Read an excerpt HERE.

Click on image to buy PERFIDITAS.BRAG

Read an excerpt HERE.

Click on image to buy INCEPTIO. Amazon bestseller

Debbie Young - marketing superstar

Debbie_Young2Today, I’m delighted to welcome Debbie Young as my guest.  Author, journalist and blogger, she’s especially keen on short-form writing, such as flash fiction, short stories and blog posts. Commissioning editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ (ALLi’s) blog of self-publishing advice at  www.selfpublishingadvice.orgshe has co-authored ALLi’s groundbreaking new book, “Opening Up To Indie Authors”. 

She has a special interest in Type 1 Diabetes, which affects both her husband and her daughter. Her acclaimed ebook, “Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes”, will be released as a paperback, with new material added, in November 2014.

Welcome, Debbie! 

You help independent authors market their books via your Off the Shelf services. So what is the one thing that you think really helps sell most books?

The most essential thing is the right attitude. Too many authors fail because they have a sense of entitlement to sales, simply because they’ve written a book. No matter how good the book, all authors need:

• determination
• staying power
• a good understanding of sales strategies and tactics
• time to throw at the challenge (money’s helpful, but not essential)
• a thick skin

Whether they’re trade-published or self-published, authors must be prepared to actively pursue sales, in the flesh or online. They must also discard any rose-tinted spectacles and view their book from the perspective of other players who are critical to their success: bookshop proprietors, librarians, festival organisers, and so on.

These messages are at the heart of both my self-help books for authors, designed to equip them to be more confident and effective in promoting their work:

Sell Your Books!, published by SilverWood Books
Opening Up To Indie Authors, which I co-authored with Dan Holloway for the Alliance of Independent Authors

You are a notable reviewer of long fiction as well as a non-fiction and flash fiction author. Have you ever wanted to write a novel yourself and what would it be about?

Short-form writing is my comfort zone, because I’ve had a long career in journalism and PR in which space has always been at a premium. Until recently I’ve proclaimed that I’d never tackle a novel. My schedule is so busy that I’m not sure where I’d find the time. But I think I’m quietly moving towards that goal without consciously planning to.


Debbie (with me) at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference earlier this month

You see, I don’t view my short stories as stand-alone pieces, but weave them into themed collections. This approach adds coherence for the reader and, I hope, makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. As writer Denise Barnes recently remarked to me at the Romantic Novelists Association annual conference, where I was a guest speaker, there’s not that big a leap from writing themed collections of short stories to producing a novel. And as Orna Ross, who writes terrific novels, said to me when the subject came up over lunch last week, “Never say never!” So the pressure is on…

I did in fact write a novel many years ago, before self-publishing took off in its modern form. This light romantic comedy about thirty-somethings in crisis was too dull and clunky to be worth querying with publishers, so it’s been left to compost down in a drawer somewhere – best place for it!

Next time I’d go for edgier themes, probably with a little bit of magical realism thrown in, which is great fun to write. I’m quite taken with the idea of a story about a flying carpet. We have lots of exotic rugs in my house, following my husband’s trip to India, which are constantly teasing my imagination.

Alternatively I’d like to write a novel about relationships fostered through online book reviews. As a busy book reviewer, I enjoy reading other people’s reviews, which often say far more about the reviewer than the book, if you read between the lines. I can’t stop myself filling in their back stories in my head. There again, this could be a great theme for a flash fiction collection, each story focusing on a different reviewer of the same book.

I constantly ping back to the short form story as if attached to it with elastic, but watch this space…

Look forward to reading it, Debbie!

Debbie’s blog Off The Shelf Book Promotions helps other authors market their work. Her promotions blog is full of top tips from indie authors.

Debbie_QuickChange coverDebbie published her latest book, Quick Change – Tiny Tales of Transformation – to mark National Flash Fiction DayQuick Change comprises 20 very short stories ranging from 100 to 1000 words in length. As its title suggests, it turns the spotlight on moments of change, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. To add shape and order to the collection, the stories are arranged in chronological order by age of a key character in each story, from new-born baby to the newly deceased.

Quick Change is now available as an ebook from Amazon:


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is out now.

Speaking at conferences - the truth

Alone in the arenaWhether you’re invited or have submitted a pitch to speak at a conference it’s the same on the day. You have a mass of faces in front of you. You are alone in the arena and the lions are pacing back and forth, tongues salivating. The be-tunicked and be-toga-ed are watching, a smile on their lips, ready to be entertained, but their thumbs are ready…

An exaggeration, perhaps, but speakers are expected to perform and to be as nifty as the retarius, secutor or (even) gladiatrix.

Sometimes people who are expert in their field are not happy to speak to an audience which is a shame as they may the very people we’d like to hear from. Now, I like standing up in front of people and talking my head off, but that’s not enough. I still agonise about whether I’ve got too much or too little material or if I’m pitching it at the right level for the audience.

In a suitDuring my business career, I gave talks to audiences from 6 up to a 1,000 and I recently spoke about alternative history at the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Now I’m starting to prepare for a session on social media for the Historical Novel Society in September. So here are a few ideas…

Dare to do it
Nobody is going to eat you (It’s against the law.) and quite a lot of people would like to hear from you. Obviously, you need to know the subject area and that in itself breeds confidence. Say yes. Once booked, you’re unlikely to backslide.

Agree the topic and scope with the organiser
Amazing how many talks I’ve been to where the topics differed from the title on the programme. The most notable one was at the 2014 London Book Fair! I chatted to the speaker afterwards and found she’d been given the wrong briefing.

Start gathering your ideas early
The longer lead time, the better. You could come across some terrific new research, or meet a new person to consult, or a find new way of presentation if you have a few months. Unlikely, if you leave it until the week before.

Write it all out
You’re probably not going to read it verbatim, but composing your talk in your head and tapping it into your computer means that the thoughts go through your brain and hopefully stick there and possibly mature. When you’re ready, you can transfer the meat of your talk to postcards, memory or whatever aide-memoire you use.

Use slides/pictures/objects/maps/charts, but…
I like images, so perhaps I’m biased. Regular readers know I always have illustrations in every blog post; they break up the narrative and give readers a chance to absorb what I’ve written. They may even  be amused. So it is with talks. If you have spellbinders like Lindsey Davis or David Nobbs, there is no need. But for us lesser mortals, while we engage, we are not in that class.

StuckAnd here’s the ‘but’…

Do not depend on images and slides or you could be stuck like a cat up a tree with no firefighter to rescue you. If the technology fails, you must still be able to give your talk.

Take a breath
Aim to speak slightly slower than normal – everybody except the complete expert speaks faster out of nervousness. And if you get lost or befogged during your talk, pause, take a breath, glance at your notes to gather yourself together. You’ll soon recover because you’ve practiced this damn talk so many times, you know exactly where you are.

And answer questions nicely
You haven’t finished yet. Look and smile at the questioner even if you think they resemble the tough interrogator from the local vigiles cohort in ancient Rome. While there will be some nit-pickers, you may be surprised by how supportive some of the questions are. And lastly, don’t  try to fluff an answer. If you don’t know, offer to find out and email them later.

Thank you for reading – I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Thoughts, anybody? Or any questions?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is out now.

Collaborating authors

ALLI authors meet up at the London Book Fair April 2014

ALLI authors meet up at the London Book Fair April 2014

Writing is a solitary thing – it’s you, the writing medium and hard graft alone together. Your imagination/brain/mind/muse and the pen or keyboard are it. Perhaps you have a writing buddy, known sometimes as a critique partner, or belong to a writers’ circle or a writers’ association, but if you’re an independently published author, you have another layer of questions to ask and topics to discuss.

ALLi badgeI’ve found two groups for independent authors which I would recommend: both are friendly, open and collaborative. The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI) fosters the independent sector as a valuable, fruitful and contributing part of the publishing industry, but above all, it is driven by and for its authors - ‘connection and collaboration, advice and education,’.  A blog about trends, successes, writing craft and marketing go hand in hand with member support and industry campaigns such as ‘Open Up To Indies‘. I’ve never regretted a penny of my £75 annual membership fee! And you get a great badge…

AIAAs a self-publisher you are totally in control of publishing your books, but you don’t have the backing of a publishing house or their marketing and publicity services. Before somebody else says it, I know that all authors have to market themselves, however they are published, but indies have to be a tad more energetic about it. And they need to collaborate. Awesome Indies operates a quality control system for fiction – have a stroll through its website – but its director, Tahlia Newland, is very pro-active on marketing. If readers don’t know about a book, how can they buy and read it?

Recently, they interviewed some of their authors and posted the results on You Tube in a theme-based series of  two-minute videos - start here. (I appear in most of them!)

Brag logoAnd, of course, the fabulous Indie B.R.A.G. which is primarily a quality vetting organisation for self-published books, but one which runs a splendid blog for authors, readers and anybody with an interest in self-publishing. This brilliant post on how to support authors is typical of their generous spirit.


My experience is that these international sites complement each other; I’ve met new friends, new colleagues and garnered some pretty savvy advice.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.


Applying research

Research papersResearch. Yeah, I know, a sticky subject in more ways than one. Writing of any sort needs research whether it’s a modern shoes-and-shopping story, crime thriller or a historical magnum opus.

Almost every story written hinges on a set-up or a problem the writer has purposefully created, but it must be plausible. Readers will engage with it and follow as long as the writer keeps their attention and, most importantly, their trust. So your story has to look and feel real (even the elves...).

Ostia Antica1Strongly coupled with this is internal consistency, essential in any science fiction, fantasy or historical setting. Readers want to step out of reality for a few hours; investing their precious reading time in a rather strange place is high-risk for them. So build your world carefully and thoroughly or your credibility will crumble.

Leaving aside the cracking story you’ve dreamed up or that tale from history you want to tell, what about the setting? It has to be woven into the story or there’s no point in using that background. So you have to know the scenery, weather, what the inhabitants and look like, their clothes, whether they accept strangers, what do they believe in, do they use buses, trains, horses, or just plod everywhere on foot? Can they vote and/or are they subject to a lord or lady’s whim?

I have a list of questions that I print out with space in-between each one. I then sit down and write a paragraph on each. This seems to go into my head better than if I type it on the keyboard.

Temple of Portunus - In the Forum Boarium, site of ancient Roman cattle market

Temple of Portunus – In the Forum Boarium, site of ancient Roman cattle market

Even though I write alternative history stories about Roma Nova, an imaginary country, and the first three are set in the present, I need to do research, especially if I’m dipping back into Roma Nova’s past before it diverged from the standard timeline. And if I’m researching modern surveillance equipment or sniper rifles, I need to check the specifications very carefully as they may be vital to the plot development.

I read around the setting(s), both good fiction and straightforward reference material. I’ll exclude everything else ruthlessly. I’m heard muttering in corners about Roman marriage customs, spotted looking up railway schedules or crop harvest times, how many days it took in ancient times to travel from Portus Itius/Gesoriacum (Boulogne) to Rome. Damn. Has Gesoriacum changed its name to Bononia by the 4th century? Maps of archaeological digs and airline timetables start littering my desk along with reference books on childhood illness and police procedure. My colour-coded Filofax pages fill up. Bookmarked articles gather in wobbly formation on my computer desktop…

Where to stopSo where do you stop? Outside factors decide it sometimes – a publisher deadline, competition date, your own publishing schedule. But for me, a moment arrives when I have finished the first run-through of all my research notes and I’m ‘in the zone’. I’m ready to plunge into the writing.

When I emerge and re-read write that first draft, I mark up the bits of research I’ve allowed to make an appearance in the manuscript. Much of what I collected in my early research notes has gone into my mental and digital archive and will stay there.

Then I check everything again. I nearly had somebody sail from Rutupiae (Richborough) in the second half of 4th century. By then, Portus Dubris (Dover) was much more prominent as both a civilian and military port, even that late in the Roman occupation of Britain.

So my modus operandi (or M.O. for crime types) can be summed up in three points -

1. do your broad research;
2. write your story;
3. double check everything.

Happy writing!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is out now.

Shortlisted for the 2014 Self-Published Book of the Year Award

WMSelfPubAward2014Several months ago, I entered INCEPTIO  and PERFIDITAS for the Writing Magazine self-published book award. With all the work finalising SUCCESSIO, I almost forgot about it. Imagine my pleasure when I came home after the SUCCESSIO launch trip, browsed the July issue of Writing Magazine and found that both books had been shortlisted for the award.

Of course, it would have been fantastic to have won, but having INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS as two of the remaining four fiction shortlists was wonderful.

And this is what Writing Magazine said…

Extract courtesy of Writing Magazine, July 2014

Extract courtesy of Writing Magazine, July 2014











Well, my ego’s been nicely massaged!

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is out now.