The Devil’s in the Debut: Guest Post by Nicola Morgan

I am very excited this Wednesday morning and it’s not just because December, my favorite month of the year, starts tomorrow, or because I’ve ingested a not insignificant amount of caffeine this morning. It’s because the wonderful Nicola Morgan, the woman behind the most useful writing blog on the web, Help! I Need a Publisher, and two books that should be added to every writer’s library, Write to be Published and Tweet Right: The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter, is here as part of her blog tour for her YA novel, Mondays are Red. She’s here to tell us why debut novels have to have that extra special something for the author to succeed, to break out. Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Nicola! 

Hello Catherine and thanks so much for letting me hang out on your esteemed blog today! I have brought coffee. 🙂

Since Mondays are Red was my debut, back in the dim and distant days of 2002 when I was young and unwrinkly, you’ve asked me to talk about debuts, and whether they have to be different from other novels.

Interesting question and one I wouldn’t have had a clue how to answer back then. I knew what I was doing, not what I was supposed to be doing! Since then, I’ve learnt a lot, not just about writing but about the industry and what agents and publishers need. And it boils down to selling. (And preferably, as far as most publishers are concerned, easy selling. Gah.)

So, a debut needs to stand out. It needs to mark the writer as “one to watch” because that writer has got to produce other books. It needs to showcase the writer’s skill and imagination – or whatever it is that this writer shines at. You have to wear a sparkly dress and really high heels.

Interesting Point 1: This is all new. Not so long ago, a writer was allowed to build a career – Ian Rankin and Jacqueline Wilson are examples of writers whose huge success came with later books. Writers now are not allowed that luxury: you have to leap onto the world with a big shout. If you haven’t made your mark with book two, that may be it. Marketing budgets suddenly vanish.

On the other hand, if you’re writing to fit into a clear genre with specific demands, the debut does not need to stand out, just to fit in. So, I guess what I’m saying is that your debut needs to be extreme: either extremely noticeable or extremely fitting in.

So, what elements in a novel give it debut quality? An unusual voice, an unusual anything, a shocking or otherwise remarkable theme, a high concept premise. That’s about it. Basically, a good debut has sit-up-and-take-notice factor.

Mondays are Red was my debut and it worked very well as one – though, as I say, I didn’t know that at the time. My second novel, Fleshmarket, would also have worked. Deathwatch wouldn’t. Wasted would. The one I’m writing now, Brutal Eyes, wouldn’t. The two novels I failed to get published before Mondays are Red were not debut material. I know that now. They were too safe. They weren’t original enough, though I thought they were. The plots were criticised as being traditional. But they also weren’t genre fiction so they would not fit there either.

Interesting Point 2: Not all first books are debuts. I’d had at least umpteen books published before Mondays are Red – home learning books, for example, and a Greek history book. I didn’t call them debuts because they weren’t. They were preparation.

Interesting Point 3: You might need to write another debut one day. I’m trying to write one now. When you move publishers or you want to take a new trajectory, be noticed again and perhaps for different reasons, you may have to write another book which will have the same sit-up-and-notice-me factor as a debut. You just don’t call it a debut. That would be weird; people would look at you and not in a good way.

So, remember: not all first books are debuts and not all debuts are first books. But a debut needs to pack a special punch.  It needs a special debutness about it. And an agent will know it when she sees it. That’s what they mean when they say (infuriatingly) that they “didn’t love it enough.” Gah. The devil’s in the debut.

Btw, I’m talking about Debut Ups and Downs on The View From My Garrett on 2nd Dec – and I’ll even mention the removal of clothes…

Thanks Nicola!

Mondays are Red was Nicola Morgan’s debut YA novel, published in 2002. Nicola is now delighted to be producing the ebook, with brand new extra material, including creative writing by school pupils inspired by the book. For details about how to buy (price c.£2.25 until the end of January), see here.

Mondays are Red is the story of Luke who, having awoken from a coma, discovers that his world is altered. Synaesthesia confuses his senses and a sinister creature called Dreeg inhabits his mind. Dreeg offers him limitless power – even the power to fly – and the temptations are huge, but the price is high. Who will pay? His mysteriously perfect girlfriend, with hair as long as the sound of honey? His detested sister, Laura, with the wasps in her hair? When Laura goes missing, Luke realizes the terrible truth about himself and his power. His decision is a matter of life and death, and he will have to run faster than fire.

2011 Replay: 6 Ways to Survive Bad Reviews

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. This post was first posted last January, just after a SEETHING review of one of my books and when Oprah was still on air…

Once upon a time I used to think that the worst thing about Being a Writer was the writing itself. Don’t get me wrong: I love having written and I love making up stories and I love writing funny dialogue that (shamefully) makes me chuckle as I type it up, but I don’t much like the actual writing bit, which can be really hard sometimes and gives you headaches and breeds guilt and gets in the way of mindless TV watching. When it’s going well it’s the most amazing feeling in the world ever, but when it’s going bad you wish that your biggest dream was something a bit more doable, like to fly in a plane or find a toy inside of a Kinder egg.

But anyway. I digress. My new worst thing about Being a Writer is reading bad reviews.

Now I’ve been very lucky not to have had too many bad reviews. I’m hoping this is not because the people who hate the book couldn’t be bothered to review it, or because they are discussing what a wretch I am on Disney fan message boards I can’t access because I’m not a member. And to clarify: a bad review is not a review where the reader didn’t like, wasn’t impressed by or is ultimately ambivalent about the book you spent a year of your life writing. Those are just normal; we don’t all like the same things. A bad review is a baaaad review – one where the reader is so annoyed by the sheer audacity of you committing words to paper that you can practically hear them spitting blood as you read their opinion.

Yes, I am normally dressed in evening wear and wearing (what was) a full face of make-up when crying over bad reviews. Who isn’t?

What does it feel like to read a bad review of a book you’ve written? Ooooh, it’s really not nice. The closest universal experience I can compare it to is when you’re like 19 and you really, really, really fancy someone and you think, after a protracted flirtation or other signs, that they like you too and then out of the blue and without any warning at all, they show up with their girlfriend. And she’s pretty. And thin. And they’re all over each other right next to you and you have to carry on as if nothing is amiss at all, that you’re fine, when really you just want to run home and cry. It’s that sudden-stomach-dropping feeling, that I’m-about-be-sick-feeling, that blood-rushing-in-my-ears-drowning-out-all-other-sounds feeling – or, sometimes, all three rolled into one.

And people are nice. You are nice. And you tell me to not pay any attention and that you liked my book and that the reviewer doesn’t know what she’s talking about and has she written a book? and look at all my good reviews and all this and I really, really appreciate it, really I do, but in that moment of discovering a bad review, it doesn’t matter. You could have just won the Booker Prize (I imagine) and yet you’d still feel like upchucking your Weetabix.

How can this horrible feeling be avoided?

  1. Write a book that everyone will love and/or avoid reading your reviews. Although I have yet to encounter a writer who has managed to do either; if you know of one, do let me know.
  2. Print out or photocopy a review of your book that you really like from a source you explicitly trust and/or one whom you recall has raved about books you’ve loved and been blasĂ© about the same books you’ve given up on. Stick it somewhere prominent, or in multiple somewheres prominent. Maybe even put an emergency copy in your wallet. Force yourself to read it immediately after the encounter of a bad review.
  3. Look up a book you adored on Amazon and read its reviews. This is always a good one, if only because the reasons people come up with to dislike books never cease to amaze me, not to mention the imaginative insults they heap on it afterwards. (Yesterday best-selling author Jill Mansell tweeted about a reviewer who left one of her books on the train because she “couldn’t bear to have such rubbish in the house”. ??!!! etc. etc.) Remind yourself that you loved this book and yet BigReader874124 thought it was “not good enough to wipe my ass with in a no-toilet paper emergency – I’d rather use my hand.” You can’t please everyone. (And why would you want to?)
  4. Look up the reviewer’s other reviews. On Amazon especially, this can be a very soothing exercise. Maybe they gave Freedom one star because it didn’t have any pictures, or maybe they slated Little Women for false advertising once they discovered it wasn’t actually about vertically-challenged females. (Thanks Rebecca!) Or maybe they thought Never Let Me Go, one of your favorite books of all time ever ever, was not good enough to wipe their asses with in a no-toilet paper emergency.
  5. Write a response. Bad reviews tend to linger with us because we are passionately arguing with them in our heads. I didn’t mean it literally! You took that out of context! I really did do that! You obviously don’t understand what I was getting at! Did you even read the blurb? Did you even read the book?! So put a stop to this by sitting down and typing out a response. You can always delete it or dump it or print it out and set fire to it afterwards. Or, you know, comment on the review on Amazon. (Although if you’re going to do this, wait a few days. Cool off. And be sober.) The fan blowing the shit is multi-directional, you know.
  6. If all else fails, get drunk and ask anyone who’ll listen, ‘Did she write a book? No. I didn’t think so.”

On a more serious note, I watched an interview with The Daily Show host Jon Stewart on Oprah last week (one Big O Disciple, right here!), and he said something really interesting. Oprah asked him what he thought of his rock star status among certain groups – East Coast college students being the prime suspect – and (I’m paraphrasing of course but) he said that he thinks there are people who like him too much and people who hate him too much, and that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

I think this is the perfect way to look at reviews. I’ve had some reviews so gushing I wonder if I bribed them and then forgot that I had, and some so bad I feel like entering the Witness Protection Program is the only way to recover from them. But I think the truth of how good (or bad!) my book actually lies somewhere in the middle, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

And I must remind myself of the alternative: having written no book – good or bad – at all.

(If you’re going to leave a comment, please don’t mention my book. I’m not fishing for compliments or looking to be cheered up – my Twitter stream did that for me on Saturday night, when I shared The Most Horrendous Review That Anyone Possibly Has Had in the History of the World. But do feel free to share your thoughts on Amazon reviews. Do you read them? Do you rate them? Do you pay any attention to them? How do they affect your book buying, if they do? And if you’re a writer, what’s the best rubbish one you’ve got?)

A Case of the Mondays

This is my fifth or sixth attempt at writing a blog post for this morning. My draft post list has no fewer than 70 items on it and there’s four or five I could easily finish and polish to a publishable standard in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Friends, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I also tried writing one from scratch, but that didn’t work out either. I just don’t feel like blogging today.

I have a case of the Blogging Blahs.

I think I know why, too: because writing The New Novel has been going well, and I don’t want to write anything else but it. Low coffee stocks may also be contributing to the problem. So for this morning I’m just going to point you in the direction of some other bloggers’ blogs, and hope to distract you with them until tomorrow…

Shannon Young has a great blog called A Kindle in Hong Kong, where she reviews books that her Kindle and her commute now give her the time to read. She recently reviewed Results Not Typical, saying that it’s a “fun novel with surprisingly complex characters” and that my writing style is like this blog, “chatty, entertaining and unapologetic”. You can read the whole review here and find Results on Amazon for just 99c. Shannon also recently reviewed The Night Circus which has been getting great reviews everywhere it goes, it seems, and I bought it at the weekend so I can’t wait to get stuck in.

You may have noticed that my posts have a new button below them, one that says ‘Flattr This!’ Flattr is a “social micropayments” service that lets you tip bloggers whose work you find interesting, useful or just plain entertaining, and does it in a way that both serves a greater good and avoids the awkwardness of a tip jar. Claire King introduced me to it, and her blog post explains it well. Pop over for a read and then install your own Flattr button so I have more blogs to add to my Flattr list!

Finally, if you’re trying to get your e-book out there before the Christmas-Induced-New-Kindle-Owners Rush, you may be looking for a cover designer. Andrew Brown of Design for Writers, who has done all of my covers, is offering 25% off cover and website design for Cyber Monday. E-mail quoting the discount code QUOTEME for details. If you’re not ready to go yet, follow Andrew on Twitter for news of future offers.

I’m off coffee-shopping. Laters!

Something Nice

It’s Monday, and depending on what time of the day you get around to reading this, I’m either:

  • On the Promenade d’Anglais, trying to be more happy that I’m just about still in Nice than I am depressed about having to go home to rainy, grey and cold Ireland in a matter of hours. A grand cafe creme is undoubtedly involved.
  • Somewhere in the skies between Nice and Dublin, drinking a €3.50 cup of instant coffee in a cramped seat.
  • In a bus somewhere between Dublin and Cork, feeling the last positive feelings brought on by six weeks on the Cote D’Azur slipping slowly away…

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I’ve spent the last month and a bit in Nice, France, renting a holiday apartment and working on writing stuff. (Just like F. Scott Fitzgerald did once upon a time, but unfortunately I couldn’t afford L’Hotel Beau Rivage.) It was a great idea, if I do say so myself. It’s the off-season, so the apartment was reasonably cheap, and as I can easily get through the day on a couple of coffees at made-for-people-watching cafes and some yummy things from one of the five bakeries within five minutes walk of the apartment, and since museums and parks here—not to mention my favorite past time, reading on the beach—are all free, I didn’t quite have to become the starving artist.

(Although I could’ve done with it…)

This week will be mostly spent trying to transfer my writing routine back to my little room, with people around all the time and the OVERWHELMING TEMPTATION of Sky Plus. My sister looked after it for me while I was away, so I have around 36 hours of TV to catch up on. At least. I may have to skip some sleep…

(And don’t worry: I told her to stop recording The X-Factor ages ago. I was following your tweets, so I figured out it was in TV toilet.)

Therefore this blog will be quiet for a few days, but normal service will resume next Monday. If you want some sunshine this Monday morning, check out my jealous-making photos above.

From Roz Morris: I Self-Published – Should You Too?

How are you all this fine Sunday? I’m packing things up here in sunny France, and trying not to be COMPLETELY depressed that I have to go home to gloomy Ireland in the morning.

I’m also popping in here to insist that you drop what you’re doing and stop by Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel blog, where she has posted I self-published – should you too?. I agree 100% with her points, although she’s said it better than I could ever have. You need to read it, and you need to listen. And if you disagree, ask yourself why you do. Because you shouldn’t, and you might be in trouble if you do.

My favourite line:

Indie publishing isn’t for people who couldn’t get published or represented. It’s for people who could.

Yes, yes, YES! Can we get some badges or something with that printed on it, please?

And Roz, just so you know, I’m totally stealing that for my Faber Academy self-publishing day. I’ll credit you though—I promise!

When Blurbs Go Bad: THE DROP by Michael Connelly

An anonymous copywriter has ruined one of my favorite days of the year.

(Oh, the DRAMA!)

Once a year, a new Michael Connelly novel comes out. Once a year, I buy the new Michael Connelly novel on the day it comes out or pre-order it online, go straight home and read it all in one sitting. It’s like a ritual. I can’t “spare” it or string it out; I have to read it immediately and I can’t stop once I’ve started. And I love doing this.

This year was especially kind to me because Connelly released two novels, the second being The Drop which was out last week in the UK and Ireland, and which had me counting down the days until I fly home and so could buy it. Imagine my unadulterated joy when I wandered into an English bookshop here in sunny France on Friday, and found a single copy of The Drop. €4 more expensive than it would have been at home and inexplicably wrapped neatly in plastic, but anyway. It would do nicely. Needless to say I sacrificed an afternoon’s coffee-drinking in the sun and skipped writing my own novel’s 2,000 words (bad girl), and came straight back to the apartment to read it.

And it was great, as Connelly always is. But the more I read, the more I realized that the blurb text on the back was essentially giving away a large part of the book’s ending. There were two spoilers, one medium, one large, right on the back of the book.

How could this possibly have happened? How could no one have noticed? How could the person who wrote it in the first place not realize what they’d done? And so, because I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to examples of what not to do with your book—self-published or traditionally published, it doesn’t matter—I shall now share with you my thoughts [read: vent my anger] about how badly this book was packaged. You can file it away under “What Not To Do” and my blood pressure will return to normal—we’ll all be winners.

Note: if you haven’t read The Drop yet and are planning to, don’t read this post OR the book’s blurb.

I don’t normally buy UK editions of Connelly’s novels. When I moved to Florida in 2006 I started buying the nicer US hardbacks, and I preferred them to what I call “fake hardbacks” which is what Ireland gets. (I don’t know what the technical term is for them, but they’re hardback-sized but with a soft cover, as in the picture below. Ireland tends to get stuck with these even if the very same book is in real hardback across the Irish Sea in the UK. I don’t get why.) Since, as regular readers will know, my books have to match, I’ve been buying Connelly’s US hardbacks from The Book Depository ever since, where you can pick whatever edition you want and get it shipped to you for free. (Or accidentally order a large print edition. But that was really my fault and at least its cover still matched.) So this is my first experience in a while with a UK edition of a Connelly novel and I’ll be going straight back to my US hardbacks, begging them to forgive my France-induced disloyalty.

I’m going to refrain from bitching about the cover image, which is a window almost completely covered with blinds. It has nothing to do with the book and could apply to virtually any novel in which any scene takes place in a building of any sort, but we’ll let it go. It is purple and I do like me some of that.

The laughs start on the front cover, with the tagline: “Harry Bosch is a cop on the edge.” Um… he’s what now? On the edge? Well, no. He isn’t. Not at all. Bosch is Bosch in this book like he’s Bosch in every other book, except getting older and closer to retirement, and since I’ve been reading about him now for going on eleven years and am slightly and perhaps somewhat inappropriately in love with him, I feel I can say this with some authority. Bosch has been on the edge at times—like in Nine Dragons, when his own family was in danger—but he wasn’t in this. Not at all. I actually thought he was going a little soft, chatting up ladies and eating tacos and what not.

I’m sure Connelly himself would agree with my disagreement, considering that on page 303, Bosch, discussing his handling of the investigation with his daughter, muses, “I might be losing the edge you need to do this.”

Yep. He actually says that. In the book. The book with “Harry Bosch is a cop on the edge” on the cover.


Um, yeah. Bosch isn’t a cop on the edge or anywhere near it, and that line was written by someone who obviously hadn’t as much as glanced in the direction of the book. But let’s leave them off on that one too. After all, does that line matter? Hardly, considering the fact that if it said “Harry Bosch is a cop buying toilet paper at Tescos”, I’d still read it.

The blurb is where the real damage was done. This is its first three paragraphs:

In the Open-Unsolved Unit, where detective Harry Bosch is investigating cases going back fifty years, what you pray for is a cold hit—when new technology matches old DNA evidence to someone who thought they’d gotten away with murder. For Harry, the thrill of that knock on the door, when justice finally catches up with a killer, is what he lives for.

But when a lab result links the brutal rape-murder of a teenage girl in 1989 to convicted rapist Clayton Pell, it’s anything but the slam-dunk it seems. Pell’s DNA was found on the victim—but, impossibly, he was only eight years old at the time. Harry needs to solve the mystery fast—or the validity of DNA evidence in dozens of cases could be challenged.

Then suddenly Harry’s got another mystery on his hands—and this one has danger written all over it. A man jumped—or was pushed—from a window at the Chateau Marmont. So far so simple—except that the victim’s father is Councilman Irvin Irving, a man who’s been intent on destroying Harry’s career for years. And now Irving is insisting that Harry head up the investigation.

So, so far so good. This is all very intriguing and all the events described take place within the first two or three chapters.

But then there’s this:

As the two cases circle round each other like complex strands of DNA, Harry begins to uncover two of the city’s deepest secrets: a killer operating for as many as three decades without being detected, and a political conspiracy that goes back into the dark history of the police department.

First of all, the two cases don’t circle round each other like anything. The only link is that Harry is investigating them both and they are so not intertwined that at one point I found myself thinking, Hmm. We haven’t heard about the other case in a while. I wonder when we’ll get back to it?  That’s strike one.

Second of all, this blurb needs to end at “secrets”. Because do you know when the reader finds out in the book what the blurb happily reveals after that word? Well by my estimation, the reader discovers the political conspiracy around page 174, or between chapters 18 and 19. The book is 388 pages over 42 chapters, so that’s nearly half-way into the book. Half a book’s worth of a fun guessing game, annihilated. By the back cover copy.

But it gets OH SO MUCH worse.

When does the reader find out that Harry has discovered a serial killer operating for as many as three decades without being detected? On page 333. Chapter 36. Or, in a 388-page, 42-chapter book, ALMOST RIGHT AT THE END. There is a character Harry’s looking for throughout the book, but his whereabouts and activities since he was last heard from are unknown. They are only discovered by the reader when Harry discovers him. Unless you read the back cover first, of course.

Moreover, this is not a book about a serial killer which the blurb kind of leads you to believe. It’s really about the other story, the political conspiracy. The serial killer thing is a B-story culminating in a nice set piece at the very end which makes the blurb even more wrong.

I don’t know who is responsible for writing the text that appears on the jacket of The Drop. Maybe it’s a copywriter who was given a one-page synopsis and told to get to it. Maybe it’s someone else. Maybe the writer even had input (although if he did and is responsible for this, that basically shatters my entire world view. I may need to seek the assistance of a mental health professional). So I don’t know whose forehead to paint “MORON” on, but they must be connected to Orion, the publishers, who are part of Hachette. They must be professionals. The blurb has similar problems on the US edition, so maybe it’s the US publishers fault. Whoever it is that’s at fault, I want them to know that:

  • This is disgracefully stupid
  • You spoiled the book for me.

Thank you dear blog readers for letting me vent. Perhaps now I can move on with my life.

And to the Steve Jobs biography.

Here’s hoping I never have any actual problems, eh?

Shooting for the Moon (Or: Don’t Just Listen to Me)


So you have a book, and you want to be a bestselling author. Traditional publishing doesn’t seem like it’s going to help you do that anytime soon, so you decide to self-publish. What next?

You probably start by scouring the “community” pages of CreateSpace and Amazon KDP, or trawling through the dizzying array of online forums dedicated to sticking it to the evil gatekeepers by going indie. [Eye roll] Or maybe you sign up for Google Reader and add every self-publishing blog, dedicated or mildly related, to your morning online reading routine. Perhaps you download every “How To” self-publishing guide to your Kindle, even those by people who have never self-published (yes, they do exist for some reason) and read them repeatedly while taking comprehensive notes.

And that’s all good. That’s what you should do – if you want to know how to self-publish. Listen to us about all that. We’ve done it already; we can tell you everything you need to know and we can tell you it in the order you need to know it. We can advise against making mistakes we’ve either committed or witnessed, and we can make recommendations that might improve your chances of producing a good-looking book with wide appeal. We can share tips and ideas. We can pass on what we’ve learned in our research, to save you the bother.

For all this, yes, you should look to self-publishers.

But if you want to sell millions of books – or even just a lot of them – should you really look to the self-publishing world, where only a handful of writers have achieved that kind of success, and have only achieved it very recently? Radical idea alert: wouldn’t you be better off using the world of traditional publishing as a basis for your research into how to sell books, seeing as that’s where all the world’s bestselling authors come from, and where they’ve been coming from – exclusively – for years and years, until this whole digital publishing revolution came around like, last week?

By all means, come to me and other self-publishers for information, yes. How to self-publish, where to self-publish, what price to put on your book, etc. etc. But for inspiration, forget about us (for the most part, anyway) and instead, look to the world’s bestselling authors – who have all been traditionally published*.

(More on that asterisk in a minute.)

That’s where I look. Pick a few of your favorite authors and commence a (legal) cyber-stalking operation. Ask yourself: what do their websites look like? What’s on their covers? What do they do to sell their books? How do they interact with their fans? Obviously you won’t be able to copy them exactly, but you can definitely find takeaways that you can adapt and modify to use in your own book-selling endeavors.

Here’s a few great ideas I’ve picked up from traditionally-published authors that I’ve either used already or stored away in the filing cabinet in my brain for later use. Feel free to steal them from me (or them, rather).

Siegrid reading Mousetrapped in the sun, in Venice, Florida

1. Michael Connelly’s Photo Submission/Review Contest

Michael Connelly is my favorite author and I am glued to his website and Facebook page for updates. (The only good thing about having to leave this lovely place and fly home soon is that they might have his latest release, The Drop, in English at the airport.) A few books ago – it may have been The Brass Verdict – his webmaster asked readers to send in photos of themselves reading his book. If you did, you got your picture on his website under a section called “Look Who’s Reading [BOOK TITLE]” and if you were one of the first 1,000 people to do it, you got sent an exclusive little book about how he created his two main characters, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, that wasn’t available to buy. When Mousetrapped came out, I invited readers to do the same thing with “Look Who’s Reading Mousetrapped“. I didn’t reward them with anything (duh; I’m not that nice), but I did get some great content to add to my Facebook page.

2. Karin Slaughter’s Newsletter

You may know Karin Slaughter as the author of gripping and occasionally gory thrillers like Faithless, Fallen and Broken, but did you know she has the funniest newsletter around? You know how it is: you find a new author you like, you sign up for their newsletter because you think you’re going to want to hear from them, but then whenever it lands in your inbox you yawn and click Delete. Well, trust me when I say you won’t be doing this with Slaughter’s. They. Are. HILARIOUS. And she writes them in plain text! They don’t even have any bells, whistles or fancy HTML. Click here to see how she makes news of her latest book release one of the most entertaining things you read that day. Then sign-up to it so you can learn how it should be done. For more giggles from a lady who writes about murder for a living (are you secretly writing comedy on the side, Ms. Slaughter? Because if you’re not…) watch her “Coke Roast” video.

Yes, a Coke roast. I doubt the caffeine survives the oven bit. Otherwise I’d totally be on that already, needless to say.

3. Keris Stainton’s and Alison Pick’s Blog Tours

I hate to remind you of a traumatic event that you’ve probably only just managed to put behind you, but do you remember that interminable blog tour I embarked on a few weeks back to mark the release of Results Not Typical? Well, guess what ladies and gents: I totally stole that idea from other bloggers before me. I know, I know – you thought I was the first blog tour ever, right? Sadly, no. The first I heard of a blog tour was from Keris Stainton, who had one to mark the release of her book Della Says, back in my earliest days in the blogosphere. (And she kindly told me about it in this post.) She was super organized, sending us all not only our guest post but the details of the people before and after us so we could all link up like a crazy blog chain. So of course, I totally stole all her ideas.

(L) The blog tour graphic that gave me the idea to make (R) my own blog tour graphic 

There was one blog tour idea I stole from someone else though. A while back I hosted Alison Pick, although of the Booker Prize longlisted (and amazing read), Far To Go, on her blog tour, and her publicist sent me a snazzy little graphic to put in my sidebar. Snazzy little graphic? I thought to myself when it came time to organize my own blog hopping extravaganza. Why, I think I will!

4. Miranda Dickinson Video Blogs

Miranda Dickinson is the author of bestsellers Fairytale of New York and Welcome to My World. This year, in the lead up to the publication of her third novel, It Started With a Kiss, she kept a video blog/diary of the entire process: from writing the first draft of the book right through to publication, launch, etc. We’re all fascinated with how other writers write, so to see a successful author at work is incentive enough to watch these videos, but you also can’t help but keep tuning in to see what excitement is coming up next. (And of course, you ultimately want to buy the book whose birth you witnessed too.) Find out more and watch an episode here.

While stopping by Miranda’s blog to get that link, I saw that her e-book edition of It Started With a Kiss contains “bonus features” like deleted scenes and commentary! Intriguing. Perhaps I should go steal that idea too…

5. Ali McNamara’s Breakfast With Ali

Ali McNamara is the author of From Notting Hill… With Love Actually and she (or someone clever she knows) has had a great idea to help publicize her new book, Breakfast at Darcy’s. “Breakfast with Ali” is a challenge: Ali must eat something different for breakfast every day for 30 days – and blog about it, of course. So far she has enjoyed such delights as Starbucks, soldiers (the toast kind), waffles, pastries (mmm… pastries) and the obligatory fry-up. Although I have no idea how she’s going to do it for 30 days without a repeat (good luck, Ali!) I think it’s great fun and something different. Plus, it’s the kind of thing a self-publisher could easily replicate. Find out what Ali had this morning on her blog.

Why should you be paying more attention to traditionally published authors than your self-published peers? Because you know that saying, “Shoot for the moon – even if you fail, you’ll land amongst the stars?” Well, if you shoot for the stars and you fail, won’t you end up in the treetops?

So don’t just listen to me. Do listen to me — um, obviously — but don’t listen to me alone. Branch out into the blogs, tweets and webmasters of the traditionally published author world, and see what’s going on there too.

*And So About That Asterisk

Self-publishing is obsessed with numbers, mainly because that’s the only real measurement we have of success. If you get published, you can pat yourself on the back and say, “A real, live editor said I—I mean, my book, was good enough!” You start off with success. But a self-publisher can’t pride themselves on writing a good book or publishing it well, or managing not to put a quote from their mother on the cover, because it doesn’t matter a damn what you did until someone buys a copy. So we focus on numbers instead.

That’s fine — I do it myself — but while we’ve all been comparing ourselves to each other, I think we might have lost our perspective. Here’s three numbers: (i) 10,300, (ii) 1,000,000 (iii) 43,000,000.

(Well technically that’s six numbers, isn’t it?)

The first is how many self-published books I’ve sold to date: about 10,300 since March 2010.

The second is how many self-published e-books John Locke had sold a few months back when he became the first self-published author to sell —yes, you’ve guessed it— a million Kindle books. He’s probably sold that amount again since.

But do you know what the last number is? It’s the number of books Michael Connelly has sold. Michael Connelly, a traditionally published author.

When I read that a couple of days ago, it actually took me aback. There was very nearly a choking incident involving a pain au chocolat.

Forty-three MILLION books. Let the mind-boggling commence.

I felt like I’d had my head in the self-publishing sand and had forgotten what internationally bestselling author really means. Because it doesn’t mean the number of books that even the most uber-successful self-published e-book author has sold. It doesn’t even really mean all the uber-successful self-published e-book authors’ sales combined, although I’m sure they’d go a significant way towards it. It means forty-three million books and two movie-adaptations, one amazing (The Lincoln Lawyer) and one that made me want to injure the elderly gentleman who starred in and directed it, even though he wasn’t at all suitable for the role — was, in fact, about twenty years too old for it — and he changed a key plot point that left the story irreparably damaged, and so ruined the big screen debut of one of the first Connelly novels I read (Blood Work).

(Clint Eastwood, I’m looking at YOU.)

Now, don’t go and start shouting at me about this. It’s the weekend, and I’m still recovering from almost being attacked by a camera-shy peacock yesterday. (True story. Although it was a big almost.) I’m just saying that while yes, self-publishing is the knees of a bee — it’s given millions of authors new options and it keeps me in lattes — let’s just stop and remember for a second that we have a little bit of a way to go before we can really start talking revolution. I think some of us [looks pointedly at some people in particular] could do with such a reminder.

Click here to see a chronological list of all my “SELF-PRINTING” category posts.