I've set up this blog so that all my friends, relations and colleagues in the world of writing can keep up to speed with what I'm doing - from now on, I'll never have to say sorry for not keeping in touch.

Or anyway, that's the plan.

So do please link up with me on Facebook and Twitter - https://www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268 and https://twitter.com/majanovelist

You can find my novels as digital downloads on Apple iTunes, Kobo, Kindle and Nook, and most are available as print paperbacks, too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Traditional, independent - which is right for you?

Most of my writing life, I've been traditionally (or, if you like, commercially) published. This has been the case with all my longer, novel-length fiction. I'm currently published by a brilliant company which has done me proud in every respect - production, publicity and marketing.

But, when my writing partner Cathie Hartigan and I decided to write some guides for creative writing students, we chose to go independent.


It would be quicker.

Once we had written the first book, had had it read by several of our writing friends, including our own students, and we had edited it ourselves, it was ready to publish. But, if we'd sent it to a literary agent, who would then have had to find a publisher, who would then have had to find a publishing slot for it, we might have been looking at three years or even more before the book actually became available.

We would have total control over the products. 

We could and we did design and produce the covers. We chose the layout. We typeset the print books in the format we thought was most appropriate - in large type with wide margins, which left plenty of white space for the students to make notes on the books themselves, which we have learned some of them do!

We would be paid promptly every month.

A traditional/commercial publisher's accounting system is usually set up to pay authors royalties every six months. This means that the payment on a book which earns a specific royalty on - for example - 3rd September will probably not reach the author until three months after the end of the publisher's accounting period. So, if the accounting period happened to be September to March, the author would not be paid anything until round about the June of the following year. It's a long time to wait!

We would earn more money.

As the publishers of our books, we would receive 100% of any royalties, rather than a percentage negotiated with a traditional/commercial publisher.

We could set the price.

Traditional/commercial publishers have to make a profit. They're not charities. They have staff to pay, warehousing to find, publicity and marketing to organise. All this costs money. But independent authors are working for themselves and - if they have the time and are prepared to learn the skills - they can do all the jobs for which traditional/commercial publishers have to pay third parties.

We could change the price.

A traditionally/commercially published author has no say in what a book will cost.  What if the author feels a book has been priced so highly that nobody will buy it? Or priced so low that the royalty for the author will be negligible? We started promoting our books at a price we thought was fair to readers and to us, and so it has proved to be. But if we ever want to change our prices - for example, put the books on special offer for a time - we can do so without reference to anyone else.

It would be a challenge.

We like a challenge! We understand that presenting your book to the world can be scary. What if nobody buys it? What if everyone hates it? What if, after the reviews start coming in, it becomes apparent that it's a really bad book? It's a risk all independent authors have to take.  But, when it works, it's great.  As I type, both our guides to creative writing have received good reviews and they sell in gratifying quantities - not brilliantly, but consistently. The print version of The Creative Writing Student's Handbook sells particularly well.

So thank you, Amazon KDP, for making this possible.



Monday, September 12, 2016

Christmas is coming...

A Christmas Celebration

Christmas is coming, so this means there is lots to do - presents to buy, nativity plays and various church services to attend, beds to make up, travel arrangements to be made, food to order - the list goes on!

Cathie, Sophie and I can help you get in the right frame of mind!

Our Christmas Celebration is a collection of short stories reflecting all the various aspects of Christmas, which of course means different things to different people.

What about you - will you be going to St Paul's Cathedral, like the characters in one of our stories? Or seeing a local nativity play? Or trying to get used to the presence of a new family member or a partner's relations and feeling a bit awkward about it? Or trying to choose a perfect present? Or going on holiday? Or maybe feeling sad because Christmas isn't always a great time for everyone? What about people who tend to get left out, are lonely, isolated, or positively antisocial? How do they cope with watching other people have the time of their lives? Our stories will suit your mood, whatever form it takes!

We've also included a few quizzes and puzzles, some easy, some not so easy, but all the answers are in the book.

We feel Christmas is a time to think positively and look to the future, even if you can't wait for the holiday season itself to be over, for the shops to be open again, and to meet the challenges of a brand new year.

The book is available as a digital download or an attractive paperback - stocking filler? https://www.amazon.co.uk/Christmas-Celebration-Stories-Quizzes-Puzzles-ebook/dp/B013ZZN6IE/ref=sr_1_10?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1473678800&sr=1-10

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Exeter Novel Prize

The Exeter Novel Prize is fast becoming one of the most prestigious writing competitions in the UK, or rather the world.  The fourth annual competition is open to entries, so could you be our fourth winner, joining a host of now-published and soon-to-be-published winners, shortlisters and longlisters?


Provided you are not currently under contract to a commercial publisher or represented by a literary agent, you are eligible to enter. We welcome authors of self-published novels, too.

You can find out more by accessing this link on the CreativeWritingMatters website: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/2016-exeter-novel-prize.html

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Busy in the Library

You've always thought libraries were quiet places full of sharp-nosed, grey-haired librarians glaring suspiciously at people who actually dare to touch their books? You didn't really, did you? Well, if you ever did, an afternoon spent at Exeter Central Library celebrating the launch of Libraries Unlimited would have changed your mind forever. Here are some of the authors and staff at the event.

Libraries Unlimited is a new initiative dedicated to involving the whole community in reading and information-sharing. Devon is proud to be part of this new way of involving local communities and making everyone feel welcome in a public library.

Yesterday was a joyous occasion. The brilliant, multi-award-winning novelist Michael Morpurgo made an impassioned case for our free public libraries to be seen as just as important to us all as our free National Health Service, and we  - authors, readers, friends of libraries and library users in general - all agreed with him.

I'm a member of a team of authors who are collectively Creative Writing Matters, and here is what we have to say about libraries in the community. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzMQnlKSpZg&list=PLL0HI7pPaaFtauVFJQKvNr7QgV1oK9jtD&index=12

So use your libraries, people! They're there for you. You don't even have to borrow books, even though (speaking as a novelist) it would be nice if you do. Go there to use the free wi-fi, have a bun in a library cafe, meet friends, do some work, have a little doze and generally enjoy being in a literary space. You'll love it, I promise you!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Exeter Novel Prize

Well, yesterday was the day, and what a day!

We all convened at the historic St Stephen's Church to find out who had won the third Exeter Novel Prize. It's always a tense time, waiting to find out who has won a competition. But, before we announced the winner, we had to make the point that all six of our shortlisted authors were winners because being in the last six out of 340 surely makes you a winner?

So - huge congratulations to Lucy Welch, Lucy Ayrton, Louise Mangos, Lizzie Lamb, Mark Dlugash and Christopher Holt for doing so well, and an additional cheer for Lucy Welch who was the winner of winners.

There is a full report and also a lot of pictures on the CreativeWritingMatters website, so do please pop over and take a look?


Here are the shortlisted authors. Left to right: Lucy Ayrton, Louise Mangos, Lucy Welch, Lizzie Lamb and Christopher Holt. Mark Dlugash couldn't join us because he was in Los Angeles. Maybe next year, Mark?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Exeter Novel Prize - the Short List

At last, the short list...

After a very lengthy reading and judging process, the finalists in the Exeter Novel Prize 2015 can be revealed. Congratulations to you all and congratulations also to the people on the long list. We had literally hundreds of entries from all over the world. So, for your novel to be in the final few is an outstanding achievement of which you should be very proud indeed.

The Exeter Novel Prize 2015 Short List

A Place in Tumaini - Lucy Welch 

Heroine - Lucy Ayrton 

Orphaned Leaves - Christopher Holt  

Scotch on the Rocks - Lizzy Lamb 

Strangers on a Bridge - Louise Mangos 

The Fastest Girl in Red Hook - Mark Dlugash 

The finalists, who come from all four corners of the UK as well as from New York and from Switzerland, will each be presented with an engraved glass trophy. The winner will receive £500 and the runners-up will all receive £75. The members of the CreativeWritingMatters team are looking forward to the awards event on 12 March 2016 in (where else) Exeter, and we are hoping all the finalists will be able to attend in order to collect their awards and have a glass of something sparkling with us!

The London literary agent Broo Doherty will present the awards and tell us what made one particular entry stand out as the winner. We hope the third winner of this award will follow in the footsteps of the first two, Su Bristow and Clare Harvey, who are now both under contract to mainstream commercial publishers. 

The awards event is public, so anyone who would like to come is very welcome. There are full details on the CreativeWritingMatters website at www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

We're looking forward to a great day!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Exeter Novel Prize - the Long List

Yes, it's a while since I've posted anything on this blog, so what have I been doing?

I've been reading - thousands and thousands and thousands of words, because of course all the entries were read from the first word to the last - for the Exeter Novel Prize 2015.  This will be awarded at a ceremony in Exeter in March 2016.  The ceremony is a public event to be held in the historic St Stephen's Church in the centre of Exeter on 12 March at 3 pm, and everyone is welcome!

Today, the long list is posted on the CreativeWritingMatters website, which you can find at http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/.

So how did we (the members of the CreativeWritingMatters team, Cathie Hartigan, Sophie Duffy and I) choose the long list?

We read in a spirit of optimism. We hoped every entry would deliver a great story written in an engaging voice which was right for its genre or sub-genre. This isn't to say we were looking for genre fiction only - please don't think that! Literary, commercial, traditional, experimental - we were looking for excellent writing that invited us into the world of the story and made us want to stay there.  We wanted to be sad when we found we'd read a whole entry and couldn't read any more.

We looked for stories which seemed likely to keep their promises - which asked interesting questions and suggested their authors would offer readers satisfying resolutions.

There were quite a few entries which did these things very successfully but didn't make the final long list. Those below are the entries which also had that very special something.

We're relieved we don't have to choose the short list, which is London literary agent Broo Doherty's job!

Congratulations to the authors of the entries listed below.

We will be revealing the names of the authors when we announce the short list. All the reading and judging is done anonymously. So, if your own entry is there, please don't shout out yet!

A Mole of Sorts
A place at Tumaini
Cloud Cover
Down by the Riverside
Going Back
Holly and Ivy
Large is the Smallest We've Got
Orphaned Leaves
Prodigal Honey
Scotch on the Rocks
Strangers on a Bridge
The Chernobyl Privileges
The Fastest Girl in Red Hook
The Last Tiger
The Staircase on Calle Mayor
The Whole Truth