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50 Shades of Reader – What makes a great Bestseller?

Having had 50 Shades of Beige and 50 Shades of Greece, today we welcome Sarah Houldcroft to our blog with 50 Shades of Reader!

auburn haired lady reading 650Are there really 50 shades of reader or do we all basically want the same thing from the books we read?  The vast majority reading this blog will know of the hype surrounding 50 Shades of Grey and possibly a large number of those will have read the book, but is an almost equally large number criticising the way it was written?  It would appear so. There were, apparently, a large number of readers who were dissatisfied with the book, but it was still a runaway bestseller.

This would suggest that the style of writing does not necessarily dictate how popular a book will become. The ‘action’ and characters, in this instance, caught the imagination! But is that always the case? What makes a Bestseller?

I love to read to escape and become engrossed in the lives of the characters in the book I am reading. I almost think of them as friends and feel their pain or joy. I want to be transported away from my reading chair to other places and times.  For instance, in Lizzie Lamb’s own ‘Tall, Dark and Kilted’ I am standing on the side of the road with Fliss looking down into the Scottish Loch for the first time and catching a glimpse of the house that is to be her new home. With June Kearns’ The 20’s Girl, I could feel the Texas heat on my face and almost had to shake the desert sand off the book pages. So the warm water surrounding the Greek island in Margaret Cullingford’s Twins of a Gazelle was very refreshing and relaxing. I caught up with some old friends in the third and final part of Adrienne Vaughan’s Heartfelt series, I had really missed them!

But, does everyone else feel the same way I do about reading?

I asked three busy business ladies, who like to read to relax and switch off after a full day’s work, in their opinion what makes a bestseller.


Sue Ritchie‘To me what makes a bestseller is a combination of things:

Keeping the readers interest as you read the book and also evoking emotions, excitement, interest and intrigue and curiosity throughout.

I don’t think you particularly have to relate to the characters in the book, but they do have to have depth and character that is real.

Being able to paint the pictures so the reader can visualise the situation is very powerful too.’

Sue Ritchie

Louisa Sando Patel‘A strong, bold cover design goes a long way in terms of whether I reach for a brand new book in-store. Online, I do rely heavily upon customer reviews, unless I am very familiar with the author.

Story-wise, I like to be kept in suspense on every page, and I love unexpected endings. Some of my favourite bestsellers are those where a story has been set across many time periods, reaching back into history and then bringing a storyline right up-to-date. What’s more, a series of well-defined characters set against a well-described backdrop, I believe are essential traits of a bestseller. I want to be able to ‘taste the sea air’ and to ‘smell the roses’.’

Louisa Sando-Patel

Bernie Sarginson‘A great fictional best seller from my perspective is all about the storyline and how the web of the story is created and unfolds around the characters.

The cover will attract my attention in the first place if it looks intriguing and draws me in, to check out that all important first page. If I’m hooked after the first few lines or paragraphs, then I’ll buy the book.

What I’m always looking for is a real page turner that I can’t put down because there is always something else happening and I love unexpected surprises, twists and turns within the plotlines.’

Bernadette Sarginson


We all come from different backgrounds and our businesses are very diverse, but we all seem to read with the same purpose in mind– to relax and escape. Strong characters and intriguing plots together with the ability for us to become emotionally involved in the story are the most important traits for all of us. Coupled together with a stunning cover, that seems to be the essence of a bestseller.

Ok, I know this is only the opinions of the four of us, but I suspect that most women will feel the same. We want to not just read the book, but feel what the characters are feeling, see what they are seeing, hearing and even sometimes smelling! It needs to be a complete sensory experience.

Of course, the authors of New Romantics Press do provide us with a fabulous mix of emotional content, together with, a generous helping of humour, not to mention our very own hot heroes!

So, an entire 50 shades of reader? I’m not so sure.


Sarah Houldcroft VAforAuthors 400Sarah Houldcroft enjoys giving authors more time to write by helping them with all aspects of their self publishing journey. She offers a wide range of services from converting manuscripts to ebooks and print books, through to author websites and social media. She can be contacted at

She lives in Leicestershire with her teenage son, three rescue dogs, two ageing bunnies and hundreds and hundreds of books.



Books That You Would Never Lend?

photo (5)Just before to leaving school and throwing my hat into the canal, my English teacher presented me with a long list of books that he said I must read.

Half-way through, I came across The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy. At that time, neither book nor author, were well known, but oh – I just loved it. It’s so funny and clever and heart-liftingly brilliant, and still my favourit-est book ever.


So, sixteen years later, with the book now well-thumbed and out-of-print, I was faced with my wonderful, unselfish sister-in–law asking to borrow it, for a holiday read.

I immediately felt shifty – (I don’t come out of this well) – huffed and puffed and tried my best to put her off, but in the end, grudgingly, I handed it over

So, the book was in a holdall in the back of the car, outside a French hotel. There was a smash-and-grab and horror of horrors, my precious paperback, (out of print! irreplaceable!) was now lost  for ever. And serve me right, too, you might say.

After ages of high-and-low searching, I managed to get hold of a second-hand copy and now that the book’s been reprinted, I keep spares – you know, just in case.

photo (6)Several years later, we went to the South of France, with my husband’s five siblings and assorted infants, travelling in convoy.

I’d never camped before; I was forty-six. At the first stop, after trolling up and down fifty or so steps, loo roll under arm, I lay on a narrow cot, watching flies circle overhead and thought – oh help, it’s like Tenko! – the TV programme about a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for women. Ging Gang Goolie? No, thank you.

Then my sister-in-law (same one) gave me a copy of The Republic of Love, by Carol Shields, another quirky, funny, wonderful book. Outside our tent, next to lakes, on beaches, crossing the Pyrenees, my nose was buried in its pages.

It was the beginning of another love affair, with another author and books that I just don’t like to let out of my sight.

What are your absolute favourites? Do you ever let them leave the house?


In Dublin’s Fair City…

…diary of a virgin book clubber!

As a fledgling novelist, I daydream about what it would be like to have readers not only enjoy my book but to overhear them discussing it; talking about characters, themes, the cover – that would make me feel like a real author, I sigh!

Imagine how I felt when the call came through?

February 23: Leicestershire, at my desk researching (ie daydreaming).

“Hi Adrienne, Deirdre here,” says a blast from the past.

“Dee! Haven’t seen you in an age,” says I.

“The thing is, I’m in a couple of book clubs here in Dublin and we want to feature your novel. When we’ve read it, would come and talk to us about it?” says she.

“Would I what?!” says I, booking my flight before we’ve finished talking.

But what had I agreed to? Not only have the Irish produced some of the best examples of English literature in the world, the Irish are very well read. Yikes!

April 11: Getting ready in my childhood bedroom, Inchicore, Dublin 8.

Deirdre's book (and wine tasting) clubTo say I am nervous is a heart-stopping understatement, I’m petrified. Much of The Hollow Heart is set in Ireland; I haven’t lived here for over thirty years. What if these educated, intelligent and opinionated women think my voice is unauthentic, my characters unrealistic, my story…well, hollow? The Irish are lovely, warm and welcoming people, but don’t imagine they won’t tell you what they think, especially if you’re ‘one of our own’.

Our hostess Barbara and the Clontarf ladies book club, with Deirdre and Adrienne seated centre front.Deirdre, trying to put me at my ease, chatted away, giving me a profile of my waiting audience, as we drove across the city to a well heeled coastal suburb, where I was welcomed into a stunningly beautiful home by a charming lady called Barbara. Barbara greeted me warmly and I was shown to a chair in the centre of an elegant lounge; eager faces nodded and smiled as we made our introductions – I could barely sip the delicious glass of wine our hostess placed before me. I need not have feared.

An animated discussion ensued. How do I write? Where do I write? Who are my characters based on? Then debates about themes – motherhood, forgiveness and romance as a genre; these ladies take their literature seriously, I was honoured they had taken the trouble to read my book. I left elated and glowing, if I had given them a fraction of what they had given me, the evening had been a success.

Cathedral in DublinApril 12: Fidelma winds down the window so I can hear the bells of Christ Church Cathedral as we drive by. My mother Marion and Deirdre’s mother Edna are in the car – it’s Friday night, it already feels like a party.

We arrive as Deirdre opens the doors to her stylish home filled with candles, white roses and laughter. I was introduced and handed a drink as we crowded into the room. Deirdre started the questions and in no time the girls were firing all sorts at me, from how a book is produced, to how to write good sex – Loose Women had nothing on us!

Sheena - our quiz champion, Adrienne and event organiser supreme, Deirdre.I’d made up a quiz based on the novel, which some of the girls took so seriously they even tried to look up the answers. Sheena, however was a clear winner, and I was delighted to present her with her own Hollow Heart pendant – she knew more about the story than I did!

Saying goodbye, I signed the Harte sisters’ copies, including a comment on Nuala’s favourite page 245 – you’ll need to read it to find out why it’s her favourite – and we headed happily home, ending my very first encounter with book clubs; two different but equally wonderful experiences, so special just recounting them makes me want to cry with joy!

These gorgeous, intelligent women made me feel like a real author, they took me into their homes and my novel into their hearts. If my writing has done anything, it has rekindled old friendships and made new ones – without doubt the best thing about this whole experience.

I’ll certainly be back when the sequel A Change of Heart is published later this year…that’s if they’ll have me.


 We all have books we simply can’t bear to part with because, like the old friends they are, they’ve stuck with us through thick and thin.

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The oldest book in my collection is Clarendon’s History of the Great Rebellion (1858) followed by The Wild Bird – Margaret Stuart Lane, (1933) The Scarlet Pimpernel (1927), The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel, Rupert of Henzua (1930).

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My other  ‘keepers’ are the books which saw me through from girlhood to womanhood: Greengage Summer, I Capture the Castle, Bonjour Tristesse and The Dud Avocado.

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With the fickleness of youth I abandoned these when I discovered Jilly Cooper’s novels (1976).  My love of rom coms  developing within their pages  before coming full circle with Bridget Jones in 1996. 

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I can’t let go any of my penguin classics or historical  romances by the likes of  Georgette Heyer, Daphne Du Maurier, Jean Plaidy, Margaret Irwin, and Anya Seaton. My particular favourite – Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine.

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When I want to remind myself how to write humorously, I re-visit Wodehouse, Terry Pratchet, Tom Sharpe  – and the anarchic Catch 22.

I  also treasure my poetry books . . .  John Donne, W.B.Yeats, The War Poets, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin.

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And in particular, The Mersey Sound – Adrien Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten which reminds me of when I was recovering after an appendectomy in Grantham General (1970).  I was reading poems to the other patients in my ward and causing such hilarity that it was confiscated by the ward sister until I was discharged. Honestly . . .

I have two comfort reads Tristan and Isuelt by  Rosemary Sutcliffe, (so beautifully written) and Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford which is great fun. I want to spend the afternoon with the Mitford gels in the Hons Cupboard discussing topics considered unfit for young ladies.


Want to come with me?

So come on, trade – what’s your favourite book?




Tom for blog My first blog ever and I’m following Lizzie Lamb, Adrienne Vaughan and June Kearns!

Before I learnt to read, my youngest aunt loved to read to me, except when I asked to hear more of The Water Babies.  Aunt Ede preferred fairy tales or any Beatrix Potter.  I loved those too but I wanted to know what happened to Tom.  All her life Aunt read only romance so what she probably hated most in The Water Babies was the ending:

“And of course Tom married Ellie!”  My dear child, what a silly notion!

Water Babies for blogDespite most of it going over my head, I believe The Water Babies sowed the seeds of my yen to write fiction.  As you can see I still have that book.

I’ve loved books forever, couldn’t wait to learn to read, and I wrote, letters, a sort of diary to my absent mother.  As an only and adopted child, inherent loner and compulsive reader, I spent hours curled in a cavernous armchair, like most of my generation, immersed in Enid Blyton, Richmal Compton, the classics – Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Three Musketeers, Little Women – how those March girls got on my wick. I thought, one day I would like to write a book.

What sort of book?

Read since Christmas 2012 No.1As you can see from the picture of my recent paperback reads, I don’t favour any particular genre.  On Kindle, since Christmas I’ve also read, Up Close by Henriette Gyland, Terry Tyler’s Dream On and the first two volumes of Peter May’s  Lewis trilogy.   None of these diverse books, in my opinion, are worthy of less than 5 stars, and I have just finished The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  Set in the early 1980s, Eugenides shows not tells how, despite ‘deconstruction’, the novel today remains essentially the same as Austen’s.  Like any of Jane’s, and many other ‘literary’ works, it’s about the nature of human love.

So what sort of book, when I finally came to write it, is Last Bite of the Cherry?

Dark romance, Lizzie says.  My heroine, Monica says, “I don’t want to get married.  Not ever.  I want to live”.   Also a quote from one of my Amazon reviewers – “The three interwoven love stories keep up a fast pace which made it very hard to put down.”   And thanks to New Romantics 4 it’s out there being read.

ThistleAnd why the thistle, pleasant to look at yet prickly?  Symbolic of Last Bite of the Cherry and my next novel, Twins of a Gazelle.