Be Afraid! It’s An Irish Writer’s Christmas

Tara Sparling:

I’ve never reblogged an old post before, but this one went out on December 19th last year, when precisely 2 people were still reading blogs, and precisely everyone was already sick of Christmas.

This year however, I’d like to reach out to some newer readers, with my Ode to the Misery of an Irish Christmas (while I continue bashing away at my 50,000 word target for NaNoWriMo). Enjoy it at your own peril.

Originally posted on Tara Sparling writes:

Christmas reindeer

I was half way down a bottle - sorry; er, glass of port the other day, when it occurred to me that nothing sells like an Irish writer’s horrible Christmas. The bleaker the better. These are not “but we were happy” stories; these are stories where nobody is safe. Endings are sour. And nostalgia exists merely to be rammed down the throat of the youth of today, who will never how good they have it.

So here are my 5 Most Miserable Literary Irish Christmasses Of All Time, in descending order of dismay. Please raise your glass, and stifle the world’s smallest digital orchestras, for Seasonal Suffering, for Negative Noël, for December Distress…

Be Afraid: It's An Irish Writer's Christmas5. George Bernard Shaw’s take on the season

To kick us off, we have a quote from the mighty G.B. Shaw regarding Christmas,  as cheerless as any tale, although it goes to show that attitudes haven’t changed either since the 1800s. In the grand…

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Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

Back to business, ladies and gentlesirs.

Today I want to look at who in the blockbusting big leagues was publishing in 2014, and what the market looked like when they did.

I’ve been wading around in the book data again, my hand on my chin, occasionally contorting myself into an awkward (and poor) imitation of Rodin’s Thinker.

Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

“Are book sales greater in June or July… or is it November… wait, is that a ten euro note?! Which reminds me, I must get toilet paper” Pic:

I’ve spent some time prodding numbers into spreadsheets, sorting them into tables, poking them a bit (but not so much that they lose their shape, because they don’t like that), throwing them into graphs and taking them back out again.

Again, the idea here is to look at Top Ten Fiction Bestsellers in the UK – according to Nielsen and the Sunday Times - as an indicator of what’s going on in the market at large. It’s not perfect. But it can be a little bit pretty. And hopefully it can help authors to plan the best time to release their books, be they fiction or non-fiction.

The most bankable titles of the year – i.e. from the biggest authors – are generally released first either in the pre-Christmas period of October/November, or June/July in “hardback” format (or more probably, that god-awful massive trade paperback size which is impossible to read in bed and gives you scoliosis, if you try to carry it in your handbag).

Although the pre-Christmas market is admittedly bigger (and we dealt with why it is not for indie authors here), let’s have a look at the biggest titles (those which made it into the Bestseller List) released in June and July of 2014. Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

June alone saw the release of heavy hitters (paperbacks too) by Stephen King, Lynda La Plante, Jo Nesbo, Robert Galbraith, Terry Pratchett, Helen Fielding, and James Patterson (plus whichever stooge sorry, co-author, was ghost-writing his latest hit).

Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

July, then, brought fewer of the ‘big guns’, but still saw releases from Karin Slaughter, John Grisham, Caitlin Moran, Danielle Steele, James Patterson (and whoever, again) and Michael Connelly.

Although bang in the middle of summer holiday season, you would think that this is a strange time to release a hardback: after all, hardbacks are hardly the preferred reading formats for holidaymakers, due to their size. For instance, they are painful to read on sun-loungers.

However, the mass-release of hardback blockbusters in June and July could be because a summer hardback release can allow for a paperback release - and thus a 2nd sales spike - before Christmas.

It used to take up to a year for paperbacks to come out, but the growing popularity of E-books has narrowed the release period between hardbacks and paperbacks, because E-books are released at the same time as the first hardback releases. (Sadly, E-book data is not included here. I wish I could. But they won’t give it to me. [sob])

So, Could I Get To The Point, Please?

Let’s revisit this book sales graph for one moment.

Book Sales: What Happens When Blockbusters Flood The Market?

June is big for paperbacks, October for hardbacks

June and July are very noisy months in the book market – particularly fiction – when very very big authors are shouting very very loudly about their guaranteed bestsellers. Also, newspapers are looking for content to write about, and book reviews and interviews with famous authors come in dead handy.

There are quieter times of year for an indie author to publish. It might be more sensible to publish another time. And in the interim… book a holiday. You might need it.

Why NaNoWriMo Is Good For You

Why NaNoWriMo Is Good For You (And Me)

Last year’s spoils

National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo for short – is a time of year when upwards of 300,000 people across the globe attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, over the calendar month of November.
Like all the best love stories, it’s an insane idea, simultaneously riddled with genius.
Why’s that, I hear you not asking at all?
Well, because for people who have never written a full novel before, it makes a seemingly impossible goal possible, because it only asks you to commit for 30 days. And at the end of it, you just might wind up with your first, real, incontrovertible novel. Which is a major achievement.
For people who have either written novels before, or have attempted to and failed, it’s even better. Because it creates a parallel universe where, for 30 days, you are forced to step out of your comfort zone and change the way you write.

Which for an awful lot of us, is a good thing.

Diary Of A Writer (When It’s Not NaNoWriMo)

Day 1: A good start! Glad I took the week off work. Helps to get as much down as possible before all the new story momentum is lost. Chapter 1 of The Blood Count of Pudding Country is some of my best work ever. Love my 2 main characters, Count Van Carbunkle and Veronda McWuggin. Introducing McWuggin at a Sausage Festival deftly gets across both her child-like delight of finger-food, and her thirst for blood, I think.

Day 7: Not bad to have 5 chapters done already, considering that I broke off on Day 4 to watch 3 box sets on Netflix.

Day 15: Relieved. Finally worked out that the reason Count Van Carbunkle fails to trap Veronda in the meat blender is because of the bad experience he had with sausage and parsnip purée as a boy. Phew! Could have had a gaping plot hole there.

Day 41: Had to completely rewrite the first 10,000 words to move the action from Ireland to the UK.

Day 73: Haven’t touched the novel since the day I realised that Count Van Carbunkle should have been a woman.

Day 185: Right. Have now completely re-written the first 30,000 words with the Countess Van Carbunkle; made it a romantic comedy instead of a crime thriller; and changed location from Dorset to Siberia. It feels a lot better, but still a bit worried about Veronda McWuggins’ double limp. May still need to rewrite her as a champion show-jumper. Anyhoo, have to keep the momentum going now.

Day 305: Completely rewrote the first 30,000 words again.

Day 310:  This book is shit. Everything is shit.

Day 437: A good start! Glad I took the week off work. Helps to get as much down as possible before the new story momentum is lost. Chapter 1 of Potato Blight Killers And The Time Travelling Milkmaid is some of my best work ever.


Why NaNoWriMo Is Good For You

Diary Of A Writer (When It Is NaNoWriMo)

Day 1: Why am I doing this? This is the most idiotic idea I’ve ever had. Whatever I write will be shit. Can’t believe I signed up for this.

Day 2: Relieved that one half of one paragraph in Chapter 2 of Untitled might not actually be shit. Given the circumstances, not a bad achievement really.

Day 5: Where in the name of Blog did that character come out of? Never even dreamed of a martial-arts knitting expert before they landed on the page. Having said that, am quite taken with her, so will keep her.

Day 6: I’m dumping my original main character for being stupid and annoying. Martial arts knitters are the way forward.

Day 15:  You expect me to update a stupid diary? I haven’t got time for this, feck off

Day 19: That scene was bloody good fun to write

Day 27: Ok, so that was hard. Major fail, not writing for 3 days. Had to do 5,000 words today, which was horrible. Violently hate some of what I’ve written. But at least I’m back on track.

Day 30: I DID IT! 50,231 words! This is the best feeling ever! Even if the whole thing is unusable! So glad to have got that idea finished, and on paper. This is like free drugs! Woohoo!! PARTY TIME!!

Day 72: Holy crap. Just re-read my NaNoWriMo novel. And at least three-quarters of what I wrote in November is actually not shit! And the story arc isn’t too shabby either. So glad I made that snap decision to kill off my first main character. A surprisingly decent novel starts after he’s gone. So proud of myself!


So there you go. There are 30 reasons to do NaNoWriMo in there somewhere. Sorry for the swearing but I haven’t the time to be an upstanding member of the community. I’m off now to do my 1,667 words. Or thereabouts…

Tark And Mara Do Blog Awards

( I know, I know. This REEKS of dragging it out. But it’s a month today, and I did promise Tark and Mara’s take on the Blog Awards ages ago. Then we’re done, I swear.)

Somewhere in a parallel universe, a large function room in Co. Kill Dare was brimming with hope, excitement, and alcohol, wherein the Blogerati had gathered, in glorious fancy-dress, for the Oirish Blog Awards.

At Table 1, smiles were sweet. At Table 22, three people were -  ironically - playing Connect 4. At Table 666, Mara was spitting fire.

“She’s a bloody commoner, Tark!”

“I know.”

“She didn’t acknowledge you AT ALL!”


“I told you that lending your genius to some countrified twonk’s blog would do you no favours in the long run!”

Tark placed a manicured hand gently over his wife’s, stilling the tremors which were rocking the table, and forcing other guests to hold on to their quivering, over-full glasses.

“Keep your voice down, my treasured little ice-cream headache. It doesn’t do to be heard to be ungracious.”

Mara took a deep breath and leaned forward, unwittingly causing the 20-something blogger seated next to her to flinch. The young man had been confused as to why people 20 years his senior were blogging at all, let alone attending a blog awards event in some sort of vintage 1980s Jean-Paul Gaultier couture which exposed every skeletal contour of an impossibly gaunt frame. The young man wondered if Mara had eaten since the 1980s; he suspected not. He was glad he wasn’t competing in the Best Food And Drink Blog category, if this was the way things were going.

“I don’t know why you’re so bloody calm,” Mara hissed at her husband. “You’re the one who has been cheated out of their rightful position as Blog Lord by that dreadful Sparkling woman, but I’m doing all the righteous indignation here.”

“I’m taking a long-term view on this, darling.”

Tark And Mara Do Blog Awards

“Look at her up there, all trussed up like a Dynasty reject”

“How long-term, Tark? Another decade? Lest we forget, in ten days of guest-blogging for that plump, pastel plonker up there, you hoisted a grossly unpopular blog out of a swamp of nothingness, gained it 304,000 followers, used it to bring down a government, and now some utter nondescript is taking all the credit for it. Look at her there, all trussed up like a Dynasty reject. It would make me sick, had I eaten anything in the last 96 hours.”

“She does look dreadful. I didn’t know anyone could wear so much plastic.”

“Grinning ear-to-ear like an imbecile, with her candyfloss head.”

“Peach and pink could not be said to be her colours, that is true. I’m not even going to mention the blue eye-shadow.”

Mara averted her gaze from the monstrous vision on the stage and turned back to her husband. “I know what you’re doing. But I won’t be distracted by pin-point criticism of the worst outfit in the room.”

“But nobody can say that we haven’t stolen the show, my little firestarter. Between your 64-inch shoulder pads and 10-inch waist, and my channelling of the fashion-forward tennis legend that was John McEnroe, we showed them all, when you think about it.”

Mara sniffed. “I do look amazing.”

Tark and Mara Do Blog Awards

Joannnnn Collinsssss….. Yesssss….**

The final awards were being announced from the stage, to the sound of whoops and whistles. Mara grimaced. “It should have been you, Tark. I looked it up. No blog has ever before managed to be shortlisted for more than 5 categories in the same year, let alone in each of Arts & Culture, Fashion, Politics, Photography, Controversy, Wealth, Character Assassination, General Scoffing, and Defamation. And to think that you only started your own blog last week.”

“I must admit, even I was a little taken aback at the rapidity of my achievements. Still, it was unlikely to be a clean sweep. Which is why I arranged for that silly woman to win this award.”

“You planned this?” said Mara, uncharacteristic hope infecting her monotone.

“But of course, darling. Could you doubt it?”

Tark And Mara Do Blog Awards

Mara thought for a moment, sipping from her Bloody Mary as she did so. The petrified 20-something next to her watched with morbid fascination, unsure whether his eyes were deceiving him, or if he was really able to see the red drink slipping down her throat, colour suffusing erstwhile blue arteries. It was like watching a living X-ray. He began to take surreptitious photographs of her with his phone. It would make a cracking blog post the following day. He’d call it “The Disintegration of Generation X”.

For her part, Mara was struck by how a perceived slight had momentarily blinded her to the fact that her husband would infallibly, unfailingly win. She had forgotten herself. She had forgotten Tark.

“I should have known.” She sighed heavily, managing to lose one further dress size in the process. “How bourgeois of me.”

Tark grinned wolfishly at his wife and adjusted the sweatband holding down his mullet perm toupée. “Don’t worry, my little wasp. Just wait until I take down this Sparkling woman, bit by bit, starting with that ghastly spiked fringe; and her blog will be mine. All mine.”

As always, when Tark spoke in italics, Mara shivered. Tark whipped out the cocktail napkin (from the 6-star Dubai hotel he’d taken her to in September, to make up for their Irish beach holiday) upon which he had scrawled his strategy.

“Tomorrow, I will begin by praising her blog for its courageous mastery of the humble-brag, and a contrived disavowal of success. The following week, I’ll say that I’m eagerly awaiting her first novel, despite the fact that there are still no indications of when, or indeed what that will be.”

Tark reached for his gin and tonic and raised a glass to his newly-delighted wife.

“She’ll be toast by November.”


** Pic courtesy Damien Carroll Cearbhuil Studios

What Time Of The Year Should You Publish Your Novel?

I’ve been getting quite a few hits lately from search terms such as “when do I self-publish my novel?” and “when does a book need to be published for the Christmas market?

I already pontificated on the issue of self-publishing for Christmas in this post, but that only dealt with one time of year. Now I’d like to talk in more general terms about seasonal trends in book sales. I have inhaled oodles of data on the subject. And so, in this post, and more to follow*, I’m going to take a look at questions like these:

  • Which month of the year sees the most sales?
  • Which month sees the least sales?
  • How many sales do you need to make it into the Top Ten Bestseller list? Are there times of the year when the target is lower and this might be easier?
  • Are there particular weeks in the year when sales increase or decrease significantly? Is that a good time to publish? Why?
  • Why are hardbacks still published? What’s the ratio of hardback to paperback sales?
  • What happens when one particular title sees a major sales spike? Does it cannibalise other book sales? What are the reasons for sales spikes?
  • How many books per 1,000 head of population do people buy in the UK? Or in Ireland?
  • Why, in September 2014, did  bestselling books have to have the word “Bone” in the title?
  • Why??

Over the past few months, I’ve been incubating some lovely numbers for you, nurturing them in the hopes that one day, I would actually have something to tell you. My internal Nerd Queen doesn’t want me to post this now, because I only have 5 months’ worth of data, but seeing as there’s obviously some interest, I’m going to start posting what I have, to hell with the consequences. (OOOH! Insurgent book data! Stop the madness!)

Who Is This Data You Speak Of? Am I Bothered?

In an utterly incontrovertible study (see what I did there), I collected the Top Ten bestseller fiction data for each week in the UK and Ireland, as supplied by Nielsen Bookscan and published by the Sunday Times (UK) and the Irish Times (Ireland). I don’t have data for the US, but as I explained here, the US doesn’t seem to have that data, either. There may come a time when I do it for the scant New York Times bestseller data available. We’ll see.

Although the base data obviously only includes the top 10 bestsellers from each week (and is in itself far from perfect, given the issues still surrounding e-book sales data) the exercise still suffices for what I want to look at: Trends. Sales trends and outliers, to be precise.

Here are some lovely initial graphs, which illustrate some of what I’ll be talking about. I’m just concentrating on UK data here but Irish data will also come later.

All of the gorgeous data behind these pretty pictures comes from, and belongs to, Nielsen Bookscan via the Sunday Times. But I collated it, averaged it and graphed it, so the pretty pictures are mine. (However that works out.)

When is the best time of year to publish your novel?

Marked drops in bestseller sales in July, August and September – but does this open up the market for you?

As you can see, August saw the least weekly average sales (hardback and paperback together), probably because more people were away during this month, having already bought their holiday reading. In October, however, you can see sales increasing quite a bit. This is most likely because the big titles, which would sell in their droves anyway, are all being released for Christmas.

What time of the year should you publish your novel?

More paperbacks are bought in June (for holidays?) but the highest hardback sales are in October (blockbuster releases for Christmas)

What Does This Mean For Self-Publishers Right Now?

More Heavy Hitters (i.e. long-awaited titles from authors so popular, they spit on you after they take your lunch money) are released between the beginning of September and the beginning of November than any other time of year. Why, if you are self-publishing, would you pit yourself against the strongest sellers in the business?

In general, I would want to do it when the market noise was a little quieter. I know that the run-up to Christmas would seem like the most obvious time to sell a book, hence the fact that the big industry players – the traditional publishers with the big-name authors – are saturating the market as we speak.

But there’s little point in trying to tout your book when all anyone can talk about is the first new book in aeons from Dan Brown or Lee Child, or the movie adaptation just out in time for Oscar season which is reviving the sales of that blockbuster. It doesn’t matter what your genre is.

Furthermore, even if I were counting on 90% of my initial sales coming from buyers I knew personally buying my book at the launch plus an additional 16 copies each as Christmas gifts, I might leave it to publish in the last week of November or the 1st week of December, after all the famous authors and biographers had shut up. In any case, that’s only going to work if you’ve actually printed it. Digital novels don’t translate to Christmas sales – at least not in my book.

That’s it for today. More data to follow next week. And graphs. Oh my Blog, how I love graphs.

 *Nanowrimo is coming. And I am doing it. November therefore seems like a fitting time for some bloody lovely data analytics which may actually be useful/interesting to some of you, while I try to write 50,000 words of actual fiction offline.

There is [sometimes] method to my madness.


Lights… Camera…. READ! How Writing Goes Live

Joyce and Beckett walked into a bar...One thing which made the transition from my business brain to my bookish brain lately was a certain trend in the music industry, which now seems to be making inroads into the book industry.

It’s all becoming more and more about live performance.

Part of what I do for a living (my actual living, which pays me actual money) involves looking at sales and (financial) performance trends in different industries. On a bad day, I’m forced to switch from the sales projections of ball-bearing manufacturers, to the financial ratios of insurance companies. On a good day, I can jump from looking at companies who make ridiculously expensive shirts, to pondering the machinations of media moguls (hence the thoughts which led me to this particular soapbox).

Reaching for mic stand

Ever since music publishing entered the murky era of music sharing, social media and bedroom record labels (which in the business is known as the “Nobody Knows What The F*** Is Going On” era), a few things have become clear, namely:

  1. Artists aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
  2. Record companies aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
  3. Record companies and (some) artists used to make obscene amounts of money from album sales. Nowadays, this is rare (unless you’re Adele, or Adele’s record company).
  4. Artists can still make a lot of money from touring, but that’s pretty much it (unless you’re Adele).
  5. Record companies without live music divisions are in trouble, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel just yet.

So, How Does This Relate To Books?

Well, since the advent of e-publishing, and self-publishing, the book industry has been undergoing the same stresses. Book pricing has changed completely; even full-price books are cheaper online, and the majority of books in shops are being discounted anyway. Readers are flooding electronic devices with free content. Online fan fiction takes a huge chunk of readership. There are a hundred other reasons why things have changed, but the upshot is that there are far more authors on the scene, and those authors are all getting less money. And publishers are petrified, because their business models are becoming obsolete.

And here’s where the author performance events come in.

ah nice bookshopWhat originally germinated from small-ish literature festivals, book clubs, dead-of-night TV arts programmes and open mic nights has now become a whole new and important part of the entertainment industry, not to mention a major driver of books sales.

Big-name authors can now sell out concert halls for readings, signings and interviews. Some authors are becoming more famous for their live performances than their work on the page. But live “performances” – for that is what they are, whether they’re called interviews, signings or otherwise – are undeniably selling books. It’s the equivalent of the rock band live tour.

Some authors are huge and can sell thousands of tickets to their appearances. Some authors are small, and give readings to tens of people in bookshops.

But the parallels with the music industry are there too. Some garage bands dream of making it to the stadium; some want to stay indie because they believe it’s truer to their art. Either way, none of them want to stay in the garage.

I did a Spoken Word workshop recently, and it was a real eye-opener. But I also go to a lot of book events, and a good performance always makes me buy more.

Could I Get To The Point, Please?

The moral of the story is: whether you’re self-published or traditionally published; starting out, struggling, mid-list or heading for imminent superstardom – you must get yourself ready to perform.

Learn how to read your work publicly, in an entertaining way. (The old chestnut here is “Be the best version of yourself”.) Learn how to engage with an audience; learn how to engage with an interviewer. Practice reading your work out loud, and get feedback. Select well from your work, and ask for the opinion of others; the best piece (to you) could easily be the worst to read aloud, and fail to give an audience any reason to buy your book.

Opera CurtainSo if you want to be a hugely famous author, learn how to act. Put on a show. Any writer who wants to be successful nowadays must be able to entertain in ways which do not involve sitting behind their desk, or hiding behind their computer and crippling shyness. It’s all about the show today, folks, and the show must go on.

Do you agree?

What A Blank Page Says To A Writer

Blank pages. You know what they look like, right? Empty, white space?


A blank page can be full of things. Daft people - optimists and the like - might say they are full of possibility. But a blank page can be chock-full of insults, jibes, and taunts too.

Just look at what a blank page says to a writer.

One blank page said all this to me only yesterday

My blank page said all this to me only yesterday

You can tell it’s been one of those weeks already. I hope your blank pages are treating you better.