Abandon Ship: A Step-By-Step Guide To Not Finishing Books

Abandon Ship: A Step-By Step Guide To Not Finishing Books

I was on holidays last week. You know this, because I put up a horrible gloating post with photographs indicating the niceness of the holiday scenery, and the depths of my nasty character.

While I was away, I abandoned a book I’d been trying to read for about six months. I’m not going to tell you what it was, because this isn’t about author shaming, and that particular author is too successful anyway to care. But for the first time in my life, I abandoned a book more than two thirds the way through.

The notion seemed ridiculous. Surely, having got that far, I could have persevered? Especially when the damned thing had been sitting on my bedside locker for six months, having been started twice, but shortly thereafter also put down twice, in favour of brighter and shinier books which I duly finished in the meantime, thinking “Yerrah, I’ll finish that one on my holidays”.

I was reclining by the water’s edge (I mean right by the water’s edge – or edges, in fact, as I lay bang in between the warmly lapping sea and the cool, refreshing swimming pool. Just sayin’) when I finally asked a friend when she would abandon ship, if a book just wasn’t doing it for her. She asked me what I thought was wrong with what I was reading. I began to say that the story had never gone in the direction I was expecting, and as time went on it went further and further into territory which didn’t entertain either me or my imagination. But before I even finished the sentence, I’d already shut it and dumped it.

So without further ado (or boasting – by the way, it really was a lovely holiday, did I tell you? Just glorious) here is my Ultimate Guide To Not Finishing A Book. Click to embiggen.

Abandon Ship: A Step-By-Step Guide To Not Finishing A Book

Click for big. Abandon books at will. You have the power.

Note: This aims to aid you in the making of your decision between Chapters 1 and 3, because terrible writing and/or editing should mean it’s already been shut and dumped before the end of the first chapter. You’re welcome.

IN OTHER NEWS, I have made the final of the Blog Awards Ireland 2015, in the Best Art & Culture Blog category! Psyched I am to have made it! Winners will be announced at a bash on October 22nd, for which I made sure to secure my ticket post-haste. And it’s thanks to all you lovely people for voting, which I totally didn’t deserve, seeing as I’ve become insufferable for talking about my holiday, which was very nice indeed. Did I tell you?

I Am Not There

I Am Not There

Or there

I Am Not There

Because I am here  I Am Not There

And here I Am Not There

And here

And here. 

Where blogging from one’s phone is a minor irritant on the pebbled beach of life.

See you later. If I come back.


Death By EL James

When I threatened to kill a bunny by reading it EL James’ Grey until it ran headlong and arse-ways into traffic, some thought me callous. Some thought me justified, because the furry little gits give them nightmares. Someone else coined the phrase “Death by EL James”, which immediately sounded to me like a great story title.

So without further ado, here are not one, but five – count ’em! – five different versions, in five different genres, of Death By EL James. (I have yet to take action on the bunny – it all depends on whether you’ll vote for me in the 2015 Irish Blog Awards here and here before September 21st. Just sayin’)

Death By EL James

1. Literal

Oh, my! she thought, as he came with the knife. Was he going to stab her? She’d never been stabbed before. But she was sure it would be delicious. It was a very large and magnificent knife. She was sure none of the other billionaires she knew had knives that big. And certainly not so beautifully sheathed.

He unsheathed it. It was even more beautiful for reasons she couldn’t quite explain, given her limited vocabulary and emotional range. She somehow knew that the very moment it touched her she would explode into inexplicable, unearned pleasure. She couldn’t wait to be defiled. She literally couldn’t wait to be killed until she was dead. Oh, my!


2. Chick-Lit

Sadie gasped, her face flushing scarlet. The contents of her purse pooled onto the boardroom table. Her first ever presentation as Junior Vice President Of Marketing Stuff, and she had to go and drop her brand-new Hermès tote (which cost her two month’s pre-promotion salary) upside down on the table, its polished walnut surface perfectly reflecting the horrified expressions of all sixteen board members, including Hornelius Hardon, the sinfully gorgeous Head of Everything.

Now everyone could see that she’d been reading all four parts of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy on the train. She would simply die of embarrassment. She gathered up the offending titles, stuffing them back into the Hermès along with the cucumbers and pots of petroleum jelly, fighting the urge to turn on her four-hundred dollar Manolos and run like hell. As she looked up again, she caught Horn’s eye. His mouth was open in shock, just like everyone else’s. But there was something else in his eyes. Was it… lust?


3. Crime/Noir

Gingerly, Susan lifted the false panel at the back of the headboard. Countless well-thumbed copies of Fifty Shades of Grey looked back at her from a shelf in the hollow wall. She extracted one from the middle of a pile and flicked through its pages. There were notes in every margin. Some underlined. Bloody ridiculous, read one note. He pulled out WHAT??? read another. She flicked quickly through to the end. Air fanned out from between the leaves, startling her fringe into a nervous dance in the otherwise still room.

She checked behind her before selecting another book, her ears straining to hear Jeremy’s razor-sharp shears clipping a rhythmic beat in the garden below. She pulled another, and then another. Each copy was the same. Festooned with angry notes in that familiar, chicken-scratching hand she thought she knew so well. Just when had Jeremy got the time to do this? What else didn’t she know about her husband? And what did it have to do with the corpses of erotica authors strewn all across London?


4. Young Adult

Suki prised the book from the dead boy’s grip and somersaulted over the ravine. She mentally thanked her dead father for five years of rigorous circus training. Along with a preternatural talent for martial arts and mathematics, acrobatic abilities had saved her skin more than once since the book burning had started.

Now fifteen-year-old Suki was the only one left: the only hope for mankind. Who could have guessed that the conservative backlash against humdrum erotica could have led to this ravaged landscape, this bookless polluted hell where sex was forbidden and children were illegal? The book – her explosive contraband – burned in her arms. But she would die for it if she had to. Suki was cool like that.

Death By EL James


5. Literary Fiction

What was death? At one time it had been a euphemism for an orgasm; was it still? Or was it just this – this wasting, this existence in unwavering shades of greyness, each darkening and each lighting of the day signifying the inexorable struggle for belonging which would never reach its climax?

Jim felt he would never know. All Jim knew was the book in his hands, which was empty of meaning for him, even though everyone else seemed to get it. The choice was stark. Jim could end it all now, knowing he was utterly alone. Or he could write his own book.


Right, so. That’s just about enough of that. Normal silliness will resume in due course.

The Bestseller Guide To When You Should Publish Your Book

Over the course of the last couple of years spent crunching numbers for this blog, surfing dodgy creative social media and keeping my eyes open (in the darker hours) I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two pieces of advice all authors would do well to live by.

The first is to stay far away from tight undergarments. The second is never to trust a man called Gerald who tries to sell you a second-hand generator in a pub.

Just kidding. The advice relates to the publishing of fiction. I just needed to have a bit of fun before I whack readers in the face with some heavy-duty graphs. I’ve been going easy on you recently, with all that talking to my arse, not to mention tributes to hairy Irishmen, but all that has to stop now, for a bit of business.


Now read this advice very carefully, for I will only say it ad nauseum until I’m blue in the face saying it. It’s aimed at both traditionally published authors and self-published authors or indies: anyone who is not a best-selling author already, in fact.

  1. Don’t bring out your book at the same time as a blockbusting heavyweight. There can only be one loser. It’s going to be you.
  2. Unless it’s important for your book launch to be timed with a specific event or anniversary, launch when the book market is relatively quiet.

And how are you supposed to know when it’s quiet, I hear nobody asking? Well, that’s where nerds like me come in. Below I have some lovely graphs which are all full of colours and sweet, glorious little numbers which show you what the big publishers already know: the times of year when people buy more books, and also, when sales tend to drop. Also, I have a few insights into when the big hitters released their books in the 12 months from June 2014 to May 2015. They didn’t just pick their launch dates at random. They had their reasons, and so should you (for avoiding them).

I referred to this before, in October 2014, when I only had 5 months’ data, but now it’s time to look over a full year of Nielsen Bookscan data, as published by the Sunday Times (UK). Back in What Time Of The Year Should You Publish Your Novel? I said:

Although the base data obviously only includes the top 10 bestsellers from each week (and is in itself far from perfect, given the issues still surrounding e-book sales data) the exercise still suffices for what I want to look at: Trends. Sales trends and outliers, to be precise.

The data sources are the same and the caveats unchanged, so on we go.

First, let’s look at those actual sales: a full year’s worth, this time. Greens are highs, reds are lows.

When Should You Publish Your Book? Bestseller Data Gives Us The Answer

What does it all mean? As you can see glaring at you from the above (I changed those colours three times in an effort to make them prettier, so if you don’t like them, I won’t listen), hardback sales – i.e. blockbuster new releases – peaked in the pre-Christmas market, whereas average paperback sales peaked in June. Even though overall sales were higher in the months from October-December, people bought more paperbacks in June than any other month.

And why is that? Holidays, of course. Some people only read on holidays; some think they’ll read, and don’t; some always read, and double up on their break. It all means the same thing: overbuying, mostly.

What does that mean for you? People planning on publishing digitally should be taking advantage of the holiday market, and the sorts of people who don’t want to lug hardbacks around with them while they’re practising Camel Mindfulness in Bolivia.

Great! That’s my first million in the bag! Er, no. Big publishers know this. They knew before you did. Therefore, do not launch in June, because you’ll be ground into a pulp by the major blockbusters who will eat up all the headlines and pocket money. Launch in April or early May instead. And look at the quieter months: they are also a good time for indie authors to release – September, March and April in particular.

Really? Prove your point.  June 2014 saw major paperback releases from James Patterson, Lynda La Plante, Helen Fielding, Karen Slaughter, J.K. Rowling T/A Robert Galbraith, and the lesser-spotted Donna Tartt. June 2015 saw the release of Grey by EL James. Nuff said.

And furthermore: Keep up with the news. Read the Culture sections in the broadsheets. What’s the big release they’re all talking about? Avoid that launch week like the plague. Your dates can change, theirs won’t. You want to compete with that kind of noise, go right ahead. But don’t come crying to me when punters walk right past your triumphant book launch to buy something famous.

The following graph illustrates the overall numbers, with no split between paperbacks and hardbacks. And if you’ve been behaving yourself, and reading properly like I told you, they will back up all the things I just said. However, I am now going to blow your mind, by turning the theory on its head somewhat.

When Should You Publish Your Book? Bestseller Data Gives Us The Answer

Here we see August 2014 was the quietest month over this period, but I wouldn’t recommend launching then either, because your friendly local journalist will generally be on holidays – psychologically if not physically. Your friends will also be away, and whatever you sacrifice, you absolutely cannot sacrifice their obligation to buy three copies of your book, plus one for the dog.

Conversely, December was the biggest month for book buying, but all the promotion for the biggies is usually done and dusted by November, which means there could actually be headspace for your marketing might. I did see some data which suggested that promotional activity taken up in late December got good results. Perhaps by the time the turkey’s carved, everyone is so sick of Christmas that they just want to curl up with a new book which didn’t have a bow on it.

So there you have it. If anyone has a real-life launching experience which could help or hinder any of these theories, speak now, or forever hold your purse.

And while we’re at it, if you like these numbers as much as I do, please vote for me in the Irish Blog Awards, which I covet most unwholesomely in 2 categories this year… voting is only open until September 21st, so time is running out. Vote for me in Best Art & Culture Blog here, and in Best Marketing & Communications Blog here. Thank you!

Only You Can Save A Bunny From Certain Death. Please Vote

It’s that time of year again, folks. And I need your vote. Twice. I’ve been shortlisted in the Blog Awards Ireland 2015 in two categories – Best Art & Culture Blog and Best Marketing & Communications Blog. (Well, not me, technically, this blog has, but why split hairs when none of you have any idea that my blog is actually written by a team of angry vegetarian pixies I keep suspended in a net bag, hanging from the ceiling of my pantry?)

Art & Culture Blog 2015Marketing & Communications Blog 2015

Anyhoo, I need to debase myself yet again by asking a favour. In order to make the great leap from the shortlist to the final, I need your votes, and lots of them. Pleeeeeeease vote for me. Then get your family, your friends and your enemies to vote too. I am begging. I am prostrating myself in front of your mighty voting fingers. I am even asking nicely, and we all know how rarely that happens.

You can vote for me in Best Art & Culture Blog here:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3GZTK6T

And also in Best Marketing & Communications Blog here:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6YMVL68

Just scroll down the list until you see ‘Tara Sparling Writes’ and click in the circle beside it to vote. Voting is only open for 2 weeks between September 7 – 21 so please vote before it closes, because getting your fingers caught may not be pleasant.

There Is A Tenuous Link To The Title Of This Post

I thought long and hard about what to do to make it worth your while clicking on not just one, but two links, in order to give me what I want (oh yes). And I couldn’t think of a damn thing, so I thought I’d just threaten you instead.

With that in mind, here are 5 Reasons Why You Should Vote For Me In The Blog Awards This Year.

  1. If you don’t vote for me, I will kill this bunny. He lives in the park across the road from me. If I don’t make it past this shortlist stage, I am going to go right over there and read him E.L. James’ Grey until he  tries to escape by running into oncoming traffic.Only You Can Save A Bunny From Certain Death. Please Vote
  2. If you don’t vote for me, I will find out which toy is going to be the must-have Thing this Christmas and buy every single one of them in the world so that the children of the world cannot have any. Christmas will be ruined. And it will be your fault.
  3. If you don’t vote for me, I will write the world’s most annoying pop song, and employ Chinese hackers to make it the permanent ring tone on your phone.
  4. If you don’t vote for me, I will tell your loved ones what you did last Friday. (You know who you are.)
  5. And finally, if you do vote for me, I will promise that when I am President of the World (2018-ish), I will not subject you to 23 tax audits in my first month of office.

Go on. You know you want to. Vote early and vote once, ’cause that’s all you’re allowed to do (they have this one nailed down in Blog Awards Ireland HQ). Then get your 2,304 Facebook friends to vote. Because I only have 6, and none of them are talking to me since the yoghurt selfie incident.

Only You Can Save A Bunny From Certain Death. Please Vote So there you have it, folks. If I get enough votes, I’ll make it to the final, and be judged by a panel of scary important people. If I don’t get enough votes, there will be dead bunnies, crying children, phone rage, broken families, and more tax hell than you can even contemplate. Thank you for your consideration.

Yay! A New Book By Your Favourite Author! Except It Isn’t

Yay! A New Book By Your Favourite Author! Except It Isn't

I hope you’re ready for another barrage of articles about the new Stieg-Larsson-Not-Stieg-Larsson, because they’re queuing up like full bladders at a music festival Portaloo. But first, at the risk of incontinence, I would myself like to discuss the marketing phenomenon that is ‘Continuation Fiction’.*

In the world of Continuation Fiction, the characters live on, even if the authors don’t. Or indeed, if the authors couldn’t be bothered. Or even sometimes if they can be bothered, but don’t want to be.

Let us begin, brethren, with a parable.

There once were once some stories of recognisable hues. They wowed punters far and wide. They sold in droves. They made publishers happy.

“Give us more!” decreed said publishers. “We want more of the exact same thing, only make it different enough to fool readers into thinking they warrant a new purchase.”

And the authors cried: “But Masters! We are so over this character… And besides, we have not the time! We couldn’t possibly give you something good by the deadline you preach!”

Some more authors wept: “And we cannot do it at all, for we are altogether dead!”

“We don’t care!” yelled the publishers. “Just find someone to churn out any old shite, and let us worry about the inevitable backlash after we’ve packaged the dross, and pocketed the dosh!”

And the authors cried some more, yet duly did as ordered, wiping their tears with £100 notes (and brightening up considerably therewith).

But not the dead authors. They did not weep or wipe, and neither did they receive any currency of practical use in the afterlife. They simply watched, in stony bitterness, as appointed successors exhumed their characters, and butchered their oeuvre.

THE END (or is it?)


Apart from Stieg Larsson, who in death and irony is about to enjoy the 4th instalment of his Millennium Trilogy as written by a complete stranger, there have been many cases of the more literal meaning of ghost writing. (I can see the tagline on the publishing pitch: CONTINUATION FICTION: FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN CASH AFTER DEATH.) Virginia Andrews, PG Wodehouse, Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie, amongst others, have also endured this dubious honour.

On another note, Harper Lee did herself write Go Set A Watchman. But what’s the difference, in the context of Continuation Fiction, between a rights-owning publisher appointing a new author to write someone else’s book, and a rights-owning publisher putting out a book an author never intended to be published?

There is also what I’ve decisively decided to call “Concept Fiction”: where the mere thought that a successful author had an idea can sell books.

The most prolific user/abuser of Concept Fiction must be James Patterson, whose books almost always have an “&” after his name nowadays. He only needs to lend his name to an idea for it to be turned into a full-length novel by co-authors (or Orwellian novel-writing machines, I’m never sure). And yet he’s still raking it in, so it obviously works.


I believe there are other ways of paying tribute to an author’s work which can be far more interesting. Some, for instance, have chosen to expand on a concept, rather than replicate it.

Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea was a 1966 imagining of the backstory for Mr Rochester’s first wife, the madwoman in the attic of Jane Eyre. In the 2001 novel Rebecca’s Tale, Sally Beauman imagined that Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca might have had sinister reasons for the actions she took just before she died. These examples also show how an author can belatedly lend some of the world’s most famous characters a voice, who otherwise had none (despite their infamy).

Look – there’s no question that if a winning formula is found, the sensible and profitable thing to do is make more of it. Having said that, there are far too many good books out there to be bothering with ones being flogged to death by publishers long after the party’s over.

*Note: not to be confused with Continuity Fiction, nor indeed The Real Fiction.

Yay! A New Book By Your Favourite Author! Except It Isn't


It’s a little-known piece of trivia that EL James’ Fifty Shades novels were in fact co-written by a “Preemptory Fiction” Team comprising Stephenie Meyer, a fifteen-year-old boy with acne, and six nuns who once saw a porn film in 1978. However, Grey, the latest instalment, was actually written by James herself, in a shock reversal of the standard literary rip-off. This is completely true and I defy you to prove otherwise.

You Don’t Get Off That Easily: Time For A Quiz

Do you feel like standing up for Continuation Fiction? Yes? Tell me why and who, and you will appear nowhere in my pending piece on “Incontinence Fiction”.


A Mindful Conversation With My Arse

A Mindful Conversation With My Arse

The other day, my arse spoke to me, and imparted wisdom of great proportions. I didn’t know I’d been sitting on an oracle, but then there are lots of things I don’t know, such as pretty much everything that isn’t Googleable (seeing as nobody actually needs to remember anything about anything anymore).

Now, there is wisdom to be had almost everywhere, if only we look for it. For instance, last week, four pigeons on a 12-foot plinth at Heuston train station told me that no matter how high you fly, there will always be some bolshie bugger you have to fight just in order to stand still. This is the first time I’ve seen it coming from my arse, but it’s hardly surprising. If you think I’m a no-nonsense sort, you should see my arse.

(By the way, if you saw the headline for this post and thought “Well holy Blog, that’s terrible click-bait right there, so it is”, you’d be right. But my arse has things to say, nonetheless.)

Picture the scene. It’s late, and I haven’t moved in an hour.

My Arse:  Pssst. Tara. Hey. Get up a second.

Me:  Not now, My Arse. I have thoughts to think and days to ruin with black imaginings of unhelpful doomsday scenarios.

My Arse:  I know you’re not feeling particularly funny. But I’ve been thinking too. You’ve been sitting on me for a long time.

Me:  I haven’t much choice there. But yes, I can’t deny it.

My Arse:  I can’t do much about it either. But look, all this writing you’re doing. Is it coming to anything?

Me:  I don’t know, My Arse. The whole thing is a slow process. It can take 6 months just to query a novel, you know. And that’s not counting the 18 hours I waste per day, doing an actual job which pays me actual money, and arsing around online.

My Arse:  Mind your language.

Me:  Sorry.


My Arse:  It’s just, you’re getting heavier, you know, and your posture is going on ninety.

Me:  Right. Thanks. A little bit of encouragement goes a long way.

My Arse: I was thinking you sort of got bogged down a bit.

Me:  Are you looking for a cushion, or something?

My Arse:  You’re a lot heftier when you’re thinking more than you’re writing.

Me:  What’s your point?

My Arse:  Oh, for the love of… Why did I get all the brains? Have you got writer’s block?

Me:  I knew it. I’ll get some Senokot.

My Arse:  Shut up. Look, I know you have a lot of stuff going round your head, these days. But you’re making it all ten tons more cumbersome by sitting on me, thinking about it.

Me:  Ok, Doctor. And what is it that you’re prescribing, exactly?

My Arse:  That’s easy. Take thirty minutes of good sweaty exercise, followed by two targeted queries, and a blog post with a shallow headline. And then two glasses of wine. And a pint. Of Pernod.

Me:  I’ll skip the Pernod, if you don’t mind. But the rest sounds okay.

My Arse:  You’ll thank me later.

Me:  I suppose I will. But if you think you’re getting into smaller sized jeans any time soon, you can think again. All that activity will have to be balanced by cake.

My Arse:  [I would say it sighed here, but we all know what that means, and this is a public forum.]


So there you have it. All the gurus –  the medical ones, the mindful ones, even the mindless ones – tell you to listen to your body. I’m off to the loo. See you later.

A Mindful Conversation With My Arse

From the little-known Ancient Annals Of Posterium, c. AD 1194: “And from its arse, lo! It did sprout rainbows…”

[P.S. The first person to make a joke about me talking through my arse, gets barred.]