Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Talking books at a language school in Italy: guest post by Tonia Parronchi

In recent posts, we've talked about book signings and workshops and Julie McGowan has given us some valuable insights into how these can help authors promote and sell their work.

This week, Tonia Parronchi talks to us about another avenue writers can explore: language school audiences. Clearly, this is a more restricted area as we have to keep the native language of the audience in mind, but second language students who like to read are without doubt a potential market, albeit a small one.

Last week, Tonia was invited to talk to an audience of students and teachers at a language school near her home in Italy. 

Tonia with one of the students in the audience

"I really enjoyed my recent moment of "stardom ". A local language school here in Italy has been organizing a series of cultural events for high level students and asked me to come along and talk about my work as a writer. 

When I arrived there, the room had been set up beautifully with china tea cups on the union-jack patterned tables and plates of English biscuits. Each table also had a paper teapot holding questions for the students to ask me, in case their minds went blank. Added to that, there were place cards with a picture of my book "A Whisper on the Mediterranean " with a raffle ticket hidden inside. The prize at the end of the evening would be a copy of the book.

The students were great. They were of all ages and walks of life - a school girl, businessmen and women, a policeman and a couple of retired people.  In all there were about 20 people and I suddenly got nervous.  What if I bored them all?

The teachers introduced me and I talked about both my published books and did readings from them both, followed by questions. I relaxed as the questions flowed and the prompts weren't needed. 

A lovely girl asked where she could buy both my books because she'd enjoyed the snippets I read so much. The evening ended with the raffle and I happily dedicated a book for the winner.

At the end of the evening, I realised that if I had the possibility of doing this kind of evening with an English audience I would sell books. I also realized that the language I use is quite complicated for even good students or non mother-tongue speakers, so this is something to keep in mind for the future. 

I would do it again with pleasure, and the school must have been pleased too because they asked me back!"

Thank you so much for this write-up, Tonia. It's great to know you had an appreciative audience and that the school would like you to come again! 

What is also encouraging to hear is that although Tonia did not actually sell any books on the day itself, she has made an impression on at least one potential reader, who was inspired by her personality and presence to ask where she could buy the books. 

Personal contact is surely a key element in building a wide readership, so talks, workshops and book events are a great way to get to know readers. In our next post, we'll be flying to the Netherlands to find out about an English writing festival held in the Hague twice a year.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book signings Part 2: What to do on the day

Two weeks ago, we published a post on Julie McGowan's tips for how to prepare for book signings. Following her guest post on her talk to the WI, we thought this would be a good moment to publish the second part of Julie's tips on book signings and this one covers what to do on the day itself, so over to Julie again:

Julie with fellow Sunpenny author
Michelle Jayne Heatley 

On the Day

1. Wear something colourful so that you stand out – I usually go for red as it’s supposed to be the most welcoming.

2. Before you start, have a chat with your host and ask them how they want you to sell – some chains have a form for you to fill in, some are happy just for you to tell the customer to take the book to the till.

3. If you haven’t done so when you delivered the posters, make sure your table is in a good place and don’t be afraid to ask for it to be moved. Most managers are really amenable because they want you to have a pleasant experience in their store, and as long as walkways are kept free etc they are receptive to alternative suggestions.

4. Sunpenny books don’t have prices on them, so make sure the store knows what to charge. Big stores like WH Smith will provide price stickers which they like you  to place on the lower right side of the front cover as long as it’s not obliterating the title or your name. (You can save some of the stickers for other signings in smaller shops that may not provide them)

5. Take some more posters or other info about your book to decorate the table so people can see what it is, and stack the books attractively on the table.

6. Don’t sit on your chair behind your table waiting for people to approach you because mostly they won’t. The majority will actually find a different way round the store so that they don’t have to pass your table. (I’ve done it myself-haven’t you?!) Only sit on the chair to actually sign a book.

7. Instead, stand beside your table, smiling affably at all around, holding your ‘hook’ in your hands.  When you see your typical reader browsing the shelves, or about to mount the stairs, or join the queue to pay for their newspaper, go up to them, and offer them the ‘hook’ (hand-out/ biscuit/ chocolate/ whatever) and say something like ‘Hello, I’m promoting my book here in the store today, which you may be interested in. It’s a novel about (very quick description here) and there are lots of copies on the table if you’d like to come and have a look.’ If there’s an event coming up, add something like ‘A signed copy will make a great Christmas/Easter/Valentine’s/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day present.’

8. Even better, take someone with you who can do all this enticing around the store or at the door as people come in. (My husband hates doing it, my daughter-in-law is brilliant at it!) Incidentally, I always reassure the store manager that I won’t be bludgeoning shoppers to buy my book but I will be giving out information about it. If you keep your affable smile on your face until your cheeks ache, most managers are happy for you to do this.

9. Keep a simple tally of how many books you sell to check with the store at the end.

10. When you have had enough – I usually go for 2 to 3 hours, unless I’m doing exceptionally well and the store is really busy – tell the manager what a great time you’ve had, even if it’s been murder and ask if he/she would take a couple of copies to put on the shelves. If yes, make sure you issue a delivery note and keep a copy yourself so that the store can be invoiced later by Sunpenny.

11. In subsequent weeks, it’s always worth calling in to the store to see if they have sold any copies so you can offer them some more if they have.

Sometimes, Julie says, you will even be asked to
hold people's dogs for them!

 Encouraging Comments

The first book signing can be terrifying and demoralising if you don’t sell lots of books, but each one will get easier. No two stores are alike. I’ve sold loads of books in stores where I thought it would hardest and fewer in stores that I thought would be a dream. So if one signing isn’t too successful don’t be downhearted, the next will be better, and you will be that much more confident.

Try not to mind the rebuffs – I’ve had them all from ‘I don’t read books’ (so why are you in a bookstore?) to ‘Not interested thank you, but will you just hold onto my two dogs while I have a look round?’ (and of course I did, still with the smile on my face!)

You will feel so much better once you have sold that first book. You will also feel so much better once you have made that first approach to someone and had a little chat. But don’t spend too long with them as you may then be missing other potential customers.

Set yourself a reasonable target  - I’m going to keep doing this until I’ve sold 5 books – pat yourself on the back if you achieve it, which I’m sure you will – and then set a further target.

Remember that even if people don’t buy your book on that day they will have gone home with your hand-out which they may look at again and recall. It’s all good publicity.

Don’t expect to sell many in a small independent shop where there may not be a lot of customers all day.

Try to get friends and family to call in, even if they all have copies already. If they pick up copies to have a look at, other shoppers will be interested. A crowd always attracts a crowd.

Someone will invariably think you work there and ask where the envelopes/biros/travel books are. Make sure you give them the info about your book before finding someone who can help them!

Send in a brief account of your signing, with pics if possible, to your local paper along with a reminder of where your next signing will be.

 Finally, remember…..
No matter how difficult you may be finding it, keep in mind that  it’s only two hours or so and you can go home for a cup of tea/coffee/strong drink/lie down... or, more hopefully, a celebration of how well you’ve done!

Many thanks to Julie for her great tips and insights into how to conduct a book signing. Our next posts will be focus on some of the recent events our authors have been involved in, so come back and visit us again soon!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Guest post from Julie McGowan on her writing talk to the Women's Institute

Julie McGowan is a popular and top-selling author at Sunpenny Publishing. Two of her three novels are set in Wales where she lives, so it makes sense for her to give talks locally whenever she can. Just recently, she has been a sought after guest speaker for various Women's Institutes in her area, so this guest post is Julie's account of her most recent talk for the Usk Women's institute.

About Julie

Julie's writing career covers a range of genres. She has written short stories for national magazines, pantomimes and children's plays. Her first novel, 'The Mountains Between' was inspired by her rich Welsh heritage and quickly became a regional bestseller. This was followed by 'Just One More Summer', set in London and Cornwall. Her third novel, 'Don't Pass Me By' has sold extremely well, with excellent reviews and finally, a short story collection, 'Close To You' was published in 2015.

About her recent Women's Institute writing talk
Julie says: "I love giving talks to groups about writing and have now developed a bit of a ‘circuit’ where groups pass me on to other groups, or they very kindly invite me back when I have a new book to talk about.

I’ve given three such talks in the past month, the latest to our local W.I. As I’m well-known in the town for the panto group and drama group I run, I thought that either the audience would be saying, ‘Oh no, not her again,’ or would know all about me and my books by now. Fortunately, there were a number of new members who weren’t as used to my face popping up all the time, and, of course, with the innate good manners of the WI, those who did already know me were willing to listen to what I had to say.

My talks to new groups usually follow the same pattern, in that I explain how I ended up becoming a writer when that had never been my intention. As most of my talks are in Wales, I tell them about my own upbringing in the Welsh valleys, and how returning to Wales and listening to the memories of my parents led me to write ‘The Mountains Between.’

I try to inject lots of humour into the talks, (‘make ‘em laugh, make’em laugh’ as the old song says) usually about the vagaries of the Welsh, or the self-deprecating type, which always goes down well.

If there is time, I read some short extracts from my Welsh-based novels, and there is always time for some very welcome questions. There is usually amazement when they hear the answer to the question, ‘How much does a writer make from each book?’!!

Julie with her books on display

My local WI didn’t disappoint. They laughed in the right places, no-one fell asleep and they asked lots of questions at the end. Even better, I still managed to sell some books, even though many in the audience had already bought/read them. One lady, Dora, now aged 95, bright as a button but with failing eyesight, was delighted when I told the audience that an anecdote she’d told me some years ago about trying to get rid of a sofa, that had then got stuck in her hallway, had inspired one of my short stories.

I always finish with a poem I wrote  a while back about being a writer, which the audience has to join in with, panto-style, with lots of ‘Hurray’s and groans, and ‘Ooh’s at the given signals, which helps the evening to end on a high note and laughter.

Usk WI were lovely to talk to, and, as it was one lady’s birthday, there was even tea and cake afterwards!"

Julie, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. The Women's Institute ladies sound like a wonderful audience and your talk must have been great fun. 

For those interested in buying or browsing through any of Julie's books, the link to her author page on Amazon is HERE

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Author Interview with Jo Holloway: making action adventure her real life story

This time on our author interviews we've flown over to Spain to meet Jo Holloway, who is not only the founder and leading light of Sunpenny Publishing Group, but also an author. Dance of Eagles, her novel, is an exciting and gritty action adventure story set in Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia, as it used to be).

Jo Holloway

SP: Jo, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in Spain?

JH: This is always a difficult question for me because there’s so much to tell! I’ll try to keep it brief. I was born in Zambia and raised all over Central and Southern Africa, but am proud to be a true Rhodesian. I've fought in a bush war, skinny-dipped with hippos, camped amidst hyena, leopard and lion, hunted crocodile (yes, just one!), had mad adventures on (and off) film and television sets, had numerous brushes with death… and on the more ‘normal’ side, I have sat on boards for script writing associations, governmental regulating committees and Child Welfare; and dragged up two children and a husband (who all turned out amazingly well in spite of me). I’ve done youth and women's and music ministry, camped at the tops of mountains and bottoms of valleys, sailed in the Indian Ocean islands and along the east coast of Africa, and ridden motorbikes across Southern Africa (6 – or is it 7? – of them). I grew up with my father’s boat mania and it caught on – still love all things boat!

At 17 I went straight from school into the forces (IntAff) in war-ridden Rhodesia (read my book!) and then spent the next 25 years or more doing a variety of production and facilities work in television and film, as well as hundreds of hours of script writing for TV, radio, film, video, multimedia and print; teaching, mentoring, developing new writers, giving workshops. Then I went off sailing into the Indian Ocean (I think I could get at least three books out of that experience!), eventually coming back to the the UK with £5 left in the bank. For the last ten years I have run my own publishing company. But having lived most of my life in Africa, after 7 years in England I couldn’t take the weather any longer and moved to the Costa Blanca in Spain, which I love!

On the Costa Blanca

SP: Wow, that was a tumultuous and exciting journey to get there! So, Jo, what do you find most inspiring as a writer about living in Spain?

JH: I haven’t yet had much time to write, as I’ve been publishing other people’s books, but am getting back to it now and have several projects – books and scripts – underway. Rather than inspiring me to write, though, Spain has me wanting to sit in the sunshine and do nothing! Seriously though, it’s very relaxing here and the main issue is disciplining myself to sit still in my office. I do sometimes play hookey, as I did today, and go sit at the beach!

SP: As everyone should now and then. What prompted you to start writing and how long have you been writing?

JH: I wanted to write from about age 3, when it first formed a reality in my mind. My mother read to us from babyhood, and as we got older she would make up stories (when we ran out of books!) … I adored my mother, and her love of books made me who I am. In school I won Eisteddfodd prizes for my writing (and music, and sketching). I guess I’ve always been “different” to the people around me, too, and being creative was an outlet for me in which to be myself, and feed my soul. Later it became what fed my body, too!

SP: Your affair with writing's been a lifelong one, then. What do you prefer? Fiction or fact and why?

Good question! I think creativity and imagination even as a small child were my escape, and I have written a lot of fiction, but my bread and butter in television and radio were documentaries. I love both, really. They are totally different art forms but two sides of the same coin.

SP: Creativity is needed for both, isn't it? Do you write anything other than fiction and non-fiction?

JH: Doesn’t everything fall under one or the other? If you mean other formats, I have always written poetry – a cabalistic cache on my computer reeks of it; it’s my guilty secret! So, poetry, which is an interesting mix of fact and fiction; television, film and radio scripts; is that what you meant?

SP: Exactly that, Jo. But if you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

JH: Ah! As it happens I am giving a workshop soon here in Spain for writers who don’t know where to start – a beginners’ course. I’ll also be writing a book about it. So those who want a sneaky trip to Spain under the guise of “work”, let me know! In brief (because it’s an in-depth subject rather than a quick question), (a) if you have a book in you and are the kind simply can, just start writing, now, today, and trust your instincts; (b) if you know what you want to write about but are dithering about where to begin – begin at the beginning, and edit later; (c) if you know what you want to write about but are a bit list-ish and need an organised planner – excellent! Make a list firstly of everything you can think of that you want to put into the book. Create order by turning this into a list in chronological order. Then go and make another list in the order you want it to appear in the book. This will give you an idea of chapters. So now, make a list of chapters, put the events where they belong, and flesh them out.

Whichever you fall under, a, b, or c, all this will bring forth more and more ideas, until you are feverishly trying to capture them all. Start writing! As you go along other ideas will occur; make notes and add them later. Work through the book, then go back and start again. Yes, that’s what I said. And again if necessary. You want to be a serious writer? It takes work, my darlings, lots of work. And that’s just before publication.

When your story is written, TAKE IT TO A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR! All this simplistic rot about turning your pals into beta readers is well and good as you pat each other’s egos but it doesn’t get you published – you will just make more and more work for yourself, and in the end you will need a proper editor more than ever. Drop your ego, be humble, seek out professional help. And then listen to them. Rant over.

SP: Great tips, and with your experience, good advice to follow too. So what do you see as your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

JH: My greatest strength in life is in knowing I’m a phoenix (I have the tattoo to prove it and no, you can’t see it), rising from the ashes, and recreating myself, time and time again. My greatest weakness is chocolate, in all its forms. Peeps, I have diabetes. If chocolate is your weakness, dump it and find another. Actually, my true Kryptonite is something(one) else but I’m not telling.

SP: Ah, you like teasing us, Jo, don't you? Now, just a few more questions. If you had to live for a year with only one book, what would it be?

JH: Oy vey, girl, ONE book??? Okay, I bet you think I’m going to come up with a wonderful old classic but I’m going to say – one of James Michener’s sagas, like “Hawaii”, or “The Source” (did you know the musical “South Pacific” was based on his book “Tales of the South Pacific”?) … I just love his way of taking a story from the very beginnings of the earth’s forming of the country, through historical family sagas that all tie together – his drama, his fire, his deep understanding of the human psyche … of course in this day and age few would have the patience to read such detailed, long books, but they should.

SP: His novels are legendary, aren't they? And do you have any favourite authors? If so, why do you admire their work?

JH: Favourite authors? Again, oy vey! I love poets and classics and police procedurals and thrillers and crime and romance – no, I shan’t go on. Too many to talk about in one blog!

SP: Okay, Jo, are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

JH: Haha! Let’s see, I need to finish off a light, humourous romance, “Brandy Butter on Christmas Canal”; also working on a backhander combining the bucolic English countryside and atmosphere with hard, edgy themes, in “Raglands”. I have a crime series outlined with the first two started, for both books and television. And a list of other ideas for projects that will never see the light of day because I’ll die before I have time!

SP: So speaks a true writer! Now, last question  if you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?

Claw my health back, travel, and love love love. Not necessarily in that order.

Thanks for listening, lovely people! (Please buy my book. Am I allowed to say that? (SP: you are!) I need to sustain my lifestyle in Spain. Please buy my book. Thankyouverymuch. Thankyouverymuch. Thankyouverymuch.

SP: Ah, Jo, it's been a pleasure and a delight to have you here on the blog. Thank you so much for spending the time here on this informative, fascinating and funny interview!

For those interested in Jo's novel, Dance of Eagles, click on the link below:

Dance of Eagles on Amazon