Funny commercial fiction

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Funny commercial fiction

Hopefully there are people out there who have a slant towards comedy in their prose. We all find different things funny, so is it tougher to write comedy? Maybe this can be a space where we figure it out.

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Hi everyone! We recently had top YA writer, Sophie Gonzales, write a blog for us about injecting humour into your story. Thought you all may find it interesting! As Jericho Writers' content manager, I commission articles all the time - so if there are any writing-specific questions you are struggling to find the answers to, let me know and I will get one of our writers to write an article about it :)

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Hey fellow comedy writers! I have just had back the first draft design for my second book, which some of you on here kindly BETA read for me. I would love to get some thoughts about the cover. It can be seen here:

Any comments/feedback welcome.



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Hi All

So...this may be a big ask, but I am looking for a BETA reader for my second humorous novel in my  De'Ath Family Antics Series - preferably male and preferably from UK - although I'll be grateful to whoever responds. Draft book description follows, to help you decide whether you'd be interested. (Trigger warning - If you are easily offended, work in Human Resources or are 'woke', please don't bother:))

The Hapless Husband & His Curious Wife: Book 2 in The De’Ath Family Antics Series

Irreverent, incorrigible and idiotic…secrets, syndicates and stress … betting, blood pressure and ballet…hinterland, hairdressers and horseracing… assessments, alibis and awards…diversity, dilemmas and days out… political incorrectness, pregnancy and posh people…farce, frolics and fashion… McDonald’s, mothers and madness! This second book in the series is packed with action, adventure and hilarity from start to finish.

Follow the outrageous lives of working-class couple Brooke and Dean De’Ath, as they navigate the chaos caused by the hilarious secrets and lies they are keeping from each other!

Essex girl Brooke, confidentially works for an upper-class aristocrat, who has taken it upon herself to help turn Brooke into a lady. She offers Brooke interesting work, education and intellectual stimulation, by exposing her to experiences and a class of people a million miles away from her own, forcing unexpected changes in Brooke’s priorities. Brooke learns how to use these opportunities to improve herself and climb the social ladder…but in her own inimitable style. All the while her husband watches on clueless as to why his normally ditsy but stunning wife is acting so weird!

Meanwhile, Dean has been set a massive challenge by his misguided boss. He’s been tasked with making their expanding workforce the most diverse in the industry, but Dean struggles with the very purpose of such a woke request. In addition, he has continued to keep his side hustle (mystery shopping of hospitality venues) a secret from his demanding wife, so he gets some ‘me time’ away from Brooke and their screaming, boisterous toddler Paige.

How much longer can they withstand the deceit? When will they get caught out by telling one lie too many and will Brooke’s transformation result in pride and joy or the emasculation of her husband? 

The story pokes fun at a myriad of people and institutions and is a wonderfully eclectic mix of Gavin & Stacey, Pygmalion, Legally Blonde and Vanity Fair!

 Look forward to a response or two!

Many thanks


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Hi All

I have just finished the first draft of my second novel. I self-published the first and this is the second in the series. I wonder if any of you would be good enough to give me feedback on the titles I am currently playing around with? It is a work of humorous fiction - I would say primarily aimed at women, although it has become obvious from the reviews of the first book that men too have found the writing/ storyline funny. In no particular order:

Diversity Challenge & The Horse's Tail

Onwards & Upwards

The Hapless Husband & His Curious Wife.

The Hopeless Husband & His Determined Wife

Culture, Chaos and Cock-ups

Desperate Dilemmas and Money Mayhem

Which title do you prefer and why and what does each title conjure up for you?

Any thoughts would be gratefully received.

Many thanks


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I am wading through some 1600 pages of a trilogy that I started many years ago. The idea to embark on this project had its origin in a meeting in a Moscow apartment in early 1990, not too long after the breaching of the Berlin Wall. At the moment, it is lodged in a fatal trap of being what I could describe as cross-genre; political crime, part historical crime with a touch of humour. The main thesis of the book is that there was a long term strategy of the KGB, elaborated in anticipation of the ending of the Cold War, to destabilise Europe in particular the socio-economic fabric of the UK.  It is a complex story that involves a number of competing parties. The major problem has been to avoid something that is pure faction and stereotyping along the lines of Macmafia especially as the idea is the greed and gullibility of British advisers (accountants, lawyers and even politicians) had been the lever the KGB had exploited to implement their plan. Last year, I entered a screenwriting competition and reached the quarter finals. The feedback I received indicated that the plot and characters were very good and that I should consider adapting the script to television with a humourous pitch, something others have also suggested. Thus the primary reason for my joining this group is to explore the use of humour (black/satirical) to deliver a message that is "sober" yet at times verging on farce.  

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  Is it tougher to write comedy?  It is if you don't "think" funny.  However if you are the type that immediately understands the saying, "put the fun back in funeral" without having to re-read and pause for thought then writing funny is a natural.

  Consider the "great" comedians; these are people who do not think outside the box they slash a gaping hole in the side of the box then drag you through the opening to show you the box from a completely different, and unexpected, angle.

  I'm trying to explore how some create humor and how a person reacts to it (using my stepfather as inspiration).  In my books one character, Clancy, a very new and quite young deputy sheriff, grew up with parents who thought humor was wasting words that could be better used for communicating information.    At one point his training officer Joe, has to make some telephone calls so is delayed; when Joe returns he asks, "Did you miss me?"  his old partner Myron, replies, "With every rock so far."  Clancy is flabbergasted!  Why would anyone suggest throwing rocks at his partner?  As the books progress Clancy learns humor can ease tension, relax the mind and, much to his amazement, create a stronger bond between friends.  My books always have funny bits, some subtle some definitely not but all reflect how normal people have conversations. Unless those people are my stepfather of course.

  I think funny.

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Can someone please explain here what the word Commercial means in the group title? Perhaps even the word fiction: I am preparing a funny picture book. Is it fiction? Is it commercial? Indeed, what book or anything that causes money to change hands is not commercial?

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Hi, I've just joined the group and look forward to participating. At 83 years of age, I'm preparing a humorous picture book together with an illustrator in the spirit of B.Kliban (author of "Cats" and "Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head"). I've never been published under my own name, only as translator in my younger days, so I'm very excited by this project. I live in the Drôme department in France.

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Incidental humor seems to well up in my fiction. I'm very grateful for it. I was going to post a chapter from my erotic romance science fiction story "Founders" here. Although there's no sex in the chapter I was going to post, it did have some raunchy dialogue. I posted it over in the Erotic Literature Writers group instead just to be safe. Lots of character exposition in the chapter, helped by the humor. The characters seem to drive the humor, Alexis particularly. Her family is funny in the "meet the families" part of the chapter. Later, she gets so bored on their six hour journey to the training spacecraft that she tries to organize a raunchy game among the crew. The various crewmates' answers as they opt in or out are very telling to their personalities and their relationship to Zach, the protagonist. Also, the reason why the mission commander Colleen vetoes the game reminds me why I love science fiction and writing science fiction. It required me to do some serious Internet research into the conductivity of certain fluids. God help me if anybody ever discloses my search history!

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Is it wrong that I sometimes laugh at my own writing? And I’m not referring to those times it’s so laughably bad that it actually isn’t funny. I sometimes snort.

I’ve often wondered if this means something. Perhaps I’m mad? Perhaps I’m a comic genius? Perhaps I’ve been awake too long and need to replace some of the caffeine in my blood with water and electrolytes? Well it is probably the genius thing, but I’ll never know for sure. I would love to get a discussion going about funny fiction. One thing I’m particularly interested in is thoughts on whether or not being risqué is commercial death unless you’re a en Elton or another famous person who won’t be branded a weirdo...

What are your thoughts?

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Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.


So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon


PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

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Usually, on Thursday afternoon or so, I start pondering what I’m going to write about on Friday.

This week: no pondering. There’s only one thing I could possibly write about.

The biggest book-related newsflash this week – or this year – is that Barnes and Noble is changing ownership. The ins and outs are a little complex (and everything is not quite settled), but if all goes according to plan:

  • An investment firm, Elliott Advisers, is to buy Barnes and Noble, in a deal which values that business (including its debts) at about $700 million.
  • That sounds like a lot of money, but given that B&N’s sales are $3.6 billion, the pricing actually feels pretty cheap – reflecting the dismal state of B&N.
  • Elliott is also the 100% owner of Waterstones, the British equivalent of B&N. Both those chains are proper bookshops, appealing to proper book lovers. In that sense, the chains are distinct from the supermarkets, who just sell a lot of books but don’t care about them, or the British High Street & travel operator, WH Smith, which is as much a stationer and a newsagent as an actual book store.
  • Waterstones was rescued from impending financial disaster by CEO James Daunt. It was Daunt who negotiated the sale of the firm to Elliott.
  • Daunt will now act as CEO to both firms – B&N and Waterstones – and will divide his time between London and New York.

As it happens, Daunt also owns and runs his own mini-chain of high-end London bookstores. It was his experience at those stores which won him the position at Waterstones.

So, assuming that all goes according to plan, James Daunt will be the book world’s second most powerful human, after Jeff Bezos.

So what does that mean – for readers? For writers? For publishers? For anyone?


It’s a big and important move. James Daunt has a huge reputation in the UK and it’s probably deserved. His secret sauce for success? Quite simply this:

There is no secret sauce.

In the UK, Daunt simply took everything back to basics.

He turned bookselling into a proper career. (Albeit, inevitably, a badly paid one.) He retained staff who cared passionately about books and waved good-bye to the rest, perhaps a third of them. He cut costs. He made his stores prettier.

And, in a move so radical that it shook British publishing to its core, he let each store manager select their own inventory. So, yes of course, every store was expected to stock major bestsellers of the moment. But beyond that, what stores sold was guided by local passion and local knowledge. From a reader’s point of view, stores got better. There was more energy, more passion, more commitment.

But publishers, for a while, didn’t know what to do. In the past, publishing worked like this:

  1. Publishers paid Waterstones a big chunk of cash to get into a 3-for-2 front-of-store promotion. So Waterstones was actually retailing its shelf-space. It wasn’t really curating its own retail offering.
  2. Some of those 3-for-2s did really well, and became huge bestsellers.
  3. Others didn’t, and the volume of returns was enormous (often 20% of total stock.)
  4. Publishers pulped those returns, ditched those authors and just made money from their mega-successes

That was check-book publishing and check-book retail.

Daunt killed that, and terrified publishers. How could they market books if the key step wasn’t just throwing bundles of money at retailers? [and if you want a reminder of the different publishing options, you can get that here.]

Well, they solved that problem … kinda. But all they really did was turn their attentions (even more than before) to the supermarkets and other mass retailers. Waterstones’ local stores are great and feel like real bookshops … but they can’t build a bestseller as they did in the old days, because each store chooses its stock according to its own tastes.

Daunt’s path in the US is likely to follow the exact same route.

He’s commented that one of the issues he feels on entering a typical B&N store is quite simply “too many books.” Too much stock. Too little curation and guidance. Not enough knowledge from the booksellers. An atmosphere so flat, you could swap it for cigarette paper.

He’ll cut stock. Reduce staff, but retain the best and most passionate members. Eliminate central promotions. Get better terms from publishers. Sharply reduce stock returns.

Do the basics, but do them right.

The impacts, positive and negative?

The positive:

Elliott’s cash plus Daunt’s knowhow should save specialist physical book retail in the US. That’s massive. It’s the difference between a US publishing industry that operates much as it does now and one that would be almost wholly slave to Amazon. That also means that trad publishing is likely to survive in roughly its current shape and size, rather than being sidelined by the growth of digital-first publishers (notably self-pubbers and Amazon itself.)

The negative:

US publishers will have to learn the lessons already absorbed by the Brits. If B&N no longer operates national promotion systems as in the past, publishers can’t make a bestseller just by buying space. Yes, they’ll go on seeing what they can do on social media and all that stuff. But, as in the UK, they’ll be even more dependent on supermarkets. The make-or-break of a book will be not “Is this wonderful writing?” but “did we get enough retail space in enough supermarkets at a sufficiently attractive price?”

I know any number of authors where Book A did incredibly well, Book B did poorly … and Book B was better than Book A. The difference, in every case, was that the supermarkets backed A and not B, and there’s damn all a trad publisher can do once the supermarkets have said no.

Oh yes, and supermarkets don’t really give a damn about the quality of writing. They don’t know about the quality of the writing. They just buy on the basis of past sales (if you’re John Grisham) or a pretty cover (if you’re a debut.)

Of course, they’d say their selection is a damn sight more careful than that, and it probably is. But that’s still “careful by the standards of people who mostly sell tinned beans and dog food for a living.” That’s not the same thing as actually being careful.

That sounds like a fairly downbeat conclusion, but the Elliott-saves-B&N news is still a real big plus for anyone who loves traditional stores, print books and traditional publishing. It’s the single biggest win I can remember over the past few years.

What that win won’t do, however, is weaken the hold of supermarkets and Amazon over book retail. Those two forces are still huge. They’re still central.

And of course, talking about print books has its slightly quaint side. Me, I prefer print. I hardly ever read ebooks. I just spend enough time on screens as it is.

But print books constitute less than 30% of all adult fiction sales, and online print sales accounts for a big chunk of that 30%.

In other words, all those B&N stores up and down the US are still only attacking 23% or so of the total adult fiction market. However well Daunt does, that 23% figure isn’t about to change radically. (Or not in the direction he wants, anyway.)

But, just for now, to hell with realism. Let’s remember the magic of a beautiful bookstore.

Daunt does. Here are some comments of his from 2017:

“[there is a sense that] a book bought from a bookshop is a better book.... When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it's not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop. …Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop. The book is never an expensive item, [particularly for the many customers who] we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee."

Quite right, buddy. Now go sell some books. The readers need you.

Till soon