Category: Blog

Scratching out is the new colouring in

The Quarto Group have announced the launch of Scratch & Create, a new series of books that feature metallic ink layered over drawings or colourful backgrounds. With a stylus, you scratch away the coating to reveal the artwork beneath.

David Breuer, Chief Creative Officer, said: ‘More and more adults are looking for creative activities that can help them unwind and relax. We believe people will enjoy these innovative products that offer new ways of stimulating the mind and exercising new skills’.

Quarto was at the forefront of the global colouring phenomenon and has sold over 2 million colouring books worldwide. The’ll be supporting the launch with an extensive marketing and advertising campaign.

The first four titles are due in August, and they’ll release the first two titles in their series for children in September.

Titles publishing in August:

8 writers receive the phone call of a lifetime: Windham-Cambell Prizes announced

The director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes at Yale University made the call of a lifetime to eight unsuspecting writers this week, and informed them that they will be recognized with a $165,000 individual prize to support their writing. This year’s recipients of one of the world’s richest literature prizes for the first time include poets, alongside writers of fiction, nonfiction, and drama. The awards will be conferred in September at an international literary festival at Yale, celebrating the honored writers and introducing them to new audiences.

Established in 2013 with a gift from the late Donald Windham in memory of his partner of forty years, Sandy M. Campbell, the Prizes are celebrating their fifth year of existence. English language writers from anywhere in the world are eligible. Prize recipients are nominated confidentially and judged anonymously. The call that Prize recipients receive from program director Michael Kelleher is the first time that they have learned of their consideration.

This year’s Windham-Campbell Prize recipients are: in fiction, André Alexis and Erna Brodber; in nonfiction, Maya Jasanoff and Ashleigh Young; in poetry, Ali Cobby Eckermann and Carolyn Forché; and in drama, Marina Carr and Ike Holter.

The Windham-Campbell Festival will take place from September 13-15, 2017 at Yale, and begins with an awards ceremony and an invited speaker who gives a talk entitled, “Why I Write.” This year’s keynote will be delivered by Karl Ove Knausgård. Yale’s campus is in New Haven, Connecticut, two hours by train from both New York and Boston, and all events are free and open to the public.

The Windham-Campbell Prizes are administered by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale.

Many writers work other jobs in order to afford to write. The Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes are designed to give writers of all kinds the financial freedom to focus on the writing that matters the most to them. For more information about the prizes, read Norah Myers’ interview with founding director Michael Kelleher.

Write to the End of Your Novel: Interview with Anna Davis

Norah Myers recently interviewed Curtis Brown Creative’s Rufus Purdy about Curtis Brown Creative, the writing school led by the team at Curtis Brown. Here, she follows that by interviewing Curtis Brown’s managing director, Anna Davis, about a new course from Curtis Brown Creative: Write to the End of Your Novel.

1) How does Write To The End Of Your Novel build on Starting To Write Your Novel?

Write to the End of Your Novel is the second in a series of three short online courses which aim to help new writers get all the way from an initial idea for a novel to having a complete, polished novel ready to pitch to agents/publishers. This second course follows on from the first – so we expect that participants will already have their idea and their opening and will be trying to write their way through to the end of the first draft.

In a series of six modules (which we open up week by week) I try to say everything I can think of that could be useful – including my advice on pacing, building suspense, what to do when you’re stuck in the middle, how to write a good ending – and much more. The course makes use of teaching videos (from me), notes and tasks. Students will be able to share their work in a secure forum on our purpose-built learning platform.

We’ll be following on with a third course later in the Autumn called Edit and Pitch Your Novel. Students who come on each of these courses get continued access to all the materials so that they’ll have a set of resources they can make use of long after the course ends.

2) Why do you feel it was important to add this course to your offerings?

What I wanted to do – with the three short courses I’m talking about above, including Write to the End of Your Novel – was to offer great content at a much cheaper price than our ‘main’ 3 and 6-month courses (the selective courses we run for groups of 15 students in London and online). I wanted to provide something for people who can’t afford our main courses but who nonetheless want to study with us and get help with their novels. I also wanted to offer courses which would allow people to just pay-and-enrol (rather than go through the selective process we have for our main courses) so that they could have a go – it’s a chance to try your hand at novel-writing without making the bigger financial commitment that’s needed for our main courses.

These 6-week online courses can act as ‘tasters’ for our high end courses – our hope is that people who get a lot out of the 6-week courses might then feel they want to join a course where they will get intensive individual tuition and workshopping with a small group of students who’ve been selected on the basis of ability, in order to really make their novel as good as it can possibly be. Obviously not everyone who takes the 6-week courses will succeed in getting a place on our main courses (the places are quite heavily competed over) but we already have quite a few students on the longer novel-writing courses who came to us through studying on Starting to Write Your Novel.

However I also wanted the 6-week courses to cover the complete journey of writing and pitching a novel: Not everyone needs a longer course and individual tuition – for many people writing a novel, it’s useful just to have good, constructive advice, a group of other writers to share work with and a metaphorical shot in the arm. That’s what we’re offering.

3) Tell us about an applicant you recently turned down. What could aspiring applicants learn from an unsuccessful submission?

So – yes – for our ‘main’ 3 and 6 month novel-writing courses, in London or online, we do operate a selection process. We ask people to fill in a form on our website and to send us the one-page synopsis and opening 3000 words of the novel they want to work on with us. Rather than talk about one individual applicant (because I think it wouldn’t be fair to do so), I’ll tell you about some of the features we frequently see in unsuccessful applications. Here goes:

  • Don’t open your book with someone waking up in the morning and looking out of the window at the sun/rain etc. This is THE most common way to start a novel and so we’re very bored of seeing it. We’re also not keen on openings which feature characters staggering around with a hangover, treading in pizza boxes etc – or visceral scenes of vomiting and other bodily fluids (I don’t want to be fighting revulsion when I start to read a novel!) – or indeed long descriptions of the weather.
  • Get your story going from the off. We want to see STUFF HAPPENING long before the end of that first 3000 words – it doesn’t need to be explosive or shouty – but we do want story to be happening. Writers often think they need to spend a long time ‘setting up’ characters before they get them into action – that’s really not necessary.
  • Give us scenes which are dramatized – ie enter right into the moment of your story, showing us your characters in action and making use of dialogue. If I flick through an application and don’t see any dialogue, I know I’m unlikely to end up offering the writer a place. Invariably these novel-openings will be endless ‘telling’ (explanatory material) which leave the reader feeling like they’re skating across the surface of a story without getting properly into it.

4) What do you teach students about foreign rights?

Our team of literary agents at Curtis Brown and C&W contribute very generously to our 3-and-6 month courses. On the London courses, the agents come in as guest speakers, partnering with publishers and/or with authors they represent. On the 3-and-month online courses the agents take part in special ‘Q&A days’ where they answer all the students’ questions online. Our agents will talk about foreign rights – and indeed other rights such as film and TV rights – when they speak to the students about how they work with their clients to make the work available in all possible forms and formats and to maximise all avenues of income for the client.

Foreign rights are a very big part of what we do at Curtis Brown and C&W, and many of our authors have their work available many languages across the world. Having said all that, the most important way we work with our students is in helping them to write their novels as well as they possibly can. Foreign rights won’t feature in their lives at all unless they write a really great novel – and it’s our mission to help them to do that.

5) What do literary agents look for in a client, especially ones writing their first books?

Agents want to find great novels – it’s as simple as that. We have a big team of agents here, all of whom have different interests and tastes – but I think they’d all agree that they want to find great stories and writing that really leaps off the page. Obviously it’s great if a writer also has a professional attitude, is open to working editorially on their novel to get it as good as it can possibly be, and is intending to go on to write more compelling novels (not just one). And yes, the agent/author relationship is a close and potentially long-lived one so it’s important that each likes and respects the other. But really the most important thing is the book.

6) What do you look forward to most as the course progresses?

I love getting to know the students (and their work) individually and collectively, and seeing how the groups of 15 shape up and bond with each other. Even as I’m typing this, now, I can hear laughter coming from the board room – it’s our current 6-Month London-based course, with tutor Louise Wener. They’re getting toward the end of their course now so they all know each other and each other’s writing really well. I’m certain that all or most of them will go on meeting up and giving each other support with their novels long after the course has finished. This camaraderie happens in our 3 and 6 month online courses too – and even on the 6-week Starting to Write Your Novel courses we’re seeing writers bonding and forming little groups and keeping in touch. Yes, I do think that’s what I like best. Writing is something you do alone, but it doesn’t need to be lonely.

Check out Curtis Brown Creative’s site for more information on all of their courses.

Anna is the founder and Director of the Curtis Brown Creative writing school. She is the author of five novels, published around the world in 20 languages: The Dinner, Melting, Cheet, The Shoe Queen and, most recently, The Jewel Box. She is currently working on her sixth. Anna has worked for Curtis Brown for more than a decade as a literary agent and has served on the management committee of the Association of Authors’ Agents. Previously she was a lecturer on Manchester University’s MA in Novel-Writing, and has also led many other writing workshops for organisations such as the Cheltenham Literary Festival and Ty Newydd. A former Guardian columnist, Anna has been the recipient of the Arts Council of England’s Clarissa Luard Award (2001) and an h.Club 100 award – presented to the most influential, innovative and interesting people in the creative and media industries.

JVs and affiliates – better together

It’s a fact of life – of my life certainly, and I’m pretty sure yours too – that you can’t do everything on your own. Sometimes you need to bring specific skills and experience into the business by recruiting, sometimes you need to partner with another company, such as software developers, to deliver a project.

But those aren’t the only options.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses are pioneering new, more flexible models for collaboration and for punching above their weight. Two of the most interesting are joint ventures and affiliate programmes, which are slightly different although the terms are often used interchangeably.

Joint ventures

Typically a joint venture is less formal than a full partnership, although it may be governed by a legal agreement. It usually involves two complementary rather than competing companies coming together to create a new product or service that will appeal to both their markets, or jointly promoting complementary products or services to mutual benefit.  Because it’s a two-way process, it typically involves negotiation to secure that mutual benefit. In marketing terms, however, joint ventures are more usually understood to mean an integrated marketing strategy bringing benefits to both companies. They could do reciprocal email campaigns promoting the other’s product/service/event to their subscribers, for example, or share synergistic assets to create a content marketing campaign that’s more than the sum of the parts.

When it’s done right, a JV is a win/win: your community (and therefore you) benefit because you can offer them something of interest and value, while you leverage your partner’s network and community to reach new customers. When it’s done poorly, because the fit isn’t right or the benefit isn’t equal, it’s irritating to one or both partners and their communities.

Affiliate programmes

In an affiliate relationship, there’s less in the way of cooperation: the provider of a product or service provides a unique affiliate link or code that another organisation can use, and the affiliate receives a percentage of any sales (and/or advertising revenue) derived from that link. In an affiliate relationship the product or service belongs entirely to the originating partner, and the affiliate serves only to broaden its reach – there’s usually little if any room for negotiation. Amazon is perhaps the most obvious example – it bills itself as the ‘most popular and successful’ affiliate programme on the web.

Where are the opportunities for publishers?

You could argue that any rights deal is a joint venture – whether that’s for a translation or film adaptation. Or indeed that it’s a reasonable way to describe the relationship between publisher and author. Certainly publishing on behalf of an organisation is a great JV opportunity for publishers, such as Nosy Crow’s relationship with the National Trust or my own white-labelling services for organisations.

But there are many non-traditional opportunities for using these models too, without getting into a fully-fledged joint venture. You don’t even need tracking URL technology for all of them, and one of the best things about them is that you don’t spend a penny until the sales roll in. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Enlist co-authors for mutual benefit: for example one brings the time and ability to write while the other has the profile and reach to promote the book effectively. Patrick Vlaskovits, Neil Patel and Jonas Koffler brought a complementary set of skills to the table to create Hustle, published by Penguin.
  • Another twist on this is for the author of a general book to partner with experts in specific niches to create new ‘verticals’, as Michael E. Gerber did with the legendarily successful The E-Myth Revisited to create the E-Myth Expert series, for professions as diverse as vets, financial advisors and optometrists.
  • Your book launch will be rocket-fuelled if you get the right partners on board: in Launch, Jeff Walker describes how he generated over $1m revenue in an hour from a well-planned JV product launch. And since JV partners typically direct their subscribers to sign up on your landing page, you can simultaneously grow your mailing list at the same time, which over time is likely to be worth significantly more than the initial flurry of sales.
  • Run a multiple JV-partner direct marketing and/or social media campaign, providing marketing collateral or ‘swipe’ copy that they can use. Make it as easy as possible for them to promote your stuff, but allow them to adapt your copy and/or write their own too: they will have their own tone and stylistic quirks. (And hey, since as we’ve already established authors and publishers are by definition joint venture partners, why not make a suite of marketing collateral available to your authors too?)
  • You have great content. Your potential JV partner has a great platform and network, and platforms and networks run on content. Think creatively about what you can produce for them – a blog or vlog series, a webinar, free online training – to get the most effective exposure/content win/win.
  • Finally, and perhaps most obviously, why not take a leaf out of Amazon’s book and reward people who love your books and are willing to promote them? From the biggest (PRH) to small independents (Chronicle Books), savvy publishers run affiliate programmes typically offering up to 10% commission on sales, and often with an enhanced scheme for their own authors. In a world of horizontal selling and peer recommendations, this makes all kinds of sense.

If you’re a publisher or author running successful JV or affiliate schemes, I’d love to hear your story – perhaps you could share it in The Extraordinary Business Book Club?

membership economyAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers.

Self-employed in publishing

BookMachine February Wrap: Publishing stories from around the web

This month in publishing, booksellers have taken the spotlight, with Waterstones announcing their first year of profit since the 2008 financial crash. In fact, Bookstore sales rose 2.5% in 2016 and Amazon is determined to get in on the action, with plans to open 10 books and mortar stores across the US by the end of 2017, in a move to “solve digital retail’s biggest design flaw.” They are also rumoured to be scouting for shops in London. However, the footing is not even: Amazon has been given tax cuts while high street stores suffer – though, as the FT points out, UK tax law isn’t actually Amazon’s fault.

February has also marked the first full month of Trump’s presidency. Early February saw Trump pass an executive order banning entry to the US for citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations. Publishing professionals across the board have stood up against the ban, notably Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. In response, Publishers’ Weekly followed the lead of Penguin Random House US and Hachette Book Group US by offering to pay half its employees’ membership fees to PEN America.

Members of the reading public have also registered their unhappiness, voting with their reading habits by sending dystopian fiction to the top of the bestseller charts, as well as organizing to flood the White House with books for Valentine’s Day.

On a lighter note, Trump’s actions have also kicked off a feud between Harry Potter author JK Rowling and television presenter Piers Morgan. Already having had to defend Harry Potter books against threats of burning this month, Rowling scored some biblical hits against Morgan before London-based Big Green Bookshop took up the gauntlet by deciding to live-Tweet the entire first Harry Potter novel at Morgan. The process would have taken 32,567 Tweets, however at the time of writing, Morgan has blocked the Big Green Bookshop and thwarted their efforts.

This has been a month in which defense of free-speech and liberal values have been at the fore: “sensitivity readers” have been highlighted; anger has bloomed in light of 2017’s all-white Carnegie and Kate Greenaway longlists; and the Authors Guild in America has called for vigilance in these “not normal” times. Meanwhile, more complex debates have erupted over the sale of a Juno Dawson book to a 12-year-old at school, and arguments continue to rage over Milo Yiannopoulos’s upcoming book, both for and against.

“Publishing has a part to play in this fight,” said Chief Executive of Faber & Faber, Steven Page, accepting the Frankfurt book fair independent trade publisher of the year award. “We are about freedom of expression, making the public aware and [providing] education. These are things that matter very much now.”

Jonny Geller wins BookMachine blogger award 2016

The BookMachine blogging awards are run annually using Google analytics to pick the most viewed blog posts of the year.  BookMachine readers then vote for their favourite of the selection.

The winning blogger of 2016 – as voted by you – is Jonny Geller. Jonny will be winning an annual BookMachine membership, a bottle of something tasty, and a selection of BookMachine blooks.

We will also be extending the award to Norah Myers, who (for the second time) interviewed our winning blogger on behalf of BookMachine. A huge thanks to Norah for making this all happen.

Last year Juliet Mushens grabbed the award with her interview (by Norah Myers) ‘Twitter Tips from a Literary Agent

If you think you have what it takes to write a winning blog for publishing professionals in 2017, email me with your idea.

As a reminder the blog posts from 2016 were:

1. Blogger: Jonny Geller (via Norah Myers)

This blog analyses what makes a bestseller in an age where print sales are up and self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular.

2. Blogger: Alison Jones

This blog essentially reminisces about all the things that used to be part of a publisher’s day and no longer are.

3. Blogger: Juliet Pickering (with Norah Myers)

Juliet is a successful agent, and in this blog post she shares how in her line of work, one deals with rejection.

4. Blogger: Sam Humphrys (via Norah Myers)

This blog covers the top 5 tips an editor needs to excellent in their field.

5. Blogger: Emma Smith

Emma is an editor and in this blog post explains how decisions are made, and what she wishes she could communicate more frequently.

Print Futures Award of £1,500 available

Print Futures, a Printing Charity Initiative, has a number of grants open to UK residents aged 18-30 years old. If you are intending to study (or are currently studying) for a printing, publishing, packaging or graphic arts qualification then you might be eligible to receive one.

The grants have been set up to help young people pay for recognised training courses in a chosen career or to help to develop workplace skills.

If you would like more information, please email – entries close 30th April 2017.

Roundup of the Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar

Abbie Headon is Commissioning and Digital Development Editor at Summersdale Publishers, and a BookMachine Board Member (representing the Editorial Channel).

I was lucky enough last week to go to my first official publishing event wearing my BookMachine hat, as I wended my way to The Caledonian Club in the heart of London for the catchily-titled ‘Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar: Book publishing and the wider creative market – cross-sector collaboration, copyright and new avenues for growth’.

Despite having a total inability to remember the name of this event, I was excited to hear a panel of experts from across our industry discussing the issues of the day, including the likely impact of Brexit, the relationship between publishers and authors, the importance of technology and innovation, and the lack of diversity in publishing.

A force for good

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association, introduced the event with a summary of the main issues to be discussed – Brexit, copyright and diversity – but what really struck me was his statement that ‘Book publishing is a profound force for good, and one that we should cherish.’ In an era that sees Simon & Schuster USA’s Threshold Editions paying $250,000 to bring us the collected thoughts of Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s a useful reminder of our duty to publish books we can truly be proud of.


Paul Herbert, a partner at Goodman Derrick LLP, gave us a rundown of the specific ways that changes to the EU copyright framework may affect us as UK publishers. In summary, we won’t be facing a full-scale rewrite of our copyright laws, but rather a set of tweaks at the margins.

After taking us through all the details of the likely changes, Herbert explained that, as the new framework will be an EU directive, it will not be legally binding unless enacted by the UK parliament in legislation – so whether we press on with Brexit or not, we will still be able to choose whether to exist in harmony with our EU neighbours.

Working with authors

It says a lot about the publishing industry that authors are seen relatively rarely at publishing conferences. Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, presented us with a list of concerns she has for her members, including the need for a strong copyright framework, for all work by authors, illustrators, photographers and translators to be credited, and for freedom of movement of creators in and out of the UK to be maintained.

Solomon called for accounting clauses to show authors not only how many books a publisher has sold, but also who has sold them down the line, and for authors to be rescued from a ‘triple tax whammy’. Touching on an issue that has flared up frequently on social media over recent months, she also supported the need for more diverse voices to be published, but pushed back on authors’ right to create characters beyond their own identities, saying, ‘Please don’t troll our authors for cultural appropriation every time they put a black face in their book if they’re not black.’

Cross-platform storytelling

Many of the speakers mentioned the competition that books now face as a category, as our attention is distracted by Netflix, online gaming, 24-hour news, social media and more. Crystal Mahey-Morgan described her strategy of reaching a wide audience through cross-platform publishing: her company OWN IT’s first product, Don’t Be Alien, exists as an animated video, a book and a song, and as six-word stories that can be bought as designed t-shirts and jumpers. People can enter the world of this story through any of these products, ranging from a 99p song to a £30 t-shirt.

Another way of looking beyond the book came from Rosamund de la Hay, President of the Booksellers Association and owner of The Mainstreet Trading Company. She pointed out that bookshops are a vital ‘third place’ in our communities: ‘not home, not school, but familiar and safe.’ Her bookshop in the Scottish Borders also has an antiques concession, a deli and a café, and they cross-promote books across the entire shop. Books are displayed with relevant products (just as shops like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are doing), and the café produces food from specific cookbooks. These strategies, combined with festivals and other events, demonstrate how a book can be far more than just a book.

Another advocate for reaching broad audiences is Sam Missingham of Harper Collins, who described the way that fan communities congregate in different spaces, such as Wattpad for sci-fi lovers. Her BFI Lovefest last year was a virtual book festival delivered via Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts, with a live film screening at the BFI itself. The broad range of events combined with the massive reach of the BFI’s social media following provided a huge audience of people who might not see themselves as natural literary-festival-goers.

Technology and innovation

Justine Solomons, founder of Byte the Book, took us on a tour of innovation in publishing. Her own quest to bring tech companies, authors and publishers together began when she was reading a fellow student’s typescript on a Kindle six years ago and wondered, ‘Why can’t I buy this directly from the author?’

Although self-publishing can seem to be a modern phenomenon, it has a long history, reaching back to Jane Austen, Ezra Pound and Virginia Woolf, and even including J. K. Rowling, the founder of the Pottermore website. Indeed, Solomons argued, traditional publishing can even be regarded as a form of vanity publishing, because it shows that as an author, you need somebody to validate you. She highlighted Unbound and OWN IT! as innovative publishing companies, and Mark Edwards and Mark Dawson as impressive examples of self-published authors.

Oli Christie of Neon Play shared his tips on what the book industry can learn from the world of gaming. His first piece of advice was to be agile and prepared to pivot: bring out products quickly and be willing to change them if they’re not working. Next he stressed the importance of analytics: examining user data and trying A/B testing to find the most successful types of plot and character. Finally, use brand partnerships to extend your reach to much bigger audiences.


This was a constant theme throughout the conference, and it’s one that none of us can ignore any longer. Sarah Shaffi of The Bookseller explained that it’s not just the wealth of competing distractions that turns people away from books; she said that many readers feel the publishing industry ‘isn’t speaking to them in their language or in the spaces that they occupy.’

Shaffi reminded us of the troubling fact that of the thousands and thousands of books published in the UK in 2016, less than one hundred were written by non-white British authors. She also gave an impressive range of statistics showing that film and TV adaptations, which demonstrably boost book sales, are nearly always based on books written by white people and feature non-diverse casts. This is an area where so much more needs to be done, and as Shaffi pointed out, the argument of ‘but we need to be commercial’ just doesn’t hold water: the book on which the musical Hamilton is based saw a 16,000% sales increase in two years, something any publisher would welcome heartily.

Crystal Mahey-Morgan made the ultimate point to close down any argument that diverse publishing is bad for business. In 2016, she published Mama Can’t Raise No Man, by Robyn Travis, which according to reports was the only novel published by a black British man in the entire year. (Take a moment for that to sink in.) The launch event, featuring a gospel choir along with poets and other performers, sold out the Hackney Empire, with tickets priced at £7-£10. So not only is it the morally correct thing for us to do as publishers in opening up our lists to diverse authors; it makes financial sense too. And in this era of constant change, that sounds like exactly what we need.

For more information, check out the Westminster Media Forum website and the Twitter stream from the event at #WMFEvents.

8 steps to writing a book that sells

Writing a book can be a great way to market yourself and even make money. But actually finishing the steps to writing a book and achieving the results you want is much harder in practice. In this article I’ll share the eight steps to writing a book that sells: from determining your goals to writing to marketing.

1) Determine your goals

As I mentioned, writing a book can help you achieve one or more potential goals. These goals include:

  • Building your brand
  • Generating leads for your business (consulting, speaking, video courses, etc.)
  • Making money

The steps you take to writing your book, and your strategies for doing so, must be influenced by your goals.

Some topics are extremely competitive on Amazon. If your goal is to make money, it might not be possible if you’re writing about one of those topics. If your goal is to make money, the topic you select is far more important than if your goal is to build your brand in your industry. However if your goal is to build your brand in your industry, the topic is mostly accounted for and the competition of your topic is less important.

2) Know who your audience is

Determining your audience is more of a thought experiment than a tangible deliverable. But it’s an important thought experiment that will impact the next steps to writing your book.

Without knowing who your audience is, how can you know what or how to write? Without knowing who your audience is, how can you know how to position and market your book?

To complete the step of determining who your audience is, create a customer avatar or “persona.” This is a practice common in business, marketing and product management. Basically, it’s a fictitious representation of your target customer or reader.

If you’re writing about self-publishing on Amazon, your target audiences might include:

  • Consultants and speakers looking to build their brands and generate leads
  • Internet marketers who want to make money online

Go beyond the bullet points above. Write out, in as much detail as possible, the demographics of your target audience, what their goals are, what challenges they have, what’s valuable to them, and what questions they have as it pertains to the topic of your book.

As questions come up while you are writing, producing and marketing your book – as they inevitably will – think back to your personas. What would they want from your book?

3) Pick a topic

Picking book topic is about as important as picking a business idea. It requires finding a balance between supply and demand – finding a topic that your audience wants to read about but that there’s not too much competition for.

It’s ok if there’s competition if there’s enough demand. In fact, having some competition is indication that there is demand. Lack of demand is a big reason why businesses, and books, fail.

The topic must also be tied to your goals. If your goal is to market your marketing consulting business, you wouldn’t write a book about monkeys.

So, to pick a topic for your book, think about what challenges and questions your target audience has. What are they actively searching for on Google? What are they already buying on Amazon?

Browse Amazon. Look at the rankings of other books on your topic. Look at the appropriate category for your book. How well are the bestsellers in those categories doing?

If your goal is to make money, find gaps on Amazon. If your idea doesn’t meet an unmet need, it will be harder to make consistent income from it. But if you find a topic that’s valuable to your target audience and balances supply and demand on Amazon, you’re in a great place.

4) Write your book

Some people like to set goals and form habits. If that works for you, eat your heart out. Maybe your goal will be to write 10,000 words by December 1st. Maybe your habit will be to wake up at 6am and write 1,000 words every morning.

I, however, prefer to build systems. To do this, I started by determining my “ends goals.” My ends goals are to be healthy (mentally and physically) and helpful – and writing helps me achieve both of those. I remind myself of those ends goals all the time. Doing so keeps me motivated and energized.

Then, I determined, through various experiments, when and how I do my best writing. It’s in the morning. So, I focus on creating a system that enables me to write in the morning and executing on the “inputs” that can enable it to happen. The inputs include getting high quality sleep, eating healthy, exercising, not overcommitting myself personally or professionally, and being around people I love.

In terms of the actual content of your book, be sure to provide value to your target audience, in the form of education and/or entertainment. The more readers like your book, the more good reviews you will get on Amazon. The more good reviews you get on Amazon, the more books you will sell.

5) Edit and proofread

Your opinion of your book does not matter. The only opinion that matters is your reader’s.

After writing, re-writing and editing your book over and over again, you will inevitably miss some obvious shortcomings and typos.

Get your book edited for:

  • Quality of content
  • Style and wording
  • Spelling and grammar

Get feedback from your target audience on the content. How helpful was it? What questions do they still have about the topic?

Hire an editor/proofreader for style, wording, spelling and grammar.

Readers will take any excuse they can get to leave a bad review for your book. Make sure your book is crystal clean. By getting your book edited for all of the above, you’re more likely to get good reviews.

6) Produce your book

You could have the best written book with the most valuable content – and even do the best marketing in the word – but if people who landed on your book page aren’t compelled to buy it will all be a waste.

When a potential reader lands on your book page on Amazon, there are a few factors they have to look at in order to make their decision on whether or not to buy your book. These are:

  • Title
  • Description
  • Cover design
  • Reviews

Write a title that piques interest, describes what the book is actually about, and displays the value the reader will gain from reading it. Bonus points if it contains keywords that help you rank in Amazon’s search results. You can read my best advice on writing a book title here. If you’re stuck, use PickFu to split test.

Your book description should not be a list of the topics covered in your book or a brief summary. It’s purpose is to sell! Read my best advice for writing a book description here.

Design a cover that grabs attention and looks professional. Look at the covers of books in your niche that are performing well. Use a similar style…but make it much better! Ask friends and colleagues if they know a designer who’s designed book covers before. Look at their work before hiring them. Give the designer detailed instructions on what you want, what other covers you like, and give them feedback on their first draft.

I’ll talk about getting reviews in the book marketing section at the end of this article.

7) Self-publish your book

Authors are not limited to writing ebooks or waiting for a big publisher to choose their book. The amazing self-publishing platforms of today give authors access to the following formats:

I’ve created comprehensive and step-by-step guides to self-publishing your book on these platforms so I’ve linked to them above. I won’t cover that all again here. But if after reading the above guides, you still have questions, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

8) Market your book

It doesn’t matter how amazing your book is – if know one knows about it, no one will buy it.

There are two pieces of book marketing that need to be done right in order to get results: traffic and conversion.

The conversion part is covered in step #6 above on producing your book’s title, description and cover. So I’ll focus on traffic here.

If you don’t already have a big audience or email list, your best source of traffic to your book will probably be Amazon itself. But Amazon doesn’t promote every one of the gazillion books on it’s platform. Amazon promotes the books that will help the company make money. It promotes the books that their users actually buy.

How does Amazon know if your book is one of the good ones? It looks at factors like reviews and downloads. You can leverage book promotion sites to get downloads. Check out my case study on book marketing here to learn how to make all that happen.

But for significant success over the long-term, you will need a “platform.” Build an email list. How can you get people onto your email list? Try one or more of the below depending on what your audience uses and the level of competition for each in your particular industry:

My #1 piece of advice for getting good reviews is simply to write a great book. Without that step, none of the rest of these steps to writing a book that sells really matter over the long run.

If you want more detailed instructions on writing a book that sells, download the checklist below. Happy writing!

Mike Fishbein is a digital marketer and bestselling author. He writes about content marketing, self-publishing and personal development. This post was originally published on his site.


Rejection stinks: Tips for authors on handling rejections

Jonny Geller is the joint CEO of Curtis Brown. Jonny represents a wide range of bestselling and award winning writers. His clients include: William Boyd, Tracy Chevalier, John le Carré, Howard Jacobson, David Mitchell, David Nicholls, Ian Fleming Estate and Nelson Mandela foundation. Here are Jonny’s top tips for authors on handling rejections.

Rejection stinks. There is no getting around it. Recently, I tweeted “Rejection is wired into the creative process and longevity and success is mostly down to how you deal with this one issue”.

I wasn’t just talking about writers and how they handle it. Anyone who works in the creative industries is involved in rejection every working day of their lives. Every time an agent sends out a manuscript with a turbo injected pitch letter, he/she is inviting an editor to reject them. Agents tend to take rejection personally, too. The agent is putting his/her name on the line with every submission. After all, the most valuable asset an agent brings to the table is his/her reputation. Every time the agent sends out a book, he/she dares the publishers to expose him/her as a fraud, a fake magician, a rain maker. You are only as good as the last book you’ve sold.

An editor is haunted by rejection for different reasons. What if they miss The Next Big Thing? It will be on the record forever that THEY TURNED DOWN IT DOWN and they will see the reviews, the sales, the prizes sticking a big, fat literary tongue out at them for eternity.

But it is the writer who has to live with rejection the longest. An agent can move on to the next project, an editor can blame the sales force for excess caution,but the writer is left with their forsaken child, tattered dreams and a few, brief letters to decipher the opaque messages from publishers and agents. They are left to torture themselves with the question:  What if they were right?

So, how can a writer cope with rejection if, as I say above, it is hard wired into the creative process? here’s a little guide:

Rejection is not personal

A rejected manuscript is not a comment on your talent, your ambition or your future. it is a response to a specific proposal at a specific moment by a specific source.

Let me explain.

If you send a novel at the wrong time of year – around book fairs – it might just not get read very closely. We are looking for very particular projects that will sell in a certain way to maximise the hype fest that is the London or Frankfurt Book fair. If you send a novel to the wrong agent, his/her rejection is worthless. A romantic saga to an agent who specialises in military history is not a rejection. That is a mistake.

If you are unlucky enough to have written a Western about talking heifers as three others on the same subject have landed on agents’ desks that week, you have not been rejected. You have been sorted.

Rejection is personal

There are many ways to decipher the secret codes of publishing. A standard response with no hint of personal reaction is a clear rejection. This might be because the book is awful, and if you receive too many responses of this nature, you might take a pause. A response that hints at some level of engagement means that it managed to prick attention but not much more. A specific and detailed response to the failings of the novel is not a rejection – it is a signal that talent may be there, but the topic, writing or genre may just not have hit the spot. An invitation to send future work is also not a rejection. That is a commendation.

Rejection defines who you are

How you respond to repeated rejection can point to whether writing is a vocation or a hobby. Nobody who takes up writing as a pastime would want to endure the long periods of waiting, the helpless inability to change a publisher’s mind, the invitation to doubt oneself at the deepest level. You would have to be obsessed. Obsession means that small hurdles like rejection or delay are meaningless. These are the type of people agents look out for.

But when do you know when enough is enough? When do you stop reading articles about J K Rowling and every other major bestselling novel that was roundly rejected by publishers?

When you realise that there is life beyond being a writer.

Until that moment, keep writing and keep believing in yourself. There are too many books published. We all know that. If you are one of those people who believe this to be true but not true about their own work, then fight for your spot. But do remember: Nobody owes you a living.

For more from Jonny, you watch his Tedxtalk on ‘What Makes a Bestseller’. 

What can publishers learn from the Women’s March London?

On 21st January 2017, I made the journey to London, met with my youngest sister and some friends and we marched from Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square along with an estimated 100,000 others.

We were there because, the day before, a man who had boasted about sexually assaulting women, who is endorsed by the KKK and who believes climate change to be a hoax, was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.

In 70 cities around the world, on every single continent, similar gatherings were taking place with the largest being in Washington DC. At the time of writing an estimated 4.5 million people had come out to make their voices heard.

We all had our reasons for joining the march. For me, the most concerning fact is that the election of Donald Trump has emboldened and given a legitimacy to voices that spout racism, white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia. From the moment he began his campaign these voices became more prominent and today they can be heard loud and clear. On the march, our voices were calling for something different: equality for all.

Publishing as a platform

I knew from my social media feeds that the publishing industry had turned out in numbers. We are a female-heavy workforce. I knew that many of the people I marched alongside were working in books. And, as I marched, I started thinking about voices, legitimacy and platforms.

Publishing, as an industry, is about giving people platforms for their ideas, a conduit for reaching an audience. The rise of social media and independent publishing has meant that almost anyone can have access to a platform. People can tweet, they can blog, they can self-publish.

The simple fact is that, today, traditional publishers aren’t necessary for people to reach a big audience. What the industry does add, however, is a sense of legitimacy and significance. The presence of the logo on the spine is a silent signal but a powerful one. Our logos are the stamp of approval and they amplify the ideas within the pages they adorn. As an industry, we choose the voices that get heard the loudest. Now, more than ever, this is a huge responsibility.

Our responsibilities

As I write this, I can hear the familiar mantra of ‘Publishing is a business designed to make money.’ I hear that. I’ve been freelance for four years now and I know that we need to get paid. But we also need to respect the responsibility of our logos.

Freedom of speech is a right but we need to make sure that the loudest voices are not just from a small pool of people. As a predominantly white, middle-class industry we need to make sure that we don’t just look for ourselves in the books we publish and that we don’t take away other people’s stories, granting ourselves the right to tell them through our own, inexperienced words. We need to stretch out beyond the reaches of our familiar audience. Diversity shouldn’t be something that has to be crowdfunded.

Yes, we’re running a business. But our logos have power. Let’s never forget that.

Caroline Goldsmith has worked in publishing for sixteen years. She published fiction under the independent imprint Red Button Publishing from 2012-2016 and now works freelance, providing publishing and writing services. Check out her website

Derby university

BA Writing and Publishing: Indulge your passion for words

Let’s start a campaign. A campaign to bring back a word than no one uses any more. Sorglufu: the Old English word that means ‘amorous love tinged with sorrow or regret’. What a wonderful word for a human emotion that is commonly enough experienced to deserve a word of its own! Let’s start a campaign to reinstate ‘sorglufu’ to the lexicon.

Sorglufu. If I repeat it often enough, maybe it’ll stick.

I love words. I love the English language (even though I’m Scottish!). I love it so much that I own five different editions of the Oxford English Dictionary. In the full version of that masterpiece of lexicography over 300,000 separate words are defined. If you include slang, dialect (and maybe the odd Scottish word), I reckon the full vocabulary of the English language could be enumerated at over half a million words.

And I love every aspect of our language: from writing, to editing, and to publishing too. Stephen Fry talks about ‘the juicy joy’ of language, and I get what he means.

Sometimes it’s the sheer pleasure of a perfectly turned phrase that you go back and read over and over again; sometimes it’s a clever play on words; sometimes just the perfect, satisfying rhythm of a sentence.

Funnily enough, when I founded my little publishing business way back in the 1980s no one told me that I’d spend so much time writing and editing, and it has been a constant joy to me that these diverting and pleasurable activities have formed such a large part of my working life.

English is such a rich and varied language, more complex and perplexing than almost any other. I know a little French, a little German, even a little Latin and Italian, and they are mostly logical, sensible, well ordered and codified. But English? No. And that’s what helps make it such an endless joy to work with.

Many of you reading this BookMachine blog will be avid readers; many of you will be aspiring editors, publishers or writers. And many of you will feel similarly toward the language. So much so that you’d like to find a career wherein you can indulge your passion?

I know a bit about careers that involve writing and English: both as a publisher and editor, and now, more recently as a university teacher of those subjects. I’m particularly proud to have developed a new university course that lovingly combines everything in one neat package. We call it BA Writing and Publishing.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t carve out a successful and satisfying career in this area. The possibilities are boundless. Maybe you could become a copy-writer; maybe a fiction author; a poet? A literary agent; a marketing bod composing blurbs and headlines; an editor; a publisher? A journalist; a magazine writer; perhaps even a laureate.

If you’re interested in any of this, drop me an email. And I’ll know you’ve read my blog if, somewhere, somehow, you include the word ‘sorglufu’!

Thanks for reading.

Alistair Hodge is the MA Publishing Course Leader at Derby University. He has been a non-fiction publisher for over thirty years, during which time he has been a business leader and manager, and commissioning editor.

BookMachine Blogging Award: Votes needed

Writers plan protest ahead of Trump inauguration day

Writers Resist London will take place at:

The Horse Hospital, Bloomsbury
Sunday 15th January, 2017 4-6PM

Free event, all welcome

Writers Resist London will join over 50 cities worldwide in reaffirming a commitment to a tolerant and diverse society through panel discussion and poetry readings from literary voices.

A flagship New York City event co-sponsored by PEN America is joined by additional events in Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin, Portland, Omaha, Seattle, London, Zurich, Hong Kong and more.

Readings by Tom Pickard, Cathy Dreyer, Richard Skinner and Owen Vince.

Panel discussion with Juliet Jacques, Legacy Russell and Laura Waddell.

Our democracy is at risk. Growing public cynicism and an alarming disdain for truthfulness is eroding our most dearly held democratic ideals. Writers have tremendous power to bypass empty political discourse and focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate society.

Russell Bennets, organiser:
“Five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, writers and readers are gathering worldwide to protest any slide into fascism by the United States.”

Legacy Russell, writer:
“It’s an important time in history, a time where the strategic visibility of collective resistance and determined dissent is essential in the face of sexism, racism, homophobia – these things are the bedrock of fascism, and silence is consent.”

Laura Waddell, writer:
“As Trump takes office in just a few days and the UK faces its own crisis in the wake of Brexit, the need to stand up for free expression and human rights becomes increasingly pressing.”

More about Writers Resist
Writers Resist is a national network of writers driven to defend the ideals of a free, just and compassionate democratic society. The movement rapidly coalesced after poet, Erin Belieu, posted on Facebook, “We will not give in to despair. We will come together and actively help make the world we want to live in. We are bowed, but we are not broken.”

The Productive Publisher: Tips for getting things done, so you spend time doing what you love

It’s no secret I’m a productivity freak. A friend recently drew a cartoon birthday card of me as Little Miss Just Get It Done and my secret Santa gift from colleagues at Emerald Group Publishing this Christmas was a mug emblazoned with the words: Get Shit Done. At home, my shelves are overflowing with books on productivity, self-management and life hacks – if you set about reading them now you wouldn’t have any time for anything else for the next twelve months.

But productivity isn’t just a way to show off to colleagues and suck up to your boss. Getting things done allows you to spend more time doing the things you love and want to do. Here’s a few tactics to make short shrift of the long to-do list.

Most Important Task (MIT)

Many of us ease into the working day by checking emails over a cup of coffee, perhaps catching up on some professional reading, and networking on Facebook. A lovely start to the day, but not the most productive. When meetings kick in at 10.00 you won’t see your desk for the next seven hours, so don’t leave your work until home time.

The Most Important Task, MIT for short, was coined by Zen Habits master Leo Babauta. It’s an essential part of his morning routine, and he tackles this task just after waking up and having a glass of cold water (none of this caffeine and Facebook slacking).


Nailing your MIT will only work if you’ve effectively prioritised. Working on your prioritisation skills will help you deliver better results. Here’s a few approaches to hone this super power.

First up is Eisenhower’s Important-Urgent Principle, a matrix that helps you calculate where a task falls. You tackle tasks in the following order:

  • Important and urgent
  • Important but not urgent
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important and not urgent.

It’s certainly an effective method, but for me it takes too long to divide my to-dos into quads. I prefer working out what not to do and take my inspiration from unnamed female General in the US Army who was quoted by Roy F Baumeister in his excellent book Willpower.

She said: “First I make a list of priorities one, two, three and so on. Then I cross out everything from three on down.”

My advice is to write your priority list on a post it note – the space is too small to fit too much on. You get bonus points if you prioritise the night before as you’re clearing your desk to go home.

Finally, just learn to say no. As Steve Jobs said: “Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

Swallow a frog

Back to getting things done. A variation on the MIT is swallowing a frog, – namely, that beast squatting on your to-do list which is hard and horrid to do.

Stop feeling bad about how long it’s been sitting then and just do the damn thing. And follow Mark Twain’s advice to do it first thing:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Mark Twain

If you need an incentive, tap into your baser psychology and plan a reward for when it’s done. When you’ve eaten your frog, treat yourself to a victory shopping spree, or tuck into whatever edible reward tickles your tummy. You’ll radiate with productive smugness all day (or that could be the frog repeating on you).

Follow the masters of getting things done

If that frog has been squatting on your to-do list for a while, there’s probably a good reason. Yes, it might just be a hard task you’re avoiding, but it’s likely it’s too big, or not clearly defined.

This is where the master of productivity can help. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is a classic for many reasons. Packed within this tome is a bunch of super helpful tips, so even if you don’t embrace the whole GTDTM system, you can pick out the tactics that work for you.

Allen talks about “creating the option of doing”, which I loosely translate as: start doing things. Allen quotes one of the founding fathers of productivity, yep the frog swallower himself, Mark Twain:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Allen suggests selecting a task on your list, and asking yourself: what’s the next action I have to do to contribute to that task?

Super small next steps

Allen’s next action advice has been thoroughly researched by Stanford’s B J Fogg and turned into a practical Tiny Habits Programme. In short, Fogg recommends breaking down tasks into such tiny actions that doing them is easier than procrastinating. He uses the example of flossing teeth – start with just one tooth. Tiny indeed!

At Prolifiko (formerly Write Track) we’ve been working on a small steps system for writers. We developed a 5-day writing challenge which helped writers identify a goal and break it down into small steps that must be achieved by midnight the next day. We had hundreds of people sign up at New Year and have over a 60% completion rate.

Don’t diss the list

LinkedIn found that 63% of professionals use to do lists. Yet, despite their popularity, people rarely achieve what’s on their lists. Research by team progress tracker I Done This found that 41% of items on a list are NEVER completed.

However, lists can be super helpful if you think differently about their purpose. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff I need to do, I write long list of everything racing around my head. I use a version of morning pages each day to help me focus – you could try The Five Minute Journal and make like Titan Tim Ferriss.

It’s a similar idea to David Allen’s tickler file (just the name makes me happy). A tickler is a folder you keep on your desk and the moment you get a distracting thought about something else to do, you write it down immediately and file it. Then each week you go through to allocate a priority and time to complete. Job done.

From hairy to smart: got to get goals

There’s no point assembling a series of small steps and actions if you don’t know where they’ll take you. To head in the right direction, you need a goal.

Silicon Valley is in thrall to the moonshot –a catchier version of Jim Collins’ Big Hairy Audacious Goal, or BHAG for short (actually I’d rather not). It’s a goal so big it will inspire and direct your work for 10-20 years. Or intimidate the hell out of you.

More common is SMART goal setting, often used in workplace appraisals. It’s a handy system, and easy to remember:

  • Specific – the goal must be clear and with no ambiguity about what you want to achieve.
  • Measurable – it should be quantified so you can tell if it’s been accomplished.
  • Achievable – it must be realistic and attainable with your skills and available resources; you can stretch yourself but not too much.
  • Relevant – it must make sense in the wider context of what you are trying to achieve and be aligned with your purpose and values.
  • Time bound – this can take two forms, either giving yourself a target deadline date to complete or specifying a time when you should perform the task each day.

As games designer Jane McGonigal says: “Smart goals, or quests, ensure that every day you’re making a better life for yourself, right now, in the present moment. An epic win is in the future; a quest, or smart goal, is what you do today.”

Fundamentally that’s what productivity is all about. Being productive isn’t an end in itself; it’s the means to a better life, one where you have the time for activities that matter to you.

So, with that in mind, go forth, get things done, and spend your new found freedom on a side project, hobby, box set, volunteering, or with people and animals.

Bec Evans is a co-founder of Prolifiko a digital productivity coach which uses a research-backed productivity system to encourage writers to start and stick at their writing projects

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