10 Reasons Why Being A Writer Is Like Being Santa Claus

Merry List-mas! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but before everyone stops reading blogs for Christmas, there is time for a top ten.

So, in the spirit of one of my favourite posts from the last year (10 Reasons Why Being A Writer Is Like Working In Middle Management), here’s a seasonal take on the writing life.


10 Reasons Why Being A Writer Is Like Being Santa Claus

Santa Be a Writer


1.   Most people don’t believe in you. You’re not even sure if you believe in yourself.

2.   Your greatest work is done alone, or in remote locations.

3.   You work for free.

4.   You have a long and illustrious cultural history, but people are always questioning your future.

5.   You’ve worked bloody hard for a very long time to get where you are. But as soon as people hear of you, they think you’re an overnight success.

6.   You’re constantly asking people what they want, but no matter what they tell you, they always seem to prefer a surprise.

7.   You despair sometimes, that your work will ever be appreciated: but just when you feel exhausted and beaten, you find that someone has left you a carrot.

8.   Your customers can be fickle. One day, you’re all they can talk about; the next, you don’t exist.

9.   You get little or no thanks for the work you do. But you wouldn’t change it for the world.

10.  You work as hard as you can, for as long as you can. But in order to really succeed, you’re always going to need just a little bit of magic.



As always, any additions to the list welcome in the comments. I have to go now and eat an 8-course lunch, making sure I finish the current bottle of port before I open the next. I have standards, dammit.

Great Scott! My 2014 Predictions for the future ALL CAME TRUE!

GREAT SCOTT! My 2014 predictions for the future ALL CAME TRUE!Well… kind of.

Back in January, I wrote a pre-emptive review of what was going to happen in 2014. Like most psychics, I was unassailably confident about my foresight. Now, the naysayers amongst you – the doom-mongerers and pedants – might say that I got absolutely everything wrong. But that is simply not true. The fact that some authors and publishers I spoke of failed to fulfil their solemn duty is not my fault.

Today, I’d like to prove how magnanimous I am. Unlike common-or-garden psychics, I am going to go through my predictions in detail, allowing you to be the judges of my considerable soothsaying talent. (You can thank me at my live show.)

Introductory notes to my prediction post went as follows:

“Taking inspiration from J.K. Rowling, who wrote the last chapter of the Harry Potter series long before half the books were even published, I’ve decided to write my 2014 reviews now. It will save time at the end of the year, when I’ll be very busy with TV appearances, liposuction and smiting my enemies.”

I went on to look at the sure-fire bestselling book trends of 2014. I shall now proceed to comment upon them here, with the benefit of hindsight.


JANUARY: Who knew that the best selling book of January would buck the trend of the past 100 years? “SO I’M FAT. DEAL WITH IT! A Guide to Maintaining Those Hard Earned Festive Pounds” had sold 2.3 million copies in France alone by January 13th. There were reports of Cheryl Cole having gained 100g, but these were never confirmed.

RESULT: Nearly right. Cheryl Cole actually gained approximately 2lb when she acquired a diamond  rock the size of Gibraltar upon her quickie marriage to Someguy Implausibly-Doublebarrelled. Not bad.


FEBRUARY: Literary critics the world over were unceremoniously fired for failing to spot that 6 out of the top 10 bestsellers in February were all written by J.K. Rowling, under different pseudonyms. This was seen by some as a bit harsh. Who could possibly have spotted that she was the one behind I.B. Hiden’s “How To Pass Your Driving Test In 6 Easy Spells Steps”?

RESULT: Right for different reasons: Literary critics were indeed made redundant during 2014, but only after anonymous book reviewers took to the cyberstreets and unceremoniously shot anyone who dissented from their cause.


MARCH: “Confessions Of A Billionaire Tax Defaulter” was a runaway success in the USA and 23 European countries.

RESULT: If only I’d been right: Billionaires had never been less newsworthy than in 2014, when it once again became acceptable to be openly loaded in public (at least outside the Eurozone).


APRIL: By the 20th, April had been officially declared Fake Autobiography Month. Top of the heap here were “You Thought I Meant What Exactly?” (Jesus Christ); “Each Night I Cried Myself To Sleep” (Denis Thatcher) and “The Writer’s Wife: No Romeo” (Anne Hathaway-Shakespeare)

RESULT: So right it’s wrong: The biggest autobiography released in the first half of 2014 was singer Morrissey’s, who packaged his emo life story in a fake Penguin Classics cover. C’mon. You’ve got to give me that one.


MAY: Fortune smiled on Jane Doe in May, when “One Direction”, her hitherto unknown self-published e-book about migrating birds, was mistaken by a billion fans for a kiss-and-tell on all 5 members of the now alcohol- and drug-dependent boy band. By the time the mistake had been realised, Jane’s mortgage was paid off, and she herself had migrated south for the winter.

RESULT: Really, who cares? This was funny.


GREAT SCOTT! My 2014 predictions for the future ALL CAME TRUE!

JUNE: June was a washout, boosting the sales of rainy day romance e-book titles, but in a surprise twist, from male narrators. The battle was won by “Weak Female Falls For Controlling Billionaire”, “Pseudo-Independent Neurotic Finds Out Boy Next Door Is Actually A Stud”, and “The Implausible Marriage Proposal”.

RESULT: I’d like to see anyone even try to prove me wrong on this one.


JULY AND AUGUST: The traditional months of the silly season lived up to their name with the announcement that Katie Price’s breasts had finished the last 20 chapters of her latest book. Sales doubled.

RESULT: Don’t you wish I was right?


SEPTEMBER: September was the first month to see E-book sales outstrip print book sales.

RESULT: Seeing as nobody will supply proper e-book sales data, despite the fact that it’s more easily collected than paper book sales data, none of you can prove me wrong. So this makes me right.


OCTOBER: Literary fiction came to the fore in October for a brief spell when “The Wilting of Wiltersdon” hit the bestseller list for 2 hours in the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd. The book, described as “the most astute psychological narrative on depression-era turnip growing in a decade”, provided arts programmes and book festivals with their sole interviewee for the next seven months.

RESULT: Even I was surprised how many literary titles this year consisted of “The Something of Something”, or some sort of copycat take on “The Hundred-Year-Old Man… etc”. Are they ALL using my Literary Fiction Book Title Generator? Should I be looking for royalties?!


NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER: The runaway Christmas bestseller was also the most predictable, visible with the naked eye for a six-thousand mile radius. The 16-line long prequel and movie-appetite whetter “50 Shades: The Hidden Depths Of Christian Grey” had sold 103 million copies before anyone realised its length.

RESULT: We’re not done yet, but the movie’s out in February, so I might have been just 2 months out, which pretty much makes me a genius, in my book.


So, do you want my predictions for 2015? Or even better – have you any of your own?

A Little Overview Of The Irish Book Market

A Little Overview Of The Irish Book Market

In case you’re wondering, I made this image. In Paint. That’s why it’s so bad. But I didn’t steal it

Recently, I’ve been using book sales data from the Top Ten Fiction Bestseller lists published by the Sunday Times, in an attempt to illustrate book-buying behaviour.

I focused on UK data, because it’s such an important market and it carries a much bigger stick. But today I’d like to have a look at the Irish bestseller lists on their own, because some little trends and patterns emerged which may be useful to any author thinking of self-publishing. Ireland was often used as a ringfenced product test market (ask Cadbury’s), so trends can often become more apparent here than in a much bigger country.

That said, the Irish market can look quite different to the UK market, because we love our Irish authors here – almost slavishly so. When a popular Irish author releases a new title in hardback (or trade paperback) it will generally hit the top 10 more or less immediately, regardless of what’s lighting up the market across the Irish Sea.

But when it comes to paperbacks, we go for the international bestsellers every time, and the release of a big movie adaptation of a book can send sales of that book into the stratosphere.

How Many Book Sales Make A Bestseller?

This shows how many sales you’re going to need at certain times of the year, in order to shoehorn your way into the Irish Top Ten. It looks like a ridiculously small amount in Ireland – sometimes just 250 would do it – but our population is of course much smaller.

I’ve crunched the numbers for both Ireland and the UK, and we buy similar numbers of bestsellers per head of population, although fewer in Ireland, because we seem to spread the love a little more amongst mid-list (and Irish) authors.

A Little Overview Of The Irish Book Market

In the UK, from June to October, 2.47 top ten bestsellers were bought per 1,000 head of population, per week. In Ireland, 2.29 bestsellers were sold per 1,000 people, but we bought far more of them in hardback format than in the UK: Irish people bought 0.96 hardbacks (generally new releases) per 1,000 people per week, but in the UK, this was only 0.62.

Now for the meaty bit. There’s a lot of juice running out of these tables, so you might want to keep a serviette handy.

A Little Overview Of The Irish Book Market

Note: Look at the number of paperbacks which were sold to reach the #1 spot in June. This skyrocketed with the film adapatation of The Fault In Our Stars, which multiplied sales of the book almost fourfold. And in October, we see a spike again with the release of the Gone Girl film. The moral of the story is – if you’re releasing a work of fiction, don’t time it to clash with the release of the screen adapatation of a major bestseller.

On a more positive note, it can take as little as 250 sales to get into the Irish Top 10 in certain months of the year. Think about it: if you get everyone you know to buy your book in the week of your launch (from participating booksellers, obviously), you could find yourself in the position to say you’ve written a “Times Bestseller”!

What Happens Once You Hit The Top Ten?

Most hardbacks have a bestseller shelf life of about 4-6 weeks. The paperback bestseller lists, however, are a mixum-gatherum of titles released 3, 6 or 12 months ago, along with the odd title from 3 years ago which has just seen a screen adaptation and is back in the bestseller list for the 4th time. This bestseller list from the end of June includes release dates and shows what I mean:

A Little Overview Of The Irish Book Market

Dodgy Advice Incoming**

The way I see it, if you’re relatively well-known in this country, you can chuck out a hardback in the big months, get all your journalist besties to give you a nice write-up in the national papers, and your book will almost definitely make the list.

But in the paperback market, you’re competing with the Faults In Our Stars and the Gone Girls, not to mention the Stephen Kings and John Grishams, so be prepared for a slow burner and don’t expect too much.

What About Non-Fiction?

For non-fiction, the Christmas market is your oyster. So get that self-help pocketbook or your humorous sideswipe at Irish fathers out in September or October. Work on your press release, and be prepared to use whoever your uncle-in-law met in the Palace Bar for favours in order to get publicity.

It’s not pretty. But that’s book sales.

I’m off now before I give you serious data overload, and you all leave, and never come back. That wouldn’t be pretty either.

As always, observations, diatribes or witticisms in the comments are even more welcome than a good book on a rainy day.

**Note: All advice must be taken at your own peril and should only be imbibed with a stiff drink. So there.

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: musee-rodin.fr

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