In which it is Christmas and there are even more kisses

*Clears throat in preparation for grand announcement*

Ladies and Gentledudes, please be most excitable for the great and wondrous news

*small drumroll*

I have a new book out!

Ok, so it’s not that great and wondrous. I’m a writer the having a new book out is very much to be expected, but still, I spend a lot of time at home staring at a blank page. This is what passes for excitement in my world.

Jessica’s Christmas Kiss, the third in the Christmas Kisses series is available to order from today, and will be out in the world and potentially winging it’s way to a kindle (or kindle app) near you from Saturday.

It has a gorgeous Christmassy cover (courtesy of the very clever Berni Stevens).

Jessica Cover

And here’s what it’s all about…

Real Christmas miracles only ever happen in the movies – don’t they?

When Jessica was fifteen, she shared the perfect kiss with a mystery boy at a Christmas party. It might have only lasted a moment, and the boy might have disappeared shortly afterwards but, to Jessica, it was just a little bit magic.

Fourteen years later, and Jessica is faced with a less than magical Christmas after uncovering her husband’s secret affair. And, whilst she wouldn’t admit it, she sometimes finds herself thinking about that perfect Christmas kiss, back when her life still seemed full of hope and possibility.

But she never would have guessed that the boy she kissed in the kitchen all those years ago might still think about her too …

So, in conclusion… New book! Yay! Please feel most very welcome and encouraged to buy, read, and, I hope, enjoy.

In which writerly things always happen in threes

That post title is a lie. Writerly things don’t always happen in threes, but this is a post about writerly things and there are three of them, and I’m a creative type and thus prone to exaggeration.

Anyhow, ‘what writerly things?’ you cry. Well these writerly things actually. All three of them.

1. Cora’s Christmas Kiss is shortlisted for an award

Cora's Christmas Kiss

Great excitement and joy I tell you. I’m particularly pleased to see this book in the running for an award. I absolutely don’t have favourites amongst my own books. It’s terribly poor form and makes the other books sad, but I have a real soft spot for Cora and Liam, and for Cora’s random bonkers housemates, so it’s lovely to see that other people are loving them too.

Cora is shortlisted in the Love Stories Awards Best Short Romance category along side some awesome writers including my RNA buddies Jean Fullerton and Nikki Moore. The awards are presented in London town on November 18th. Yay!

 

2. I’ve been allowed out of the house

Writing is often a rather solitary activity so it was very exciting last week to spend a couple of days staying with my writing chum, Janet Gover, and talking all things writing and book related with a real human being, rather than just shouting plot ideas at the wall on my own.

And on Saturday is was trebly exciting to venture even further afield to go and chat about romance writing on a panel of Choc Lit authors at Redbridge Central Library.

Redbridge Library 1

The main excitement amongst the panel was discovering that some people approach this writing malarkey completely wrong. By which I mean that we all do it differently and that is of course completely fine and lovely (but my way is right.)

 

3. And finally, Midsummer Dreams news!

The paperback edition of my second full length novel, Midsummer Dreams, will be out early next spring.

Midsummer Dreams

Now, I absolutely don’t have favourites amongst my own books *whistles innocently* It’s terribly poor form and makes the other books sad, but I have a real soft spot for Emily, Helen, Dom and Alex, and for dopey Nick and lovely Theo and Tanya, so it’s rather exciting that non-ereading people are going to get the chance to hold Midsummer Dreams in their hot little hands and get to know all those characters as well. You can pre-order the paperback here.

 

And that’s all my news. Join me next week when I’ll endeavour to find something way more interesting than my own life to witter on about.

In which I weigh into the whole Amazon vs Hachette ebook pricing argument

Day three of the Awesome Week of Daily Blogging and the posts are still coming thick and fast.* Today I thought I’d weigh into the whole Amazon vs Hachette debacle, because for a new author currently exclusively ebook published on Amazon there’s no way that could be unwise. (‘You have books on Amazon?’ I hear you ask. ‘Why Alison, you hardly mention that at all!’ Indeed. I am too modest. They’re here. Feel free to go buy them.)

For those of you who don’t spend your free time reading articles about corporate disputes in the publishing industry, essentially Amazon (who I’m guessing you’ve heard of) and Hachette (who are a big publisher) have fallen out over new contract negotiations over ebook pricing. Amazon think ebooks should be cheaper. Hachette don’t agree, or, perhaps, just don’t want that to be up to Amazon. I’m simplifying, obviously, and if you’re really interested in the finer details you know where google is, and, if that’s too much effort, there’s some interesting stuff about the changes in the ebook pricing model that led up to this point here.

What I am going to bang on about is the way in which this whole hullabaloo** has led to an outbreak of rather bizarre open letter writing. 900 authors have signed this letter ‘to their readers,’ but actually clearly aimed at Amazon, and helpfully popped the whole thing in the New York Times. Amazon have written this letter to their kindle authors, but actually clearly aimed at Hachette, and, even more helpfully, popped it on the interweb for the world to see too (horribly misrepresented Orwell quote and all). Now part of me applauds this approach to doing business. It might have been thought that letter writing was a dying art, but apparently not. What does seem to be a dying art is the ability to address one’s letter to the relevant person and pop it in an envelope. Open letters are suddenly very much in vogue.

It’s not limited to publishing industry pricing disputes. Gyrate around on TV wearing a flesh coloured leotard accessorized with 2013’s Robin Thicke and people start writing them. Suggest that people ought not to vote, and people write them. And frankly I’m a bit annoyed. Irrationally annoyed, I admit, but annoyed nonetheless. If you want to say something to one individual or company, write them a letter. If you want to say something to a more general audience, write an article or a book or a blogpost or an exceptionally pithy tweet. If the thing you want to say is primarily aimed at improving your own commercial position then be honest with the universe and write an advert.

I’m not quite sure what it is about open letters that winds me up so. Actually, yes, I am sure. It’s the double standard. Open letter writers are trying to have it both ways. When you write something publicly you run the risk that people will think it’s dull, or crap, or will just disagree vehemently with the thought you’ve spent hours crafting and trying to communicate. When you call the thing you’ve written an open letter, you’re giving yourself a get out of being able to pretend it was only really aimed at the named recipient. But it’s not, is it? Because if it was you’d have got a stamp and an envelope and just sent it to them. But maybe you can’t. Maybe the person in question hasn’t given you their address, or email, but that couldn’t possibly be because you don’t know them and they don’t care what you think, could it? Obviously they, and everyone else, need to know what you think. Which is fine. I’m in no position to criticise anyone for the random spouting of opinion at the world. But stop pretending that it’s personal, when it’s just some stuff you reckon.

Now that’s probably a tad unfair on the authors who wrote to their readers, and the wider world, about Amazon. They do clearly have a vested interest in the dispute between Amazon and Hachette and in the wider direction of travel of ebook pricing and the bigger question of who now controls the publishing industry. But there’s another element that I find difficult here, which is that it’s starting to feel as though authors are expected to pick a side. I’ve been asked on facebook and other forums for a view and it’s tricky. The bottom line is that Amazon are a big ol’ business. They’ve already killed off a huge section of the physical bookselling market. They’re moving aggressively into publishing. From a commercial point of view, I see no reason why they wouldn’t want to dominate on both the publishing and retail sides of the business, which sounds bad, but they’ve also brought opportunities for new authors (me included) through the ebook market and the explosion in self-publishing which Amazon has massively supported. Big publishers are increasingly risk averse – previously secure mid-list authors have seen their contracts cancelled or not renewed in recent years, pushing many of them, slightly ironically, into Amazon’s self-publishing embrace.

For the individual players in the system – readers and authors – any one company, or cohort of companies, having dominance is probably not ideal, but being asked whether you’d prefer your industry to be dominated by one retailer or by a few big publishers is no real choice at all. What I want, as an individual author, is to get good quality books out to readers, and to be able to make a living from doing that. However the current round of chips falls, it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to do that.

And everyone breathe. Thank-you.

* Once per day. At best.

** It’s definitely the correct technical term. Stick with me.

In which I suggest some ways in which you can help a struggling writer

When’s the last time you did something to help the struggling author in your life? I’m assuming you all have one. If you’re not sure whether there’s a struggling author in your social circle just look out for the person wearing pyjamas in the middle of the day. The one who doesn’t look like they’ve washed their hair yet this week, and who prods you lightly when you talk to them because they’re not used to the voices they hear coming out of a real physical person. If you’ve got someone like that in your life, chances are you’ve got yourself a writer. Or possibly just a crazy person. Either way, I imagine you will be very keen to help such a person out. And helpfully, I have some easy suggestions as to how you might do that.

1. If your writer is of the published variety, just buy the book. If they’re not published, please try to desist from asking them when the book comes out. They may find dwelling on the subject disheartening and you may find the bit where they growl at you and try to rend their pyjamas a wee bit socially awkward.

2. Once you’ve bought the book, things can go one of two ways. Either you will like the book, in which case tell your writer you liked it. They will get embarrassed and socially inept, but they will appreciate it. If you really really don’t like the book, lie. Seriously, lying is fine. You’re talking to somebody who makes stuff up for a living. The lines between reality and fantasy are already pretty fluid.

3. If you really actually did like the book, write it an Amazon review. I know. It’s time consuming and you have to try and think of something to write, other than, ‘Yeah. It was good. There were words and stuff,’ but the reality is that Amazon is the all-encompassing big brother of book sales these days, and good reviews sell books, and selling books is what allows your pet writer to buy new pyjamas and proper non-supermarket-brand hobnobs. These things are like fresh hay and a lovely nosebag to the struggling writer. They will make your writer happy.

And that’s how you look after a struggling author. Indeedy. Yes.

So, just hypothetically if any of you were thinking you fancied buying a book, Much Ado About Sweet Nothing is still just 99p until the end of January. Totes bargainissimo.

In which I consider sock puppetry and the pitfalls of online promotion

Firstly, dear reader, an apology. It is, I can’t help but notice, Tuesday. I did promise you that I would deliver you a weekly musing every Monday. I have failed. I prostrate myself before you and implore your forgiveness. Am I forgiven? Jolly good. Let’s all move on.

So, there’s has been a small furore (a furorette?) of late about writerly types massaging and faking their online reviews. Proper successful writers, most notably (but not uniquely) RJ Ellory, have been caught hiding behind anonymous online usernames in order to  big up their own books and slag off rivals in Amazon reviews and online forums.  It also turns out that John Locke’s “How I Sold 1 Million E-books in 5 Months” failed to detail his technique of paying for positive reviews. Ooops. Now clearly neither of those things are really on. But what is on when it comes to online promo? Where, ladies and gents, is the line?

If I hop over to twitter right now, 5 out of the first 15 tweets in my feed are people providing me with links to where I can buy their book, download their book or read a review of their book. And that’s a much lower percentage than it would be at other times of the day. Now clearly a bit of tweeting of links to stuff is fine. If people follow you on twitter I think it’s fair to assume they might be interested in other stuff you’ve written or produced. I’m a guilty party, as I always tweet and facebook the link to this blog when there’s a new post. I think, equally clearly, those people who use social media like twitter for nothing but direct promo are annoying and should expect to be unfollowed pretty quickly. Constant promo is deeply tiresome and makes all the lovely interesting people on twitter disappear off the bottom of your feed before you’ve had chance to see what they’re up to. Having said that, even aggressive and excessive direct twitter promotion is an irritant rather than an act of fraud.

But what about tweeting a link to the amazon page for your book and asking people to post a review? If someone tweets a writer to tell them they’ve enjoyed a book, is it ok to ask them to repeat that view on amazon? What if the reader doesn’t contact the writer directly, but the writer seeks them out and asks for a positive review? What if a reader writes a positive blog review, entirely of their own free will and volition? A review on a tiny personal blog isn’t going to do much to help a writer’s sales – what’s wrong with copying and pasting those positive comments into an amazon review? You’d simply be repeating a reader’s genuine thoughts, albeit under an amazon profile not of their creating.

An underlying issue here is one of markets. For new writers starting out, particularly for independent self-published writers, amazon is the key selling place. Getting books into real world book stores is hard, and there are less and less of them to choose from. Waterstones, WHSmiths and the supermarkets dominate real world book sales and, limited by shelf space, carry a vastly smaller range of titles than online sellers, and in the UK, at present, one online seller dominates them all. The drive to promote your book on amazon, to post good reviews, to boost your search position feels close to irresistible.

In addition to that, one of the big messages that new and aspiring writers hear from every turn at present, is that you must have an online presence. You must promote yourself and your wares. In this bookselling context it’s easy to see how the anonymity of online communications can tempt people to do things they’d never consider in a real world conversation. It’s tricky when talking to someone face to face about your book to nip out of the room, pop back in with a different hat on and pretend to be an enraptured reader of the tome. It’s also quite awkward to stand in front of someone and repeat the phrase “Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book” at 3 minute intervals, but online, people don’t always recognise that they’re doing just that and it’s, frankly, a bit creepy-weird.

So maybe that’s the rule – if it would be creepy weird in person, it’s probably creepy weird online. And, unless you’re trying to sell some sort of gothic fantasy horror, creepy weird is probably not the image you’re trying to create. So what do you think? Have you seen any examples of online promo that made you feel a tad discomforted? Do you pay any heed to amazon reviews and blog comments on books? Do you have any other thoughts on any subject at all? Please share…