25 things I’ve learned from 25 years in books…

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.

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Me and Horrid Henry before the TV and movie money changed him…

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!

And if you want to support our work on the podcast, we now have a Patreon. Do please support us and we can keep it going.

Till next time, happy writing,

Mark

 

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Why so many writers want to be in a band

Stephen King had the Rock Bottom Remainders with its roster of bestselling authors, Ken Follett still plays in Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues, and whenever I’ve had a Skype conversation with another writer there’s always a damn guitar in the background.

Writers wanna be rock stars*.

I had a great seat for a Squeeze** gig at the Royal Albert Hall the other night (courtesy of publicist and gentleman Mark McGinlay). I was so close to the stage I was able to offer some constructive criticism as they played…


I love watching bands play. Not necessarily the lead singer, but the rest of the group as they interact, keep the beat and, most crucially, stay in the moment.

You might think that writers want to be in a band for that sense of camaraderie, and, yes, there may be some truth in that. But they don’t want to join a band to meet people! Especially people they might be forced to share a tour bus with. Yikes. No. If they want to meet people they can invent their own and keep them on the page where they can torture them like the control freaks they truly are. Writers wants to be in a band for very a different reason.

Writers secretly envy musicians.

Musicians dare not do the thing that most writers do as habit: every thirty-seven seconds a writer will look up from their keyboard and stare out of the window while wondering if it’s time for another cup of tea and a chocolate hobnob.

Squeeze played for two hours straight, and the musicians closest to me — the drummer, percussionist and bassist — never missed a beat. They were relaxed, smiling at one another, having a great time, but they never once forgot that they were playing before over four thousand paying punters at the Albert Hall and any mistake would be laid bare to eight thousand eyes staring at them.

If only we writers could sustain our concentration for that long.

So, today, when you’re writing, make your hero Yolanda Charles, bass player. She was the musician playing closest to me and she never lost concentration once. She was always in the moment. She never even contemplated leaving the moment. She kept the moment in its place. And she knew that the moment was a living, breathing thing that had to be constantly fed or it would leap up and push her off the stage.

Happy writing – now get back to work… and concentrate!

Oh, and if you love rock and roll (with a light touch of time travel) I just wrote a novel that you might like.

And if you want to support our work on the podcast, we now have a Patreon. Do please support us and we can keep this crazy train rolling.

*Sportsmen want to be in bands too, but that’s because they’ve spent so much of their lives getting up at the crack of dawn to run/swim/drive in circles that they’re boring and don’t have any real friends and are looking for a sense of belonging… but that’s a rant for a future newsletter. 

**And if you don’t know who Squeeze are, you’re in for a treat: catchy songs with the most sublime lyrics that are able to summon up characters, places and tell stories in a way that many novelists struggle to evoke in ninety-thousand words. Listen and learn. The use of tenses in Up The Junction is a masterclass in how to break the rules and make it work…

 

 

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