I’m sure many people will have noticed that I quite often host tours for Brook Cottage Books, and I’m always delighted to do so. Very often, being part of a tour gives me the impetus (and that all-important deadline!) I need to read books that have already caught my eye, but I’ve also discovered a lot of new-to-me authors that I might otherwise never have spotted. If I just can’t manage to read one of the books on offer, I sometimes run a spotlight or interview – but only when it’s a book that really looks like one I’d enjoy. I love being part of the Brook Cottage Books family because everything is made so easy – the organisation is always incredibly efficient, the materials professional and easy to use, great giveaways, the support simply wonderful – and some of the tour posts I’ve run have been among the most popular on the blog, with some of my highest viewing figures. And having been a tour host for a few years now, regularly succumbing to the exciting books she waves at me, it’s also an immense pleasure to count Debbie as a friend.
So I’m really delighted today that Debbie Johnston, the powerhouse behind Brook Cottage Books, has agreed to join me here on Being Anne – Debbie and I have been wanting to do this for absolutely ages, and I’m so thrilled we’ve finally made it happen…
Hello Debbie, and welcome to Being Anne – would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi Anne, and thank you so much for having me on your wonderful site. I’m from sunny Northern Ireland where I still live and I’m married and have 2 children and 2 step children. I work for the local Health Trust and I run Brook Cottage Books which organises promotions for authors. I’m also an aspiring writer and I usually write under the name J.B Johnston.
Let’s talk about you before we talk about Brook Cottage Books – what’s the story behind your different names? And what do you like people to call you?
Well, the story behind the two names really comes from a few things. J.B is short for ‘Just Books Johnston’ which was a nickname my husband gave me once. Plus, my Twitter handle is Jontybabe (which shortens to JB!) Also, I can’t write under the name Debbie Johnston because there’s already a wonderful writer called Debbie Johnson! Slightly different spelling of the surname but I’d hate to get all the credit for her work! I really don’t mind what people call me to be honest. Normally when I’m at book events people call me J.B. and I’ve got so used to the name now that I think it’s kinda cool! I like being two people!
How do you manage to fit the tour business around “life” (whenever I read about everything you have going on, I want to lie in a darkened room…!)?
I get asked that all the time and all I can say is………….I really don’t know! My life is totally hectic and to fit everything in I reduced my hours at work and I still don’t have enough time! I think I’m just one of these people who seems to be able to cope with lots of stress, tight deadlines and very little sleep. My husband keeps telling me I’ve lost the ability to relax because I always must be doing something or dealing with some crisis.
And you’re also PA to author Karen Long, aren’t you? How did that come about?
Yes I am! That started last year as a new venture for me. I was approached by Karen’s agent and asked if I’d be interested in the job. I then met up with Karen in London to discuss things further. Karen is one of the loveliest people around and a pleasure to work for. I love getting word out about her books in the Eleanor Raven series and I think the reason I’m so passionate about it is because I genuinely believe they are amazing books and Karen is a fantastic writer. I adore the Eleanor Raven character. I think she is simply unique. If any of your readers want to review any of Karen’s books or feature her on their blogs then just drop me an email!
And now – as well as everything else – you’re writing! How are things coming along?
Gosh yes! What on earth was I thinking when I decided to do that. I’ve been featured in a couple of anthologies over the years and have co-written Little Kitty The Cat Burglar to help raise money for Alzheimer’s research. My late father in-law had early onset Alzheimer’s. My lovely friend Les Moriarty passed away last year and he had always been such a great support in my writing and so encouraging. His death has spurred me on to fulfil a promise to him that I would keep writing. And now, I’m writing my first novel and I’ve been lucky enough to be accepted into the Romantic Novelists Association New Writer’s Scheme! I’ve almost finished draft 2 – so, watch this space…
I’d love to know more about the early days of Brook Cottage Books – where did the idea come from?
Brook Cottage Books came about entirely by accident. I had been blogging for a number of years with my personal blog all about my life raising a special needs child and the challenges and joys that brought. I started to review a few books too and posting those reviews on the blog. Suddenly I was receiving literally 100’s of requests from authors to review their books. Because I didn’t want the book reviews to take the focus off the main message of the blog I created Brook Cottage Books.
I suspect there might still be people who think you make megabucks out of organising tours, while your poor hardworking unpaid team of bloggers do all the work. Go on, set the record straight – or is your yacht already on order?
Oh I wish! It wouldn’t be a yacht I’d be ordering it’d be a mansion with my own personal library! The reality is that when you add up the man hours it takes to organise tours and be available practically 24/7 there’s very little money being made. That being said, it does allow us as a family to push the boat out at weekends and get a takeaway or have some nice days out! But, nothing more glam than that I’m afraid! I think the only way to make any decent money out of organising tours is to be able to do it full time and take on more work. Unfortunately, I’m not brave enough to do that yet. I like the security of a permanent, semi well paid job with a pension! Plus, authors have a very tight and limited budget so I have to be able to work to that. People probably wonder why I bother organising tours. The truth……….I’m a tad addicted to the booky world. I can’t help myself. I get a buzz out of it. There I said it…….my name is Debbie Johnston and I’m a book addict! Plus, being involved in the book world is so different to the reality of my life. It’s nice to have that escape.
What do bloggers get from being part of the Brook Cottage Books team? And if you miss anything out, I have a long list of my own…!
Oh I actually wrote a blog post about that on my other blog that not only discusses paying for book promotional work but also what the reviewers get out of taking part in tours. You can check it out here.
I consider all those book bloggers and authors who are on the team true friends. Kindred spirits I suppose. I call them my ‘bookish family’. For me their friendship is the most important thing and I hope they get that from it too and know that I’m here to offer support not only in relation to book blogging but also as a friend to help with personal problems. I think they also get the opportunity to read some amazing books and network with other bloggers and with some great authors. It’s all important stuff to drive traffic to their blogs too and get their own names as professional book bloggers recognised. Book blogging used to be viewed as a hobby years ago done by bored housewives and now it can be big business with authors and those involved in the publishing industry recognising the importance of book bloggers in getting word out about books and supporting promotional campaigns. I also have a private Facebook group for the hosts to ‘mingle’ and I run competitions to give them a chance to win Amazon vouchers or other gifts. It’s just a way to say thank you for all they do. But, most of all I hope they simply have fun.
Tell me about your blogging team. And if anyone’s interested in being part of it, how can they join up?
My blogging team is such a mixed bag of people with varying skills. Some are full time bloggers, some part time and some authors too! And some are branching out to setting up on their own to organise book tours! I love that we all support one another. The wealth of knowledge amongst them is outstanding and I find their support invaluable. My tour host newsletter, which provides information about upcoming tours goes out to over 250 people now which is amazing! The only thing you need to have to become a tour host is a blog / website and a love of books! I have one or two guidelines I do expect the hosts to follow but its mainly all about confidentiality and book blogging etiquette. If anyone would like more information you can email me at email@example.com.
What kind of books can they expect? Does one particular genre tour with you more than any other? Are there any genres you don’t handle?
The bloggers can expect books from all genres! Sometimes we get a run of a particular genre but it’s usually fairly mixed. There’s something for everyone. The only genre I tend to stay away from is Sci-Fi as I find it’s not as popular among the bloggers. A shame as there are some great Sci-Fi authors out there. I also won’t take any books that are overly religious or political or promote racism, discriminate or promote hatred of any kind.
If they review a book as part of a tour, does the review have to be 100% positive? What would happen if they really didn’t like it?
Oh no absolutely not. I don’t expect bloggers to like every book they read but I do encourage them to write reviews that offer constructive criticism rather than hurtful reviews. Authors have feelings too! Sometimes a tour host will come to me and tell me they really disliked a book and feel that they can’t write anything positive about it and because they are so professional in what they do, they post promotional material only about the book instead of a review. I like to think that there’s no such thing as a bad book but maybe that book just hasn’t found the right reader.
And how about any authors that might be interested? What services do you offer, and how can they find out more?
Brook Cottages offers a wide and varied range from paid services right through to promotional posts that don’t cost them a single penny. As well as book tours we offer book blitz days, advertising, cover reveals and lots more! I’ve one or two new services coming up this year so watch this space! Authors can email me for more information or just for a chat about all that’s on offer. I have something for everyone and within everyone’s budget. I work with both traditionally published authors and indie authors. Check out the services here.
Of course, there’s no reason why an author can’t organise their own blog tours – what will they get from you that they can’t do themselves?
You are absolutely right Anne. They could, and many do organise their own tours very successfully. But, quite often authors feel completely overwhelmed when it comes to trying to organise a book tour. They do have the very important job of writing fantastic books and organising tours is very time consuming. Also, new authors haven’t had the opportunity to build up a good network of contacts such as book bloggers to help promote their books. This is where I come in. From the time an author completes the tour questionnaire which lists all their tour requirements they very rarely get bothered by me after that except maybe to check it regarding tour update or to put together guest posts or interviews for the tour. Tour banners are put together and a dedicated tour page for their book. Those authors who are returning customers also get a nice discount too! I also have agents and publishers contacting me to organise tours for their clients as they don’t have the time to take on this job either.
And I know you do all this because you’re a book lover and passionate about your reading. Go on, share a couple of books that have got you excited recently…
Oh gosh where to begin! That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child! Some recent reads that I have really enjoyed have been Stuart MacBride’s new novel A Dark So Deadly, and of course, Karen Long’s latest The Cold Room. I could go on but I think you’d kill me for listing about 100 books!
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today Anne and for being an amazing tour host and supporter of Brook Cottage Books. If anyone has any questions about all aspects of book blogging or book tours I’m available to offer advice and support. x
Debbie, thank you – I’m so delighted you’ve joined me today!