Saturday, 12 May 2007

Kate Thompson takes on the internet

What Katy Did

Lucille Redmond

KATE THOMPSON has made it to the top - she's an Irish woman writer of what men and literary snobs call 'chicklit', with eight novels under her belt.

She has fans around the world ready to rush and grab her next book about a bunch of successful film-star-type friends living between Ireland and a village in the South of France.

The books are fun - especially Sex Lies and Fairytales, a charming, funny fantasy about writer Pixie Pirelli and her pals in a Connemara village.

But - like all good stories - Kate's has a nasty twist. Just as she had her newest book ready, Love Lies Bleeding, her publisher told her regretfully that as she'd failed to break out of the midlist, they were going to stop publishing her.


Publishing has gone that way. If you're a squirty little bouncy thing with tits and ass and a please-me smile, the money men's eyes go click-click as they visualise the demographic. But if all you've got is a good story, it's going to be tougher.

End of career.

Or not, in the case of Kate, because she's a fighter. Oh, hell, she said, poured herself a glass of wine and stared across the table at her husband, actor Malcolm Douglas (the voice man for the re-enactments of the tribunals on Vincent Browne's show).

"I'm going to put it online," she said.

"What, Love Lies Bleeding? Are you out of your mind? That's a year's work!"

"More, actually." But she saw Malcolm thinking, and said: "What?"

"Well," he said slowly, "maybe there's a way."

They thought it through. It would be possible. After all, Kate has a homepage and a newsletter that goes out to thousands of fans. Maybe the internet could work for her and her readers, even if the publishing world wouldn't.

In publishing, nowadays, the way of it is that your book will be pushed if it's tipped as an instant best-seller: if you're Ms Bouncy, say, or notorious for some reason - or if it's so spectacularly bestseller-material that there's no doubt it's going to sell.

Otherwise, it may get a week at the front of the bookshops, then it's marked down, or even becomes unobtainable.

The bookshops, after all, are under pressure from the likes of Amazon, which don't have to stack up and display anything.

So Kate and Malcolm worked out what they should do. She'd put the first 25 chapters of Love Lies Bleeding online, and then if people liked those, they could buy the rest, which she called The Clandestine Chapters.

She thought about it, and couldn't see any downside. She rang around her bestselling writer friends - Marian Keyes, Peter Sheridan, Deirdre Purcell, Cathy Kelly - and they said "Genius!"

So she closed her eyes, crossed her fingers and did it. She put out a notice in her newsletter to her fans, saying that they could get the first half of the new book by emailing, or clicking on the Love Lies Bleeding link on her website,

Then she went to bed.

The next morning, the email requests had started to pour in. She couldn't believe the number of them. She started sending out the chapters - and the payments for The Clandestine Chapters started coming back.

Then Marian Keyes put a link to Kate's Love Lies Bleeding page on her own blog, and the flood of emails turned into a tsunami.

"Malcolm came in and found me still on the computer. He said: 'Do you realise that you've been sitting there sending out the emails for 11 hours straight?' - I couldn't keep up with the requests."

Kate had The Clandestine Chapters printed locally on beautiful creamy paper with a handmade paper cover made from flower petals from Daintree in Camden Street, tied up with a pretty ribbon, and before she put the chapters in the packet she sprayed each one with lavender.

"It's a whole local industry," she says. "Everything's done in this tiny area. Even the payments come into the local Ulster Bank."

For her keen readers, it's like getting a present. "I'm just getting into bed to cuddle up with my computer," wrote one, who had waited for The Clandestine Chapters before reading the rest.

And the media got interested. Kate started getting calls from radio stations, TV, magazines. Heat magazine listed Love Lies Bleeding as a bestseller - the first ever to make it into the list without the might of a publisher behind it.

Hughes & Hughes are stocking The Clandestine Chapters - if you go in and ask for them (they're €15, by the way), the bookseller will go and get them from a back room and sneak them out to you.

Kate's spending a lot of time in the post office, posting off packets from around the world, and she can rattle off the rates of postage to dozens of countries from India to Australia.

Her next book - a big fat novel to be published under a new pseudonym - is well on the way, and her fans are panting for it. With Love Lies Bleeding she got help and editing input from writer friends. This time she's thinking about hiring an editor.

She's learning about the publishers' side of writing - the things writers don't normally think about, like ISBN numbers, publicity and marketing.

Other writers around the world are watching her progress carefully, while the publishers go on making mega-deals and consuming each other in reverse buyouts and multiple takeovers.

It's a very happy ending.


1 comment:

Arja said...

That is amazing! Good for you, Kate!