December 1992: Charles and Di announced their separation, the NET book agreement was still in place, Amazon was still just a river to most people, and a fresh-faced bookseller started a temporary Christmas placement at Waterstones in Dorking.
I’ve been selling books for 25 years (I only meant to stay for Christmas!) and I thought I could share a few of the things I’ve learned on the way, though I suspect the final tip is the only one of true practical use…
25 things I’ve learned from 25 years in books:
1. Be professional and courteous to everyone you meet and work with. It’s a small industry.
2. Amazon is all about the customer. Keep that in mind with every dealing you have with them.
3. Formats may change, genres will wax and wane, but people will always want good stories.
4. Never confuse ubiquity with popularity. I can’t tell you how many celeb biogs I’ve seen crash and burn just because publishers thought that being on the telly meant that people liked them.
5. Meeting your heroes can be awkward, but you’ll be fine if you keep it short and sweet. Don’t expect them to be your best friend and invite you on holiday. And remember that they have good days and bad days like everyone else.
6. Authors who have a clear idea of what kind of career they want tend to last longer.
7. Series characters that move with the times stay the course: Rebus, Noddy, Batman.
8. The best editors combine passion and integrity, but aren’t afraid to make a few quid.
9. A big advance can be a curse and a blessing. If you don’t earn out, you’re screwed.
10. Authors can’t sit back and leave it all to the publisher and agent. The successful ones get out there and make it happen.
11. Never respond to bad reviews. Just enjoy the good ones and screw the haters.
12. Never badmouth another author. We’re all in this together and we don’t need to be flinging shit at each other.
13. And be pleased for their successes. Bitterness helps no one.
14. Never stop learning. There have been more changes in this industry in the last ten years since the invention of the printing press.
15. Survival is one part cynicism, two parts optimism.
16. Be loyal to people, not companies.
17. Always make time for a proper lunch break.
18. Write for yourself. Not the market. Trends come and go. You’ll always be you.
19. Changing an author’s name or adding an initial rarely makes any difference to sales. The reading public only care if it’s a good book.
20. Don’t believe your own publicity. Publishing, like any creative medium, is great at creating monsters, and it always happens when the writer starts to believe it when people tell them they’re a genius.
21. Success is not a bestseller, it’s writing what you love… though the money would be nice.
22. Of course people judge a book by its cover. And its title. And its review average on Amazon.
23. Tenacity is everything: keep writing and you can only improve.
24. Balance modesty and confidence and don’t get cocky.
25. And finally, and this is really important, when confronted with a multi-storey car park, always park on the roof. You’ll never forget where you parked (five years on the road as a rep!).
Happy writing and have a splendid Christmas! Oh, and if you’re looking for something to read in the bleak midwinter then Back to Reality will brighten your day!
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Till next time, happy writing,
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