmarks on the shelves of Asda Walmart in Milton Keynes. What happened? Not much …)