Paul Rand

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Part time secondary school teacher, married to a Methodist minister, dad to two teenagers. Currently living in Cumbria.

Enjoyed writing monologues and scripts for a while (mostly for use in church context).

Completed the first draft of my first novel early in 2020. Since then I've been trying to work out how to make it good enough for an agent to consider.

My Forums
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Following on from feedback last weekend, I've tried to bring in more of a sense of atmosphere and a …
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  •  · Wow, thanks Rachel. I didn't actually have any plans to post any more right now because I shared cha…
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Firstly, sorry I've been quiet on here for a while. Finding it harder to keep up with writing during…
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  •  · No problem. I can relate, I’m neck-deep into edits at the moment.
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So I've spent most of my day off today reworking my synopsis and writing a draft query letter which …
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  •  · Glad I could help. It’s definitely hard. It took me months working on and off revising and polishing…
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Dear friends,Yesterday there was some discussion, based on my draft synopsis, about whether my book …
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  •  · I think simplest is often best. Chronological would seem simplest, but it might not turn out to be r…
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Hi all. Would anybody mind having a glance over the following elevator pitch (to go in my cover lett…
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  •  · You might find The Gilded Cage by Vic James useful in that case. At the end the whole family has bee…
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Does anyone have any tips on writing about a long fictional journey? In the later part of my (YA?) n…
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  •  · Thank you all of you for your suggestions. The first draft is already written but I know I need to g…
Paul Rand
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Following on from feedback last weekend, I've tried to bring in more of a sense of atmosphere and a greater connection to what Joe is feeling in my first chapter. So now I submit it once more for the Townhouse lionesses to rip to shreds ;-)

Thank you.

Paul Rand
 added a forum 

Firstly, sorry I've been quiet on here for a while. Finding it harder to keep up with writing during this busy autumn term of teaching back in a classroom (under 'covid-secure' conditions) rather than from home! One thing I have managed to do over the last few of months is edit  about 5000 words out of my manuscript to take it below 100K. I hope it's also improved in other ways too!

Having watched Harry's self-editing webinar on Thursday night, I've been having another go at a section from my first chapter which I've been struggling with for a while. I've posted below my previous most recent version (with a little bit before and after the troublesome section for context) and then the new version I've written this morning. I'd love your thoughts on whether the new version is an improvement and also whether anything from the earlier version should be squeezed back in somehow.

For a little more context, you should know that the skipper (who is neither male nor female, hence the gender neutral pronouns), has just refused to take the boy all the way to the island he's trying to get to.

So here's my previous version with the 'troublesome section' in bold....

Turning back couldn’t be an option. His eyes scanned the deck, hunting for inspiration. And there it was. The weathered rowing boat, upside-down under a tarpaulin. The one he’d hidden under as they’d left the mainland.

‘I’ll take that,’ he announced, stepping assertively towards it. While the skipper protested, he threw back the tarpaulin and started hauling the upturned boat, towards the side. ‘Just help me get it into the water, and you won’t need to worry about me anymore.’

‘You must be joking pal! If I return to the harbour without ma lifeboat, I’ll have questions to answer.’ 

The skipper was getting nervous. Why did everyone have to be so nervous around him? ‘But you don’t want me coming back to the harbour with you, do you?’ It was more of a statement than a question. ‘It was hard enough smuggling me onto this boat. How are you planning to get me off again? Besides,’ he added, ‘you’d have to give me back my money. I may be just a kid, but I know I gave you more than what’s fair for this little trip out of the harbour.’ In fact, he’d handed over everything he had; so sure that this was the end of his journey. What if the skipper did take him back but refused to return the money?

He watched as the skipper weighed up the options. The seconds ebbed faster than the tide beneath them. He looked back towards the retreating jetty. He couldn’t go back now; he ran at the skipper. Though the adult was bigger and stronger than him, the boy wasn’t far off ‘normal adult’ weight. Head forward, he slammed into the skipper’s stomach, throwing them off balance and into the heap of nets. 

Staggering, he wheeled around and continued to heave the lifeboat towards the edge of the trawler, splinters digging into his soft hands. Too quickly, the skipper was back on their feet. Angry eyes now fixed on him, no longer refusing to look. 

Straining all the muscles in his arms, he thrust the bow upwards and ducked underneath, allowing its rough insides to slam down onto his back. Then, forcing himself and the boat up again, he lurched, blinkered, towards the trawler’s edge and dropped the bow with a thud onto the gunwale. 

Free of the weight of the boat, he scuttled back into the upturned stern. A grasping hand reached in from the outside world. Without a second thought, the boy stomped hard on the fingertips and then sprang up fast, hands flat against the floor of the lifeboat. Crunch! The back of the hull glanced off something solid. The boy squinted into the brightness of daylight as his opponent staggered backwards once more, hand on bleeding chin.

He was almost knocked to the deck himself, ducking just in time, as the rear of the lifeboat broke free from his hands and accelerated towards him before toppling over the gunwale and crashing nose first into the sea. 

He should have dived straight in after it. Strong, tattoo covered arms coiled around him, pinning his arms to his sides. He struggled and kicked backwards, but the grip was too strong for his kicks to do any harm. The intricately inked dragon leered at him, teeth bared, and gave him his inspiration. He sank his teeth into the dragon’s hide. The skipper yelped in pain. The constriction relaxed. With a decisive kick back, the boy freed himself, took a flying leap, and plunged into the sea. 

And here's my new version:

Staggering, he wheeled around and continued to heave on the lifeboat, splinters digging into his soft hands. He thrust the bow upwards and ducked underneath, allowing its rough insides to slam down onto his back, then dragged his wooden shell towards the trawler’s edge. Hoisting it higher, he took another step forward and dropped the front end onto the railings with a thud. 

The skipper was back on their feet; heavy boots stomped across the deck. The boy scuttled back, further under. If he could just lift this back end higher than the front, gravity should do the rest. Hands flat against the floor of the lifeboat, he pushed up as fast as he could. Crunch! The back of the hull glanced off something solid. Once more, his opponent staggered backwards, hand on bleeding chin.

Squinting into the brightness, he was almost knocked to the deck himself, ducking just in time, as the rear of the lifeboat broke free and accelerated towards him before toppling over the railings and crashing nose first into the sea.

Thanks in advance for your comments. Feel free to also comment on anything you don't like that's outside that troublesome section.

Paul Rand
 added a forum 

So I've spent most of my day off today reworking my synopsis and writing a draft query letter which I'd love to get some feedback on. I've probably not followed the conventional format for either and both are perhaps a little bit on the long side (I've got each of them on one page but only with narrow margins). I personally feel a lot happier with the way in which I am communicating the essence of my novel but again, what matters is how it comes across to people who aren't so familiar with it. I've attached both as documents this time, rather than pasting them in here as I think that makes them easier to read.

Paul Rand
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Dear friends,

Yesterday there was some discussion, based on my draft synopsis, about whether my book had enough of an ending for a debut novel, or whether it ended on too much of a cliffhanger. I am intending it to be the first part of a trilogy and the agent I spoke to in my Jericho Festival one-to-one did say that I should mention that in any submission.

I believe that my ending provides an appropriate level of resolution - Joe makes it to France and in my epilogue, it is clear that help will hopefully be on its way to his friends back on the island. But there are inevitably some loose ends - not least what will happen to his two closest friends and travelling companions, Nats and Cain. But even there, there is hope.

Anyway, I would really value your opinions, so I am putting myself under the knife once again, attaching my final two chapters and epilogue (only 3000 words in total).

Accepting that apart from this, at most you've only seen my first three chapters and my synopsis, could you give me your opinions on whether this ending has enough resolution for a debut novel which is intended to be the first in a trilogy?

Two other brief comments: (1) you might notice that my final chapter (not counting the epilogue) begins and ends with the same words as my very first chapter, when Joe first arrives at the island. (2) My epilogue is an epilogue and not a final chapter because it uses new voices. The British Assembly in France has not been mentioned until this point, so Stokes is a 'new character'. I've not written anything from Nats' POV until this point, but she will be my MC in book 2. Sergeant Stephenson is a known character, but nothing has been written from their POV, until now. Similarly, Eva and Charlie are known characters from the island.

Thank you once again. 


Paul Rand
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Hi all. Would anybody mind having a glance over the following elevator pitch (to go in my cover letter) and synopsis for my novel Joe with an E?

To save you from counting, the synopsis is 491 words and the elevator pitch is 93 words.

The main things I'd like to know are:

1) Does the pitch sound compelling and is it an OK length?

2) Does it sound like the synopsis describes a good overall story arc?

3) Does it look like there's anything missing from my synopsis?

4) Is there anything I've included in the synopsis that doesn't need to be there?


‘I’m Joe, Joe with an ‘E’, cos I’m a boy.’ are his first words as he washes up on the island which is to become his new home. Somewhere he can finally be himself. As a foetus, he should have been terminated as soon as his developing sexual organs were detected. At thirteen, he’ll soon no longer pass as a neut. But as the fragile island community of girls and boys risks discovery, Joe and two friends venture back across neut Britain, hoping to find more people like them in the world beyond.


JOE (13) is a boy on the cusp of adolescence. He’s on his way to the island where he can finally stop pretending to be a neut.

As soon as he arrives, he’s welcomed by vivacious NATS (12), a girl given up by her parents when she was four. Nats excitedly shows Joe around the island which includes the revelation that babies here grow not in pregnancy pods, but inside girls. As a boy, Joe will soon be expected to help with making babies. But others seem keen to send him away on an expedition to search for people like them in the world beyond isolated neut Britain.

For a while, Joe is able to settle into island life. Apart from one failed advance, nobody asks for help to make babies and there’s little enthusiasm for sending anyone on any expedition. Joe is tasked with becoming the community’s first fisherman. When introvert CAIN rescues him from drowning and then helps him to make a success of the fishing, the two become firm friends.

On a stormy autumn night, a boatload of new children is spotted off the island’s rocky coast. Joe and Cain must row out to rescue them. Of fourteen, only one survives. Aware of the growing danger for children trying to reach the island, Joe, Nats and Cain take it upon themselves to plan the expedition to France.

As they plot a course from the Scottish Highlands to Dover, they must not get caught by the authorities who want to shut down DiG, the underground organisation responsible for saving the ‘abnormal’ children. Those discovered are terminated pre-birth or face ‘corrective surgery’ after birth. The three walk across a derelict northwest Scotland, before taking a fateful train journey.

A passenger spots that Nats is bleeding (her first period). Nats and Joe escape but their dependable friend Cain is captured. Reaching Joe’s home town, they hope that Joe’s parents, GEORGY and CRIS might help them, not knowing the two had separated after Cris helped the police identify DiG operatives. Cris alerts the police to Joe’s reappearance, persuaded this will lead to their family to be reunited. Joe and Nats must flee again to continue their journey south.

Joe explores Dover alone, planning for their channel crossing whilst Nats hides out in a barn, resting a sprained ankle. Georgy, whose first person narrative chapters about Joe’s early life are dotted throughout the book, heads to Dover, hoping to be reunited with Joe. They have a few precious moments together before Georgy has to waylay the police, allowing Joe to steal a boat and cross the channel.

The book closes with Joe in a French hospital; Nats still in the barn, being looked after by a timid neut child; and Cain locked in a police cell but under the care of a sergeant who is starting to have sympathy for these abnormal children. Their stories will continue in book two of the trilogy.

Paul Rand
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Does anyone have any tips on writing about a long fictional journey? In the later part of my (YA?) novel, my teenage main characters have to travel from the west coast of Scotland to the south east coast of England, travelling significant parts of it on foot.

There are quite a few tense and significant moments on their journey, but there are also days in a row for which they just have to plod on. Obviously, I'm not describing each day of their journey in equal detail but I do want to communicate the long hard slog of it without making it a long hard slog to read! And I don't want them simply moving from one inciting incident to the next.

I should add that I my dystopian world, the western Highlands are largely deserted and later in their journey they are trying to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

Any suggestions?

Paul Rand
 added a forum 

Good people, I'm so grateful for all the helpful feedback you've given on my first two chapters. Here is my third chapter, already reworked to take account of all I'm learning from this exercise. This is probably the last chapter I'll share, at least for a while, because I now feel I need to step back and spend some time working on my overall story arc and because I feel like I've picked up so much already which I can apply gradually to all my other chapters. The reason I am still asking for feedback on this chapter though, is because it is the first chapter in a different narrative thread - written in first person, from the POV of Georgey, one of Joe's parents (sorry to any who were hoping for the next bit of Joe's adventures on the island!)

I'm particularly interested in whether you think the first person narrative is relatable and whether I've got the show vs tell about right. 

You will also notice that I've avoided using gendered pronouns for any of the adult characters, for hopefully obvious reasons, and have therefore tried to avoid pronouns altogether, except where necessary. I didn't want to use unfamiliar gender neutral pronouns such as zem/ze/zer, preferring instead to use the familiar them/they/their which I understand are the also more popular amongst non-binary folk. Do you think this works OK?

I am also aware that I am perhaps using the wrong term by referring to 'gender' rather than 'sex'. That actually, strictly speaking, my neut characters are asexual, not necessarily ungendered and that the new, abnormal babies being born are actually developing male or female sex, not necessarily male or female genders. Any views on this?

Finally, if you've read my previous chapters and the thoughts and comments with them, you'll know that I'm undecided about whether Joe with an E is YA or not. The main reason for my doubt is that approx one third of my chapters are, like chapter 3, written from the POV of Georgey, Joe's parent. Could you imagine this chapter in a YA novel?

Thanks, Paul.

Paul Rand
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Hi, I hope it's OK to follow up chapter 1 so quickly with chapter 2. Several of you said you'd like to read more and I'm learning so much from this process (together with the Jericho Writers Summer Festival). It's also school summer holidays which helps! I promise not to keep on posting a new chapter every day but if anyone has time to look at this next chapter, I'd be most grateful. I've tried to put into practice what I've learned, stripping out unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, removing filtering and trying to show not tell. There are one or two places where I've still got Joe 'seeing' or 'noticing' things which I felt were worth keeping in there, but I'm happy to be told otherwise!

I've attached both chapters 1 and 2, having tweaked chapter 1 a little more from the latest feedback that you wonderful people have given me. Feel free to skip chapter 1 though and go straight to the start of chapter 2 on page 5.

Thank you, and I promise I will read and give feedback on what others have posted.

Paul Rand
 added a forum 

Hi, I've already posted this, and an earlier version of it, in the Children's Books and YA Authors writing group. Thanks for the excellent feedback on my earlier version. I realise now that this peer-to-peer critiques forum is probably the best place to ask for feedback now because I'm not sure that my book is really YA. I just thought it was because it had teenage protagonists. Also, in my early explorations of Townhouse, I'd not really spotted this forum.

My book is set in a 'dystopian' future Britain which is genderless - everyone is a 'neut' (I won't go into why for now). Except that some babies have started to develop in the pregnancy pods with clear gender (or actually sex), which is seen as an abnormality.

Chapter 1 (attached) is about a boy (Joe) travelling to an island - a safe haven for gendered teens. Chapter 2 introduces us to the island and some of the other characters that Joe gets to know. Chapter 3 is then written in first person by one of Joe's parents, taking us back to when they first learnt that their baby was going to be a 'boy'. About 60% of my chapters are telling Joe's adventures from the point of arriving at the island onwards, which includes having to leave and travel back across neut Britain with two friends. About 35% is Joe's parent telling the story of his birth and upbringing and eventually converging with Joe's own story. The remaining few chapters are extracts from a scientist's logbook from >100 years in the past.

I'd love some feedback on the writing itself, now that I've revised it. Also, any thoughts on genre and age I should be aiming this at, based on what I've described? Thanks.

Paul Rand
 changed a profile picture 

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.

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


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Paul Rand
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