Explorations in a parallel cultural universe

by Chris Corbett

“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”
—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Berlin Wall by @libby_ol

I first went down the rabbit hole when I moved from America to Switzerland. I then descended further when my first novel was published in Germany before being published in English. I was inspired by one of my favorite crime writers Don Winslow (The Cartel) whose next book is appropriately enough called Germany and is coming out in the German language before it’s even been announced in English.

Following in this noble (if somewhat unorthodox) tradition and seeing how other writers like TC Boyle sell as many books in German as English, I went down this road. The competitive nature of mainstream publishing in the English language is very difficult. After meeting Winslow at a reading in Zürich, I thought living in a German language country might mean bigger opportunities.

Seeing that the second biggest media market outside of the English language world is Germany with its tens of millions of people, I engaged a translator who in turn introduced me to a publisher. He loved my story and soon offered me a contract. The champagne flowed and the celebration went on into the wee hours in the way Berliners celebrate these events—a table full of empty wine bottles by the end of the party. (Good thing the Berlin metro runs 24 hours.)

Metro Berlin

Grudgingly, I had to accept a German style cover over my preferred version, and the publisher also argued successfully to change the title. I gave in. This is Germany, so different rules apply and I’m now happy to say the title is growing on me.

CC cover

Image courtesy Chris Corbett

The book launch was in a small club in a funky neighborhood of Berlin. At the same time I was reading to the twenty people in the theater area, another twenty were at the bar doing what Berlin people do on a Saturday night—drinking and being raucous. But that only added to the atmosphere and gave my book Nirvana Blues an authentic atmosphere. Afterwards, at the signing, I met the man who had been blurting out ‘Happy Christmas’ at random intervals all through my reading and he explained those were the only words he knew in English. I took it as a compliment.

CC stalker

Image courtesy Chris Corbett

Later, an ancient rock ‘n’ roller at the bar with greased back hair and leather jacket sent an emissary to have me come and talk to him. His hair was jet black and looked like he had dyed it in the kitchen sink with shoe polish. We talked about music because he had seen a guitar image on the book cover. He said he’d managed tours for people like Bob Dylan so I gave him my card and was surprised a couple of days later when he wrote me with some names of venues I could approach to do a book tour in.

One of the other people in the audience was a groupie from the ’60s. She told me about a friend of hers, a well-known blues musician who could be interesting to work with. I took her comment with a grain of salt and had another beer. And as the magic of wonderland expanded, a couple of weeks later the guitar player agreed to do a tour with me.

I was getting ever deeper into the world of German culture as my normal American sensibilities were left far behind, as well as my British roots of proper behavior and stuffy, formal conversations. I was enjoying the friendly directness and enthusiastic embrace not seen in my reserved Swiss colleagues who had become my standard of social demeanor.

I met the guitarist between Christmas and New Year and we bonded over dinner at a Greek restaurant next to his concert venue. My book, which is a Romeo and Juliet in ’70s California, has 64 different songs mentioned in it to provide a basis for our special tour. He told me about the tour he had done a couple of years earlier supporting the works of Charles Bukowski (best known for Barfly). The actors reading from Bukowski drank incredible amounts of alcohol to get into character and after the tour the guitarist was so shattered he gave up drinking, smoking, drugs and a lot of other things. Now as a sane citizen he will make a really solid touring partner when we hit the road in a month. Baltic Sea here we come!

Berlin Sunset

My German language skills are still very basic so I’m completely at the mercy of these helpers in this foreign environment where I find myself. It is not only interesting and exciting but also culturally enlightening. The book will come out in English in the springtime so I’m looking at climbing out of the rabbit hole to resume my normal life. But until then I’m living in this wonderland where colorful characters appear and funny adventures unfold. And while I’m wandering through the looking glass I’ll try and remember to not drink from the bottle that says ‘DRINK ME!’.




SWAG is a new online magazine about the literary scene in Singapore. Its Events Calendar brings all the writerly happenings to one convenient place, while the quarterly journal features author interviews and new writing. Its editor, Jo Furniss, dives in to share the SWAG.

Swag Logo
While criss-crossing from one side of this small island to the other, there’s a building I often see which has a single word emblazoned on its side in giant illuminated letters: CREATE*.
This is a snapshot of Singapore. Ever since Sir Stamford Raffles peered up the Singapore river in 1819 and thought, “Hmm, free trade? That could catch on!”, the city-state has been a boom town.
While the drive to create has long been focused on business and science, a recent concern with fostering creative thinking has led to a boom in the arts. As always, Singapore puts its money where its mouth is: this year’s inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize paid out S$20,000 (USD15,000) to winning Singaporean author O Thiam Chin, the Singapore Writers Festival has positioned the country as a regional literary hub, and the National Arts Council supports projects that would otherwise prove uncommercial in Singapore’s relatively small domestic market.
While SWAG may not have an invitation to this financial banquet, the morsels tumbling from the table put the fire in our bellies to start a magazine: all this zeal for the arts means there are so many literary events going on in Singapore—workshops, book launches, critique groups—how can a writer keep across it all?
My lightbulb moment: an online events calendar that incorporates all the disparate venues and groups would benefit the writing community. A quarterly magazine would allow me to potter about and speak to interesting people. I could even dust off my old BBC microphone and podcast my interviews.
My colleagues at the Singapore Writers Group (900+ members and counting) were supportive and funded the new website. The name SWAG came to mind, partly as a grateful nod to SWG, and also because I like the idea of literary loot; the magazine is a curious collection of our begged, stolen and borrowed riches.
I also reached out to Jill and Libby (The Woolf’s co-founders), having followed The Woolf’s tracks long after leaving Zürich. Their enthusiasm was energising and, perhaps more importantly, their practical advice made the project feel achievable. Like The Woolf, SWAG will be quarterly, themed, rangy.

Image courtesy Swag Literary Journal

The first edition is about BEGINNINGS. As well as interviews with two very different Singapore-focused writers, we have an in-depth feature on three ways to get started in publishing. We look at Late Starters – writers who bloom after 50. And Singapore’s publishing houses also forecast the literary weather for 2016.

And we’re running new fiction: submissions are open to all, though we prioritise pieces that have some connection (however oblique) to Singapore. I’m also open to being told what to do—events or editorial—all contributions are welcome.
Find us at: www.swaglit.com
We’re on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swaglit/
And Twitter: @swag_lit
* CREATE is really the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise at the National University of Singapore, in case you were wondering.



Author Day: The Numbers

On 30th November, 2015, The Bookseller magazine hosted the first day of its FutureBook conference in London. Author Day drew publishers, agents, authors, authors’ associations, service providers, journalists and associated creatives, such as illustrators, reviewers, translators and screenwriters.

The aim was to look at the state of the author across all forms of publishing, learn from various speakers’ expertise and discuss what can be done. I attended with a single focus and the theme of our current issue—Money.

author day lights

Nicola Solomon of The Society of Authors, opened proceedings with some sobering facts. (NB: SoA is a UK-based organisation.)

Traditional publishing in general may still be profitable, but writing is not. The average author income is around £11,000 per annum. Only 11.5% of authors make their living solely from writing. Solomon spoke of “once well-known authors” applying for the SoA’s hardship fund, as their incomes have dropped. Typically, authors receive around 10% of the cover price of a paperback, 25% of the selling price of an ebook. Writers are not getting their fair share, despite publishers’ assertions that ‘authors are at the heart of what we do’.

The rights issue is an example. Her point was that the publishing landscape is uncertain, so publishers grab as many rights as possible ‘with a view to exploiting later opportunities’. But without a regular revision of the contract, time-limitation on exclusivity and reversion clauses, the author is left with a tiny share of whatever profits are made.

author day nicola orna

Nicola Solomon and Orna Ross

She called for fairer contracts across the board, clear and transparent accounting, prizes and awards to be made accessible, appearances to be paid and described VAT on ebooks as ‘mad’. The SoA currently has a set of principles (CREATOR) she exhorted the industry to adopt. She ended by referring to authors, or content creators, as we’re so often described.

“We must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg”

Next up, Orna Ross of The Alliance of Independent Authors, who suggested everyone should self-publish once. She dismissed the divide between indie/traditional publishing as a distraction and emphasised the need to look at issues such as rights as a united community. She took on unscrupulous companies, saying “Selling services to authors is wrong, helping authors sell books to readers is right”. Her definition of the indie community is collaboration, not competition, and flagged its sense of unity.

author day kamila shamsie

Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie delivered a gentle yet forceful speech on her early career, touching on how her agent and editor worked on her long term aims, not dropping her because her first, second and third books only achieved modest sales. In publishing today, that kind of author development is incredibly rare. She emphasised the joy of variety from Henry James to EL James to Marlon James and rejected the assertion that readers want ‘the same, but different’. However, one glance at the demographics of any publishing house, she noted, will demonstrate the homogenous nature of this business. She finished by saying:

“It’s time to think deeply about what the word ‘value’ means when it comes to books.”

In a different twist on the numbers game, Harry Bingham presented the results of a survey he and Jane Friedman conducted with traditionally published authors—the subject was the degree of contentment with their publishers. You can see the full results here. Many of the graphs are surprising, such as the dissatisfaction with marketing, but the one most relevant to my interest is Conclusion #6: authors feel poorly paid and poorly treated. A mere 7.5% of trad-published authors feel well-paid by their publishers.

author day delegates

Two panel discussions followed. The first, chaired by Porter Anderson, featured agents, publishers and writers. Andrew Lownie (who credits his inspiration for self-publishing his authors’ back catalogue to appearing at The Woolf’s TiPE event in Zürich) reiterated his prediction that in the future, 80% of books will be self-published, 10% trade and 10% assisted. Piers Blofeld, agent, emphasised that the authors who successfully self-publish and make a good living get a lot of attention, but are not reflective of the average indie author’s level of income.

Caroline Sanderson hosted the second panel which called for changes across all forms of publishing. Amongst the speakers was Sarah McIntyre, an illustrator, who made the key point of the day for me.

author day sarah mcintyre

Sarah McIntyre

“The majority of creators can only afford to be creative if supported by an understanding partner or a day job.”

I came away from Author Day with an awareness that writing is unlikely to make us rich, that publishing contracts need to change in favour of the creator and regardless of publication routes, we all need to make shrewd decisions in a fast-changing environment if we are to earn what we deserve from our creative content.

Why authors collaborate with book publicists

Helen Lewis gives an insider’s view of how it works when an author engages a publicist.

Book publicity is evolving as fast as book publishing. Authors are taking control of the publication process, propelling the indie author market forward. More books are being published than ever before and greater responsibility is being placed on the author to take charge of the promotion, publicity, marketing and even sales of their books. The disruption of the publishing process has opened opportunities for specialists and experts along the publishing pipeline.


Almost five years ago I attended the London Book Fair as an exhibitor—in my capacity as a freelance book publicist—for the first time. I was met with confusion, scepticism, and even blatant disregard—by the old school publishing executives. Yet, despite the fact my stand was the smallest at the LBF, it was also the busiest in the area. There were queues of people waiting to talk to me and I didn’t get a break for the duration of the show (I wasn’t complaining!). Authors—as opposed to those in the traditional publishing sector—were very open and welcoming to me, they had many questions and failing to find answers elsewhere, spent a lot of time chatting with me. This eye-opening experience inspired the creation of a publicity agency that is open, creative and responsive to authors from all walks of life, as well as the establishment of The Author School (co-founded with YA author Abiola Bello in 2015), which provides workshops and support for authors who are stepping into the publishing world (or discovering they need to know more!).

Now, at Literally PR, I work directly with authors who have been published traditionally, collaboratively, independently or have self published. We work with household names and international publishing houses through to first-time writers via CreateSpace. No matter how the book is published it is imperative that the author seeks publicity support—not just because of our extensive contacts list but because self-promotion rarely fails to have the same impact as from a third party professional.

Our selection process (we receive around 20 manuscripts for consideration each week) is based on the potential for publicity. We read a section of the book to check for the quality of writing, but the primary assessment is based around our experience of working with the press—knowing which categories would be most open to the author and the book (online, radio, trade, women’s, parenting, history, etc.), what is currently popular in the press, what has worked in the past, who we know who would consider an interview, review or editorial commission, etc.

Once we’ve signed up a new client we are firmly on the side of the author. We are on your team. The work begins quickly—but you won’t necessarily be ‘put out there’ until all the press materials are prepared. Once the documents are signed off and distributed it’s often the case that we’ll get review copy requests, interview calls and editorial commissions almost immediately—this is because we target our campaigns to the right people at the right time. Sometimes authors are surprised by the change in gear and it is important that they are prepared for the amount of work that comes from a successful campaign, and are able to turn around responses, make time for interviews and be available as much as possible. The most successful campaigns work when the author is fully on board and collaborating with the publicist. Many of the authors we work with also have a full-time job, some are in different time zones (Australia, United States, Germany, France, Italy and Australia, to name a few), but we always make it work if the author is aware of the need to be as flexible as possible to press responses.

Public relations and book publicity are gradual processes, it can feel like a slow burner but the momentum builds with time. We work with long lead publications such as monthly magazines and quarterly journals that look ahead three to six months, hence the phrase ‘Christmas in July’ within the press world.

Many book editors and critics are still accustomed to traditional publisher timelines—working almost one year ahead of themselves. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the finished product three to six months before launch, as long as we’ve got plenty of other information to offer the press such as editorial angles, cover images, author photos, examples of your writing, a press pack, Advance Information Sheet (AIS), etc. All these materials are vital and should be readily available to the press. They need to be written in a style suitable for the press, and that’s where it helps to work with a publicist who has also been a journalist and can spot a good story (two out of three of our team are—I still write for various titles).

My top tips for engaging a book publicist

  1. Initially contact a few and see what they come back with. Don’t just go with the first person who replies—the email may have just gone through at the right time, but the right person may not be available until the next day.
  2. Try to meet (even if just by Skype) so that you can build a strong relationship from the start. It’s always better to ‘know’ the person you’re working with and if you’re going to be working together for three to nine months it’s worth taking the time to chat over a coffee.
  3. Look at the other clients they’ve worked with—have they experience working with authors in your genre/similar to you? Email four or five of their former clients and check what their experiences were.
  4. Discuss your expectations. We believe it’s important to aim high and we chase your ‘dream’ coverage, but we also regularly have to manage expectations. A publicist cannot force a journalist to write about an author, or to review a book kindly. A publicist can only try their best—creatively—to put their client in front of the right people at the right time.
  5. Understand what is required of you and make it clear when you won’t be available (holidays, particular days of the week, etc).
  6. Keep in regular contact but don’t inundate them with requests for calls and emails too much or you’ll be taking them away from the work they’re doing for you.
  7. Remember most publicists won’t be working on your account every day—the finances don’t really work like that. But they will be dealing with the press daily and whenever possible they’ll be pushing your book as much as the next—depending on who they’re talking to. I try to tailor many of my conversations with the press to include at least a couple of books at a time.
  8. Be proactive while you’re investing in publicity—two heads are better than one! You can do plenty on social media (blogging, guest blogging, focusing on Twitter and building up a strong following, branching out into another, such as LinkedIn, Pinterest or Tumblr, depending on your audience).
  9. Keep in touch with your publicist even after your time together ends. We still send on opportunities, support former clients via social media and where relevant introduce them to the press long after we’ve finished working together. You never know when you might need them again so it’s good to stay friends.


Helen_LewisHelen Lewis is the director of Literally PR book publicity agency. She is regularly asked to talk at author and publishing events, and continues to write for magazines (consumer and trade) as a freelance journalist. After leaving university in 2001 with a journalism degree and lots of debt, she feels she owes it to her 20-year old self to continue! For more information about Literally PR please contact info@literallypr.com or visit www.literallypr.com.

In Conversation: Andrew Crofts

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than ​80 books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He has also guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing. Last year he published his own memoir “Confessions of a Ghostwriter” and this year sees the publication of “Chances” an erotic love story which he ghosted for an anonymous Swiss lady.

Andrew Crofts, image Toby Phillips

Andrew Crofts, image Toby Phillips

When did you first realise you could make your living as an author without your name being a feature on the front cover of the book?

About thirty years ago I was interviewing a business guru for The Director magazine and at the end of the interview he told me he had been commissioned to write a series of business books but didn’t have the time. He wanted to do them for marketing reasons and so suggested that I write them with material that he would give me. He would then get the glory and I would get the money. I was insulted for about ten seconds and then realised this was a brilliant way to gather information quickly, directly from source, and not to have to worry about where the publishing deal was going to be coming from.

Caroline Sanderson (Bookseller Magazine) once wrote about “the Crofts factor”, an​d ​indeed there’s a string of glowing quotes about your work on your website—from all manner of readers, scholars, journalists, reviewers …  If ghostwriting isn’t a silent game, do you then become a collaborator? And what’s the difference?

I could easily be called a collaborator, but “ghostwriter” is a better label I think, both more descriptive and more interesting-sounding. If I advertised myself as a “collaborator for hire” I might be mistaken for some sort of political weasel. 

In your book, Ghostwriting, you devote not a small part of it to the client/writer relationship. Have there been times over the years when you wished you’d read your own book before embarking on a project?

No. Out of a hundred or more relationships only one or two have gone wrong, which I think it a pretty good percentage. I think the percentages of failed marriages would be a great deal higher.

Is there ever a sense that you’re living vicariously? The reality of the writing life is, after all, a lot of sitting behind a keyboard …

Absolutely I am living vicariously, but I get the best of both worlds. I am able to dip into other people’s lives, spending time in places I wouldn’t otherwise get to, all the way from palaces and private islands to brothels and shanty towns, and then escape back to the safety and security of my office at home – retreating inside my own head for weeks on end, like most writers.

You reportedly once said, “I have a horrible feeling that if I’d got the call from Germany in the 1930s I would have hopped on that plane like a Mitford.” Where do you draw the line when it comes to accepting or rejecting a potential project?

There are only two criteria. 1. Is this person interesting enough for me to want to spend several months inside their head? 2. Can the project be made to pay enough for me to live during those months?

I firmly believe that everyone should have the right to tell their story, and to get help doing so if they need it, just like they can get professional legal representation if they are accused of a crime.

Once a book is written people can then praise or criticize it, buy it or boycott it. If we refuse to listen to those we disapprove of how can we ever hope to understand them? If we could understand more about what makes some people into monsters we might be better equipped to deal with them.

Do you think a good writer can cut a good story from any material?

Almost, but it won’t necessarily make a whole book. It might make a newspaper article, a short story, a documentary or drama. Only certain stories lend themselves to the traditional book form.

When you started your writing career, independent publishing would have largely been called ‘vanity’ publishing. What has your relationship with independent publishing been like over the years?

I have always thought that it was a wonderful thing for people to be able to write books, even if they can’t persuade traditional publishers to back them and even if they need the help of a ghost. The only thing that was wrong with ‘vanity’ publishers was that they raised people’s expectations by promising that the books would get into the shops and become best sellers. This was ‘misselling’.

People are much more clued up and realistic these days. If someone wants to write their life story just for their friends, family and descendants I think they should be encouraged to do so, but they must understand that it will cost them money, just like having a portrait painted. Writing a book is fun to do but it is no more or less likely to make the author money than a lottery ticket.

Do you have any particular daily writing habits you could tell us about, or strategies for maintaining the writing (working at a computer) life?

Treat it like any other craft which you want to make a living from. Put in eight or more hours a day, just as you would if you were a carpenter or a florist or an illustrator or a window cleaner. Find out what people want to read/buy and then give it to them. Once you are earning a living you can then indulge in writing what you want in the hope that someone will eventually like it enough to buy it.

What are some interesting aspects of your current projects?

Last summer I brought out a memoir of my own, Confessions of a Ghostwriter, which was published by The Friday Project, a HarperCollins imprint. The writing of the book and the resulting interviews have led me to think quite deeply about all the changes that have taken place in publishing since I arrived in London in 1970 as a starry-eyed seventeen year-old.

This spring saw the publication of an erotic memoir which I ghosted for a Swiss lady who goes by the name of Penny. The book is called Chances and because Penny has to be anonymous I have been doing most of the talking about it to the media, which is unusual for a ghosted project.

Chances is the true story of the most erotic of love affairs. It started with teenage love at first sight for Penny and James and was shattered a few years later by the realities of adult life and family expectations. Like Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers were forced apart by circumstances and they were sucked into unhappy marriages. Unlike Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, however, they were to be given a second chance, eighteen years after their first meeting, when their marriages collapsed and they found each other again.

Since coming back together they have discovered the most profound secrets of happiness, exploring their sexuality and venturing into areas of experimentation that many imagine but few get to taste for themselves.

The book asks, what if your first love was your soulmate and perfect sexual partner but you made the mistake of letting them go? What if you were reunited with that first love and were then able to fulfil every romantic and erotic dream you had ever had?

And, finally, The Woolf special question: What’s one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?

I think Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham would be right up there. It is the ultimate coming of age story and sums up, I think, how many young people feel when they yearn to lead glamorous, creative lives and find themselves being dragged into ‘normality’, all their illusions about life and love being gradually eroded by reality. I completely identified with it as a young man and it re-enforced my own determination not to allow myself to be knocked off my chosen course.


Creativity in Tandem: How I Became a Co-author

By Pete Morin

Image courtesy Pete Morin

Image courtesy: Pete Morin

I discovered the peculiar art of novel writing in 2007, when I wrote Diary of a Small Fish as a means of grieving my father’s death. It was an exhilarating period of about two-and-a-half years until I finally typed “the end.”

This didn’t daunt me, since I had been schooled that first novels are usually kind of rough sledding. Surely, after I got that under my belt, the next one would go faster! Yes, yes, it would. I set a goal of one year for #2. Twenty eight months later, I finished. I started a third, and took six months to get about 30K in.

By this point, the indie revolution was in full thrust, and hundreds of novelists, both Big Name and small, were cranking out novels every 3-4 months. What did they have that I didn’t?

It was obvious to me. I can invent a story, but I just can’t put the tale together with facility. I was taking weeks, sometimes, to figure out what came next.

“Oh, you’re a pantser, that’s your problem!” you say. “Do an outline, plan your story.”

Easy for you to say. My mind isn’t made for outlines.

Some writers are storytellers, and some are story makers. Think about your five favorite authors. Are they all equally good at making the story as they are at writing them? I love John Grisham’s stories, but I don’t think he’s a terrific teller. I’m a teller.

After three efforts, I decided that if I was going to write fast, I needed some help in this fine art of story building. I needed a plotting fiend who would collaborate with me in both the invention and creation of the novel.

I took to my blog to solicit interest. I did not awake with a full in-box of offers. I did, however, get a message from an old friend I’d met on Authonomy [writers’ forum] years before, at the beginning of my journey.

Susanne O’Leary is a Swedish-born citizen of Ireland, married to a career Irish diplomat. We’d spent way too much time in the Authonomy forums (with hundreds of others). She had a sharp wit and could get prickly at times. She wrote romantic comedy, and she assured me that if I needed help putting a plot together, she was my pick.

Wait, what? Why would I ever consider writing with someone in a totally different genre?

Well, I wondered that myself. She had a plausible answer—I was interested in writing political/legal suspense. Dirty politicians, crafty lawyers. She had an interest in Irish politics (married to a diplomat, you’d not be surprised) and loved the idea of a Boston-Dublin political potboiler. Why not a story involving Irish politicians on both sides of the pond, featuring a return of Small Fish’s hero, Paul Forte? And in Ireland, a co-hero: a brassy redheaded political editor of a Dublin newspaper, Finola McGee. We would knit two stories together, Paul’s and Finola’s, as they intersected, and the scenes would jump back and forth between them.

Oh, gee, I thought. That sounds like it could be fun. Let’s run this out a bit and see where it goes, and if we can get half the story sketched out and I felt good about it, what the hell? One thing that clinched it for me: Susanne had co-authored two novels (Virtual Strangers and Virtual Suspects) with fellow Swede Ola Saltin (another acquaintance from Authonomy), both done as send-ups to the traditionally murder mystery. Their humor was wicked, and although Ola’s style was dramatically different than Susanne’s, they managed to pull it off quite well.

Four days later, we’d set up about half the story, with comfort that there would be no breakdowns along the way.


The Full Irish cover, courtesy Pete Morin and Susanne O’Leary

We began our project from scratch on May 1, 2014. We finished the rough draft by the end of July, sent our final draft to an editor on October 1, and went live with Full Irish on December 1st. Six months, door-to-door.

I won’t say the process was flawless, seamless, without a bit of head butting or a few cross words. But I will say this: Susanne and I had made a commitment to get it done, and we had no trouble overcoming whatever disagreements came up. The principal concern at the outset would have to be, were our styles were sufficient compatible? At the beginning, we were concerned about this, but we set the concern aside, agreed that “all first drafts are shit,” and just forged on until we had a finished story, rugged as it was.

As the rewriting progressed, we had a critical discussion about whether or not I should edit her scenes and she edit mine. I held firmly to the yes until I got my way. And I worked very hard to revise Susanne’s scenes to preserve the distinct Irishness of it, while shaving and shaping to bring the two styles closer together. It was dicey at the beginning, as some of the scenes went back and forth with quite a bit of red and blue. But Susanne is a professional, she’s published a hell of a lot more than I have, and she was quite gracious about my editorial intrusions.

While there were some polite disagreements, in the end it seemed we were remarkably in sympathy on all of the important elements of a final product—especially the cover.

We were excited enough about our experience that we’re currently more than 40K words into the next one.

I would say that co-writing is an ideal arrangement for writers who have absolutely no problem taking or giving criticism, fighting for your position, and having the emotional and intellectual maturity to be able to compromise or even cede completely. Remarkably (somewhat) Susanne and I seem to have lucked out*.


*not to be confused with ‘lucked in’, depending on which country you inhabit …

In Conversation: Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is an Australian journalist, television presenter, blogger and media consultant. She was the editor of Australian Cosmopolitan magazine until 2008, and the host of the first season of the cooking show, Master Chef Australia, in 2009. Sarah is the author of the Australian, US and UK best-sellers I Quit Sugar and I Quit Sugar for Life, and has authored the best-selling series of ebooks from IQuitSugar.com. Her 8-Week Program has seen more than 400,000 people quit sugar. She is a qualified health coach with New York’s Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

Libby O’Loghlin asks Sarah about her writing habits, her publishing experience, and how she measures success.

Sarah Wilson at work. Image courtesy Sarah Wilson.

Sarah Wilson at work. Image courtesy Sarah Wilson.

From the outside looking in, you tick a lot of ‘success’ boxes: New York Times bestseller, a gazillion followers on your various social media channels … you’ve interviewed the Dalai Lama, Australian Prime Ministers, Gwyneth Paltrow … How do you measure success in your life, and has it changed over the years?

I won’t pretend that some of those ​’highlights​’ have certainly instilled me with some incredible satisfaction and also confidence. However, some of the big bombastic milestones were achieved during a time in which I felt very much out of alignment and so I almost dismiss them. When I do something and I feel in alignment, then I feel I’ve succeeded. There’s an Ayurvedic word—dharma—which describes both what you do and also your destined contribution to life. When the Continue reading

15 Years of The English Bookshop

This October, The English Bookshop on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse celebrates its fifteenth birthday.

Jill talked to manager Sabine Haarmann and Nick Schorp about the history of this Zürich institution, how it has weathered the storms of publishing, and what’s on the horizon.

The English Bookshop by @libby_ol

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The Next Big Thing? Germany

In 2009-2010, Germany’s sales of ebooks were around 1.5 million, representing 0.8% of the German book market. Around two years behind the trends in the US, the market began to expand, at first slowly, then it mushroomed. Industry experts predict that for the year 2014-2015, ebook sales will reach over 60 and will account for 25% of all book sales in Germany.

JJ Marsh talks to editor Susanne Weigand and independent author, blogger and journalist Matthias Matting. Continue reading

Notes from the Unexpected: Daniel Nufer and Pile of Books

Pile of Books shop window detailText and images by DB Miller

On a quiet Zurich cross street, where the most colorful buildings resemble skin tones, Daniel Nufer stands on the sidewalk with a cigarette in hand. As he talks to a young couple from the apartment block next door, he begins edging backwards, past the glass storefront and vintage suitcase stuffed with books, until he reaches his ashtray. It shows signs of earlier use which, by extension, suggests the table and empty chairs aren’t there for show, either. The whole scene is dated, almost pastoral, and for a moment I am confused. Because the last time I checked, I lived in a city of bankers and the year was twenty-fourteen. Continue reading