Word gets around…

I’ve banged on before about word of mouth and how important it is to the success of any book, so it’s been really lovely these last couple of weeks to start hearing back from people who’ve given the proof copies of ‘Being Billy’ a whirl.

Most of the feedback has come via librarians, people who I guess picked up a copy whilst at the YLG conference in Cardiff, and so far their responses have been incredibly encouraging. I’ve had a couple of invites to go and speak to both book-groups and attendees at a conference. What will make both of these events really interesting is that I’d be speaking directly to children in care, a prospect that both excites and terrifies in equal measure…

Obviously, it’ll be fascinating and humbling to talk to kids in the midst of similar situations to Billy, to hear their stories, to see how much life in homes has changed since I worked in them in the late 1990’s, but at the same time, what if they don’t relate to what I’ve written at all?
I’ve never lived through the things they have. I was a carer (or as Billy calls them ‘scummers’), on the other side of the fence, someone who was lucky enough to have a family to go home to at the end of the shift, so how can I possibly imagine what it must be like to live their lives?

I suppose this is the biggest challenge for anyone writing, to capture a level of authenticity, to enable the reader to say ‘yep, that’s exactly how I feel’.
And that’s why writing for kids or Young Adults is such a fantastic challenge, because they are the harshest critics. Why would they waste time wading through a book that they aren’t enjoying or can’t relate to, when there a hundred other things fighting for their attention…the simple truth is, they won’t, and this thought always keeps me on my toes when I’m writing.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I spend too much time worrying, my old boss even nicknamed me Eeyore for that very reason, so I’m keeping all this in check, trying not to let the worry take over, remind myself that I have got inside Billy’s story after all.

I got a message this week from a lady I’ve never met. She got in touch via Twitter, and her message really made me smile. She liked Billy enough to get in touch and tell me. She even went as far as posting a review on the Puffin website, and I’ve decided that whenever I worry about whether I’ve got inside Billy’s head, I’ll just give it a read.

Her review says…….

‘Borrowed this pre sale book from my daughter who is doing a review for her local library. I didn”t expect to like it but quickly found I couldn”t put it down. Having fostered a child in a similar situation several years ago this story really hit a cord. The whole book is compelling and the characters totally believable full of strength and dignity. If this is the first, I can”t wait for the follow ups. Well done Phil for tackling such a difficult subject.’

Original blog post appears here.

“Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…..”

Yesterday, between 11 and 11.30 am, I felt like a rock star.

Well, I say a rock star, maybe not Keef Richards or Mick Jagger, probably more a northern Chesney Hawkes who’s had one curry too many, but I was a rock star all the same….(cue chorus of ‘One and Only’)

I spent Friday and Saturday at the Youth Librarians Group Conference in Cardiff. Now you might think this isn’t the place that rock stars congregate, but you’d be wrong, as a lot of the most important and revered kids writers and illustrators were present to talk about their work, good folk like Cathy Cassidy (the newly crowned Queen of Teen), Chris Riddell and Helen Oxenbury, legends all.

I was there primarily to work, manning the S&S stall, pressing our books into the librarians hands, but as I was already there, the good people of Puffin very kindly organised for me to sign copies of ‘Being Billy’ in one of the coffee breaks.

Now the book isn’t out until January, so we were using the proof copies of the book created for this type of occasion. To get people reading and hopefully loving Billy now, so that when it finally appears on shelves, they’re primed and ready to recommend it.

I was a bit nervous about it, still felt like a bit of a fraud amongst these established writers, and of course there was a very strong chance that I would end up sat for half an hour with a pen in hand, a pile of books in front of me, and no-one interested in having one….

But the brilliant thing was, the books were free, so I needn’t have worried, of course people would take one off my hands.
It was a surreal and fantastic way to spend half an hour, scrawling my name in my cack-handed way in the front of my book, and the really terrific thing was a number of the librarians had already read it, loved it, and so wanted a copy for their colleague, or with one of their customers in mind.
I don’t think I’ve ever grinned as widely, or for as long as I did.
I’ve worked so many signings over the years, so to be sat at the table instead of managing the queue? Well it felt like a bit of a defining moment really, like maybe I am a proper author after all.
Time will tell, but for now, I’m still grinning….

Original post appears here with comments

Word of Mouth……

….there’s nothing like it.

Publishers have spent years in windowless meeting rooms talking about how to get the buzz going on new or established authors (I feel like I’ve sat in on my fair share of them…).

It’s the most discussed subject in books, apart from ‘how do create a crossover sensation?’(grrrr, the hours wasted on that little gem..), but it’s talked about for a reason, because you can’t beat it.
There’s nothing more gratifying than watching a book that you absolutely love fly off the shelves, and when it’s flying because booksellers are hand-selling it to customers, who in turn are raving about it to their mates, well it’s a magnificent feeling. Better than…(fill in your hedonistic pleasure of choice here)

Don’t get me wrong, a well-placed ad campaign can work wonders, but these are few and far between on debut novels, and quite rightly too.

I like the idea of a book going out on the shelves without that sort of fanfare. Love the thought that your proof copy has landed in the right hands, and that the story has been enough to persuade booksellers or librarians that this is the next book that their customers have to read….

It’s a risky and romantic belief this. I remember our staff room at Ottakars being jammed full of unread proofs, each of them raved about by reps as the next big thing. 90% of them would sit there for a few months, until we couldn’t open the door anymore, leaving us no option but to fill the skip with them (even the charity shops didn’t want them…).

But I’m not going to linger on that thought. I’m just going to have faith that the jacket and the copy will be enough to entice booksellers to give ‘Billy’ a whirl.

The other thing that I hope will help are the quotes.

One of the many great things about working in bookselling, or publishing, is that you get to meet people, people whose opinion counts, and so when I got the deal with Puffin I wrote to some of these good folk and asked them if they had time to read my book.

And do you know what, they did.

I fretted like mad whilst waiting to hear. Worried they’d hate it, or even worse, that they’d feel compelled to say nice things out of a weird sense of loyalty, even though they owed me nowt…
…But I needn’t have worried, because these good people came up trumps, and it was the most brilliant confidence boost you could ask for.

What’s even better is that they said I could tell other people what they thought, and so, the good people of Puffin have put some of the quotes together, laid them out snazzily, and will put them on the back cover and inside the book.

I really hope that these kind words do the trick. I hope they entice people, booksellers, librarians, Joe Public, whoever, to give this a whirl, and spread the word. Have a look below and tell me what you think…would you read this book??