Friday, January 06, 2017

Book Bloggers' favourite books of 2016

Publisher hat firmly on here. A moment to list the 2016 lists of best books of the year. VALENTINA is on a 99c/99p January sale offer at Amazon for another few days.

VALENTINA by S. E. Lynes and MOONDANCE by Diane Chandler both made  The Book Magnet's Top 20 of 2016.

VALENTINA is celebrated by Linda's Book Bag.

VALENTINA and MOONDANCE get a DOUBLE-WOW from Kraftireader.

Over on Instagram, VALENTINA  makes Vancouver's My Book Bath top pile. 

VALENTINA is not only rated by Helen Boyce but, as part of the Facebook readers' and authors' group THE Book Club, #TBConfFB team... 

she shares the love with other readers:

VALENTINA was a favourite read of Damp Pebbles.

Rachale's Reads says VALENTINA was 'the biggest surprise of the year. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it surpassed all expectations.'

VALENTINA makes The Addiction of Books' Top Nine Reads.

VALENTINA is a top 20 read at My Chestnut Reading Tree.

VALENTINA is also a 2016 favourite of Carole's Book Corner

VALENTINA is "a multi layered and exceptionally gripping Domestic Noir thriller" says BeadyJans Books in her 2016 round-up.

And finally a Top Ten pick at The Owl On The Bookshelf for our new imprint NIGHTINGALE EDITIONS'  launch title, DARK WATER by Sara Bailey.

Friday, December 02, 2016

'I want my books to be cleverer than I am.' Deborah Levy

I am so far out of the writing frame of mind that I don't carry a notebook around with me any more. A talk by Deborah Levy at a literary salon the other evening was inspiring enough for me to rip off my name tag and write notes as she spoke.

* I want my books to be cleverer than I am.

* Where the writer's attention is is the most important thing. Know your literary purpose and you'll be OK.

* Character: fragile, chaotic, vulnerable... let them be chaotic, not sanitised. That is LIFE. Trump winning election, that is chaotic. LIFE.

* Create a reality and then subvert it. David Lynch is very good at that.

* The South of France is a sunny place full of shady people.

* Q: What do you read? Freud, Freud, Freud, Dürer, Montaigne....

I am now reading this...

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Friday, August 05, 2016

The Bookseller's Startup of the Week - Blackbird Digital Books

Well, this is exciting...

See subscription options

Startup of the week: Blackbird

Startup of the week: Blackbird

  • Share 
Meet the noisy little bird hoping to spread #authorpower across the UK.

The pitch
Blackbird Books claims to "quite possibly" be the first digital-only publisher in the UK, launching in 2009 by publishing PDFs from its website and Kindle books in the US, before adding paperbacks to their offering in 2015.  It aims to launch sustainable careers with 50/50 "#authorpower" contracts built around flexibility, freedom and trust, including ongoing promotion, monthly royalty reports and pay. 
Who's the team behind it?
Blackbird was founded by Stephanie Zia, an author, journalist and BBC documentary director, when she decided to self-publish a collection of her Guardian columns. A reader of her blog, the ex-Transworld author Susie Kelly, then got in touch and Zia went on to e-publish eight of Kelly's books, while other authors came on board. 
Zia at London Book Fair
"We began from scratch on a zero budget," Zia says "There are no offices or full-time staff. Our team is the authors themselves and, in true start-up fashion, freelancers and interns. Innovative digital marketing is a big part of what we do but our authors don’t have to be digitally-minded themselves.
"We have one author, in his 70s, who lives on a Greek island and works on a typewriter. Another who hates social media but connects with reviewers, literary festivals and bookstores by email. She does the research and writes the pitch emails for us to send on as the publisher. We just did a book promotion tour in Ukraine this way. Our most recent intern became our Commissioning Editor on a royalty basis and almost immediately struck gold with debut psychological thriller author S. E. Lynes. We are in talks with an agent about the exploitation of residual rights for all of our authors."
What's the gap in the market?
In 2009, Blackbird was perfectly positioned to exploit the gap between digital publishing and UK print publishing, working almost exclusively in the US, marketing on US blogs and selling on US Amazon. With that gap narrowing ever since, the company has had to refine its approach.
"We used to have the edge on US digital marketing methods, like Bookbub," Zia explains. "Now we have to compete with the big guys to try and get our books featured. The good news is that author-centric publishing is the way it’s heading. With the rise of Instagram star reader accounts with tens of thousands of followers and Facebook groups like The Book Club, with thousands of passionate readers, we’re getting more word-of-mouth reader feedback leading directly to sales. The buzz about new books isn’t, any more, wholly controlled by the size of the publisher’s marketing and distribution budget."
Success so far?
Two Blackbird authors, Susie Kelly and Diana Morgan-Hill, are in the US Amazon Top 100, Paid, and Kelly has just hit #6 in Australia’s top 100 Paid as well. Major mainstream press coverage for Morgan-Hill included a Daily Mail spread, a nomination for 2015 Woman of the Year and appearances on Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine Show and ITV’s This Morning. And Blackbird author Diane Chandler recently won The People's Book Prize for her novel Road to Donetsk
"In August we have our first glossy women’s magazine fiction review for debut novelist S. E. Lynes," Zia adds. "The first title with our new Imprint, Nightingale Editions, is launching this autumn. Two of our mid-list authors rejecting invitations to re-publish with their mainstream ex-publishers and choosing to stay with Blackbird has to be the best accolade of all. The Blackbird team is starting to feel like a real family."
Editor Rosalie Love with author S.E. Lyons
Biggest challenges?
"Paperback distribution to bookstores."
Ultimate Ambition?
Zia hopes that Blackbird will inspire a whole movement of other #authorpower startups. "I saw a tweet the other day from Rachael Lucas which said 'Writing books: 95% lurking alone in a dressing gown, 5% standing on a table shouting LOOK AT ME'," she reports. "As an ex-author myself, I know that is so true. I’d like to see more small publishing platforms like ours that promote outstanding authors over the long-term, giving them the digital and mainstream marketing exposure and the confidence to write their second, third and fourth books that might be needed before a breakthrough."
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"Be flexible. Things can, and do, change overnight. Amazon’s sudden introduction of US KU in 2014 nearly sank us for good. We moved on to print and a different kind of progress, but it was a terrible moment."

Saturday, July 09, 2016

See Us on Sky News TV, Tues 12th, 8pm

I've just sent out our publisher newsletter, which sums up all that's been happening really and why it's been pretty impossible to blog over the past few months. And why publishing is such fun.....

Greetings from sunny London - sort of. We've had the worst June with so much rain. However, the Wimbledon finals are in full swing, the sun is finally out and the pace is,at last, beginning to slow a little here at Blackbird HQ.

We have our first-ever book awards ceremony on Tuesday, please, if you're around, watch English author, journalist and former spy, Frederick Forsyth announce the winners on Sky News on Tues 12th July at 8pm. We have 3 authors in the finals and we're also up for a publisher prize. Voting is open up to and including tomorrow, Sunday 10th. If you can spare time to vote, these are the links:

Non-Fiction   SUSIE KELLY  for Swallows & Robins: The Guests In My Garden
Fiction        TANYA BULLOCK for That Special Someone
                  DIANE CHANDLER for The Road To Donetsk
In other big news for us, the fantastic debut novel by S. E. Lynes, discovered by, and edited by, Blackbird's Rosalie Love, is storming it with the reviewers and has just been made Good Housekeeping's Thriller of the Month. The ebook version is available at an introductory price of just 99p/99c/0.99Euro, Canadian $, Australian $, Yen etc etc from AmazonAppleKobo and Nook. The paperback is available to order in the UK for £8.99 at WaterstonesFoyles and all good bookshops (who are just restocking after first edition sellout). The amazing cover is by the Game of Thrones designer Rob Ball. Photos of a very special person's launch party are here

Diane Chandler's wonderful 2nd novel, Moondance, about IVF and its impact on a marriage, is out in November. See our forthcoming titles post. And artist Michael Lawrence's Tripping With Jim Morrison & Other Friends an impressionistic memoir of an artist as a young man, is now available for pre-order on Kindle (out Sept 5). Michael's art, described by Roy Lichtenstein as "vibrant, joyous and colourful" is well-known amongst collectors. His fine, poetic words and funny stories are destined to become equally so in this coming of age tale like no other. 

Last but not least, we have a new imprint. Nightingale Editions launches its first title, Dark Water, by debut novelist Sara Bailey, in October. Visit Nightingale's website, Facebook page or Twitter page tomorrow morning Sunday, 10th Jul, for the fantastic cover reveal.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Publisher's hat squarely on, we launch fantastic new debut author S E Lynes at the college where I began my writing journey in a beginner's writing class back in 1996..

'Valentina' by S. E. Lynes – Book Launch Party

Last night saw the launch party of psychological thriller ‘Valentina’ by debut Blackbird author S. E.  Lynes. 

The launch took place at Richmond Adult Community College, SW London, where Susie Lynes teaches creative writing. Close to 100 guests attended the launch, with free-flowing prosecco, book signings and many kind words spoken about the talented Susie and her thrilling debut novel Valentina. 

Susie and her Scottish actress friend Bridget gave a reading from the opening pages ofValentina. Susie read the prologue, and then Bridget read an extract from Chapter 1. They both really brought the text to life and had the audience transfixed. 
Also in attendance was designer Robert M. Ball, who created the fantastic cover for 'Valentina'. He is also a graphic designer for the HBO show 'Game Of Thrones'. You can see more of his eye-catching work here:

It was heartening to see so many people come out to support Susie.

The Blackbird Team would like to thank all of our guests, our fantastic helpers who served drinks and snacks, actress Bridget for travelling from Glasgow just for the occasion, and Richmond Adult Community College, for allowing us to hold this special event on their premises. Find out more about adult learning at RACC 

With thanks to Amy Withnall for the photos.
If you haven't yet picked up a copy of 'Valentina', take advantage of our introductory offer of 99p/99c for the eBook version.

Amazon Kindle
Apple ibooks
B&N Nook

The paperback version retails at £8.99 and can be purchased from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.

Amazon Paperback £8.99
UK: Waterstones £8.99
UK: Foyles £8.99 + Free postage

Monday, May 30, 2016

Writer's Hat

FB did one of those reminder posts this morning. Back in the day....

I lie here contemplating a problem. It whirrs and clacks above my head. Thanks to my fan, this couch is the most comfortable, and certainly the coolest, place in the house. The coolest place on the island, according to many, and this is why my simple wooden fan has become the root cause of all my troubles.
I first saw it in a little shop in Fordingbridge five years ago, just the day before my ship was due to leave Southampton. I had been an electrician’s apprentice when I got my calling, and had been reliably assured that electricity had recently reached the Ponapeans. I was sure I would be able to make a satisfactory installation of such a useful object. Little did I realise how much it would be needed and never could I have foreseen what problems it would cause.
The trouble began before I’d even set foot on the island, a fresh young missionary full of hope and so joyous to be in such a remote and pagan part of the Pacific. The entire population came to welcome our ship and all eyes were upon me as I stumbled down the gangplank carrying my large wooden fan on my back. The porters, you see, had refused to touch it on the grounds that it might bring a voodoo wrath of the spirits down upon them. There was, I discovered later, not a small amount of speculation amongst the people as to what this strange star-shaped object was. Of this, I had no idea, so excited and preoccupied was I with settling into my new home.
I had come to join two other missionaries who had been here for many years. They are quite a deal older than I and, as I almost immediately realised, had gone native. They were welcoming enough but seemed to spend a deal of their time pacing around in their floppy shoes, shuffling through the heat from one room to another. I was left largely to my own devices as I prepared myself for my work.
I was delighted at first to have so many of the islanders come to visit me. They sat quietly listening as I read passages from the Bible and talked about the miracles of Jesus. I thought I’d found my calling in a big way. It was only as the days drew into weeks into months that it became apparent that the heavenward flickers of the eyes as I read, which occurred frequently in all visitors, and which I initially put down to my fine rendering of the holy words, were not aimed at God but at my fan.
And so the years passed. I resigned myself to the fact that God moves in mysterious ways and comforted myself with the fact that at least it kept them coming back to sit beneath the cool. I might add that I have had a fine conversion rate, almost double my predecessor. I can look forward to my return to the Missionary Society in St James’ with some pride.
As I look up at it now, I know it will be impossible to sleep this night until I make my final decision. For, you see, my tour of duty is over. The ship calls tomorrow to take me away from Ponapé for ever, and here lies my dilemma - I don’t know what I shall do with my fan. The problem is, everybody wants it. No one has actually come to me and asked me directly if they can have it. That is not the Ponapéan way of doing things. The way of life here is so very different from anything we know in England. Different, that is, to anyone used to organising himself by the clock and calendar in the belief that time goes forwards in even portions of arithmetic. You see, nothing here is direct. Life, it soon becomes apparent, is approached rather from a sideways angle. This trait can best be illustrated by comparing it to the habits of the Ponapé fish, unique to these waters. This is a fish which hunts backwards. That is to say it overtakes its intended victim and then squirts poison at him from its rear orifice as it swims towards him. By the time its prey has reached it, he is dead and ready to eat.
I shall miss Ponapé. Though it has many peculiarities and is far too hot most of the time, its beauty takes the breath away. Life in Hampshire will feel rather flat at first, though I must say I am looking forward to some good old bad English weather and tea and toast by the fire.
I have learnt a great deal these past five years. There had been only a very limited amount of reference material available back at our headquarters in London, and nothing at all on the peculiarities of the Ponapéan ways. Their different perspectives; particularly their way of dealing with time and space, possessing, as they do, a great deal of the former and a severely limited amount of the latter. Though you couldn’t call them scrupulously honest, there is no theft on the island and, highly coveted though it is, I have never had to worry about my fan being stolen. There is violence here, oh yes. Murder, suicide too, are commonplace. But theft, no. The simple reason being that on such a small, remote island, everybody knows everybody else’s business. Not least knowing exactly what each person possesses and, more to the point, what they do not possess. There is little point in stealing something when everybody knows who owns it, and where there is nowhere within thousands of miles for anything to be passed on to. Small islands have no fences, you could say. And so it is with my fan. Nobody would steal it from me, but there are many who want it. Desperately. And everybody knows my ship is coming tomorrow.
I have been approached from a variety of obliquely unique Micronesian angles by a large proportion of the population, each of them assuming in his individual way that he is my fan’s rightful inheritor. The Governor, the Rt. Honourable Maawal Beehap, has decided it will go up the hill and into the dining room of Government House. He sent a team of workmen down today to measure its dimensions along with an elaborately-decorated invitation for me to dine there at its inauguration feast. A pig will be slaughtered in its honour and consumed by vast numbers of the great and good of the island. Of course, he knows I shall be set fair by then for England, but this to him is a trifling matter. Equally certain the fan will be going in his direction is Mr Willy Wahndeema, the Leader of the Opposition, who has kindly donated it to the Ponapéan Community Centre Hall, the largest public meeting place on the island. That its breeze would be rendered virtually useless in such a large space is irrelevant. Then there is Morgan, one of the tribal chiefs of the island and the owner of the land my room sits on. He has the biggest smile I’ve ever known and the darkest heart. He assumes, naturally, that as my ‘strange magic wind wheel’, as he calls it, is installed on his territory it already belongs to him, owing to the undeniable fact that it is connected to his land by a lead which disappears into the ground. Just as any tree which grows from his land is unquestionably his property. I think you are probably beginning to understand the extent of my problem. I shall not go into detail about the hospital, the schoolmaster and the rest. The only people who don’t seem at all interested are my two companions here, but then they are far too gone to be bothered by such mortal concerns.
After five years on the island, I know it would be of no use suggesting the islanders get their own shipped in. Apart from the fact that only two ships call a year, this is not the point. It is my fan they want. And now the time is almost upon me to leave, the decision will have to be made. As I lie here looking at it chopping at the air like a primitive bacon slicer, I realise yet again the biggest problem of all. I, too, have become very attached to my fan and I don’t think it will be possible for me to leave the island without it.

CODA Extract from the London Missionary Society Annual Report dated l4th September 1932: It is with the deepest regret we hereby record the loss of one of our finest and most successful young missionaries in the field, Rupert Bartholomew Jones. Due to the remoteness of his posting, it has taken some time to ascertain why he did not return with the ship last year. News has now reached us that before he could board his ship he was lynched by a large group of natives and thence beaten to death by a heavy wooden fan which he was transporting from his residence to the dockside. Furthermore, we regret to report that no burial took place as his body was thence transported to the Governor’s House where, we understand, it was served up later that even as a banquet delicacy which the cannibalistic society refer to as ‘Long Pig.’ He was 23 years of age. May his soul rest in peace.
c. Stephanie Zia 2013