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.



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




002 - Copy (3)

My bookshelf – a glorious mish-mash

The newspaper I’ve read since I was able to choose for myself  is The Guardian. We share a roughly similar world view, their standard of journalism is high and they tackle controversial issues. Best of all, I love their books section, book passion and literary mindset. I could spend all day browsing their features and reviews.

They were one of the first broadsheets to get behind self-publishing as a serious literary phenomenon and I couldn’t have been prouder to appear in their pages as a Reader Recommended indie book last year.

Now they’ve launched a prize for Best Self-Published Book, which runs monthly. Hooray!

Or… not?

(Note: As a non-UK resident, I am ineligible to enter. This is not a ‘How Dare They Overlook My Genius’ hissy fit, but a general concern.)

It’s early days, but the first two winning books have been selected and duly reviewed. Two very different winners; a comic romp and the story of a suffragette.

Much to admire in Tom Moran’s Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers, but the reviewer says this:

But it is surprisingly easy to forget that Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers is self-published – that it hasn’t been through the editing, streamlining, stringent process of a publishing house. Spelling, grammar, the rest of it, are all spot-on, and Moran’s story hangs together neatly, pleasingly, and open-endedly ready for a follow-up.

 … a slice of (sometimes) comic fantasy which deserves comparison to the likes of Robert Rankin – another author who isn’t afraid to pile on the quips, and who nonetheless enjoys a home at a mainstream publisher. There’s talent, here, if you can trample through the jokes to find it.

The reviewer of The Right of the Subjects, by Jude Starling, makes her judgement in the headline. A closely researched and passionately told story of suffragism, this novel could have been greatly improved by a conventional publisher.

… They [editors] may remind you that people don’t describe themselves as going somewhere with “our eyes shining”. They’ll mention that The Right of the Subjects might not be the most alluring title. They won’t let you use the word “tut” three times on one page, or the same formula each time you describe someone’s physical appearance, or have a character called Annie appearing alongside a character called Amie. They’ll tell you when your book is, say, 25% (30,000 words or so, in this case) too long.

Rather makes me glad I’m not eligible if this is my reward. A pat on the head for a ‘nice try’?

I have several issues with this.

If you are awarding a prize for the Best Self-Published Novel, why not choose one you can rave about? I’m a regular reviewer for Bookmuse, never differentiating between indie, trad or small press (unless I feel it deserves a mention, such as with A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing). I’ve read literary fiction, horror, in translation, YA, thriller and general fiction from a range of sources, and won’t review if I can’t recommend. Not one self-published novel on the site merited such half-hearted enthusiasm as these prize winners. If I were Mr Moran or Ms Starling, I’d find this chalice not quite poisoned, but certainly corked.

Example indie books I’ve loved: I Stopped Time by Jane Davis,  The Flesh Market by Richard Wright, String Bridge by Jessica Bell

Traditional/conventional/mainstream/trade publishing is not always better. Top indie authors use professional editors, copy editors and proofreaders. They work with expert designers and typesetters. They work hard on their marketing just the same as any midlist author with a trad press must, and are often more creative and flexible in reaching readers.

Example of trade press publication editing: (author unnamed as I see this as publisher failure).

 p.21 – A. was explaining something to S., elaborately gesticulating. He liked to use them a lot while talking, just like an Italian.
p. 42 – Wrong character name
p. 68 – Wrong character name
p. 77 – For a few seconds, she lost balance, the creaking tyres leaving a long black mark behind.
p. 81 – C smiled afflicted.
p. 89 – Truly awful metaphor
p. 90 – …there was something grander then the trivial petty misery
p. 90 – A fomer boyfriend
p. 109 – The spheric sound of Goldfrap
p. 129 – “Take me under you microscope”
p. 132 – …as she watched him filetting that turbot
p. 138 – Mother and daugther.
p. 157 – C. and her friends are a rangle of mid-thirties character without…


The assessment of what ‘the best’ is always going to be subjective. Is that a polished package with its own branding? Or something that makes news because it sells? Or a brilliantly imaginative experiment in a tacky cover with a nasty font? Or a multimedia set of discoverables for readers to assemble and interpret? Or ‘almost as good as something the Big Five might put out’?

I find it depressing that the first two reviews of Best Self-Published Books in The Guardian/Legend Prize contain such reactionary observations and still hold up the trade model as ideal.

Self-publishing’s grown up.

Time reviewers caught up.



I started writing because I wanted to tell stories.

My aim was to communicate – raise a smile, elicit a nod, provoke a frown or incite a reaction. Letters, journal entries, articles, stories and now books.  My measure of success was simply to be read.

I knew I’d never make myHardboiled Noir 50s fortune that way, but none of the things that make me happy are likely to clog the postbox with large cheques. Theatre, teaching, writing, eating fire…

The only thing that really mattered was to please my ideal reader. I wrote for someone judgemental, opinionated, ponderous, fickle, emotional, easily bored and difficult to entertain.


But to my own horror,  I wasn’t good enough. Reader Me found Writer Me gauche, awkward, and embarrassingly derivative.

I needed help. I found writers’ critique sites, tested a few and finally found a home with similarly judgemental, opinionated, ponderous, fickle, emotional, easily bored and difficult-to-entertain folk. The difference? They showed me how to meet my own standards.

Ten years later, I’ve published four books and played midwife to another dozen. My keystone is always quality. So I ask questions. Is this book as good as it can possibly be? Does it look, feel and smell like an object of desire? Will it be read and enjoyed as a Good Book? Is it what I really wanted to write? Is it honest?

Last month, I spent a weekend with an author whose rewards from writing could allow her to retire. Yet she writes. Every day. Why? While there are stories to tell, a good writer can always get better.

On ALLi’s Self-Publishing Advice blog today, my Triskele colleague, Catriona Troth, tackles the troublesome question of why indie-published books only ever make headlines because of sales. And asks a question. What matters most to the Indie Writer – quality or quantity?

Whether you’re a reader or a writer, check it out.





the leapStandards in self-publishing.

This whole argument feels like a perennial pinball machine, where opinions converge, collide, bend at impossible angles and ricochet off in another direction.

Debbie Young confronted the Elephant in the Room on the Self-Publishing Advice blog. Porter Anderson raised the topic via his Twitter debate #muse14. This phenomenon is the slightly awkward relative at a wedding, whose social skills are dubious, but you can’t get away from the fact you are related.

Let’s face it, lots of self-published books are crap. Whether that’s the cover, the writing or simply the concept, which might have been better off unpublished and retained as a private, personal seven-volume diatribe on vengeance / erotica / combustion engines.

It’s my hugest concern.

‘How could this be better?’ is the question I ask most. (This includes Where’s the corkscrew? Who the hell gave that git a driving licence? Do you need a pee and poo? – to husband, pugs and random strangers, not necessarily in that order.)

Self/indie publishing has many different perspectives. The radical and ground-breaking such as eightcutsgallerypress. The various methods of author collectives – genre, marketing, support, shared readership – all show that there is no one route to success.

When starting the Triskele Books collective, we set ourselves a challenge. Three elements were non-negotiable:

  • Our books will look professional
  • Every book must reflect our USP – Time and Place
  • Top quality writing

The first two points are pretty easy to judge, but the last, as we grow and learn, is far harder to define. What IS good writing? And who says so? We’ve worked together for years; as amateur critique partners, indie team-mates and now professional colleagues, thus we trust each other’s insight.

I could break down each of my books and tell you where the Triskelites made it better. I hope they’d say the same. Because we don’t settle for OK. It’s never ‘good enough’. It has to be the very best it can be, and that can take three or seven rewrites, a new cover design, or a total change of blurb.

New Triskele associates get that. These are writers prepared to listen, do the work and make a good book something exceptional. A collective depends on every single book being a flagship. You liked this? Well, there’s more where that came from. We’re currently reading the manuscripts from new potential associates, and offering structural/copy edit/line edit support, alongside marketing advice and collaborative opportunities.

This is what we do.

I’ve read some great books lately. Lowland, String Bridge, Night Train to Lisbon, A Funeral for an Owl, The Glass RoomThe Fleshmarket, Vlad the Inhaler, Spilt Milk: approximately 50/50 indie & trad published.

I’ve read some utter bilge, too. Seven (trad) books sit on the StinkPile, to be exchanged at the local coffee shop for something worth reading. At least six Kindle indies got deleted less than 10% in. Life’s too short for derivative, shallow and crappy – unless that’s what you’re looking for. (If so, you’re in luck – there’s a shedload.)


I have them in reading. I want them in my writing. And as much as I am a bigmouthed, opinionated gobshite, I know other people’s input will take my work beyond my own reach. I hope mine can contribute in the same way.

Creative control of my own work is a truly glorious feeling. Yes, it has its scary moments, but I trust my own judgement and that of the team I have assembled to bring my books to life. The editors, the proofreaders, the designer, the artist and the readers. I also trust the people who sell the book and place great value on their opinions.

I’ve published three paperbacks.

BCD kindleBook One, Behind Closed Doors, is my bestseller. Possibly because it’s a Zurich-set crime novel, and has the powerful support of local bookshops, which in turn attract Swiss bookclubs, who recommend it to their friends and so on. Word of mouth.

Tread Softly pb coverBook Three, Tread Softly, sells almost as well. This one, which deals with crime and corruption in Rioja country, found a curious market via the wine trade. Good job I took my research so seriously. I know from booksellers that the cover is a major attraction. People stroke it.

Raw Material_Cover_Paperback_MEDIUMNow what has happened to Book Two – Raw Material?

The story works – the feedback tells me it’s a favourite – and the ebook is selling on a par with the other two. So why is the paperback selling 50% fewer copies than the others?

I asked questions. Readers and booksellers alike told me that the cover simply didn’t carry the same appeal. Now, I love that cover. I commissioned it from the same brilliant artist who painted books one and three. But whether I love it or not is immaterial. If it doesn’t appeal to readers, I need to make a change.

Thankfully, I can. No one else but me can decide what my books look like. I talked to cover artist James, and we discussed why the original image wasn’t sufficiently alluring. The dawn beach scene illustrates a moment from the book, although the majority of the story is set in London. My other two covers create an atmosphere – they don’t try to tell the story. The cover image should trigger the reader’s imagination, not replace it.

Because James is one of the coolest people I know, he took this in the same spirit as I had and threw his energy into finding an image that would work. We referenced the work of Edward Hopper and drew on the observatory nature of his work. The themes of Raw Material are all about watching, covetousness and interpretation. James has an incredible skill with light and shade, which also played into the final image.

We bounced ideas and sketches between Switzerland and California before finally agreeing on composition, colour and atmosphere. When he’d finished, I squeaked with glee and genius graphic designer JD Smith worked her magic in adding the final elements.

So here it is. The new-look paperback cover of Raw Material.

Raw Material_Cover_Paperback NEW PRINT-page-001

With heartfelt thanks to James Lane, whose video of the painting can be found here – 90 seconds of creative process to the noir feel of Gavin Bryars.


At this time of year, statistics abound. Many of those relating to the publishing industry have been queried and debated, but one thing is certain – the number of self-published (or indie) books is growing. Whether you see that phenomenon as the citadel stormed by the great unwashed, or an opportunity for more readers to find good books, the problem remains – how to find the best ones?


Bloggers offer opinions, indie assessors offer stamps of approval, newspapers ask readers’ opinions such as Guardian Readers Recommend, but mostly a book succeeds in finding readers via word-of-mouth.

I’ve read a lot of indie authors this year. They weren’t all good. Several ended up being hurled at the wall (not advisable if reading on Kindle). Many were excellent and deserve a wider readership. So here you go – I’m ending 2013 with 13 of the best indie books I’ve read this year in alphabetical order of author names. Sharing the goodies.

Let me know if you have any recommendations of your own.


Seeking Sophia by Ariadne Apostolou

Surprising and unpredictable, this story of a woman’s journey to find her roots.

The author takes us on a geographical journey to New York, Geneva, and Greece, but the emotional parallel is far less predictable. This book, despite its polish and sophistication, feels raw – in a good way. Emotions are on the table with the olives, tomatoes and a jug of rough wine.

Feral Youth, by Polly Courtney

Few books I’ve read can carry such weighty themes with such a unique voice and distinctive accent. Courtney attacks the enormous social issues of contemporary Britain by giving the voiceless a voice. A real voice. This is a different slant on Britain’s 2011 ‘BlackBerry Riots’, looking at the causes, lacerating the media and using the most beautiful tool of all. Language. This book made me cry, grit my teeth in frustration and realise that up till now, I only had one side of the story.

secrets italian gardener

Secrets of the Italian Gardener by Andrew Crofts

Difficult to define and delightfully unexpected, this novella has many levels. A contemporary adventure and literary experience, which makes the reader both introspective and on the edge of your seat. The eponymous gardener is rather more than he seems, sharing observations and philosophies on the personal and political. Robert Harris meets Paulo Coelho in a thoughtful, intelligent story.

I Stopped Time by Jane DavisJD-IStoppedTime

A wonderful story of a son re-evaluating everything he thought he knew about his mother. Two lives: Lottie Pye, growing up in Edwardian Brighton, and her son, James, who faces a lonely old age. Until he takes delivery of his mother’s legacy – her photographs – and with the help of young Jenny, begins to make a new picture from the jigsaw of images. A book you resent having to put down.

The Chase by Lorna Fergusson

The history of a house and the uncertain future of marriage are portrayed in this skilfully woven story. Annette (Netty) and Gerald are making a new start in the Dordogne, trying to look ahead and forget the past. Le Sanglier, their new home, also has a colourful past. From primitive civilisation, through mediaeval hunts to occupations from foreign powers, its history is both bloody and dramatic. Ideal atmospheric holiday read.

Scratch by Danny Gillanscratch

Outshines David Nicholls, Tony Parsons and John O’Farrell because Scratch is honest-funny, not synthetic-funny. This is funny, sharply observed comedy with a wry contemporary and Glaswegian slant on age-old problems. Yes, it’s laugh-aloud, but the bits that made me cry and nod came from the most unexpected quarter, and meant all the more for it. Gillan’s writing – quite literally – makes us grow up.

House of Silence by Linda Gillard

It’s a tricky book to describe. It has mystery, romance, skeletons in the closet, a decrepit family manor house and a fair few emotional truths. I read it in one weekend, completely absorbed by the world the author creates. House of Silence reminded me of several other well-loved books, such as Cold Comfort Farm, The Pursuit of Love, Janice Gentle Gets Sexy and The Little Stranger.

The Englishman by Helena Halme

Fictionalised memoirs give an insight into displacement, long-distance love, dysfunctional families, cultural differences between neighbouring countries, and the emotional journey of readjustment. The light tones of romance and adventure are deceptive. Halme tackles awkward issues such as family problems, practical bureaucracy and the reality of prejudice.

The Company of Fellows by Dan Holloway

A psychological murder mystery set among the spires of Oxford, it bristles with intelligence, refined tastes and real skill. It’s also very disturbing, in a Hannibal Lecter way. Characters, plot and setting are carefully detailed in such a way to make the reader constantly change perspective. A book I still think about and will undoubtedly re-read.

7th dayThe 7th Day by Nika Lubitsch

The only translated book on the list. A German-set crime novel with an unusual and absorbing structure. Sybille is on trial for her husband’s murder. While on trial, flashbacks tell the story of their life together and she pieces together what really happened. The ending is atmospheric and exciting, not to mention brilliantly executed. Unsurprisingly, a Kindle bestseller.

My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris

An unusual blend of the esoteric and the practical, the book follows a pianist diagnosed with RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury). Her curious condition and an accidental encounter peel back various layers of memory, truth and trust, revealing rather more than she expects. Both reader and narrator are left with more questions than answers, but plenty to think about.

Charlotte Aimes and The Great Alpine Adventure by Libby O

Exactly the kind of book I’d have loved as a kid, and nothing has changed. Fast-paced adventures in the Alps, with a smart-mouthed heroine, a terrific sidekick, a romantic interest, wicked evildoers and a plethora of background information discoverable via various media. Although labelled YA, this is a funny, sassy, cracking yarn for all ages.

The Imagination Thief by Rohan Quineimagination thief

Another difficult to classify book, but that’s precisely why it works so well. Part literary fiction, part fantasy, it is a surreal experience which makes the most of its equally offbeat location. With a cast of unforgettable characters and a central premise both intriguing and epic, this is what indie fiction does so very well – breaks boundaries and takes risks. In this case, it pays off.

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