‘Tis the season to make lists. Top tens and recommendations for those in the know. I confess – I love them. I joined in myself last year, with A Baker’s Dozen.

I plan to kick off the New Year with a whole bunch of fizz and fireworks, not to mention book recommendations. But as a farewell to 2014, I’d like to say thanks to you.

If you read/follow this blog, you’re probably interested in books, writing and publishing. (Or pugs – if so, scroll to the end for a picture of mine.)


So this is my list – 5 key posts on the indie publishing phenomenon.

2014 has seen the most enormous shift in the new landscape. Less quantifiable and harder to pinpoint than previous events, but this was the year attitudes changed.

Andrew Lownie

Andrew Lownie


In October, industry savvy agent Andrew Lownie ruffled feathers at The Women’s Writing Festival in Italy by stating his view of how self-publishing will grow. As he’s one of the smartest people in the business, ears pricked up.

How Soon Will The Majority of Books Be Self-Published?



Hugh Howey and The Author Earnings Report made a lot of jaws drop with his assessment of the Amazon machine and its effect on authors.

The Author Earnings Report

alison b

Dr Alison Baverstock


Another powerful force whose observations and intelligence shaped my thinking is Dr Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University.

Read her thoughts on community, satisfaction and perserverance.

Research into Self-Publishing



Author Jane Davis summed up the way self-publishing/indie authors have become a powerful and influential force in this terrific post. It really is terrific and the fact I’m in it is just the flake in my ice-cream.

The Year Self-Publishing Came of Age


imagesFinally, let’s look forward. I’m massively grateful to The Alliance of Independent Authors for the support and advice they offer to indies. That’s why I became their Ambassador for Switzerland. The Self-Publishing Advice blog is indispensable and here are some of the advantages coming up next year

Sneak Peek at ALLi advantages coming in 2015


Wishing you all the best for the holidays, and here’s to you!



pugs in a basket

Three pugs in a basket

… and blow the drum!

As someone serious about publishing, I regularly read the trade press. When I heard The Bookseller was beginning a feature on the best indie author books, I felt the same kind of desperate passion I used to have for Stewart Copeland of The Police.
If only you’d choose me! I thought.

What better indication that independent authorship is being taken seriously than by the industry news flagship selecting titles they believe make the grade?

reggatta de blancThe only criteria were that I had to be an indie author and have published a book via Nook (Barnes & Noble) in the last quarter. Yes, and yes. Nothing more to do there so off I went to hunt mince pies and listen to Reggatta de Blanc.

On Friday morning, I spotted a Tweet from Mr Finger-on-the-Pulse Porter Anderson.
.@JJMarsh1’s “Cold Pressed” is one of @CaroSanderson’s ‪#‎Indie‬ ‪#‎Author‬ Preview Editor’s Choices. ‪#‎FutureChat‬ 4pGMT http://ow.ly/FpzdO


What? What! What the…*!#!?

Cold Pressed Cover MEDIUM WEBSure enough, when the issue went live, not only was Cold Pressed included in the 18 best indie books, but it was also one of three Editor’s Choices.

Here! Look!

This is what Caroline Sanderson had to say:

I’m confident that the titles selected here represent some of the best of those available. They are well edited, professionally presented and written with a flair equal to anything you might find on the list of a traditional publishing house.


So excuse me.

TOOT! Tootery-tootles and a banger-bang-bang-boom!

PS: Stewart – bet you’re sorry now, huh?

Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014 - Fotoart by Michael von Hassel

Frankfurt Book Fair/Michael von Hassel (Verlag te Neues)

This year, I attended FBF14 wearing two hats – author and journalist. (Look out for my articles in December’s Words with JAM on Marketing for Authors and Global Trends in Self-Publishing.) Several things surprised me: the sheer scale of the fair, the pace & passion of the attendees, and the number of people who looked like Jeff Bridges.

The Dude Abides, mostly round the sausage stall.

But the biggest eyebrow raiser was what an enormous disappointment some authors found the experience. I spoke to several people who were lost, confused, angry and frustrated by what they saw as a waste of time. With one exception (bad manners), this was due to insufficient preparation.

So here are five tips to maximise your book fair experience as an author.

Tip 1 – Do Your Research

Hall 8.0, Frankfurt Book Fair

Hall 8.0, Frankfurt Book Fair

A writer and artist spent his one day in Frankfurt wandering around the religious, spiritual and tourism non-fiction section when he’d come with the specific purpose of learning how to crowd-fund his comics. Comics were on the level above, the relevant Ignite! event took place in another hall and by the time he found the crowd-funding company’s booth, they’d already packed up and gone home.

Not only are the halls and sections specific to languages/genres/ages/formats, they are huge. Programmes of events for particular interests might be taking place over various venues. Find out what’s happening where and make an itinerary for yourself.

Tip 2 – Meet the Right People

A group of authors had flown from New Zealand and Japan to sell their foreign language rights. They visited all the publisher booths to try and interest someone in buying, but everyone they met was selling.

Deals for foreign rights are rarely made at publisher booths but happen on the literary agents’ floor or in private meetings. Appointments with agents and publishers need to be made months in advance and thoroughly prepared to maximise the brief opportunity.

Tip 3 – Understand the Scale

In the ladies’, I met a tearful children’s author and an illustrator applying plasters to her feet. They’d organised several appointments back-to-back to promote their picture book, but unfortunately, they were 15 minutes walk apart. Time is so precious, people won’t wait if you’re quarter of an hour late for a 30-minute meeting.

Be realistic about how much you can achieve. This is the biggest event in the professional publishing calendar. For five days, the entire industry is present and working stupid hours to get the most out of it. It stretches over a vast area – think Heathrow Airport, not Earl’s Court – and shuttle buses run constantly to ferry people around. Wear comfy shoes.

Tip 4 – Use Your Moment

Triskele Books postcards

Triskele Books postcards in book-shaped holder

A non-fiction author published a year ago and now seeks assistance with reviews, marketing and connections. He joined a seminar group to ask advice. He had zero promo material, wrote his email on a torn out page of the catalogue and when asked what the book was about, rambled vaguely about a family history in hosiery. (Might not have been hosiery, but something equally forgettable.)

Networking is an essential aspect of the fair. Be memorable, professional and contactable. Polish your elevator pitch, have postcards, bookmarks and business cards to hand (not at the bottom of a copious handbag). If you have more than one book, or you’re a group of writers working together, produce an author catalogue.

Tip 5 – Be Respectful

At a book launch, one of the invited was also a fiction writer. She talked to everyone about her own book, distributed how-to-buy information and even offered to sign copies there and then if people wanted to pay cash. Piggybacking on another author’s event? Needless to say, blacklisted by hosts and guests alike.

Each event or programme is sponsored by an organisation. They have leaflets and promo material on display because they paid for that space. Adding yours to the table or shelf is extremely rude. (I asked permission to display The Indie Author Fair catalogues at the Publishing Perspectives International Self-Publishing Programme and they were happy to do so as it was relevant.)


In short, at a publishing fair for pros, behave like one. Know why you’re there and what you want to achieve. Be prepared and be practical. Respect other people. Listen more than talk and when you do speak, make it count. Follow up your contacts and share what you’ve learned.

Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014, Frankfurt Book Fair 2014

Frankfurt Book Fair 2014, Marc Jacquemin

Five Things I Did Wrong

  • Neglected to check data roaming on smartphone. No email.
  • Packed modest amount of promo material. Ran out.
  • Only brought map of fair, not Frankfurt. Got lost.
  • Assumed driver who pulled up only wanted directions. He didn’t.
  • Ate chips. Enough said.


Don’t miss Part II – scoot on over to Vine Leaves Literary Journal and work that voice.

Put theory into practice and you’ll feel better than Dolly Parton.

The Craft of Voice – Part II

“In this second section, we’re going deeper into your voice, as the writer. Authorial individual style, plus exploiting personal strengths. The writer as conductor of the whole orchestra.”

Image by Rob van Hilten CC BY


Image by Rob van Hilten CC BY NC SA



By JJ Marsh



Photo by AG Anderson

Farmers’ Market – Photo by AG Anderson – Creative Commons



Peixeira – By lilivanili

Some of my favourite places in the world are markets.

I can’t spend a weekend in London without a visit to Borough, with the never-tried-before cheeses, fresh produce which actually tastes fresh and fast-food stalls selling everything but chips.

In Porto, I spent many Saturday mornings wandering the aisles of Bolhão, learning from the peixeiras, mainly piquant recipes and spicier curses.


Paris 2013

Last year’s trip to Paris with writer friends? Yes, of course Shakespeare and Co, Notre Dame, La Seine and… a farmers’ market.

Now in Zürich, I often treat myself to the Viadukt, with British pies, Italian beers and the occasional Sunday morning writers’ salon.

Yet I will do anything to avoid a supermarket – a deadening, sterile experience with the mere illusion of choice.  My frustration is always exacerbated by the sign at the express checkout: Six Items or Less.

The reason I seek out farmers’ markets is because of the pride and passion in the craft. These people love what they do and will freely share their excitement. The baker explains his chocolate chip cookie secret. The olive vendor demonstrates how she makes the best tapenade. Even as a vegetarian, I was held rapt by the Slow Food sausage man’s spiel. So many cheeses to sample…

There are artisans – people who take pains over their creations and share their love.

The same way I like to buy my food, I like to buy my books. I’m curious as to the drive, the impulse, the story behind the story. That’s why Triskele Books and the Alliance of Independent Authors are co-hosting the inaugural Indie Author Fair at Chorleywood LitFest.

Many of independent publishing’s brightest lights will be reading, performing, signing and meeting readers. Not to mention offering themselves as a Human Library, full of wise, exciting, beautifully presented and surprising tomes.

There’ll be readings for adults, storytime for smalls, signed copies and fascinating people from every aspect of publishing’s new wave. Passion for the page.

Chorleywood is on the Metropolitan Tube line, with a traditional English common and a charming pub.

Come on down. I’ll save you a cookie.

IAF flyer


Image by Kevin Dooley

Images by AG Anderson and lilivanili





Image by Kevin Dooley

Today I’m the guest of The Vine Leaves Literary Journal.

Talking about The Craft of Voice – theory and practical exercises designed to help you discover yours.

Part two coming next month.  Check it out.



Image by Kevin Dooley


whisper image ccHow to get sound onto paper.

An issue I’ve wrestled with for some time, especially when it comes to characters’ voices.

Several recent books irritated me enormously with an excess of signposts as to speech style. Every utterance written semi-phonetically was boring and hard work. An excess of ‘local colour’ turned character into caricature before the story even began. Every single person in a broad cast using the same vocabulary but with different adverbs equalled monotony.

The reason the books above failed is for exactly the same reason writers should show, not tell.

Leave space for the reader’s imagination. Inference is a powerful and natural phenomenon.

Do not tell. Do not shout. Whisper and let us follow the clues. We may end up in different places. That is our prerogative.

The complexity of rendering voices, accents, speech impediments or verbal tics on paper while not getting on the reader’s wick is both tricky and simple. I often write characters who speak other languages than English. How close to native speaker should they sound?  Would adding mistakes in English add authenticity or distract? A key character has a peculiarity of expression – should I explain or risk incomprehension?

Differentiation of voices is one of my basics – and a keystone of character development . So I did a little research on how other writers put sounds to paper with enough quiet space for the reader’s interpretation.


Monique Roffey’s memorable book The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, immerses the reader in the spoken sounds of Trinidad from the outset.

‘Oh Gyaaaad,’ Sabine complained loudly. ‘The heat! Jennifer, I cyan take it.’ She lifted up her voluminous house dress and fanned it up to her face, exposing her pink cotton knickers.

Phhhhhut!’ She made a loud hissing sound, fanning herself. ‘C’est un fourneau.’

Jennifer shook her head. ‘Take cyare Mr Harwood ent come in and ketch a fright.’

Why does this work? Roffey hints at the musicality of Trinidadian speech, nails the key features and allows the reader to do the rest.


Speech impediment

Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda. In the latter part of the book, the MC, Dan, meets a relative who has problems speaking. The first few exchanges are painful and awkward and not easy to read.

 ‘Ya ya. She – she is. Is. Dha-dha-dha-dha-ng.’ His words were a blur of hard consonants and slithering sibilants that made no sense to Dan.

‘Sorry mate, I didn’t get that.’

Dennis angrily wiped spit from the sides of his mouth. He looked flushed, embarrassed, as though he was furious at Dan. ‘I-I wi-wish sh-sh-she wouwad. Wad. Wad. Wad dj dj djusshtd die.’

Dan grows attuned to the way Dennis speaks and Tsiolkas drops the literal rendering in a couple of pages. It works perfectly. For Dan and for the reader, the difficulty fades away as the person emerges.


Verbal tics

Quirks of expression can become iconic, when done with real skill. The gnomic syntax of Yoda. The fluidity of thought of Joyce’s Molly Bloom to Eimear McBride’s narrator in A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Each of the creatures in The Wind in the Willows or Winnie the Pooh. Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice, drew five provincial country spinsters with extraordinary distinction. When it comes to depicting detail on an epic canvas, read Charles Dickens.

Finally, and I may have said this before, but Dylan Thomas is rarely bettered for character through idiolect than in Under Milk Wood.


Know Your Character’s Voice

Many authors answers character questions – what paper does he read? If she was a cocktail… that sort of thing.

Take the time to craft your characters’ speech. Know who would say sports car and who’d say Maserati. Decide who swears, what slang each person uses, the imagery they use and their cultural references in speech. Know what they sound like and why.

Write it all down and use about five percent of that information.

Respect your readers’ intelligence. Spell nothing out. Hint and suggest, but never tell the reader how to read.

Show, not tell.

Whisper, don’t shout.


Image by Timothy BrownCC-BY_icon.svg




Next Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers