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How To Do Goodreads Giveaways (And Why You Should)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2 (two weeks from today!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this postThursday is for replaying an old post and today I’m replaying this update on Goodreads giveaways from almost exactly a year ago – it was first published on 15 January 2016. But – surprise! – I’ve added a new ranty bit for January 2017. 

Back in August 2014, I blogged about Goodreads giveaways and what I thought was best practice for authors interested in using them as a means of promoting their books [Goodreads Giveaways: Don’t Do What You’re Told]. Since then, Goodreads has made a number of significant changes to their giveaways and so it’s high time for an update…

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WHY BOTHER?

Let’s get one thing out of the way first and fast. Every time I blog or tweet or talk about this – or any other book promotion idea – there is the inevitable, ‘But does it WORK? I haven’t seen any evidence and until I do, I’m not going to bother.’

That’s nice, but repeat after me: with very few exceptions, there are no guarantees when it comes to publicity. There. Are. No. Guarantees. Publicists, self-publishers and the sales and marketing departments of major publishing houses can execute identical PR campaigns for two different books, only for one to become a bestseller and one to disappear without leaving a trace. This is just how it goes – and it’s not confined to the book world. Any time you have a consumer product and a buying public you’re trying to flog it to (movies, new flavors of Coke, apps) you are faced with this conundrum. With the exception of using things that come with a built-in traceable clicks-into-action component, asking ‘But does it work?’ is akin to demanding to know ‘How long is a piece of string?’ We can’t answer it. At best, we can say Books that did well did this, so possibly it works, but we don’t know if it was this specifically that was responsible for the book’s success. 

Where to then for your book promotion plans, if we don’t know for sure what works and there are no guarantees? We must turn to common sense and evaluate if, on balance, it is worth doing a particular thing.

If I were to write three laws of book promotion, the first would be to not annoy anyone with your promotional efforts. The second would be to aim, above all else, to inform people that your book exists who didn’t know it existed before, and do it without breaking the first law. I’m still working on the third one, but it’ll probably involve cupcake-related bribery. I’ll let you know.

In recent years some big players in the publishing industry started to move away from putting ‘spend’ behind things like Tube station ads. The thinking was that although thousands of eyeballs would connect with these ads every day – thus satisfying both the first and second laws – there was no way to know who those eyeballs belonged to. Were the eyeball-owners part of the target demographic for the book? Were they even readers? There was no way to tell. And since Tube ads cost a small fortune, it seemed too big a risk to just throw them up there and hope for the best.

Compare this to running a Goodreads giveaway for your book. Potentially thousands of eyeballs will land on your book’s cover, but you know for a fact that these people are avid readers. Better yet, you know that the majority of them share what they read online, because they’re members of a social network built around books, where users track what they read, share their recommendations with other users and leave reviews. How many of them you can reach is not dependent on how many Twitter followers or Facebook fans you have, and you have exactly the same opportunity to reach the site’s users as the major publishing houses who also use the site. The cost of this to you is some time, a few copies of your book and the cost of packaging them and shipping them to the winners’ addresses. What other deal in book promotion land is as good?

So, clearly, I think Goodreads giveaways are great and that you should do them. But I don’t think you should do them the way Goodreads suggest you should and, thanks to a raft of recent changes, you shouldn’t do them the way I said you should back in August 2014 either. Not entirely.

A Quick Recap

Back in 2014 I decided to take a good look at Goodreads giveaways to see if I was making the most of them for myself and for the books whose campaigns I was working on. I did something I’d never done before: I went and read what Goodreads told me I should do to make the most of their giveaway system. They advised that you should run your giveaway for a month and to give away as many copies as you could. But then, in their own slideshow, they included this graph…

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…which clearly showed a significant spike in entries at the beginning and end of the giveaway, and nothing coming even close in between.

Remembering that our aim is to inform new people that our book exists, this graph gives us vital information. Yes, it’s nice that the people who follow us on Twitter, Instagram, etc. enter the giveaways and show interest in reading our book, but they knew about us and it already. What we really want our giveaway to do is to reach people who had never encountered us or the book before. This is why entries that come from the site itself – as opposed to, say, us tweeting a link – are so important.

And they seem to be mostly happening at the start and end of a giveaway, which makes sense when you visit the Giveaways page and see that they’re divided into ‘Just Listed’ and ‘Ending Soon’ charts. So doesn’t it also make sense that you’d want to have as many starts and ends as possible? One month-long giveaway only gives you one of each.

Then there was the idea that you should give away as many books as you could, presumably to (a) make your giveaway as attractive to users as possible – more books mean a greater chance of them winning one and (b) more users receiving a copy of your book meant more reviews of it eventually posted on the site. But here’s the thing: I don’t give a tiny rodent’s arse about the winners posting reviews.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s fantastic if they do. But Goodreads themselves say only 60% of winners – on average – post reviews of the books they receive and in my experience the number can be a lot lower than that. Regardless, it’s not something I can control. Winners are encouraged to review their prizes, but they’re not obligated to. (Totally fair.) What I’m interested in is, above all else, informing new people that my book exists. I’m interested in getting as many entries as I can. And scrolling through the giveaway charts back in August 2014, I saw no evidence that offering fewer prizes led to fewer entries. So why give away more books – read: spend more money – than I absolutely had to?

Ultimately, my takeaway was this: forget your single, month-long giveaway for as many books as you could offer. Instead, give away 1-3 books at a time in a number of shorter giveaways of varying length. That was the best way to maximize entries (eyeballs) I thought – and it was. It worked.

So what’s Changed?

The biggest change is that now you can only list a giveaway that starts 7 days or more in the future and that giveaway has to run for 7 days at least. 

I’m guessing this change was to make things easier for the poor Goodreads team who had to manually approve every giveaway before it went live, and if I recall correctly only had 72 hours or something to do it in. You could also make a giveaway a day long if you liked, increasing their workload even more.

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You could never set-up a giveaway when you were already running one for the same book, so in practice this means that now:

  • Your giveaways must run for a week at least
  • Your giveaways must have a week-long break in between.

[NB: The first time I posted this, a commenter told me there was a way around this: set up another giveaway for a different book and then go back in after the fact and edit it to be for the same book as the first. You can’t run two giveaways for the same book at once, but this should get you over the week long break thing. I think – I haven’t done it myself.]

Neither of these things change my advice. A week is still shorter than a month and I don’t see what difference having to have a week-long break in between them could possibly make. If anything, it improves your chances of reaching the maximum number of eyeballs, as you might have users who only check in once or twice a month.

Goodreads have also let go of the idea that their giveaways are just for books that are new or coming soon. Before, you only had two ‘year’ options under release date: this one or next. Now you can give away a book published twenty years ago, if you like, so long as it’s a brand new copy of it.

Once upon a time I’d run a giveaway and then, once it had closed, send messages to the ‘losers’ offering them an e-book edition instead. (You can only give away print books on Goodreads. I believe there is an Amazon Kindle partnership in the beta stage for US users re: giveaways for e-books, but this costs money to participate in.) This was very time-consuming but it did increase the number of reviews the book would end up with. But now I’m saying don’t even dream of doing this. It’s a big no-no. I’ve heard that sending unsolicited messages to users can get you kicked off the site. One woman apparently got in trouble just for sending messages to the winners to check they got their books. I find this strange considering users can opt out of receiving messages and there’s a limit (10, I think) on how many you can send in one day so it’d difficult to go totally crazy, but hey, them’s the rules.

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Let’s talk a little bit more about those eyeballs.

A Goodreads user logs in, navigates to the Giveaways page and is met with the ‘Ending Soon’ chart by default. They spy your book and – there it is! EYEBALL CONTACT ACHIEVED. Mission accomplished. So if 732 people enter your giveaway, that’s 732 new eyeballs (or technically 1,464 eyeballs, but you know what I mean) in your book promotion bag. 732 people now know your book exists who, potentially, didn’t know it existed before. Right?

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WRONG.

It’s at least 732 people.

Whenever you enter a giveaway on Goodreads, the action gets included in your ‘update feed’ which, depending on when they log in, your Goodreads friends will probably see. (It’s what they see by default when they log in – the ‘Home’ page.) This is a screenshot of mine when I logged in today:

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So C.M. McCoy, author of Eerie, can count both Sherry and me as New Eyeballs reached today. I am a New Eyeball even though I may not have entered this particular giveaway.

(Will I take any action on this? Will I buy the book? Who knows. C.M. McCoy doesn’t know and – here’s the thing – they can’t know. And we’re not wasting our time trying to micro-manage down to the level of things we can’t control and can’t possibly determine, before or after the fact. We can control how far and wide we cast our net, so that’s all we’re focused on right now: MORE EYEBALLS.)

Here’s another thing: whenever you enter a giveaway on Goodreads, there’s an ‘Add to my To-Read shelf’ checkbox that’s checked by default.

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And as soon as a giveaway is listed for a book that you’ve marked as ‘To Read’, you get an email like this:

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(Yes, I did mark my own book as ‘Want To Read’. For research purposes, naturally! And that Hunger Games thing is totes adorbs, as the kids say that I started mocking them about and now find myself using in everyday speech non-ironically.)

So I log onto Goodreads and browse the giveaway lists to see if there’s anything I might be interested in. I spot Dead Secret by Ava McCarthy and it seems like my kind of thing, so I click ‘Enter Giveaway’ and I leave the ‘Add to my to-read shelf’ box checked, because I do want to read it. Me = an eyeball. But also = eyeballs are the Goodreads friends of mine who see this action pop up on their ‘news feed’ when they log into the site. And if I don’t win and Ava lists another giveaway, I will get an e-mail about it straight to my inbox, prompting me to enter the new one. (Why wouldn’t I? It’s just one click.) In this way, effectively, every giveaway after the first one comes with a mailing list of people who you know want to win a copy of that book. If you only run one giveaway, you fail to capitalize on this.

So What Now?

So while those 2,000 words of blog post were mildly interesting, your coffee’s gone cold now and you just wanna know: what should you actually do?

Well, I think you should:

  • Let go of the idea that this is about getting reviews from the winners – this is about informing people that your book exists (*screams* EYEBALLS!)
  • Definitely run at least 2 giveaways – I like 3-5 over a period of 2-3 months
  • Give away no more than 1-3 books at a time
  • Keep your giveaways short (I like 7-10 days), vary them in length and have them starting and ending on different days of the week (i.e. not always starting on a Monday and ending on a Wednesday. Mix it up.)
  • Don’t bother promoting your giveaway at the beginning and end of it (e.g. on Twitter, Facebook, etc.). This is when Goodreads will do it for you, so why bother? It’s more important for you to do it in between
  • Don’t contact Goodreads users directly for any reason at all

*And Now, A New Ranty Bit for January 2017…

Every time – every SINGLE time – I blog about running Goodreads giveaways, the cost of postage comes up. Either people are complaining that it’s too expensive to send anything anywhere, or they’re specifically complaining that by opening up their giveaways to all countries they’re going to have to pay a fortune to send something abroad. And this. Drives. Me. CUCKOO.

Unless you plan on sending a package by Fed-Ex transatlantic overnight, it does not cost an arm and a leg to post things. I am implementing a new rule: unless you have actually posted a book abroad and encountered an obscene postage cost, you are not allowed even whisper about it being potentially expensive.

Here’s the other thing: this is not free. Repeat after me: it is not free. It is an expense. It is money spent on book promotion. Accept that. If you don’t want to spend money on promoting your book, then don’t. It’s that simple. If you only want to spend money on book promotion that comes with an absolutely guarantee of success, good luck with that because there’s no such thing. Even things like Bookbub can only say, at best, that it’s unlikely you will lose the money you invest. It can’t guarantee that it will make you a profit on book sales in the future. Every euro, pound or dollar spent on promoting your book – which, let’s not forget, is part of publishing your book – is a risk.

Here’s another other thing: use your noggin. If I am running a giveaway for a self-published CreateSpace book and I open it worldwide, I could end up with a winner in, say, Seattle. It makes no sense for me to send the book to myself (USA – Ireland) and then back to the winner (Ireland – USA). It is far, far better to send it directly from Createspace to them instead OR to use an online bookstore like Amazon or The Book Depository.

If you select all sales channels on CreateSpace, your book will likely appear on The Book Depository (who are owned by Amazon). The Book Depository does not charge shipping at all under any circumstances. Yes, even if you order one single book and even if that book is going as far away as it can before it starts coming back, the shipping is FREE. You only pay for the cost of the book, part of which you get back in royalties in your next CreateSpace payment.

So what I’m saying is don’t complain that this costs money. No, really. DON’T.

If you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can enter a Goodreads giveaway for Distress Signals here. Also: two weeks from, DS hits the US! That means we’re half-way through this blogging bonanza thingy. Hooray! You can pre-order the US edition here.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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The ‘Getting Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

As you may know, I’ve led many a ‘how to self-publish your book’ seminar in my time. The first few times I did it, I’d sit down at my desk to start putting together my PowerPoint presentation and despair that I only had 90 minutes or however long to squeeze in everything I needed to tell the group about how to self-publish successfully. After I did a few of them, I realised that the best approach was not to aim to tell them everything about self-publishing, but to tell them everything they needed to know in order to start, and start off on the right foot. Those are two very different things.

So I stopped talking about making and selling print-on-demand paperbacks with the likes of CreateSpace and Lulu. Instead I advised that they treat the e-book like a hardback, releasing that first, testing the waters, adapting their plan if need be, and then – if it went well – reinvesting the profits in their print edition. After years of this self-publishing lark, both doing it myself and watching others at it, I think now that this is the best approach. It’s logical, it’s risk-averse and it keeps it simple. But during the Q&A, someone would always ask something like, ‘What about Lightning Source?’ And I’d groan inwardly, because I’d be thinking to myself, Go home, finish your book, self-publish it as best as you possibly can in e-book – and then start worrying about Lightning Source. But not before.

I wish someone had said something similar to me when I was traipsing into Waterstone’s Cork every Saturday afternoon in the early 2000s, systemically working my way through their How To Write Books books section. I hadn’t finished my book – I hadn’t even started it – but I felt like it was really important I know exactly how much an agent’s commission was on translation rights before I even thought about putting put pen to paper. The proliferation of blogs and the constant, never-ending, information tsunami that is Twitter only made things worse. Much, much worse. Years later, when I finally got a clue and concentrated solely on the things I should be concentrating on, I finally learned that getting published is all about the book. So I finished my book. I signed with an agent. And then I got published.

But, but, BUT.

It’s easy to forget that information you think is common knowledge is not actually so. It’s just that you’ve known it for so long, you’ve forgotten you didn’t once. And starting out, I think you do need to know some things. So here is my absolutely bare bones, rock-bottom minimum place to start if you’re aspiring to see a book you wrote on the shelf. This is what I wish someone had said to me five, ten, fifteen years ago.

(Well, someone no doubt did say this to me. But boy, I wish that I had listened.)

Step 1: Write the Book

If I could go back in time and talk to Me From 2009, this is what I would tell her: do nothing else except sit down and write, and keep doing that until your book is finished.

Now, there’s loads you can to delay this. You can read stacks of how to write books books, you can attend workshops, you can hang around the writers’ water cooler on Twitter, you can blog about all the writing you plan on doing, you can play with Post-Its. But honestly, I think there’s only two things you need to do: read as much and as widely as you can, and put your arse in the chair in front of your computer. Honestly, you will never learn as much about how to write a book as you will from the act of actually sitting down and writing one. So go do that. First.

Step 2: Pick a path

Now comes the decision: to self-publish or try to get published? Well, no one can answer this question but you, so there’s really no point in asking me or anyone else.

What you can do is:

  • Research, so you know exactly what you’re getting into (and you can make a plan)
  • Set yourself a deadline

It’s possible that your book will decide for you. It might be very short, too short for a traditional publishing house. Or it might be about something that means time is of the essence, and you need to publish it now. For instance, last year you might have written something about the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising here in Ireland that really needed to be published in 2016 to take advantage of this increased awareness, public appetite, publicity opportunities, etc.

If this isn’t the case, I will say to you what I always say to writers who ask me this: set yourself a deadline. If you’re not sure, give yourself 12 months. Submit to agents, enter competitions, attend conferences, etc – basically, network – and do everything you can to try to find a traditionally published home for your book. Then, once the 12 months is up, if it seems like nothing is happening, perhaps self-publish instead.

Step 3: Don’t Rush Things

Here’s the thing I would love for you to take in: don’t rush. Don’t panic. Don’t feel like you’re missing out or that you need to get your book on Amazon yesterday. I completely understand the feeling you get in your gut when someone says, ‘When is your book out? I can’t wait to read it.’ It’s itchy. It’s panicky. It increases your heart rate. And suddenly all you can think about is getting the book up on Amazon so you can capture that one sale. And that’s a huge mistake.

Just on a practical level, self-publishing does not mean uploading your file to Amazon this weekend. Self-publishing means launching a product. You need to plan. You need to prepare. You need to build anticipation. Ideally, you need to have another book nearly ready to go. (I think, these days, the only way to succeed at self-publishing and to maintain your momentum once you do is by releasing more than one book.) All of this takes time. You can only launch your book once. Don’t diffuse your own momentum by doing it too soon, before you’ve done the work.

Similarly, don’t give yourself 6 weeks to get an agent. Leaving aside the fact that the top agencies get thousands of submissions a year and it would be nearly impossible for even one of them to get back to you in that space of time, that’s so little time that you’re guaranteeing failure before you’ve even begun trying. All this stuff, it takes AGES. Use it to start on your next book.

What I didn’t realise before I got my deal is that, you know what? It’s not the worst thing in the world to be waiting for your dream to arrive. It’s a nice bit. There’s no deadlines, no pressure, no contracts. You’re writing purely because you love to write. Forget about the destination for a second. Enjoy the journey.

Everything else – that can come later. Worry about it then. For now, just finish your book, pick a path and don’t rush.

In its own way, this is the good bit.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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My Top 11 ‘How To Write Books’ Books

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

Today is Tuesday which – phew! – means a tiny post. (I’m back at college as of this morning so this is really good timing.) I thought I’d use it to share my favourite ‘how to write books’ books with you, and ask you if there’s any good ones I’ve missed off the list that I need to check out.

I love these kinds of books – or, to be more specific, I love two kinds of these books. The first is the therapy kind, the books that reach down to you in the depths of self-doubt and say, ‘It’s okay. All writers feel this way. It’s normal’ and then pull you back up. I still remember the day that – in a public place – I opened Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers and started reading. Within a few paragraphs, I felt like bursting into tears. It was as if she’d climbed inside my head, had a peek at my innermost (writing-related) thoughts and then typed them up and sent them into her editor. She knew writers and, as she pulled me up out of the self-doubt, I was more convinced than ever that I was supposed to be one.

The other kind I love are the instructional kind – but with caveats. I’m not into creative writing guides that tell you how to come up with everything from a killer title to identikit characters. I feel like ideas are the very least a writer should have. And although I think you can learn to write better, I’m not in the school that thinks you can learn to write. But… I am obsessed with the architecture of plot, the mechanics of good storytelling, etc. and so I love reading books about that – because that’s something I think a writer can learn to do better. Then there’s the books written either by bestselling authors or by other titans of the industry that are full of the kind of useful information you need after you’ve written THE END.

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So here are my picks (from the bottom up and only in the order that I happened to stack them in):

  1. Save the Cat! by Blake by Blake Snyder
  2. How To Get Published and Make a Lot of Money by Susan Page
  3. How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
  4. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Learner
  5. Into the Woods by John Yorke
  6. Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott
  7. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
  8. From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake
  9. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  10. How Fiction Works by James Wood
  11. On Writing by Stephen King

(1) THE book on plotting if you write commercial fiction, me thinks.  (2) Don’t be put off by the title. Although this book is quite dated these days, it still contains the best information I’ve come across for putting together a proposal for a non-fiction book. (3) Possibly one of the most entertaining books ever. (4,5,6) Why are these all named after nature?! (7) Yes, that is her real name. (8) When Carole Blake very sadly passed away recently, the best anecdote I heard was that she was told to cut down the chapter in this about books going to auction, and was shocked to learn that most books don’t get sold that way! Brilliant. (9) About being creative in general and with probably a couple of bits that will grate, but well worth a read. (10) Because it doesn’t hurt to know… and (11) Is there anyone left who hasn’t read this? It’s like the How To Write Books Books Gateway Drug.

Have you read any/all of these? Have you read any other good ones that I’ve missed? Thoughts? Criticisms? Comments about how you don’t remember subscribing to receiving these posts by email (even though you definitely did because I have never signed up anyone up on the sly and also that’s not possible because it’s a two-step process that involves you clicking confirm in an e-mail sent to your address and hey, it’s okay if you want to break up, but you have to do unsubscribe yourself because I can’t do it for you)? I’ll take them all! Keep scrolling and type away. (Translation: do leave a comment.)

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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Acknowledgements: The Long and Short Of It

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. (If you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can download Distress Signals for just 99p for a limited time.)

Let’s talk about acknowledgements.

You know, that page – either at the very start or very end of a book – where the author thanks a load of people for fear of never being spoken to by any of them again.

Or, you know, because they really helped the author and the author is really nice.

My personal preference (and note, personal) is that acknowledgements should be kept as brief as possible, for two reasons.

The first is the most important: coming after the end of a novel, every paragraph of acknowledgements is a sledgehammer to my imagination, reminding me that what I just read was completely made up.

We’ll come back to this in a minute because, like I said, it’s important.

The second reason is that I think you should only thank the people who actually had something to do with the creation of the book. Not all the people that you like having in your life because they make it better in some way. Those two groups of people are not the same.

For instance, there might be a teenage girl who comes to your house on an occasional Saturday night to babysit your kids while you go out and have a good time. This is help, because those nights out keep you sane and you wouldn’t be able to go out on them without her. But this is nothing to do with your book.

Now, if you were writing about teenage girls and one Saturday you asked her to come over a bit early so you and her could have a chat and you could pick her brains about what all the cool kids are doing these days, and then some of that detail went into your book, then yes, by all means: put her in there!

But just because someone is in your life doesn’t mean they have to be in your acknowledgements.

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My own acknowledgements from Distress Signals (UK/Ireland). 

People who probably should be in your acknowledgements:

  • Agent
  • Editor
  • Other people associated with its publication, i.e. cover designer
  • Early readers
  • Experts you consulted re: research
  • Particularly supportive writing friends, especially those who sent alcohol
  • Immediate family/partners/bestest best friends who always believed.

People who probably shouldn’t be in your acknowledgements:

  • Every person you’re related to
  • Every friend you’ve even known
  • Every writer you’ve ever met
  • All English teachers, from age 5-18
  • The names you’re including because you think that, if you do, the person will buy the book
  • The names you’re including not because they helped but because you think it seems impressive that you know them

If this seems a bit mean or nasty, spare a thought for your book. Remember what I said a minute ago?

Coming after the end of a novel, every paragraph of acknowledgements is a sledgehammer to my imagination, reminding me that what I just read was completely made up.

This is the worst thing about eight pages of acknowledgements that thank everyone who ever said to the author, ‘How’s the book coming along?’ (or maybe not even that). I get to the end of a novel, perhaps an utterly brilliant novel that has completely sucked me in, taken over my life, put me through the ringer emotionally and has now left me, broken but also somehow renewed, right at THE END. The characters feel real to me; I am convinced now that they are out there somewhere, carrying on their lives even though there are no more pages. I’m thinking of books like The Reader by Bernard Schlink, We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. They all left me in such a state, I can still remember where I was and how I felt when I finished them.

And then you turn the page and there are the Acknowledgements. A page, a page and a half, two… Okay. The fiction spell hasn’t been completely broken and maybe you even learned something – a personal detail about the author’s life, or that the idea came from something that actually happened – that has only made the impact of the book even greater. But what if there’s ten pages more that are just a list of names, and those names are basically everyone the author has ever met? By the end of them I’m back in the real world, and I’ve been brought back there with a bang.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: why not just close the book, and don’t read the Acknowledgements at all? They’re not for you, they’re for the people being thanked. And maybe the author has spent years and years and years trying to get this book published, and maybe it won’t happen again, and he/she wants to take this one moment to express his/her gratitude for all the people who kept her sane along the way, and if you don’t like it then it sucks for you and black, dead heart.

And that is a valid opinion. But this is my blog and so right this minute we’re talking about mine. And in my opinion (a) when acknowledgements are at the end of the book, you can’t help but read them, especially if you loved the book and you’re not quite ready to close it up yet, (b) everything in the book is for the reader – the book belongs to the reader and (c) acknowledgements should be short and sweet.

I do think there’s an exception: debuts. Debuts are usually the culmination of years of trying and wishing and hoping and crying and being sick with jealousy and rejection letter bonfires and then more crying, so I think a bit of a longish thank you list isn’t the world thing in the world on that occasion. (I mean, it’s hardly the worst thing in the world anyway, but you know what I mean.) Still, I think you should try to keep it shortish, which I’m surprised to learn is a word and I’m just assuming it is because the WordPress spell check thingy isn’t putting a red squiggly line underneath it.

What do YOU think? Long, short or doesn’t matter? Do you even read them? If you do, do you think sometimes they’re in danger of breaking the fiction spell at little too violently? Or do you think a 20-page list of mild acquaintances is the author’s right?

Let me know in the comments below….

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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Quick reminder: leave a comment on this post to be in with a chance to win a copy of Distress Signals. Also, it’s just 99p to download right now! 

IN NICE, FRANCE

Sunday Morning Coffee Reads (Jan 15)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. Today is Sunday, which means we have a digest of the previous week’s activity plus some cool links I think you should check out.

What You Might Have Missed

Did you enjoy our first full week of this 28-day nightmare blogging bonanza? [tight smile] I sure did! No, in all honesty, I am having fun – especially with the video blogs – but I have so much going on that I’m daydreaming about turning my phone off and running away to a beach for a week.

We started the week – you won’t be surprised to hear – on Monday with a brand new blog post: Writing Goals: Should We All Just Shut the Hell Up? My friend Hazel described this on Twitter as ‘writing about not writing about writing’ which I think is a perfect description.

I love Tuesdays, because they only demand a tiny blog post. (Ha!) Since I can’t write a shopping list without going over 2,000 words, I thought it best to use them for recommending things to you. This week, that was a movie called Authors Anonymous. Find out why you should see it here.

On Wednesday, we had another brand new blog post: The Best Thing About Getting Published. It’s been such an exciting adventure so far, but the highlight is probably not what you’d expect. Find out what my highlight was here.

Thursdays are for throwbacks, i.e. a replay of a post you might have missed or skimmed over the first around. This week we returned to Where Do You Get Your Ideas? which explains exactly where the inspiration for Distress Signals came from.  Read that post here.

Friday the second episode of Catherine’s Video Blog Thingy went live. In this instalment I talked about my new favourite plotting tool, pigs in Paris and a podcast that I think all writers should be listening to. And I didn’t wear my glasses. (Well, except for the thumbnail.) Thrilling stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

On Saturday I very nearly almost forgot to blog but with less than two hours to go, Jack Black reminded me. I shared my Top 10 Crime/Thriller movies which, oddly, seemed to come in pairs. Two twisty courtroom dramas with magnificent shoulder pads, two foreign films, two kooky true crime comedies… Check out the full list here.

(Then Catherine went to bed for 2 weeks.)

Sunday Links

Um, yeah. About that. I seriously have not had a chance to read anything this week. Well, except for an interview with Cheryl Strayed about something authors really don’t like to talk about: money. Which made me think of a post by Laura Jane Williams which was just as honest and frank, about how putting pressure on your art to make you a living might not be the best idea. And that made me think of a piece by Emily Gould I’d happened upon that was equally as frank and honest, about women behaving badly (or not) in the publishing world. So here you go!

I think they raise many interesting questions. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

It is just 18 days to the U.S. publication, according to the little ticker widget thingy in the footer of this blog. 18 days! Where does the time go? You can pre-order it from Amazon.com here.

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Your 54th reminder: Distress Signals is out in paperback in Ireland and the UK now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.

THE AMC MOVIE THEATRE IN CELEBRATION, FL

My Top 10 Crime/Thriller Movies

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this postIf you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can download Distress Signals for just 99p for a limited time.

Oh my god: I almost forgot to blog today! I have college assignments due on Monday so I’ve spent most of the day working on one of them, and about an hour ago I decided to work on an article I have to write while half-watching TV, and I thought, Hmm, I might throw on Bernie while I work on this, and that made me think, crap, I haven’t blogged today! Because, you see, Bernie is involved, so it was that that reminded me – and just in the nick of time.

As per the schedule (below), Saturdays is when I point you in the direction of a blog post I wrote elsewhere. Today, with just 1 hour and 45 minutes left until I’d have missed a day (nooooo!), it’s My Top 10 Crime/Thriller movies, a guest post I wrote for Between My Lines.

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Jagged Edge (1985)

Lawyer Glenn Close defends Jeff Bridges against the charge of murdering his wife but, uh-oh, FEELINGS are about to get in the way. And it’s amazing her shoulder pads don’t. They just don’t make movies like this anymore. No explosions, no CGI, no “he was dead all along” paradigm-shifting twists – just an incredibly clever and compelling murder mystery/courtroom drama with a twisty, airtight plot. I wish I could write a book like this.

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Presumed Innocent (1990)

In a very similar vein: Presumed Innocent. Harrison Ford is the dashing Rusty Sabich, a prosecutor charged with investigating the rape and murder of Carolyn Polhemus, the colleague he just happens to still be obsessed with after their fling got flung. Based on the bestseller by Scott Turow, this movie has a KILLER twist.

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The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)

Please note the date. I’m not talking about the very disappointing American remake of this that came out in 2015, but the original Argentinian version, El secreto de sus ojos. This is a fascinating film that is indeed full of secrets and examines not so much the crime of murder itself, but the ramifications it can have on everyone involved: the detective investigating it, the man who loved the victim, the prime suspect. You’ll be haunted by the ending for days.

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Anything for Her (2008)

You may recognise the plot of this movie, because it was remade in 2010 as The Next Three Days starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks. They’re both good, but I think the French original – Pour Elle – is slightly better. Julien and Lisa are blissfully in love and raising their son, Oscar, until early one morning police storm into their apartment and arrest Lisa for the murder of her boss. She’s subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison for a crime she – and Lucien – maintain that she didn’t commit. This isn’t really about her guilt or innocence, but what Julien does, what he’s prepared to do, to put his family back together. Thrilling stuff, with a kick-in-the-stomach final scene.

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Bernie (2011)

I’m not going to say anything about this movie, because I was told to watch it by someone who refused to give me any further details too. It is honestly the most fascinating, hilarious, unnerving and oddly heart-warming movie (about a murder!) that you will ever watch – and it’s all true. Watch it immediately. Side note: it also features the best description of the state of Texas I’ve ever heard in my life, and some one-liners so perfect you’ll want to write them down. Are you watching it yet?

That’s 1-5. To find out 6-10, pop over to Between My Lines.

(Did you catch yesterday’s new episode of my Video Blog Thingy? What did you think?)

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

Also, it’s just 99p to download right now! 

Catherine’s Video Blog Thingy: Episode 2

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this postIf you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can download Distress Signals for just 99p for a limited time.

TODAY IS FRIDAY which can only mean one thing: I’ve made a huge mistake. Because on Fridays, I committed to posting a video blog. (WHY?!) Here it is, the second episode of Catherine’s Video Blog Thingy…

In this episode:

  • My new favourite plotting tool
  • A podcast that every writer should listen to
  • Your questions answered
  • Lots of things going wrong
  • My glasses perched precariously at the very end of my nose.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, which is also the same place you can leave any questions you’d like me to answer in next week’s episode.

dsbb

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

Also, it’s just 99p to download right now!