Historical Novel Society Conference, 2018

Writers, in general, tend to be wee, sleekit, cowran, tim’rous beasties and writers of historical fiction are no different. We hide, seeing nobody, ignoring even our friends and family, concentrating only on our research/writing/editing, only the occasional glance at Twitter for light relief and kittens.

However, collect 100+ historical fiction writers together in a Hotel and Golf Resort in Scotland and you can barely hear yourself think for the noise.

Yes it was the end of August 2018 and time for the Historical Novel Society Conference. I don’t know why HNS arranged all those Keynote speeches, and Break-out sessions, they could have just locked the doors and let us chat in peace.

Friday afternoon and attendees gathered, the main topic of conversation was where we were from and how far we had travelled. Naturally there were a lot of Scots, and Americans. The English seemed to be in short supply. For anyone who has never been to one of these events, the conversation then continues: Am I talking to another author, or someone else? What era? What stage – planning, writing, published? If so, how? Sometimes you find a “twin” and can end up in a deep and meaningful discussion in the type of mud and height of reeds in the fenland near Ely.

But what about the planned program? There were too many alternatives to go into detail, so I will just pick out what I remember.

Friday evening, after a buffet dinner,  there was supposed to be a talk by Robin Ellis, the original Poldark, but he was indisposed. Instead Graham Hunter, costume designer for Outlander and other films and TV, showed us some of the original clothes he had collected over the years, mostly survivals from the eighteenth century. He was informative and enthusiastic, but unfortunately let down by the microphone system – something that was to plague other speakers. The clothes were modelled by his assistant (Laurie?). Why don’t men look so smart nowadays?

This was followed by the Late Night Question Time Special, which was probably a bit too late for many.

Saturday was a beautiful day, what a pity we had to spend it indoors, but it was worth it. The first Keynote session was Alison Weir talking about Jane Seymour. Alison writes both fiction and non fiction and discussed the different constraints this puts on how you write. We heard a lot about the life of King Henry’s third wife and how difficult it can be to know what she felt about her position and what her intentions were. In non fiction we cannot say, in fiction we can take an educated guess. Alison also told us about a new theory about what caused the death of Jane. Fascinating.

Ben Kane talking about research, I think.

There was a pause for refreshments and for the room to be rearranged and it was on to the first Break-out Session. I had chosen Ben Kane on “Clash of Empires Rome v Greece.” Ben has written many acclaimed books on the Romans, but has decided on a change to the Greeks. He gave a brief run down on the world a generation after Alexander the Great, after the Roman army had been almost  totally destroyed at Cannae. Fighting broke out in Macedonia where Phillip V was surrounded by enemies. Rome intervened around 200 BC. What happened is told in Ben’s latest book, Clash of Empires, which of course I had to buy. An interesting talk about a little known period of history.

The next session was about using Ingram Spark, less exciting, but useful if I decide to  self publish my next book. This was followed by a buffet Lunch and then a session on writing Children’s Historical Fiction. I only caught the beginning and end of this as I had a pitch meeting booked. I don’t know why I put myself through it, but at least I wasn’t as nervous as last time, which I suppose is progress. Finding out about Children’s Historical Fiction would have been more helpful.

Later in the afternoon were more Plenary Sessions: The HNS Awards and reading of extracts from the winning entries, then “From Book to Radio/Screen. Paul Welsh and Trevor Royle discussed the differing methods of translating a book for transmission in other media. Both routes need much changes to the source material – in radio, how to suggest the things that cannot be seen, with film the difficulty is to capture the thoughts of the characters by the way they react to the world around them. Something to think about when writing.

We were then allowed a break. I went and lay on my bed for half an hour, before dressing for the Gala Dinner and Ceilidh.

As we gathered in the bar, we could hear a piper. He marched up and down outside (it was a lovely evening) and then he piped us into dinner.

I spoke earlier about the constant talk. As we waited for our food, we hardly noticed how long it took, although I heard some people gave up. Dinner was at 7.00 pm and it was after 8.00 before our starters arrived, perhaps too long, although it was very nice when it finally arrived.

The ceilidh, when it finally arrived was worth waiting for. By the number of people who asked how to pronounce the word, I realised that many participants had no idea what was to happen – some, I think were still mystified by the end. I will draw a veil over the proceedings, except to say that anyone who watched the dancing of the Gay Gordons will never forget it – those who took part probably still have the bruises – hilarious chaos.

On Sunday morning, people were already starting to leave – trains to catch etc. They probably don’t want to know, but they missed the best talk of the conference: the keynote speech by Sarah Dunant. This was slightly late in starting, I’m not sure why – had someone overslept? It was worth the wait though. Sarah writes about women’s lives in the Italian Renaissance, but today she was talking about the Borgias. Everyone knows about the Borgias – the pope and his family – the corruption, the poison, the incest. We had fun looking at some of the ways they have been portrayed in books and films, but was that the truth? Apparently not. Alexander VI was certainly not the most well behaved of renaissance popes, but he was by no means the worst. He was vilified because he was foreign, the family was Spanish. His daughter, Lucrezia gained a bad reputation from which, as can happen to a woman, she was unable to escape. The Fake News started almost immediately, never to let up. Until now, when Sarah Dunant has produced a possibly more accurate view of this famous family.

Sarah Dunant, Pope Alexander VI and someone else.

Something struck me when I came to write this post. I only bought two books at this conference. Fairly restrained for me, but I didn’t have much room in my luggage! They were books by the most informative and entertaining speakers, Sarah Dunant and Ben Kane. Is there any significance in this? Does being an engaging speaker help to sell your books. Something to think about!

The rest of the morning passed in a rush. The next session I attended was that of Margaret Skea on Stealing Stories, using real places and people and using them as a basis for your fiction. She explained how she used one castle she knew for the outside of her fictional version and a different one for the inside. She tried to use a real person as her main character, but found it too constricting, finally letting a minor imaginary character to tell the story.

At this point I would like to thank Margaret for all her work in organising the conference. She was continually on the move, solving problems, checking people were in the right place and allways with a smile on her face.

Galloping swiftly on to the final Break-out session: The Horse, a workshop with Jane Harlond on how to avoid making mistakes while using horses in our books. She even got us sitting backwards on our chairs to demonstrate the different stirrup positions when using a sword or throwing a lance. I wish we had had more time, but I learned a lot. I will certainly watch Poldark riding his horse along the cliffs in a new light!

Then it was time for the Historical Fiction Challenge, a series of questions to the panel and the audience. Despite the easy questions fed to the panel, the final winners were the audience. Congratulations all round. Then the conference was wrapped up, with an advert for the next, in USA in June 2019. I think I’ll wait for the next British event – I should have got my voice back by then!

My book on display (plus a few postcards I happened to drop nearby!)

I first went to a HNS conference two years ago. At the time I was still writing my first book. This time, that book is published  and the next is nearly finished. I enquired before the conference about selling my book there, but was informed that, due to lack of space, only speakers and helpers were allowed on the book stall – a very reasonable decision. However one of the speakers was Jeremy Thompson, Managing Director of Troubador Publishing Ltd and The Book Guild Ltd. He brought along a display for Matador Books and a few historical fiction books they have published. It included my book, Bright Sword, so although it wasn’t for sale, it was visible. Thank you Jeremy.

It was an amazing few days and wonderful to meet up with old friends and Twitter friends and to make new friends. See you all in 2020.

If you want to see more pictures taken at the Conference see the HNS website

And Finally, a picture to prove that I am unable to go to a HNS Conference and not get my hands on a sword!

 

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Guest Post – The Rise and Rise of Crime and Thriller Fiction

Today I host my first guest post.

I first met Sally Jenkins when we discovered both our books were to be published by The Book Guild, on the same day, January 28th 2018. We are not in competition, because our books are so different, she writes psychological thrillers and I write historical fiction.

Do these very different genres attract the same readers or do they remain completely separate? Today we introduce our blog readers to something different.

Welcome Sally:

Author Sally Jenkins

In 2017 18.7 million crime and thriller books were sold. This was an increase of 19 per cent over the previous two years. Even without the hard proof of these figures the popularity of dark fiction is obvious. Think about all those books with ‘Girl’ in the title, the influx of ‘noir’ TV box sets from Scandinavia and the emergence of a brand new fiction sub-genre, ‘grip lit’.  Grip lit is a blend of women’s fiction and psychological thriller, usually written by women and about women. And women readers account for just over half of all crime and thriller sales – so we do like to be scared!

Our fascination with dark fiction can be likened to the attraction of a roller coaster. In the former, we clutch the pages, not daring to turn out the bedside light in case something goes bump in the night. On the latter we scream and shriek with every rise and fall of the track. In both cases, as soon as the experience is finished we want to do it all over again! Val McDermid is the queen of crime thriller writers and she says, “A crime-thriller gives you an adrenalin rush. It’s exciting, suspense-laden … But you know it’s fiction and that the protagonist is going to make it out okay in the end. We live in a society increasingly fragmented and alienated. People … find reassurance in crime-thrillers because they know that in the end the world will be put right.”

Do the authors of all these crime and thriller novels need evil, twisted personalities in order to generate the material for their novels? Being a writer of psychological thrillers myself, I plead that we are nice people! As with all authors we pluck our ideas from what we see in the world around us and then embellish, sharpen and polish them from our own unique perspective on the world. One of the continuing themes or perspectives in my own novels is how past happenings rarely stay in the past. They can explode into our present day lives without warning and turn everything upside down. In Bedsit Three the evil comes from Ignatius, who was brought up by a domineering mother. The effect of this on his behaviour is seen as the novel progresses. The other characters in the book are also influenced by their early years but they work for a more positive outcome, begging the question: nature or nurture?

When I started to write my second novel, The Promise, my mind again darted backwards and forwards in time. The plot which emerged centres around a promise made in prison thirty years ago. This promise must now be kept by the next generation and leads to a blackmail attempt …

I’m certain the popularity of crime and thriller fiction will continue to grow. Modern day life is full of uncertainty, upheaval and unsolved crime. Books where good eventually conquers evil (after giving the reader a scary ride!) get my vote every time.

Visit Sally’s website, follow her on Twitter or view her books on Amazon.

Publication Day.

Well, I couldn’t not post today! The biggest day of my (writing) life.

How does it feel to be a published author? At the moment, somewhat dazed, or is that the hangover? Not that I’ve had much to drink, but I’m not used to Champagne (OK, Spanish Cava) at eleven in the morning.

I stayed up last night, to “see” the moment that my book was born. About a month ago, I set up a useful WordPress Widget to count down the days. It’s that box on the right (or elsewhere if you’re reading this on a smartphone) that says “Bright Sword is published!”. As I sat there, in a draughty hall, I found that the final hour counted down in minutes, then the final minute in seconds. It was just like New Year, but without the fireworks!

I checked Amazon and there it was – In Stock and ready to “Add to Basket.” Sorry it’s not expensive enough to warrant Free Delivery. I checked for reviews – none yet, but early days, people have got to read it first! Actually there is one review on the Ebook edition, which crept out a few days before the paperback. 4 stars, so not a bad start. Thank you M J Porter.

I tweeted the good news to the world and sat there a while. I wanted to remember the feeling. I imagined huge lorries thundering through the night, filled with copies of my book, to deliver to readers queued outside bookshops – I’m a fiction writer – I’ve got a vivid imagination! It was emotional. I could have cried, but didn’t. Then I went to bed.

I woke up this morning, and like New Year, nothing had really changed. Breakfast, check e-mails etc, a couple of people had “liked” my midnight tweet.

Later I went to visit my mother. I took a signed copy of the book and the Bubbly. I had dedicated it to her. If she hadn’t encouraged me to read, taken me to join the library at an early age, I would never have discovered books and eventually write one myself. I’m sorry it took so long. Her eyes are now too bad to read it and if she could, she wouldn’t remember what she had read. But this morning she knew what I had done and was pleased. By coincidence, 28th January was my father’s birthday. He died fifteen years ago. I hope he would have been proud too.

A bottle of Byrhtnoth’s Mead

This afternoon I was going to write, not book three, I have a deadline for a family history article, but somehow I wasn’t in the mood. I have a book signing next Saturday (3rd Feb, 11.00-2.00, at Hunts Bookshop in Rugby – if you’re in the area. I have promised Anglo-Saxon Warriors and a Mead Tasting. The autumn before last I made some mead, I wrote about it here. I have tasted it occasionally, to toast the progress of my writing, it is quite drinkable – and alcoholic! It was time to bottle it. Then I decided it needed a proper label. By then, there was not much time to write, except this blog post.

What with everything else I managed 1627 words on Monday, then nothing else. I’m not sure when I’ll continue. I really should get back to editing book 2.

I can’t stop now, I’m a published author.

Looking Back – A review of 2017

So much has happened this year. I started with one book written and a second started. I ended the year awaiting the publication of the first book, Bright Sword, in four weeks time. The second, Bright Axe (probably) is with beta readers and a third, yet to be named in progress. How did all this happen?

By January, I had received my first feedback for Bright Sword. The book was OK but contained lots of errors. I knew it needed a professional edit and made arrangements.

This was also when I decided to become more organised. I worked out how many words I needed to write – I settled on a thousand a day, which worked out at 7K a week. I announced it on this blog. Although I haven’t often reached the target, it encouraged me to sit down regularly, whether I wanted to write or not. I have created a routine: after lunch I go upstairs to the old computer in the spare room, and write, sometimes an hour, sometimes I continue into the evening (with breaks for tea.)

In February, I seem to have done nothing much except write, and start to think about publication. I was planning on self publishing – When? How could I do it? There was one landmark this month, another author asked me to write a preview of his book, before publication. This was Kin of Cain, a short book (100 pages) by Matthew Harffy. This was an easy job, it was so good; better, if that is possible, than his other books in the Bernicia Chronicles series. Read my preview here.

March was spent worrying about how many corrections I would receive from my editor.

At the beginning of April I got the manuscript back. Not too bad, but my punctuation appeared to be even worse than I thought. There was a bit of discussion about one of the characters and in the end I added a couple more scenes – only about a hundred words or so. At the end of that month, I attended the Self Publishing Conference, to make  a final decision about which avenue to take. There are so many different options nowadays, that I ended up more confused than ever. Someone suggested The Book Guild. You don’t need an agent, or to prepare a synopsis (although I had one). Just send your complete manuscript and they might offer one of several options. I had nothing to lose.

In May, as I struggled with the ending of book two, a bombshell struck. A (very) famous author, Conn Iggulden had published a book set in exactly the same period I was writing (mid tenth century). It was about Dunstan, who appears, briefly, in my book. What could I do? I read the book and wrote a review. I didn’t think much of it, although other people raved over it. Was I jealous? Perhaps, but I’ve put it behind me now.

At the start of June I heard back from the publisher. They wanted to publish my book. They offered me a partnership deal, which I accepted. I was on my way!

It was in June that I finished the first draft of book two (104,542 words) and started editing. I also went on holiday – an archaeological tour of Orkney and Shetland. It was somewhere I had wanted to go for a long time, and since it was our 40th wedding anniversary this year, I managed to persuade my husband that he would survive the ferry journey. Luckily the sea was calm and the weather beautiful. I learned a lot about pre-history and Vikings, but there was not much about Anglo-Saxons. I took lots of photos which can be found on a series of posts, starting here.

Coppergate Helmet, modelled by the author.

One the way back we stopped for a couple of days in Yorkshire. A bit of research and a trip to the Jorvik exhibition in York. More Vikings, but at least I got to try on an Anglo-Saxon helmet. It was a bit too big for me! Another day, on a walk near Wharrem Percy deserted village I was inspired by wind blowing across a field of grain. By the time we  returned to our hotel I had the plot for book three. (And that is all I’m going to say about it!)

In July, we headed north again. This time to Lindisfarne. We had booked a day’s archaeology at the Digventures site, searching for the remains of the original Anglo-Saxon monastery. Unfortunately it was very wet. We only got an hour in the trench and an afternoon cleaning pieces of bone, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. There was also a little time to explore the area for book two research (and perhaps book four!!)

At the end of August, proofs arrived. A whole new experience. It was at this, rather late, point that I discovered that I had been let down by my editor. All those punctuation mistakes that had been pointed out, were not mine. Most of them had been OK and I had “corrected” them to something wrong. Details here. It was nearly a disaster. It was a big job to rewrite the book and search for other errors at the same time. There were several runs though and gradually I signed off on the final half dozen errors. I never wanted to see that book again!

September was busy, writing reviews of books, finding people to review mine. I volunteered to review Viking Fire by Justin Hill. A great book  reminiscent of Dorothy Dunnett.  I had reviewed her book, King Hereafter, in July but in September was noticed by the fanatics (in the nicest possible way) of the Dorothy Dunnett Society, making it my most popular post this year, at 168 views.

It was also September when I found Bright Sword was listed on Amazon. I thinks it was at that point that I knew it was really happening.

In October, author G K Holloway approached me out of the blue to review his book, 1066 , What Fates Impose He has since reviewed mine and beta read book two – it’s better than Bright Sword apparently.

It was in November, with Bright Sword on track and book two on pause, I started book three. It is causing a few problems, which I’ll talk about another time, but I have written just over 30k words.

With preparing for Christmas, setting up launch events, etc and writing; book and blog posts, I have been busy.

I have taken a week off for Christmas, read a few books, and now stand on the edge of a new year. Where will I be this time next year? I’ll write a few thoughts about that tomorrow – if I am in a fit state.

Writing update for the year: I have written about 118K words of historical fiction. Words deleted and edited – unknown, but a lot.

I have written 53 blog posts – more than one per week. Say an average of one thousand (this is 1166) makes 53K.

Total 171K. No wonder I’m feeling tired!

Thank you to everyone who has helped/supported/encouraged me during this amazing year.

In 2018, may you finish/publish/sell your own books – and if you don’t write; read and add a review to someone else’s.

Just so long as it’s called Bright Sword!

FAREWELL 2017 – HERE I COME 2018!

 

 

 

Extract from Bright Sword

Today, it is exactly one month to the publication of my debut novel “Bright Sword”.

Am I getting excited? A bit, but I still can’t believe it.

To prove to myself that it is actually happening, I am releasing a short extract for you to read, to whet your appetite.

This piece comes from the start of the book, from the very first chapter, in fact.

Byrhtnoth has arrived at the King’s hall. It is winter, there is a feast, perhaps Christmas. He is seven years old.

 

Inside, the blast of noise almost knocked us backwards. So many voices shouting at the same time, like a battle was taking place. I felt my new friend’s hand tighten in mine.

            “At least it’s warm,” I said. After the cold outside it was almost too hot. The thick smoky heat carried with it the smell of many bodies, dirty straw and spilt ale. Best of all was the smell of food; the wonderful smell of roasting meat.

            Long boards stretched either side of the hall with warriors seated at them. Nearest were young men, clad in shades of brown or grey with only a glimpse here and there of more colourful embroidery. Further away were the older men, wealthy thegns, with richer clothes. So many colours, like a summer meadow. The bands of embroidery were wider and more intricate. Gold rings flashed as arms moved, and jewels glinted from knife hilts. Everyone was shouting, mostly in good-humour; toasts and bragging, snatches of drinking songs. There were arguments, which never quite developed into fights. Someone would pull the men apart and pour more ale from the large jugs scattered liberally along the boards.

            The far end of the hall was invisible. Hidden by the smoke of the fire pits; not just one hearth that you might find in an ordinary hall, but a whole line of them. Over every one a carcass roasted or a cauldron bubbled. Servants carved slabs of meat from the great roasts, cleverly avoiding the flames leaping up from the fires. Others rushed around with plates of meat or baskets full of warm crusty bread.

            Someone thrust some meat into my hand before dashing elsewhere. It was golden brown and crispy on the outside, still slightly bloody inside. I had never held so much meat in my hands. Before anyone could change their mind, I tore off a piece and handed it to my companion. He ripped at it like a half starved dog, gulping it down in chunks. I bit into the fragrant meat, the fat running down my chin. I had never tasted anything so delicious before.

            I was licking the last of the juices from my fingers when the door opened again. It was the man who had let us in.

            “You two still here? Someone’s given you something to eat?”

            I nodded; fearful we had done something wrong.

            “Come with me. I’m Oswald, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me.”

            Close to the door sat two men. They waved us on when they saw we had no weapons to hand in. Behind them was a vast collection. Knives and sharp seaxes lay neatly on a bench, some sheathed, others gleaming in naked menace. In the corner stood axes, firelight glinting from the vicious blades. Bundles of spears like sheaves of corn leaned against the wall. Then I saw the swords. I stopped and stared. They hung from hooks, some marked by the badge of their owner, sheathed in scabbards of different lengths, some plain leather; many dyed glorious colours and inlaid with gold, silver or decorated with precious jewels. The sword hilts rose proudly from the scabbards, matching them in decoration. Some were new, highly polished, crying out their owner’s status. Others were old, handed down through some great family, pommels worn smooth by the hands of generations of warriors. Automatically my hand fell to the small plain knife that hung from my belt.

            “Don’t worry. Eating knives are allowed.” One of the guards smiled at me.

           I hung my head and hurried away.

           “You’ll have a sword one day,” he shouted after me. I looked back. His grin broadened and he nodded before giving me a wave. As I followed Oswald along the side of the hall, I felt a sudden thrill. A sword. Could I ever earn a sword of my own? Had my father, whoever he was, owned a sword?

 

 

I’m sorry there isn’t more. For that you will have to wait until January 28th.

Bright Sword is the first book of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles.

Publisher: Book Guild Publishing Ltd

ISBN: 978-1912083404

The paperback can be pre-ordered here and through other outlets.

It will also be available as an ebook.

I hope you will enjoy it.

Back to work – turning a corner.

So, after all the excitement of a holiday and then the slog of sorting out photographs and posting about said holiday, it is back to writing.

Having reached the end of the first draft of Book Two, I have been worrying about how to measure my progress. Now I am editing, I cannot return to announcing my weekly word count. Should I have a minus word count? –  count how many words I have deleted from the book. When would I know how to stop?

While I was pondering this, something happened, something I never thought would happen.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my experiences at the Self-Publishing Conference. I said then that I would report my decision on how to publish. At the refreshments afterwards, my editor said “Why don’t you send your manuscript to The Book Guild, you’ve got nothing to lose.” She has such confidence in my writing!

Next day I had a look at their website. They deal with both traditional and partnership publishing , depending on whether they like your work and how much commercial potential they think it has. They publish both fiction and non-fiction and they say “We accept manuscripts direct from authors or via agents in all genres.” All they wanted was a word document – Bright Sword was sitting there, ready to go. I sent it off.

I received an acknowledgement. The website said “we…will reply within two to three weeks of submission with feedback.” I waited, time passed. I mentioned it to other writers – that’s unusual, they said, publishers usually make you wait months for a response. I was glad I had a holiday planned, I would be a nervous wreak otherwise. I returned from holiday, got on with life, started investigating self-publishing again.

Then, six weeks after my submission, I received an e-mail. I took a deep breath and opened it. Read it, read it again. They liked my book!!!

Not enough to publish it outright. They offered me a partnership publishing arrangement. I would have to contribute part of the costs. I thought about it, considered the options. Did I, a complete beginner really want to go through all the effort and stress of self-publishing? What would you do?

I accepted. I signed the contract (discovering in the process how to “sign”a pdf.) and paid the money. I have filled in an Author Promotion Questionnaire and read the Marketing and Promotion Guide.

Now I sit and wait for things to happen. It is going to be interesting and I will report my progress on this blog.

Meanwhile, I suppose I’d better get back to editing Book Two – just in case Book One is a success.

Self-Publishing Conference – Take 2

On Saturday I attended the Self-Publishing Conference. This was my second visit, you can read about my first here. What was my experience this year? I see that I didn’t manage to live-tweet last year – the same thing happened. I also neglected to take any photographs – at all!

The main difference was at the lunch break. Last year I remember sitting on the floor, chatting with other authors and swapping cards. I arrived with some freshly printed cards, but managed to get rid of only two. I don’t know if the arrangements had changed or if I got there earlier, but I found space on a table. Most of the people I spoke to seemed to be staff/helpers/speakers. Over the day I spoke to several people, but since I had come with a friend, perhaps I was not as open to random chatting.

So why was I there? Last year was a bit of an experiment and I learned something of the direction I was travelling. This year, I had a purpose. I have a book, just about finished. I am seriously thinking about publishing – but how? I have spent a lot of money on editing and cover design. Could I do the rest myself? Someone had recommended CreateSpace, then there is KDP. What was the difference, should I go down that route or was there a different way? I know there are many different ways to publish, and more appearing all the time. My objective was to find the right way.

The Keynote speaker was Angus Phillips, Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies. His subject was “The future of the book: the changing publishing landscape”. We heard about how book sales have changed. The growth of e-books has slowed, but the balance between digital and print has probably stabilised. Dedicated e-readers are less popular, but consumers are using other devises to read books. The outlook seems gloomy for bricks and mortar book shops – more are closing all the time. Readers are using the internet where there is less time for your product to make an impact. You have to get out there, promote your “brand”, write blogs, have a presence on social media etc, Physically visit book shops, festivals. Everything is changing – apparently the future is Virtual Reality. I’m not sure anyone knows how that is going to work.

We then split up for different sessions. My first was “Endorsements, Blurbs and Spine Design – Beyond the Cover.” with Chelsea Taylor, production manager and Jonathan White, sales & Marketing Manager, both with Troubador. I was hoping to find out how to write a blurb – some thing I have been having trouble with. There was rather too much about covers in general – size of images etc. I didn’t really need this, although I was gratified to note that my cover fulfilled most of the criteria. One interesting point is to avoid a photograph on the cover for Historical Fiction. Apparently it just looks wrong, readers will be put off. Endorsements should only be used if by a well-known name, otherwise avoid. In Spine Design you must think about using a cohesive design and there is no need to put all the information there – just enough to get the casual browser to pull out the book to see more. As for the blurb, it is wrong to tell the story, you must leave them wanting more. The first sentence must grab the reader’s attention. I wonder how I’m going to manage that?

There was a short break for refreshments. This was the only point on which I could complain. There was a large selection of coffee, tea and even hot chocolate. The was nothing cold, soft drinks or even water – at least that I could find. It was a sunny day and I’m sure not everyone wanted a hot drink.

The next session was “Doing it Differently: Crowdfunding and Partnership Publishing.” We were given a very useful sheet with all the different options listed; from Traditional to Vanity Publisher, via Self-Publishing (doing it yourself), Packagers (paying for someone else to do it for you), Curated (more of a partnership between you and the publisher) and Crowd-funding (raising the money before you publish). The session was chaired by Cressida Downing (my editor) and we heard from Alice Jolly, who crowd-funded a book that she was unable to get published any other way and Jeremy Thompson of The Book Guild Ltd who explained the various options that they provide. I think I now know understand what is available, but which to choose?

This was followed by lunch, which I have already mentioned. The food was excellent and there was plenty available.

After lunch, the Plenary Session was given by Clive Herbert, Head of Publisher Services, Nielson Book. “The growing importance of bibliographic data.” This sounds like a boring subject, but is essential to know about. Everyone knows about ISBN numbers, I had thought about buying a set of ten – one for ebook , one for print book, plus some left for next book etc. There is so much more you need to know. With 500 new titles published each day, how does a reader find your book in the right place (book shop, online), at the right time (publication date)? How do they know your book actually exists? Figures were thrown about, graphs shown and strange acronyms described – BIC (Book Industry Communication) which enables you to classify your book. So much information you need to think about – and it has to be in place 16 weeks or 112 days before your publication date. No wonder books take so long to publish! How would I find my way through this maze?

My handwriting deteriorates!

I stumbled, stunned, out of this session into “Boost Your Ebook’s Earnings: Maximising Sales.” with Rachel Gregory, Troubador’s Ebook Programme Manager. It sounded useful. But this was more figures, more things to think about. Different versions, so many platforms, lists of websites that might help – or not. My handwriting, not good at the best of times, was deteriorating. I’m sure I have a lot of interesting information – if only I could read it! Something that I thought was straightforward was much more complicated than I expected.

This was followed by a tea break. I found the cake this year – I needed it.

My final session was more restful “Do Judge a Book by its cover.” Chelsea Taylor (who I had already met in the Beyond the cover session) and Andy Vosper, Deputy Chief Executive of TJ International Ltd., talked covers, beautiful covers. A cover is subjective, you must decide who you want to attract – what will they find attractive. What to readers of your genre like? You must stick to that, but also make your book stand out from the others. We learned a lot about cover enhancements: Foil, UV Lamination, Glossy, Matt, Supermatt; I loved the feel of supermatt – there was a lot of passing around of books, touching and stroking. I was still thinking basic self-publishing. None of this can be done with Print on Demand, so I just enjoyed the experience. The beautiful things you can do with dust jackets on hardbacks. And who knew there were so many versions of a paperback: embossing, debossing, flaps, flaps with perforations to provide a tear out bookmark. But every addition to the basic book increases the cost. If you have plenty of money you can produce something unique. There was a bit about practicalities – what colour and quality paper to use, what font to use, on cover and inside, bringing details of the cover inside the book.

I emerged, stuffed to bursting point with information and a realisation that there was so much I didn’t know, but at least I now know what I don’t know. I calmed down with a glass of wine and a chat with my editor, before finding my driver. It gives an indication of the range of different sessions on offer that we had not shared any of them (apart from Keynote and Plenary). There were sessions about using the Media and how to avoid getting sued, Selling to Bookshops and how to deal with copyright, Children’s books, schools and libraries, Non-fiction and audio books.

It was an exhausting day, but I leaned a lot.

Did I come to a decision on which direction to take? Perhaps.

Am I going to tell you what? Of course not.

I might discuss that in a different post.