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Comment from the book world in January 2023


'Self-publishing put the odds back in my favour'

18 December 2023

‘I looked at it as a numbers thing. There were hundreds, if not thousands of authors, submitting to the same agents every week. And although I was getting feedback that was positive, for me that didn't make logical sense because the odds were not in my favour...

Self-publishing put the odds back in my favour because it put it back in my control...

I've gone as far as I can go. I've got three series of police procedurals that are doing very well, but when you're an indie and you're advertising largely in the digital world, you're closing off an awful lot of other avenues where readers are. Now I just have to focus on the writing, which is - let's face it - the fun part.'

J M Dalgliesh, author and self-publisher of 22 police procedurals from The Misty Isle, Dark Yorkshire and Hidden Norfolk series, who has sold over 2m books and has now been taken on by a traditional publisher, in the Observer.



Books for teenagers

4 December 2023

'When I started writing in about 1990, publishers were very keen on the teenage market. They knew kids were spending money on music and that there were films for kids that age, but books somehow weren't quite happening. The fuss when Junk came out was because it really was a book for teenagers. If you're 14 or 15 or 16, of course you're thinking about sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, but there was a gap in what kids wanted to read and what was being produced for them; it was all right to pinch stuff surreptitiously from the adult world, but no adult was allowed to present it to you. That gap was one of the things Junk helped bridge. Before then, a book for teenagers would be more suitable for someone aged about 11. There's much more honesty now - books are tackling difficult issues in a realistic way.'

Melvin Burgess, author of YA classic Junk, Hunger and 12 other YA novels and a just-published adult novel, Loki.


'The freedom of self-publishing'

20 November 2023

‘My success, I believe, stems from a combination of factors. Firstly, the freedom of self-publishing allowed me to explore and cater to my niche without being constrained by traditional publishing expectations. This direct connexion to readers, without intermediaries, provided invaluable feedback, enabling me to refine and better my work. Secondly, being proactive in leveraging social media and other marketing tools has enabled me to build a strong reader community. Authenticity and a strong personal connection with my audience have been key.

Traditional publishers could learn the importance of agility and flexibility from my journey. In a rapidly changing market, quick decision-making, experimenting with new platforms and strategies, and listening directly to readers can provide a competitive edge. Moreover, the essence of personal branding and fostering a direct, genuine relationship with readers can often be more potent than large-scale marketing campaigns.'

L J Ross, author of 29 books, including 20 books in the J C Ryan series, 4 in the Dr Alex Gregory series and 4 in the Summer Suspense series, in the Bookseller.


'Everybody can write about everything'

6 November 2023

‘There's a kind of uncertainty among young writers about what they're allowed to write about. Not only for political reasons but also for social and cultural reasons.

And I worry about that because my view is that everybody can write about everything. If that's not true then the art of the novel ceases to exist. The question is whether they do it well or badly and to my mind that's the only question.

Otherwise, if we're in a world where only women can write about women and only people from India can write about people from India and only straight people can write about straight people... then that's the death of the art. The whole point about the novel is that you invent the world that is not and that includes inventing people who are not like yourself. If all you can do is invent people who are like yourself then that's nothing.'

Salman Rushdie, author of 20 books, including Midnight's children, The Satanic Verses, the Ground Beneath Her Feet and Quichotte, in The Times


'Quality will win out'

23 October 2023

‘The characters are also really key early on - you have to believe in them, they have to come to life on the page. You can fix plot holes - you're looking for that fundamental quality writing... I can't always control how people are published, but I can control the way that storytelling is delivered to readers. I think quality will win out...

There needs to be substance, I need to feel sympathy for my main character, and I have to be falling in love with their love interest through that character's eyes... I need to trust that all the historical information is right - but the research needs to feel effortless...

Be really clear on what your book is about so that whoever's reading it can quickly get a sense of whether it would be interesting to them. You can research agents online, you can read their websites, but it can still be difficult to know who exactly likes what, so there's still some guesswork involved. But if you're really, really clear about what your book is, it will let the agent know if they're going to be interested in your book, and whether they want to invest the time to read it. If you're not clear, that's going to be a dangerous area - agents are busy, they read an awful lot of material, and if they don't see something they like in there because it isn't clear what the book is, it won't be looked at with much attention. Be very clear in your cover letter about what the book's about, and why it's interesting...'

Kate Nash, founder of the Kate Nash Literary Agency, which represents commercial fiction, and winner of the Romantic Novelists' Association Agent of the Year Award in 2019 in Bookbrunch.


'A beautiful way to talk to children'

9 October 2023

‘When you read as a child you are hungry for ideas and for books and for stories like no other time in your life and I think we have such a duty not to offer the hungry anything that is thin, or vapid or fishy or complacent or poorly thought out or lazy or careless. I am very happy to belong to a community that rises to that call...

Speaking about her latest children's novel Impossible Creatures, where all the creatures from myth and legend live on an archipelago. ‘It is about these creatures, it is about a cornucopia of wonder and about the idea of what it would be like, if it was really real... Fantasy can be such a beautiful way to talk to children about the biggest question of what it means to be alive...'

The speech, which ended the conference, concluded on a rallying call to all those in the book industry who, Rundell believes, are ‘members of this great chorus, singing this song which has been sung since at least [Homer's] Odyssey... and each generation sings it down to the next. People who make books and produce books and sell books, review books and promote books, they take that song and they make it into a roar'.

Katherine Rundell, author of six children's novels, including Rooftoppers, which won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize in 2014, The Explorer, which won the Costa Children's Book Award and recently published Impossible Creatures, and two anthologies, at the Bookseller's Children's conference, in the Bookseller.



'The way to tackle writer's block...'

25 September 2023

‘The way to tackle writer's block is to not believe it exists. If you run out of steam on something, switch to something else and come back later. Also, I don't get writers block because I am not writing - I am just typing, thinking, pushing into something to see what's there.

I never sit down to produce a novel. I work a line or two, redraft endlessly, improvise. I spend a year or more in this creative state of uncertainty, and one day, I seem to know what I am doing. The book makes itself known to me. After this, my job is to shape it, and bring it to its best self.

Don't worry, there are slow weeks and slow months, there are days when I read my once-glowing pages and find them turned to ashes. It can be a reach. I regularly find myself in a sea of words that I have to rewrite and rearrange, so I can see where the hell I am going now. I don't call this ‘writer's block', I call it 'Monday morning.' It is the place where I live.'

Anne Enright, author of just-published The Wren, the Wren and seven other novels, including Actress, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, Forgotten and The Gathering, which won the Man booker Prize in 2002 in LitHub


'Cosy fantasy' - a new genre

11 September 2023

‘With the rise of a new genre, we've seen a lot of readers determined to label what qualifies as 'cosy fantasy'. Meanwhile, I'm out there writing dragon attacks that almost kill my main character, so... I really don't have a definition. This genre seems to be all about the vibes, and that's different for everyone. My goal when I write cosy is to focus on plots that wouldn't be 'exciting enough' if I were to write them in earnest: a satirical pirate romp, the chaos of a wedding, or just characters opening the shop of their dreams. But I love adding elements that wouldn't be cozy, and seeing if I can blend them. Basically, I think this is reader preference!

After the pandemic, I think most of us are craving low-stakes, low-risk stories. We want to see fantasy characters living out our cottage core dreams, focused around plots that wouldn't be nearly exciting enough for true fantasy. A quiet cup of tea and a sweet love story can remind us to sit calmly and be quiet with our thoughts, which is something I feel is very needed in this chaotic world.'

Rebecca Thorne, author of Can't Spell Treason Without Tea, A Pirate's Life for Tea, This Gilded Abyss and a children's book, The Secrets of Star Whales in Bookbrunch.


'An accidental short story writer'

28 August 2023

‘I think I'm a bit of an accidental short story writer. Most of my education took place in the US and my desire to write really crystallised while I was over there doing a BA. At the time I studied, the model I absorbed for a writing career was that you hone your craft learning the art of the short story and then you, effectively, graduate to writing novels...

What I like about short stories is that they offer infinite possibilities for play. Experimentation in a novel can get exhausting, but the brevity of the short form means you can attempt some zany things and not overstay your welcome in your readers' heads. That's kind of how they function for me: as playgrounds and laboratories to try things out, test ideas, discover answers I didn't expect, and explore.'

Malachi McIntosh, former editor of the magazine Wasafiri, whose first collection of stories, Parables, Fables, Nightmares is published by The Emma Press in September, in the Bookseller.

My story of getting published

14 August 2023

'Lots of people ask me for advice on getting published. All I can really offer however is what happened to me. I wrote my first novel while working full time as a journalist. The first draft took me about year to complete and while it was dreadful (it had characters changing name in the middle of a sentence and had plot holes you could drive an articulated lorry through) it was at the same time a complete novel, something I could work on, fix and improve, which is exactly what I did. I then gave it to friends to read, took on board their comments before packaging up the first three chapters and a synopsis and sending copies out to three literary agents whose names I'd obtained from the Writers and Artist Yearbook.

After a long wait I received a rejection followed by another rejection and then just as I was beginning to lose hope the third agent got back to me and informed me that she loved the book. We worked on the manuscript together for three months ironing out the creases before sending it to seven publishers on a gloomy Friday afternoon in October. By ten o'clock the following Monday morning we had two offers on the table and it went to a bidding war which was not as much fun as it sounds and made my head hurt a great deal...'

Mike Gayle, author of 17 novels, including My Legendary Girlfriend, Wish You were Here and All the Lonely People, on his website.

Crime is 'now the world's most popular genre'

31 July 2023

‘Some readers love to stay local, and there's nothing wrong with that. But for me, the real beauty of fiction is that you can travel to anywhere in the world, you can travel to different periods in history, and you can be immersed in these amazing environments, all from the safety of your armchair. Publishers have finally cottoned on to the fact that readers are very intelligent consumers - you can present them with different types of crime fiction, instead of second-guessing that they only want to read more of the same. There's a whole range of people who have written different types of crime fiction that the industry didn't realise there was a market for, but publishers have now realised that readers are buying these books, and there's profit to be made. It all boils down to: is there a business case for this? And readers have demonstrated that there is...

The statistics show us that it's now the world's most popular genre, and not just in print, but if you turn on the TV or streaming services, it's crime shows that seem to be the most popular. Although crime fiction was always popular, it's reached new heights in the last few years.
It is very democratised around the world. Before it was purely a Western thing, but now if you turn on Netflix India there's a whole range of crime shows that were previously unheard of in India - it was all Bollywood and soap operas, but now crime thrillers are doing really well in these kinds of countries. Korea is another big market for crime fiction. It has become a global enterprise.'

Vaseem Khan, Crime Writers Association chair and author of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series and the Malabar House books in Bookbrunch



'A real sense of jeopardy'

17 July 2023

‘I not only know the beginning, middle and end of the book, but I know the beginning, middle and end of each chapter...

I think it's important for my readers that there is a real sense of jeopardy for the characters. Sometimes when you read a particular genre, you get to know where things are going. But I feel it's really important that when readers meet the characters on the first page, they feel that "we can't take anything for granted here". Anything must feel possible, it's only when they get to the end of the book that they will know exactly where the story was going, and why...

Quite often I'll get emails and messages from people who have literally just that minute finished the book and are desperate to tell me how they feel about the emotions it has brought out in them. It is really lovely to have that immediacy.'

Mike Gayle, author of 17 books, including his first novel My Legendary Girlfriend, Wish You Were Here and just-published All the Lonely People, in the Bookseller