Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bridge Of Swords tour wraps up

After five weeks of full-time touring, plus another three weeks of part-time touring, the Bridge Of Swords promotional tour, which I dubbed Save Our Bookstores, is finally over.

Time to get back to work, time to finish off a couple of tweaks on Valley Of Shields for HarperCollins and time to get cracking again on Wall Of Spears.

The last weekend went well - first up was Infinitas at Parramatta, a different sort of appearance because it was down to people coming in specially to see me. Thanks to all who did, thanks to Tim and thanks to Meredith and also Guy, two people who had just dropped into the store anyway but ended up buying all four of my books and getting them signed!

Up the road to Dymocks Castle Hill and we swiftly sold out of Wounded Guardians, while racking up the sales of Bridge Of Swords. It didn't begin that well, as Castle Towers has one of the craziest carparks I have battled. I thought Miranda Fair was maddening but it has nothing on Castle Towers. Apparently modelled on a Dungeons & Dragons floorplan, it seems to defy the laws of logic and, quite probably, space and time. I finally found a carspace and hit the store almost 30 minutes late.

Nevertheless, I met some wonderful people and sold a bunch of books.

The very last store on the tour was Dymocks Charlestown. This is a huge shopping centre in Newcastle, absolutely packed with people and the Dymocks there is a new expansion store, after NSW's second city lost almost all its bookstores in the A+R collapse.

Sadly the store is in a dodgy location, stuck in a little backwater and surrounded by health fund shopfronts. The owners, Uday and Anita, are lovely people and it's a fantastic, family-run store. But the area was DEAD. I ended up bellowing at people on escalators in the hope of dragging a few in.

We sold out of Wounded Guardians (yet again) but it was a little bit of a disappointing way to finish, on several levels. Not only because I didn't sell many books but more so because this is a store that needs help, in an area that needs more bookstores.

I can only hope more Novocastrians discover their new Dymocks.

Looking back on the tour overall, it's clear that the Canberra/Goulburn leg was by far the most successful in terms of sales, while the greatest pleasure was meeting so many people and introducing myself to new stores.

Receiving emails, Twitter messages and messages on Facebook from people who bought from me, loved the books and took the time and effort to tell me so is wonderful.

Making the Dymocks Fantasy Bestseller List, as well as individual store Bestseller Lists from one end of the country to another was a huge highlight.

It's a great foundation for book two.

So, I've talked the talk, it's up to Bridge Of Swords to walk the walk and sell itself, through word of mouth.

Meanwhile I can gather the energy for next April school holidays, when I'll hit the road once more with Valley Of Shields.

Let me know if there's a store near you that needs visiting!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Massive days in Melbourne

The last interstate stop on the Bridge Of Swords tour took me down to Melbourne, where I would be experiencing life in a Dymock-racy (so to speak) with four Dymocks stores on the list as well as a drop-in to the specialist sci-fi/fantasy store Minotaur.
This was going to be much easier than Canberra and Brisbane thanks to my friend and busing author Jason Gale, who was not only giving me a bed for the night but also driving me around from one end of Melbourne to the other.
Things didn't begin that auspiciously, with a lady at Newcastle Airport attempting to convince staff that the three bags she was carrying were in fact two and she should be allowed to board the plane with them, even though she was well over the carry-on luggage. That went so well that we were 15 minutes late out of Newcastle but, again, luckily I had some time up the sleeve before my first bookstore.
Things got easier when I met Jason at the airport and hit the city nice and quick. First up was the big CBD store on Collins St. This is downstairs, so I had position at the base of the long elevator and could snag people as they came down.
This worked really well - although they had none of the original trilogy and once again we all missed out on some sales. Still, I sold 27 copies of Bridge Of Swords in between chatting to Jason and devouring the world's most expensive toasted cheese and ham sandwich.
It's a great place to chat to people and I had a great time meeting some wonderful people, including one lady desperate to buy The Wounded Guardian! In case she hasn't yet, Dymocks Knox, Southlands and Camberwell all have copies now ...
Second on the list was Minotaur. I've been to all other specialist fantasy stores around Australia and was keen to complete the list.
Things didn't go quite so well as they weren't really expecting me and I had apparently interrupted lunch there and they only had two copies of Bridge Of Swords.
I was half-expecting Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons to appear around the corner and utter the immortal words: "Worst author visit ever!"
But it was still good to speak to the staff, to let them know a little of what my books are about so that next time things might go better ...
Last stop for the day was Dymocks Southlands, which was a nice place to finish. Good sales, great people and a chance to relax and refuel for the next day afterwards.
Friday started with a flurry - my Twitter account got hacked and I was deluged by warnings from people. In between sending messages begging people not to open any links purportedly sent by me and changing passwords, I was lacking a little focus.
Things got back on track meeting my cousin Nat, her husband Emanuel and their lovely children for coffee at Knox before arriving at Dymocks Knox.
Knox was great and the sales piled up as the people poured past. I was reluctant to go but had one more stop before flying out - Dymocks Camberwell.
This is in a curious little shopping centre on a busy road in a hip suburb but there weren't many people around.
That was a real shame because Camberwell had the best specials of any store on my books. If I'd been at the CBD store selling Bridge of Swords at $5 off and buy the original trilogy and only pay for two books ($46 vs $67) I reckon I would have sold 100.
Sadly I couldn't do much for Camberwell, as it's a lo vely store but planes wait for nobody (unless you're an angry woman with excess luggage, it seems) and I had to hit the road. Or skies.
Next day it was out to Dymocks Rouse Hill, one of my favourite places. There's something about the area and the people that just makes it so rewarding to work there.
I had a bunch of people turn up specially to see me, which is always thrilling, as well as meeting all sorts of other lovely readers. One girl, whose name was Rhiannon, had to buy Bridge Of Swords as the main female character is, of course, Rhiannon!
Three hectic days of bookstores but the best was yet to come ... on Monday the Dymocks Fntasy Bestseller List came out with the news Bridge Of Swords had cracked the top 10!
That was huge - the first series sold very well but steadily until Radiant Child leapt onto the Bestseller list. To get onto the Bestseller List with the first book of this series is fantastic and a very proud moment.
Thanks to everyone who bought it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Crazy weekend of touring

One of the definite highlights of this or indeed any other tour I've had was appearing at Gosford Markets with Kate from All Good Bookstore Gosford and a couple of Forlish warriors in Uhtred and Osric - otherwise known as Mason and Hayden!
These brave blokes (it was in the high 20s) dressed in chainmail with metal helms, sword and shield and bashed each other senseless in order to draw attention to my attempts to chat to people and sell them books.
It was a lot of fun and when I get back to work and retrieve my BlackBerry USB cable, I'll be uploading video onto here as well as my Facebook page.
They really went the extra mile and you have to hand it to a couple of big blokes who like hitting each other with lumps of wood and metal.
The only drawback was the sun and the fact the Gosford Markets' promised marquee never turned up, leaving us all with a slight case of sunburn ...!
Still, we met loads of people, handed out stacks of bookmarks and glowing reviews of Bridge Of Swords and sold quite a few books as well.
I also helped Kate coin her slogan: `Available at all good bookstores, particularly this All Good Bookstore!"
Well, I never met a bit of wordplay I didn't like ...
Sunday was less sunny but also action-packed, as I popped into Dymocks Chatswood for the first time.
Bridge Of Swords copy editor Abigail Nathan of Bothersome Words popped in to say hello and tweet as I attempted to sell to what was a bit of a sparse crowd that Sunday. It's always great having someone there, even if your conversation consists of about 20 little snapshots as you break off to speak to people walking past.
They may have been few in number but they sure packed a punch ... sold 38 books in a couple of hours, including a personal best of 10 to one person!
This wonderful bloke called Steve came in and bought a trilogy for himself, a Bridge Of Swords for himself, then came back and bought another trilogy for a friend, then came back another hour later and bought a third trilogy for another friend! Now that's a friend worth having!
It was a great afternoon, thankfully out of the sun and the stupid GPS even failed to get me lost. The damn thing couldn't find any satellites around Chatswood but, by the time I stopped swearing at it and it discovered where we were, I'd found my own way back to the Pacific Highway!
A big weekend indeed ... and I had a few days off before trying Melbourne ...!  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beautiful Brisbane

I was very excited to fly into Brisbane for two days travelling around bookstores and meeting new people. Brisbane Dymocks was the place where I discovered The Radiant Child had made the Dymocks Fantasy Bestseller List. Not surprisingly, that buzz enabled me to sell out their entire stock that time! Plus I was going to visit TLC Books Manly, a small bookstore in a little arcade in a quiet part of town but a fantastic place that has been a great supporter of mine and exactly the sort of bookstore this tour is all about trying to help.
I was also a little sad, as three of the Borders stores I had visited that time were all gone.
It all began a little curiously, as walking out to the plane were a large hairy bloke in a wedding dress and his (normally dressed) mates. I'm assuming this was some football-inspired dare but I do like to keep an open mind and if that's what he felt comfortable in, then more power to him!
I had plenty of time up the sleeve before an 11am start at Dymocks Brisbane, which was lucky. While we didn't have to pause to allow the Captain to conduct a mid-air ceremony, we did end up circling Brisbane airport. I caught the airport train in, which was unsurprisingly slow.
Interestingly enough, I had all sorts of dramas with Jetstar, which freaked out because I had booked three flights with them through Webjet and refused to let me do online check-in, then when I rang them up, the lady in Chennai or Manila or wherever their phone centre is based was completely unhelpful. Finally the check-in terminal at Newcastle also refused to help me. Luckily I was there early enough to get into the human check-in line and the lady there fixed it all in about 30 seconds and moved me to an emergency seat with extra legroom! Jetstar 0, Newcastle Airport 1!
On a positive note, I remembered the rough layout of the city centre from the last time I was there and found my way to the store with very little difficulty, stopping for a coffee along the way.
The CBD store doesn't let me cut loose on passersby but does have a steady flow of people for me to accost as they head up the escalators to the fiction section. I met some great people and really appreciate the ones who took the time to Friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and drop me a line to say how much they were enjoying either Wounded Guardian or Bridge Of Swords. That's always a fantastic feeling!
Then it was off to Pulp Fiction, a specialist fantasy/sci-fi store and then the new Angus & Robertson store in Brisbane city. These were just stock signings, rather than my usual selling. It was particularly evocative to be back inside an A&R store again, after appearing at so many last time. They had been a bit surprised by Bridge Of Swords' popularity and only had four left for me to sign - next time it'll be much better!
Final stop for the day was Dymocks Carindale, where Bridge Of Swords was sitting at Number Nine on the store Bestseller list. That was a fantastic afternoon, meeting many wonderful people and chatting about books and my books in particular. I didn't sell an enormous amount of books that evening but had so many people interested in what I had to say that I am sure it will follow on.
Day Two felt a little like an episode of The Amazing Race. I had taxicab vouchers to get me around and met up with one friendly cabbie, called Manny, who stuck with me through the day.
First up was TLC Books, then Dymocks Chermside. TLC is such a lovely little store, in a delightful centre. Tanya and the team are so nice there that I simply have to keep going back! Both went really well, with Chermside particularly a success in book terms. They only had Bridge Of Swords, which sadly cost us both in terms of books sold but when I had finished, they only had two copies of Bridge Of Swords left.
There was a fantasy stand of books just behind me - and if anyone perused that, they received a smile and a bookmark from me. That led to three sales right there!
So I flew out of Brisbane, ready for a big weekend at Gosford Markets and then Dymocks Chatswood.
And that was to prove quite a fascinating adventure!
That was even before I got off the plane. I was flying Virgin (so obviously didn't expect to see the large bloke in the wedding dress 36 hours after his big day) and their plane experienced what the Captain described as"severe turbulence" on the way back. I would describe it as a case of severe turbulence in the squeaky bum section.
I had my seatbelt so tight, there was little blood getting to my legs and even so I swear my butt lifted of the seat twice as we dropped and bumped. To say I was glad to be back was an understatement. To say there were a few people who needed a spare pair of underpants urgently was also probably accurate!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Glass is always half full

When you do a bookstore appearance, as I have been busy doing over the past five weeks, you absolutely have to approach it with a "glass half-full" mindset.
If you focus on negatives, then you will end up underneath the table that the bookstore kindly set out for you, locked in the foetal position, wailing slightly.
As I have said before, you are going to get knockbacks, sneers and even the odd casual insult. Focus on those and it will mess with your head. Instead, you have to concentrate on the positive.
Take, for instance, the Macquarie Centre Dymocks appearance I did.
This was on the Saturday before Father's Day and the place was packed. But everyone was in a rush and many had a specific book in mind as a gift. I was getting many, many knockbacks amid the sales and it would have been easy to focus on those. It was still a good day and I still sold plenty of books but I was copping a bit of verbal punishment along the way.
I refused to focus on that. Instead I looked at those who did stop to talk to me.
One teenager who made the entire day worth it was a delightful young lady called Emma, who worked for Baskin Robbins and popped in on her break.
I chatted to her first, then she was so excited she came back with money and bought The Wounded Guardian - and then she came back once more, to shake my hand and thank me for talking to her!
Instantly that made the 50+ sneers about fantasy and books that I'd received vanish in an instant.
Each person who does talk to you is a pleasure. Each person who buys one of your books is a joy.
You may have spoken to 50 people before them but, to every single person, that is the one contact with an author they have had that day. It is up to you to make that special for you both.
I use the memory of the wonderdyl people I speak to, to inspire me to go on and on.
For me, the glass is always half-full.

The dark art of Sock Puppetry

The Sunday Telegraph asked me to write a short opinion piece about the art of "sock puppeting", where authors use fake online personas to write reviews of their own work.
Here's the link to the published piece:

Here's what I originally wrote for them:

I HAVE never been a sock puppet. I have never even played with them. The closest I came was when I used to put socks on my ears, to distract my infant son while trying to wrestle him into his clothes. Hey, you find yourself doing some weird stuff when you’ve only had an average of two hours’ sleep a night for a week.

But I can understand only too well why some authors become sock puppets. I am an author and have felt the dark temptation myself.

For those mystified why there appears to be a column in the paper devoted to obscure childhood playtime, the UK has been transfixed this week with tales of “sock puppetry”, the delightful phrase to describe how authors invent fake online personas and then use them to post glowing reviews about themselves and, in some cases, use them to attack rival authors.

I can understand the need for the former – but I have to say the latter absolutely disgusts me.

British crime writer R.J. Ellory was outed for using online sock puppets he called Jelly Bean and Nicodemus Jones (that should have been a giveaway right there – nobody but a fiction writer could marry such pretension with such ordinariness) to praise his latest book and bag his rivals.

Fellow crime writer Jeremy Duns outed Ellory and threw the literary establishment into a tizz, with further revelations of dodgy reviews on Amazon and questions being asked about the whole newspaper review system as well. The accusations are that reviewers are unfailingly nice to their friends – but scathing to those they dislike, regardless of the quality of the book.

Ellory has apologised publicly, as well as privately to the authors he attacked using Jelly Bean and Nicodemus. He deserves credit for owning up and not trying to cover up his deeds. Although, as a crime writer, perhaps he understands better than most that cover-ups always end with you looking even guiltier than before.

Using a fake name to attack another author is revolting. The point Ellory – and many others – are missing is that authors might think of each other as rivals but that is foolishness. Readers don’t just pick one author and leave it at that. They have many favourites. Authors put out one book a year, if that. It is arrogant beyond belief to think readers will not pick up another book in all that time.

But to post glowing reviews of your own book, to see something online that praises your work … well, that is a sock puppet of a completely different colour.

When I received the phone call from HarperCollins, telling me they were going to publish my first book, it was one of the best days of my life and the culmination of a dream. But reality soon sets in – you are but one of thousands of books on a shelf. How do you make yourself stand out from the rest? How can you get people talking about your book?

The temptation to don the sock puppet hat and help your book along is strong. Any author who says they never considered it, in their darker and weaker moments, is in denial.

Your book is not just a piece of paper, stapled together, it is part of you. You have invested a huge amount into it and it is your child, as much a part of your creation as your real children. To see it ignored is painful, to see it abused is excruciating.  If I am at a bookstore and someone wants to read a chapter before deciding whether to purchase, it is torture. They might as well ask me to drop my pants and expose everything to them.

So yes, the temptation to help your book out is strong. But then you remember what you teach your real children, and you resist.

And, after all, how much help do reviews provide? The runaway bestseller is 50 Shades Of Grey – a book universally panned in reviews as smutty drivel.

Duncan Lay is Masthead Chief of The Sunday Telegraph and author of The Dragon Sword Histories and now Bridge Of Swords, which has been getting rave reviews, none of which he wrote. Honest!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hot and cold in Canberra!

Canberra … without a doubt it is the perfect place for authors. The residents are almost universally educated, appreciative of authors and with enough money to indulge their love of reading.

I always enjoy going down to Canberra and have always done well there. This time was no different.

Sadly, this time I would not be travelling around Canberra with trusted HarperCollins rep Jodi Callas, who had been a victim of the reorganisation of the sales rep structure.

This meant I was going to have find my own way around Canberra … something to strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned traveller!

So naturally I bit the bullet and bought a GPS unit. Now, ever since one of them tried to kill us both by ordering me to chuck a U-turn on a six-lane Brisbane highway, I have distrusted the things. I specifically asked the salesman at my local Hardly Normal store to show me the least idiotic one.

So, naturally the bloody thing got me lost in Goulburn, refusing to recognise the biggest shopping centre in this major country town!

Once I made it to Town & Country Books in Goulburn, with a little over-the-phone directional help from the friendly staff, things got cracking.

The highway now bypasses Goulburn but, if you are an author, make sure you stop there. Friendly people, delighted to meet an author and excited to buy books not just for themselves but as gifts for friends and family.

I had a great morning there before heading into the car, crossing the fingers and aiming for Dymocks Tuggeranong.

I arrived a little late – but it didn’t matter. Canberrans love their books and, that afternoon, they loved buying my books! I had some loyal fans such as Becky Dykhoff come out specially but just as many people buy from me from the first time.

When you’re doing a bookstore appearance, you need to have the mental attitude that anyone could be a book-lover. That isn’t the case usually but in Canberra it’s more true than anywhere else.

So I set a new personal record in a single appearance.

Friday was another freezing day in Canberra, but bright and sunny nonetheless.

First up was Dymocks Belconnen and again it was just pure pleasure speaking to the people there. Even better, Bridge Of Swords was sitting at number eight on their bestseller list, which is always a huge thrill. I planned to take a picture and tweet/Facebook it but was too busy to do so!

Again I had some local fans come along but the bulk were brand new … and always such a pleasure to talk to.

One woman and her son, who didn’t buy a book, were still a real highlight. The boy was recovering from a serious illness and had used books to get him through. Chatting with him and explaining how being an author is all about dealing with rejection, about picking yourself up and pushing forwards.

ABC 666, the local Canberra station, called me in for a quick interview, which managed to skilfully avoid any publicity about my books …!

Then it was Dymocks Central, where I was visited by some friendly faces – Jess Drake and fellow HarperCollins author Katie KJ Taylor. She’s always great value and was able to sell her trilogy to oe lady as well!

It was a bit quieter at Central but still a great way to finish off another Canberra adventure, where I managed to avoid getting TOO lost!  


Monday, September 3, 2012

A wild time in Adelaide

I flew out of a beautifully sunny Sydney into a wild couple of days in Adelaide with some crazy weather!
The flight down to Adelaide was probably the bumpiest one I've ever had ... you know it's getting bad when the hostesses stop serving food and make a run for their seats.
It was a little worrying, given I'd just watched The Grey, a movie where Liam Neeson crash-lands into Alaska and into a pack of man-eating wolves. Incidentally, I watched that movie with the dog,and neither of us looked at each other quite the same afterwards ...
Anyway, I landed fine and was met by HarperCollins' outstanding rep in Adelaide, Anthony Little. With him, I knew I wouldn't get thrown to the wolves!
Adelaide is a sad story, bookstore-wise, having lost almost every store I visited last time. There are many major shopping centres without a bookstore at all.
First up was the big CBD Dymocks and the weather was shocking. So bad that the planned Olympian Welcome Home parade had been cancelled!
I couldn't get out into the mall but there were plenty of people around and I met some fantastic ones, including people who bought the entre first trilogy, plus Bridge Of Swords in the one hit.
Things had been going well and I was a little reluctant to leave as we headed off to Dillons at Norwood, a big store in a nice suburb but out in the open.
That started off well; I met a young African who turned out to be one of my biggest fans! Sadly he hadn't realised I was going to be there so hadn't brought any books to sign, so I gave him a signed poster instead.
Then the bad weather hit. A huge hailstorm that cut the power to half the store and (not surprisingly) stopped anyone going out!
That was a bit disappointing and certainly cut down on the number of people I could talk to - let alone the sales.
Last one for the day was Mostly Books at Torrens Park, a small, community shopping centre with the kind of bookstore I love to support. We did very well there, although people were a bit scarce, with one of the highlights how the trolley guy Andrew ended up buying Bridge Of Swords for his father, after I gave him the spiel in about five different installments as he went past on his duties!
Second day kicked off at my favourite Adelaide store, the outstanding Collins Edwardstown, with the extraordinary Tarran doing the promotional duties.
Again, this went very well, although I was hindered somewhat by a bloke who obviously thought he was helping me by bagging out the people who ignored my greetings. Er, no, that's not helpful or very nice!
When I ask someone if they like to read and they turn around and brag how much they hate reading and how the television is so much better, I feel sorry for them, that they haven't discovered the power of imagination, and I dearly hope their children do. Not that I'd say that but this chap decided to give them character references, which was putting everyone off!
If I'd known what was coming next, I would have stayed at Edwardstown longer. Dymocks Glenelg was next cab off the rank and the weather decided to turn on me again.
Earlier in the month, I'd done a breakfast signing at Dymocks North Sydney, where the wind chill effect had the temp hovering below 3C and few people wanted to stop and talk, for fear of frostbite. That seemed like a tropical paradise compared to the howling wind and rain coming down Glenelg's main street. I lost my sign twice and only strategic placement of books saved the tablecloth. My heart went out to those brave souls who stopped to chat and bought books off me but I felt gutted for the store, that I couldn't do more for them.
Last store on the trip was Pages & More West Lakes, inside a shopping centre, where I was able to thaw out and sell a stack of Bridge Of Swords - then finish with a copy of Wounded Guardian as I was walking out the door.
So that was Adelaide, a beautiful town with horrible weather for those two days - and some great bookstores that I sincerely hope I could help a little.
In the immortal words of The Terminator: "I'll be back".
A pack of wild wolves couldn't stop me ...