Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe. Her marriage is all washed up. It’s time for...

How DID I get here? – PART TWO – Sara-Jade Virtue

So.  I was IN.  In Product.  And I didn’t have a scooby doo what I was doing!  Luckily a team of cracking chaps (Rodney, Peter, Gabrielle, SuzieJenny and Scott  – I’m looking right at YOU) explained, patiently, over and over again how Product Buying at the head office of the UK’s largest book chain worked – all the in’s and the vast amount of out’s.  Visual planograms.  The infamous Front of Store Checklist.  Core Range grading.  Promotional Marketing Agreements.  The Weekly Product Bulletin.  The weekly sales reports for our Publishing chums… the list of tasks I was responsible for went on.  And on and on.  The particular needs of our Academic stores.  The specialist teams that looked after children’s books.  And the different genres within non-fiction.  And Fiction.  Ah, fiction… of course cookery books and kids picture books and everything else in between are fabulous, FABULOUS I tell you, but with fiction I knew I had found my spiritual home….

So whilst beavering away at the Day Job, I set about ingratiating myself with the Publishing Houses behind the authors I loved the very most – Jackie Collins, Lisa Jewell,  Chris Manby, Adele Parks, Bernadette Strachan,  Josie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees, Marian Keyes, Catherine Alliott, Freya North, Jennifer Weiner, Cecelia Ahern,  Harriet Evans, Jenny Colgan, Jane Green, Katie Fforde,  Louise Bagshawe, Mike Gayle,  Penny Vincenzi, Sophie Kinsella, Veronica Henry… the list was many and magnificent!

And internally, I worked hard to push the wonder, the importance, the fabulousness of my favourite genre (commercial, mass market, women’s fiction, chick lit – call it what you will) higher up the To Do Lists of the key decision makers in the business – those who could Let Me Make Stuff Happen.

And slowly, slowly catchy monkey, I was given the green light to kick off my Big Fat Strategy Plan that included increasing our core stock range of a Hit List of over 300 titles, launching a Reading Group made up of other fans of women’s fiction who worked within the business, building a community on (we even had a logo!), asking Marian Keyes to select HER favourite women’s fiction and then rolling out the entire list as a price promoted Shelf Offer across the entire estate, asking publishers for exclusive competitions and content and samplers and previews and interviews…..

And then, my hold-your-breath moment in the sun.  My first ever estate wide Offer of the Week.  We were going to go hard (or go home) on the film-tie in edition of The Devil Wears Prada.  A HUGE order.  Advertising in Heat, Hello and Closer.  In store POS.  All the bells and even more of the whistles.  And I crossed my fingers and toes… and you know what?  It was our best selling Offer of the Week.  EVER.

Next time:  Chocolate Éclairs and the Nibbies.




Thursday 7th May was (finally) the day when the stunning paperback edition of our first ever #digitaloriginal title – The Two of Us, by Andy Jones – hit the shelves of bookshops up and down the country.  And we couldn’t be happier.

Wednesday 6th, we took to ourselves off to Wimbledon Books with Andy, to celebrate Publication Eve with fizz and nibbles (natch!).

Here are a couple of shots of the night, thank you to everyone who came, and to everyone who has already read, enjoyed and reviewed The Two of Us!


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How DID I get here? – Sara-Jade Virtue

Welcome to a brand new feature from @TeamBATC!  If you’ve ever wondered exactly what we do, other than drink cocktails, eat cupcakes and read, READ, READ, and how we came to be where we are – read on!  First up, me…..


Part 1

This year marks my 30th as a member of the full-time 9-5 treadmill, and my 13th in a profession that, if I’m honest, I didn’t really even know existed till I rocked up with my brand new squeaky shoes and Woolworths pencil case at Waterstones Head Office in 2002 to begin my brand new job as Office Services Manager.

Looking after the envelopes, managing reception, ordering the loo roll etc wasn’t, if I’m honest, my dream job, but as an ex Waitress, ex Cocktail Bar Manager, ex Client Servicing Manager, ex Editor, ex PA, ex Customer Relations Officer, ex  Human Resources Exec, and ex Estate Agent, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that with a modicum of street smarts, adaptability, and downright blagging, most people can turn their hand to most jobs and get away with it…

So, there I was, with my new pencils, squeaky shoes, and three floors of bright, clever, terrifyingly well-educated literary types all beavering away with just one thing on their minds – BOOKS.  Teams of people planning and designing and maintaining shops.  Hordes of creative types sketching out the images for POS (point of sale) material – the posters and headers and shelf talkers – and adverts and marketing campaigns.  A whole floor of bean counters working out how much everything costs.  PR teams.  HR teams.  IT teams.  The Board. And then a floor of chaps called Product, surrounded by (and swimming in) shelf upon shelf, row upon row, pile upon pile, of books.  And I was hooked.  Led by a notorious fellow called Scott Pack – Product Buying was where the magic happened.  

20 incredible people who chose the books that were put on the shelves of the Waterstones stores up and down the country.  The books in the window, on the tables at the front, the books ‘spine out’ at the back, and everything in between.   And these people were called Buyers.   And that’s exactly what they did.  They bought all the books that ended up on the shelves from the hundreds of publishers that would come into Head Office, with their little wheelie cases, and huge AI (advance information) kits and SOLD the books to Waterstones.  And I had no idea that this was a thing.  No idea at all.

So through a combination of badgering, tea making, harassing, lemon drizzle cake making, hassling, begging and pestering, I managed to wangle my way into the team as starting-from-the-bottom Buying Administrator and embarked on two of the most fulfilling, fascinating, hilarious years  of my life….

Next time:  Publishing Schmoozing, Hello magazine and the Chick Lit Forum…

Spring Blogger Evening

In March we invited a group of fabulous book bloggers to share a cupcake, glass of fizz and cheese straw with Five Fabulous Fiction authors – at our first ever Books and the City Blogger Evening….

We were delighted to welcome Jane Costello, Iona Grey, Milly Johnson, Andy Jones and Heidi Swain to talk about, and read from, their brand new books – The Love Shack, Letters to the Lost, Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe, The Two of Us, and The Cherry Tree Cafe.

Here are a couple of our favorite snaps of the event.  Thank you so much to all our authors, Clare Hey for her fabulous hosting, and all the lovely bloggers who braved trains, planes and automobiles to get here….











February 12th 2015 was the eBook publication day of our first ever #digitaloriginals novel – the brilliant The Two of Us by Andy Jones!  Obviously we had to celebrate, so in typical @TeamBATC style we headed down to our friends Bea’s of Bloomsbury with 100 red balloons (if you’ve read the book already, you’ll know why!), 100 FREE eBook download codes from the lovely chaps over at Kobo, and a tray of 100 special Valentine cupcakes….




Thank you to everyone who came down to celebrate with us, and if you haven’t already bought a copy of this wonderful, heartbreaking and emotional story about Fisher & Ivy – love, life and everything in between, you really, really should

Quote SJV 11 Feb


Roll up, roll up!  Another day, another DigitalOriginals acquisition to announce… and it’s gonna be big.  HUGE!  Here’s Clare Hey with all the news….

Heidi Swain author pic

“Much like buses, you wait for one Books and the City Digital Originals announcement and then several come along at once. Still giddy from announcing that we’re publishing Holly Hepburn’s Star and Sixpence series (and many thanks to those women with taste at Novelicious for picking it as one of their top ten books for 2015!), we’re delighted to announce another brand new author to Books and the City.  So, drumroll please… we’re delighted to welcome Heidi Swain and her brilliant novel The Cherry Tree Café to Books and the City!  It’s a beautiful story about Lizzie Dixon whose life feels as though it’s fallen apart: instead of the marriage proposal she was hoping for from her boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped, and her job is about to go the same way. So, there’s only one option: to go back home to the village she grew up in and to try to start again. Her best friend Jemma is delighted Lizzie has come back home. She has just bought a little cafe and needs help in getting it ready for the grand opening and Lizzie’s sewing skills are just what she needs. So, with a new venture and a new home, things are looking much brighter for Lizzie. But can she get over her broken heart, and will an old flame reignite a love from long ago…? If you love the Great British Bake-Off or the Great British Sewing Bee, then The Cherry Tree Café is for you!

cherrytreeca_ebook_1471149951_300Books and the City will be publishing on 16th July 2015. Keep your eyes peeled for updates, news, posts from Heidi, and follow Heidi on twitter @HeidiJoSwain or visit her blog

We can’t wait for you to read The Cherry Tree Café. Roll on 2015 – Team BATC is ready for you!”


I can’t BEGIN to tell you how excited we are here at Books and the City HQ to announce our second acquisition under the DigitalOriginals banner!

Here is an update from Clare Hey, and more news will follow soon!

TM2‘Here at S&S we’re always looking for great new writers and brilliant books for you to enjoy.  And so I am delighted to announce a new addition to our Books and the City DigitalOriginals programme which I know you’re going to love! It’s a series of ebook novellas set around a lovely little village pub called The Star and Sixpence, which two sisters inherit only to discover that it’s not quite the idyllic dream they thought it might be…  and moving to the countryside is not quite what they imagined either. Between nosy neighbours, a pub that’s seen better days, and their pasts coming back to bite them, life at The Star and Sixpence isn’t going to be a walk in the park. The author is the very talented Holly Hepburn – you can follow her on twitter @HollyH_author.  She’s busily putting the finishing touches to the first instalment, called Snowdrops at The Star and Sixpence, coming out in winter 2015.  A long time to wait, but it will be worth it!  There will be lots of news and updates from Holly here and we know you’re going to love her.’


masterclassOn Saturday 15th November 2015 we held our very first (but hopefully not our last!) Creative Writing Masterclass here at Books and the City HQ, aimed specifically at writers of commercial women’s fiction.  The day was split into two, with morning one-to-one sessions with editors Jo Dickinson and Clare Hey and afternoon panels for a wider audience with uber literary agent Lizzy Kremer, bestselling author Milly JohnsonPeter Saxton (Publisher Liaison Manager at Waterstones Head Office), Isabelle Broom (Book Reviewer at Heat Magazine) and Lindsey Mooney (Content Lead UK & Ireland  from Kobo).

We all had a fabulous time, our Panel Sessions were brilliant – with some cracking hints, tips and advice from the very best in the business, all topped off with fizz and cake at the end of the day.  Perfect.  Here are just a few of my favourite snaps from the day…








As a very special treat, our VIP Guest Milly Johnson has kindly jotted down her Top 20 Tips for aspiring authors…

  1. Don’t procrastinate.  Dive into that book and make a start on it.  Feel the fear and do it. The first 2000 words of a book are easy, the next 98,000 are harder but every word you write is one nearer to that 100,000 target.
  2. It doesn’t matter what routine you have writing a book; just make sure you have one. Find a system that works for you.  There is no right or wrong way.
  3. Every chapter should progress a plot.  There should be no ‘treading water’ just to make up the word count.
  4. Never start your book with a description – your reader will be comatose before line 10.
  5. Regional dialect can be really annoying.  If you need to use it, sprinkle odd words through the dialogue as if you are seasoning a soup with sage.  You don’t need much of it to know it’s there.
  6. Beware of sloppy research.  If you don’t know something find it out and don’t guess it – you will alienate readers.
  7. If you don’t respect your writing time, no one else will.  If you are working, your friends and family should treat you as if you are in an external office. Get them used to thinking like that.
  8. Make sure that when you are writing dialogue, your characters listen to each other and react to what is being said as they would in real life.
  9. Always carry a notepad to record interesting words or plots or thoughts or observations.  Memories are unreliable and distort.
  10. Writer’s block?  Don’t do a crossword or listen to your iPad or anything that engages your brain.  Do some ironing, go for a walk – something that frees up your brain and lets it roam, not occupies it.
  11. Read.  Always have time to read.  Read for pleasure and sometimes read analytically.  You’ll pick up so much vocabulary and style without even noticing.
  12. Beware that sometimes characters develop a mind of their own and however much you try to write them doing something, they rebel and say ‘I wouldn’t do this.’  It sounds bonkers but it happens.  Listen to the monsters you have created.
  13. Sometimes big chunks of your work has to be cut out because it doesn’t fit anymore. Better that than have to force it to fit because it won’t read right.  Nothing is ever wasted when you’re a writer – it will come in elsewhere.  The phrase is called ‘Killing your darlings.’
  14. Write what you want to write and not what you think will sell.  Chances are if a new craze comes along, by the time your book is done, the hype will have died down about it.  And don’t pander to foreign markets either by doing things like forcing a transatlantic romance when your heart isn’t really in it.  If you’re bored writing, it reads that way. If your home market sales are strong, that is the best way for the foreign markets to show interest. They like success stories.
  15. If you are writing to an agent – keep your introductory letter relevant.  If you won a regional prize for writing – that’s relevant.  Telling an agent that you are a middle-aged housewife who loves doing jigsaws is not.  Don’t even bother saying that you want a book deal more than you want to breathe – that’s always taken as standard.
  16. And if you read that an agent should be initially approached with an introductory letter, don’t send them a full manuscript.  They won’t think you are an admirable maverick, they’ll think you’re an arrogant idiot who can’t follow a simple instruction!
  17. Try to make your book fit nicely into a genre box for marketing purposes.  A woman who travels through time and has an Edwardian vampire lover whom she accidentally murders with a poisonous mushroom stroganoff… well is that sci-fi, romance, crime, historical or romcom?  That will cause everyone a headache, from the booksellers trying to place it on a shelf to the people trying to find it in shops.
  18. If you get a publishing deal, network network network.  Join the RNA, meet other authors, tweet, facebook – get your name out there.  Write articles for the local newspaper for free (you have to do everything for free in the beginning).  Get in touch with local WI people – they are always looking for speakers.  They pay you, feed you scones and buy your books – and spread the word to other WIs.
  19. If you are published, register as soon as you know what your ISBN number is for PLR, Irish PLR and ALCS (authors licensing and collecting service).  It can be a nice chunk of bonus money arriving in your bank account every year.
  20. Do not go into this job expecting to be an overnight success.  It is very hard work, mad, underpaid for years and you are always under pressure to be better than your last book.  And if you thrive on that kind of challenge – you’ll never want to do anything else because this is the best job in the world.

Digital Originals Font (4)

On 15th July 2014 my inbox went into meltdown as #digitaloriginal submissions aplenty pinged through at a rate of knots.  If there was a Reading Challenge associated with our #oneday initiative to find the next eBook star of the commercial women’s fiction world, Clare Hey and I would be up on the podium holding aloft a well-deserved Gold medal, as we probably read more novels in the space of six weeks than many people read in a year. 

It has to be said, we had to make some difficult decisions regarding the number of novels we’re in a position to acquire as part of this project, as we were completely overwhelmed with entries, but we’ve now responded to everyone who took the time to send us their novel.

Many of the novels we read showed potential, but weren’t quite what we are looking for at this time.  Many had an interesting hook and a good cast of characters but didn’t quite fit into the genre.  We read a handful of novels by authors with a strong and unique voice, but ultimately the story didn’t grab us in the way we want to be grabbed. We sincerely wish those authors the very best of luck for the future, and we will be keeping a beady eye out to watch their careers flourish!  

Some made us both chuckle, or reach for a Kleenex – so we have emailed all of the authors of those novels with, what we hope will be, some useful and constructive feedback.

And a handful of novels blew us both away.  They were shared with the wider team and we invited those authors in to @TeamBATC HQ for a chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit.  

So thank you to everyone who submitted their novels. And watch this space for some brilliant new authors for you to fall in love with over the next few months. 



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Summer is here! Take time out to play
June 29, 2015  |  Features  |  Comments are off

The sun’s out, fragrant jasmine is blooming in the streets of our neighbourhood and the city is emerging from its slow-starting Spring slumber. In London in June it’s out with that traditional British reserve and in with Pimms, picnics, outdoor cinema, lunchtime ice cream and splashing with jeans rolled up …