Why is cozy mystery such a popular genre? What are the important tropes? What are the best ways to market a cozy series? Debbie Young talks about these aspects and more in this interview.
In the intro, K-lytics genre reports; Findaway Voices Headphone Report 2020; Edison Research Infinite Dial report on audio; 16 tips on how to self-publish audiobooks [BookBub]; Audio cookbooks, a new format? [The Guardian]; IKEA replaces print catalogue with audiobook [Quartz]; Loud and Clear by Spotify; Sell your ebooks and audiobooks direct with Payhip and Bookfunnel; and is a new Nook device coming? [The Verge].
Today’s show is sponsored by ProWritingAid, writing and editing software that goes way beyond just grammar and typo checking. With its detailed reports on how to improve your writing and integration with Scrivener, ProWritingAid will help you improve your book before you send it to an editor, agent or publisher.
Check it out for free or get 25% off the premium edition at www.ProWritingAid.com/joanna
Debbie Young is the author of cozy mysteries and feel-good contemporary fiction, set in an English village in the Cotswolds. She also writes books for authors and runs the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival. [Headshot photo credit: Laura Young]
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- The increased need for happy stories during difficult times
- Writing first drafts longhand with a fountain pen
- On the essential tropes of a cozy mystery
- Using village people and experiences in fiction without offending locals
- The importance of book covers for letting the reader know what they’re getting
- Effective ways to market cozy mysteries
- The benefits of in-person events for authors
You can find Debbie Young at AuthorDebbieYoung.com and on Twitter @DebbieYoungBN
Transcript of Interview with Debbie Young
Joanna: Debbie Young is the author of cozy mysteries and feel-good contemporary fiction, set in an English village in the Cotswolds. She also writes books for authors and runs the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival. Welcome back, Debbie.
Debbie: Hello. Lovely to be here, Joanna. Thank you very much.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. Now, you have been on before, talking about getting books into bookstores. But, today we’re focusing on your fiction.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing feel-good stories.
Debbie: Well, I’ve always been a bit of a Pollyanna. Almost annoyingly optimistic, at times.
Joanna: Me, too.
Debbie: That’s the way to be, isn’t it, especially at the moment? You want to be upbeat and look for the bright side of things. Definitely the ‘glass half full’ person.
I’ve always been quite jolly and upbeat and cheerful, and I like reading happy books with happy endings. They have to be convincing happy endings, not just sort of neat and happy for the sake of it. So, it was fairly natural for me to go into writing upbeat fiction.
I’m also ever so suggestible. I scare very easily, have nightmares at scary things on the telly. I’ve got a teenaged daughter, and for some years now we’ve had role reversal, where she’s told me when to look away from the screen so I don’t get frightened, or get too sad. And, I like cheerful things.
I’ve always loved writing, since I was a child. Spent a career in journalism and PR, writing business-y things. And when I decided, some time ago, to start focusing more on writing fiction and writing what I’d really wanted to write when I grew up, I started writing short stories, and found myself writing mostly humorous ones, funny ones. I do like a laugh. I like a joke. I like jolly things. I’m interested in eccentric and unusual characters, as well.
As I built up my confidence, and competence, I suppose, as well, in writing funny short stories, I decided that I really wanted to move onto novels. And, because I’ve always loved upbeat, traditional mysteries, which I guess you would call cozy mysteries now, the Agatha Christie kind.
Cozy mysteries is more of a newcomer as a category, compared to the golden age of mysteries, when my heroes, like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham were writing. So, it was quite natural for me to sort of go in that direction.
Also, this is about, 10 or 11 years ago I was deciding what I should be writing long term, and at that point, I had lived in my little Cotswold village for 20 years. I’ve now lived here over 30 years. Been part of village life, really from day one.
I’ve served on just about every committee in the village. My daughter’s been through the village school. I’m now in the church choir. I’ve joined the bell ringers. Been on the village show committee, all this sort of this thing.
So, there’s endless amounts of material there, but also, I love community life. I love this village life. Having grown up in a London suburb, where you didn’t know all your neighbors, you didn’t speak to all your neighbors, here, where everybody knows everybody else, it’s a lovely way to live. It suits me. It wouldn’t suit everybody, but it suits me very well. And, I wanted to celebrate that in my fiction.
We’ve never had any murders here…we have the odd mystery, but no murders. I’ve been found out. So, it was natural that I choose that setting for my first series of novels, which are the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. Writing about somewhere that you know very well, that you’re very fond of, and that you like very much, I think makes the whole thing more enjoyable and easier. And, I think it should be enjoyable.
When I came to diversify into a second series, which is set in the same parish as the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, but just up the road in a private girls’ boarding school, quite an eccentric boarding school, I drew on the 13 years’ experience I had working in the offices of a girls’ boarding school. So, that was another community that I knew very well.
Now, with both of these kinds of communities, with both the village and with the boarding school, they are classic settings, really, for a cozy mystery, and you’ve got a clearly identifiable little world of its own. So, you can do a lot of world building.
You’ve got finite borders, really, to that world, so you’ve got your cast of characters, pretty much staying put. So, there’s almost something sort of theatrical and stagey about it, you’ve got your own little world, that makes a very good setting for this kind of book.
So, I felt that I had two very good sets of experiences which would allow me to make those worlds. I’ve got another one that I’m thinking of doing later on, when I’m a bit further down the road with my second series, which will be set in the world of commerce.
I worked for PR consultancies for a few years, and they are also a very interesting setting. So, that’s another one, but that might not be quite as cozy. I haven’t quite decided.
Joanna: As we discuss this, we are still in pandemic times, and it is a very difficult time for people. And, I had a feeling that people would be reading these types of books, and the latest K-lytics report that I recently saw shows that cozy, culinary mysteries and also amateur sleuth mysteries are ticking up. Which, I think is just evidence that people want these kind of feel-good books.
But, I wondered about you, personally. Like, you mentioned you’re annoyingly optimistic. But, it’s funny, I’m annoyingly optimistic with my non-fiction, and yet I tend to write the darker books.
I don’t read your genre, and I can’t write it either. My mum loves this kind of stuff, because my mum’s more like you. I’ll say, ‘Don’t watch that, Mum,’ on T.V. and stuff like that.
How have you managed to keep your writing upbeat during difficult times?
Debbie: I think it serves the same purpose for me as it does for the reader, really, in that it cheers me up, and it means that I can go down my little rabbit hole when I sit down at my desk to write. I’m going into my safe little world of Wendlebury Barrow or of St. Bride’s School, where I can feel safe.
There’s no pandemic, no germs there, you know? No viruses. And, there won’t be. I’m never going to write about coronavirus.
I just get the same buzz from it as a reader would get. And, it’s like a switch just sort of flicks in my brain when I sit down with my pen and paper. I write by hand, as you know. I sit down with my fountain pen and my pad of paper, and I’m just transported. I’m going through the back of the wardrobe to Narnia. I’m there, in my happy little world, with my lovely cast of characters.
I’m just writing the seventh Sophie Sayers Village Mystery now, and I’ve got probably about eight characters that have been central to the story since the first book, adding new characters as they go along. In each book, there’s new characters to add interest and variety. And, it’s just nice to be in their company again. ‘Oh, I’ll go and spend the morning with Sophie, and visit Hector’s bookshop’. It’s a safe world to explore.
Joanna: I think that’s great. You mention that you write on paper? I would think everyone’s now going, ‘What? Paper and pen? What is this strange behavior?!’
Do you mean you outline that way, or you do write longhand for the whole book, and then type it up later?
Debbie: It sounds completely mad and luddite, but I’ve arrived at the point where I’ve realized that I write best if I’m writing with a pen, easy flowing pen, a fountain pen, ideally, on paper, the odd sort of lined pad that you had at school.
I hasten to add I’m very computer literate. I type really fast. And, I have tried. I’ve tried audio. I wrote my second novel using audio. I typed, probably, the first one and probably the third or fourth.
But then, at that point, I realized that I’m of the school of thought where I just want to get the first draft down. And, there’s all sorts of scientific research that shows that your hand, writing the word, communicates with the brain in a slightly different way to if you’re typing, even if you’re a fast-touch typist, as I am, where I don’t have to think about where my fingers are going on the keyboard. It just unlocks things more easily for me.
And, also it’s a nice, tactile thing, as well. The flow of the ink on the paper, I think, is very soothing. It does mean it’s a complete pain when you have to type it all up, of course. But, that also serves as the first edit, as well, because as I’m typing up, then I’m correcting things as I go along.
I have to confess, I have also had a virtual assistant typing for me before lockdown, but it’s not as easy to pass the manuscript back and forth in the same way now. And also, my virtual assistant has got kids at home, and working from home, and I think probably just couldn’t cope with that at the moment.
So, I’m nearing the end. Hopefully, today is going to be the magic day when I finish book seven, and then the typing will begin, when I shall probably be cursing myself. But, I am sure that I will still go on writing this way.
And, if people out there are thinking, ‘No, that’s mad,’ I would urge them to give it a try and see if they like doing it, because you don’t know until you try. I’m always astonished by how many writers don’t touch type, and are having to look at the keyboard all the time they’re typing. And, I think that would be a horrendous distraction. I don’t know how people do that at all.
Joanna: Really interesting. Neil Gaiman is another one who writes longhand. And, it’s funny, I think you find your way, don’t you? But, as you said, you’ve tried different things. You tried dictation. I think when you said ‘audio,’ you meant dictation.
Joanna: Let’s come back to the, ‘What is the cozy mystery genre?” You mentioned ‘clearly identifiable world,’ which is real life, right?
Joanna: Is there cozy mystery in fantasy and other things, as well?
Debbie: Well, that’s very interesting. You may just have invented a whole new genre there Joanna. I don’t know. I don’t read fantasy particularly, but I think that’s a possibility. But, you would need to make sure that your cozy readers were expecting a fantasy world as well, an unreal world.
Generally, the places that people write about in cozy mystery, are not necessarily absolutely idyllic, they’re not flawless. But, they would be places where you might like to live. I quite often have people say to me, ‘Oh, I think I’ll come and live in Wendlebury Barrow,’ especially now, because it just seems a nice, safe world.
It’s also a pretty place, a historic place. Other settings can include seaside towns, cathedral towns, market towns. Not very often in big cities. I think having the closed community, in the same way that Agatha Christie does with her island hotels and things like that, is a useful device, as well as being a pleasurable thing to read about. So, it should be somewhere that would be a pleasant place, until the dead bodies start turning up.
Joanna: What are some of the important tropes of the cozy genre?
Debbie: There are very clear rules that you break at your peril, if you don’t want to upset readers. When people pick a cozy, they expect it to be clean, no swearing, no sex. No overt sex. You can drop hints, but nothing graphic.
Nothing terribly grisly or violent. Obviously, you have to dispatch somebody somehow, if you’re going to have a murder story, but you don’t describe all the horrible detail.
In one book, somebody falls down a well, so you can’t even see the mess. You can’t get down the well. In Best Murder in Show, the murder is so neat and tidy, that it looks like somebody’s died of natural causes. And so, you can read it on a full stomach, without fear. They’re not things that are going to put you off for dinner.
The murder victim should be someone who is really unlikeable, or not so likeable that their death really upsets the reader.
Joanna: Oh, right. It’s got to be deserved.
Debbie: There’s gentle moral correctness, this real sense of right and wrong. In my books, the people who are the murderer and generally the people who are murdered, I’m not giving any plot spoilers, are people who are unlikeable. There can be people who are murdered who are likeable, but the murderer is not going to be somebody who the reader is going to feel sympathy towards.
You expect there to be a loveable central character. Maybe, romantic interest. Not always. It’s not essential. If there’s not a romantic interest, then there should be camaraderie. So, there might be a sidekick, a bit like Poirot and Captain Hastings. And, you need a foil to the central character who’s doing the sleuthing.
There should also be lots of red herrings. I think a cozy mystery should be like a cryptic crossword puzzle, which will be fun to solve. I think fun is a really important feature of cozy. So, the reader should feel like they’re engaged alongside the sleuth, trying to solve the mystery.
A lot of the rules that were laid down by the detective club in the golden age of crime still apply. I think there’s 10 rules, some of which were a bit outdated, like, there should be no Chinamen, because that was the 1920s cliché of having the Chinamen as the villains.
But, the rules, such as, there should be no coincidence. Coincidence shouldn’t be the reason that the thing gets solved. There shouldn’t be anything that is just not believable.
The reader should have all the information they need to solve the crime, even if they don’t. So, all the clues should be planted in the mystery so that the really observant or experienced reader will identify the criminal maybe even before the fictitious sleuth does.
Ideally, you don’t want them to, but actually, it doesn’t matter that much if they do, provided they’ve enjoyed the experience, because it makes them feel clever if they do sort it first.
There should be no children or animals harmed. Nobody really vulnerable who really suffers. Some people do make exceptions to this, but generally, people want a safe space in a cozy mystery.
I think the denouement at the end should be a happy ending for everybody concerned, apart from obviously, the victim. Justice should be done.
I know a lot of my readers are 50 plus. I aim also at writing books that could be read by children. And, I know I’ve got a local girl who has been reading my books since about the age of 12, so I bear her in mind, as well as some of my older readers who are in their late 80s and 90s, and everybody in between. So, you want to please everybody.
They’re sort of family stories. They’re something that you could pass on to mum or your children, teenage children, or your grandma, and they would all enjoy them, too. So, I think that’s something nice about that, actually, because they can bring families together. It’s a nice book to share as a family.
Cozy mysteries are generally also pretty short reads, pretty quick reads. Nice and easy, not demanding. Quite often, I get people saying, ‘Oh yeah, they’re nice easy reads,’ and that actually is a real compliment, because you have to put all of these complicated things in, but still make it feel like they’re having a little rest while they’re reading.
Typically, 50,000 to 60,000 words. But, there are also successful cozy writers who are writing maybe 40,000, and I’ve started also writing little novelettes and short novellas, between 12,000 and 16,000 or 17,000 words. Just for fun, really, in between times. And, those seem to be going down quite well, as well.
People are looking for something escapist and satisfying and upbeat to read, that they can read even when they’re tired, bedtime reading, when they’re world-weary. They’re nice, little escapist reads.
Joanna: Fantastic. You mentioned at the beginning that you’ve been living in your village for 30 years, and you talked about the bell ringers, and that’s great. It’s very English to me, to have a sort of, bell ringing in a Cotswold village.
But, it obviously helps you to write somewhere you know. But, there must also be challenges of writing about somewhere so close to home. You’re well-known in your village, and it’s like, ‘Is that modelled on Jane down the road?’
How do you avoid gossip, but also, presumably, use village life in your books? How do you balance it all?
Debbie: It’s tricky. My first novel, Best Murder in Show, was inspired by our annual village show. You have a traditional horticultural show, carnival…the murder takes place in a carnival float. I’ve been on umpteen carnival floats in the village show, myself.
Those things are obviously very familiar to local readers, as well, and they’re happy to have the event celebrated, because there’s a lot of local pride about all the things that go on in this village. It’s a very busy village.
But, I think the key differentiation is to make sure that I’m not just lifting characters wholesale from the village. My belief, honest belief, is that all my characters are made-up. They will certainly have certain characteristics that I’ve observed in other people, as are all writers.
Unless you’ve lived in a cave for all your life before you start writing, all writers are bound to draw on characteristics in people that they’ve met in real life. But, I don’t lift people wholesale. I create them.
One of my best friends from school says, ‘Well, Sophie Sayers, she’s just you, really, isn’t she?’ I’m old enough to be Sophie Sayers’ mum, and then some, so I take that with a pinch of salt. But, I do consciously try to avoid recreating anybody who would be recognizable.
Although I know loads and loads of people, both in the village and in the school that I used to work in, but I also have a very vivid imagination, and I have met an awful lot of people elsewhere in my life, who have also been equally inspiring.
Joanna: You talked earlier about coming up with eccentric and unusual characters. Given that you have to have quite a cast for these books, you’re populating a village and a school and all of this, how are you coming up with characters that are eccentric and unusual?
Do you have a go-to character method?
Debbie: Not really. It’s kind of chicken-and-egg, because the stories are led by character, really. The events that happen, happen because of the eccentricities of the characters.
I start out by deciding the basic gist of the story. What kind of crime is it going to be, who’s going to commit it, the subset of the village where it’s going to take place, like the village show or the bonfire night party, or wherever. And, the characters kind of grow out of the need that is created by choosing that particular setting. Character leads plot, but plot leads character.
And also, I just sort of open my mind, really. And it sounds a bit airy fairy, but sometimes the characters just step up when I’m not expecting them, or they start behaving in ways I’m not expecting as I’m writing.
There’s an old boy who is in all of the books called Billy. He’s a retired old boy who does odd jobs and knows everybody and has all these country ways. He started out as just being a customer in the tea room where Sophie is serving a cup of coffee, just as something happened, in particular chapter. He started heckling. And he ended up being quite a major character and becoming very good friends with Sophie, as well.
I write about characters of all ages, from children up to the very elderly, and I guess that’s another prompt for creating different characters as well, is that I want to represent a village with people of all ages. So, I might think, ‘Oh, well I haven’t got anyone middle-aged. Here’s an opportunity for them to come in.’
I have a teenage boy who is a sort of prankster. I don’t think he was in the first one. I think he came in in the second one. And, he was such fun, that he sort of kind of insisted on staying. He’s become a quite useful foil for Sophie, and also a great source of comedy. I really like spending time in his company.
Joanna: That’s great. I love that.
Let’s talk about some marketing stuff, because your book covers have a really clear branding. To me there are, ‘Okay, I know what that is.’ You had Best Murder in Show, I think it was, with the bunting on it, and that kind of thing.
Did you get that right the first time? And what are the important elements of making sure readers know what they’re getting?
Debbie: It’s really important to set the tone, so that you know what you’re getting on there. It’s a close relationship, really, in a way, to romantic comedies and chick flicks. So, they’re upbeat, but they also have an edginess to them.
All of mine have a little black motif going across the top, whether it’s the black bunting on Best Murder in Show, or the leafless black spooky branches on Trick or Murder, the one that’s set at Halloween.
And, the font is very important, as well. The font is ever so slightly anarchic, suggesting a little bit sort of lack of control and slight, gentle element of danger. It’s not quite as swirly and sugary as the font that you find on rom-com and chick flicks.
And the colors, as well. The colors are generally quite bright, pastel-y, cheery, upbeat, sometimes a bit more vivid. But, they’re quite jolly, bright, and cheerful colors.
Now, I was really lucky, because I absolutely landed on my feet by finding a cracking designer called Rachel Lawston, of Lawston Design. I already had in mind that I was going to have a series of seven books for this series, and I already had worked out what the titles were going to be for each one.
I talked it through with Rachel, and as with any good cover designer, it’s real teamwork. You work together, brainstorm together. And, she just came up with this branding, and it was spot on.
The advantage of using a really good professional book cover designer is that they know what works out there. They know what’s in the marketplace, and whatever you think yourself, they will tell you what the right tropes are for the covers, and the color schemes and fonts and so forth.
Rachel’s done a terrific job. And also, on my St. Bride’s series, as well, the school series. She’s done a really good job there, as well.
It’s so important to get the cover right, because it just shouts ‘cozy mystery.’ And, of course, it’s got murder…well, the Sophie Sayers books have all got ‘murder’ in the title. Springtime for Murder, Murder, Lost and Found, whatever. So, it’s clear there’s going to be a murder in there. Or, some kind of threat. It’s really important to get that right.
Joanna: You’re doing really well with these, right?
The short stories are fantastic, but they’re not the thing that is making you the income right now.
Debbie: That’s right. I started out writing short stories, and really also finding my feet in self-publishing, writing the short stories. I published three volumes of short stories before I started writing the novels.
I’ve been writing columns for local magazines. The local parish magazine, the local community magazine for over ten years now. I’ve collected those into books, as well. And, those are starting to sell now off the back of people reading novels and wanting something else to fill the time before I get the next novel out.
Although the short stories don’t have the same rural setting, they’ve got the same sort of style humor, generally upbeat, a little bit more sort of sarcastic, I suppose, some of them. But, a little bit more cynical humor. But, it’s all useful backlist stuff for people to read who like the novels.
But, I have to say, I’m focusing on the novels and the novelettes now. I feel I’ve found my niche. I’m really comfortable doing that. I’ll probably still will write some more short stories. I’ve got lots of ideas for short stories. But, I’m giving priority to writing the novels, because that’s what people want.
Joanna: What have been some of your most effective ways to market the books?
Debbie: Certainly, and this is probably common for all cozy mystery writers, the best thing to do is to write a series as your starting point. Plan a series, because if somebody likes the series, if they like the characters, if they like your setting, then they will want more of the same. So, A, write a series.
I’m very glad I made that decision. Because, it was quite a big commitment, especially to put it out there and to state it in public before I’d even written the first one. ‘This is going to be the first of a series of seven novels.’ I wasn’t really sure if I could write one. So, that was a bit of a risk. But, that paid off. So, writing a series is good.
When you’ve got a certain number of books out there, I would say, make the first in the series either cheaper, or free, to lure people in, and I’ve run a couple of free book promotions, which has been a great way to bring people into the series, and then you get read-through, where they get hooked on the one that they get for free, and then they want to read the rest.
I’ve also got one of them at 99 cents or 99 pence, so if they’ve already read the free one, and they want to try another one, and they’re still not quite sure, then they can snap up the 99 P one.
The books are very seasonal. The series of seven runs the course of a village year from one summer to the next. So, the policy at the moment is that whichever one is the most seasonal will be 99p. So, the one that’s set at between January and February, that culminates in a murder on Valentine’s Day, that’s the one that’s currently 99 P.
Also, having a mailing list magnet or, having a mailing list, at all, of course, is good. So that people can sign up for so that you can keep them posted when you’ve got your next book out. And, having a mailing list magnet, the freebie that people that they get as their welcome gift, really, for joining your mailing list, it’s the reward they get for trusting you with their email address, having a mailing list magnet that is really relevant to your series is also very useful.
I would recommend having something that they can’t buy anywhere else. So, whether someone wants to join your mailing list because they’ve already read all your books and they’re desperate to know when the next one will be out, or whether they want to try the freebie to see if they’ll really like the rest, it needs to work for both of those.
My mailing list magnet is a novelette called ‘The Pride of Peacocks,’ which is not a murder mystery. It’s just a gentle little mystery, set in the village, and it features Sophie Sayers and friends, and it also introduces the world of St. Bride’s, because there’s a little crossover between…well, it’s the first time St. Bride’s gets mentioned in my fiction.
And, St. Bride’s School is then the school that features in my second series. And, in every St. Bride’s book, there’s a crossover, in that the two main characters in the St. Bride’s stories, in each novel they at some point come over to Wendlebury Barrow and meet Sophie. And, the protagonist in the St. Bride’s books, Gemma Lamb, she becomes friends with Sophie Sayers. And so, if St. Bride’s readers haven’t read the Sophie Sayers books, hopefully that will encourage them to do that, as well.
And, of course, also, you should have all of those things in your back matter, so that people are aware of the other books that you write, the other series that are available.
I do a little bit of social media, but I’m concentrating on getting more books out, and building my mailing list, and promoting the first in the series for both of them, is the main thing. I have done advertising with Amazon, but I don’t particularly like doing it.
All my books are wide. I should say I took all my books wide about a year and a half ago, and so, advertising only on Amazon, even though it’s still the biggest market, seems less relevant to me, now that my books are available everywhere.
I’m also starting to turn them all into audio. The first one, Best Murder in Show, is available as audio. Secrets at St. Bride’s, the first St. Bride’s one, will be available as an audio shortly, and I’m going to gradually work my way through audio, as well, so that I’ve got as many formats as possible out there, so that whatever people like, it’s available for them.
Joanna: Do you do large print? Because that would seem quite a good format.
Debbie: It’s on my list for 2021, Joanna. Because, absolutely right. Large print would be really good for my target audience. And with cozy you do sell quite a lot of paperbacks. I sell upwards of 10% in print at the moment, which I think, for an indie, that’s quite a lot.
A lot of my friends sell far fewer than that, a much lower percentage than that. But, I think large print would be good, and also, it would be good for libraries, as well.
Joanna: Absolutely, I think that’s a good idea, because we were looking at my mum’s numbers as Penny Appleton. It’s sweet romance, but it’s a similar demographic, because she does older protagonists. And, it was over 50%, I think, were print. Of which, the majority was large print.
Debbie: Oh, that’s interesting.
Joanna: Yeah. So, I think that’s a really good idea and people listening, as well, if your demographic is older. I used to think, ‘Oh, well you can just change your e-reader to a larger font.’ But of course, some people really prefer print, and having a large print book.
I’m 46 this year, and I’m already starting to struggle with some of the books that people put out. Especially when they squash fonts. when you get a book and you’re like, ‘How did this past the proofreader, or something? Or, was the proofreader in their 30s?’
Debbie: Yes. I must say, I did redo my interior format after my first book came out, because somebody told me that their 90-year-old mum was having trouble reading it. And, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s awful. I must look after her.’ So, I’ve increased the font and the leading, and I’m definitely planning to do large print, as well.
I am of the age where, when a book turns up that is in big print, I think, ‘Oh, how nice. How refreshing.’
Joanna: It is so interesting to think about that. And, yeah, so I hope people listening, definitely something to consider, and with print on-demand, it’s not that big a deal. And, you can actually do…there’s a little checkbox on KDP Print, and on Ingram you can use various things. In fact, they might even added a checkbox there, as well. So, yeah, it’s just another format.
Before we run out of time, I did want to ask you about the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, which I’ve been along to, and it’s fantastic. Of course, outside of pandemic times, doing in-person events is really good. But, I know how much work it is for you.
What are the benefits of in-person events for authors? And also for communities?
Debbie: It’s very interesting, actually, Joanna, because my festival takes place in April, as you know. And so, I’ve had to cancel both last year’s and this year’s, which was a hard decision. The right decision, because clearly it would have been wrong to hold it.
But, with everybody being on Zoom, doing everything, and quite a lot of festivals going on on Zoom or other online formats, I did get asked, ‘Well, are you going to put it on Zoom?’ And, I said, ‘Well, no. Because it just wouldn’t be the same.’
Because, I think it’s not only the talks, because obviously you can put talks on Zoom. But, you don’t have then all the things that happen in between the talks, and also you don’t have the same engagement with the audience on Zoom, because typically, you’d mute everybody. And, you might have Q and A, but it’s not the same as having an engaging conversation with an audience.
One of the things that I really love about Hawkesbury is that it feels very democratic. The audience are not at all inhibited about asking questions. I was chairing one event once, where it got really quite lively, and I use that as a bit of a euphemism, because a handful of the people in the audience who were being ever so slightly rude to the speakers.
It was awful, and everything worked out well. But as we were walking out of the venue afterwards, someone in the audience said to me, ‘You never get that happening at Cheltenham.’ And I said, ‘You’re right.’ It’s a very genuine kind of engagement that you get between author and reader.
It’s very nice for the authors to network, as well, and there’s a real camaraderie. At Hawkesbury, as you know, we don’t really have a green room. Unlike at Cheltenham, where all the authors are tucked away and marshalled to their events by hosts. The authors all mix together freely, and they also mix with the audience in the café in between venues. It’s very sociable.
It’s also very motivating for the authors. Nice for the readers, the audience, to talk to the authors and get to know them and hobnobbing with the authors. But also, very nice for the authors to get feedback from the readers, not only to remind you that the people reading it are all flesh and blood who have their own opinions and views, but also to actively get feedback.
I had a lovely children’s author there once, called Lu Hersey, who writes teen fiction, sort of early teens. And, she sat around for a while with some friends of my daughter’s, who at that time was about 13 or 14, and she said afterwards that was the highlight for her, was sitting and talking to a bunch of teenagers who were target audience, and bouncing ideas off them. And, that kind of thing, again, you don’t get in Zoom.
And also, of course, with the nature of the village, this whole community that I’m celebrating here, the venue is part of the character that hosts the event. People like to come to this quirky little village, and our events are in funny places like, as you know, the Bethesda Chapel and the Methodist Chapel and school hall. And, in the pub.
We’ve had events in one of the pubs. And, that is part of the joy. It’s all the stimulus. As you and I have both talked about the importance of filling the creative well. And, that kind of event really does give a creative buzz to both reader and writer. You just don’t get that on Zoom.
Joanna: I’m with you. And also, you don’t get homemade cakes or a pint of ale at the pub.
Debbie: We don’t do much without drinking or cakes. I’m also on the village shop committee, and alcohol and cakes are our two bestsellers all through the pandemic.
Joanna: I definitely think very fondly of the festival, and everything in person now. It’s so funny, because I feel like that was one of the things we took for granted. And, I probably was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go and do another thing, because I don’t want to see people.’ And now I’m just desperate for it.
Debbie: Yes. It’s a long way off till we have the April 2022 one.
Joanna: Oh, well let’s hope it’s all back by then. I mean, goodness.
Debbie. Where can people find you and your books online?
Debbie: Well, I have my author website. It’s a starting point for everything. It’s got my social media on there, as well. And, that is authordebbieyoung.com.
You’ll also find it if you just put my name into a search engine, into Amazon, or hopefully into other proprietors as well, as my books are wide. It’s Debbie Young, spelled the most common way, very common name, and I’ve got a Facebook page, I’m on Twitter a little bit, and I’m just starting to get into Instagram, as well. That’s been quite fun, networking with readers and book bloggers and other authors on Instagram. So, you can find me in any of those spaces.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Debbie.
Debbie: It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much. Been really nice chatting to you, even online.
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Author: Joanna Penn