Bookcrossing Adventures

I heard about Bookcrossing a while back from ace author Linda Gillard and it has been on my To Do list for ages. Finally I joined up and listed two of my own books for release into the wild …

What? My husband was totally confused about what releasing a book into the wild consisted of (dropping it in a field? throwing it out the window of your car?), so I thought I’d try and clear that up right now. is a brilliant community where people pass on and share books they’ve read. You can wish for a book and hope someone will post you a copy, or you can search for one which has been released by a reader – i.e. left somewhere warm and dry and safe ready for you or some other lucky person to find. If you happen upon a Bookcrossing-labelled book (see picture below), you can enter the book’s unique code on the website and find out where that copy has been and who’s read it before you. It sounds so exciting, and just the sort of thing someone passionate about reading and books should be involved in.


Joining as an author

I checked on the Newbies forum for the rules relating to authors releasing their own books and it’s absolutely fine – in fact, the members who answered thought it was pretty cool. As well as releasing them into the wild there are a couple of other ways to find readers who may be interested in reading your book and then passing it on, like Book Circles. It’s all new to me and I’m still finding my feet, but this week I released both Murder at the Maples and Cupid’s Way in the Countess of Chester Hospital, which I thought would be a good place to find bored people hoping to be distracted!


 Isn’t it just giving books away for free?

Well, yes. But it’s a really cool way of giving books away for free, and it appeals to the slightly anarchic part of my psyche :) Look at it this way: Bookcrossing is a community, and I don’t plan on merely releasing a couple of my own titles. I’m going to look for other books in the local area, and share books I’ve read and enjoyed. I’m going to get involved in the forums – because these are people who love BOOKS (and it’s a hell of a lot friendlier than Goodreads). Right now my paperback copies are in a box under the bed in my office, waiting for me to find the time/inclination/energy to do some kind of event to hand-sell them. Wouldn’t it be nicer and more fun to release a few into the wild and wait and see what happens next?

So, over to you – I’m really interested to hear about your experiences of Has anyone ever found a Bookcrossing-labelled book completely by chance? And any tips on how best to use the site greatly received.



Filed under Books, Marketing & Promotion

Epistolary Novels – Why I Love Them

I’ve just finished reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I was drawn to this because it’s an epistolary novel – I know you know what that means, but just in case you don’t it’s a novel made up of fictional documents, such as letters, diary excerpts, emails, news clippings, that kind of thing. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea (my supervisor on the Masters hates them, which is why I’m not writing one myself for my dissertation). But I LOVE them. It got me thinking about my favourite epistolary novels, and what it is that I think works so well.


Dracula is probably one of the most famous epistolary novels, written in diary entries and letters and fictional newspaper articles. I read it years ago, and I loved the whole concept even before I understood that it was a technique used by lots of different writers. The other notable novel that springs to mind for me is Carol Shields’ A Celibate Season. An absolutely brilliant book, it was written in collaboration with author Blanche Howard, and is made up entirely of letters between a man and wife separated because of work commitments for ten months. This book is fantastic, and I would recommend it to anyone. Like most works of genius, it seems so simple, but there is such a craft involved in structuring these letters so that the reader feels the building pressure this couple are subjected to during their self-imposed separation. What’s very clever is that at no point do you feel the loss of direct narrative – for example, a weekend visit home which has been longed for on both sides is viewed by the reader only via the letters sent after the event. You’d think this would be frustrating, but it isn’t at all. It’s brilliant, and as a writer I want to understand how these two award-winning authors managed to achieve this feat.


Where’d You Go, Bernadette is also very good – Semple uses the range of documents in a clever way, and the story is engaging and full of twists and turns – but there are flaws, in my humble opinion. The voices of the various characters that come out of the different documents – emails, faxes, letters, instant messages, blog posts etc – aren’t nearly as differentiated as they perhaps should be. It’s not a problem that the author’s voice comes through loud and clear – Semple is a brilliantly funny writer – but as you’re reading you do notice the lack of difference in what should be really varied textual sources. The other problem occurs when the story changes to first person direct narrative – most of the last quarter of the book is written this way, in the voice of the daughter. It jars a little after such variety. Semple could have got around this by structuring the narrative as diary entries, which would have made it more in line with what came before. That aside, it’s a great read so do give it a try.

So, why do I love epistolary novels so much? I think it’s because of the extra layer of authenticity it gives. It’s the same reason I love any novel with a framing device – Anita Shreve’s Strange Fits of Passion is written as the account of a reporter visiting the daughter of a woman who was convicted of murdering her husband. She has compiled a feature on the young woman’s mother, and we are effectively reading that feature, including interviews and her research, along with the daughter. It works so well, really drawing you in to the story. Going back to the gothic novels, Frankenstein is also written this way, with the entire book being told as the account of a man writing to his sister and recounting to her Victor Frankenstein’s story.

A List!

I’m starting to compile a list of contemporary novels with epistolary elements – that is, at least a large proportion of the narrative written this way – and I’d like your help. If you’ve read a novel of letters, or diary entries, or using other textual devices, please pop a comment in the box below. I’m particularly interested in anything written after 1940, but earlier novels are fine too. Here is what I have on my list so far:

  • 84, Charing Cross Road: Helene Hanff
  • Attachments: Rainbow Rowell
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary: Helen Fielding
  • Carrie: Stephen King
  • A Celibate Season: Carol Shields and Blanche Howard
  • The Color Purple: Alice Walker
  • The Divorce Papers: Susan Rieger
  • The Documents in the Case: Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Ella Minnow Pea: Mark Dunn
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: Fannie Flagg
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Mary Ann Shaffer
  • Love, Rosie (Where Rainbows End): Celia Ahern
  • My Most Excellent Year: Steve Kluger
  • The People in the Photo: Hélène Gestern
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Paul Torday
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4: Sue Townsend
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette: Maria Semple

Really looking forward to reading your comments on epistolary novels :)


Filed under Books, Writing

How I Did It: Free Promotions by Anne Allen

Today I’m welcoming author Anne Allen to the blog to talk about her recent free promotion for her novel, Dangerous Waters. Anne’s got a brilliant new book out, and as I type this she is over in sunny Guernsey signing books and meeting readers, the lucky lady! Over to you, Anne …

Anne Allen

Anne Allen

“Hi, Jo, thanks for inviting me along to offer my thoughts on free kindle promotions. Over the past two years since launching my first novel, Dangerous Waters I have run two free promotions and a couple of reduced price offers on Dangerous Waters and my second book, Finding Mother. I would say that both the free promotions produced better results than the lower price offers.

Dangerous Waters

Dangerous Waters was originally published for me by Matador and they offered the ebook across all the retailers and so it was not eligible for KDP Select. However, last October, when I published Finding Mother under my own imprint, Sarnia Press, I took back Dangerous Waters from Matador although it was still available from other retailers under their imprint. This changed last month when I was about to publish the third in The Guernsey Novels series, Guernsey Retreat. I had heard that three novels is the magic number for newbie authors: the magic backlist. Yay! So, my thinking was I needed to offer No 1 free to encourage sales of all 3 books. After enrolling Dangerous Waters in KDP Select I planned my first – and possibly last – free promotion. Of course, I might change my mind when No 4, The Family Divided, comes out next year☺

I had used BookBub for a reduced price promo on Dangerous Waters and it did well, but since then I had seen some good reports for a service only dealing in free promos, Freebookservice. I know there’s been some controversy about this service, but I understand that the initial issue with Amazon is now resolved. Just before Christmas 2013 I set up my free promo for Finding Mother with this service and some smaller ones and secured nearly 30k free downloads, reaching No2 on for ALL kindle free books. The consequent sales were more than enough to cover the cost, making a tidy profit and producing new reviews.


Last weekend (1-3 August) I used freebookservice and a few other, smaller low-cost or free sites, to promote Dangerous Waters a week before launching Guernsey Retreat. I could not be more pleased with the results. Not only did I reach No 1 on in the overall free chart but I did well in the UK too. The total free downloads were again around the 30k mark, with nearly 2k in the UK. A week later my paid sales of Dangerous Waters alone have more than covered the cost of the promo, including around 150 sales in the UK. I’ve also seen good sales of Finding Mother and Guernsey Retreat even though I’m not doing a great deal of marketing now. I chose the Platinum service and paid $212 (about £126) to freebookservice. Boy, am I looking forward to the royalty payment from Amazon in 2 months’! It will be my best yet, although not life-changing it is encouraging.

The conclusion? I can categorically say that the free promos I’ve done have paid off. I know my sales will slow in the days or weeks to come, but with the advent of my third book in a series – very important, apparently – I’m hopeful that I’ve found new readers who will keep looking out for my books. I may well publish all three across other retail platforms at some point, but am not in a rush at the moment. As well as the paid sales, there have been about 100 ‘borrows’ this week. Not to be sniffed at!”



Thanks Anne, and we wish you the very best of luck for Guernsey Retreat :)


Filed under Books, Marketing & Promotion, Self-publishing

Summer Writing: Tips For Getting On With The W.I.P

We’re halfway through the school holidays, and I’m sure I’m not alone in struggling to find time to write with so many other wonderful things to do. Spending time with my six-year-old is at the top of my list; the sun has been shining and calling me outdoors; there are family games to play, craft projects to make, places to visit and people to see. But there is also a book that needs completing, and like most writers I find my work is better when I create something every day.

It is possible to write and enjoy the summer holidays. (It is!) Whether you are at home with the kids or working full-time and trying to make the most of the good weather, these tips will help you stay on top of your W.I.P. If I can do it, you definitely can! Read on for my top summer writing tips …


Enjoying Barmouth this summer – or should that be enduring Barmouth?

Tip #1: Don’t make a plan. What? No plan? Joanne ‘the planner’ Phillips advocating going without a plan? You bet – and that’s because I know for a fact that if you make a plan for your writing over the summer holidays you will not be able to stick to it and then you’ll feel like a failure and will be less likely to do any writing at all! Better by far to have a ‘pick-and-mix’ approach so you can be both flexible and productive. (See tip #3 for more on this.)

Tip #2: Recognise the value of 100 words. This is about understanding that small increments add up to a greater whole, and that it is really is worthwhile writing in tiny chunks. The one and only time I lost weight successfully (waaaay back in 2004) I remember that it took me ages to reach my goal, but that I reached it by losing one or two pounds a week. I didn’t mind – I had the right mindset and was enjoying the process and those pounds did add up eventually to a whole one and a half stone! If you allow yourself to write in tiny chunks – if you feel there is value in sitting down and achieving 100 words in that sitting – you will be amazed how quickly those chunks add up. Leave your laptop out on the dining room or kitchen table, or leave your computer switched on and ready to go. Whenever you get chance, even if it’s just for 5 minutes, plonk yourself down and write. If you’re lucky, those 5 minutes might stretch into 15, or even 30. This sometimes happens when the kids get into a game and leave you alone for a bit. But even if you are interrupted just after you sat down, you’ll still have written something. And something is better than nothing.

Tip #3: Have flexible projects on the go. Making progress on your W.I.P. is what these tips are all about, but that doesn’t have to mean writing the book. There are many more aspects to your book than just the text contained within the final proofed and published product. You can make a list of all the associating writing tasks you’ll be required to do at some point between now and the book hitting the shelves – or you can use my list below – and then try to be flexible. When you get a stretch of writing time have various tasks to choose from. That way, if you’re not in the mood to ‘write’ you can still use the time to do something valuable that is moving you forward. My list of book-related tasks for my current work-in-progress (the next in my Flora Lively series) is as follows:

  • Write the blurb
  • Work on the synopsis
  • Make a list of bloggers who might want to review it
  • Prepare the email to bloggers who might want to review it
  • Write some blog posts for my own blog or as a guest blogger to promote the book
  • Think of ideas for press articles to promote the book
  • Read the first in the series and refresh my memory for continuity purposes
  • Write a one-line pitch or blurb

and on and on. I have the cover for A Date With Death already, but if I didn’t I could add sourcing cover images and producing a cover brief to this list, along with related jobs like finding a good proofreader and editor, approaching beta readers, making a list of local bookshops. If you are planning to submit your novel to agents you could add writing a draft covering letter and sourcing names to this list instead. You get the idea – there are many, many tasks you’ll have to tackle once you finish writing your book, and every one of them you work on now will save you time later.


A visit to a ruined castle or a research trip? I know what the taxman would say!

Tip #4: Take research trips. This is great fun, and a way to involve the whole family. If you are writing a book set in an area reasonably local to you, why not plan days out that can double up as research? I have a scene set on Stiperstones in Shropshire in my W.I.P., so guess where we’ll be going next week? If your location is further afield you might want to make that your holiday destination, but don’t forget Google Earth and the local library. Give your children a project and together you can visit exotic places from the comfort of your sofa, then collect pictures and brochures to stick in a scrap book. Research like this isn’t confined to places, of course – you can get the family involved in looking up facts on historical characters and events, cultures and customs, architecture, food and drink … the possibilities are there if you look for them.

Tip #5: Talk about your book all the time! Even when you’re not writing it, you are still allowed to be thinking and talking about it. Yes, your family will get bored of you, and yes, if you have a very young child it might lead to difficult questions like ‘What does murder mean, Mummy?’ (Had that the other day.) But the way to keep your passion alive while you are out of your usual writing groove is to keep the text and the characters alive in your own mind. My characters have conversations in my head all the time; I think out loud to my husband when we’re out and about, mulling over various plot-points. I don’t worry too much about making notes on everything (although note-taking is a great idea, of course, but you’re a writer – you shouldn’t need me to tell you that). I trust that by keeping the book right in the front of my consciousness my enthusiasm will drive the project forward, however little time I have to actually sit down and write.

If you’ve enjoyed reading these tips and you think they might be useful, please share this post – there are buttons below to make it easier. You might want to sign up to my mailing list to get news direct to your inbox about new releases, special offers and competitions. You can also follow this blog in WordPress :) And please feel free to add your own tips in the comments box – how are you managing your writing time this summer?



Filed under Writing