In Conversation: Jacquette M. Timmons

Jacquette M. Timmons is a Wall Street based financial behaviourist who works with everyone from the middle class to the 1%—helping them ‘blend the emotions of money with the math of money’. Jacquette is also the founder of Sterling Investment Management, Inc. and the author of Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate. Here, she talks to Libby about the ways we talk about money (or not), about the writing of the book, and about one of the most influential factors in her life. (Hint: it’s a person.)
Jacquette M. Timmons, image by Frederick V. Nielsen, II

Jacquette M. Timmons, image by Frederick V. Nielsen, II

Welcome, Jacquette. Can you start, please, by explaining what a financial behaviourist is, and how one would differ from, say, a financial analyst?

Many thanks for having me!

Behavioral finance is a field of study that seeks to combine psychology-based theories with finance to explain why people make the decisions that they do with their money. A financial behaviorist studies people’s behavior with money, and in my case, I blend the emotions of money with the math of money to help my clients achieve their life and financial goals—to, in essence, create a new financial reality.

A financial analyst is a researcher—someone who studies the macroeconomic, microeconomic and company-specific conditions in order to make investment recommendations. Their scope of work certainly impacts the field of personal finance, but they do not work directly with individual clients.

In your work and your writing, you pay a lot of attention to stories—such as the ones we have grown up with that stay with us into adulthood—but you also pay attention to the absence of stories and discussion, especially around our personal finances. What do you think we gain by talking about our financial situations with others, and which aspects do you think are important to discuss with others?

There are some that say talking about money is still a taboo topic. I push back on that; I say people talk about money all the time. They just aren’t having the right conversations about it. Typically, when people talk about money, the scope of the conversation is often confined to just the numbers, a particular transaction, or celebrating a win. People rarely boast about the stock or deal they lost money on. Rarer still is the conversation that goes beyond the numbers to explore values, beliefs, habits, expectations, fears, desires, and financial philosophy, discipline and character. In part, this is because a lot of people aren’t skillful when it comes to painting the picture of what’s happening in their financial lives while only divulging the details they feel comfortable sharing. So, instead of exercising this muscle, they opt for saying nothing. And when you say nothing, everyone loses. Because one of the best ways we learn about ourselves (and from others) is by sharing experiences.

… people talk about money all the time. They just aren’t having the right conversations …

That said, I also understand it: So much of our identity, sense of self-value and self-worth is tied up with money—how much we have as well as how much we don’t have, yet want. And even though everyone, regardless of where they fall on the income and wealth spectrum, has the same concerns when it comes to money, it never really feels that way. Because money feels both personal and private, you can feel like you’re the only one with your particular questions, challenges, frustrations, goals and aspirations. And if we were more open to talking about our situations and experiences with money—the successes and failures—we (a) wouldn’t feel alone, and (b) might just discover an alternative solution we hadn’t considered previously.

One of my ‘tools’ for reminding myself that I’m not alone and for getting a different perspective (because the path of entrepreneurship is perhaps my biggest money ‘teacher’) is by having an accountability group. It’s a space where I feel safe and secure to share what’s going on, and it helps me address my issues with money so that I can show up fully and be more present for my clients.

This is probably a good time to reference the mythologist, Joseph Campbell. He said, “Everything begins with a story.” At the end of the day, we all have a ‘money story’. If we could embrace the tangled emotions we have toward money as part of the story, and not the entire story of who we are as a person, we’d be better off individually and collectively. The perfect mirror for this is an accountability partner or group.

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Jacquette M. Timmons in action, screenshots courtesy of

Why did you decide to write your book Financial Intimacy for women particularly?

Financial Intimacy as both a notion and as a book evolved over time for me. It started with a pattern of choices I found perplexing.

The short answer to your question is this: While I wholeheartedly believe men need to be as financially self-aware as women and that financial intimacy starts first with you, I wrote it ‘for’ women because when the intersection of love and money goes awry we (women) tend to suffer the negative consequences thereof to a far greater degree.

But here’s the full story of why I focused my book on the experiences of women, in particular: I’m a single child. My dear friend, Deno, who was like the older brother I didn’t have and who was married to my college roommate, died in 2003, two days after his 41st birthday, of a brain aneurysm. As a result of his death, I saw up close how one’s grief can be interrupted by what you don’t know about your spouse (or significant other’s) personal finances.

In March of the same year, the father of another friend died. That’s when her mother discovered the family was $500,000 in debt—and that was not the mortgage!

In late April/early May, I was working with a coaching client who on paper was the epitome of financial success. Wharton MBA; worked on Wall Street earning a sizable six-figure salary; was smart about how she managed her money; yet fought all the time with her live-in-boyfriend over money. From our work, what we soon discovered was the reason had little to do with him and more to do with her not wanting to end up like her parents (or her brother and sister-in-law) when it came money.

Had these three events occurred with a little more distance between them, I may not have noticed anything. But given the timing, I began to wonder: “What are these smart, highly-educated, professional women, who manage other aspects of their lives well, not discussing during pillow-talk time that they have no clue what’s going on in their households when it comes to money?!”

Yes, their individual circumstances were quite different. But, fundamentally, they all made the same mistake. Once I noticed this in them, I began to expand my scope of vision and realized, wow, a lot of us (myself included) are making the same love and money mistake.

I found this fascinating, and I was curious—I wanted to know more about the ‘why’ and I wanted to see how I could help resolve it.

The book came after I first created a workshop—”Women, Money and Romance.” I realized that no matter how much I tweaked the content, format, length of time, it never seemed enough to address the questions that were being raised. It also became clear that women wanted a platform not just to vent, but also to be heard.

The book also came after I researched other books that were already out there about love and money. I realized there was a gap I could address: there wasn’t a book that (a) took a social critic’s look at the intersection of love and money and examined how/why it changed over the last forty years due to social, economic, cultural and familial shifts—as well as shifts in the personal finance industry; (b) focused on women of all different marital statuses; and (c) in my opinion, honored that there’s more than one way to live a life.

I wanted to write a book that explored the sweet spot of where the relationship you have with yourself, your money and your mate converged.

I wanted to write a book that would enable a woman to see herself—at some point in her life – in some of the stories of the women I profiled. And, hopefully, give her ideas of takeaways she could apply to her life to make navigating this vulnerable terrain a bit easier.

I also wrote it because I am hopeful. I am hopeful that money doesn’t have to be why so many couples break up. I want money to become the unlikeliest of communication tools that enables us to connect with each other more deeply—that allows us to learn more about each other and grow together.

When reading your book, I appreciated being able to see snapshots of other women’s financial pictures with their partner or spouse, but what also came through in the telling of these stories was your deep care and respect for the fact that all manner of relationships on the love and racial and gender identity spectrums exist. And, furthermore, that with a bit of investigation and work, a proactive financial plan can be found for any set of parameters or context. Where do you think this loving and respectful pragmatism, or ‘spirit’, comes from in your own life? 

Oh, without question, it comes from my mother.

Growing up, I didn’t appreciate what was different about our family. We left New York City when I was seven years old for a small college town in the Western part of New York State. A town that wasn’t very diverse; I was one of two black students in my entire grade school! My mother was separated, at a time when separation and divorce were not as prevalent (or socially accepted) as they are now. My mother was a professional musician and had toured and traveled across the country on the coffee-house circuit; even when she ‘retired’ from singing and started working for the Social Security Administration, she still sang locally. She was an anomaly of a working, single mother who didn’t entirely give up her life as an artist, but also made choices to ensure our financial security and stability. She also held the title of being the only female umpire in all of Western NY for many years (I inherited my love of the Yankees from her). And, although private about her sexuality, she was a gay woman. There weren’t many other students in my school or children in my neighborhood with a mother the likes of mine.

I think all that shaped my mother, her choices and how she approached the world—being accepting of people without judgment; being kind to everyone regardless of their station in life; always looking for the best in people (but not taking sh*t from folks, either)—I think that grace and tenderness trickled down to me.

So thank you, by the way, for noticing. I was well aware of the privilege I had in terms of bearing witness to the stories of the women I profiled—some of whom shared things with me they hadn’t with those closest to them. I was also keenly aware of the responsibility that came with that and it was my intent to honor that as best I could.

This idea of looking behind our own behaviours to understand what drives us is likely to be a familiar concept for those readers of The Woolf who are fiction or screen writers (and there are quite a few out there!), because it’s vital for any writer to learn the skills to dive deep—to understand how a character’s ‘backstory’, their cultural and geographic ‘storyworlds’, fears and desires inform their actions. But this is a far easier process when we, as author, can play God, and the mirror isn’t being held up to ourselves! To quote ‘Kim’, one of the interviewees in your book: “knowing our baggage is one thing; being able to shake the residual effect of it is quite another.” What would be your recommendations for those who want to take the next step, once they have reached an awareness that their own history and stories—and emotions—are driving their relationship with money?

I’d recommend two things: First, don’t judge your newfound insight as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You could reach this stage of awareness and discover you actually have a healthy relationship with money, which of course is fantastic. But not if it causes you to operate as if there’s never room for improvement. The hard part here is not to become complacent; because when you do you overlook financial leaks and discount financial opportunities that are staring right at you—but you can’t see!

On the flip side, if you discover your relationship with money isn’t ideal or as you’d want (or need) it to be in order to achieve your goals, don’t get dismayed by the work that needs to be done to close the gap between where you are now and crossing the threshold to the other side. Know what needs to be done, but approach it a little at a time. I’m known for saying you can’t swallow the elephant whole without choking. So, I recommend working in 90-day increments.

…while money is never just about money, the numbers do tell a story…

Second, remember that while money is never just about money, the numbers do tell a story—a story about your choices, priorities, preferences, beliefs, expectations, habits, values and more. However, you can’t see the fullness of that story if it’s in your head and not on paper. Imagine how your relationship with money might change if you thought of it as a character in the story of your life. As a fiction or screen writer, what role would you have money play?

This may sound hokey, but here’s a big problem many people bump up against: they interact with money passively. The way you switch that paradigm and cultivate a more active relationship with money is to document your story on paper! Write down your goals, write down how much you want to save (and why); write down who and what you want to invest in (beyond the usual suspects of investment securities and real estate); write down how you’d spend your money if you had more money than you do currently; write down what you’d earn if you could wave a magic wand; write down your ideas of how you envision closing the gap between what you have and what you want; note what you want money to do for you as well as what you’re willing to do for it.

It absolutely starts with increasing your financial self-awareness about you and your relationship with money. But that is really just a springboard.


Image by Frederick V. Nielsen II, courtesy of

Why do you think it’s so important to continually revisit—and moreover discuss—our financial strategies, rather than opt for a ‘set and forget’ model, which could arguably work as a basic savings method? 

Because nothing about any of our lives is static. Something changes everyday—at times in subtle ways; at other times, quite drastically. Yet, we often fail to apply this awareness to how we approach money—even though it impacts almost every area of our lives.

I agree the ‘set and forget’ model can help with the discipline of saving and protect you from yourself in terms of not relying on the power of will. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t periodically re-confirm the account to which those funds are being deposited remains the best place for them.

The ‘set and forget’ model is particularly dangerous when it comes to electronic statements and investment accounts. With the former, you get the email notification, but never take ten minutes to review your statement. So you don’t notice double charges (I’ve been guilty of this) or subscription charges for services you no longer use.

When it comes to investing, the market naturally goes up and down. This fluctuation has an impact on your investment portfolio. So, let’s say you’ve determined you should have 75% stocks, 15% bonds, 10% cash. The market does what it does and now your allocation is 80% stocks, 10% bonds, 10% cash. Now, you have more exposure to stocks and less to bonds than you want. You won’t notice this if you aren’t paying attention and will, therefore, end up in a situation where you are over-exposed and under-exposed in ways that aren’t in alignment with your goals.

In my opinion, it’s all about engagement and being proactive. So, even if you determine no action is required, it’s better to have a review process in place. It helps to remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing the way you’re doing it!

Your book came out just after the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent ‘credit crunch’. In the meantime, have you seen any core differences in people’s relationships with money, given the emergence of new technologies? And here I’m talking about the ‘instant’ mobile life, with online banking and online shopping apps, as a start, as well as the evolution of BitCoin and other alternative currencies

Yes, but the differences actually have less to do with technology than simply adopting a new perspective.

Interestingly, the 2008 financial crisis made it easier to spread my message about money not just being about money. When everything is going up and cash is flowing and you can’t seem to make a wrong financial move, it’s easy to discount the non-financial elements of money.

However, the crisis made everyone perk up and begin to pay attention to the behavioral aspects of money—their own, as well as those of other people, companies, and the government. Much more today than pre-September 2008, people are embracing the role of the psychology and emotions of money. They view doing so less as some woo-woo, new-age stuff, and more as a smart and strategic way to manage their money. Now, it’s cool and hip!

With regards to the emerging technologies, here’s an irony: The majority of the personal finance apps we each have access to today came on the market after the financial crisis. In fact, since 2008, US$9 billion dollars have been spent on what’s referred to as fintech—financial technology—for personal use. The challenge is to not confuse quick and easy access to your financial information with actually having insight that will help you make better decisions and choices about your money.

You wrote on your blog that ‘creativity thrives with parameters’. And yet many people would not think of financial planning as an especially creative pastime because—as you yourself have put it—’two plus two will always equal four’. At what point in your career did you start to value the link between creative thinking and financial planning? 

I probably first made the connection when I worked at Bankers Trust (now Deutsche Bank) in the private bank and I had to convince the hiring manager that there was little difference between designing a pair of shoes and creating a financial product.

In case you didn’t know, I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was my goal to be a shoe designer. Before the first semester ended, I knew that wasn’t going to exactly pan out. So I switched my major to marketing. Six years later, armed now also with an MBA in finance from Fordham’s Graduate School of Business, I’m talking about the parallels between getting a pair of shoes into someone’s hands as being the same as getting a derivative into their portfolio. And it all made perfect sense to me.

Here’s why: Creative thinking and financial planning are both tools for achieving a result.

They both require you to pay attention to patterns; they both require you to connect dots (that may or may not be noticeable to others); they both require an imagination in order to see something other than the reality in front of you at the moment; they both require discipline; they both require you to produce an end result; they are both reiterative—creative thinking and financial planning are skills you must practice.

I’d also like to ask you about the book-writing process. Your authorial voice is very conversational, and I found it engaging to read, and yet many of us know that an incredible amount of hard work and re-writing goes into producing a book. Had you tried your hand at writing before you decided to write the book? And how easy was it to feel that you’d found your voice on the page, so to speak?

Financial Intimacy by Jacquette M. Timmons

Financial Intimacy cover image, courtesy of Chicago Review Press

I had a newsletter for several years before I had a blog, which preceded my book writing endeavor. So, I had about seven years behind me to practice finding my voice ‘on the page’ as you say. But, honestly, it took others to point out my voice to me. I didn’t set out saying this is my voice and let me make certain I’m writing in that voice. For me, it was very organic.

That said, I’m so grateful my voice is conversational. Yes, I have a very particular perspective about money. However, I never want to come across as the know-it-all expert who doesn’t value what someone else has to say or contribute. Nor do I want to be the person that doesn’t appreciate a perspective that may differ (or challenge) mine.

Plus, I think my day-to-day work adds to my conversational voice. Thanks to the one-to-one coaching I do with individuals and couples and the workshops I present, I’m given ample opportunities to practice talking about the emotions and math of money in a grounded and accessible manner.

What was one of the more challenging aspects of writing the book? And one of the joys? 

For me, the biggest challenge to writing my book was time. I got an advance, but not a large enough one that I could spend my time researching and writing, exclusively. In fact, I took on more work; in addition to continuing to run my business, I got a supplemental 9-5 job with a lot of flexibility.

For ten months, I had a fairly non-existent social life. When I wasn’t traveling to do a workshop or give a keynote, I split my days between my business and ‘daylighting’ job and from 6pm-11pm each weeknight I was either doing research, conducting an interview or writing. I treated Saturdays and Sundays as full work days and wrote those entire days. Friday evenings were the only nights I gave myself permission to ‘play’. And as the submission deadline neared, playtime became null and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays became full writing days. (The one thing I didn’t give up, though, was my running schedule.)

While I wouldn’t want to write my next book with the same time challenge, I truly had fun writing Financial Intimacy. The joys were many, but if I must choose one it would be the privilege of going inside the lives of the women I profiled regarding a topic that is deeply personal and private.

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

Octavia E. Butler is one of my favorite authors, and I absolutely loved her fantasy novel, Kindred. For those unfamiliar, it is about a young, modern-day black woman who involuntarily, and without warning, gets ‘transported’ back in time to antebellum slavery—where she is a slave. Her ‘travels’ last only minutes or hours in current-day time, but they span months in the past.

The way Ms. Butler juxtaposes Dana’s (the main character’s) 20th-century life with her 19th-century life as a slave girl to address questions of identify, power, how we define (and redefine) history, family, ancestry, relationships, the notion of home, the definition of time, race, culture, love, hate, empathy and forgiveness is uncomfortable, artful and thought-provoking. Her writing is so completely riveting, as she beautifully and unflinchingly tells a story of the human condition.


Read: Financial Intimacy available on Amazon.

Listen: Jacquette talks, on the Productive Flourishing Podcast.

In Conversation: Kaye Llewelyn

Kaye Llewelyn is a Zürich-based artist whose recently released children’s picture book, Pocket Money, conveys a playfulness and a world of serendipitous possibility through images without words. Here, she talks about the process of hand-publishing the book in Zürich, and about her extensive professional experience, including the First-Step Method for children’s development.

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Welcome, Kaye, can you start by telling us a bit about how the idea for the book Pocket Money came to be?

You know, after I started drawing one day, a couple of characters arrived and just stood there. There was one little guy there with his hands in his pockets. I must have wondered what his story was. Then one thing, in deed, led to the next …

The book is literally a picture book, with no words—why did you decide to stick to just the paintings?

I get tangled in words. I love them, but they play tricks with me. I’d been trying to write a children’s book for a while. This one though, started in pictures, and when I went looking for words for it, there weren’t really any. Then out of that, opened a whole new story of not having words, maybe not having a language, or just being shy. Now I think, without words it opens up conversation in all kinds of things like the value of awareness, of noticing, slowing down, caring, or simply the communication of ‘kind’.

Tell us what it was like putting the book together yourself by hand. Not many authors get a chance to do that! 

Oh, it’s a story. When I was new in Zürich I was out on an adventure exploring the city on my bike and I came across this amazing place full of paper and materials and old presses. I met Christa and her Buchbekleidung and I was mesmerised. I promised her I’d be back one day to make something. Ha, so I did. It was a few years later, I came and I made an edition of 50 books.

I felt like the bookbinder’s apprentice. I loved going in there each day gluing, pressing, cutting and smoothing my hands over the paper. You have to have the process all lined up perfectly and in order because once you get going you’re like a soft machine yourself.

'Pocket Money', p.9, image courtesy Kaye Llewelyn

Pocket Money, p.9, image courtesy Kaye Llewelyn

It took weeks. I had my own table at the back where I could also meet all the others coming in with their projects, designers, students, photographers and personal passions. My favourite was the most beautiful 80th birthday present to her Japanese friend from one young woman—80 four-leaf clovers collected and pressed and mounted, leporello on cream paper, bound with green linen, a treasure. So for me it was all about the atmosphere.

I became a part of the family such that at the last minute I was sent off, when she couldn’t make it, with my book to represent her at the Art Book Fair in Frauenfeld. And, wow, another fascinating world was opened. You can see I could go on. I guess I love books, so getting behind the scenes and intimate, making them by hand was just, special.

… my art seems to illustrate the story I’m in.

You have an interesting professional history—having been a professional surfer, for example—but you’re also a certified coach, and are trained in the Feldenkrais First-Step physical therapy method for babies and young children. How does your painting and art intersect with all this? 

Good question and, like putting those pesky words in a good line, I’m not great at one track. But my art seems to illustrate the story I’m in. Like when I was studying and reading tarot I painted my way through the whole 78-card story. It became a ‘pathworking’, a way to sink into a direct knowing of the meanings within them.

'Pocket Money', p.22, image courtesy Kaye Llewelyn

Pocket Money, p.22, image courtesy Kaye Llewelyn

Pocket Money was really about moving countries and having to find out who I am now and what I want to do. Some wise person said about starting a blog, just keep doing it for six months and look back and see what you seem to write (or draw or paint) about. Pocket Money became the illustration of what I found.

In the art classes I lead now, be they adults or children I set a space for them to explore where they are and see where the painting leads them.

In my coaching I find it’s people having to make a transition that are my clients. It might seem a bit left field to have recently added ‘First Step Instructor’ to my tool kit, but I reckon becoming-a-parent and just-entering-the-world are two of the biggest transitions you can get.

First Step is a hands-on help, and sometimes that’s what you really need. Its roots are in the Feldenkrais Method (and here’s where the surfing comes in). Back then, as a professional surfer, it was the Feldenkrais practice of awareness through movement and functional integration that had the most profound effect on my development. I believe it still does. As we bring ease into our movements and loosen up our ideas of who we are supposed to be the flow and the magic come in.

You’ve just made Pocket Money available on other platforms like Amazon via Ingram Spark. How did you find the process of getting it from the hand-made edition to a more widely available publication?

That was quite a different challenge. Now I’ve learned the computer programs and how to do it all myself … remind me next time to have someone else do it for me! It probably took as much time, but the digital mistakes aren’t nearly as fun. My first run of handmade-backwards books at least got their own nick-name and a laugh— ‘the Israeli Edition’ … All my computer glitches just ended up ‘Der’ and ‘Grrr’!

Still, now I’m done I am so excited to think I can ship one off, a surprise present to anyone anywhere. That can only be cool.

What’s the next art project for you?

For Pocket Money I had the dining room table, now I have a studio … hmm, I think it will be something bigger. I’m not sure exactly but there’s something floating around calling itself Free Spirits …

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

Oh my, how many? Okay … The God of Small Things. Arundhati Roy transported me through all her knowing, deep, vivid and delicate descriptions. There is one image that still lives in my memory. Where Velutha makes the swim across the river naked and, “The moonlit river fell from his swimming arms like sleeves of silver.” I wish I could catch that in paint.


Kaye Llewelyn is an artist, coach, emboldener … you can find her throwing paint, rolling with babies, or looking for adventures on her bike with the red spotted seat.

See more images from Pocket Money in this issue’s Gallery.

Pocket Money is available on Amazon or The Book Depository.

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Pocket Money, image courtesy Kaye Llewelyn, @kayellewelyn

Gallery: Money

This season’s gallery is a selection of paintings by Kaye Llewelyn, from her beautiful children’s picture book, Pocket Money. You can read the full interview with Kaye here.

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 or visit

Making Tracks

Goings-on in the city of Zürich and beyond … A selection of literary and cultural events around the city this winter.

If you’d like to see your event listed, please contact us via our editorial page.

Kaye Llewelyn detail

Image detail, courtesy of Kaye Llewelyn

Books … and authors

Kaufleuten has an interesting array of guests coming up, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., John Lanchester and Ahmad Mansour.

A full and lively programme of poetry, readings and discussion is available at Literaturhaus Zürich.

“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow …” Kulturmama is holding another Storytime in the Gemeindebibliothek in Thalwil: Monday, 14 December.  Storytime is a free, monthly story corner geared towards the pre-school set (ages 3-5, siblings welcome!). Get in contact with Marisa here.

At The Bookshop

Diccon Bewes will be signing Around Switzerland in 80 Maps on Sunday, 12 December, 15:00-17:00.

First Saturday of the month—Story Hour. Drop off your darlings and browse with a 10% discount.

Save the date …

Geneva Writers’ Conference is 18-20 March.

The Woolf Quarterly will be holding its annual Spring workshop in May 2016. Details to be announced in February’s issue.

Friday, 11 December, 10:45-11:45 a story-telling event at Children First non-profit association (Freiestrasse 175, 8032 Zürich). Three seasonal stories in English, French and German will be read by experienced native-speaking teachers. CHF 10 for first child, CHF 5 for subsequent kids, and for each attendee, a book will be donated to Room to Read charity. More information here.

10, 12, 13 December: Tanzhaus Zürich. ‘XXY’ is a solo dance performance investigating gender roles and identity through the synthesis of physical theatre and kabuki.

16 January 2016: New Generation’s annual Self-Publishing Summit, London. Discussion around the independent publishing industry, including pitching opportunities, Q&A with successful authors, discussion around future trends and marketing, as well as opportunities to network.

In response: Money

Two Woolf readers respond to the theme …

The Burning Question

Short work of nonfiction by Marie Hélène Prosper

It is alarmingly dark in my dream.

I try to grasp the blackness before me when all at once bills of money materialize, in tens, twenties or more, and come flying towards me from all directions. All the money I possess. I reach out and grab handfuls from all around, piling the bills on the ground. I strike a match and throw it over the whole thing, onto this heap that contains my material worth, my life savings, my security. I watch as fire catches; a small piece crackles, sparks a flame and sends tinsels flitting about in the air. I am astonished by the finality of my act as I look on and it all burns to ashes.

I feel emotions rise and swell then, as my night-world of dreams recedes and vanishes along with my slow climb back to full consciousness. That is when realisation kicks in: Money is burnable waste. A pile of cash can go up in smoke in seconds, at once obliterating all the time and toil expended in its acquisition. Such a thing cannot be undone!

Now comes the question: If material wealth can be so easily destroyed, what riches in my life are not?

Squashed Chanel by @libby_ol



Poem by Claire Doble

There’s money all around this town
But not a lot for me
It’s sleeping in the Dolder Grand,
floating on the Zürichsee

What’s a lot? I hear you ask
You seem comfortably off
Money’s like sleep, I reply
You never have enough

I enjoy wealth’s spoils and feasts;
health, safety, life that’s light
I work hard for it as well,
but do I have the right

to take for granted all that’s here
Just because … it is?
I guess you can’t buy knowledge
of how the other half lives

Money’s funny—both more and less
Than what it represents
My time but not my effort
Dollars but not sense

So here’s the rub, somewhere between
Dollars, francs and euros
It’s a money-driven land, this Schweiz
And that’s why, I suppose:

I spend too much on everything
I never seem to save a thing
And yet I do not sink, but swim
the tides of money, out and in.


Notes from the Unexpected: Les Millionnaires

Images and text by D.B. Miller

On a prim cobblestone lane that makes nearby Bahnhofstrasse look like a strip mall, there is a showroom. It stands out a bit, what with the kaleidoscopic marble arches and golden sweep of letters announcing, in case there was any doubt, that those who enter have arrived. Inside, however, the hush and impeccable glass cases suggest a typical Old Town affair—for about a second.

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NFTU - Les Millionnaires 2Les Millionnaires. This is the jeweler steeped in the tradition of turning Zürich’s discreet aesthetic on its head, yet appealing to folks who, if held upside down, might start raining coins—to adapt an image furnished by co-founder Urs. But long before the acclaim, international expansion or foray into watchmaking, Les Millionnaires boasted just five rings and an ironic name. That was over 30 years ago, when Urs, designer Francine and goldsmith Ernst were sure of only one thing: they had no idea what they were doing.

“We’re a little crazy, all three of us,” says Francine, not without a hint of pride, while trying to recount exactly how jewelry inspired by fairytales, the animal kingdom and the dark sparks of their imagination took them this far.

Les M by DB Miller

The first three Millionnaires: Ernst, Francine and Urs

“My designs can’t always be sold,” she goes on, happy enough to defer to the experts, in particular Ernst. With his magic hands and years of experience, he is better placed to work out which ideas can be painstakingly brought to life for a limited series, one-off, or not at all. I think of the startling sculpture with the snail perched on an olive-sized stone—around here, called “a ring”—and have to wonder what never made it past the cast. Are there limits as to what can and can’t be done?

NFTU - Les Millionnaires 1 BW“No,” she says, right before Ernst quips, “Yes.” And then they laugh in the way people who have spent hundreds of thousands of hours working together, might.


In the atelier across the river, five craftsmen hunch over precious metal. They hammer and file, one thumbing through a plastic tub of diamonds, just as other Old Town jewelers once did before striking out on their own. In this métier, timeworn techniques die hard, even if they are now accompanied by tinny pop music and the stops and screeches of machinery.

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NFTU - Les Millionnaires 1Just off the basement workshop lined with tarnished rods and helmets, Urs weaves past the floor-to-ceiling shelves. They overflow with a jumble of twine, scraps and crates stuffed with the makings of Les Millionnaires’ offbeat displays. Elsewhere: dusty cases of champagne, swaths of iridescent velvet and wooden gift boxes, each carved by hand.

“Everything we’ve ever done,” says Urs, “comes from the gut.” 

We are a long way from the sleek and sterile—from creativity that can be deconstructed or cloned in bulk. Every glittering beetle, seahorse and gargoyle is birthed in this bunker. Every dream and walk in the woods lives in metal and stone. A geometrically imprecise shape is sometimes the most perfect, and a patch of shadow can split into a thousand tiny stars.

“The eye,” says Ernst, “tends to linger on what it can’t work out.”

*, Storchengasse 13, 8001 Zürich

NFTU - Les Millionnaires 4

DB Miller is a writer of short stories and essays, along with an occasional Tweet @DBMillerWriter