The Apprentice, the task was to write, produce, and sell a children’s book. In two days.
Not – as anyone in the children’s book publishing world will tell you – an easy feat!
It was fascinating watching the teams brainstorm, create their books to a deadline, then try to sell them to retailers (one of which had a lovely shelf of books by Undiscovered Voices winners – including Edge author Sara Grant and myself!).
But in the end the emphasis was less on the creation of a good book (indeed, one team were accused of “over-intellectualising” and taking too long – 3 hours! – to come up with their story) than of meeting deadlines and the subsequent successful pitching and selling to retailers. The bottom line was all that mattered. After all, Alan Sugar is looking for a business partner, not an author.
But this emphasis on marketing got me thinking – is it really a million miles away from the real children’s book world?
Of course, usually books take months – years, even – from concept to publication, going through a rigorous process of writing, re-drafting, and editing before hitting the bookshop shelves. Authors, editors, and readers, would undoubtedly agree that content is key – we want a great story that readers will enjoy, and hopefully that will be reflected in the sales figures.
But is content really enough?
After all, even the best book in the world won’t become a bestseller unless people know about it, whilst a book that is well-publicised, tied to a film, written by a celebrity or popular vlogger, or featured on TV will likely sell millions of copies even before a single review comes out (and here I feel the Apprentices missed their best sales pitch of all: these books are limited edition and will have been seen by millions on TV! I predict that the canny booksellers who bought them will have sold out by Christmas – and made a hefty profit!)
That's not to say that books that do get the big marketing budgets have poor content, necessarily, but marketing budgets are finite, and not distributed evenly, leading to a domination of big titles and little, if any, marketing for most other books.
As an author and a reader, I believe that content is, and should be, the most important factor in a book. I would far rather read a book that I’ve never heard of that a friend has recommended than the current bestseller by a "celebrity" whose poster is plastered all over the underground.
So how can we help to promote good stories that don't get big-budget marketing?
REVIEW! RECOMMEND! RAVE!
Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Tell people about the books you love. Introduce your friends to authors you’ve enjoyed, and hopefully they’ll do the same. If you’ve enjoyed a book, leave a good review – or even just a star rating – on Amazon (or other websites.) It only takes a moment, and by doing so you’ll be helping the authors you’ve enjoyed sell enough books to be able to write more books you’ll enjoy. Win-win!
With this in mind, here are five books I’d never heard of by authors I’d never heard of before that I really enjoyed. I encourage you to check them out, and please leave your own recommendations in the comments below – I can’t wait to discover new hidden gems!
Cam has been grief-stricken since his girlfriend, Viv, died. He'd give anything for one more glimpse of her. But when Cam makes a visit to the site of Viv's deadly car accident, he sees some kind of apparition. And it isn't Viv. The apparition's name is Nina, and she's not a ghost. She's a girl from a parallel world, and in this world, Viv is still alive. Intriguing and emotive.
FORBIDDEN – Tabitha Suzuma
She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed.
He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future.
And now they have fallen in love.
But . . . They are brother and sister.
Thought-provoking and emotive, this book broke my heart.
This is “Dexter” with a teen girl protagonist! 15 year old Rylee comes home from school one day to find her father dead, with a knife through his heart, and a key clutched in his hand. A message in blood is written on the floor...RUN. With her little brother in tow, Rylee begins a dark journey, one that will uncover horrific crimes and lead her to an unexpected and gruesome discovery about herself. A fast-paced thriller that had me gripped from page 1.
MY NAME IS MEMORY – Ann Brashares
I started reading this in a bookshop and couldn’t put it down. It is the story of Daniel, who remembers the many lives he’s been reincarnated into throughout history – and the girl he’s in love with through them all. Fascinating, romantic, and thought-provoking.
COUNTING BY 7S – Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance is a genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but then they’re killed in a tragic car crash. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.