June is “Girls Just Wanna have Fun” month. Saffina Desforges opens the show.

Saffina who?

Eight months ago nobody but a handful of people had ever heard of Saffina Desforges.

Mainly because she didn’t exist. It was a pseudonym created to avoid the confusion of having two names on the cover of our books and arguing over who got top billing, and to play the google game and get some sort of foothold in the biggest search engine of all time.

Today Saffina Desforges is the brand name of the biggest success story in British indie e-publishing.

True, Stephen Leather’s self-published The Basement, has sold more.

But Stephen is a multi-million selling trad-published author with twenty years of experience, who brought tens of thousands of loyal followers with him.

Self-published success, yes. Indie, no.

Saffina Desforges was a completely unknown name and a debut novel. What’s more, a debut novel almost every major agent in the UK turned away.

And three months after we launched the book it seemed like maybe they had a point. Sales were almost non-existent.

Kristen Lamb

The book was out there, but who knew? So we tried some savvy social media marketing. In particular Saffi picked up a copy of Kristen Lamb‘s We Are Not Alone and gave it a whirl. What did we have to lose?

Four months on and the book the UK agents called “The last taboo”, “well written but unpublishable”, and “there’s no market for a story like this” is about to breach the 75,000 sales barrier. And that’s just with the tiny Kindle UK market. As yet there’s no paper version in the book stores, not even POD, and we’ve yet to seriously start marketing across the pond.

A week or so back we were cold-called by an agent. Not just any old agent. An agent on a different continent. In fact, one of the most prestigious agencies in New York.

Nothing signed yet, and to be honest we’re not sure we want to go down the paper route, with its snails’ pace processes and the loss of independence that is the unavoidable compromise a writer makes when signing with a mainstream publisher. We’ll keep you informed on that as we go.

But being UK-based, to even approach a US agent six months ago was for us unthinkable. To be head-hunted by one of this prestige is still, a week or so later, pretty unbelievable.

Obviously the book itself  has something going for it. But while no-one knew it was out there no-one was buying it.

So a huge thanks to Kristen Lamb for helping us raise our profile enough to be found.

I had hoped Kristen would be joining us in person on MWi, and with luck she may still yet do so before the month is out, but she’s hugely busy with promo for her latest book, just launched last month.

So Kristen, if you’re reading this, a big thank you from Saffi and I, and from all our readers who would never have found Saffina Desforges without you.

~

So, it’s time to kick off Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month.

Who's First?

But choosing the running order was not to easy. In fact, a complete nightmare!

How to do it? Alphabetical? Highest profile? Biggest sales? Prettiest face? Biggest back-hander?

Of course I went for the latter. Ker-ching!

But despite my best-efforts, no-one was willing to cough up. Gone are the days when publishers bought their writers publicity

Actually, no, that’s still true today. It’s just that my guests aren’t (yet) mega-stars with unlimited promo budgets from the Big 6 behind them. Either that or they didn’t think MWi was worth the half-million dollar price tag I asked for.

But eventually I managed to convince / bribe / blackmail a few people to give up some of their precious time to write something for the MWi Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest.

But that still left the problem of running order. In the end I decided to ignore all other considerations and play it day by day. Or day by every other day, as the posts will (West Africa’s internet and electricity permitting) be running every other day.

So, while I have some huge names in blogging, books and all aspects of the writing industry, the running order is absolutely no reflection of the esteem in which I hold the guests concerned. Honest!

Which is why my second day guest, while admittedly held in extremely high esteem by me, is an author you’ve almost certainly never, ever heard of.

An as yet undiscovered talent so new to the game the e-ink on her debut book is still wet.

That’s Michelle Brooks, unknown and undiscovered, but unquestionably a future super-star.

Michelle will be here on MWi for Day Two of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun June blogfest, going live sometime Friday June 3rd.

Why am I leading with a complete unknown?  Stick around Friday to find out. I promise you it will be worth it!

And for blog-lovers everywhere it’s blogging guru Anne R. Allen on Day  Three. That’s Sunday June 5th, when Anne will be talking about blogs, no less.

As for the rest – wait and see. I don’t even know myself yet!

But of course, there was only one serious contender to open the show today.

Unfortunately she was too busy, so I had to settle for Saffina Desforges instead!

Here’s Saffi:

So, it’s the start of a very big month on MWi and it’s gonna be fun – ‘cos that’s all girls want, right?

Wrong.

I’m not a feminist – far from it. In fact, one of my favourite sayings is, “Why do a job yourself, when you can get a perfectly capable bloke to do it?”

Seriously though… 😉

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I will have a crack at most things; I play and watch football. I know more about football than most men. I put all the furniture together in my house, I do a bit of I.T, I  can find my way around under the bonnet of a car (just) and I work in a completely male dominated environment.

Hell, I even laid a guy out once for exposing himself to me in a pub (last time he’ll flop his privates out on a table where I am eating!), so I am no slouch when it comes to standing up for myself…

…but being a girl has its downside.

People don’t take you seriously – fact.

“You play football? Awww…”

I sit in meetings sometimes with the MD of my company and the other Senior Managers and they ask me to make the coffee. (Well, they used to!)

Doesn’t matter that there is only me there who can answer the questions that the head of purchasing has about our quality systems. It doesn’t count that I keep my MD out of the dock on a daily basis. I am employed as the company’s ‘competent person’, and I studied and grafted hard for the title.

I used to pack fish in a factory.

I used to bike to work in the dark with a flat tyre and start at five in the morning for a pittance of a wage.

I wanted bigger and better things.

I lied about being able to use a computer when a new business advertised in the local newspaper. I blagged my way through an interview and got a job I knew I couldn’t do. Luckily, the first two weeks in the role were a bit hit and miss, because the site was still being built. I sat a computer that I could just about switch on and used the help function to teach myself Word and Excel.

I stayed there eight years in total. I even went back as H&S/Quality Manager two years after I left. I helped write the site warehouse system. I trained all the new starters, I met with the biggest customers and I got them through massive audits every year. I did something with my life.

When my old boss told me that he would pay for a qualification but that I wouldn’t get any more money, I aced the tests, got a distinction and… left. For a better job, with more money.

Enter, stage left, the most obnoxious, woman-hating man/boss that I have ever met. After stopping my co-worker (also a girl) from stabbing him in the carotid with a pair of scissors and making me cover up for her, I left again. Nobody, certainly not a bloke, was gonna ruin my life.

Men are obviously required for certain things: Making babies (not so much now), being fathers and Popes… 😉

BUT, girls rule!

If you have read my other blogs, you will know that the first book I ever read and loved, was written by Phyllis A Whitney. The other most influential people in my life: Enid Blyton (nothing to do with my co-writer, he’s not that important), my nana, and Madonna. Yes, Madge.

Self-made business woman, music guru and all-round Super-woman. Love her or loathe her, she is an inspiration. She moulded pop, got her conical boobs out for all to see and told the world to “F**k it.”

That’s my motto.

I can do whatever I want. I don’t need approval from anyone.

When I ‘met’ Mark (my quieter half) I was going to do it alone. I was going to finish my first novel  Equilibrium and send it off to all the big publishers and it would be an overnight success. I knew everything there was to know about writing and marketing. I was gonna be a star.

Mark told me otherwise.

Despite the fact that his latte went cold when reading Equilibrium, he told me the truth. I had something, but it wasn’t good enough.

I didn’t know that a comma went before someone’s name in dialogue, or that ‘and’ and ‘she said’ could be cut. I also didn’t know that you didn’t always start a story at the beginning.

And so began my journey as a writer. And as a female writer.

Mark is happy for me to be the face of Saffina Desforges. I guess it’s because I am better looking and a whole lot cleverer-er. 😉 (And maybe also that he likes his privacy in West Africa, and wants his children to grow up blissfully unaware of the celebrity-driven culture we live in.

But this month is dedicated to strong, independent women. Girls. And writers.

And the reason Mark chose this theme was because the key characters in our works so far have all been strong female characters.

In Sugar & Spice, a mother coming to terms with not just her daughter’s killer, but the mindset of the murderer.

Some reviewers have said it was unrealistic. That no mother would cope like that in real life. Well let’s hope no mother ever has to, but how do they know any better how a mother would react in such extreme circumstances?

If someone killed a loved one of mine, I wouldn’t rest until they were brought to justice. My kind of justice. Which would probably be a lot harsher than Claire’s…

I’m not into man-hating feminist crap, don’t get me wrong. I was appalled when a Sugar & Spice reviewer said her professors had taught her “all men were programmed to rape.”

It could have been written by the character Dr Ruth Reynolds…  And of course the whole point of the Reynolds character was to show that women can be just as evil as men.

In our forthcoming gritty, dark, urban fantasy thriller Equilibrium there are two MCs who are very, very female. But one is also very, very evil.

And in our summer release Snow White, the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series, the MCs are again female.

My point is, the days of the female lead’s role being to scream or swoon to order is long, long gone.

By coincidence, in the middle of writing this post, my parents came round. I told them I was writing an article about strong women. Then I looked at my ma.

Three kids (all girls I might add), a husband who was, buy his own recent admission, “in the middle of a field” every weekend, and three jobs.

No money.

I remember my mum making our skirts and dresses to go to school in (I’m not a skirts and dresses kind of girl) and leaving to go to work immediately after dropping us off at school, then going again when we went to bed. I also remember her coming in at three in the morning after a night on the cashiers’ desk at a night club. She still found the energy to read my latest story or look at my attempt at a pig fired in a kiln from pottery class (what was that all about?).

Sure, she fell asleep in the living room at four pm once we  had come home from school and were fed and watered and safe. But she was always there.

Being a writer is kinda like being a mother (not that I have any experience in that subject).

You have this idea that you want to look after people. You want to do something nice for them. Keep them warm and fuzzy and safe; make them feel good.

That’s how I feel when I write.

Granted, I may not write stuff that achieves that all of the time, I might make people feel uncomfortable, as with Sugar & Spice; or question reality (we all know there’s fairies at the bottom of the garden, right?) or even wonder why the hell they are reading this stuff… BUT, my stories are my babies and my babies are my readers.

Writing a book is like giving birth. You create new people, new worlds; change people’s lives forever.

Who’d be a mum? In fact, who’d be a girl? 😉

Make way for some awesome ladies on MWi…

Girrrrrrl power! 😉

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    • gerrymccullough
    • June 1st, 2011

    Fascinating stuff, Mark and Saffi. Didn’t know it was a pseudonym until now. And about to reach 75,000! Wow!
    This looks like being a good month for the blog – looking forward to reading more!

  1. Here’s hoping Gerry. Spread the word and get the girls gossiping! 😉

    Saffi

  2. Yay, girl power!

    Thanks for sharing, Saffi. And Mark, thanks for devoting this month to the awesome female writers out there.

  3. Tough moms. They ruin you for writing about shrinking violets, don’t they?

  4. Fantastic post!!!! Can’t wait to read the rest. You two are awesome. 😀

    • Megg, you will love Michelle’s guest spot on Day Two on Friday!!!

      Don’t forget to hit those RT and FB buttons and make sure all the guests get to reach a wide audience.

  5. You guys really rock. This is a great idea.
    Hugs from the thugs!

  6. oh I just love this post. I think I’m about to swoon. I love Saffi’s voice in her post, I love Mark’s intro.

    great bit about the collaboration and the strength of women. I’ve read Sugar and Spice and it was a book I couldn’t put down. I’ve been telling everyone about it.

    congrats on THE agent. good luck. doesn’t sound like you need it.

    wow.

    • Thea, how did you manage to simultaneously email me and comment here? I know you multi-task but that’d ridiculous! I have this image now of you with two computers, one hand on each keyboard, and probably watching TV, listening to the radio and talking on the phone at the same time. 🙂

  7. Saffi, you and Mark are an inspiration to me. What a great story!

    After years and years of knocking on agents’ doors after my first publisher went under, I think I’m going to take the Kindle plunge, too. I know everything there is about dialog tags and comma placement, but I can’t seem to keep from writing funny. And funny is toxic in the US market. Just got another agent rejection today. “This is delightful! It’s just what I love to read. But I don’t know any editors who are looking at this kind of thing…” Sigh. Maybe I’ll just prove them all wrong, just the way you have. Congrats on the 75,000!

    • Anne, I’m sure you’ll prove them wrong big time if the other books are as good as Sherwood Ltd.

      But how lovely to get a positive negative, so to speak. At least you’re being told it’s the market, not the script that is the problem.

      I’m betting loads of agents have Kindles and are throughly enjoying reading all the new talent that is out there that they can’t get publishers for.

      It’s not just an exciting time to be a writer. It’s an exciting time to be a reader too!

    • This is the second time I’ve heard someone say that agents/publishers have told them funny doesn’t sell.

      Excuse moi?

      Have they not heard of Janet Evanovich? Her books are pee-your-pants funny. And she sells like hotcakes. And then there’s this man called Terry Pratchett…

      Funny doesn’t sell my backside!

      • There lies the problem with the old system, Shea. When there’s only so many inches of shelf-space to accomodate the humour niche then the big names will continue to be given that space.

        Anne’s point is not that humour doesn’t sell. It’s that the publishers are unwilling to invest in new names when they have more than enough of the biggies like Pratchett and co to give them a safe return.

        Sibel Hodge is a fine example. 200 rejections so she self-published and is now a star! Check her out later in the month here on MWi.

  8. Mark Williams International :
    Thea, how did you manage to simultaneously email me and comment here? I know you multi-task but that’d ridiculous! I have this image now of you with two computers, one hand on each keyboard, and probably watching TV, listening to the radio and talking on the phone at the same time.

    Ah, Mark… if you haven’t realised already that women can do everything at once while all ‘the balls’ are in the air, then you are ‘just a man.’

    • Guilty as charged. Just a man…

      And don’t I know it here in West Africa were young girls, nine years old, carry heavy buckets of water on their heads, sometimes literally for miles.

      And by heavy, I mean the sort of weight I can barely lift off the ground.

  9. Seriously though…
    Saffi (and what would we give to know who you really are!) you have motivated from the toes up. Inspiring!

    As a woman who worked in a man’s world, (and I am so NOT a women’s libber. I like my doors opened and old fashioned etiquette and respect), the first ever female to work in the agricultural current affairs department of our national broadcaster, who had to cope with farmers who believed a woman wasn’t capable of asking the hard questions (this was the 70’s), who has an 85 year old mother who is a 5foot Amazon and a brilliant role model, I say: (and pardon the Americanism) GO GIRLFRIEND!

  10. Respect and etiquette… What lovely words.

    I talk about respect in my next post, with the intro to Michelle, and how it makes a better writer.

    Here in West Africa the elders are almost universally respected – except when it comes to public transport.

    When there’s two hundred people waiting for a battered coach designed for thirty it’s every man for himself, though the windows, on the roof, whatever. A bit like living in Germany.

    As for the boats across the river… Cramming 200 people in a boat designed for thirty is an interesting experience. I used to wonder why all the fit young men rushed to get on first. Then I realised there were only thirty life-jackets…

    Despite these anamolies respect and etiquette are at the centre of life here, and that’s how it should be.

  11. Mark Williams International :
    There lies the problem with the old system, Shea. When there’s only so many inches of shelf-space to accomodate the humour niche then the big names will continue to be given that space.
    Anne’s point is not that humour doesn’t sell. It’s that the publishers are unwilling to invest in new names when they have more than enough of the biggies like Pratchett and co to give them a safe return.
    Sibel Hodge is a fine example. 200 rejections so she self-published and is now a star! Check her out later in the month here on MWi.

    By “they” I meant publishers/agents (I should have been clearer.), but you’re right. They don’t want to take chances that somethone won’t be “the next Janet Evanovich”. Of course, I think that’s true of most genres when it comes to traditional publishing. Which is why I think it’s so cool that self-publishing has become so much more accessable, whether a writer decides to self-publish exclusively, or both self and traditionally publish. It opens up whole new worlds both for writers and readers.

  12. Megg Jensen :Fantastic post!!!! Can’t wait to read the rest. You two are awesome.

    Well, I am Megg, not so sure about Mark yet… 😉

  13. theaatkinson :oh I just love this post. I think I’m about to swoon. I love Saffi’s voice in her post, I love Mark’s intro.
    great bit about the collaboration and the strength of women. I’ve read Sugar and Spice and it was a book I couldn’t put down. I’ve been telling everyone about it.
    congrats on THE agent. good luck. doesn’t sound like you need it.
    wow.

    Thanks Thea! 😉

  14. mesmered :Seriously though…Saffi (and what would we give to know who you really are!) you have motivated from the toes up. Inspiring!
    As a woman who worked in a man’s world, (and I am so NOT a women’s libber. I like my doors opened and old fashioned etiquette and respect), the first ever female to work in the agricultural current affairs department of our national broadcaster, who had to cope with farmers who believed a woman wasn’t capable of asking the hard questions (this was the 70′s), who has an 85 year old mother who is a 5foot Amazon and a brilliant role model, I say: (and pardon the Americanism) GO GIRLFRIEND!

    Backatcha girlfriend! PS. You can go to my facebook page (saffina.desforges) and see a bit of the ‘real’ me anytime. I accept all friend requests. Thanks for stopping by! 😉

    • Delorfinde
    • June 2nd, 2011

    Love it! My English class is almost all girls – we have six boys? Or something. Anyway, we’re reading all this love poetry, in the Literary Heritage part of our anthology, oh, and it’s hilarious! Several of the girls are blatant feminists and the boys just love bringing up stereotypes to annoy them. You have to admire their bravery. They are extremely outnumbered.

    Or maybe they’re just stupid….

    • Thanks for joining us!

      Poetry… Now you’ve got me thinking. Although there’s a reference to a poet in the Day 2 post going live on Friday, I haven’t actually got a poet lined up as a guest.

      That is just so remiss of me.

      Thanks for indirectly reminding me. Any favourites among the poets you’re studying that you’d care to share with us?

        • Delorfinde
        • June 4th, 2011

        Hmmm, not really. I’m not a huge fan of any of the ones in the anthology, to be quite honest … I like Hour by Carol Ann Duffy. Isn’t she the poet laureate or whatever? But none of the poems really click with me. Probably because our school is studying the ‘Relationships’ section of the book. *sigh*

  15. Fab post guys!

    Saffi, I lurrrve this…”I can do whatever I want. I don’t need approval from anyone.” I completely agree with this statement. I was always a Tom boy when I was younger. Still am to a great extent because we can do anything we want to in life, and Girls Rock!

    I’ve read Sugar & Spice and it was gritty and compelling reading. Can’t wait for the next one! 🙂

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