Thursday 3 September 2020

Last Chance Salon by Fiona McNeill

How we came to publish this one

Fiona McNeil came to us when we put out a call for collections of short stories were delighted to receive a response from Fiona. We’ve since narrowed our call to those writers who we’ve already published on CaféLit or in one of our annual anthologies. But we’re glad we took on this one. The stories here are quite remarkable. They interconnect and there is a story arc that flows through the whole collection.              

The title

This was entirely Fiona’s idea and there is a clear play on words here. But it is apt. Much of the action takes place in a hair salon. 


The cover

The image on the cover perfectly symbolizes the type of salon that is included in the text. Is the woman a typical customer or even a worker in the salon? That must be for the reader to decide. Isn’t that deep orange glorious? That must be for the reader to decide. The trick then was to get all of the writing that needed to be on the cover in a suitable font. Sometimes we use wraparound landscape pictures and sometimes we have portrait ones as here, with a plain cover. Naturally we have a blurb on the back cover.       

Some notes about style

I didn’t edit this one but I did proof read it. It was hard to concentrate on the proof reading because I became absorbed in the stories. They are engaging, a little bit quirky and they keep you guessing. The characters are richly drawn.     

Who we think the reader is

These stories are an easy read but at the same time they promote a few thoughts. There is humour an irony. This collection therefore is for the thoughtful reader who also wants to be entertained.     


This book is almost in the black and has almost covered its set up costs. It continues to sell. We could do with a few more sales, however. If you’d like a copy, click on the image and you’ll be taken straight to Amazon.  

What else

A quirky marketing suggestion from the author: why not promote it through hair salons. Well, yes, though hair salons don’t want physical reading materials around at the moment. If there’s Wi-Fi though there’s always the e-book.    


Reviews welcome, as always.

Putting you head above the parapet

Submitting work

Yes, if course, if you submit work you are putting your head above the parapet. You may have a rejection hurled at you. It’s a risk you take. But canny writers just get back up there and wait for the next shot. Eventually they get an acceptance. I can quote a story of mine that was accepted after it had been sent elsewhere four times. And that publisher went on to accept several more. A writer we’ve published tells of one story that was entered for several competitions, not even making the long-list, but then went on to win the Costa short story award.

Publication isn’t the end of it

Once your book is out there, it’s open to reviews. It’s odd, isn’t it, that we agonise over that single one star review and forget to enjoy the numerous four and five star ones? We rage if the reviewer complains that the pages were falling out of the book or the cover was torn. “What has that got to do with me?” we cry. I’d say that rather than ranting at the reviewer you should join in at ranting at book seller or publisher. The buyer has lost more; you’ll still get the royalty but they’ve paid good money for shoddy goods.


And sometimes one star reviews are stupid. I saw one about a book I’d enjoyed where the reader complained they hadn’t been told it would be in French. I think she had.  actually.


Common sense will help you deal with these. Perhaps harder are the three and four star reviews that are mainly positive but involve some criticisms. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we can’t please everyone and that we might learn form these, they still nag at us. However, we must get over this. It goes with the territory of being published.

Publishers, too, put their heads above the parapet

And get spat at.


I read an interesting post on Facebook form a writing friend who had been made even more miserable by a rejection because the publisher had explained what was wrong with the text. “Why couldn’t they just reject it and be done?” I know that we publishers give that extra bit of feedback when we have faith in the writer but that what they’ve sent doesn’t quite fit the present list.


It’s rare for us to reject outright anything for CaféLit. However, we only publish about 10% of what is sent to us and we keep all other publishable material in an archive, just asking writers to let us know if they have luck elsewhere.


I rejected one piece because it was too similar to what happened at the Manchester Arena 22 May 2017. That author was perfectly understanding. 


But not so the one whose work was beautifully written but may have been a little offensive to our female readers. I gently pointed this out. And got spat at. Why wouldn’t I let my readers be the censor? Hang on a minute. Isn’t a commissioning editor a censor in a way. Or do we prefer the word gatekeeper? Either way we have to think of our readers.


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