Posted in Events, Self-publishing, Writing

Looking Forward to June Events

A preview of my public events in June

I thought it might be helpful and, I hope, interesting, if I share a post at the start of each month previewing any imminent public events that I’m involved in. Then at the end of the month I’ll report back on them.

Although I realise that most people reading these posts won’t be able to attend these events in person due to their location,  if you do manage to get to any,  please come and find me and say hello – I’d love to see you  in real life! 

Self-publishing: A Complete How-To Guide (Saturday 16th June)

On Sunday 16th June, I’ll be joining two other successful indie authors and great friends of mine, Katharine E Smith and David Penny, to teach an exclusive one-day course in self-publishing in the beautiful and inspiring setting of the Bleddfa Centre near Knighton in Wales.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to return to this peaceful place, where I very much enjoyed being on the panel of a more general publishing day a couple of years ago.

The rural setting is idyllic, and the standard of catering superb – a combination highly conducive to learning!

Drawing on our own experience as authors, publishers and marketers, we’ll be sharing practical guidance, top tips and moral support, as well as debunking popular misconceptions about the exciting possibilities that self-publishing offers the independent author – and indeed to those who contracts with publishing companies. This blog post I wrote for the Bleddfa Centre tells you a little more about those possibilities.

With a limited number of places available, this course will be an intensive but highly accessible event providing the perfect opportunity for aspiring authors to ask questions about their own ambitions and plans, and to receive specific guidance from experts, whatever stage they are at in their writing and publishing journey.

Find out more and reserve your place at the Bleddfa Centre’s website.

Crime Panel at Evesham Festival of Words (Thursday 27th June)

Later this month I’ll be returning to the Evesham Festival of Words, where I’ve spoken several times before. This year my role is to chair a fun discussion about the nature of crime-writing, from cosy to dark, from fact to fiction, in the company of three distinguished and entertaining authors:

  • historical mystery writer David Penny (yes, the same David Penny who’ll be joining me at Bleddfa!)

We’ll be convening at the pleasant setting of Evesham Rowing Club, down by the river (I presume!) to discuss what makes great crimewriting, to considerwhy it’s enduringly popular, and taking questions from the audience. We’ll also each read an extract from our work to showcase the variety that we offer between us.

I’ve spoken alongside all of three of my fellow panellists at other events, and I can tell you they are all sparkling company – so expect a lively, accessible and intriguing conversation with serious moments but plenty of laughs!

Find out more about the busy Festival programme and how to book tickets here.

Plus all the regular events…

Although the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club usually broadcasts from the Gloucester studio, we occasionally take it out on the road – or in this case to the canalside presenter Dominic Cotter took this photo of Caroline and me with canalboat skipper Pete, with the perfect reading matter for anyone interested in messing about in boats!

Every month, three further events feature in my diary:

  1. The BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club show, hosted by lunchtime presenter Dominic Cotter. on which I’m a regular panellist, alongside fellow local author Caroline Sanderson. For an hour live on air, usually the first hour of the show (which starts at noon), we discuss our chosen book of the month, book-related news and local literary events. It’s always great fun, and you can always listen online for 28 days after the show if you don’t catch it live. In June, our Book of the Month will be Raynor Winn’s inspiring memoir of walking the south west coastal path with her seriously ill husband, The Salt Path, and in July we’ll discuss Daniel Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe – so two very different adventure stories for summer reading! Here’s a link to last month’s show, in which we discussed Angie Thomas’s stunning YA novel The Hate U Give: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p077r655 The date of our next Book Club slot is Wednesday 26th June from noon.
  2. The Bristol Authors’ Alliance – the monthly group for writers that I host for sharing best practice and moral support at the very pleasant Foyles bookshop at Cabot Circus. To find out about meetings and to join our group, visit our Meetup page here: https://www.meetup.com/Bristol-Authors-Alliance/ We meet on the first Wednesday of each month from 6pm until 7.45pm in Foyles, so this month’s meeting is Wednesday 5th June.
  3. The Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance – another writers’ group that I host along the same lines at the ever-hospitable Anthology Bookshop in Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham. For more information about to join our group, visit this Meetup page: https://www.meetup.com/Cheltenham-Alliance-of-Independent-Authors/ . We meet on the third Tuesday of each month from 10.30am until 12.15pm.

Both the writers’ groups are so popular that for reasons of space I’ve had to restrict the number of places at each meeting – not least to make sure we have enough chairs to go round! Therefore it’s essential to reserve a place in advance. I also give priority to members of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)*, the global nonprofit organisation that helps authors all over the world share best practice, campaign for writing-related causes, access helpful discounts, deals and benefits, and share friendship and camaderie with fellow writers, 24/7/365. If you’re not already a member when you join our group, you’ll almost certainly want to join it by the time you leave your first meeting!

(*The link above is my affiliate link, which means if you join ALLi once you’ve clicked on it, I’ll receive a small reward from ALLi. So thank you for that!)

So – that’s it for this month. I’ll report back on how it all goes at the end of the June!

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Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

It’s Official! The New Paperback of My Diabetes Book

Cover front page onlyI’m delighted to announce on World Diabetes Day 2014 that the new paperback edition of my book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes is now officially launched, following the celebrations at Foyles’ bookshop in Bristol last night.

Around 50 people battled through dreadful weather and traffic into Bristol’s prime shopping quarter, Cabot Circus, to attend the event that I seem to have been planning for weeks!

We welcomed them with a sumptuous array of food, all carefully chosen to echo the international symbol of diabetes – the blue circle. Blueberry muffins and blue iced cupcakes, plus some extraordinary blue corn chips and sky-blue sweets fortified the audience to hear a terrific line-up of guest speakers.

Debbie and Laura Young by the table of cakes!
Ready to welcome our guests (Photo by Danielle Angell)

  • Paul Coker, who has had Type 1 diabetes for 37 years, told us about his recent conquest of Mount Kilimanjaro, demonstrating that having diabetes needn’t stop you doing anything.
  • Dr Kathleen Gillespie, research scientist from Bristol’s Southmead Hospital, gave a fascinating update on the latest diabetes research programmes in terms that were easy for us all to understand.
  • Danielle Angell of the JDRF explained how the research can only take place if funds are raised. JDRF is the leading charitable funder of diabetes research, and I am donating all the profits from sales of my book to this important cause.

Debbie at signing table with book buyer
Happily signing books – with Lisa Hirst (Photo by Jacky Taylor)

We were ably assisted by my daughter Laura (11) and three of her friends, who staged a dramatic entry at the end, dressed up in their onesies. This is because on World Diabetes Day, JDRF stages “Type Onesie Day”, encouraging everyone to wear their onesies to work or school to raise awareness and funds.

I don’t yet have many photos available of the evening but will post these up as soon as I have them. I’ll be grateful to receive any photos that anyone took on the night to add to my collection.

Huge thanks to all those who attended on the night. With your support, we are bringing the day when a cure for Type 1 diabetes will be more than just a dream.

HOW TO ORDER YOUR COPY

My new paperback edition of my book is now available to order at £6/8E/$10 from all good book retailers. It is an updated and expanded edition of the ebook that I published for World Diabetes Day 2013, including the new chapter “Diabetes Is Always With Us”. The ebook, updated to match, is also available from Amazon.

Posted in Reading

Books Are My Scarecrow’s Bag

A post that kills three birds with one stone – what a shot! – for Books Are My Bag, the Hawkesbury Scarecrow Trail, and the Little Free Library.

Photo of bluestockinged scarecrow with Books are my Bag bag and Little Free Library
Meet Virginia, Hawkesbury Upton’s very own bluestocking bookworm

Last weekend I pulled off an especially fine piece of multitasking – I managed to promote three different worthy causes in one fell swoop:

  • The first ever Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail
  • The second Books Are My Bag campaign
  • The year-round Little Free Library programme

As you can see from the photo, my scarecrow, Virginia, is a stylish bookworm. Her Cheltenham Festival of Literature t-shirt complements her blue stockings, and her whole outfit is set off by last year’s must-have accessory for anyone who loves books, the exclusive Books Are My Bag campaign souvenir bag. Keeping her well supplied with reading matter is my new Little Free Library, set up as a British offshoot of the free community library campaign founded in the USA a few years ago.

Books Are My Bag is a national movement in the UK to remind everybody of the value of the independent high street book shop. What the publishing trade likes to call “bricks-and-mortar stores” offer many benefits unavailable from online retailers, (though they can usually order you a book in just as fast as Amazon and the like, without charging you postage or a membership fee), or recent entrants to the book market, such as grocery superstores. High street bookshops have expert staff able to help you find the perfect book for yourself or for others. Over the next few days, participating stores will be sharing their passion for books and reading with special events all over the country. For more information about Books Are My Bag, and to find an event in a local indie bookshop near you, visit their website: www.booksaremybag.com.

Scarecrow with picnic basket
Life’s a picnic, whatever the weather, for Hawkesbury Youth Club’s scarecrow, tucking in outside the Village Hall

The Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail offers a fun display of 14 scarecrows dotted about the village. You can pick up a free map from the village shop or post office all this week. The trail will be in place until the end of Sunday 12th October. There’s no particular theme or cause, other than a bit of autumnal fun! See if you can spot them all.

The idea of the Little Free Library was set up by an American chap, Todd Bol, in 2009, with a single box of books, in the shape of an old-fashioned schoolhouse, in memory of his late mother, a schoolteacher who loved reading. The idea quickly caught on – after all, what’s not to love about free books? – and now there are estimated to be over 15,000 around the world. Mine’s the first in Hawkesbury Upton! Todd’s mother would be very proud of him.

Close up of my Little Free Library
Something for everyone in here

Debbie by the Library
Well, I always wanted to be a librarian when I was little

My Little Free Library is starting off with a stock of books from our home and donated by others. I’ll be adding lots of new books as space becomes available, including those that I receive free to review from authors and publishers (I do a lot of book reviewing for various magazines and organisations).

Photo of Gordon with the finished Library
Meet the architect and builder, my husband Gordon

Anyone is welcome to help themselves to a free book (or more than one!) If they’d like to treat it as a swap, and put one back, that would be great, but it’s not essential.

My Little Free Library will provide an extra source of books in the village, supplementing the shelves of donated books that are sold for £1 each by the Hawkesbury Shop and the village hair salon, Head Start Studio, in aid of the village school’s PTA. But my Little Free Library offers books at no cost at all, so everyone can afford them, and they’ll be accessible outside the shops’ opening hours. For more information about the Little Free Library scheme, to order your own official sign, or to make a donation to its cause, visit their website: www.littlefreelibrary.org.

Of course, you have to take pot luck with a Little Free Library – you’re unlikely to find a particular book that you’re looking for, but it’s a great no-risk way of being more adventurous with your reading, trying out a genre or author that you wouldn’t normally pick up. Who knows what new interest you might discover?

But if you’re bent on getting a specific book, you don’t have to go far. We’re lucky enough to live within a short drive of three independent bookshops – the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth and Tetbury, the Cotswold Bookroom in Wotton-under-Edge, and, 20 miles away in Bristol, the fabulous Foyles bookshop in Cabot Circus, where I’ll be launching the new paperback edition of my must-read book for anyone affected by or interested in Type 1 diabetes. Like to get an invitation? Just contact me and I’ll send one right over.

And if that’s not enough – Hawkesbury Upton is also served by a mobile library, sent out once a fortnight from the fab Yate library a few miles away. (I’ve just had a flash fiction story inspired by our mobile library accepted for a new anthology, Change the Ending, to be published shortly – more news of that soon!) We really have no excuse for not getting stuck into good books in these parts.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy these others on the theme of books and reading:

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Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

My Speech at the SilverWood Books Open Day

Photo of Debbie centre stage at the open day waving her book in the air
Shameless self-promotion of my handbook for authors, “Sell Your Books!” Photo copyright http://www.rebeccamillar.com

A post to follow up the recent Open Day at Foyles Bristol bookshop, organised by the author services company SilverWood Books

Last Saturday I was very pleased to be the opening speaker in SilverWood Books‘ autumn Open Day, which offered a great line-up of experts on writing and self-publishing. Thanks to the generous support of Foyles’ Bristol branch, SilverWood’s publishing director and her wonderful team were able to provide the event free of charge, creating a rare opportunity for a valuable learning experience affordable even to the most impoverished aspiring author.

This was a characteristically generous move from SilverWood, which not only helps authors self-publish beautiful books to a professional standard, but also offers lots of free information and advice on their website’s Learning Zone. They also publish, through their SilverWood Originals imprint, a range of books to help authors write, polish and market their books, including my own Sell Your Books!

For the first part of the event, I shared the platform with professional editor Agnes Davis and Diego Marano of Kobo Writing Life, who you can see in the photo at the top of this post. I usually speak from notecards rather than writing my talk in advance, but this time I decided to write the speech in full, partly because I wanted also to be able to share it with those who didn’t attend. So the rest of this post consists of my speech. It took 15 minutes to deliver, by the way, so I hope you’re sitting comfortably to read it…

Is Self-Publishing a Misnomer?

When to go it alone, and when to get help…and how to avoid the companies who really don’t have your best interests at heart.

I’m going to kick off with a quick definition of what it means to be self-published, and debunking some of the myths around self-publishing. After that, I’ll give you some pointers on when to go it alone, when to involve other people, and how to choose the right partners to make your self-published book the best it can be.

So, first of all – what is self-publishing? There’s a popular misconception that self-publishing is to publishing as home-baking is to buying ready meals – that if you don’t do it all yourself, you’re cheating.

Not so. What self-publishing really means is that the author takes control of the publishing process. It’s a bit like when an actor turns director. That’s why some people these days use a different term – the author-publisher, rather than the self-publisher.

As author-publisher, you assume all the responsibilities that a trade publisher has for publishing a book commercially. For a trade publisher, a cracking manuscript is only the starting point, which must then be nurtured through the production process, to turn it into a marketable book.

Let’s take a quick walk through of the production stages you need to pass through:

  • Writing. First, write your book –then amend, draft and rewrite it until your manuscript is the best you can make it.
  • Editing. Get it polished to perfection by a detached third party expert. Agnes will be talking more about that shortly – and also about
  • Proofreading, that close cousin of editing, to correct any errors that would distract the reader from your story.
  • Formatting. There’s a different formatting process for print and ebooks, which requires a completely dissimilar set of skills from those earlier processes. Note the mention of print – it’s another popular myth that self-publishing equals digital publishing, i.e. only ever ends up with an ebook.
  • Designing a cover. Not a question of choosing a nice picture for the front, but a complex process with lots of technical considerations, such as showing your book’s genre at a glance, and being easy to read at thumbnail size on a computer screen. So, not as simple as it first sounds.
  • Creating the blurb. That’s the copy on the back, to persuade readers to linger more than the standard 8 seconds of a typical bookshop browser. It should also create the right expectations, so that when the reader gets to the end of your book, they recommend it to others. Despite our digital age, word of mouth is still the most powerful way of selling books.
  • Marketing – finding readers to buy and read it! Ben Cameron will be talking about that later.

Now, you could try to do all of this yourself – and plenty of people do, because it’s very easy to do all of those processes, for no up-front cost, via free tools provided by online retailers. I say easy – it’s easy to do them, but much harder to do them to a professional standard.

If you’re just producing a book for fun or for only your family to read, that’s fine – you can easily do that on a photobook site such as Blurb or even on your computer printer at home, or you can publish it online as a website or blog.

But if you’re putting your book out there in the public eye, it needs to look professional. If not, you risk the wrath of the reading masses. If you have lots of typos, for example, expect to receive a string of poor reviews from people complaining about them – and those reviews will remain live online as long as your book does.  Or, if you let your book go out with a duff cover, it might disappear into a black hole, because no-one is attracted to buy it.

For an author to possess all the skills, experience and materials to carry out every part of the publishing process to a professional standard is about as likely as someone who decides to build their own home being able to do everything from drawing the plans to digging the foundations to putting on the roof without expert help. If, like me, you are a fan of the tv programme Grand Designs, you’ll know there’s nothing more guaranteed to raise the eyebrow of the lovely Kevin McCloud, than having one of his subjects gaily assert that they’ll be doing their own wiring, or some such task, in order to save a few quid. It’s a false economy.

So you need to recognise where your skills lie, and where there are gaps, before you go any further.

That’s not to say you can’t acquire expertise in some parts of the process. For example, if you’re good with IT and are a stickler for detail, learning to format an ebook is not that hard to do, provided you’re able to throw time at it. Though as with all of these processes, if you’re cash-rich and time-poor, buying in services will help you complete your project a whole lot faster – and it will also free up more time for you to write, which I suspect for most of us is what we really want most to be doing.

But other skills are much harder to acquire – the artistic and creative flair for cover design, as well as the technical know-how.

You might think editing and proofreading fall into the easy-to-do category. After all, aren’t you a writer? Isn’t that a key area of strength? But the hard truth is, you simply won’t have the necessary objectivity. Your eye will see what your brain remembers, not what your hands accidentally messed up while you were typing.

Whichever services you decide to outsource, there are cost implications. Before you commission any third-party service, you must do your sums and work out whether your project cost-justifies your proposed investment, including all the easily overlooked incidentals, such as shipping and petrol, postage and packing.

But that’s only if profit is your motive – maybe even breaking even doesn’t matter. You might consider your book project a hobby, to be funded, like any other, out of your own pocket. That’s fine too. Plenty of commercially published authors see no profit on their books, once they’ve factored in their hourly rate for writing the thing – they earn their real living from work associated with their books, such as journalism, merchandising and the after-dinner speaker circuit.

While writing and publishing your own book can be sufficient reward, regardless of money,  there are plenty of author-publishers who are earning a good living and more, from their self-published books. There are also plenty who start out as self-published, before being talent-spotted by commercial publishers keen to offer them contracts. Some accept gladly, it’s been their lifelong ambition. Others don’t, because they value the artistic and creative freedom – and the greater profit margins – that comes with being self-published.

But please don’t assume that you’ll make a fast buck. Self-publishing is a long, hard game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there are no guarantees. But the more professionally your produce books, the greater your chances of being a winner.

So how do you decide which service to use?

There are plenty of organisations and individuals willing to take your money offering you low cost options for every part of the process. Cover designs for a fiver? Book formatting for £50? You’ll easily find offers like this online, but as everywhere else in life, you get what you pay for… And if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. Conversely, don’t assume the most expensive will offer the best service. It may just be a rip-off merchant.

Having decided which services you need to buy in, you have another decision to make: do you want them all under one roof, or are you happy dealing with lots of different subcontractors? Back to my earlier house-building analogy, you might feel more comfortable and less stressed with a project manager who will oversee and coordinate all of those services for you. This is where a company like SilverWood Books comes in, bringing to the game its experience of publishing hundreds of books in different formats across a wide range of genres. A contract with SilverWood not only brings everything under one roof, it gives you much more than the sum of the parts.

Helen Hart headshot at Open Day
SilverWood’s publishing director Helen Hart (copyright http://www.rebeccamillar.com)

With any service provider that you are considering using, check them out thoroughly before you commit. Ask for samples of their work, get references, keep asking questions until you’re satisfied. You’re the publisher, remember, you’re the one in charge. Whoever you choose, make sure they have your best interests at heart. There are plenty out there who don’t.

One notoriously dodgy practice is to offer the author a relatively low price for complete production services, but then to retain most of the revenue from sales, and even the rights. Thus the author is no longer owns the copy that he has written. Some also deny the author any control over how the book is produced, priced or marketed, so the author ends up with their book an over-priced lemon sold only where no customer is ever likely to find it. Others keep adding invisible extras resulting in a staggeringly high bill. Any of these scenarios is absolutely devastating when you’ve put your heart and soul into writing your book.

One of the reasons that it’s relatively easy for unscrupulous service providers to get away with such invidious practices is that they tell authors what they want to hear. A truly sound full-service provider will be honest with their authors, and if they’re shown a manuscript that really does not make the grade, they’ll say so, and then go on to help them improve it.

So how do you find the good guys?

You might have thought of looking through the adverts in writing magazines or searching online. The constraint with taking that route is that you’re reading only what the service provider wants to tell you  – not the opinion of an objective third party. Another way is to consult a directory called Choosing a Self-publishing Service Provider, produced by the Alliance of Independent Authors, commonly known as ALLi. Not only does it include a large number of service providers, it also has a very long section on how to choose the best service, in much more detail than I’ve had time for here today. It’s very low cost to buy, so it’s an excellent investment.

There’s also a way of getting this book free of charge which is by joining ALLi. A free copy of the book is one of many membership benefits, the most important of which is to put you in touch with other authors who are already successful self-publishers, to learn from their experience and to share best practice, including asking which services they can recommend.

I have to declare an interest here: I’m an author member and I also edit ALLi’s blog of self-publishing advice, which issues daily guidance for authors everywhere, written by the members themselves. I know we’ve got some ALLi members in the audience – can I have a show of hands please? All fine and honourable chaps as you can tell!

The Alliance includes not only successful author members – but also partner members who have been vetted to ensure they are ethical and trustworthy. Many of these partners also offer discounts to ALLi members. SilverWood Books is a partner member, as is Cameron Publicity, whose director Ben Cameron will be speaking later about marketing. Kobo, represented here by Diego Marano, is a generous industry sponsor of ALLi’s work – in fact they kindly allowed us to launch ALLi’s latest handbook, which I co-authored, on their stand at the London Book Fair earlier this year. Any other partner members or sponsors here that I’ve missed?

By the way, you don’t have to be already self-published to join ALLi  – there’s a discounted entry rate for associate members.  If you’re interested in finding out more about ALLi, please take a leaflet or speak to me about it afterwards, or if you prefer, leave your contact details on the sheet for me to contact you.

I hope that’s given you a clear idea of what modern self-publishing means, and of some of the things that you need to consider on your own self-publishing journey.

To sum up – remember that the self in self publishing reflects the focal point of control, rather than defining who does all the work. The person in control of the process is you, the author, and you call the shots. The good news is, that means you’ve got the best boss in the world!

Whatever your book project, whatever genre you’re working in, I wish you the best of luck with it. It’s an exciting, addictive process, and I’m sure today’s event here will help you enjoy it all the more.

© Debbie Young 2014 – not to be reproduced without written permission from the copyright owner

Photo of three SilverWood staff on a bench
The lovely SilverWood Books team (photo copyright http://www.rebeccamillar.com)

 For more information about SilverWood Books, visit their website: www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk.

Feel free to contact them directly by phone or email if you’d like to speak to them about your self-publishing project. They are all lovely people and will be very pleased to speak to you.

You might also be interested in entering their fab new competition that they’re running in collaboration with Kobo Writing Life – click here for more info. 

 

 

Posted in Reading, Self-publishing

Lightbulb Moments About Independent Booksellers and My Reading Habits

(A post about revelations that came to me when setting up my virtual bookshop on the fun new http://www.myindependentbookstore.co.uk app)

Debbie Young photographed with David Ebsworth and Helen Hollick
At the launch of David Ebsworth’s “The Assassin’s Mark”, with Helen Hollick

Some time ago, after going through a phase of reading one book after another by the same few authors, I decided on two courses that would encourage me to read outside my comfort zone:

  • to read and review any books that I was offered, in particular self-published ones to support other indie authors
  • to join the local Historical Novel Society book group, having never knowingly chosen a historical novel for leisure reading

It was only when joining the new www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk website this morning that I realised that by chance I’ve discovered a preference for a very particular type of book that I’d never articulated before.

My Independent Bookshop

This site has just been launched this month by Penguin Random House purportedly to support the dwindling supply of independent bookshops in the UK. (Of course it does no harm to Penguin Random House’s reputation, either.)

It invites you to set up your own virtual bookshop and effectively play at being a bookseller. And before my overseas friends rush to try it out for themselves, I’m afraid this looks like a UK-only initiative so far, but maybe it’ll be heading for your shores soon. After all, those Random Penguins get everywhere…

You get to design your own shop from a range of templates and then choose up to 12 books that you’d like to recommend to others, beneath your own shop sign.

The result is a very pleasing pretend shop – and who hasn’t enjoyed playing shops at some point in their life?

Celebrating Indie & Self-Published Authors

I chose to call mine “Flying Off The Shelves With Debbie Young”, to reflect my book promotion advice website, Off The Shelf Book Promotions, and I decided to stock it entirely with self-published books by indie authors – because it’s harder for them to get their books stocked in real shops, despite the very high quality of the best indie books.

I’ve driven that point home with all the subtlety of a brick through a window by adding the strapline “Top Quality Fiction by Indie and Selfpublished Authors from Around the World”. (I’d have hyphenated the “selfpublished” but the site didn’t allow hyphens – hmmm.)

You don’t actually stock or sell the books on your shelves in real life – but if any readers take up your recommendations and buy a book you’ve suggested, the real-life bricks-and-mortar store that you’ve recommended will be sent a share of the profit (the rest, presumably, being absorbed by the website’s founders).

I’ve nominated Foyles in Bristol as mine, because I’ve been to some great indie author book launches there, such as the one pictured above. It’s also where I’ll be launching my paperback edition of Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes this autumn, thanks to some helpful negotiating by SilverWood Books with whom Foyles has a special working relationship – and because my own local independent bookstore, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which has branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth, is not yet listed on the website’s database.

Early Quirks

Two old copies of Lewis Carroll books - Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass
My antique Alice books

As with any new site fresh out of beta-testing, there are a few glitches and quirks, such as not recognising a surprising number of books. Not only did it refuse to acknowledge some self-published books, which didn’t really surprise me, but it also had apparently never heard of my favourite book: Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. That narrowed down the choice of books that I could post on my virtual shelves.

The site also asks you to list three categories that characterise your reading, so that it can list your shop alongside similar stores. Although I do read very widely, not least because I review children’s books for the parenting magazine Today’s Child and an eclectic mix of books by contributors to Vine Leaves Literary Journal, I decided to narrow the focus of my pretend shop to the three types that make up the bulk of my leisure reading: contemporary fiction, literary fiction and short stories. I therefore omitted the children’s fiction from my shelves.

Inventing My Own Genre

Once I’d added my selection of 12 of the books I’ve most enjoyed in the last little while, the site asked me to write a paragraph describing my choice of books. Only as I was searching for words that summarised my choice did I realise that the following description held true for them all:

Gripping reads by gifted storytellers who will transport you to another time and place – fulfilling reading, whether you need something to stash in your suitcase for your travels or you prefer to tour the world from the comfort of your favourite fireside chair

Some are historical novels, some are contemporary, and trade publishers would never lump them all together under the same genre. Traditional genres are far too restrictive and unbending. Historical novels, for example, are defined by the Historical Novel Society as having been written at least 50 years after the event that they describe. But even though it falls outside conventional classifications, I’m still pleased to find there is a common bond between them all: transporting me to a different time and place. That made me realise what I need to look out for in future, when I’m seeking out a new read that I’ll enjoy.

Of course, I’ll still read more widely and just as voraciously as ever – but I was intrigued to discover this new common bond between the books that I’ve most enjoyed recently.

What’s On My Bookshelves?

And now the answer to the question that I’m sure you’re dying to ask: which twelve indie authors did I choose? They are (in alphabetical order by first name):

  • Ali Bacon
  • Alison Morton
  • David Ebsworth
  • Francis Guenette
  • Helen Hollick
  • Hilary Shepherd
  • Judith Barrow
  • Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn
  • Lucienne Boyce
  • Rohan Quine
  • Sandy Osborne

My Independent Bookshop logo
The logo of My Independent Bookshop website

But if you want to know which books they are, you’ll just have to go and visit my independent bookshop! Come inside, it’s open for business here!

(And yes, that is only 11 on the list – I took the liberty of putting Sell Your Books!, one of my own books in the twelfth slot, and in the next few days I’ll ring the changes by adding Opening Up To Indie Authors, which I co-authored for ALLi with Dan Holloway.)

By the way, I was unable to find all the books I wanted to include, such as Jane Davis;s fabulous novel I Stopped Timenot yet listed on the site,  Carol Cram’s The Towers of Tuscany and Orna Ross’s Blue Mercy.  All of these books exactly match my definition above.

The Most Important Question of All

So, I’ve had a couple of hours fun playing at pretend booksellers today, and it’s given me a nice warm feeling.

But as I put up my virtual “Closed” sign for the day, I do have one niggling question. Will this site really help reverse the fortunes of our struggling high street bookshops? Or is it a cynical ploy by larger forces to give readers the feeling of helping them, while actually encouraging them to place their orders on line? After all, the cut of the sale that will be passed on to your local nominated bricks-and-mortar store will be much less than if you’d actually visited their shop and bought the book in person. I’ll be very interested to hear what the REAL independent bookstores have to say about the issue – and if the boffins behind the new http://www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk site would like to reply, that would be terrific. Over to you!

  • How would you describe your favourite reading matter?
  • If you set up your own store within the www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk site, do come back and leave a link to it in the comments – I’d love to come shopping in it!
  • And if you’re the proprietor of an independent bookstore, do you welcome or dread this initiative? Do tell!