Sally Jenkins

2018 MNDA Short Story Competition

Motor Neurone disease is a terrible thing. It kills a third of sufferers within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis. It can leave people locked in a failing body unable to move, talk, swallow and eventually breathe.

Claret Press is running a short story competition to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

The competition is inspired by the work of Claret Press author Sarah Gray, who has Motor Neurone disease. Her short story collection Half Life deals with aspects of physical and mental illness in innovative and original ways. The judges will be looking for similarly engaging stories inspired by these issues in a maximum of 5,000 words. Stories can be written from any point of view and can be in any genre, for example thriller, romance, post-modern, horror, etc.

The entry fee is £6 (net proceeds to MNDA!) and there are prizes of £250, £150 and £50. Claret Press will publish all short-listed entries in a new collection.

Closing date is June 15th 2018. Don’t forget to read the full terms and conditions.

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The Weird Side of Famous Writers

We all have our idiosyncrasies when we sit down to write. We must have our tea in the right mug, or certain music playing or our lucky four-leaf clover hanging from the laptop screen. Many famous writers had these foibles too. Have a look at the infographic below, supplied by Donna Norton of Custom Writing, – it might make you feel less weird! My favourite is Dan Brown (scroll down to the bottom – apparently he likes hanging upside down!) Do any of you do anything stranger than what’s listed here?!

Writers Habits

Many thanks to Donna Norton for supplying the above infographic. There’s more available on the Custom Writing Website.

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Words Magazine Short Story Competition

The results of the Words Magazine 2017 ‘Murder’ short story competition were published a few days ago. There were 139 entries and I was delighted to make the shortlist. Other writers I recognised on the list were Patsy Collins and Julia Thorley. Many congratulations to John Silver and Sharon Boothroyd for rising above us and taking first and second place respectively.

Words Magazine runs two competitions a year and the next one is now open for (free!) entry. The theme is ‘Christmas’ and the closing date is 30th June 2018. The winter weather is still fresh in our memories – so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get in a Christmas frame of mind! There is a limit of 2,000 words. First prize is £50 and second prize is £25.

The aim of Words Magazine is to raise money for the RNLI. An annual e-subscription costs only £6. Or buy the current edition on Kindle. Worth considering if you enjoy short stories!

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Selling to Book Shops

Following on from my previous little self-promotion post, children’s author Robert A. Brown has been in touch with some brilliant advice about how to sell to, liaise with and organise events at book shops. Robert is the author of William, the Hedgehog Boy. Over to Robert:How to Sell to Book Shops

For the purpose of this blog I am differentiating between the national chain retailers such as Waterstones, W.H. Smith, Foyles, The Works and Blackwells and smaller independent bookshops or the WH Smith/Post Office franchises.

Engaging with the major book retailers.

• Choose a retailer that is appropriate to your book and possible events you can offer. Mine is a children’s book, aimed at fluent readers aged 7-9 years, and featuring a hedgehog as one of the main characters, so I was looking for retailers with a large children’s section and also those that show in an interest in wildlife. I wanted a children’s section that was bright, colourful, welcoming and featuring a wide range of children’s authors not just the most popular ones such as David Walliams, Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Jaqueline Wilson etc. I wanted retailers who host children’s events at weekends and during school holidays. As the timeline for my book encompasses both Halloween and Bonfire Night I was particularly keen to secure bookings during October half-term.
• Once you have decided which major retailers to approach, work on building a relationship with the store manager and the events team (readings and signings). This should involve several visits and face to face discussions besides emails. The more they get to know you the more likely they are to be positive about offering you an event slot.
• For the pitch try to highlight the unique selling points (USPs) of your book and introduce these into these discussions.
• Leave the manager with a copy of your book and copies of any publicity and or reviews.
• After the initial meeting pop back into the store every week or so for a brief chat and find out what they thought of the book and the prospects of a reading and or signing event.
• Inform your publisher and get them to send the press release and advance information sheet to the manager. It helps to keep your book at the forefront of the store manager’s mind.
• Assuming you are given a date and time for an event it is very important to establish how the event will be publicised and by whom. The retailer, your publisher or yourself. Hopefully all three. You should try to maximise local media outlets, company website, social media, flyers and posters etc. Hint: Don’t expect too much from the retailer, some are excellent other less so. You will probably need to be very proactive at this stage. The larger stores will source copies of the book for the event from their usual suppliers at the usual rates. You will be paid royalties based upon this order.
• Also confirm how the event is expected to run, structure, timings, breaks, refreshments, permission for taking photographs for future publicity and social media posts.

William the Hedgehog BoyFor independent bookshops and smaller local retailers the principles remain basically as above however:-

• Having established a good relationship and confirmed their interest in stocking a few copies of your book, you may wish to supply them with copies of the book yourself rather than expecting them to go down the usual trade routes. This will enable you to fix a convenient price point for them, on a sale or return basis. I chose £5-00p per copy and the shop could then choose to sell at the cover price of £7-99p. Therefore, you receive more than the usual ‘royalty’ rates, whilst they too make a handsome profit per copy sold. Thus, it is in their interest to promote the book and display it prominently.
• My local Post Office started with 5 copies and I provided them with an invoice on a sale or return basis.
• You will need to provide publicity flyers for window and table top displays.
• Offer to pop in frequently to sign purchased copies with a personalised message, check on how sales are progressing and replenish stock.
• If stock needs replenishing, request payment for copies sold and provide a signed receipt.

The Event- reading and signing

• Arrive early to meet the staff, set out the space and make yourself comfortable.
• Welcome everyone and explain what is going to happen and when.
• Be prepared to ‘ambush’ store browsers and have a chat about the event.
• When you have an audience, and let’s be honest here, you are not John Grisham, they will not be queuing outside the door, so only a very small audience is sufficient to commence your presentation and introduce the reading. Hopefully, others are likely to be curious and join you.
• Offer bystanders a ‘well thumbed’ copy to flick through.
• When somebody wishes to make a purchase, accompany them to the till and offer to sign the purchased copy for them. This is less embarrassing than sitting alone at a table at the end of the event with nobody taking any notice of you.
TIP at the end of the event offer to sign a few unsold copies for the store. Retailers like to having a few author signed copies available, perhaps at a discounted rate for a later date. The benefit to you as the author is that they are considered sold and will not be returned.

This is really good advice from Robert, an author who is proactive at sourcing sales outlets for his books. I shall be following some of these tips. If anyone else has techniques that work when engaging with book shops, please feel free to share them in the comments. Regular followers of this blog may remember that Robert also dropped by last summer to share some tips on organising a book launch

And if you know any children who deserve an Easter treat, I’ve heard very good things about William the Hedgehog Boy.   

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How to Sell Books?

It’s about six weeks since The Promise was published and I’ve tried not to flood this blog with constant references to it. However,  today is my birthday and so I’m going to indulge. Here is a look back at what publicity the book has received in its ‘honeymoon’ post-publication phase (on a less self-centred note, I hope there might be some ideas here that you can use for your own books).

Sally Jenkins Public Speaking

Speaking at Boldmere Library

Author Events
So far I’ve done three author talks for The Promise, one at a library and two at community groups. A bonus from the library talk was the sale of two books to the library and the satisfaction of seeing them borrowed whilst my talk was still taking place.
I have another three talks lined up for April and May. The title of my talk is ‘How to Make Money Out of Murder’ and it covers writing a novel, readings from The Promise – and the best tools to use when committing a murder. The flushed cheeks in the photo show that I still get a bit nervous when speaking but hopefully it doesn’t show too much!

Print Media
I find this the hardest way to generate publicity, however the Warner Times (posted to all guests of the Warner Hotel Group) interviewed me and I was thrilled when below the interview, in their ‘Armchair Thrillers’ recommendations, The Promise was placed next to Cover Her Face by P.D. James. Not sure that will happen again!

The lovely Margaret James also gave The Promise a much appreciated and well-timed mention when she asked my views on grip lit for her column in  the March issue of Writing Magazine.

Retail Outlets
The Promise is available via bookshops but it was particularly pleasing to see a display of all three of my paperbacks in the window of my local WH Smith Local.

 

Internet Publicity
Lots of lovely bloggers supported me during the first couple of weeks publication.
In week 1: Helen Yendall and Julia Thorley published guest posts, as did the online magazine Female FirstAnne Harvey and Janette Davies interviewed me with lots of interesting (and sometimes difficult!) questions. Lou’s Book Blog did a spotlight post.
In week 2: I went on a 21 stop blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources. This threw up some lovely reviews and the full tour list is on Rachel’s website.

 

Sally Jenkins has woven a dark tale of murder, blackmail and retribution. As the plot thickens it’s hard to imagine where it will all end for the characters caught up in a web of intrigue and deceit.” – Amazon reviewer.

I’m very grateful to all the people and organisations mentioned above (if I’ve missed someone out, please let me know!) for the interest they’ve shown in my writing and their willingness to help. The Promise is also available in e-book format and from a range of online retailers such as Amazon and Waterstones.

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Chicken Soup – On Stage

It fascinates me how our past affects our present and future lives. The past might be our upbringing and parental influences, it might be something we did that makes us ashamed and secretive, it might be the impact of external events on our everyday lives.

Recently I went to see Chicken Soup in the Studio Theatre at the Crucible in Sheffield. Chicken Soup - the playWritten by Ray Castleton and Kieran Knowles, the play focuses on three miners’ wives and shows the effect the 1984/85 miners’ strike had on the rest of their lives, their family relationships and on their enduring friendship. There are three acts, each one in a different year: a 1984 soup kitchen/foodbank during the strike, a 2002 Queen’s Golden Jubilee party and a foodbank on the day of the 2016 EU Referendum. To add to the atmosphere the audience are given vouchers to claim a free serving of soup in the interval – forced to form a queue at a makeshift ‘soup kitchen’.

By 2002 and 2016 the lives of the three women have taken different paths. Following the strike one has become more politically active and is now a councillor. One has bettered herself by taking accountancy exams and ends up a high-flying career woman. The third seems stuck in the past, still carrying a hatred for her brother who crossed picket lines during the strike. Each has been affected in a different way by the past.

This made me think about my own characterisation when I’m writing fiction. Do I think sufficiently about how each character has come to be where they are? Am I dropping the important parts of their past into the story subtley or am I shoehorning in great hunks of backstory? Are the characters acting realistically, given what they’ve been through in the past? Why are different characters affected in different ways by the same past event?

What about you – do you think about how the past is motivating your characters’ actions in the present? How do you tell the reader about that past life? Do you know their past before you start writing their present?

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Tips for Reading Aloud

Julia Thorley has published a collection of monologues and first-person stories, Nine Lives. Nine Lives by Julia ThorleyThe tales are meant to be read aloud. Julia recently launched the book with some readings and has very generously agreed to share her experience and some great tips on reading aloud to groups:

In my other life as a yoga teacher I am used to speaking to groups of people, but this didn’t stop me being incredibly nervous. An audience is a different proposition from a class of students.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to read my story ‘Scoring an Own Goal in Tennis’ at the awards evening of the H E Bates short story competition. At the time, I sought the advice of my friend Kezzabelle, who is a performance poet. She gave me some excellent tips, which I applied not just on that occasion, but also at the launch events I held for Nine Lives:

  • Wear the right glasses! Print out your text extra-large, if you think you might struggle to read from the original.
  • Punctuation for reading aloud isn’t necessarily the same as that for reading in your head. Be prepared to tweak, and practise before you perform. Dialogue can be particularly problematic. On paper, the implied ‘he said, she said’ of a conversation is obvious, but unless you plan to use different voices it can be hard to follow out loud.
  • Highlight in colour words that need particular vocal emphasis or provide the chance for a gesture.
  • Turn your pages at the end of a sentence, so you don’t break your rhythm.
  • If you’re reading before and after an interval, pop to the loo just before the end of the first half. That way you’ll be able to avoid the queue and, more importantly, be available to chat to people and, all being well, sell a few books.

Tips for Reading AloudWhile I had a voice in mind as I wrote each story, I said in the introduction to Nine Lives : ‘. . . if you hear a different voice, that’s fine with me.’ I’ve asked other people to read some of the stories for me – I have written some from the male POV, for instance – and it’s very odd hearing another person’s interpretation. I wasn’t prepared for that!

I’m never going to be able to recite my tales from memory, but my confidence is increasing each time I read in public. I’m no Victoria Wood, but I’ve managed to raise a laugh in the right places and make people cry at the sad bits, which is pleasing.

Why not give it a go? If you read aloud anything from your copy of Nine Lives, I’d love to hear how you get on.

Nine Lives: monologues and first-person stories for reading aloud is available as an e-book from Amazon for 99p. Paperbacks are available via www.juliathorley.com for £5 + p&p. Or contact her through her Facebook page: @JuliaThorleyAuthor or her blog: Life, yoga and other adventures.

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