Book Merch: A rant about literacy, capitalism… and foul-tasting beans

I’ve never been a big fan of book-related merchandise, either as a reader or as a writer.

Most of the ‘merch’ I have owned, I did not buy, but received as prizes or gifts from fellow indie authors – stickers, bookmarks, even a mug and coaster. In other words, items which are cute, useful, or both.

As an author, however, I have never been tempted to produce any myself, which, to be fair, is probably a genre thing as much as it is a sign of fiscal responsibility on my part. It would be rather odd, not to mention grossly offensive, for a novel criticising the government’s immigration policy to come with some sort of branded flotation device, or for a book critiquing capitalism and advertising to have a section at the back hawking, well, any sort of consumer goods.

To my recollection, I have only ever purchased two book-related products, and, as luck (or more likely, statistical odds) would have it, both were Harry Potter related.

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Another Round of Blurbs!

In the previous post, we revisited some of the blurbs I analysed in late 2019, to see how these books have fared 18 months on. Those which were successful tended to share nine key features in common, while those which were less successful adhered to few – if any – of the guidelines I identified. And as our revisit revealed, the extent to which blurbs seemed to follow those guidelines appears correlated with their success.

Of course, a sample size of 12 “successful” and five “unsuccessful” novels is too small to draw any hard and fast conclusions. It is also possible that a book with a poorly written blurb may be poor in other ways as well (although, care was taken to select only those books with professional-looking covers to ensure this wasn’t the weak link). Additionally, trends change over time, and what worked well almost two years ago may not work as well today. So, I thought it might be fun to do another round – pick another group of “successful” blurbs, and another group of “unsuccessful” ones, and see how they compare.

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Blurbs Revisited

In late 2019, shortly before the release of my 2020 debut novel Number Eight Crispy Chicken, I wrote a pair of posts on the art of blurb writing. One focused on successful blurbs, in order to discover what they have in common. Then, I examined the blurbs of less successful books – in an attempt to see to what extent a book’s blurb may be the driver of its success.

No experiment is truly reliable unless it is replicated. And with my second novel Propaganda Wars in the works, I thought it was time to revisit those books I examined a year and a half ago – and to discover whether the bestselling books of 2021 adhere to the same guidelines I identified.

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Continuing the Story…

Cover design is important. Although we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, the truth is, we do. Just last night, a friend sent me a link to a collection of hilariously bad book covers (my favourite is probably Kim. Or Little Women. It’s hard to decide…)

I’ve already done a series on book cover designs here on the blog – but that message – and the fact that I have a new book coming out on August 30, 2021 – prompted me to continue the story with an update on the importance of cover design.

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Author Q&A with Ally Aldridge

Like many not-so-young adults, I enjoy reading the occasional ‘Young Adult’ (YA) novel. Culture Trip‘s Parish Turner describes the category as one which not only reflects the world around us, but which offers a sense of hopeful escapism – something many of us crave this year!

Despite its reputation as a ‘less serious’ category of fiction, YA frequently deals with difficult issues, ranging from general coming-of-age stories, to social problem novels. And it is precisely because YA often blends relatable settings with engaging fantasy that it is so powerful. Meeting so many of its readers at a critical juncture in their lives, YA has the potential to introduce young people to formative ideas about identity, self-value, relationships, and justice, or to reinforce old stereotypes about feminine beauty and meekness, and masculine wealth and power being the only important values.

That’s why I was fascinated to speak to YA author Ally Aldridge. It’s not every day we get to speak directly to an author and find out what went on behind the book! But today, I’m thrilled to be part of the book tour for Ally’s brand-new Ocean Heart. I hope you’ll enjoy this deep-dive as much as I did!

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Pen Names & Anonymous Authors

The #challengeaccepted hashtag got me thinking about the power – and danger – of anonymity, and the prevalence of pen names. The idea, Belinda Jepsen at Mamamia reports, is for women “to upload a grey-scale selfie in an apparent show of solidarity”.

The challenge originated with Turkish women drawing attention to domestic violence and femicide. The black and white photographs, far from a mere aesthetic choice, are designed to mimic the sort that appear in reports about murdered women.

Yet, while the idea might be for ordinary and especially marginalised women to have their faces seen and their voices heard, the most successful (if we’re judging the accumulation of ‘likes’ as success) are those glamorous, often sexualised selfies posted by celebrities with vapid Hollywood sentiments.

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Wired Birds

One of the joys connected to reading and writing is reading books about the craft of writing.

Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in many ways represent two opposite ends of the spectrum of writing guides.

I first came across these two books in two very different ways. And it is perhaps fair to say that the ways in which I encountered them shaped my experiences reading them.

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In Defence of Novels in Englishes

If you primarily read novels written in English, have you ever wondered how writers decide which English to use? What do I mean ‘which’ English? And what’s with the weird spelling of ‘defense’ in the heading?

All of us grow up speaking not just a mother tongue (or possibly several!) but a variety of that language. In my case, I grew up speaking English, started learning Japanese as a child, and then tried my hand at French in later life before dabbling with some other languages – living and dead.

The variety of English I grew up speaking is Australian English – and more specifically, South Australian English. In this post, I want to share with you why I decided to write my debut novel in Australian English – and what that actually means.

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On Book Bigotry – Part 3


Location, location, location. It’s that old real estate saying. And, in our globalised economy – and particularly, in our globalised digital economy – we could be forgiven for thinking it shouldn’t matter where an author or reader is located.

But it does.

In this final post on #bookbigotry, we’ll look at how location affects writers in terms of their language choices, and how it affects readers in terms of what books they have access to. Then, we’ll examine how all three factors explored in this series – format, platform, and location – affect the way books are understood and appreciated.

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