The stories behind the books of the year

From the writer's pen (or keyboard) to the reader's hand, all the books shortlisted for the seven Books of the Year categories have been on a journey. Here, authors and editors talk about how the shortlisted titles came into being.

Début Book of the Year          Children's Book of the Year          Crime & Thriller Book of the Year     

Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year      Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year      Fiction Book of the Year

Audiobook of the Year

Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi, whose novel Homegoing is shortlisted for Fiction: Début Book of the Year, talks about the inspiration behind the book.

What inspired you to write the novel?

Homegoing was inspired by a 2009 trip to Ghana. While there, I took a tour of the Cape Coast Castle, a place that features prominently in the novel.  It was an incredibly powerful experience to walk through that imposing building and think about the lives of the people who had passed through it centuries before me.  I knew that day what I wanted to write about.

What was your favourite part of the writing process?

I really enjoyed the research process for the H’s chapter, which takes place mostly in the coal mining town of Pratt City, Alabama.  I knew very little about coal mining and the convict leasing system and reading about it in order to write the chapter was equal parts fascinating and enraging.

How does being published in the UK compare to the US?

It’s been amazing to see the enthusiasm for Homegoing in the UK. There were billboards for the book in London, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a billboard for a novel in the US!

What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

I hope Homegoing allows readers to think about their own place in history and to recognise that history isn’t a discrete thing that happens and then ends. It is always being made.  

What did it feel like to hold a finished copy of your book?

Indescribable. It still seems like a kind of magic to watch a book leave your mind and appear in physical form before you.  

Conversations With Friends

Mitzi Angel describes how she came to publish Sally Rooney's first novel Conversations with Friends, which is shortlisted in the Fiction: Début Book of the Year category.


 
I acquired the manuscript of Conversations with Friends from Tracy Bohan at the Wylie Agency following a seven-way auction. It immediately struck me as a novel which manages to be serious without being heavy and fun without being silly. It’s stylish and moving and wonderfully smart. It’s a book about young people and it wonderfully records the way Sally Rooney’s vivid characters talk, so that much of the novel takes place through dialogue, through conversations with friends. It’s also a beautiful, complicated love story.
 
Within the first few pages I felt that Sally Rooney was in control. I could hear the intention driving the novel in every sentence and—it may be a cliché—but the characters came alive. It’s unusual to see that level of confidence and skill and imaginative reach in a first novelist’s work.
 
 Our campaign for Conversations with Friends started about a year ahead of publication with a big run of book proofs and pre-publication publicity profiles in the Observer and The Bookseller. We wanted to make the book one of the most talked about debuts of the season so we partnered with Foyles, Stylist, Twitter and The Pool to get as many people reading the book as early as possible. It was the second most recommended book in the Books of the Year round-ups and some of the coverage included interviews with BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, VICE and the Guardian, and serialisation in The Pool’s Bedtime Bookclub. We ran one of our biggest ever social media advertising campaigns and placed stand-out billboard ads across London.
 
I learnt from the industry that it embraces new talent with open arms! It was wonderful to see colleagues of all kinds—bloggers, booksellers, journalists—fall in love with the book and be willing to spread the word. (Word of mouth was in fact a very important component of publishing this book effectively.)

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Helen Garnons-Williams, publishing director at 4th Estate, outlines how she turned Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling—shortlisted for the Fiction: Début Book of the Year—into a UK-wide hit.

How did you acquire the novel?

It started with an email sent at 3.30am from our literary scout in New York, which said: “Hi, Helen. I mean this in the best possible way: I've just read the first 86 pages of a novel that has me feeling like I've been hit by a truck.” This is not the kind of email you receive every day so I started reading as soon as I woke up—and I couldn’t stop. One attempted pre-empt, and a hard-fought eight-publisher auction later we acquired it for 4th Estate.

What attracted you to the manuscript?

It had such a visceral, pulse-racing impact on me. The writing is lush and beautiful, and the plot is exhilarating, but above all, I loved Turtle: a teenage girl, battling demons inside and out, who is a heroine unlike any other.

What was your marketing and PR strategy?

How do you convince people that they need to read an American literary début about incest?! This was a passion project from the start, and I was awed by the confidence and dedication of the whole team, who were determined to make it a bestseller. From the moment we acquired it we started talking to everyone about it—and we never stopped. We brought Gabriel over to the UK before publication, creating a genuine groundswell of support among booksellers and the media.

Why, in your opinion, does the novel stand out from its competition?

It’s completely unlike anything people have read before, which is why all kinds of readers find things to love in it, and why writers ranging from Stephen King, to Joanna Cannon, to Kevin Powers felt they had to champion it.

What did you learn about the industry by publishing this novel?

In many respects it restored my faith in the ability of literary fiction to still have an impact in the market. There are so many passionate readers, publishers, booksellers and journalists who are longing to read and generously champion great books. You do need a book that lives up to the hype though, and the way that Gabriel’s novel made people feel was the momentum that raised it above the parapet.

Sirens

Joseph Knox shares how his love of noir fiction and F Scott Fitzgerald inspired his debut novel, Sirens, which is up for the Fiction: Début Book of the Year award.

What inspired you to write the novel?
 
I was reading a lot of noir and F Scott Fitzgerald and had an idea to combine the two. Instead of Gatsby’s jazz age shindigs, I’d have raucous, semi-legal house parties. Instead of Gatsby, with his lost love, I’d have an enigmatic criminal with a literally missing girlfriend, and instead of the neighbour being seduced into this world I’d have a young detective almost utterly destroyed by it.  
 
What was your favourite part of the writing process?
 
Sirens was written over an eight year period, with various patches of doubt and fear interspersed. As that timeframe probably implies, I do a lot of editing, and weirdly it probably is the part of the process I enjoy most. A line of dialogue can always get more natural. A description can always get sharper. A chapter can always get shorter, etc. It’s nice to see a scene slowly improving over several edits – and I despair for writers who only do one draft!
 
As a bookseller, how did writing a book open your eyes to other parts of the industry?
 
It was interesting – of course I thought I knew it all. Of course I was wrong! The main takeaway was the amount of work (and the amount of people) involved in bringing just one book to market. From agent to editor to publicist, right onto booksellers. I felt lucky at every level, but I imagine that feeling’s common – because generally people in this small ecosystem are readers, and therefore, slightly nicer than the rest of the world.
 
What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

Sirens is a singularly dark reading experience, but I hope people look for the (faint) silver linings in there. I tried to bury it in as much darkness as possible, but I’m a secret romantic, and ridiculously sentimental.
 
What did it feel like to hold a finished copy of your book?
 
I’d been staying in Moss Side to try and get some of that tough atmosphere for book two, with the result being that I spent six terrifying, sleepless days writing for 15-20 hours at a time. When I got back to London, quite tired and emotional, I held the first proof copy. I might have had something in my eye…

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Gail Honeyman talks to The Bookseller about the inspiration behind Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine—shortlisted for the Fiction: Début Book of the Year—and her favourite part of the writing process.

What inspired you to write the novel?

The idea initially came from a newspaper article about loneliness. Often, when the subject is discussed in the media, it’s in the context of older people, but this piece included an interview with an urban professional woman in her twenties, and I was struck by hearing a younger person’s experience. She said that she’d often leave the office on Friday night and not speak to another human being until she returned on Monday morning and, when I started to think about it, I realised that there were many routes which could lead a young woman to live that sort of life, not by choice and through no fault of her own. I was also reminded of how difficult it can be, at any age, to forge meaningful connections. From there, the story and the character of Eleanor Oliphant slowly began to emerge.
 
What was your favourite part of the writing process?

I think it was writing the very first draft—exploring various plot possibilities and developing characters. But I suspect I might give a different answer each time I'm asked, depending on where I am in the process currently!
 
As a début author, what surprised you about the publishing industry?

I've had the privilege of meeting and working with some very talented people over the past year or so; writing is necessarily a solitary business, but I've learned that publishing is very much a team effort. Being completely new to the process, it was incredible to see how many skilled people, and how much hard work and talent, are involved in taking a book from manuscript to, many months later, having a finished copy on sale in a bookshop. I've also been astonished and delighted by, and very grateful for, the incredible generosity and support shown to debut authors.
 
What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

In telling Eleanor’s story, I wanted to focus in particular on the importance of kindness, on how tiny acts can be completely transformative, for the right recipient at the right time. That said, I’m happy to leave it to readers to decide what, if anything, to take from it—for me, that’s part of the pleasure of being fortunate enough to have people read your work.
 
What did it feel like to hold a finished copy of your book?

Magical.

Why Mummy Drinks

Gill Sims talks about the writing process behind Fiction: Début Book of the Year-shortlisted novel Why Mummy Drinks, which started life as a blog.

I never thought I would write a novel about being a mother—I spent many years convinced no one else found being a parent challenging. However much I loved my children, I couldn’t shake the nagging fear that I wasn’t doing it right, that everyone else was much better at parenting than me, that I was somehow failing by finding it so hard.

When I initially started my blog, Peter and Jane, it was just meant as a joke with a friend and a bit of satire on some of the 'perfect' parent blogs, but very quickly people started sharing their own stories of how they were also struggling—the ‘perfect’ mums at school would come over and whisper "I feel like that too!" and so the inspiration for Why Mummy Drinks really came out of that revelation that at some point every parent finds it hard and doubts themselves—some just hide it better than others. Writing an entire novel was a very different challenge to writing a blog though, but the best part was probably how the characters took on a life of their own, and started doing things that I hadn’t always anticipated! That and typing 'The End'.
 
This has all been a huge learning curve for me—I didn’t know anything about publishing when I went into this, so it was wonderful to find out how incredibly nice everyone is. Publishing a book is also a huge team effort with the editors, publicity, marketing and sales—writing the book is only the start!

It would be fabulous if my book has made a difference to anyone, but life is too short to take seriously, so if nothing else, I would be delighted if my book just made people laugh, and hopefully feel a bit less alone.

Holding your first book for the first time is incredible. I think I cried; it was just unreal. I’m a very practical person, I never really believed dreams could come true, so I just didn’t have any words for it when I was holding that dream in my hands.

La Belle Sauvage

Harriet Venn, senior publicity manager at Penguin Random House Children’s, and Katy MacMillan-Scott, associate director of Riot Communications, talk about their joint PR and marketing strategy for Philip Pullman’s shortlisted title, La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One.

How did you feel when you read the new Philip Pullman novel for the first time?

Incredibly privileged. The team working on the publicity for the book were all fans of His Dark Materials, and we were as affected by Lyra's return as anyone! We knew just how important this moment would be for others, many of whom have been clamouring for the next instalment for many years. There was a great weight of responsibility to deliver a fitting campaign - both for Philip, and for his huge readership.

What were the highlights of your PR campaign?

Listening to the news about The Book of Dust series go public, with that magical interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, gave us goosebumps, as did the release of the first extract from La Belle Sauvage in the Guardian. However, the crowning moment had to be our launch event on the eve of publication at the Bodleian Library's Divinity School - it was the culmination of a year's hard work and the setting was perfect: a glittering Jordan College dinner brought to life in the heart of historic Oxford.

How important were events in promoting the book?

Given this was a global campaign, there was huge demand for Philip's time. To ensure his limited time was used most effectively and to secure maximum reach, we focused on three big events at publication, in partnership with three different retailers: London (Foyles), Oxford (Blackwell's) and Cardiff (Waterstones).

What was some of the best feedback from readers?

The best feedback had to be that the book had lived up to readers' expectations: we knew that fans would be blown away by the book, but finally being able to talk about it and share how wonderful it was felt incredible after months of secrecy. The first major review to run - by Marina Warner in  the Guardian - set the tone for everything that followed. In short: "worth the wait".

What can you tell us about the campaign for the next book?

The next volume of The Book of Dust will be published in 2019, so our campaign plans are still under wraps. However, we have just announced details of the paperback edition of La Belle Sauvage (September 2018) and the release of six new editions of Pullman's bestselling fairy tales (June 2018), so there's plenty to keep fans happy for now.

The Lost Words

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris explain how a 2017 Wildlife Trust survey inspired The Lost Words, which is up for Children's Book of the Year.

What inspired you to create The Lost Words?

JM: A realisation that the language of both adults and children was moving away from that of the nearby wild. That the names of birds, once thought of as common, was falling away from a collective memory, and as such these creatures, beings, were not being seen, noticed, valued.
RM: A sense that a gap is widening between childhood and everyday nature in this country; and indeed between adulthood and everyday nature, too. A 2017 Wildlife Trusts survey found a third of British adults unable to identify a barn owl, three-quarters unable to name an ash tree; Cambridge university research found children aged 8-11 were "substantially better" at identifying common Pokemon species than common species of British wildlife. Jackie and I wanted to find a way to conjure the names and wonder of the creatures and plants with which we share our cities and our countryside back into the mouths and mind's-eyes of children. Or, as Jackie put it early on, "to send children to sleep dreaming of wild things"! Our book takes twenty names for twenty beings, forming a crooked almost A-Z from "acorn" to "wren" by way of "bluebell" and "kingfisher", and 'spells' them back.

What was your favourite part of the publishing process?

JM: Working with a team of people who were all striving to make something beautiful and meaningful, who respect their audience, the bright shining minds of children.
RM: Ah...so many of them. Working with Jackie, sending my spells out to the coastal headland house in which she lives in West Wales (delivered by peregrine, of course...); receiving Jackie's extraordinary artworks in return, especially the glowing gold-leaf icon-images that have become the symbols of the book. The exceptional care and attention to detail shown by our editors, Simon Prosser and Hermione Thompson; Hermione was a superb micro-editor of my spells (my 'spell-checker' in chief...); the commitment of all involved in designing and producing our huge book to making it a true grimoire, a proper spell-book. And then the extraordinary wild life that the book has lived since its publication, which Jackie and I could never in our wildest dreams have imagined: from the adaptations into theatre, animation, song, classical music, spoken-word, to the grass-roots campaigns across Britain to get a copy into every primary school and care-home in the country.

What challenges did you encounter along the way?

JM: A fierce deadline, my own self-doubt which is never far away, the fact that despite many requests no one provided me with a time machine and the frustration of only having 24 hours in a day. The desperate desire to try and make something worthy of its audience. Trying to paint with watercolour to express love for every creature I was painting.

Did you expect the level of grassroots success you achieved?

JM: How can anyone expect such a thing? It has been utterly overwhelming, affirming. To see our book welcomed into hearts and homes, given a natural habitat at the heart of families, uniting generations. To see it used between mothers and fathers and their children, and children with their ageing parents. To see it welcomed into classrooms, used to unite grassroots conservation charities with children. How can anyone expect that? But how utterly wonderful to see how the book unites and seeds hope.
RM: No, it was unforeseeable. There are now campaigns either underway or completed to get a copy of the book into every primary school in: all of Scotland (done - books are now being delivered on foot, by van and by kayak - to the islands!), all of Wales, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Dorset, Cornwall, Suffolk, Norfolk, Warwickshire and Coventry, Bedfordshire, Nidderdale, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Doncaster, Sheffield, Bradford, numerous London boroughs including Haringey, Lambeth, Waltham Forest. The movement is now spreading to North America (where the book is published in the autumn with House of Anansi), with fundraising beginning on Rhode Island and in Wisconsin.

What do you hope children and young readers take away from your book?

JM: My hope is that children learn from the book not only to love the written word, but also to be drawn towards a literacy of nature and the natural world they are part of. My hope also is that they feel something of the respect they should be held in, by adults, by publishers. It’s not a children’s book as such. It’s a book for people of all ages to share. And it’s all about love.
RM: That the natural world with which we share our lives and landscapes is both wonderful and vulnerable. That we will not save what we do not love, and that we rarely love what we cannot name.

Oi Cat!

Kes Gray and Jim Field describe their working relationship, Oi Cat! - shortlisted for Children's Book of the Year - being the sixth book they have collaborated on.

What was your favourite part of the publishing process?

KG: The inclusion of the gate fold! The challenge with every Oi picture book has been to bring something slightly different to the pages. The gate fold in Oi Cat! (can I say denouement?) is big to say the least, cost zillions and I hope, a really nice surprise.  
JF: Drawing a fat hairy troll sitting on a doll was up there in highlights of Oi Cat! Hairy Trolls bums aside I think my favourite part of the publishing process is when you get to share the story - Kes and I had a several events at Edinburgh Festival last year just before Oi Cat! published, so it was the first time we read the story to an audience. The children were the first to hear Oi Cat! and it was fantastic to see the excitement and buzz for it. 

How do you work together as author and illustrator?

KG: Now that Jim and I know each other better, we hardly talk at all. He’s gone all Parisien and keeps trying to work croissants into his illustrations. I’ve complained to the Hachette team but they don’t want to hurt his feelings. I hope he never reads this.
JF: Kes and I have worked on 6 books together, we’re currently on our 7th. Our collaboration is like a game of tennis. He serves the written story over to me, I draw a storyboard and return it back, he returns with a volley of some tweaked words, I’ll play a drop shot of some revised roughs, Kes runs to the net and plays a perfectly weighted suggestion to one of my rough drawings, running to the back of the court I’ll play a backhand of a Shrimp sitting on a chimp. After a very long rally we chip away at the book until we both Love what we’ve done and we think it’s Ace. 

How difficult was it to continue the Oi! series with Oi Cat!?

KG: Surprisingly easy actually. The characters are developing beyond mere seating arrangements now. Their personalities are taking shape, their stories are huge fun to develop. I feel I know them better than ever before.
JF: I felt less pressure on myself than I did with Oi Dog! The series is such great fun for me to illustrate and I know the Frog, Dog and Cat characters so well now. Trying to crank up the funny dial that bit more was the most difficult thing for me. 

What do you hope children and young readers take away from your book?

KG: You know when you laugh unexpectedly and a little bit of snot (or perhaps a tiny bogey) flies out of your nose? And it’s really embarrassing. That.
JF: I hope they have fun reading it aloud with their parents and/or siblings. We met lots of Oi fans at events last year and I love hearing the different accents parents and children give each character. It’s a great book to read aloud and share with others. 

Will there be another Oi! book?

KG: Only if we can take an Oi story somewhere we haven’t been before!
JF: You’ll have to see…

Bad Dad

Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher at HarperCollins Children’s Books, describes Bad Dad as an "absolute classic" from their bestselling author David Walliams.

How did you feel when you read the Bad Dad for the first time?

It was an incredibly exciting story and absolutely classic Walliams – since it brought a truly heart-warming father and son relationship with a really high octane action adventure.  It was also boundary breaking in its eclectic cast of characters from the spirited hero of the little boy Frank and his Racing Champion Dad, to the feisty female Reverend Judith along with the larger than life Mr Big and a wonderfully eccentric poetry writing Auntie.  It was certainly a rollicking road movie in a book, and demonstrated immediately what a genius Walliams is in combining character and plot with humour and heart. 

What were the highlights of your PR campaign?

The PR was focused on national broadcast media, kicking off in early November with David appearing on BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw, Radio 2 Drivetime with Simon Mayo and a special guest appearance on ITV’s The Jonathan Ross Show. Our marketing efforts targeted David’s existing and loyal fan base, but also drove innovation across a wider media mix including cinema advertising. We produced a 10-second trailer featuring David, which ran across DCM cinema screens (representing 70% of the market) trailering on the Paddington 2 movie and Jumanji.

How important were events in promoting the book?

Events were crucial in promoting Bad Dad and David’s tireless support helped create unmissable moments across the UK and Ireland. David sold out the Manchester Palace Theatre with David Walliams LIVE! and we helped connect those who couldn’t attend through a Facebook Live stream, which received almost 10k streams on the day. School visits are equally as important, with David visiting ten schools in six weeks.

What was some of the best feedback from children?

David received thousands of letters from adoring fans who unanimously felt Bad Dad was his funniest book yet. One said: "When I read it I thought my face would explode!" 

The Hate U Give

Walker Books’ publicity manager Rosi Crawley describes how she helped make The Hate U Give a hit.

How did you feel when you read the The Hate U Give for the first time?

Incredibly excited – from the beginning it felt like something really special, and a real opportunity to publish a meaningful and important book that gave a voice to a political concern. Not only this, but I fell in love with the characters and the setting, from Starr’s loving family to the wider community she lived in. It felt like a story that had so much heart.
 
What were the highlights of your PR campaign?

The whole campaign was a great team effort – myself and Emma Draude [of ED Public Relations] loved working together! It’s not often you get a real direct immediate indicator of the effect of a campaign, but after Angie was on BBC Breakfast and just before she spoke at City Hall in London at an event in partnership with the Mayor’s Office, we found out she’d hit number one on Amazon in all books! We had a bit of an emotional moment at that.

How important were events in promoting the book?

So important – from the beginning we wanted to reach new audiences with our events, and find communities who felt underrepresented in fiction so far. Our hope was that the success of the book and hearing Angie speak would inspire a new generation of writers from all kinds of backgrounds, so we had events with spoken word performers, political panels and film screenings.

What was some of the best feedback from teenagers?

At every event we heard about what it meant to teenagers to see a young black woman hitting the bestseller list and to see a black girl on a book cover. Kids who had never seen themselves represented suddenly felt empowered and engaged and that was really emotional. 

How difficult is it to promote a debut author, compared to one readers already know?

It’s a massive challenge with a debut, particularly in children’s books. It helped that the book was inspired by current events and that meant Emma could pitch the news angle of the story, but the media she managed to line-up was so impressive considering The Hate U Give was Angie’s first book.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo describe the inspirations behind their trendsetting title Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, shortlisted for Children's Book of the Year.

What inspired you to create Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls?

We had been working in the children’s media space for the past 5 years and witnessed from the inside how gender stereotypes still permeate books for children of all ages. Parents are offered little resources to counter this trend and they are especially concerned about the lack of strong female role models in children’s media. That’s why we decided to create this book.

What was your favourite part of the publishing process?

The most exciting part was definitely our first press check for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls volume one. After all the work we had done, when we started to see the pages flowing out of the press and populating the plant... we felt an overwhelming joy.

What challenges did you encounter along the way?

The biggest one was to stick to our burning desire to create a new kind of content for children and their families, even after some of our experiments were not as successful as we had hoped. Then there was customer service! We didn't have a customer service team when we first started: it was just me, Elena and our assistant. There were so many emails from people who wanted to buy the book, people who had questions about their tracking numbers...! It was painful because we have always cared to provide our backers and customers with a delightful experience, but at first we just didn't have the infrastructure to manage that volume of orders! Now, we're so proud to see people thanking our customer service team on social media: they're so much better at this than we were!

What did you learn about the publishing process?

That there are tons of opportunities that no one is looking into, because in most cases big publishers are scared to do things differently and to experiment with different business models. And that indie publishing is probably one of the most exciting industries on the planet right now.

What do you hope children and young readers take away from your book?

That girls can be anything they want. That they have the right to explore wildly, to be as ambitious as they want and that - as Wang Zhenyi said - "daughters can also be heroic".

The Midnight Line

Marianne Velmans, publishing director at Transworld, talks about publishing The Midnight Line, Lee Child's 22nd Jack Reacher novel.

I knew I had something special on my hands when Lee Child delivered The Midnight Line, his twenty-second book starring the irresistible Jack Reacher. A new book from him in April (he always starts writing the books on the first of September, the day he began his first book Killing Floor) is always great cause for excitement - I bask in the envy of all those who aren’t lucky enough to be his editor and get the privilege of being the first reader.

This book brings something new to the Jack Reacher series because Lee has brought in some particularly disturbing themes, ones that felt very topical: the opioid addiction epidemic – prescription painkillers – in America, which has also started to be a problem here in Britain. He also deals with the callous treatment of the needs of disabled army veterans. These themes were picked up on by many serious reviewers and readers, for example, by John Dugdale who made it the Sunday Times Thriller of the Year: "Marks a real departure for Lee Child, who homes in on two hot issues (US military veterans with mental or physical scars, and a related social plague currently in the news)... Alongside this topicality is a poignancy that was lacking in earlier books." Although I would dispute the idea that poignancy has been absent before, there is certainly an admirable level of compassion in this book. It serves to show that Lee Child’s thriller series has something to offer on a deeper and more thoughtful level than suspense, mystery, devilish logical conundrums, humour and hand-to-hand combat – though there is still plenty of that, and very satisfying it is too. 

My favourite part of publishing this book was seeing the hardback sales break Lee’s own record in the first week, and tracking it hitting the number one spot on the Sunday Times list (and remaining there for three weeks) as well as in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

The most challenging aspect of the process was standing by watching all the myriad requests for Lee’s extra participation and time (he is known to be very generous in his support of other writers and causes), while hoping that all that extra activity wouldn’t derail writing his next novel (it hasn’t, he’s finished it, and it’s another corker).

The Girl Before

J P Delaney talks about his inspiration for The Girl Before, his writing process and waiting a year for the book to be published. 

The idea for The Girl Before came at a lecture about minimalism a friend had dragged me to. I remember thinking instantly it was a great idea for a book, because a minimalist house is such a physical manifestation of obsession.

The most challenging thing about writing it was turning the concept into a plot. I just couldn’t make it work. After eighteen months of struggling I put it aside and wrote a rom-com instead. That led to a contract to write more in the same vein, but after each one I’d come back and try to make this idea work. That went on for fifteen years. Eventually I realised my block was bound up in a tragedy that happened to my wife and I not long before I started writing it, and that on some level this story was my response to that. We all have the impulse to lead more beautiful, perfect lives, but sometimes life doesn’t let you. Once I knew that was my theme, everything fell into place.        

My writing process is pretty chaotic. When I was writing The Girl Before I had a day job. That’s the reason I write short chapters – anything more than a thousand words meant I had to leave it and go to work. I told myself it was appropriate to the minimalist thing, but the truth is I couldn’t work any other way. 

Quercus promoted the novel by turning a problem into an opportunity. The publication date was pushed back a year by the American publishers because of the presidential election. So Quercus decided to mount a year-long campaign of getting a proof into the hands of anyone who would read it. Sometimes I worried there’d be no-one left to buy the damn thing! But it worked brilliantly, as did all their promotions.

Right now I’m working on the book after next. Believe me comes out on July 24th and once again there’s a massive ARC campaign. But I’m working on my editor’s notes for The Perfect Wife, which comes out next spring. Both books are high-concept takes on the psychological thriller.

The Dry

Jane Harper took only six months to do three drafts of The Dry, which became a hit in her native Australia as well as the US.

What was your inspiration for The Dry?

My inspiration for The Dry was sparked by the setting of the novel. The Australian landscape is breathtakingly beautiful but also harsh and unforgiving. I had an idea for a drought-stricken community under immense and sustained pressure from a weather pattern they can’t begin to control. I was interested in the ways that would impact on the lives of the townspeople and their behaviour and relationships with each other.

How long did the book take to write?

I started the novel in October 2014 and completed three drafts over the next six months. I was working as a journalist at the time, so I used to write a lot in the evenings and at the weekend. In April 2015 I entered – and won – the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. I was offered publishing contracts in the UK, US and Australia and the editing process continued until the end of 2015. The Dry was published in the UK in January 2017.

What surprised you about the publishing process?

I was surprised by how many people work so hard to make a novel the best it can be. From the editing process through to the cover art and the sales representatives who champion it to booksellers, it was wonderful to see so many people helping to make a book shine and get it into the hands of readers.

How did you promote the book?

Promoting the book was a lot of fun. I went on bookseller tours in Australia and the US, and was lucky enough to be invited to the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in 2017. I visited a number of bookshops in the UK and appeared on BBC Radio 2’s Book Club.
 
How did readers respond to The Dry?

Meeting readers has been one of the best things about writing The Dry. The support and enthusiasm from readers has been beyond anything I would have expected, and I absolutely love talking to them at events and festivals. It’s undoubtedly rewarding when sales figures are positive, but there is something even more special about a reader coming over to say how much they enjoyed your book.

Behind Her Eyes

Sarah Pinborough talks us through the inspiration for her shortlisted title Behind Her Eyes, and her thoughts behind the WTFThatEnding campaign.


 
What was your inspiration for Behind Her Eyes?

It was two fold really. I wanted to write about affairs, the fallout of them, and the darker side of "true love", while also exploring this need women have to disguise themselves as something "other" in order to feel attractive, conditioned as we are from watching our mothers and most other women doing something as basic as putting on make-up to go out as if our natural faces aren't good enough. So I took those things and combined them into something crazy ;-)

Would you categorise the book as a thriller? Horror? Or something else?

Definitely a thriller. It follows the beats of a thriller novel and all the clues to the ending are there right from the start. I tend to refer to it as a thriller with added weird. 

Were you pleased with the WTFThatEnding promotion?

At the time I was pleased and scared in equal measure in case we were over-hyping it! But it was a stroke of genius from the team at HarperFiction and after its success here, a lot of the overseas publishers have adopted it too.

How did readers respond to the shock ending?

Thankfully, in the main people went with it! But it was always going to be a Marmite ending and I knew that when I planned it. I've actually enjoyed the extremes of the reactions. The One Star "please burn in hell for this" make me smile as much (well … a little bit any way) as the Five Star praise ones. I think the two ends of the scale are both responsible for getting the book talked about, and so for me, this far into my career, I love them all whether they liked it or not! But I can understand how some crime readers felt it wasn't for them. Not everyone is going to like the added weird and I don't mind that. The only thing that bothers me is when they say I just tagged the ending on because I didn't know how to end it. The end was planned first!

Spook Street

Mick Herron talks about his "favourite" in the Jackson Lamb series - the Nibbies-shortlisted Spook Street.

What was your inspiration for Spook Street?

I wish I knew: I’d go back for more. In general, though, I’m not sure it was a specific narrative urge that prompted the novel; more of a desire to examine the histories of some established characters, notably that of River Cartwright’s grandfather, the O.B., and also – rather to my surprise – River’s own origins. In earlier books, alluding to these areas, I’d dropped hints like breadcrumbs. I hadn’t known myself where they would lead.

How long did the book take to write?

Memory suggests fifteen months. But it took longer to write the nearer I got to the end, which was an unfamiliar feeling. Usually, approaching the endpoint, I find my brakes failing.

What surprised you about the publishing process?

How painless it was, I guess. My editors on either side of the Atlantic had little complaint with the text; the designers at John Murray, in particular, produced blindingly good cover art. Like many novelists, I’ve had experience of delivering a book and having everything go very very quiet. With John Murray and Soho Press, that doesn’t happen. And the buzz they generated around Spook Street was new to me.

How did you promote the book?

I’m resolutely absent from social media – don’t do Twitter; don’t do Facebook – so what promotion I did consisted of turning up to events when invited: festivals and bookshops mostly. Ideally, there would be wine involved. Food, even. The best events are those in bookshops, because they’re invariably organised by people with a communicable enthusiasm for reading, and a palpable joy in good books. Hand-selling by fervent booksellers keeps writers going, and not just in a financial sense. The staff at the Marylebone Daunt’s, at West End Lane Books – at dozens of others – are an inspiration.

How did readers respond to the fourth instalment in the series?

Favourably, I’m glad to say. Spook Street is perhaps the bleakest in the series, taking as its starting point the mental disintegration of a familiar character, and not everyone involved arrives at a happy ending. But it allowed me to write in a variety of registers, and some of Jackson Lamb’s scenes were particularly fun for me. The sense I’ve had from readers is that both the highs and the lows of the story hit home.

At the time I delivered it, mind, I recall no great sense of achievement; on the contrary, I thought I’d messed it up. But I think now that what I was feeling was just a greater than usual reluctance to let go of a finished book. Whatever: Spook Street’s now my favourite.

He Said/She Said

Ruth Tross, the editor of Erin Kelly’s He Said/She Said, describes how she knew she had her hand on a hit.

I knew I had something special on my hands when…
I laughed in a brilliant mix of awe and glee at the twist in the middle that I absolutely did not see coming… and then did it again at the end. I think my original email to Erin contained the sentence "OH MY GOD that last line" – I wanted to make everyone I knew read it so I could talk about it with them.

He Said/She Said brings something new to the crime genre because…
Rape and questions of consent have – historically – been much less written about in crime fiction than murder, even though the former is much more likely to affect people than the latter. I suspect this will start to change, but I feel He Said/She Said does brilliant work bringing this subject to light. And the way Erin uses the eclipses that run through the book to illuminate ideas about perception, secrets and lies is entirely original.

My favourite part of publishing this book was…
Aside from the success on publication, the number of pre-publication reviews we got was my favourite part. It had been a few years since Erin’s last book, and seeing how excited authors and reviewers were to read it, and how much they loved it when they did, was fantastic.

The most challenging aspect of the process was…
Probably coming up with the cover – it’s always tough to encapsulate so many words, themes, plot details into a single striking image. We came up with the dividing slash and the fire quite early and then went through iterations where there was too much going on, followed by versions which were too plain, before we finally came up with the perfect final visual.

5 Ingredients

A new Jamie Oliver book is always a big event in publishing but how do Michael Joseph really make them fly off the shelves? Elizabeth Smith, communications director and associate publisher for paperbacks, talks about the promotional strategy behind 5 Ingredients, which is up for Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year.

How did you bring something fresh to marketing Jamie’s new book?

With such a stand-out concept, 5 Ingredients needed a stand-out creative, we were selling an idea as much as a bestselling author. Resisting the trap of leading with Jamie, as we knew this book reached far wider than his core market, or complicating a breathtakingly simple idea, we developed a beautifully clean and clear creative that brought immediacy to the 5 Ingredients concept, and also showcased the food to its absolute best.

We are also always looking for new audiences for Jamie and identified through consumer research that young men aged 25-35 were a growth market. We developed bespoke digital assets to appeal solely to this audience and targeted them directly on You Tube. We knew it was up to us to engage with this emerging audience, rather than the other way around, and so decided on a creative route that would amplify the core simplicity surrounding the messaging of the book but delivered it in an original and fun way using a retro gaming creative that we knew would appeal directly to this market; we put this potential new consumer first. The engagement with this audience on YouTube saw an impressive increase on the previous book campaign.
 
What was the highlight of your campaign?
 
The campaign consistently over delivered throughout a five month campaign, so much so, we never had to refresh or ‘Christmas it’ with the Facebook campaign delivering over-the-average Click Through and Cost Per Click rates for all industries. Producing beautiful ads that were proudly simple yet instantly engaging, while at the same time communicating the core message of the book was very rewarding.

But working on a book like this was, in itself, a massive highlight for the whole Jamie book team. 5 Ingredients came to fruition very quickly from Jamie being inspired by demand from the public for quick and easy tasty meals. The whole team at Penguin Michael Joseph and Jamie Oliver worked together to make the book in record time and the consumer appetite for the book made all the hard work hugely satisfying for everyone involved.

What is the difference between promoting an established figure, like Jamie, compared to someone unknown? What are the opportunities and challenges?
 
The challenges with promoting someone well-known like Jamie is always that one has to juggle his many different projects that are running in addition to the book, as well as trying to make the best use of his time, which is in constant demand.

The opportunities are that you have an established platform from which to sell the book, such as a great TV series. However this is Jamie’s 20th book, so we also need to think about how to keep things fresh and continue to speak to his fans as well as talk to fresh audiences. Jamie’s passion is the greatest help. The creativity and passion he invests in each project is always a huge inspiration and this comes across well in interviews.
 
Which is your favourite recipe from the book and why?

The Sausage Carbonara is a real crowd pleaser – a great twist on a classic recipe. This is simple and really delicious and feels like an indulgent treat. So Easy Fish Curry – tons of flavour, beautiful colours and is a genuinely quick, healthy mid-week supper.

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

Publisher Daniel Crewe and senior campaigns manager Julia Murday talk to The Bookseller about making monk Haemin Sunim, whose The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down has been shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year, into a bestselling author.

How did you acquire this book?

Daniel: I'd seen in the Penguin US rights guide that the book had been a bestseller in Korea, and for some time was probably quite annoying in chasing it every few months. When it came in I prayed that I wouldn’t have to then embarrassingly say I wasn't going to offer, and was thrilled that it was as wise and warm as I'd hoped – and beautifully illustrated. We offered very quickly (partly as Sabila Khan, selling rights in New York, was about to go away on holiday) and pre-empted it.

How did you work with the author once the book deal had gone through?

Daniel: The editing had been done; on the actual book we only wanted to discuss with Haemin changing the subtitle and cover, which we did. The work to do was on planning publicity and marketing, which we had to do over the phone, identifying what had helped in Korea and what might work best on a visit here. It was lovely when we finally met.

How did you make the book stand out in the market?
 
Julia: Starting with securing an early endorsement from Professor Mark Williams to give the book authority, we worked hard to cement Haemin’s reputation as the Buddhist monk from South Korea who had a huge social media following (over 3 million on Twitter) and was on a mission to bring Buddhism to a younger generation. We created bespoke samplers, dummies, postcards and bookmarks in order to highlight the beautiful imagery in the book and, having identified three core audiences for the book, tailored our activity to each one.
 
If you could pick one piece of advice from the book that really resonated with people, what would it be?

Julia: It was the message in the title that resonated most –  giving readers permission to slow down and take stock of their life and the world around them. It was also there in the reading experience: throughout the text are illustrations of little people which you only notice when you pay mindful attention to the page in front of you.  

The Christmas Chronicles

Louise Haines,  editorial director at Fourth Estate, talks about how Nigel Slater’s Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year-shortlisted cookbook The Christmas Chronicles stands out from the competition and picks out her favourite recipes.

The Christmas Chronicles started from an idea of Nigel’s to do a small, mainly narrative book with not too many recipes for a change, and then grew vastly from that, partly because Nigel adores winter and Christmas. I longed for it to be December as I was editing it in March—no mean feat.
 
Nigel's books stand out, I think, for their different formats, longer lengths, strong narrative content and the production values. The books don't follow traditional cookbook layouts. Photos don't always come opposite recipes as there is too much text, for example, and the text is king.
 
Christmas recipes do tend to choose themselves more than ones in other books as there are so many essentials that have to be there like the cake, pudding, gravy and so on but Nigel decides the recipes. I might just ask occasionally if there could be more of this or less of that.
 
We started off with a particular idea and photo for the cover. The designer, David Pearson, then suggested an illustration of trees that would be printed by silkscreen. Our production department were horrified and said we should have started years earlier (this is sort of normal and we end up compromising). Then we finally agreed on the quite stark tree design and tested several different cloth colours and foiling colours. A team effort.
 
My favourite recipes, among many, have to be the pudding and cake as they are by far the best of anyone's ­ in my view. On a different note the roast cauliflower and carrot hummus is amazingly good.

Cooking for Family and Friends

Carole Tonkinson published Joe Wicks’ latest cookery book, Cooking for Family and Friends, which is shortlisted in the Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year category. Here she describes how she made the fitness star stand out from the market.

I acquired Cooking for Family and Friends, Joe's fourth book, before we actually published Joe's first book. We created an e-short for Joe that we released in June 2015, a full six months before his debut (Lean in 15: The Shift Plan) published, which caused huge interest and racked up unprecedented pre-orders. By the time we actually had to print his debut book, we were up to a print-run of 660,000 copies. As soon as we saw the initial response, I wanted to sign up Joe's third and fourth books – so that we could create a trilogy with the first three (echoing Joe's bespoke online plan) and so we could break Joe out into a hardback, giftable format with his fourth book. Joe's manager, Bev James, was over the moon with the work we were doing and so was happy for us to build on the whirlwind of Joe's success.

We scheduled in the shoots with Joe (and his huge bunch of family and friends) early so that we could get a lot of great photographs in summery weather and natural light that would be appropriate for publication time. We shot the cover and his group of buddies (including his eight-day-old nephew) in early August 2016 at a location house with a beautiful garden and barbecue – which was critical for the light-filled, fun and entertaining atmosphere we wanted to create. We broke up the days to fit Joe's hectic schedule, doing the rest of the food shots at the regular indoor studio with the crack team we assembled for Joe's first book (photographer Maja Smend and food stylist Bianca Nice), as and when Joe could come. It allowed Martha Burley (our then brand-new in-house Senior Editor specialising in cookery) and I time between sessions to review the layout with our out-of-house designer (Jilly Topping) and make sure we really had time to create a beautiful book. And Joe is a delight to work with and incredibly responsive even when out of town with his many work commitments. It also helps that he and I live down the street from each other, so we did some proof checking in my kitchen and his, grabbing time whenever we could.

Unlike most authors who focus on healthier living, Joe advocates an anti-diet, anti-fad approach: no food groups are excluded; bathroom scales are banished; there is not even a hint of 'clean eating'. Joe wants people to eat well (great tastes, hearty portions) and to get enough exercise (without having to work out for hours each day or pay for an expensive gym membership) so that they can enjoy a healthy and sustainable lifestyle at every age and stage of their lives. I think Cooking for Family and Friends is the first giftable, hardback to really carry that message in that way. In this book (unlike his previous books), Joe offers portions for groups so that every big group Sunday lunch and barbecue can enjoy Joe’s huge variety of healthy dishes time and again.

Every occasion is an opportunity to share delicious, nourishing food together, whatever age and stage of life we are:  Joe's simple, delicious recipes make that as easy as his famous chicken filo pie.

Recovery

Carole Tonkinson, publisher at Bluebird, describes how she brought Russell Brand’s Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year-shortlisted title about addiction, Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions, to the market.

How did you acquire this book?

I wrote to Russell on January 1st 2016 telling him that if I could publish one book in the year ahead that would help more people than any other, it would be Russell Brand writing on recovery. He liked the idea and his then agent took it to auction. We were one of many suitors, and although ours wasn't the highest offer, Russell appreciated our self-help expertise and thorough commitment to the project.

How did you work on it with the author, who has a lot of other commitments?

We worked on the manuscript in pieces, with Russell emailing me bits of texts as he wrote it over many months. For example, one of the most powerful chapters in the book  (describing the birth of his daughter) was something Russell was just inspired to write off the cuff and he sent it through. It wasn't clear whether it would be part of the book or not. And then we thought, 'Ah, we have the perfect ending!' We pieced the book together, trying lots of different structures. We first tried the anecdotes in one section and the more directive self-help text in another. Then we experimented with mixing and matching different stories to the Steps they were trying to illustrate. It was like a jigsaw. But it was really creative and fun and finally, when we decided on the eventual structure, we knew it was the best. We also had some face-to-face meetings at Russell's house, when he wasn't on the road touring, to go through the finer points.

Why does the book stand out from other non-fiction titles on the market?

This book is wonderfully entertaining and written in Russell's unique prose style, but unlike many other fantastically readable books on the market, Recovery has already helped people in a profound way. Readers have expressed (at events and on the hundreds of online reviews) how important this book has been in their lives: prompting them to address a problem behaviour; inspiring them to go to 12 Step meetings or therapy; helping them to understand a loved one who is struggling. Even counsellors and professionals are finding Recovery a useful tool for their clients and for themselves. I come from a family where addiction cost a life, and I think this book offers a life-saving proposition, particularly to a younger generation. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I think it's true.  

If readers take away one thing from this title, what do you hope that is?

I hope readers see that we are all on the addictive scale somewhere (whether you are addicted to overwork, or your phone, or something more obvious like a substance) and that is possible to get help and recover.

Happy

Fearne Cotton talks about drawing on her own life experiences to write about mental health in Happy, shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year.

What was your inspiration behind the book?

Writing has always proved cathartic for me and happiness is a subject that has intrigued me for such a long time. I knew I wanted to write about happiness but wasn’t sure how honest to be. As I started writing, I soon realised the best option would be for me to be 100% authentic and push through the nerves I felt around telling my story.

What has the reaction been from readers? Did it surprise you?

It has massively surprised me. I was so nervous to mention ‘depression’ and talk about my feelings honestly as I feared it would open up a can of worms, but really it’s just brought me into a wider conversation about mental health. I’m now working with Mind a lot and meeting loads of brilliant people who have willingly told me their own story.
 
What does your work with the charity Mind involve?

I am so lucky I now get to work with Mind. I hosted the Mind media awards late last year which was a phenomenal event honouring some incredible people. I also visited a local Mind meeting recently and took part in a group spoken word therapy session, which was a game changer for me. To see their work in action and feel the effects personally felt incredible. I’ve met a lot of amazing people through Mind so far and look forward to working with them on varying projects in the future.

How did you choose that striking front cover?

We felt that watercolours would work well throughout the whole book as we wanted it to be fluid, gentle and sensitive. The reflection rainbow in the first section of the book looked so gorgeous and felt like such a key part of the book that it felt right to mirror this colourway on the cover. I didn’t want it to look twee or wishy-washy and I feel we've struck a great balance of beauty combined with strength.

How does publishing a non-fiction book for adults compare with creating a children’s book?

Happy flew out of me as I had the story and all of the words bursting to get out of me, so the process of writing it was relatively fluid. The editing felt a lot tougher than the writing process as I had to deliberate each sentence and whether I was ready to talk about each moment in my story. The rumination felt endless. Yoga Babies (Andersen Press) needed more initial thought but was thoroughly fun once I got going with it. Working with the extremely talented Sheena Dempsey was a joy too. Both so different to work on but equally as pleasing to execute.

 

Ask an Astronaut

Ben Brusey, publishing director at Century, describes how Tim Peake’s latest book—which is up for the Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year award—was inspired by his fans’ enthusiasm for space.

 

How did Ask an Astronaut come about?
 
We first discussed the idea with Tim ahead of his mission to the International Space Station in 2015. We wondered if Tim could answer questions from the general public whilst he was still in space, and then write the answers and send them back to Earth to be published. Because Tim had an extremely busy mission, performing hundreds of science experiments and reaching millions of schoolchildren, we soon realised it wouldn’t be possible to fit the book in then. However, once Tim was back on firmer ground we picked up the project again. Tim invited questions on social media, and children and adults responded in their thousands. Tim spent the next six months answering and expanding upon these questions to write a fascinating and in-depth book, touching on every aspect of his mission.
 
What was your favourite question?

"Does space smell?" was one of Tim’s favourites. Tim noticed the elusive scent in an empty airlock, and thought it smelt like seared steak on a barbecue. Tim’s theory is that this smell is actually ozone from our atmosphere. But the most wistful theory is that this smell is the leftover aroma of dying stars—I would like this to be true. One of the most amusing questions was "Is there a formal protocol for 'first contact' with aliens?" The short answer is, disappointingly, "no". But Tim’s going to find out more…
 
Was this book easier to do than Hello, is this planet earth?
 
Tim’s first book was written and designed in a rapid but thrilling four weeks. This book wasn’t such a timing challenge, and meant Tim could go into much greater detail in his writing. The pleasure of reading Ask an Astronaut is the extraordinary insight you get into an astronaut’s life. You learn about the incredible lengths astronauts go to in their preparation for space, and the challenges they face once they are up there. Tim writes about science in such an inspiring and passionate way, and no matter your age, by the end of this book you’re left with your head in the stars.

Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race

Reni Eddo-Lodge describes how her popular journalism eventually became Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, which is shortlisted in the Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year category.

How did Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race come about?

I was an activist involved in several movements and I was also writing about race, which was often received poorly by white people. So I decided to write a blog about that defensiveness. I wrote it and put it on the internet and a lot of people resonated with the topic. The subject was one I had been thinking about for a long time. My journalism caught the attention of a literary agent who suggested I write a book and there was no other book I could have written.

Why did you decide to go with Bloomsbury?

I had offers from two publishers but Bloomsbury was really serious and enthusiastic. They made it very clear they wanted to work with me and I had meetings with lots of people in the company. I knew they would help me structure what I wanted to say in a clear way.

What is the best thing about being a published author?

At the moment I’m adjusting to a new reality. Sometimes people approach me on the tube now and I find it a bit strange, but I’m glad the book is giving people the vocabulary they need. The attention isn’t something I relish but it’s exciting to see the book in bookshops. I feel heard, and that’s a good thing.

What have been the best and worst reactions to your book?

My readers react strongly. I don’t seek to place a value judgment on their reactions but the book stirs up a lot of emotions in people, both negative and positive. That’s both the best and the worst thing. It can be somewhat overwhelming for me to be on the receiving end of that emotion. It would be good if people could have that conversation around the dinner table instead.

What are you working on now?

I do a podcast series about racism that is winding up soon. I’ve really enjoyed that. Then I’m going away to be quiet for a long time and get some rest.

I Am, I Am, I Am

Publisher Mary-Anne Harrington talks about the origins of I Am, I Am, I Am, the first and perhaps only non-fiction title from Maggie O’Farrell, which is shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year.

How did I Am, I Am, I Am come about?
 
About three or four years ago, Maggie’s agent, Victoria Hobbs, mentioned to me that Maggie had the kernel of an idea for a book about her near-death experiences, themed around parts of the body, and opening with the episode (a terrifying encounter with a man on a remote pathway) that forms the first chapter of I Am, I Am, I Am.  On the one hand, I was surprised—although I knew Maggie had been seriously ill as a child, I had no idea that she had cheated death as many times as she has—but also incredibly excited. I knew that this theme would play powerfully to her strengths, and I simply couldn’t wait to read it.
 
The author was famously nervous about publishing a memoir. How did you work with her to conquer that fear?

I was incredibly lucky to have Georgina Moore running this campaign. Maggie trusts her implicitly, and Georgina was completely passionate about the book.  She helped Maggie to feel confident about agreeing to interviews in which she might, for example, need to discuss her daughter’s medical condition, and promised that at events Maggie would be matched with chairs who understood the sensitivities around such an intimate memoir. Maggie was able to relax as the campaign moved on and I think she actually ended up enjoying it.
 
How did you promote the book?
 
This was a publicity-driven campaign. We kept this book very much under wraps; when Maggie delivered the manuscript we announced with the Guardian, with whom we also agreed an interview and first serial. We also sent the manuscript straight to BBC Radio Readings, and were able to secure Book of the Week on publication.
 
 How have readers reacted?

We’ve had some extraordinary, deeply personal reactions, but readers say consistently that they read it in a sitting, and describe it as an intensely life-affirming experience.
 
Will Maggie write any more non-fiction books?

She says she won’t, but then she said she never would! I don’t see any more non-fiction on the horizon, but you never know.

What Does This Button Do?

Isabel Prodger, senior publicity manager at HarperCollins, describes how she helped make Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year shortlistee What Does This Button Do? by Bruce Dickinson a hit.

Our main goal with What Does This Button Do? was to deliver a number one bestseller in Autumn. We wanted to break out a seemingly niche heavy metal author (albeit one from a very large niche) and take Bruce’s brilliant book to the masses - to the wider music fans, nonfiction and autobiography readers.
 
Our favourite thing about working with the author was his unrelenting energy and enthusiasm. Bruce was up for doing anything and everything, and saw everything as a challenge ­ setting a new record for the fastest audio recording, signing 1,600 books in just over an hour and keeping us on our toes throughout the campaign.
 
Dickinson’s writing is authentic! Bruce wrote the entire book in long form in a series of A4 notebooks. His writing is brilliant and laced with the trademark humour his fans know and love. Bruce had previously written fiction but never nonfiction. We decided to showcase the quality of the writing with an exclusive extract on the Iron Maiden channels ahead of publication, in the place of a serial deal.
 
Music fans are incredibly engaged and content hungry. We needed to constantly think of new and exciting ways to promote the book across the platforms, both pre- and post-publication, in visual and audio formats, in print and online.
 
We set up an enormous bookshop tour for Bruce with 12 signings, which had a huge turnout, but the best event was our launch event on the eve of publication. It was at The Troxy in London and we had a full house of 1,600 fans, with the Iron Maiden beer on tap. The event was live-streamed on Facebook to over 575,000 fans all over the world.

This is Going to Hurt

Writer, comedian and former doctor Adam Kay created a humorous yet searing account of working for the NHS with This is Going to Hurt, which is shortlisted in the Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year category. Here, he describes how the book came into being.

I got a book deal when superstar editor Francesca Main saw me reading out from my diaries in a basement during the Edinburgh Fringe. Twelve months later it was on the shelves (and remainder bins and pulping machines). Francesca clearly didn’t pay much attention to the contents of the book though because she’s gone and had a baby since.

Turning my experiences into a book was a huge responsibility. I wanted my junior doctor colleagues to feel I was adequately and accurately representing what it means to work on the NHS frontline. Balancing the funny with the sad, the high-octane with the mundane, and most of all the impact of the job on the doctor as a human being, at home and at work.

The biggest challenge was not going to prison. It turns out that printing hundreds of stories about patients posed a bit of a legal challenge. Luckily some meticulous lawyers showed me how to put just enough Vaseline on the lens that we didn’t break patients’ confidentiality. As part of the process, I changed everyone’s names to those of minor Harry Potter characters – substituting one legal issue with another…  

When I finally got a finished copy in my hands I felt excited, proud, sick. I still get a buzz every time I see a copy of my book in a shop – or even better, someone actually reading it in the wild. If I ever stop finding it exciting then I need to stop writing.  

If I could tell my former self anything it would be it’s all going to be OK. Stop worrying too much about what other people think. Dedicate more time to yourself. Drink less. Have more sex. Invest in Apple shares.

The Break

The challenges of long-term monogamy inspired Marian Keyes’ shortlisted novel The Break, which is about a husband who takes a break from his marriage.  

What inspired you to write The Break?

I read a couple of articles about how our increased life expectancy is impacting monogamy: the articles focused on people in their forties, who loved their partner but felt panicky at the thought of another unchanging 50 years. These people took a time-limited break from their marriage (with varying results.) I’m wondering if it’s a sociological phenomenon that will make its way to this part of the world and what it would be like to experience it. (For the record, I’m very keen not to...)

What was your favourite part of the publishing process?

Writing a book with such a big cast of characters was a challenge but one that (eventually) I managed to pull together. But the favourite part of any book for me is touring and meeting readers – there would be no point in me writing anything if nobody read it. So to meet people who like what I do is an honour and great source of joy. I’ll never stop being grateful. 

What were the highlights of your big author tour for the book?

Meeting readers who I ‘know’ from Twitter – everywhere from Toronto to Melbourne to Newcastle. Each night was like being at a party.

What was the reaction of readers and did any of them surprise you?

I tried hard to make The Break a book about fully-rounded characters, especially Hugh, the husband who leaves. There are many mid-life crisis books about men behaving like risible idiots but that’s not what I wanted to write. My opinion is that almost no-one would leave their partner unless they were in despair.  I think readers were surprised that they felt sympathy with Hugh. The reaction that surprised me was how many women were very interested in taking a break themselves. 

How does it feel to be a successful author for more than 20 years?

A huge privilege. I can’t believe my luck. With each new book, I try to do better and I’m deeply grateful to all the readers who’ve stuck with me for all these years.

Birdcage Walk

Publisher Selina Walker describes how she worked on Birdcage Walk, Helen Dunmore’s final novel. 

 

How did you acquire Helen’s book? 

We had published Helen's two previous novels, The Lie and Exposure. Birdcage Walk was the second book in a two-book contract and was sold by Helen's long-term and much loved agent, Caradoc King of United Agents. What neither he nor I knew at the time was that Birdcage Walk would be Helen’s final novel.

What were your first reactions on reading the manuscript? 

Oh my goodness, I absolutely loved it! It also felt special as it was one of the very few novels Helen had written that was pre-20th century. It was so atmospheric and Gothic, it was located in an area (Clifton) that Helen knew well, it was about a woman who had disappeared in mysterious circumstances, another woman who feels haunted by her, and their ruthless self-made husband who is facing disaster and ruin. Right from the start I knew that this had all the potential to be the very best sort of historical fiction, and that it would be much loved by Helen's many fans.

How much editorial guidance did you give Helen?

Helen enjoyed being edited and I really enjoyed working on her novels. She said that although Birdcage Walk was historical fiction, at its core there is a murder and she was very keen that this dark mystery should keep her readers gripped and guessing. And because I am an editor with experience of editing crime novels, she wanted my help with this. It was a fine balance – holding fast to Helen's more thoughtful, elegiac themes while making sure that her narrative line ran fast and clear – but it was one I think we managed to achieve!

What was the best and hardest part of promoting the novel?

We didn't know that Helen was sick until Birdcage Walk had been delivered and edited. After that her health began to fail quite rapidly, so we brought our publication date forward, and she lived long enough to see it published in hardcover, which felt very meaningful to us. On publication day, her publicist, Najma Finlay, and I went to see her at her home in Clifton, and experienced the luminous beauty of her final months. We toasted the book with a glass of champagne, and afterwards her husband took us both on a tour of the places where Birdcage Walk is set - a memory Najma and I both treasure.

Not having an author was the hardest part of promoting Birdcage Walk. Dealing with Helen's death and funeral and grieving for an author we all loved while trying to do our best for her and the book - it was all so terribly sad. Since then, Birdcage Walk has been a Sunday Times bestseller, in January of this year Helen was awarded the overall Costa Prize for her extraordinary final volume of poems, Inside The Wave, and we publish her final volume of short stories in June. It seems to me that even now she's gone, Helen has left behind wonderful gifts for her family, for us, and for her fans.

Winter

Ali Smith’s editor, Simon Prosser, got her shortlisted novel Winter out in just six weeks. Here he describes why the latest title in the season cycle is so special. 

I first heard about Ali’s season cycle when she described the idea in Autumn 2014: four discrete, stand-alone novels, linked into each other and sparking each other into something more ­united by the passing of time, the timing of narrative, and the endless familiarity yet renewal that the cycle of seasons is.

When I first read Winter, I was moved close to tears. There has always been something radically transformative in the way Ali thinks and writes, and this quality has become ever more apparent and more glorious with each book. My first thought on finishing Winter was "Wow" and my second was "how did she just do that?". My third was how very lucky we all are to be around to read Ali.

We worked hard to get the book out quickly, in barely six weeks, ­because that is how Ali and I always planned it. To bring the contemporaneity of the writing (and its response to the contemporary) as close as possible to the contemporaneity of the reading. All the covers and the designs were planned well in advance ­with seasonal artwork by David Hockney, and as the same small team has worked on all of Ali¹s recent books, we were able to move forwards quickly.

We chose to publish the book in cloth-bound hardback because we wanted each book in the cycle to reference the natural world ­hence binding in linen, with a different colour for each season. We also wanted the books to look as beautiful together as possible. And we wanted to use the Hockney paintings in a way that would avoid over-printing them with type (hence the half-covers).

Ali Smith is unique because absolutely no-one can write or think the way that she is writing and thinking, with such joy, intelligence, energy, invention, passion, politics, spirit, sprezzatura and, most of all, ­generosity.

How to Stop Time

Matt Haig's shortlisted novel How to Stop Time was a structural nightmare but a commercial hit. The author talks about writing the first draft, historical research and signing a big film deal.

What was your favourite part of the publishing process?

The favourite part of the publishing process is writing the book. And by writing, I mean the first draft. When everything is pure and fresh and you are getting excited about the idea. The absolute favourite day though is the day you see what the cover is going to look like. That’s the day it becomes real. That’s the day when you realise you have managed to take the airborne substance of a daydream and transformed it into something solid.

How hard is it to write fiction that plays with time?

All fiction plays with time to an extent. Even if you are writing a book in the living present then you are preserving that living present, pressing it between the pages like a butterfly. With How to Stop Time I was probably more conscious of the time theme than in any of my other books, chiefly because there were so many different time periods used in the novel. I always say twelve, but it is probably closer to fifteen. And then of course some of the book is in the present too, so it isn’t straightforward historical fiction. I never wanted to write it in chronological order. I wanted it to have the feel of memory. That emotional feel. The way a street or a scent or a sight can spark off something from decades - or in this case - centuries before. Which also explains the short chapters darting all over the place. It’s a jumble, but it’s a deliberate jumble.

How did writing this novel compare to working on your other books?

It felt more like work, because of the research. It was like writing fifteen books at once. But the research also made it fun. I loved learning, for instance, that children in the sixteenth century drank beer because it was healthier than water. Which meant kids in Shakespearean times must have always been mildly sozzled. 

You apparently did six drafts of this novel. Why?

Because it was a nightmare, structurally. And also, my editor Francis Bickmore at Canongate is quite an old school hands-on editor who gets right into it and gives it proper attention. A book is never finished so it could have just as easily had 22 drafts and still not be perfect. You just have to land on an imperfection that feels right.

What aspects of the book would you like to see remain in the film adaptation?

It is wonderful that SunnyMarch (Benedict Cumberbatch's company) and Studio Canal are turning it into a movie, but I am not precious over what particular chapters or eras remain. The best script I ever saw of any of my novels was a screenplay Taika Waititi wrote for my first novel The Last Family in England. The film never got made, because at the time it was too big budget for Taika who was then an emerging indie director (he's now of course a megastar directing Thor movies so doubt he'd ever want to go back to my silly little story about a troubled Labrador.) But anyway, my point is, it was nothing like the book, but brilliant because of Taika's passion for it (he'd even sent me a handwritten five page letter asking for the rights). So I'd always just opt for something good, rather than being too protective over what happens and which bits are given the focus. That said, I think the film could have a lot of fun in the present with the history teacher himself being history. And I did love writing 1890s New York, too.

Reservoir 13

Turning Jon McGregor into a household name was the ambition of Helen Garnons-Williams, whose skills and expertise helped Reservoir 13 bag the 2017 Costa Novel Award.

My first glimpse of Reservoir 13 came several years ago, when Jon sent me a short story about a search party out on a hill in the Peak District looking for a missing child. The focus was on the lives of those in the search party rather than on the child – something that felt wonderfully refreshing and left me longing to get to know them all better. In the intervening years, we would meet and he would make tantalising mentions about the number 13 (lunar months, principal characters, animal and insects) as well as, slightly alarmingly, ring binders, scissors and sellotape.

My immediate thought was "Crikey, I thought he was writing a novel about Antarctica". Then, when I read the first draft of Reservoir 13 I was, honestly, awestruck.  Superlatives have, rightly, been lavished on it by writers and critics far more eloquent than I. But it left me mesmerised, profoundly moved, bereft when I turned the last page and convinced it was going to make waves.

Jon expands our sense of what a novel (or indeed a short story) can do. He is a true original, and a craftsman ambitious for his work – and, wonderfully, for his readers – who has a rare gift for making us look again and look harder at the world. 

Our publication strategy was to make the justified claim that Reservoir 13 should make Jon a household name. From our limited edition silver-foiled proofs, to a pre-publication interview with The Bookseller, to a blanket publicity campaign (ranging from Saturday Review to Stylist), to the quotes from so many writers who have long-loved Jon’s work (and were generous enough to help us spread the word about it), to entering it (with gratifying success) for every literary prize, we were determined to make its publication a literary event.

If I could recommend another McGregor book, it would be the IMPAC-prize-winning Even the Dogs. It’s equally, differently astonishing: a beautiful, deeply empathetic novel about those on the margins of society. The writing will knock your socks off.

City of Friends

Joanna Trollope’s latest novel City of Friends was promoted by Emma Bravo, who here describes how she made the book work for fans old and new.

When did you first know Joanna was working on something new?

When I was sent the new manuscript! I received it on the Friday afternoon and finished Friday night!

How did you appeal to her fanbase whilst also finding new readers?

Core fans of Joanna know what to expect - contemporary problems or issues explored via a cast of characters we recognise as our friends and family. We didn’t have to change that, just remind some and tell others. City of Friends was a gift - four friends living and working in London. The city setting allowed us to change the look and create more of an urban positioning. In turn, we set up partnerships with women in the workplace who may just never have known that Joanna’s work would reflect their worlds so vividly and accompany them through their everyday lives. 

How did you promote the novel?

Joanna worked heroically on promoting the book. Lots of events in indies, libraries, festivals and with Hobbs. We partnered with The Pool and the charity Smartworks for these events. Later we partnered with Bloom and Wild and Whittards. We secured features coverage, reviews, press and broadcast interviews, National Rail outdoor and London Underground. And a Bookseller cover!

What do you hope fans will take away from the book?

A crackingly good read that introduces you to characters you fall for, root for and that truly reflects how we live now. 

La Belle Sauvage

The marketing and communications at Penguin Random House’s audiobook department is handled by Helena Sheffield, who talks to us about putting together a brilliant campaign for Audiobook of the Year-shortlisted La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One, written by Philip Pullman and narrated by Michael Sheen.

Why did PRH and Philip Pullman choose Michael Sheen as the narrator of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One?

Our aim for The Book of Dust was to publish a genuinely iconic audiobook. Through initial conversations with Philip it was clear that at the top of his list was Michael Sheen, an ardent fan of the original His Dark Materials trilogy. With a book that features such a wide cast of characters we needed someone who could capture the epic tale through his voice alone, and Michael was the perfect candidate.

How did you put together a campaign to market the audiobook?

Central to all our efforts was our audience. We knew that the audiobook market for The Book of Dust would have a different skew than the physical book market. While we ensured we were targeting original fans of His Dark Materials, we also wanted to engage our core audiobook audience (younger, digitally-engaged listeners who don’t necessarily identify as book buyers).

We worked closely with PRH Children’s UK, David Fickling Books, Riot Communications and Random House Children’s Books US to coordinate a global narrator announcement in August 2017, which ran in the Guardian in the UK and in E! Online in the US. This featured video footage of Michael in the recording studio to give fans a taste of what was to come. 

Upon publication, our audience focus shifted to those core audiobook buyers, as we knew the campaign around the other formats of the book would continue to reach the fans.

How did you use social media?

Social media was central to our global narrator announcement, ensuring there was support from our media partners, as well as the Penguin Random House channels in the UK and US and David Fickling Books, along with retailer support.

  Who bought the audiobook? Was it a different demographic from the physical book?

While we can’t identify the people who bought the audiobook through our retailers’ platforms, we do know that The Book of Dust was a number one Audible bestseller for many weeks, and remained in the Audible Top 60 for months after publication. We know that the audiobook market is slightly younger and more urban than the traditional book-buying audience, so we can surmise that this demographic was most likely a significant segment of our buyers.

How Not to be a Boy

Robert Webb narrated the audiobook version of his bestselling memoir, How Not to be a Boy, which is up for Audiobook of the Year. Here he talks about writing and narrating, and missing unintentional rhymes.

What inspired you to write How Not to be a Boy?

I thought I had a good story to tell—a mixture of the typical and the unusual. It's not a straightforward "how I became so very marvellous" celeb memoir because I'm not famous enough to write a book that dull. So it had to be good and it had to be about something. I'd written before in the New Statesman about gender and masculinity and it seemed a good idea to approach the issue through a memoir. Because of course that's where gender conditioning begins—in childhood.

How did you promote the book?

There were some press and broadcast interviews and then a 25-date book tour. The publicity teams at Canongate and Audible were fantastic and worked together really well. Anna from Canongate made sure I got on the right train.

Did you enjoy narrating your own title?

Yes, although the director kept having to tell me to slow down. With my acting hat back on I found the odd mistakelike an unintentional rhyme—that I'd missed through all the drafts of writing but I'm glad to say it didn't happen too often.

What additional material does the audiobook contain and how did you choose it?

I read out three of my most embarrassing teenage poems. There's also a kind of 'podcast' type discussion of the themes of the book between me, my friend Jon and my wife, Abbie. That was a lot of fun.

Are you working on another book?

Yes, I'm writing my first novel. It's a time-travelling rom-com called Come Again.

Kid Normal

The authors of Kid Normal, Greg James and Chris Smith, talk about using their radio skills to narrate the audiobook edition of their bestselling children's book, which is shortlisted for Audiobook of the Year.

How does narrating a book compare to writing one?

Actually, for us the two processes aren't that dissimilar. Writing collaboratively means we spend a lot of time prancing around acting out the scenes and characters, so we had a pretty good idea of the voices and inflexion before we even thought about the audiobook. We both come from an audio background so it's natural that we'd work that way around. It's almost like taking dictation from ourselves sometimes.
 
How did you decide who would narrate which parts?

Well, anyone who's ever seen one of the Kid Normal live shows will know that Greg's great at the voices—Nektar is his particular favourite! But as a former drama student it seemed obvious that he'd do the characters and Chris—who after all as a newsreader is the narrator of world events—would fulfil the same role for the world of Kid Normal.

How did you promote the audiobook?

Most of the promotion so far has been online and via social media. But we view this very much as a long game—it's not just about making a massive fuss at launch then doing nothing. So, there'll be more talk about the audiobooks as the series develops.
 
How many books will there be in the series?

Bloomsbury loved the first two so much that they’ve asked us to do two more and if they feel the same after those two, we’d happily write more after that. We love this world we’ve created and actually the stories and possibilities within it are endless. We feel like we’ve only just got going.
 
Would you like the book to be turned into a film or TV show?

We can see the stories really clearly in our heads—and we think they'd make amazing movies, obviously! But that was never the intention. If we'd really, really wanted to make a film we'd have collaborated on a screenplay. In reality we really, really wanted to write a book, so that's what we did. The books will always come first, they're the bedrock. Whatever is built afterwards stands or falls on the strength of that foundation.

Sherlock Holmes – The Definitive Collection

Stephen Fry’s love of Sherlock Holmes shines through in Audiobook of the Year shortlistee Sherlock Holmes – The Definitive Collection, his personal retelling of the canon. Lawrence Howell, senior director of content at Audible UK, explains how the project got off the ground.

How did the idea to do a personal retelling of the Sherlock canon come about?

Stephen came into the Audible Studios at the end of 2016 to record The Tales of Max Carrados¸ a set of short stories written at the same time as Sherlock Holmes. It was clear that he was a big Sherlock Holmes fan, so we discussed with him then and there the idea of recording a definitive collection. Given his great knowledge and passion for the books, we also asked him to write and narrate introductions to each novel and set of stories.

How did Stephen Fry structure the narrative?

The collection was recorded and presented in chronological order, starting with the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, working through the entire canon. Each novel and set of short stories has an introduction in which Stephen tells stories of his childhood obsession with the stories, his knowledge of the genesis of the stories, and anecdotes from his own interaction with them, including the extent to which the stories helped him overcome mental health issues.

How did you promote the title?

We wanted to share with listeners the passion and connection that Stephen has with this canon, and also to help highlight how this writings – over a century old – had great relevance and interest to the modern-day. The video interview with Stephen, supported by a motion graphics trailer, included him narrating a passage from The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was seen widely across Audible, social media, and on Mashable. We had strong PR coverage on media outlets and we secured a placement on the Amazon homepage and a Kindle Wakescreen advert.  We also drove some very successful mobile, Facebook and paid search marketing activity.

What was the inspiration behind the cover design?

We knew that a compelling, striking cover campaign would be necessary to make the collection stand out visually from the many other similar collections available. The cover design brings to the fore the Sherlock Holmes/Stephen Fry marriage, with skyline imagery that hints at old London versus new London.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Fionnuala Barrett, senior audio editor at HarperColllins, talks about how an audiobook production was always part of the publishing plans for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, up for Audiobook of the Year.

Did you decide to do an audiobook version of Eleanor Oliphant... at the acquisition stage or afterwards?

HarperCollins prides itself on its commitment to audio publishing with its Total Audio policy: every frontlist narrative print book that we publish gets an audio edition, with the same publication date as all other formats. It was apparent from the manuscript, which radiated warmth and character, that Eleanor Oliphant... would work brilliantly in audio – as long as we cast the right narrator to do Eleanor’s voice justice!
 
Why did you choose Cathleen McCarron as the narrator?

The story is told in the first person by Eleanor. She is tremendously particular when it comes to her use of language, and so I knew we required a reader with great precision to reflect that. At the same time, the narrator had to be versatile to do justice to the wide cast of characters in the story. Cathleen, with her training as an accent and vocal coach, fit the bill perfectly, and with her background as an actor she was able to balance the humour and the darkness of the story beautifully.
 
How did you use Facebook and social media to promote the book?

From the very beginning, our marketing team integrated the audiobook into every single aspect of the campaign, with dedicated audio assets as well as social and retailer advertising with tailored messaging that drove specifically to the audiobook.
 
When did you know the campaign had been a success?

Everyone in the team had very high hopes for Eleanor Oliphant... from acquisition stage.  However those initial expectations were blown out of the water by consistently excellent listener reviews; phenomenal sales, making Eleanor Oliphant... HarperCollins’ biggest adult debut in audio in 2017; and lots of award notice, including silver at the Audio Production Awards, and nominations including Audiobook of the Year at The British Book Awards and Best Fiction Audiobook at the Audies.
 
What is the key to strong audiobook sales?

Any successful audiobook relies on match-making a great story with the right voice (or voices) to perform it.  After that, retailer support is tremendously helpful and well-placed advertising is a wise investment, but it all rests on a great product that attracts good reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations.