Sunday, December 15, 2013

Orla's Code: The Paperback Goes Live!

It's been a busy 6 weeks, since making the decision to self-publish Orla's Code but I have made the deadline with a few days to spare. This is so that while The I.T. Girl is still available for a few days more as an eBook I should be able to get the reviews copied over to the paperback - and once the I.T. Girl is deleted I'll be able to go live with the eBook version of Orla's Code.

So I still have that Smashwords formatting hurdle to tackle. I'll be looking at it over Christmas, which means turkey and walks in the countryside will take priority for a while. But come the new year, the relaunch should be complete. And then the marketing can start!...

Thanks for all your support over the last few weeks. It's been daunting but mostly fun and I'm glad you found those annoying posts about ISBNs and ITINS helpful!

Check out the updated Orla's Code page including the blog posts that charted it's rocky path.

And have a happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Week 1: Cover Reveal!

With one week to go to publication I am excited to reveal the new cover of Orla's Code!

Bespoke Book Covers created this design over about 4 weeks, starting with a phone call talking about some scenes in the story. I realised I wanted the cover to show all the sides of Orla: the programmer, the party girl, the woman new to corporate London but always feeling in control.

And this is the result: I think it's original and striking and beautiful!

Orla's Code will be available in paperback soon. Details to follow... 

"If you want to get ahead, get noticed," is Orla Hanlon’s motto. New to London and the first female programmer in CouperDaye, a global investment bank, she takes on a high-profile but controversial project.

With her new luxury apartment and a work-romance quietly on the side, Orla thinks she has everything under control.

Until a bug in her code causes chaos on the trading floor and Orla finds herself a scapegoat in a corporate game, fighting to save her new life in London.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Matt Bradbeer

My virtual interview today is with Matt Bradbeer, book lover and co-founder of Autharium, an indie-publishing platform that brings authors and professionals from the publishing industry together. I love finding out about the alternatives in this thriving industry. Welcome, Matt.

What is the idea behind Autharium? What does it offer that other publishing routes do not?

We wanted to build a place where authors can go through the end-to-end process from manuscript to sales with the opportunity to work with other writers, book lovers and publishing professionals to maximise the potential of their work. Before we set out with Autharium we spoke to lots of authors, publishing types, booksellers and anyone else we thought would have a view. We asked them what they would think a good/useful/helpful way to approach things looks like.

It is clear that an author should be the Creative Director of their work because publishing and selling a book involves the input of many people, cover designer, friends, family, editor, distributor, retailer etc... In our case, we wanted the author to have the benefit of lots of people with experience, but the control over what they did with the input.

In practice this means that after uploading a manuscript an author can release all or part of it in draft, or as they write it, inviting community members to review and comment in-page on any device, anywhere. Because many of our community are publishing professionals both full time employed or freelance, our authors get some great input. Our in-house team is now a support function to the community, as more people have joined.

We wanted to make things as easy as possible for authors to perfect their work without worrying about managing royalties, reporting, tax and relationships with retailers/distributors.

We made sure we registered in the US so that the 30% withholding tax was not an issue for our authors. We employed the top legal firm in the UK for established publishers to ensure we started from an established legal position for our authors and ourselves.

We were the first place to do an in-page writer/editor/reader with contextual commenting from the community. We were the first to not require pre-formatting of a text before upload and even then, the first to allow full editing of a text post-upload.

Compared to a traditional publisher, we allow the author a lot of control over who they work with and what they want to say. We do not have a structural restriction on the number of books we can produce in a year. We distribute globally, most traditional publishers are restricted to territories. We do not take the rights to physical, film, merchandising or related rights, we work off a 5 year exclusive on the license to publish the eBook (traditional publishers tend to get length of copyright or longer). The author keeps 85% of net sales, a lot more than they would earn through traditional publishing.

Compared to a typical self-publishing route, we do not charge a fee up front, our income comes from sales, so we have a vested interest in the long term success of a book and author. Our distribution network includes partners who tend not to take self-published titles, so we reach further than a self-publisher would be able to.

We want to build something that adds value to an author in terms of association with our brand. In that sense we are more of a collaborative publisher. The author is not on their own and we have a vested interest in the future of their books. We are also about the people who help make books great, the editors, cover designers and marketeers, Autharium is a place for these guys too.

We are already seen by our authors and community as a 3rd way. The market is segmenting into three strands, self-publishing, traditional and indie. We are in the indie strand.

What does indie mean? An indie author is a Creative Director who is serious about the quality of their final output and is keen to engage a team of people to get it there. Historically this might have meant spending £1000s on a vanity or self-publishing route if a traditional contract is not in the offing. We have the platform and community in place to allow this to happen without the need for spending a lot of money or using a company that now has your money and therefore has no interest in how your book does.

In summary, less restrictive or draconian than a traditional publisher and easier to get into. More collaborative and involved than a self-publisher with a clear investment in the future of an author.

From an author's point of view, this sounds like the perfect publishing system - support and collaboration without having to give up control or a lot of money. You say many of your community are publishing professionals. What attracts publishers away from the traditional route to join Autharium?

The majority of the publishing professionals in our community are freelance, are currently, or were previously in the publishing industry, a real mixture. Given the recent shakeup of the traditional publishing industry, we are seeing a lot of skilled people out there looking to get involved in book projects. This is more about publishing individuals, rather than publishing companies. The attraction for these individuals depends on their background. They could be individuals who, for whatever reason, need to work from home, are part-time or work on a project by project basis and this offers a way to do this. We also have relationships with several universities and some of our community will be linked to the creative writing and publishing courses at these institutions looking to gain experience.

So if I join and want help with my book cover, for example, am I put in touch with book designers? Will they provide a cover or advice? Do they charge?

After you join up you can search for people who can help you with your book. The Autharium team also provide a lot of advice and support to our authors before and after they are published.

In this case, do a filter in the community page for a cover designer. You can then ask them directly. They may charge for this, it is up to you if you use them. We are going to significantly improve this area now we are coming out of Beta, so watch this space…

Interesting! So what is the future for Autharium?

The future for Autharium is defined largely by our authors and the community members.

Over the last year we have introduced new functionality responding to feedback from our community, requirements driven by changes in the market and also what we think would be cool to have. We also revised our publishing terms, general site terms and privacy policy to make them reflect our values and to reflect where things need to go in the market. We are an ever-evolving proposition, as the market moves and as Indie publishing matures, we can drive change and support the future needs of the market, whilst obviously maintaining our core values.

We are working on ways in which we can more formally ensure that those editors, proof-readers, marketeers and cover designers in our community have a long term relationship with a book or author and their success. There are a number of ways of making this happen, all of which we are discussing with our community to see which works best.

In the future we see Autharium continuing to be a place where an author can create a virtual publishing team from thousands of community members, in effect replicating the traditional publishing approach, but within an online environment and with complete control.

Will we move into physical publishing? Possibly, we get asked this all the time, but currently we are focused on eBooks and improving our platform. We have had several authors who used Autharium as a springboard to getting momentum and then sealing a traditional print deal off the back of their success with us.

We are very happy when this happens because it validates what the author has done with us and we would never stop an author from moving over to a traditional deal or take money off them for doing this, not really our thing. Traditional is still the best route for physical distribution in terms of breadth and consumer price.

You mentioned a 5 year exclusivity deal with your authors. Would you release an author from this if they were offered a traditional deal?

Yes, absolutely and we do this all the time. We are never going to get in the way of an author realizing a traditional publishing deal. We would never charge an author anything to revert their rights in this situation. Examples of us doing this would be Chantelle Atkins – we published three of her ebooks, she was offered a traditional deal for one of them and we reverted her rights immediately. We are really pleased for her.

We are revising our current publishing contract terms. This sort of scenario is something we want to cater for within the contract as well as reviewing the exclusivity period. We need to reflect our author’s requirements but also maintain a workable business model, so it is a balancing act.

Do you think self-publishing will become the norm for first-time authors?

I think we are already there to a large extent, but I think it will change.

Self-publishing is currently the only way for most first-time authors to ensure they get something out there in the first place, given 98% of submissions to a traditional publisher are rejected.

Also, I know that many authors still see a traditional publishing contract as the endgame, with self-publishing as a means to an end. Unfortunately I think this devalues authors who don’t want to go through a traditional publisher and perpetuates the stigma attached to self-publishing. This also detracts from the real value of the work that is created. Self-publishing is evolving and, as I said before, a distinct sub-set is coming to the fore in Indie.

As the reality of Indie authors (as distinct from self-published) grows we have a real alternative where the source of the stigma is removed and the question of curation is addressed.

Furthermore, many indie publishers and agents (some of whom we work with) are going digital first, removing the risks of the traditional model (advances, physical stock) and giving a viable alternative for authors. 
Self-publishing will continue to be the norm, but Indie publishing is the evolution of this and will offer strong hybrid option for first-time authors.

How do you think authors can protect themselves from publisher/distributor spats, such as the incident of Amazon removing IPG books from the Kindle over a pricing dispute?

The problem with Amazon is that for certain publishers and distributors of all stripes it accounts for 80-90% of their sales. Although, Amazon’s share of our sales are way below this level, so this may be true elsewhere. This is a structural issue with the market. Like any dominant force in an industry, they are in a good place, they can pick off publishers and distributors with ease when they act alone. Amazon know that, in the wake of the Agency agreement, any perceived collusion between multiple publishers/distributors to get Amazon to play ball will be met with legal action.

There is a second challenge between distributors and retailers. The recent Kobo / WH Smith incident is part of a wider recognition from the retail community that it is a bit like the Wild West out there when it comes to Self-Publishing.

So there are two problems; A monolithic retailer and a need for some curation or quality control.

For the first, an author needs to find a publishing route that minimises the risk posed by Amazon pulling books. So the broadest distribution possible. Amazon’s share is quickly falling for us as we broaden out and bring in new distribution partners. It is up to the publishing and distribution community to work on building up competitors to Amazon. Google Play is our fastest growing channel with a massive base of potential readers.

On the second challenge, I think this is trickier for self-published authors partly due to a historical bias against self-publishing and partly due to the inability of retailers to sort out what is good and what is not. If in doubt a retailer will go for what they know has been curated and worked upon by people with a long term vested interest in an author (largely traditional publishers). They could trawl the output of BookBaby, AuthorHouse, Smashwords, Wattpad etc... to find those books selling well, but they honestly do not have the resource to do this.

The rise of the Indie author is a good thing. As this segment grows it will bring with it an inherent understanding from retailers that these authors have the support of a structure similar in composition to a traditional publishing model, but much broader and with more opportunity for authors to express themselves.

I agree that broadening distribution and not allowing one body to have too large a hold on the market is good for both authors and readers. Tell us about how you got into publishing?

Personally, I got into publishing via bookselling. I ran Fopp’s eCommerce website and then ran I launched eBooks at, the first UK retailer to do eBooks. The “eureka” moment for Autharium came about when I was at Waterstones, Simon Maylott (co-founder) and I discussed the state of the industry and the future rise of the eBook and saw a real gap in the market. I was constantly getting independent authors asking to be put on, but no sensible way existed to do this. We felt there must be a better way to help authors do this, in a way that retailers would buy into. This lead to the genesis of Autharium. Another key member of Autharium is Colin Adams, who is also on our Board of Directors. Colin is currently CFO/COO at Quercus Publishing, previously Group CFO at Bloomsbury Publishing. He has spent 20 years working for publishers and knows the industry really well.

Read more interviews...
This has been really interesting, Matt. Thanks so much for taking the time for the interview. I can see indie-publishing developing standards for the self-publishing process. Good luck to Autharium.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Week 4: The Dreaded Forms

4 weeks to go to my publication deadline. I took this week off work to put on my publisher hat and focus on what needs to be done. It's been an extremely busy week. I'm looking forward to getting back to work for a break!

Here's what I've been up to:

The Dreaded Forms
One day alone went to understanding what is, why do I need and how do I get an ITIN? 

If you're a non-U.S. citizen, like myself, the U.S. government will take 30% of your U.S. earnings unless you can prove you are in a country that has a tax treaty with the U.S. Since I'm paying tax in the U.K. I should have to pay 0% to the U.S.

However, CreateSpace, Amazon KDP and Smashwords etc will pay that 30% on my behalf at the time they pay my royalties unless I supply them with an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number). Unfortunately, applying for an ITIN is a bit of a pain. I have to send the IRS a W-7 form along with identification (my passport) and a letter from my distributor confirming this ITIN is for royalty purposes. The W-7 form is quite tricky and I actually ended up having to ring the IRS for help despite the fact that CreateSpace do give step-by-step instructions. Also, the process will take up to 8 weeks.

Alas, we haven't finished with forms yet: Through CreateSpace and Amazon KDP I still had to demonstrate I'm not a U.S. citizen in order to avoid paying that 30% on my European sales as well. So that involved filling in a W-8BEN form. Through KDP, I could submit this online but I had to snail-mail it to CreateSpace. I'm still waiting for confirmation from CreateSpace that this is all okay.

That was the least fun part of my week!

The First few Pages
Is there a difference between the first few pages of your paperback and your ebook? I had a look through the books on my bookshelf and they all seem to follow a similar formula:

Page 1: short author BIO with the book title as heading
Page 2: mostly blank page with book name, author name and publisher name/logo
Page 3: copyright
Page 4: acknowledgments/dedication
Page 5: table of contents
Page 6: chapter 1

I don't think I'll put a table of contents in the paperback but otherwise, I'll follow this layout for both. 

The Logo
I also noticed, looking through those paperbacks that they all have a publisher logo; on the spine, back of the book and on that page 2. I thought my book might look a bit bare without that so I've asked my book designer to also come up with a personal logo. Just so the finished product looks as near to a professionally published book as possible. A logo is quite expensive but I've taken a look around online and find they're all quite expensive unless you get the off-the-shelf ones which in my opinion don't look great.

The Interior
I ordered a proof copy (using a CreateSpace standard book cover since mine isn't ready yet) and on receiving it realised I wasn't happy with the book dimensions or the font size. I've changed the dimensions and the font, which resulted in a change in page count, and forced me through all the steps again, redoing the book cover, all the way to: 'waiting for approval' before I can reorder. I imagine I'll go around this process a few times before I'm happy with everything! I also had some tricky fun with Word, trying to get page numbers to start at chapter 1 rather than at the very start of the document. If you're trying the same thing, type 'Section Break' in Word Help and you'll find the instructions.

The Photo
Finally, I had a narcissistic morning, taking a selfie. Selfie is Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year, by the way. I looked into getting a professional photo taken, thinking again about trying to make everything look professional, including myself! But portrait photos are extremely expensive. So after finding a spot in my flat with the right light, and holding out my camera, I concluded a professional is not necessary after finally taking a photo that isn't too scary. I'm told I resemble a certain J.K. Rowling - a good sign, no?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Week 5: The ISBN Situation

It's now 5 weeks to go to my publishing deadline. (See my last post.My first job has been deciding what platforms to publish on. Well, that seems to be straight-forward: CreateSpace for the paperback, Amazon KDP and Smashwords for the ebook. But as I stepped through the instructions on each site, the first question always was: 

There is a lot of information online about ISBNs. I have found it conflicting in parts, biased in parts and confusing on the whole! I feel at this stage that what is right for you can only be answered after some time and experience in publishing. But I have managed to gather together enough of an understanding to figure out what I want for now.

Here are the questions and misunderstandings that I had and the answers I finally reached. Please remember that I am not an expert in this field and the below is just my understanding, grappled together mainly from other people's understanding! But maybe we've shared the same queries and this post helps in the illumination process.

What is the difference between a free ISBN and one you pay for? Is a free one "not as good"?

There's no difference in the basic product. ISBNs are issued by various agencies that guarantee their uniqueness. Publishers like CreateSpace and Smashwords have bought up such a large amount of these ISBNs that with the corresponding discount they can afford to give them away for free. So you could get the same ISBN if you bought it yourself or took the proprietary one from your publisher.

Is an ISBN valid everywhere - what are the rules?

If you buy an ISBN from an independent agency then you can use it anywhere. If you take a free one from your publisher, then you are asked to only use it with them.

Isn't it a good idea then to buy one ISBN for your book rather than have loads of different ones?

Well I often read that an advantage of buying your ISBN is that you can use it anywhere. But what wasn't clear is that that doesn't mean you should reuse it. It's actually better to have one ISBN for your CreateSpace distribution, one for your Smashwords distribution and so on. This is because, from a retailers point of view, if they want to order your book, they'll use the ISBN. So, if they want the French translation of your hardback book as apposed to the German translation of your paperback, then they'll need an ISBN that identifies that particular edition. For the same reason it is important to have a separate ISBN for your ebook.

So, then, what's the point in buying one you can use anywhere, if you still need a number of different ones?

If you have set up a company to self-publish then you need to provide your own ISBN to have your publishing name on your book. If you take a proprietary ISBN from your publishing platform, then their name will go on your book as the publisher.

What's the difference between the 10 digit length ISBNs and the 13 digit length? Is one better than the other?

13 digits is the new format. It is possible to convert ISBNs between their old and new format. There are websites that will do it. So, if you've got the old type, you can get it converted. I have just taken a CreateSpace free ISBN and they have provided me with both formats.

Why should I buy 10 ISBNs?

The standard offer seems to be 1 or 10 for the price of two. I don't understand why they're so expensive or why they are in these blocks. But considering the fact that you'll need a few ISBNs, if you're going to buy them, 10 is probably a good idea. However, I have found a site that provides discount ISBNs which you can buy in blocks of 3. So it does seem that there are more options out there than just the standard.

So what is an ASIN?

This is Amazon's tracking number for your ebook. It's the same as an ISBN and you can use it as your Amazon ISBN or you can provide your own ISBN. Either way you'll still get an ASIN assigned to your ebook.

So, after all that, I will have 3 ISBNs:

Amazon ebookASIN
CreateSpace paperbackISBN
Smashwords ebookISBN

Smashwords converts your manuscript into the standard ebook format (epub), to distribute to the Apple store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others. Since only the one format is needed, you'll only be issued one ISBN. A friend has just advised me to publish directly on Kobo instead of going through Smashwords. Kobo doesn't provide ISBNs so I'm still looking into this. Once I've actually got the book out there, I'll do a post on platforms.

If anyone would like to contradict or add to the above, that would be welcome. Thanks.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Back to the beginning: Unpublished

It is six months since The I.T. Girl went live on Amazon one Friday night while I was rushing out the door. What a fantastic experience it has been and an invaluable learning experience too. I have been grateful to be able to share this story with people but although it has received good reviews I never felt the book was reaching the right audience. So due to our differences of opinion on how to market a story about the first woman on the Tech floor of an Investment bank, Endeavour Press and I have decided to go our separate ways. It was a very difficult decision to make, but it's the right one for this book.

The I.T. Girl will be available through Endeavour Press until December 20th and I am hoping to relaunch the book on December 21st. So you, dear readers, will not be deprived!

For this new edition the name will revert back to the original Orla's Code and I am looking forward to sharing a cover reveal. That's right, I'm joining the self-publishing movement. I am quite excited!

I will be blogging about progress along the way. It will be a busy few weeks. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Sandy Osborne

My interest was immediately drawn to Sandy Osborne when I learned she is a police officer who, like myself, has based a work of fiction around her male-dominated working environment. The very original Girl Cop has been published to great reviews and I'm delighted she is here for a virtual coffee and a chat.
Hi Sandy. So tell us about how you began your writing career. I believe it was with an article in a local newspaper?

Yes, I responded to a very unflattering picture of me in my local paper taking part in a charity half marathon with a (hopefully!) amusing account of my training programme. This led on to several more articles both locally and nationally which in turn led me to the idea of writing a book. I have made it sound like it happened quickly – it actually spanned nearly 10 years!

What made you want to write about your work environment? How has the news of your book been received?

It’s been received very well and I have had lots of fantastic feedback telling me that I managed to accurately reflect/capture the era of the time. Even male readers (both Police and non-Police) have enjoyed it and are asking for a sequel! I did suffer bullying myself as a probationary officer and I wanted to show that you can win through in the end as I did! The 90’s was a very interesting time of change for women in the Police as we still seemed to be establishing ourselves as ‘equal’ after the disbanding of the Policewomen’s Unit in the 70’s. When I joined in the early 90’s we used to get paid a tights allowance as we were expected to wear our uniform skirts and it was frowned upon if we wore trousers on shifts other than nights. I was definitely a leader of fashion at my station - have you ever tried to scale a wall in a skirt?! I am pleased to say that the girls are undoubtedly on an equal footing these days and have recently been trained alongside the men with the new tasar (stun gun) equipment – Go Girls!

I'm surprised that as late as the 90's women had a special dress code. What an interesting and emotive time to have joined. How have you marketed Girl Cop? On your website you offer author talks. What do they involve?

About the book...
Self funding authors should be under no illusion that selling your book is hard work. As my novel is set in Bath I have tried to use as many local related links as possible. My heroine enjoys a romantic encounter at The Bath Priory Hotel and Spa, and prior to publication I contacted the hotel to ask for permission to include them – not only did they say ‘yes’ but they also offered me a meal for 2 in their Michelin starred restaurant for a draw at my launch. Following on from that they offered a mini break for readers of My Weekly magazine when Girl Cop was reviewed in there in April – fantastic PR for both Girl Cop and the Hotel!

I have a diary of speaker engagements which started as a reciprocal gesture at a luncheon at The Bath Priory Hotel and it has taken off from there – I am now contacted by various groups where I tell the story behind Girl Cop, together with how I got it into print and a summary of my marketing campaign. Alongside this I tell a couple of work related anecdotes in keeping with the label Girl Cop has been given as ‘Bridget Jones in Uniform.’
And of course the online essentials of a Facebook author page and Twitter @Girlcopnovel.

Really clever marketing moves. I'll try place-name dropping in my next novel :) 

A percentage of your royalties goes to the Police Dependants’ Trust and St Peter’s Hospice. Tell us what they do.

The Police Dependant’s Trust is a national charity. They provide financial support to help ease some of the pressures police families face when an officer has been killed or injured on duty. A worthy cause close to the hearts of all the ‘Police Family.’ St Peter's Hospice is Bristol's only adult hospice caring for local people with life-limiting illnesses. Their commitment is to improve the quality of life of patients while extending care and support to their families and loved ones. I chose to support them because they cared for my colleague, Andy whose collar number I use for my love interest, Alex in the book. Andy’s Mum was delighted with the idea and I have a dedication to them both in the acknowledgements.

You went to Cyprus on a writing break to start Girl Cop 2. What a great idea! Was it conducive or did you find some distractions from the keyboard?

Annie Penn who advises me on matters of publicity and writing in general kept telling me I needed to get on with the sequel and I find it very difficult to find time to sit and write with the demands of work and being a Mum, so I decided the only thing for it was to get away! I was very disciplined to make the most of the week – I sat by the pool in the morning, mulling over ideas and writing a few notes before spending the afternoon on my balcony (I dragged the dressing table out there and set up my netbook with my ipod and a glass of beer for company). Someone needs to invent a computer screen you can see in the sunlight! This picture was taken on the balcony of the restaurant I frequented every evening which was right on the beach. The staff got to know me and fussed over me which was great as I felt a bit self conscious on my own for the first couple of nights! I used to sit and read my kindle (bliss!) and I tweeted this pic as my ‘Shirley Valentine spot’ – although no Tom Conti’s or Alex’s (swoon!) had a part in my holiday! I wrote the first three chapters.

Wow, good work. Would you like to become a full-time writer?

Would I like to become a full-time writer? Well with life so manic at times, I would be tempted to say ‘yes’ – but writing can be a very lonely occupation at times and the knocks and rejections can be hard to take, so in reality I think I would really miss the company of and banter with my workmates (but don’t tell them that!). Its something I look forward to in retirement though!
Read more interviews...

Good luck with the sequel to Girl Cop. I look forward to seeing it's release. It's been lovely talking to you, thanks for taking the time for the chat.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Helen Hart

Helen Hart is a publisher, author, teacher, indie book reviewer and founding partner of SilverWood Books a publishing consultancy which offers a range of services to help writers get their work into print. Before securing a publishing deal for my book The I.T. Girl, I used SilverWood's editing service, which helped get my manuscript in shape and was a great learning experience.

Hi Helen. I enjoyed working with you and am delighted to have you here for a chat. Tell us about SilverWood Books, how it came about and what its goals are.

SilverWood Books was established in early 2007, at the forefront of the self-publishing revolution. As a professional author myself, I could see that many writers were being let down by so-called "vanity publishers" who charged a lot of money for sub-standard service and shoddy books. I thought there must be a better way of helping writers to publish their own work - and so SilverWood was born. Along with my friendly team, we now provide professional support to hundreds of writers, helping them to produce high quality books which can be confidently marketed in bookshops or online. Our sophisticated production values are recognised to such an extent that we're quickly becoming the choice of mainstream authors when they turn to self-publishing - BBC Radio 4 broadcaster and acclaimed biographer Sarah LeFanu recently chose to work with us on her back list plus a new title 'Dreaming of Rose', which was launched at Foyles bookstore, and USA Today bestseller Helen Hollick has recently produced her eighth historical novel with us. 

The key feature of a SilverWood book is that it matches the production values of books produced by traditional publishing houses such as Harper Collins and Random House - and this means our authors stand a better chance of persuading bookshops to stock their book, and of arranging author events and book signings (as you may know, often self-published and indie titles are refused due to their amateur nature).

We're reasonably selective about the work we take on, and offer our authors generous advice and support through the publishing process and beyond. Our aim is to work with a writer through their whole career rather than on a one-off book, and many authors return to work with us for a number of books, building their fanbase and developing their credibility as professional writers.

What would be grounds for rejecting a manuscript?

Before turning down a manuscript we'd first spend some time finding out the author's aims. 

If they just want to publish for family and friends then they can publish whatever they like and we'll help them make it the best it can be. We're not here to judge, but to help.

However, if a writer has commercial aims, and wants to sell books to general readers and compete in the open marketplace then I feel we have a duty to be honest. If their writing isn't ready for publication (or is simply unpublishable) then we want to help them avoid wasting money. Material that's clearly first draft, or badly written and poorly punctuated simply isn't going to sell. With over 38 million books in print, the marketplace is competitive and personally I don't want to see writers investing hard-earned cash in publishing something that's either not publishable, or needs further polishing to get it ready for publication.

We don't take turning down work lightly. As a writer myself I know how much heart and soul has gone into the writing! We always aim to be sensitive and constructive, offering to help a writer and work with them to improve their writing wherever possible. They can work with one of our editors or writing mentors, or we can recommend literary consultants, or writing groups, and good books on writing - that way the writer can learn their craft and then be successful when they eventually do publish.
As an author of 9 novels, what do you like to write about? Do you have something in the works at the moment?

When it comes to my own writing, my most successful novels have been YA (Young Adult) and I tend to write historical fiction about adventurous girls who step outside the boundaries of society as they know it - pirates, vampire-hunters and samurai princesses being my favourites, all written under a variety of pseudonyms! At the moment I don't have anything in the works as I'm focussing on mentoring SilverWood authors - which is surprisingly much more fun and satisfying than writing my own material!

You must have worked with a cross-section of writers, who come to you with their manuscript. Have you witnessed any alternative marketing approaches you'd like to share?

We do work with a wide cross-section of authors, and each brings their own unique skills and past experience to their book promotion. Our most successful authors are those who have written an outstanding book, and who are an authority in their field whatever that may be - especially if that expertise underpins their fiction. For instance one of our authors is a former British Army Intelligence officer who writes Cold War Thrillers and his background lends his work genuine credibility which shines through in the writing. He's also an example of someone with an alternative marketing approach because whenever he does bookstore signings or other author events, he brings along a unique prop - a 6-foot tall plastic mannequin dressed as a soldier, complete with gas mask and camouflage netting. That really attracts attention and is a fantastic talking point. People gravitate towards him (especially little boys and their dads) and that allows the author to talk about his books. Everyone is fascinated, and he sells a lot of books, which is great.

What a great idea! A lesson there for those of us (like myself) who feel a bit shy when it comes to marketing. Do you think self-publishing will become the default option for first-time authors or will traditional publishers evolve to stay in the game?

I think self-publishing is already fast-becoming the default option for first time authors - and for some who are (or were) traditionally published too. We work with many first time authors, but also a high number of successful authors who've decided to take control of their own work, self-publish, and connect directly with their readers.

I don't know what traditional publishers will do as the landscape shifts and develops, but I genuinely hope they do survive because there's a lot they do right - their expertise is unrivalled, and the support they can offer authors in terms of editing, distribution and marketing is hard for self-publishers to replicate. The future is uncertain, though. Research into so-called "digitally disrupted markets" applies the principles to publishing and indicates that maybe only 9 per cent of traditional publishers will recover from the huge changes in the industry. That's a scary thought...

Finally, what advice would you give to writers trying to turn their manuscript into a book?
  1. Take time to learn your craft as a writer - polish, edit and polish again. Don't rush to publish the first draft (or even the third or fourth!) because mistakes will undermine your credibility as a professional writer.
  2. Hire professionals to help you wherever possible - there are millions of books out there in competition with yours, so you genuinely can't afford for yours to have any flaws. Your book should be professionally proofread and typeset, and have a professional cover design (and if you're issuing an ebook edition alongside the paperback, have it expertly formatted by hand rather than run though auto-conversion software, which is a bit of a blunt instrument).
  3. Seriously consider a print edition, not just an ebook - print copies underline your credibility as a serious author, and also open up book promotion opportunities that are closed to ebook-only authors (and many reviewers will only accept print editions).
  4. Choose the right printing method for your book - in most cases POD (print On Demand) has an advantage over more traditional methods, especially if it comes with built-in global distribution.
  5. Find out about commercial aspects of publishing - the books marketplace, trade discounts, and how distribution works.
  6. Develop a book promotion strategy and an author platform before your book is published - that way you hit the ground running on launch day and have eager readers ready and waiting to buy.
  7. Have a pro-active and positive attitude - publishing your own work can be a lonely road unless you're working with a company like SilverWood, so you'll need stamina and self-belief.
  8. If you decide to work with a company to publish your book, do plenty of research because not everyone is professional, honest and reliable. We'd love you to check us out, and if we feel we can't help you then we'll refer you on to someone who can.
  9. Always ask to see a copy of a company's publishing agreement so you know what you're signing up to.
  10. Make sure you keep all rights to your own work.
  11. Consider writing more than one book - books cross-promote each other, and if your readers like your book then they'll be hungry for more (give them what they want).
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Great advice, thank you, Helen. It's great to know that there are publishing houses like yours out there. Thanks again for taking the time for the interview.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Val B. Russell

Val B. Russell on Wordpress
Val B. Russell is founder and managing editor of Tuck Magazine - a fast evolving arts magazine with contributions spanning twenty countries. We came in contact when Tuck accepted some poems of mine for publication and I have been a regular reader since.

Hi Val. It's great to have you here. Tuck Magazine is a platform for photography, art, prose and poetry. Tell us about its inception and how it grew.

The concept for Tuck Magazine actually emerged from two seemingly disparate places: cynicism and optimism. At the time I was struggling to reignite the fire of a freelance career that I had let go cold for a few years. What I discovered was that the geography of publishing had changed. Freelance print work was drying up and it was clearly due to online competition. After scouring the internet, my cynicism was soon replaced by hopefulness as there was more work out there than there had ever been for writers, artists, musicians or anyone involved in the media or the arts.

The internet has become a serious publication opportunity for indie writers who have been blocked by larger traditional presses, either because they are too niche oriented, not mainstream enough, or they are too inexperienced to finesse getting past the gatekeepers whose sole purpose is to thin submissions. This atmosphere led to some heavy duty collaborative bridge building between many groups of blogging writers, expanding rapidly around 2008. As a member of a small network of those writers, I was part of a new vanguard of artists.

Out of this I saw a need, filled it and called it Tuck. I created it alone in the evenings after work on a laptop and as it developed I could see it would never be static, but rather an evolving entity much like the art it was sharing. When the magazine went live in October 2011, my goal was to expand the success of that previous collaborative bridge building by bringing artists together from all over the world to share their art with the world. Writers, painters, sculptors, musicians/singers, film makers, actors, dancers and photographers all in one place to create an environment that is positive and uplifting for both the artist and visitor without the taint of the money machine. This not only keeps the art pure but it is also deeply fulfilling for me as both a writer and editor. To have the ability and forum to give many gifted artists their first publishing credit is precious. When I added the Tuck twitter and facebook it attracted an immense interest from both contributors and readers. When art editor Michael Organ joined Tuck, his social media savvy gave us an incredible boost, increasing traffic and providing the contributors with a much wider audience for their work.

We are new, dynamic and our influence globally can be seen in the more than twenty
countries that are represented by our contributors. We are especially having an impact on emerging writers from regions that are often ignored by English speaking publications. A perfect example of Tuck having an effect beyond borders can be seen by the success of Michael Kwaku Kesse Somuah, a young poet from Ghana. Because he was published in Tuck, his career took off and he became the recipient of a prestigious arts award presented to him by the president of Ghana. Subsequent to this, he has won several more awards for his poetry in addition to his readings at conferences and poetry events in both Europe and America. When he contacted me to say that Tuck had been instrumental in that recognition, I was honoured but I also felt justified in my belief that we were indeed having an influence that went beyond things like race, religion, gender and economics. Art is an expression of spirit, that should be freely accessible to everyone and this was precisely the message I took with me to Ottawa Canada this past May. As a guest panelist at The Writers’ Union of Canada AGM I was asked to discuss book reviewing and the changing landscape for writers in 2013, but Tuck Magazine and independently published writers soon became the focus of that conference.

The Writers' Union of Canada
When all was said and done, the Union made a ground breaking decision to finally admit self-published authors into the fold. Although this certainly was significant for all indie writers in Canada and a recognition that we now constitute a serious majority in this profession, the most gratifying part of my participation in this conference was the opportunity to promote Tuck and those who make it the success it is: the contributors. While I sat on the stage, with a projection of Tucks’ main page on the wall behind me, large and making a debut of sorts, every contributor was in that room with me. It was a gratifying and proud moment for all of us who make Tuck happen. 

Congratulations on that success. Great news about Michael Kweku Kesse Somuah - I remember I really liked one of his poems and mentioned it in a blog post about Tuck, some time ago. 

You say "If you've read my poetry, you have met me." What are you drawn to write about? Are you working on something at the moment?

I write from the perspective of personal truth. I have lived a very unusual and at times difficult, occasionally horrific life but within this muddy milieu I have extracted some emotional facts that are the basis of my poetry and fiction. I do often write from an emotional place and this can be very draining at times but without it my stories and poems would lack passion and soul. My writing mandate is quite basic: I write poetry when I’m in pain, essays when I’m angry or outraged, short fiction when I’m bored, book reviews and interviews when I need money for the rent or my curiosity is piqued. My reason for writing longer fiction is a little more complex. It is a catharsis with more than a dash of altruism tossed in. Currently, I've got two novels competing for my time but my focus is more often on Wilson Park, a novel based my childhood experiences in a low income housing project in Canada. This is a grim tale but one that needs to be told. I’m hoping to shop it around sometime in the New Year. The second novel is straight up literary fiction, a tragic story about the loss of a child and how women come to terms with grief. At some point I will also be reissuing ‘The Adventures of Granny Destross and CeeCee’ a children’s fantasy novel I initially self-published a few years ago. The goal is to continue on with the characters within a series of twelve books. Devoting a website solely to this project is a long held dream of mine and to take it as far as I can on my own. There are also approximately three hundred poems I am editing off and on that I've written over the course of seven years that will eventually be ready for small press publication. After that, I intend to sleep and breathe if time permits!

I like that breakdown of creativity according to mood! I think we all write from an emotional place. Does your creativity spread to music or art, since you are involved with the broad artistic spectrum?

My creative expression does bleed into other areas when time permits. I draw/paint and there is a Ukulele on my desk, waiting for me to pick out some tunes. It's difficult to find the time for all the modes of expression I love but when I do pick up an art pencil or paint brush, sing a song or pluck out a melody on an instrument, it feeds my writing when I feel too emotional and blocked to finish a chapter. It is as if the act of stroking paint on a canvass removes emotional debris that frees me up to continue with a story. It's like hand in glove the way each endeavor facilitates the development of the others. In fact, most of the writers I know have their fingers in more than one creative pie at a time.

Your artistic side must feed Tuck as well then. It is visually slick as well as a versatile magazine and the internet has certainly given it a reach it would not have if it were only in print. Have you tailored Tuck to the medium? Do you try to present art that is part of the art zeitgeist or just what appeals to you?

Everything that is published in Tuck shares a common element: originality. The art that is chosen is not always to my liking, which may be surprising but our purpose is to move beyond the borders of our own personal tastes and to give those who read Tuck a variety that is often lacking in other online magazines. There is a risk inherent in doing this as it can be seen as quirky and too unconventional. Often, people like to categorize and define art until it is nothing but packaged junk, and we are determined to maintain our integrity in this regard.

The reach you mention is crucial to our growth as it is a factor that can’t diminish simply based on the truth that the internet is for all intents and purposes, the world. Additionally, the fact that Tuck is a labour of love for myself, editor Michael Organ, and the many contributors who grace our pages, guarantees our ability to succeed. We are in this for the long haul and to above all else, build a relationship between readers/viewers and those who create, by promoting talented new artists and sharing their best work. 

I'm always curious about how people design the look of their site. How did you come up with the Tuck logo?

The logo took about a week to put together in total. The silhouette of the woman brandishing the weapon, was an intentional clip art find as I wanted any image associated with the magazine to reflect one particular definition of the word 'Tuck' which is a type of sword, as is a pen when wielded deftly and with purpose. I fiddled around with a logo maker for the text, chose a theme and colour scheme, purchased the domain and found a host. The guts of magazine took a great deal of patience and time to implement but eventually it became close to my original vision of how it should look and feel to the reader.

Tell us about your activist interests. 

I am very much involved in issues relating to child abuse. In fact, I've just finished an interview with memoirist and sexual abuse survivor Tina Renton for Herizon’s magazine. It is my ultimate goal to create a program for abused children that will involve the arts as a path to emotional and psychological healing. As a survivor myself, the pain and suffering of children who are abused and/or live in poverty is never far from my mind and it is the driving force behind my writing, to use my skill with words to fight the fear and apathy that not only allows child abuse to continue but to flourish. 

I think art is at it's most powerful when used to raise awareness but also it is a simple tool that can help children communicate. Good luck with the programme. What's in store for Tuck in the future? 

Tuck has been going through some changes this summer and we are excited to be launching a new page this fall that will incorporate expanded video and audio. We are also in the process of bringing regular contributors on board that we will weave into the fabric of Tuck gradually throughout 2014. As we are very much about displaying a borderless world, at least artistically, we have also determined that we have a responsibility and desire to become more activist and socially motivated. Obviously it is the very nature of the artist to not only filter and express the health of the society and era in which they live but it is also their role to use their art to prompt change and social progress through awareness.

We have also not ruled out print and we have been known to toss around terms like ‘anthology’ and ‘best of’ but this is still early days for us to consider the print option. Tuck will continue to redefine itself over and over again as the years pass and we intend to remain part of landscape for many years to come. As long as there is art and the editors breathe, Tuck will exist. 

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I'm excited to hear you are incorporating video and audio. Congratulations on the success of Tuck and thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule for this chat, it has been great to get insight into this dynamic magazine and the woman behind it!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview with Andrew Blackman
Andrew Blackman's first novel won the Luke Bitmead Bursary for new writers. Now working on his third novel and providing an editing service on the side, I have a few questions for him...

Hi Andrew. First of all, please tell us how you became a writer and what sort of thing you're drawn to write about?

I wanted to be a writer from an early age, so naturally I started out by becoming a corporate banker on Wall Street. Hmm... I think my logic at the time was that I would make a lot of money, retire young and then write, but I quickly realised this wasn't such a good plan. I quit and became a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, and at first it seemed ideal: it was writing, but with a regular salary. But then I found myself waking up at 6am every day to write my own stories, and knew that I wouldn't be really happy until I at least tried to do what I’d always wanted to do. So I quit, moved back to London and started to focus on fiction writing, while temping at night and at weekends to pay the bills. After a few years of failure, I finally got a break and got my first novel published.

My writing, I suppose, reflects some of my life experiences. I like to write about characters who are struggling to assert their own identities and wishes in the face of the world’s contradictory expectations. I write about people trying to live authentic lives, and the compromises they’re often forced to make in the process. 

How did your first book, On The Holloway Road get published? Did you have strong ideas on the final product or were you happy to put it in the hands of your publishers?

It was a very straightforward process, actually, involving no mysterious contacts or connections or chance events. I just submitted my manuscript to a contest for unpublished writers, the Luke Bitmead Bursary, and a few months later discovered to my amazement that I’d won. The prize was a cheque for £2,500, and a publishing contract with Legend Press. About seven months later, the book came out.

Luckily there wasn't much conflict with my publishers over the final product. They only edited the book quite lightly, and when I disagreed with some edits they were mostly happy to go with my version (except for a few strange issues of “house style”). I left the cover design and the blurb to them, because I decided they knew more about it than I did. 

What a great start! Did you feel the need to get an agent after that? Have you stayed with the same publisher?

Yes, I was clear from the beginning that I wanted an agent as soon as possible. I signed up with my agent after I won the prize and before On the Holloway Road was published. Even though I already had the publishing deal, and even though I stayed with the same publisher for my second novel, having an agent helped because he could negotiate the details of the contracts on my behalf. I would have found that difficult to do myself, firstly because I don't feel as if I know enough about the intricacies of rights, royalties, ebook terms, etc, and secondly because I want to have a good relationship with my publisher. It's good to have someone else to go in and negotiate, so that I can just concentrate on working with them on the editing, publicity, etc. I also had a few approaches for film rights, and he handled those for me too. I think having an agent will be more useful as my career progresses and there's more complex stuff to handle, but I wanted to have one from the start.

You offer an editing service, as well as regularly write articles and blog. How do you balance these activities with writing?

No matter how busy I am, I always make sure that writing fiction is the first thing I do each morning. And most importantly, I do it with the internet switched off! Only when I am happy with what I've accomplished do I put it away and start on the other stuff. I find that the most important thing in creative writing is not time, but mental space. If you have time, but your mind is cluttered with other things, then you won’t get anything done. So I resist the temptation to work on anything else in the mornings, and write while my mind is fresh. When I fire up Twitter, I know that’s the end of my creativity for the day!

All successful writers say discipline is the key - that's a good example. Recently you moved from Barbados back to London. A big cultural switch! How does the change effect your creativity?

Well, since then I've moved from London to Crete, so another big cultural switch! The moving obviously disrupts my creativity for a while, because there’s a lot of logistical stuff to be done each time you move anywhere, let alone internationally. But once I settle down, it’s worth it. Moving to a new place gives me new ideas, a new way of seeing the world. The worst thing for a writer is to get stuck in a rut. Good fiction relies on fresh ideas and fresh images, and I find that living in a different place helps recharge my imagination. Plus, to be quite honest, a big reason for moving first to Barbados and then to Crete was that the cost of living in both places is much lower than in London. Here I can write full-time and just about get by, whereas in London it was a constant struggle just to pay the rent and council tax and keep the lights on each month. Living a simpler, cheaper life means more time and energy for creative work.

On The Holloway Road and A Virtual Love have both received high praise. What can we expect from you next?

I’m working on my third novel, which is quite different. I like to write in different styles and with different subject matter each time. Certain themes are common in all three – identity, authenticity, living a life you want rather than the life other people expect, the compromises people make, etc. But they’re explored in quite different ways. The new novel, although it’s mostly contemporary, also has a historical component, which is something I've never done before. The historical part is based on some real-life family history involving a distant ancestor of mine who gave up a claim to the throne of Spain in order to move to England and become one of the early nineteenth-century photographers. 
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That sounds exactly like living the life you want rather than what people expect - inspiring. It must be nice to research something in the family. Good luck with it and thanks for taking the time away from the beach for the chat!