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Ways with Words (part three): Self-publishing!

The third and final part of the recent Ways with Words event, kindly organised by LitNet NI as part of the Belfast Book Festival, saw us enter the rather exciting world of self-publishing. I’ve spoken before on this blog about my hopes of getting published the traditional way, that is, via an agent and publishing deal, but more and more, my eyes are being opened to the adventure that is self-publishing.

In the past I shunned the idea, having laid eyes upon books which very obviously hadn’t graced the hands of an editor and had simplyTree of books been written (revised? maybe?) and pushed out into the world without a second thought. Books like this, no matter how great the concept, are what give self-publishing a bad name. They play into the hands of the ‘literary elite’ who only deem traditionally published novels to be legitimate and worth the reading. It’s true that most people will still reach for the mainstream published book ahead of the self-published one but… times are a-changing.

People like to have things now, not in a week’s time; they read online every day; they download books for a pound or two for Kindle or other e-reading devices. In short – they are increasingly likely to take a chance on a self-published novel. They don’t have much to lose. The onus on the author then, is to make that book the best that it can be and help to grow the good reputation of an expanding industry.

But enough from me on the matter (I’m on board now, can’t you tell?!). What did our self-published gurus tell us at the Ways with Words event?naked author

Alison Baverstock, author of ‘The Naked Author – A Guide to Self-Publishing’, began by telling us that, in wanting others to read our work, “writers need strong egos.” She added that with self-publishing, more females opted for this and that, perhaps despite what some may think, 76% of self-published authors have a degree to their name.

“It’s not just for people who can’t find a publisher,” she stressed. “People are coming back for more – people who had traditional publishing deals and then decided to self-publish.”

Why is this? Well, most importantly, because it gives the author more control of the publishing process.

Meanwhile, 59% of those self-publishing, as backed up by Alison’s research, were using editors, whilst 21% took legal advice on the process. A further 26% used marketing support. So – self-publishing (SP) is taken quite as seriously by authors who are serious about their work as traditional publishing. The only difference is – here the author is in charge, not a publishing house.

Unsurprisingly, “uniformly, self-published satisfactions are very high,” added Alison. Her conclusions?

  • SP is a segmented market – no one size fits all
  • It’s a process, not a product
  • SP brings contentment
  • Far from ‘going it alone’, it’s very often team-based

As for publishers… “they haven’t tried to show how they add importance.”mousetrapped

Alison reiterated the point about knowing when to acknowledge that work was finished and suitable for showing to people. It can be too easy to send something off without waiting until it’s the best it can be. She added that the dangers of getting feedback too soon were:

  • You can go viral for the wrong reasons
  • You can damage your writing self
  • Ideas can shrivel when explained to those who aren’t interested

Also – SP can help you get objectivity and most importantly – “It’s something to be proud of, not apologetic about.”

Next up was Catherine Ryan Howard from Cork and AGR Moore from Belfast – two SP authors who have seen success with their books and are passionate about the benefits of SP. Interesting points to note from them for potential SP writers:

  • Lulu is a great SP service to use (Catherine has sold over 25,000 copies of her Mousetrapped book after SP using Lulu)
  • Also, Createspace is good for paperback copies
  • Amazon and Smashwords are SP staples and ebookpartnership.com is also worth checking out
  • Employ the service of an editor and a good cover designer – skip these and, well, open the door to errors, dodgy covers and sullying the reputation of quality SP work
  • Use Goodreads and Twitter competitions to promote your book
  • Oh, and, in the words of Catherine – “everyone should self-publish. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it!”

amelia blackAGR Moore, aka Andrew, author of The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black, advised that putting a short story onto somewhere like Smashwords (for free) with links to your SP books for sale, is a good way of directing the purchasing public to your work. Generally, the advice was that ebook sales for SP are higher than paperback sales, harking back to the fact that people are still a bit wary about investing heavily in SP books as opposed to traditionally published ones.

“They just want entertainment,” he said. “Ebooks are something disposable that will entertain them. As a SP author, you can raise up and meet this demand.”

As a children’s author, AGR also advised that getting endorsements from teachers (and parents) for your book would help sell it to parents, who, after all, are the ones who are going to be doing the buying.

What we all wanted to know however was – how much does this all cost? Well, the reality is – if you want to do something well, you have to give some to get some, and you’re really talking, after deploying an editor and cover designer, around the £1,000-£1,500 mark. It’s a business after all and if you want to succeed, it had better be good.

What’s more, when it comes to being an author – ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’

 

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Ways with Words (part two): Agents & publishers

After a whirlwind introduction into the, quite frankly, heady world of modern-day writing and publishing from Ian Sansom, the next part of our Belfast Book Festival event  – LitNetNI’s Ways with Words – saw some of the key players take to the stage. The agents and the publishers.

So, those who are more usually just a name on a website, an entry in the good old Writers & Artists Yearbook, took form and sat in front of a collection of us writers to dispense advice, answer questions and no doubt, hope not to be mobbed at the end…

We had Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander, Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates and representatives from Blackstaff Press, Carcanet Press and Liberties Press. In short, as pretty impressive line-up.

The question is… just what did they say?Q

Well, unsurprisingly, they were fairly straight-talking and clear on what they wanted and ultimately, that is Good Writing. Sorry, Great Writing. Not rocket science, no, but then again, when there’s so much emphasis on marketing these days and getting attention, it’s important to remember that without fantastic words, nothing’s ever going to happen.

Below are their responses to three key questions put to the panel:

1) What can writers do to attract the attention of an agent or publisher?

Carcanet Press (who have TS Eliot winner Sinead Morrissey in their stables) use their PN review journal as a sort of vetting for authors. That is, we were told, it is often used as a “test for publication”, with writers published here more likely to go on and get a book published with them.

Blackstaff Press meanwhile, are big on social media and how much reaction writers are getting to their work online – do they have a huge amount of followers (and therefore potential buyers?) – are they attracting attention? Blackstaff have already used this method to publish authors, e.g. Lessa Harker’s Maggie Muff trilogy gained a very healthy following online and subsequently brought her to the publisher’s attention.

London agent, Clare Alexander, was very forthright in saying that for her, she jumps straight into the writing when she gets hold of a submission, bypassing the synopsis (that thorn in every writer’s side!) so it doesn’t spoil what’s to come. She also advised in sending to about three agents at the same time, as waiting for a response can, of course, take months… And if you are so lucky as to find someone expressing an interest in your work, she added: “Go and see them. See how they describe the book to you. If they describe a different book, then they’re not for you.” (How disappointing if you were to find an agent who liked your work but completely misrepresented it? The only thing to do is wait it out for someone who ‘gets’ your work.) Clare also said to look out for that up-and-coming agent building their client list – someone who will be keen to recruit new writers.

Lindsey Fraser added that most of the Fraser Ross Associates authors write for children and that, yes , wait for it – a great number of their submissions are rejected. Why? Because the writer has just “made attempts at a story” but hasn’t gone into a bookstore or library to see what the competition is. “We turn down some because they’re quite similar to what we’re representing,” she said. “But we don’t get it right all the time.”IMG_1982

2) How much of a package should we be offering? For example, should writers have a blog and be on Twitter?

“Particularly with children’s writing, authors are expected to get out there to do their stuff,” Lindsey told us. “Public persona has become more important. Blogs about children’s writing… some are great. Some are not.”

Clare advised us that all writers should do what’s natural to them but that for her, she didn’t care very much about ‘the package’.

It was a mixed bad of responses to this one but, suffice it to say, whatever works for you, although each genre has its own ‘best way’ perhaps of raising awareness of its particular brand.

3) Genre: should we be fully formed in this?

Clare’s advice was that, ultimately, no – writers do not need to be fully formed in their particular genre, but they do need to clarify a genre. Writers who approach her with a crime novel or ‘a rom-com if you prefer that’, or a kid’s book, a historical fiction book (you get the picture), will get an automatic ‘no’ from her, as “they need to know what they’re offering me.”

Blackstaff agreed on writers not having to be ‘fully formed’ and even said that feedback sometimes can be given to see work improved. (Feedback may be rare but it does happen!)

I’ve focused on the main responses to these key questions and it should be pointed out that all of the panel were agreed on one thing (put into words quite succinctly by Blackstaff Press!): If you’re not reading – what are you doing??reuben reading

You have been warned! Readers make writers. Readers write and writers read.

Carcanet added that for them, they want “something that’s surprising in sound and form as opposed to the content”.

Our advice to take away was:

  • Find your own way of writing and being a success (it’s different for everyone – publication? Simply completing a story? You decide.)
  • It’s never really finished – keep going! Write on!
  • If you’re not reading, what are you doing?
  • Do your homework before submitting

And ultimately – they may not know what they want – but they’ll know it when they see it….

Next week: Self-publishing revelations!

Post Script

This week I am pleased to say I attended the Reading and Writing for Peace: A Poetic Celebration performance event in Belfast, where my peace poem was performed by an actor alongside a collection of the other project participants’ work. Details of how this went coming soon…

 

 

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