The London Book Fair 2012 – Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?

Hands shaking with excitement, I was too busy listening to take a decent picture! ūüôā

This photo from ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ panel discussion with Unbound Books, and authors Nick Harkaway, Robert Llewellyn, Ilana Fox and Salena Godden – definitely my highlight of the event, for entertainment value as well as insights onto the what’s going on in the hearts and minds of authors, in the current publishing climate. More on that later…

A bit late to the ‘write-up the¬†LBF12’ blog party –¬†I’ve been so busy since. I was at the London Book Fair on Tuesday 17th, this year with Sophie Neville, who had never been before.

You could barely get out of the train station, before people were handing you flyers about books. And these weren’t just indie authors – it seemed that even the big leagues were going out of their way to snag readers, with flyers and promotional copies.

This was cool, because Sophie also had a bagful of postcards she wanted to give out.

“You can tell I used to be a promotions girl, can’t you?” she joked, as we camped out by the HarperCollins stand (they had a comfy seat free), while she accosted passers-by with her British upper-class charm, and I schmoozed with folk wanting help and advice from me¬†on formatting for Kindle. I told her this was the wrong way around,¬†Sophie being the celebrity, and doing all the work. But she was enjoying herself too much not to do it.

I’d never have dragged her away, but The Daily Mail rang her to talk for 45 minutes about her book, Funnily Enough, and the boat Swallow, from Swallows and Amazons. (See the article¬†on Richard Kay’s¬†Daily Mail page here).

So while she was talking, still perched by the lovely HarperCollins, I met the even more lovely Clive Boutle, of Francis Boutle Publishing. Clive had just been speaking at a talk on translations. Francis Boutle publish English translations of works in endangered European languages, including Manx, Gaelic, Welsh, Catalan, and Occitan. While waiting for his next meeting, he got to chat¬†with me, about what constitutes a great bar in Barcelona, and what constitutes a bad translation into English. The kind of thing you wouldn’t want turning up in another¬†Funny Ha Ha,¬†and Funny Peculiar. (It turned out we’d both read the Denys Parsons book of silly news headlines and signage¬†–¬†I remember hiding it in the cover of Lord of the Flies at school, and anything dull about grammar).¬†While we were talking, I recalled the episode of Q.I, where they discussed the ancient parrot who was the only known speaker of a dead language from the depths of South America. (So if you want to¬†preserve an endangered language and keep it going into the next century, teach an Amazonian Grey parrot to speak it!)

We also talked about the work of the translator – the costs, the role they play – and that a translator is not considered to be¬†‘the author’ of the original work being translated, in intellectual property terms. They are paid highly for their job role, and recognised as the translator, but are no more credited for the original piece than, for example, a translator of¬†Sir Terry Pratchett’s¬†Discworld books into French. Clive said that translation is usually the most expensive part of publishing a book in a new language.

In other words,¬†anyone wondering what sort of job roles in publishing are in demand, and¬†for a good wage now, you’d do worse than having excellent foreign language skills, and going into translation.

Earlier in the day, I’d left Sophie researching colour illustrated print-on-demand costs with FastPrint, and gone off on my own mission to research Science Fiction in China at one of the other seminars. I don’t think I’ll quite make it to the level of Mandarin Chinese translator (just recognising the prefixes and a few verbs nowadays, at native speaker speed – I must revise!) but they had simultaneous radio translation, which was more than impressively done, the real-time translators got a hearty round of applause from both the Chinese and English-speaking audience. Science Fiction in China featured¬†authors who worked their way up through University student papers and magazines in the genre, sometimes publishing their own, before gaining market recognition and awards through specific publications. More Chinese science fiction is now being translated into English. Not by me yet, I have to add. Unless you only want to read about the easy acquisition of fizzy drinks, and the location of the Ladies’ Toilets in a bar.

Sophie’s chat with Richard Kay’s office at The Daily Mail finally concluded, and we went to grab a cup of tea. At one of the coffee outlets, we happened upon a nice young lady from Scholastic Books grabbing a coffee-break, here at LBF12 with their Hunger Games Trilogy phenomenon.

I used to read Scholastic’s earlier¬†Point Horror imprint, and actually submitted my first book, Living Hell, to Point Horror in 1996, after finally getting it back from PanMacmillan, who’d had it for three years, and I’d submitted a sequel to them on request (long story short –¬†the awesome Simon Spanton, who was overseeing it at the time,¬†left PanMac and couldn’t fit¬†both epics¬†up his jumper, LOL). So that was very spooky. But I remembered Point Horror and Goosebumps, and discussed how Scholastic had really been at the forefront of the current YA paranormal market, with their earliest Stephen-King-style thrillers, and horror stories for teens. Stephen King meets Scooby Doo – great stuff, as I recall.

But as I said, the highlight for me was ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’

Sophie would have happily continued networking (next year I think I’m going to have to get her a marketing stand of her very own), but I dragged her along to this one, and it provided a hugely valuable insight. Published authors, including high-profile ones,¬†now want more¬†input into their work, and want to offer more interaction to the readers. Which was funny, because I’d just designed a Kindle¬†ebook edition to do¬†exactly that, with my interactive, reader-preference enabled Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition.

And as Robert Llewellyn said, you don’t want to send off your painstakingly re-read and edited manuscript off into the unknown of a major publishing house machine, trusting implicitly that all is well, and get back your first publisher proof copy –¬†to find that they have helpfully inserted their standard typographical errors. Usually at the optimum¬†Funny Ha Ha, Funny Peculiar¬†settings.

I recall Sir Terry Pratchett saying something very similar once, at a talk he was giving at the Barbican in London many years ago, while DS-10 enjoyed her tiny self immensely and squealed delightedly in the baby-sling, loud enough for even Sir Terry himself to hear and crack a joke about.¬†We didn’t get kicked out in the end, for which I’m eternally grateful (although we’d have been in more trouble, most likely, for DS-10 discovering the delight of reaching into other people’s pockets if they stood too close to her on my lap, while travelling that day on the London Underground). Sir Terry said at the end of his talk, on world-building in SF and fantasy fiction, that we could all look forward to his¬†next book at the time “Once it has gone to the publisher to have all the spelling errors put in.” Not an unusual phenomenon, I’m starting to realise. It’s not just you, Robert – you’re in good company! ūüėČ

The subject this year at ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ also covered the keeping up with reader expectations and attention span, in the current handheld electronic reading device environment. How long can you keep a reader’s attention, before they want to go off and look at their own Twitter? Or blog? Or Facebook? What sort of interactive, bonus material¬†provisions can you make for the readers?

I’d discussed this at the London Book Fair last year with Jason Kingsley of Rebellion (see earlier post ‘Let’s Cut to the Chase…’), and had included a screenplay as bonus material in one of the even earlier¬†ebook editions of mine – Death & The City: Heavy Duty Edition.¬†So it was interesting to hear that this is still a hot topic,¬†which authors and publishers want to definitively crack.

Ilana Fox, in particular, wants to make her character’s lives more accessible to the readers, and I won’t give the game away, but she has big plans for her next book in that respect. It looks like being an exciting time in the coming years, for both readers and writers.

Salena Godden finished the talk with a stand-up of fantastic ‘slam poetry’ about ‘expectations’ – highs and lows… and lower… and lower… As writers, we all feel that at some point. Very funny, and so appropriate!

Great end to the day. I went to say congratulations¬†afterwards to all of the panellists, and handed out my own cards, to¬†which I’d added information¬†about the Cut to the Chase edition. Before running away for a much-needed drink of water, with all of Sophie Neville’s spare change in my jeans pocket.

I had to, or I’d have had a Wayne’s World¬†I’m-Not-Worthy moment. Such amazing, entertaining,¬†and lovely people.

Sophie couldn’t be dragged away at the end, but stayed at LBF12 to do a bit more networking, and to visit her friend from the biggest Christian bookshop in London. It was a stroke of luck that she did pay a visit, because the girl took all of her print copies that she had on her, to sell there. A good day out, all told.

Looking forward to next year already ūüôā

L xxxx

Here’s where I flog you…

Where¬†it all started… ¬£4.99 on Lulu (or less, with voucher codes on Lulu homepage)

It’s called entrapment –¬†where I use a misleading post title to lead you to a blog episode about one of my own books. Although if you’ve been trapped by this particular title, with empty promises suggesting I will now back you into a corner and dish out some consensual punishment, you should be so lucky! After reading How To Write Hot Sex, edited by the lovely Shoshanna Evers, you can believe I know exactly what you were just thinking. And I’m allergic to latex, so it’s got to be leather all the way, if you’re entertaining any fantasies. Just to add some authenticity to the mental image.

I mean of course ‘flog’ as in the UK slang for ‘to sell’ – usually with some spiel in a cold-caller style. I imagine that the consensual punishment-types would be particularly cold in this weather, going from door to door flogging their, umm, wares –¬†dressed only in leather chaps and some fetching little clamps.

Anyway, stop looking me up and down in your mind’s eye and allow me to distract you, Scheherezade-fashion.

When I was 18 years old, school was already a thing of the past, I was working part-time doing barely anything else to speak of other than some drawing and making notes for story ideas. My best pal and I would hang around the cemetery with her dog at 6am and watch the gravediggers, for want of anything interesting to do.

My brother, a year younger than me, went on a work placement to an IT company, and came home with what looked like a sewing machine in a suitcase.

“It’s a portable computer,” he announced. “You can write that novel now.”

Dear reader, I did exactly that. No further encouragement required, no writer’s block –¬†just a 1-ton laptop with a 5-inch floppy disk drive, a¬†QWERTY keyboard clipped to the bottom, and a 6-inch green screen, running Wordstar. Six months, and 101,000 words later, I had finished ‘Living Hell’ – my first book.

But it wasn’t all Jane Austen.

As a teenage reader, with nothing but Enid Blyton, Willard Price and Patricia Leitch on the Young Readers’ shelves, I’d moved on early. I’d discovered Jackie Collins, Harry Harrison, Terry Pratchett, and most notably, Tom Sharpe. Writers who made a big impression on me – and advised the notions I had of what sort of ‘new’ teenage novel I wanted to write.

I was watching films like The Lost Boys, Heathers, Beetlejuice, and getting inspired by the beginning of the musical grunge movement. What I wanted to read wasn’t being optioned by Disney.

What I came up with was a story about Jericho, a made-up town populated by Satanists and blackmailers. And what the outcome of a¬†youth club Halloween party adds to the latest rumours that a recent suicide isn’t all as it seems. And why the local factions of self-segregated youngsters have a small issue when it comes to blood – but it’s not the popular, toothy, undead-type issue you’d imagine…

So, to find out what sort of things were going on in my head back then, read on. You might find that the title of my post wasn’t as misleading as as I let you think.

Shame on you. And on me…


Excerpt – Living Hell by Lisa Scullard, written in 1990:

Kim swung her legs over the balcony outside the Broadbents’ bedroom in silence, and crept up to the sliding glass doors. She could hear the Sergeant humming to himself in the next room, his ‘study.’ The doors were not locked and slid back smoothly at the slightest touch.

She removed the package, still giving it the obligatory shake and squeeze to try and identify the contents without actually opening it. The last place she had hidden anything had been under seven feet of concrete, so drawing on her own recent experience was no help here. At last she pulled one of the pillows off the bed and tucked the parcel underneath. As an afterthought she took a quick snapshot of it before replacing the pillow and straightening the sheets, and put the Polaroid in the pouch with the films to develop. She could always do with extra material on old Phil.

The music was reaching a crescendo, and the Sergeant’s respective humming had transformed into a full-blown la-la-la-pom-ti-pom type of noise. Kim stood in the middle of the bedroom looking around her, frowning.

“If I was a dirty movie,” she mused under her breath, “where would I be?”

Her dad had a whole air-raid shelter at the bottom of the garden for his. But she had the feeling that Sergeant Broadbent would keep his a little bit closer to his person – somewhere accessible and yet out of the way of Mrs. B…

She opened a drawer idly. It was evidently one of Mrs. B’s, for it contained a corset, several pairs of support tights and a pair of bulletproof socks. And a pair of handcuffs. Kim raised an interested eyebrow, took a picture and shut the drawer.

The king-size walk-in wardrobe was just as rewarding. Among the starched regulation shirts and black nylon trousers she discovered a French maid’s uniform and a panda suit. And a nurse’s uniform. And something that looked like a harness for a masochistic carthorse. Kim giggled as she took the photos. Who needed videos? The Sergeant and his wife were obviously just a normal East Jericho couple, at least as far as habits were concerned. There were a couple of those as well.

Kim had been in this business long enough to know that geography had a major influence on all types of things, including sexual pursuits. East Jerichoans went in for dressing up a lot and amusing role-playing games, Southerners, particularly Parklands natives, were into bondage and Continental battery-powered stimulating devices, West Jericho residents seemed to restrict all sexual activity to Sabbath afternoons and half-day closing, as they were all too busy during the night and working hours, and from what she knew of the North and Central Jericho lot they just went in for sex, any time, anywhere, anyhow. East and South were best as far as business was concerned. It was also not surprising to Kim that the majority of the population was under twenty-one. This was the dominant section; no matter how hard the older generations fought, Jericho youth always had the upper hand. And it got stronger by the decade as adults got tougher. Kim had justified her blackmailing as a means of survival – children are blackmailing their parents everywhere all the time, from the moment they can say ‘If you don’t get me a lolly I’ll SCREAM!’

Regretfully, Kim closed the wardrobe and continued her search. Sergeant Broadbent was accompanying the violins in a slightly wavering tenor.

After only a few fruitless minutes Kim was once again standing in the middle of the room.

There HAD to be somewhere else…



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Hot on the Trail…

Living Hell trailer - final slide

Having spent a week chilling after my eye op, accumulating housework to do over the weekend, and working – yes, working – doing that thing that I left my last job to do! …I’ve introduced DS10 to Youtube as part of her birthday treats, and she’s torn into it like a bat out of Hell on a mission, churning out some jaw-droppingly awesome stuff in less than a week.

And I’ve realised, holy crap – that’s my audience, in some part at least. Anyone writing for young adult, teens, or even children’s fiction now has to realise that this market are using computers, creating their own content, deciding on their identity and choosing their entertainment, much faster than JK Rowling can say “Let’s have a meeting to discuss the strategy.”

Some friends on Goodreads invited me into their YA Lit group, and one of them has set up a (stunning) YA trailer website purely for the posting of trailers for teen fiction, and it is really inspiring. I’d done one trailer previously, a slideshow, for Living Hell, my current major YA work – an alternative-history stab in the dark at a fantasy dystopian contemporary society –¬†written originally when I was 18 years old –¬†which actually functions rather well, considering (it’s called social evolution, baby – no vampires or werewolves here, not that any are admitting to). But when I saw the work already on the site, and the material that DS10 is creating,¬†I decided things needed cranking up a notch (or ten) and using a bit more imagination, even with only a scanner, WinXP and MS Paint at my disposal at home. I guess ‘disposal’ is a good choice of word – but it’s got me through publishing everything so far, and will darned well continue to earn its keep until I can afford myself one of those fancy offices and staff, with a water-cooler for equally cool people to brainstorm and flirt with each other around. ūüôā

Okay, so I plug in the scanner and grab my notebook, and basically make this up as I go along. I had some idea of what I was doing, but not until I was actually holding a pen did I know what was going to come off the end of it:

Living Hell trailer - slideI remember writing lists, essays, and occasionally angry letters to imaginary Points of View presenters in my schoolbooks, and also doodling and drawing, which was where I wanted to head with this ‘animation’.

I decided to use a transition rather than painstakingly draw each letter (the ‘invisible hand’ writing across a screen style, which has been used to good Living Hell trailer - slideeffect many times).

What was fun was how organic this process was – I let my gut dictate each stage that I scanned, without really knowing what I was going to draw or write on the page next, just sticking to themes in the book and keeping the schoolbook graffiti style. Just like drawing at school, or in my room when I was a kid. Frequently I’d Living Hell trailer - slide 6start a picture or painting back then not knowing what it would end up becoming – those often turned out more pleasing than the ones I’d planned and could see clearly in my head.

I haven’t got to the stage of constructing a ‘formal’ book trailer, where titles take the place of Hollywood movie voice-over (“A man.¬† A woman. A ship. An iceberg. A date with destiny”). My style leans more towards the ‘teaser’ type of advert, at the minute. Maybe because those voice-over styles don’t work on me so well… I have seen some great ones on the trailer site, however, so I may give traditional trailer composition a shot at some point.

But for me, hearing a teenager say “Cool!” is as good as it gets, feedback-wise. ūüôā

Here’s the finished trailer. Tell me it doesn’t make you glad you’re not still in school, LOL! ūüôā

Writers Swap Reads ~ July 2011


(Also on Amazon Kindle UK/DE. Paperback available from Amazon US, or Shalini Boland)

Went out for a birthday lunch today to meet the effortlessly fabulous Shalini Boland, rising Young Adult fiction star and author of Hidden, and the forthcoming futuristic/dystopian novel Outside. We did a book exchange – I got a paperback copy of Hidden (paranormal/vampire romance), and I gave her a hardcover of Living Hell, and threw in a paperback proof of Death & The City: Book Two to follow up the first one she already has at home. I told her about my own¬†‘challenge’ I’d set myself, to write a romantic novel¬†√† la Harlequin/Mills&Boon, and she shared some of the promoting tips she’s learned around indie publishing.

One of the things she’d heard about is running temporary freebie promos on eBooks. I thought this sounded like a fun idea. She also submits queries to book blogs for reviews/interviews and promotion, and is doing well out of it. In comparison to me, who hasn’t put together a press kit at all, and sells on average one Terrible Zombie Of Oz per week, she’s proof that marketing yourself a bit in the right places can definitely work.

Living Hell, on SmashwordsI’d already dropped my Amazon Kindle prices, having bought an Android-based eTouch Toys’R’Us tablet (it’s fantastic, and has the added bonus of a rounded shiny silver rear cover that looks as though you’re perusing the inside of a tiny Smeg refrigerator – and almost as heavy). I realised that for my ¬£49.99 investment in this electronic toy, and downloading the free Kindle app, what I mostly wanted was to benefit from¬†amazingly cheap books.

So I’d swallowed my pride and put my own prices¬†down, from a few bucks to amazingly cheap as well.

Death & The City, on SmashwordsWhen I got home I checked out Smashwords, and had no new activity in the last month –¬†but noticed they were running a July sale list, with vouchers which you could apply to your books to make them either discounted or free. So I signed both of my¬†Smashwords epub/html/LRF/RTF format books up to it (Apple/Sony/Nook etc versions), and almost instantly sold two, and then two more. It was definitely worth doing – as it’ll be a while before I see any royalties anyway, gaining a readership in the meantime is definitely up there in my list of preferences.

I’d already decided to give myself a year, from publishing the first two in the Tales of the Deathrunners series (Death & The City: Books One and Two – combined in the hardcover edition, and in the Heavy Duty Edition eBook, which also includes an original feature screenplay), as well as Living Hell and The Terrible Zombie Of Oz. One year will be enough to gauge reader interest in whichever sequence of books is likely to be strongest – at the moment it looks like the title containing the most Z’s is winning – and I have sequels already in progress. In the meantime I’ll work on giving this Romance Fiction challenge a shot, and try and keep the zombies at bay – until appropriate for them to be unleashed ūüôā

My Smashwords Author Page

Enjoy! ūüôā