Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Friday, July 29, 2011

How to use a bookshop

You'll be forgiven for thinking this is a no-brainer. How can one not know how to use a bookstore? You go in, see a book you like, and buy it, right? Right?

Ah, um, er... not really. Everything about the books industry has changed, and I don't just mean the introduction of ebooks and the advent of hand-held reading devices, either. The book selling industry has been evolving rapidly for some time, and learning how to use a book store is vital for a number of reasons.

Stoke Newington Bookshop, LondonImage via WikipediaThe first is because you like them - you love bookshops. The whole world is debating whether they will survive and everybody cries when one (or one chain) closes its doors. There are other reasons: bookstores make malls varied, make gift-buying for the person who has everything easier, and gently persuade, with smells, colours and textures. They attract youngsters to reading. They fulfil cultural, social, educational and economic roles. I am sure you can think of a dozen more reasons for having bookstores.

But learning how to use them in the new book-buying climate is essential. It's not as simple as enter, browse, buy. Oh no.

Buying books is personal, subjective, and can be expensive. Browsing, impulse buying, and whimsical purchases are all right for the very wealthy, or those with infinite space to store on either real or virtual shelves. But mistakes can be frustrating and costly. Learn how to purchase wisely. First, learn what kind of a reader you are, and also the reading likes and dislikes of those you know and love. Learn how to list what you have read so far. Also list your favourite authors and those you will not willingly read again. Look for "If you liked this, you will like that" lists on the web and at your library.

Examining your reading habits will make you a better user of bookshops, but that is not the most important thing to know about them. Here it is: it is physically impossible for bookshops to carry all the books available in print. Chances are they will not have what you are after. That author you spotted on a blog, that great book everyone at work was talking about, that title you overhead on the street, that paragraph you read over someone's shoulder on the train, from a book whose title now escapes you ... No - they won't be able to guess at the bookstore. No, it won't necessarily be on a bookshop shelf. has about seven million books on its shelves - can you imagine the size of shop needed to take that many books - even just one of each?
So how are you going to find the books YOU want to read rather than what the store manager has selected for you from the millions available? How will you find that elusive novel people are buying in some other country, but not where you currently live, shop and work?

You can do it by learning how to put a bookshop to better use, and ensure its survival. Do your homework. Make some intelligent searches online, find those valuable hints. Make a list of overheard titles, books found on newspaper reviews, authors whose names elude you. Then march down to your favourite bookshop and MAKE AN ORDER.

That is what bookshops are really for: taking your orders and finding the books you want on their catalogues, which are enormous, but searchable. They access huge databases looking for the titles you seek, when you bang your fist on their counters! Bookshops are merely a portal to your reading material: all you see is the entrance. The contents are too big to keep in one shop or one location, so you need to ask for what you want. Place an order for any book on the Books in Print catalogue. If it's there, they should be able to get it for you.

Learn how to make your search for books a concerted effort between searching online, storing books on your eReader, downloading, keeping a good TBRL*, and ordering paper books. The result will be a rewarding variety of reading modes, materials you have actively chosen, and very fruitful book-buying experiences.

Leave me a comment on your book shop experiences: are you often disappointed in your search for a specific book? Have you examined how you shop? Are you willing to tweak your buying habits to help ensure the survival of bookshops?

*To Be Read List
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Simon says

From Marray Services
Writers need to do a lot of strange things to draw attention to themselves and their work. One of these favourite activities is to write blogs and comments on Being a Writer, or The Writer's World, or The Life of the Writer.

Writers read the blogs of other writers, looking for advice on how to write, how to live the writer's life, and how to sell more books. Or perhaps How to Write a Better Novel. I have read so much guidance from other novelists I sometimes wonder which way is up. A lot of it is conflicting, and some of it makes little practical sense.

I find advice on branding, plotting, selling, promoting, characterization, drafting, genres, editing and a whole lot more. There is advice to be had on every single aspect of writing and being an author. Often, it is written and offered by people who have done little writing, except in the way of advice. Some have written so much help, advice, information and guidance it's not immediately obvious that it's all they have written. Doesn't one have to have written one novel - at least - to be able to guide another prospective author through the traps?

Doesn't one need the experience of dealing with an agent or publisher before jumping into the fray and telling others how to do it? Apparently, it's 'no experience required' when it comes to this kind of advice-mongering. Hop on any discussion group, thread or forum about writing, and you will find 'advice' of all kinds, some forthcoming from individuals whose credentials to offer it are often minimal or non-existent.

It is not unusual to find whole companies popping up offering to 'help ' a new writer through the process, when they have not published as much as a short story themselves. Perhaps this realisation might prompt new writers to be very wary about the sources of advice, and look upon it as a Simon Says exercise. Find out what the writer offering counsel or assistance has actually done. Make it your business to discover what that writer's real experience has been. Do what a writer does, if you like the outcome, not merely what they say you should do.

Finding out what experiences a writer has been through is sometimes only evident from what they have published. This is not a bad indicator at all. An author with a string of titles out, with a good history of sales, probably has the benefit and weight of consequence behind their information and guidance. Someone whose only testimonial is more dubious advice must be treated with the same suspicion as a door-to-door salesman peddling a product with no reputation.

When an author has the weight of experience and the output to prove it, it's usually visible, and easy to find. Either their own website, or a quick visit to your favourite online bookstore, will confirm backing for that guidance. Even a rapid search will disclose whether the advice is worth following.

It is extremely easy to read up and regurgitate so-called information and advice - let's not be taken in by the ones who have honed this to a fine art: giving advice to follow a career path, a plan of action or a series of steps they have never taken themselves.

What do you think of information and guidance for writers you have found on the web or elsewhere? Was it backed by real experience?
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Friday, July 22, 2011

4 reasons to try another genre

Readers - and authors - generally find a genre that fascinates them, and stick to it. At least for a while. You get mystery buffs, romance lovers, history gurus, and biography buyers. There are also thriller nuts, and fantasy fiction freaks.

Today I suggest readers - and authors! - live dangerously and try another genre. Here are the reasons

One: Taking on a romance rather than a thriller for your next read might sound a little risky. There will be no car chases, extortion, blood or guts. You might find, as a reader, that there is a facet to this different genre you did not suspect existed. The characters are sketched differently. The background, perhaps, is given a different kind of slant. Authors might find themselves engrossed with the emotional life of their characters, and the importance of nuance.

Novels in a Polish bookstoreImage via WikipediaTwo: Another genre might make you seem more interesting to the family, or the crowd you hang with. If they peep over your shoulder at the content of your Kindle, or see a different kind of paperback sticking out of your handbag, you might suddenly seem to have another string to your bow. Interesting - you might find your friends look at you in a different way all of a sudden. Unpredictability makes people fascinating. 'I never knew you were interested in politics.' A conversation is struck up, and you have a new friend, with a new interest.

Three: Genre jumping as an author might give you a whole new market to exploit. As a science fiction writer, the niche of cosy mysteries is a closed box and itself a conundrum... why not give it a whirl? The following you gather might be tempted to jump genre themselves, and try your sci-fi titles. Iain Banks has done it, and so has Tess Gerritsen. It takes nerve, and a willing agent or publisher, but there too the trend is now favourable, and stranger things have happened.

Four: A change is as good as a rest. Or a holiday! Writing a light detective novel might not seem like as much hard toil as that deeply researched genealogical narrative non-fiction. A travelogue might seem a doddle compared to that psychological thriller, if you are a reader on holiday or simply after a change.

Are you a reader willing to try another genre - if so, from which to what? If you are an author seriously considering this risky genre-jumping caper, tell us about it.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Novels could shrink

Cover of
A very brief interview with an author and a traditional publisher I listened to yesterday got me thinking. (I can't find the link - I'll post it later if I do).

One of the men being interviewed was a midlist author who issued his languishing manuscripts solo. Neither his publisher nor any other he contacted would have them, despite his better than average midlist success, because they were not in his regular genre. So he put them out himself - timing the launch very cleverly with Christmas sales in 2010, when we all   know there was a Kindle explosion - and he sold something like 7,500 ebook copies over the holidays.

Courtesy of KAM
But that was not the most interesting thing he had to say. You and I both know that some authors are doing phenomenally well with independent publishing of eBooks, so that is old news to us. This author, whose name I wish I'd remembered*, went on to say how the manuscript length was another issue his publishers could not grapple with. His successful eBooks were smaller than your average paperback novel - as small as 45,000words.

Now this is exciting. I can hear you getting restless. I can see you reaching for your keyboard. I'm reaching for mine. The prospect of being able to write and sell short novels opens up new possibilities. Imagine being able to try shorter lengths. This opens doors to experimenting with new genres, new audiences, and topics whose research and writing time seems daunting for a 125,000 word volume. The publisher on the interview agreed the extra-long novel is likely to disappear, because of publishing constraints, financial restrictions and reader habits.

The author on the interview said people with electronic devices no longer perceive novel length to be a factor. It does not represent value for money in the same way it does when viewing a paperback in a shop. Readers purchase eBooks differently - the length of the novel is not immediately visible, and matters less than quality, author name, or genre. People with electronic devices read on small screens, in shorter bursts of attention. Shorter novels, novellas and the short story are packages that suit the new limited attention spans readers can devote to fiction.

Pic from
The novel might shrink. We need not contemplate the difficulty of novels similar to Gone With the Wind, War and Peace or Poor Fellow, My Country. That kind of length is not only difficult to plan for an author, but daunting to tackle for today's busy reader, even though eBooks can feasibly be of any length. Long or short - it doesn't really affect the way electronic books are downloaded or stored.

Think what this can do for the serial writer. Think what it could do for the author's time, and the reader's ability to purchase a series rather than a single volume.

* Yay! I have remembered - his name is Stephen Leather and you can see another interview he did here.

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