Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Thank You For Coming Home, Valerie Brandes

This is a thank you letter to my boss and friend, publisher Valerie Brandes, who, on forming independent publishing house Jacaranda Books, and actively tackling the lack of diversity in British publishing, has given great opportunities to me and many others in our careers.

Life is full of parallels. Far too often it requires seeing something great expressed elsewhere to realise that the very same greatness can be found right in front of you. That is what happened when I listened to my author Frances Mensah Williams' TEDx talk "Where is home?"  at the Africa Writes Festival this past weekend where she was in conversation with Margaret Busby. Delivered in December 2014, the talk looked at the concept of 'being at home vs feeling at home' in our globalised world, an issue that is explored in her debut bestselling romantic debut novel From Pasta to Pigfoot, published in May 2015.

The moment came 6:57 minutes into the TEDx talk when Frances tells us that during a workshop in Ghana, after being raised and spending the majority of her life in the UK, a colleague said to her "Wow, you've worked for some big companies, you've got great experience. You must have had a good life in London, but we need people like you here in Ghana to help us develop. Thank you for coming home."

London-born Valerie Brandes, a self-professed 'Hackney girl', returned to the UK after 20 years living, working and raising a family in the beautiful, sunny city of San Diego, California. On completing a Masters in Publishing at City University and working for the prestigious Profile Books, she made the brave decision to address a glaring yet much ignored issue in the publishing industry: the lack of diversity in our workforce and literature. Following on in the footsteps of great women such as Margaret Busby and Verna Wilkins, Valerie's new publishing house Jacaranda Books, would positively affect not only my life but those of many people to follow: a publishing house that puts diversity at the forefront of its mission, promoting diversity in publishing "from bookshelf to boardroom"*.

Two years on Jacaranda Books has published nine wonderful titles and launched the writing careers of some very talented, diverse authors including Irenosen Okojie, author of Butterfly Fish, one of the best debuts of 2015, Caine Prize shortlistee Pede Hollist, author of So the Path Does Not Die, Obinna Udenwe with his political thriller Satans & Shaitans, and artist Maia Walczak and her novel The Colour Black. I have the experienced of helping build a publishing house from the ground up, of acquiring some great titles (The Colour Black, Satans & Shaitans, and From Pasta to Pigfoot) and of realising my ambition of editing a novel, alongside my role as Publicity & Digital Manager. I have the pleasure of working in an environment where my differences are not seen as negative, where I do not feel like an outsider, a company I believe in and where I can show the best of my skills.

At the Africa Writes Festival Margaret Busby honoured Jacaranda Books by pointing out the great work that Valerie is doing - never had I felt so proud. It has taken a lot of hard work and a great deal of serious financial investment to build Jacaranda, and it is still early days, yet Valerie Brandes has seen it through.

Thank you Valerie Brandes. You must have had a good life in San Diego, but we need people like you here in the UK to continue the forgotten legacy and develop a more diverse publishing industry. Thank you for coming home.

*as my colleague Cynthia Hamilton likes to say

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Calling Book Bloggers & Aspiring Writers

I am very blessed to be doing the thing I love most in the world - working with books and literature, in a company that shares my vision and ethos. At Jacaranda Books I am currently managing my own list (I know, so exciting!) which affords me two great privileges: 1. to share the books I love with all you wonderful readers and 2. to provide opportunities to great writers.

So first, to the readers. This month will see us publish The Colour Black by Maia Walczak and I am seeking bloggers and book reviewers to interview, write about and hold competitions and giveaways.

A unique take on the American road novel, The Colour Black is the story of a talented, colour-blind, feisty young woman Silvia Cruz. Silvia lives a quiet but comfortable existence in San Diego as an artist, drawing abstracts and nudes. Then  comes Jack; free-spirited, athletic and a lawyer with a love for wild swimming, he is different from her other models, and though resistant to love or meaningful relationships, Silvia soon finds herself drawn to him.

One day Silvia begins to open up to Jack about her past life, growing up in Mexico amid drug wars and corruption, until she reveals a secret so grave that it drives the two out of town. Together they travel across the breathtaking landscapes of America towards Alaska, searching for truth, freedom and adventure, all the while unravelling the mysteries of life,  the universe and their own existence. But will they find the answers they are seeking, and will Silvia ever open her heart to love?

The author Maia Walczak is a truly exciting new British talent. Author, illustrator and artist, she was born and raised in London to Polish parents, and has travelled extensively through Latin America, Australia and Europe. In life and in art Maia is concerned with nature and the philosophy of human existence, and she has built a fan base for her artwork, holding exhibitions for her work. The Colour Black, which includes some of Maia’s gorgeous illustrations, is her first novel for adults.

We have copies of this beautiful book to give away so if you are interested in interviewing Maia, or would like to post a review of The Colour Black, get in touch below or email jazzmine[at]

Secondly for you talented writers out there: I am building a commercial fiction list at Jacaranda Books with a particular interest in crime fiction (my first love) and commercial women's fiction (notice, I did not use the term 'chick-lit') with ethnically diverse characters and protagonists. My first book in this list is Satans and Shaitans by Nigerian author Obinna Udenwe, a political-religious conspiracy publishing in October.

In terms of what I am looking for in crime, it can be psychological crime, procedurals, mysteries or historical - anyone who knows me will know I love them ALL - and for women's fiction, think of Terry McMillan's novels. I am really looking for diverse representation without falling into stereotypes, in other words I do not expect all the ethnic minority characters to be criminals living on an estate - I want characters diverse in every way: career, class, social status, style, personality.

Our ethos is all about diversity, so I welcome authors from every cultural, ethnic and racial background (though I read in English). Get in touch!

Good luck all!

Publishing, Diversity and the Power of Self Belief (by Jamal Edwards)

On 8th July I went along to the Bookseller Marketing and Publicity Conference with a publishing colleague. It was an excellent day and I am so glad I could attend; kudos to Alice Ryan for organising a great event.

Though some aspects were geared towards the bigger publishing houses and not small independent publishers like us, the advice was incredibly valuable, and I was able to take away brilliant information for our team regarding dealing with journalists and booksellers, and how to rethink our social strategy and content marketing. However, the highlight of my day was hearing Crystal Mahey-Morgan speak.

Crystal is the Digital Account Manager at Random House UK and the lady behind the campaign for Self Belief: the Vision by Jamal Edwards, a young black millionaire and founder of youth channel SBTV. Jamal’s target audience was an urban market of digitally-focused young people, traditionally thought of as non-readers. The book appeared to be a challenge to publish, but Crystal spoke passionately of how she was able to form an excellent digital strategy using social media and mobile technology, by looking at the habits and interests of Jamal’s fans. The success and genius of the campaign is well documented, but what really touched me was the plea she made to the publishing industry to be more open-minded.

Crystal demonstrated that ‘knowing’ our audience is very different to ‘understanding’ them. Often in publishing I hear about groups who ‘don’t read’ or ‘won’t buy books’, but no one seems to delve much into the reasons why those groups don’t seem to consume much literature. There is a market of Black and Minority Ethnic readers and young urban youth who are not being reached by the publishing industry in the way that they are by the music industry. Could it be that these groups do not recognise themselves represented in the stories, covers, authors, industry professionals or publicity and marketing campaigns? Is it any wonder, then, that they do not flock to Waterstones or Foyles to buy our bestsellers? Truly understanding your audience and what they want, and then producing a product and marketing campaign that fulfils this brings amazing results, as Crystal demonstrated with the campaign for Self Belief.

‘Flex to your audience’s comfort zones and buying habits, don’t expect them to flex to yours,‘ Crystal said. Publishers need to learn to reach beyond what we know and like. This point was reiterated in the section of the conference focusing on consumer insights, and it is particularly important in relation to minority groups who are severely under-represented in the publishing workforce. Despite the incredible creativity that we have, the industry is still, in my opinion, slow or reluctant to adapt in ways that will reach out to ‘the other’.
However, even what we think we ‘know’ can be flawed; the assumptions that are made about the reading habits of Black and Minority Ethnic groups are poorly informed. A single visit to the sell-out Black Book Swap events or the Africa Writes Festival (occurring this weekend)  will leave you in no doubt that not only is this a  dedicated market of readers, but that this market is hungry for more. It is the frustration at the lack of books to satisfy this hunger which is leading to a disillusionment with reading, rather than a lack of desire to read in itself.

We can publish and sell books to anyone, we just need to have the right book for the audience we are targeting, and bring it to market in the appropriate manner.  This point made by Crystal is also the Jacaranda Books’ company ethos and the reason I am proud to be a part of a team that aims, in our own minuscule way, to address the lack of diversity in publishing. I almost cried with joy to see Crystal talk about this issue in front of some of the biggest players in the industry. I honestly could have gone up to the stage and kissed her (I settled for chatting with her at the end instead). After some years in publishing and standing out as being different, of listening to the misconceptions about people like me, people I know and went to school with, it means so much to have these issues addressed. I hope that we will begin to see  a more open-minded and diverse approach to our publishing strategies as a result.

Thank you Alice Ryan for a great conference, and thank you Crystal Mahey-Morgan for saying what I have wanted to so many times.

The original version of this post written by me was published on the Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd website with the title The Bookseller #MandP14 Conference & how Crystal Mahey-Morgan almost made me cry

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Another Facebook Poem

This just came to me as I updated the EBT Facebook page. I am starting to enjoy this. Feels like starting from scratch, they need so much work, but hopefully I'll get the knack for poetry again!

In other news, I probably need to spend less time on Facebook - difficult as it is a part of my job.

I befriended you on Facebook
So a repartee would flower
But now we're friends on Facebook
Your silence is even louder

You may be wondering what this random poem is in aide of - I am writing poetry again. I explain briefly here.

Facebook Crush

Earlier this week I went to the Eyewear Publishing Spring Launch Party. It was a stunning event which I will post about soon, and it inspired me to begin writing poetry again. I wrote in primary school and it helped me through my teens. Then I stopped, only writing very occasionally. Going to that launch, hearing the poets recite, meeting Wendy Cope, and speaking to my amazingly talented friend Francine, I have decided to start again, and it feels great!

I wrote this one really quickly about 20 minutes ago and I have barely looked at it again, but I wanted to post it, to make this personal poetry revival of mine official. Warning: don't expect much! I have loads to learn about writing poetry, but if you want to write poetry, you just have to start writing poetry, right? Plus, posting this will force me to write more and improve so I can post something much better. It'd be nice to hear your feedback, here or over on Facebook. Let's call it Facebook Crush.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Black Hat, Jacaranda Books, Social clay and Books, Books, Books

I have a bad habit of not writing on this blog for a while (though I still post on Facebook), reviving it, apologising for my absence, going great for a while, and then it happens again. It is an unhealthy cycle that leaves me feeling deeply guilty and unhappy, so I am going to stop the cycle.  I have to accept I am not the kind of blogger who updates daily, post a few book reviews a week, get the news before the news. I admire bloggers like that, and I love this blog and will continue writing it, but the way I write posts means this isn't the kind of blog that will get updated once a day or even once a week necessarily; for regular short snippets I use the Facebook page.

I AM sorry if I made anyone think I could be that sort of super blogger, I wanted to, but the nature of my journey in publishing as self-employed has been one of constant change and discovery and excitement, so  that when a new experience, opportunity, project comes up I often get so into it that all else stops. That is what has happened a few times since my last post...

So what happened? Well in addition to short term freelance projects and my work on the Women in Publishing UK committee (if you're in the book trade and you don't know about us, why the heck not? Check us out), I partnered up with superbly talented author-illustrator Maia Walczak to publish an awesome children's picture ebook called The Black Hat (get a free sample here); I started working with a social media guru Geoff Hughes in his Facebook Marketing firm Social clay; and most recently I have been working with Valerie Brandes planning the launch of her new independent publishing house Jacaranda Books Art Music and their first title coming this Autumn!

Phew! It has been one heck of a roller-coaster and now is a good time to put these great things down in words, because I feel like Spring is launching a whole new exciting period and if I don't write this down my head will explode!

Books are still the love of my life and crime fiction is still my favourite genre. So far my book of the year is without a doubt William Ryan's The Twelfth Department out in May (sadly it doesn't seem to be available for pre-order on the Pan Mac website, but it is on Amazon). I am possibly the number one fan of this historical crime fiction series, set in Soviet Russia under Stalin, and have a total book-character crush on Captain Korolev. It may be a bit early for a proper review so I will just say Read. This. Book. I envy those of you who haven't read it yet, as I am already beside myself waiting for the next one in the series to be written; I want it NOW! And if by some bizarre state of affairs you're a historical crime fiction aficionado/a who has not read any of the Korolev novels, the first is The Holy Thief (Kindle users click here to get it for 99p! I know, it's criminally cheap) and the second is The Bloody Meadow.

For the YA lovers, I have kind of been a bit lame on the latest in this genre but I could not resist the superb Will Hill, with the third book, Department 19: Battle Lines just published and available at all good bookshops (mine is waiting for me at the lovely independent bookshop West End Lane Books). It is YA Vampire heaven for me, the kind I can really get my teeth into; Will Hill is pure genius. If for some crazy reason you have yet to read this series, Book One is Department 19 (Kindle users, it is just £1.99 here) and Book Two is Department 19: The Rising.

I am looking forward to the latest from Tom Cox of Under the Paw fame, The Good, The Bad and The Furry, out later this year from Little Brown, which features Roscoe, the newest addition to Cox family and who was born in my house before being adopted and becoming a feline superstar, and I am really looking forward to reading Sophie Hannah's The Carrier published by Hodder & Stoughton, not only because she is epic, but because (total book-geek moment) some of the characters share my surname!!! And before you say it was just a coincidence, it is not a surname you hear very often and I asked the amazing lady herself, OK? Finding that out has to be by far my top moment of 2013!

So, there you have it, this is why I have been away from the blog and I cannot apologise for any of this amazing stuff, it has been epic and I am grateful for every moment. But I appreciate my readers and it was only fair to set fair expectations. Hope to see more of you over on the Facebook page, otherwise see you back here for the next post!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Everyone's a Winner! Late winner announcements and apologies

Hello Readers,

I want to start this post off with a big fat humongous "I'm sorry!" I haven't been able to blog for a while now, which happens and is not usually the end of the world, but in this case it meant that winners of two of my competitions were not announced, and this is totally unacceptable. I feel really bad for keeping you waiting and, for that reason, I have decided that it is my responsibility to make it up to you.

So, instead of choosing one winner for my Department 19 competition, and my Feeling Sorry for Celia giveaway, I have decided to award a prize to anyone who has entered, just for the fact that you've waited a while for your prize.

I may have been in contact with you already, but to Stephanie, Jenny O'Gorman, and Kyle Pallister, you have all won a prize in the respective competitions you entered. please send me an email at evenbutterfliesthinkblog AT gmail DOT com to claim your prize.

And once again, I'm sorry!

As a result of being unable to blog, another competition I had planned is well overdue, but I have now been able to organise it, so I am glad to announce that I have a giveaway coming up to win a signed copy of I'm Dougal Trump... and It's NOT My Fault. I hope you'll enter, I've decided to keep it sweet and simple, and I am sure many of you will adore this funny book.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Guest Post: Department 19 by Will Hill + Competition

Possibly one of the biggest fans of Will Hill and Department 19, KamzKool is a young school-aged blogger and motoring fanatic. Will Hill's novel instantly captured him, and his super-fan-status was sealed when he was able to attend the secret event to celebrate the second book in the series, The Rising.  KamzKool has been kind enough to share on EBT a few words on his favourite book and the event he loved so much. Also there's a competition at the end to WIN YOUR OWN COPY!

Department 19 by Will Hill

Post by KamzKool

When teenager Jamie Carpenter's dad is killed by black clad figures and his mum is kidnapped by strange creatures, life changes for this boy as he is drafted into the supernatural world of Department 19 inside the world's most secret military base. Luckily Department 19 can provide Jamie with the most hi-tech weapons to kill the vampires who want him dead, and train him to hunt down the monster who has his mum.

I personally enjoyed the fact that this book has a balanced scale of mystery and thriller action. My favourite character if Frankenstein - a monstrous beast with a kind and hearty personality who has an oath to protect the Carpenter family..

Also the front cover of this book instantly made me want to read it. It looks similar to the second book of Department 19 series (The Rising ) but with extra details, and I think it is good that they kept the same theme. I think the hardback overs are more impressive than the paperback covers. I would recommend this book for children agedv13 upwards as it has violence and scary scenes.

My overall reaction to this book is SUPERB and I would read it again.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Review: Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty + Giveaway

Feeling Sorry for Celia
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Published by Macmillan Children's Books, Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9780330397254 (2010 Paperback Edition)

Visit Jaclyn Moriarty's Website
Feeling Sorry for Celia on the Pan Macmillan website

"Dear Ms Clarry,
It has come to our attention that you are incredibly bad at being a teenager.
Yours sincerely,
The Association of Teenagers"

It isn't just the story, but also is the pleasure of reading this book due to how it was written, that makes this book wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I want to share it with you and have included a giveaway at the end of this review.

Feeling Sorry for Celia is a beautiful story about being a teenager, looking at friendship, family, love and school life. It is fun to read, for the most part non-judgemental, and most of all it shows that real life and real people are just not perfect. It was a real pleasure to read: funny, heart-warming and very honest. I think many people will recognise some part of their teenage self in this book and its characters.

The story is set out in a series of letters written to, and by, Elizabeth Clarry. It is certainly not easy to set out a novel that way, yet Jaclyn Moriarty accomplishes this beautifully, so that the letters themselves grip you and you begin to anxiously await the next one just as much as the characters. Each letter reflects the nature of the person writing it, and the letters between the teens are so conversational, relaxed and natural. Letter writing is a beautiful art and I can completely relate to Elizabeth's English teacher Mr Botherit (what a name) who "seems really upset that the Art of Letter Writing is lost to the Intenet Generation", even if I am also a part of that generation. When I was younger my best friend returned to her native country and we began to communicate by letters. We'd send each other photographs and gifts, it was so special. Reading this book reminded me of that - it made me want to pick up a pen and paper and write a letter again. Elizabeth's mystery pen pal is so different to her, yet they immediately hit it off and develop something very special even without meeting. And then there is the other mystery letter writer: I won't spoil it for you, but it is so sweet and romantic, it really is adorable. OK, I'll say no more.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Shelf Clearance Part 1: YA Giveaway

This competition is now closed and the winner has been announced at the bottom of this post.

If you're reading this, it hopefully means that you have seen my blog post all about my shelf clearance mission in an attempt to bring back some sanity to my life. If you haven't read it yet and are interested, then head over to my article Shelf Clearance, Kindle and Giveaways, but if you just want to win some stuff and don't really care why, keep reading.

I have this bundle of books to give away, which includes Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephanie Meyer (both published by Atom), Bite Club by Rachel Caine (published by Alison and Busby), The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, and Raising Demons by Rachel Hawkins (both published by Simon and Schuster UK):

To win this bundle all you need to do is look at the partial book cover below and identify the book and it's author, writing your answer in the comments below by midnight on Sunday 17th June 2012. The comments will be kept hidden until the competition ends when I will reveal the correct answer and the winner (so there'll be no peeking at what someone else has written).

Can you identify this YA book?