Tag Archives: polly courtney

Be careful of Publishers – all may not be as it seems

Candice: I’m not a follower of ‘vloggers’ but I am aware there are a few out there who have a massive following for their You Tube films.  One is called Zoella and she mainly posts beauty blogs, but it seems she’s also written a fiction book. Or has she…

Released a few weeks ago and expected to be Christmas number one, the book about a being a teenager in the social media world has been warmly received. However, all is not as it seems, as Zoella has admitted that she didn’t actually write the book, she came up with concept and the team at Penguin put it together.

Now she wouldn’t be the first or last ‘celebrity’ to have help with a novel. Some of them can’t even string together a sentence, let alone 80,000 words.  But I think the hoo harr with this is whether she tried to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. She insists she mentioned this in her publicity but it seems that might not have been the case.  So she’s taking a break from the social media world for a while to deal with the backlash.

I’m in two minds about this story.  Part of me is pissed off with anyone who gets away with being published by doing no work at all.  It’s a bit like X Factor contestants or Big Brother winners.  They don’t really have a talent apart for promoting themselves, yet that allows them a level of celebrity. These are Phil’s personal bugbears (Tess Daly included).

But, if I read into some of these stories I think this 24 year old has been taken over by the corporate band wagon.  I’m sure she has some ideas in her head, she can’t have got 6 million followers for nothing, but I would think the people at Penguin saw money and said ‘Don’t worry love, we can put this together’ rubbing their hands at the thought of the sales.  Unfortunately, she’s the one who has to deal with the backlash.

We’ve spoken to Polly Courtney alot and she almost got sucked by the same thing when she had a traditional publishing deal, but being an older, stronger character she knew when she was being made a fool of.

My advice to Zoella is take this time to really write book two and prove everyone wrong.

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Signed Books

Polly CourtneyPhil: ’tis true. I did acquire a signed copy of  “I don’t know why she bothers” as a bump present for my friend a few weeks ago. It seemed a nice thing to do.

Arranging this wasn’t difficult either. An e-mail to the author pointed me in the direction of a suitable bookshop. Two phone calls later and I’d established they still had a copy from a signing session and I could have it in return for my credit card number. I think the result was a happy Nolan.

Signed books are odd things. We get all excited that the author has scrawled some words in the front when the best bits are those printed inside. With most authors, they are both written by the same person after all!

I’ve managed to sign a few bookazines myself in the last year. Being asked to do your scrawl is wonderful (Hint: Make sure your pen will write on the paper the thing is publishing in). If you are at all nervous of approaching an author for their signature, don’t be. We love it in the same way a dog likes its tummy tickled. For a start, we know that you love us. More importantly, we know someone bought our publication. Yay!

Having supervised a few book signings in a local theatre, I have watched the skilled author at work. A queue 2 dozen long can be despatched in half an hour. Every person gets a few words in both print and speech and they go away happy. The “star” gets a warm feeling of appreciation and the knowledge that the next book will find some readers.

Mind you, you do have to wonder sometimes. The picture shows Polly Courtney’s signature from the front of a copy of “Golden Handcuffs” I picked up in a charity shop. For a pound. Looking at the state of the spine, the book was unread. Well, both of us have fixed that, even if one of us wasn’t in mind when it was written…

Anyway, for the moment, you’ll have to put up with our signed website. One day, we’ll be behind the table with a big stack of books ready to be defaced.


Filed under Books, Phil

Does your reader need to speak the lingo?

?Phil: According to the BBC, the work “Twerking” has made it in to the Oxford English Dictionary. According to them, it means, “to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance”.

No, that didn’t help me much either. I understand that Miley Ray Cyrus did it at some awards show and apparently that is enough to get you an entry in the big book of words no one buys anymore.

Is it a problem if you use words in your book that exclude the reader?

What matters more – that the language is right for the scene, or that the person reading it understands it?

I ask, because while busy not knowing what Twerking is, I’m reading Feral Youth by Polly Courtney . Who says men can’t multi-task?

To help the reader, the book starts with a glossary of “street” terms as all the speech is written in the language the characters would really use. Obviously being down wid da kidz, I knew all this anyway, but I can see how it would help a less hip reader.

As I read, I am reminded of Anthony Burgess’s book “A Clockwork Orange“. Written from the main protagonist Alex’s point of view, the early chapters are in Nadsat, an English dialect that the author invented to keep the text from becoming dated. Had he used contemporary language from the time, characters would have probably being saying “Daddy-o” which would have nailed the period firmly in the early 1960s rather than a few years into the future from whenever you are reading it.

(I know Daddy-o is probably dated for London in 1962, the rest of the country tends to lag behind a little and the book was written in Hove which is permanently set to 1934)

Anyway, I remember really struggling with the language when I read it. To be honest, if I hadn’t read the book in that period from finishing answering the questions to being allowed out of the my Social Science exam, I might not have stuck with it. As it was, I always wondered if Burgess is partly responsible for my hopeless grade in the subject (CSE 2) as me being rubbish as the subject. I know I’m not alone here (with the language, not rubbish exam results) as others I’ve talked to about the book mention the same problem. The film noticeably tones the language down.

Now, we have Alesha and Co speaking their own version of English in Feral Youth, and again the readers will struggle initially, although not as much. It was probably a third of the way through the book before I stopped turning to the glossary every few pages.

Despite this, my instinct is that it is the right way to do things. I couldn’t believe in inner city youth yammering away on their mobile phones in received pronunciation any more than Alex and his droogs would have. If the reader wants to immerse themselves in the world of inner London “yoot”, they need to learn the lingo. Perhaps this is a case for reading the book twice, the first time to get your ear in and the second to follow the story. Maybe it’s an indication of how far I am from the world of Alesha and her “bredrin” but perhaps that is part of the thrill – being allowed entry into a very different space.

We’re still not putting Twerking in our Book though.


Filed under Phil, Writing

It’s a man’s world by Polly Courtney

It's a man's worldAlexa Harris loves a challenge. So when she’s asked to head up lads’ mag, Banter, she doesn’t need much persuasion.

But life on the all-male editorial eam proves harder than she had imagined – and not just because of her ambitious targets. As Alexa battles with a testosterone-fuelled office, she decides to play the boys at their own game.

Dealings get dirty and Alexa’s forced to look at who she has become. Has she forfeited her principles in return for praise from the lads? And what price will she have to pay?

Phil: I guess I ought to start with an admission – I’ve bought roughly two “Lads mags” ever, possibly three. All of them were FHM which I think represents the classier end of the market. I don’t get the culture and wouldn’t miss the publications if they never appeared on the shelves again. I’m not sure if this qualifies me to properly understand this book or if I’m just some sort of Guardian readings, organic porridge knitting, leftie weirdo who will relate to all the wrong characters in the story.

Alexa Harris starts the book as the sort of person who you see on the later rounds of The Apprentice talking business bollocks. She is succesful and when approached to move from the posh old ladies magazine she has turned around to a failing Lad’s Mag, she looks at the job purely in terms of a challenge. The content of the magazine and the industry surrounding it don’t enter her calculations.

As the story unfolds, the implications of everything she has chosen to ignore start to hit home. All the “correct” business decisions, such as a tablet app that allows users to upload content, turn out to have consequences, most of them unpleasant. By the end of the book, Alexa has success but starts to question whether simple saving the magazine is actually a win.

Disguised by the publishers as chick-lit, this is in reality a very entertaining way of highlighting real issues. There are some very uncomfortable truths exposed along the way. Those expecting a good dose of man-bashing will be disappointed.

Questions are asked – is it empowering for women to use their bodies to garner some measure of success, as the unpaid models on the pages of the magazine seem to think? If you are a woman in the “testosterone-fuelled” office, do you play along with the banter in an effort to survive and even thrive in the business? Do magazines covered in tits’n’ass reflect society or are they driving it?

Anyone who has worked in a blokey office will recognise some of the characters on the staff. The men who don’t see anything wrong with the lewd comment that they think is a joke for example. Also the men who don’t think like that but find themselves stuck in a world where to speak out would invite ridicule. Many of these places have died out but if there is going to be one place where misogyny reins, it’s going to be in a world that relies on it for survival.

Alexa is gifted a couple of friends who act like the good and bad angels on her shoulders. Kate is an alpha female living in a world of high-finance, long hours and do whatever it takes to succeed. Leone teaches in the inner city and sees the young readers of Banter and how this influences their attitude to women. They make a good team, able to highlight dilemmas without the tone becoming preachy.

This is a good, but not necessarily easy, read. You care about the main characters although they do things that annoy you. Seeing the “big picture” you get an idea of just how complex the world is. Despite several of them, especially a feminist protestor, seeing the world in black and white, it’s not that easy. It’s a book you put down at the end and carry on thinking. What should be a heavy trudge through “Issues” marked in big, thick type are handled well in the plot. If you want to get people thinking, perhaps this is a better way than beating them over the head?

Ignoring the messages, It’s a man’s world is a good read. Treat it like a normal airport paperback and you will enjoy it. Just accept when you finally close the cover, its contents will stay with you longer than most.

It’s a man’s world at Amazon

Note: I know the rest of the world is talking about Feral Youth at the moment. We just like to be different. A good book is a good book no matter how long ago it was written or what the author has done since.

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Musing on Polly Courtney

Candice: So another lovely author has given  us some key tips on how the get going in this tough world of publishing.  It seems it’s all about the self publishing.

Right, I’ll just go and pop down to the printers and get 5,000 copies made and then stick them on Amazon then.

Seriously, it’s not as easy as it looks.  Years ago this was called ‘Vanity’ Publishing, where you could get your book printed and bound to look like the real thing then hand it round to your mates – “Look I’m a published author“.  I met a man once who did this, telling everyone that he was an expert in acting skills off the back of his book.  You won’t be surprised to discover he was a con man.

So, how is this different?  Well look at Polly’s planning.  It’s more like the project management I have to undertake at work – marketing strategy, time line, launch plan – than just sticking a word document on an email and saying “print me some”.  The route to distribution compared to the old style of ‘Get agent, get publisher, get published’ might be different but the tools she uses are the same as they will.

What do we do with this information?  Well at the moment we are still looking at the conventional route; because we like the idea of being fawned over, taken to lunch and being invited to premieres.  But realistically, it looks like self publishing is the way forward.

But we wont be taking this lightly.  I refuse to send something out that hasn’t been properly edited, proofed, copy and grammar checked.  When it sees the light of day it will be a quality publication that won’t put people off due to its poor spelling.

Taking this route will also solve the pigeon-hole problem.  I think we will have the same thing as Polly as we are delving into a genre but not following a well-worn path.  “Where do we go in Waterstones?” Is what the marketer will cry – well I don’t know but that doesn’t matter on Amazon.

Now Phil and I just need to find some time to get that editing done!


Filed under Candice, Writing

Self-publishing with Polly Courtney

Polly CourtneyPhil: Last week, we chatted with author Polly Courtney about the writing process. This isn’t the end of the process. While most writers dream of handing their manuscript over to a publisher who will take it away and sell the book, Polly choses to self-publish. How does author as publishing house work? We were eager to know…

Most new authors concentrate on producing a story but as a self-publisher, you appear to approach the book as much more than this. Does the book just become “product” to sell this way? Can the temptation to write something easy to sell ever change the content of the book?

Good question. It’s one of those things that’s very personal: some authors feel it’s compromising their integrity to think about the commerciality of their novel before they start writing. I don’t have a problem with it – although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I change my intentions for a book based on its market appeal. I’m fortunate, in a way, that the subjects which get me going are also ones that other people find interesting. Would I write a book about a little-known issue that had never hit the news? Maybe – no, definitely, if I felt strongly enough about it. I’d just have to create the demand, instead of using existing interest in the subject.

Your books are famously not chick-lit but do they fit a genre? Does this matter if you don’t have to fit within the pre-conceived ideas of a publishers marketing department, or does it make it harder pitching the book to sellers?

I’ve never been good at fitting in a box (book-wise). It’s a problem for publishers, definitely. They need to be able to see where a book will sit ‘on the shelf’, but mine falls between shelves; it’s fiction, but it’s social issues-led. “What do we call it? Which author is it like?” publishers ask, in a panic. That’s why I was squeezed into the ‘chick lit’ mould when I was with HarperCollins: it was the closest recognised genre they were happy to work with. Frankly, I don’t need to put my work in a box; the main thing is that it’s well represented in a visual sense (i.e. title and cover) so that readers can tell what themes and styles are inside. That’s the beauty of online bookstores; the recommendations engines can provide suggestions for readers based on their reading habits. No need for shelf-based searching any more!

(These are the ‘on brand’ cover designs for my self-published novels, courtesy of the incredible Sinem Erkas):

Golden Handcuffs, Poles Apart, Ferel Yout

How does the planning work? Do you treat it like a project with charts, spreadsheets, budgets and all the related paraphernalia?

Oh, boy. You asked for it. I am anal when it comes to planning. Seriously, there are financial spreadsheets, Excel timeplans and lists – many, many lists. In the run-up to launch for Feral Youth, my boss has left me daily to-do lists with penalties for late completion. It’s tough, working for yourself (but I love it).

Ferel Youth plan

What advice could you give to new authors looking to promote their books? Since you have a new novel out and are re-releasing some old ones, presumably there is a plan, what does it involve?

Here’s some advice I would give any author or wannabe author (including my twenty-four-year-old self, a few years ago):

Take time to think about what you really want to write (style, content, themes etc.) and who might like to read it (demographics, attitudinal groups, etc.) and then think about the best way to publish, staying true to these two important things. For some writers, this might mean signing with a publisher (one that really understands your goals), but for others it might mean going it alone and retaining control over the execution of that vision. And remember: if it doesn’t fit in a box, that’s not a problem any more 🙂

Thank you again for your time Polly. Don’t forget, if you want to know more, visit pollycourtney.com


Filed under Books, Interviews, Phil, Publishing

Golden Keyboard – A chat with Polly Courtney Part 1

Polly CourtneyPolly Courtney left university to embark on a career as investment banker with no intention of becoming a writer. Her first book, Golden Handcuffs, came out of a desire to expose the reality of life in the Square Mile. This self-published novel attracted the attention of HarperCollins who signed her for what most authors dream about, a 3-book deal.

Having discovered her passion, Polly went on to write Poles Apart, a light-hearted novel based on her Polish migrant friend’s experiences in England. Subsequent novels have covered sexism, racism, fame culture and the summer riots. She is a passionate champion of the underdog and this is reflected in her novels.

In late 2011, Polly famously walked out on her publisher, for the ‘girly’ titles and covers assigned to her books – most notably, It’s a Man’s World, a hard-hitting take on the lads’ mag industry and its impact on society marketed as chick-lit.

This experience has seen Polly return to self-publishing, most recently with the novel Feral Youth  launched yesterday, and become a champion of authors who wish to go it alone. We first met her at Stratford Literary Festival in a session that saw us walk away fired up to crack on with The Book in a way we hadn’t been for some time. Obviously we wanted to know more, so I fired off a quick e-mail request quickly answered with a generous agreement to answer a few of our questions despite being in the throes of launching Feral Youth.

We’ve split the interview into two halves. Today we look at the nuts and bolts of writing a book. On Tuesday we’ll be asking about self-publishing a novel.

PollyWritingWhere and how do you write? Do you set goals for numbers of words written per session? Write in the morning before breakfast or later in the evening? Use only pink and fluffy pens?

Definitely the pink and fluffy pens!

No, I use a clunky old laptop, which is black and only a little fluffy. I plan my books meticulously before I sit down to write the first chapter: planning the different threads, the interactions between characters etc. so that when it’s time to sit down and write, I know who’s going to do what and how.

I can only write in the afternoons (I know… don’t ask why) so in the mornings I get ‘stuff’ done: go for a run, tweet, make calls, tweet, write articles, tweet… you get the idea.

Your books always focus on an issue and then weave a story around this. How do you pick the central theme? I’m assuming you don’t just grab a copy of the Daily Mail and see what they are getting worked up about.

Damn – you’ve worked me out!

The truth is, the ‘issues’ (lads’ mag culture, city sexism, wealth divide etc.) are ones that have been swilling around in my head for a while, making me angry. I don’t like to see inequality or prejudice going unnoticed and although I’m not deluded enough to think that my novels will change society, it makes me feel better to know that ‘the flipside’ (of the Daily Mail argument) is getting some airtime.

FYPlanDo you plot the entire story before starting or do the characters become alive and drive the plot lines?

I plan the story, but when I start writing the chapters, the characters soon start behaving in ways I hadn’t quite anticipated. I’ve never managed to stick to the original plan for a novel – but I think that’s OK. I’d hate to force the characters to do something against their will!

How much Polly Courtney is in your characters? Your first book came from your job but after this, there are some interesting similarities – the main characters mother is usually strong and demanding figure for example.

My first book was definitely semi-autobiographical, based on my experiences in the City. Since then, there have been components of me in all my novels, but only streaks: attitudes and opinions, not the whole me. In my latest novel, Feral Youth you might struggle to see me in any of the characters, as it’s set on the streets of Peckham – but I’m sure you’ll find me in there somewhere…

Interestingly, the ‘mother figure’ who appears in a couple of my novels is based not on my own, but on an amalgamation of ‘pushy mothers’ I saw during my school days: parents who would push their girls so hard that many of them suffered from depression and worse – driven by the relentless goal to ‘have it all’. My parents are definitely not pushy; in fact, their attitude has always been ‘do what makes you happy’!

Unlike chick-lit authors, your male characters are very well written and rounded. How easy do you find to write the opposite sex without resorting to clichés?

Why thank you! I actually enjoy writing in different voices: the teenagers in Feral Youth definitely felt most ‘alive’, and the men in my previous novels were interesting to write, too. I guess I’m just fascinated by people and things that are different from what I’ve grown up with.

Thanks Polly for this. Next week we’ll peek behind the scenes of publishing a novel yourself. In the meantime, visit Polly’s website at pollycourtney.com


Filed under Books, Interviews, Phil, Writing

What’s good in book covers?


Phil: When you read a Tweet from an author commenting on a BBC news story that reads:

“The process of designing a book cover is collaborative.. involving the author” – BULLSH1T, HarperCollins. Rarely…

You think, “There’s some history there.”

And you’d be right. Polly Courtney famously ditched her publishers at the launch of her novel “It’s a mans world”. Well, I say famously but neither of us knew about it until we went to the self publishing clinic at Stratford Literary Festival, but then that’s because neither of reads the literary sections of the newspapers properly and as far as we are concerned, the publishing world consists of dumbos who haven’t (yet) recognised our talent with the offer of a five-figure book deal.

Anyway, the session fired us both up to think about how we get our book out there. One aspect that interested me a lot was consideration of the package you present as an author. There’s a lot to think about in appearing to fit within a genre. Books full of SAS rescues don’t look like those involving women and cupcakes. This extends beyond the cover and onto the web site – hence my concern.

As an interesting exercise, I happened to have a couple of Polly’s books handy (read both- reviews will follow on here eventually but if you want a spoiler, they were great) and so I thought it would be interesting to see what was so terrible about them. I waved both under the Nolan’s nose as well as my own and surprisingly we felt differently about them.

The Fame Factor, to me, looks pretty much bang on for the content. There’s an X-Factor look about the design, something that fits the story fairly well. The soft design though would seem to say chick-lit and I’d certainly say it was aimed at women. Candice didn’t like it as it’s too busy.

It’s a man’s world though, I didn’t like.

More than that, I really hate the subtitle “But it takes a woman to run it” which indicates the story is no more than the traditional woman in a man’s world shtick where you just know she’ll win through by the end of the book collecting a square-jawed bloke and a lovely house along the way. The Guardian describes the cover as containing “the chick-lit staple of a pair of slender legs”. Basically, the publishers say it’s a girly book. Oddly, my friend was happier with it but then she hasn’t read either book yet and so is looking at it from market position, which if you are expecting chick-lit, it does it well. Point proved I think.

What conclusion can I draw? Well for a start, I think Polly has a point. Never mind sacking the publisher, I’d have gone down to the marketing department and stuffed their stupid coloured pens up their nostrils. From my reading, this isn’t chick-lit, far from it. I can see why it potentially would appeal to some of that market and why the marketing team would try to push them in that direction, but there’s a lot that is not chick-lit inside. Proper, real issues are confronted. With passion. The male characters aren’t written as 1 dimensional idiots. The plots do not revolve solely around the main character looking for lurve.

If the publishers insist that your work is packaged in a way you don’t think works, it must be very frustrating. You might also wonder if any of them have bothered reading the contents or could you just submit a few hundred pages of Loreum Ipsum.

I bet a few readers got a shock too. They bought a book that promised cupcake and just as they started to nibble around the edges, great big real issue exploded from under the mock-cream and cherry topping. Now, this might be welcome by some who want a dish with more to chew on but if you just want fluff then it’s probably too hearty a meal for you.

What worries me is that we are also not writing pure chick-lit. Our book should be enjoyable for men and women. Yes, there are chick-lit elements as there are in the books above, but then you can see the same touches in James Bond books which certainly don’t get pink fluffy covers. Can stories with a female main character only be chick-lit? How can design say that we’re writing for everyone? Do publishers need to follow the Harry Potter model of offering different covers to allow varied markets, in that case adults and children, to read the same book?


Filed under Books, Phil, Publishing