The RNA London and South East Chapter recently held a one-day workshop. Tammy Lovell and Greta Sykes give us a taste of what a great day was had by all delegates.
Tammy Lovell - Morning Session
The RNA London and SE Chapter were given a taste of what the publishing industry wants from WH
Smith Travel Book Buyer Matt Bates and Choc Lit Managing Director Lyn Vernham.
Matt, who won RNA Bookseller of the Year 2015, said the total market, including fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, travel and academic books. was worth £1.5bn last year and had seen an 8.4% year on year increase. The average selling price has also gone up year on year with sellers such as Waterstones and WH Smiths Travel pulling away from price promotions.
Romance is split across several genres with the ‘modern women’s read’ being the most popular category. Last year it had growth of 8% and took £168m, making it a very large part of the £1.5b market.
Matt examined trends in the industry last year based on Nielsen Bookscan data. EL James’ latest offering Grey, sold £1.07m - making it approximately 23% of the fiction market last year. For this reason, Matt removed it from the statistics, so as not to give an inaccurate picture overall.
Bestselling novels included David Walliams’ Grandpa’s Great Escape which sold 615,000 copies, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train which sold 646,000 and Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing which sold 380,000.
In the modern women’s category, the biggest author was Marion Keyes, who had 4.9% of sales in the top 100. She was followed by Lesley Pearse with 2.8% and Cecelia Ahern with 2.4% of sales. A rising star was Lucy Diamond, who had 2.1% of sales.
Within titles there was a trend for female names and roles such as girl, woman, friend, widow and sister, for example Marion Keyes’ The Woman Who Stole My Life, Maureen Lee’s The Kelly Sisters and Lisa Jewell’s The Third Wife. Titles with nature in them were also popular such as Lucy Diamond’s Summer at Shell Cottage, Santa Montefiore’s The Beekeeper’s Daughter and Erica James’ The Dandelion Year, all within the top 10 bestsellers in the genre.
Nostalgic fiction had seen a resurgence. Matt said: “There is always an appetite for wonderful books that have endured.” WHSmiths Travel sold 150,000 copies of modern classics across 35 titles in 2015 with popular books including To Kill a Mocking Bird and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Place names work well in a title. Last Train from Liguria, Train to Trieste and Night Train to Lisbon, have all over-indexed in WHSmiths Travel market. Matt said that adding a place name, something "exotic or curious” into your title can be very helpful. He also suggested setting novels in a fashion setting. One of the biggest sellers across the past 10 years at WHSmiths Travel was the Devil Wears Prada. Television dating shows and revenge porn are possible sources of inspirations for authors, according to Matt. “There are so many modern dilemmas that we can draw on,” he concluded.
Choc Lit Managing Director Lyn Vernham focused her talk on digital books. She said there had been a decline in print with our genre readers switching to digital eReaders. She said: “Our market has been saturated over the last three years with all the new digital imprints and the fact it’s so much easier to release digital content. It’s much harder to get noticed. ”
Thrillers and mysteries are currently the best-selling category within fiction in both the UK and the US. She suggested that if you self-publish a book, look at your category and sub tag it as a mystery, thriller or a crime, if appropriate.
Choc Lit use software to follow what happens on the market on a daily basis. Lyn recommended changing your metadata to reflect the current key words being used on Amazon’s bestsellers lists. She said: “Look at what’s selling, that’s what everyone else is doing to try and climb charts.”
Lyn expressed frustration with books retailing for 99p on Kindle, less than the price of a coffee. However she said that they were forced to “play along with the game”. All the other platforms have had to follow kindle in order to compete. Choc Lit have found that their own loyal readers wait for them to drop the price of books in promotion rather than pay the full price on release.
This situation was exacerbated by Kindle constantly driving sales towards promotions for the past couple of years. Lyn said that in the US, Amazon’s own imprints heavily dominate the charts pushing out the big publishers.
Another trend was that Choc Lit were being constantly asked for series with four or five books in. “It’s tough for us to see sales with just one book which is why we’re cutting back on the number of debut authors we take on.” Choc Lit’s current Search for a Star competition will be the last year this year.
Choc Lit uses a ‘tasting panel’ of 100 plus readers to research new books. Of these, 98% read contemporary fiction but only 70% read historical. However, historical does do better in print and Choc Lit’s readers are predominantly digital. 62% read sagas, 44% fantasy, 41% paranormal and 38% young adult.
Catchy titles are selling well online with the words ‘Girl’ and ‘Lost’ doing really well. Within the America market the word ‘Billionaire’ is popular as a keyword.
Lyn concluded that in a world with so many other distractions, it was more important than ever to grab the reader in any way possible and to think outside of the box at new ways of doing so.
Greta Sykes - Afternoon Session
After the very lively morning session Julie Cohen held us in awe with her verve and enthusiasm. Her most recent book ‘Where love lies’ was shortlisted for this year’s RNA award. She runs a fiction consultancy, has taught creative writing for the Guardian. She has an agony aunt position at ‘Noveliscious’ and wants us to send her interesting questions Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie gave us a short piece of writing which we had to check out against a set of rules which she has worked out to help authors pitch their story right from the beginning. Her rules are as follows:
First impressions count when you meet people.
What will the reader think about your character(s) from the very first words of your novel? What do you want the m to think?
Start with a grabber
Try not to start with the heroine waking up, or going to sleep or driving somewhere, walking about thinking about something, or sitting with her best friend having a cup of coffee. Start as late as you possibly can.
Put conflict on the page.
What is the purpose of these events? Is there a problem to hook your reader in? Does your hook event link to the main body of the story? Does your main character’s emotional conflict inform the story right from the start?
Shrink your back story
Start with now whenever you can. Bring the reader right into the world of your novel.
Do you really need that prologue?
If you put it in it should be there for a reason. Think about whether the reader needs your prologue.
Look at your language
Is it interesting? Does it show your voice? Have you used active verbs and specific detail? Are you showing or telling?
There is an exception to every rule on this page.
The key is to know what you are doing and why you made a choice.
It turned out that the piece of writing Julie gave us was the beginning of her novel. She showed us how she had followed her own rules. It was impressive! We had all brought the first 100 words of our new novels (her request). Some had brought longer pieces, which she said the publisher would throw straight in the bin.
Julie then read each piece to us, and we worked together with her on checking whether the writer had crossed any of her rules. This was a very enjoyable experience, especially as it was anonymous. It was good to learn from all the examples which were as varied as the group of women and men who were present. We experienced the value of her ideas and clarity in assessing how good a beginning was. She told us that she rewrote the beginning of her last novel 100 times!
Writers fail constantly! Was one of her lines, which encourages not to give up when things seem difficult. Rewrite your beginning when you have finished your novel was another advice she gave us.
She told us that a character in a romance novel has to go through an emotional journey which changes them somewhat. There was much laughter throughout the session and the atmosphere was as ever productive and supportive.
Thank you ladies for reminding us what a great day was had by all!
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