Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Guest Post: Peter Lihou


 

The year was 2008 and Libros International had just published my debut novel Rachel’s Shoe.  I was so delighted that a publisher had accepted my novel for publication that I didn’t asked too many questions about how they intended to market my book in those pre-Twitter, pre-eBook revolution days.

Naive? Absolutely. But I soon caught on and realised that most small publishing houses simply don't have the budget to compete with the big names in the industry. So it would be down to me to get my book noticed.

Fortunately, marketing was something I knew a little bit about; and so the novel, its sequel, and four other titles have since been launched on an unsuspecting public and they don't seem to have minded too much. 

2008 and the following years won't go down in history as a period of economic success, especially in the book industry, and so it was of little surprise that my publisher at the time, like so many small publishing houses, eventually suspended operations.

It was time for a fresh approach.

Not being one to give up easily, I immediately formed a small publishing house of my own, Acclaimed Books Limited. Strange as it may seem, I really had no appetite for running a business, after all, I only really started the company as a vehicle for my own books and those of a few writer friends. So I decided to incorporate as a 'not for profit' with a focus upon helping, not profiting from the titles we handled. In fact we were, and remain, quite happy to assist other emerging authors whether they are listed with Acclaimed Books or not.

Acclaimed Books offers help with the preparation and distribution of in print and Kindle format titles sold on Amazon sites. Of course the main assistance that most authors require is the oxygen of publicity.

As a 'not for profit' business, there was little or no income to spend on advertising and the odds are stacked firmly against unknown authors finding their way into any major book award and the enormous publicity these provide. What seemed to be lacking was an award that was open to all, and a voting system in which ordinary people could participate.

In 2008 we set out to provide just such an opportunity for emerging authors. It was originally called the 'AmazonClicks Awards' and within a few weeks of the launch, dozens of titles were submitted and hundreds of satisfied customers endorsed them with their votes. As they became more established, better known titles were also nominated, giving authors the chance to compete head to head with the big names in the industry.

Unfortunately, 'AmazonClicks' was not a great choice of name. It had seemed reasonable at the time because all of the books were sold on Amazon. But Amazon had other ideas, and I was asked if I would transfer the domain name to them. Some to-ing and fro-ing ensued, but we eventually reached a mutually agreeable settlement, I transferred the domain to Amazon and The Book Awards emerged as the new name.

Now dubbed 'The People's Book Awards', we have continued to feature lesser known, emerging, and established authors ever since.  The site attracted almost 20,000 views in the first two months of 2013 and around 2,500 votes. I think this means it is doing 'what it says on the tin' and providing that much needed oxygen of publicity. Of course, the visibility each title receives on our own site is only part of the benefit. Winning authors go on to feature their news and gain additional credibility through press releases to newspapers, magazines, and local radio, and the positive feedback has been greatly rewarding.

So what factors contribute to our success? Well, the popularity of social networking has certainly been a factor. Authors can now tweet their fan bases and ask them to vote, or mention on Facebook or their Blogs that they have been nominated. The visiting fans and supporters of one author will often view the other titles, meaning that every time a new book is entered, there is a cumulative effect.

The Book Awards has been designed to be very easy to use. Authors can nominate their own work, or others may do so. There is no requirement to register in order to nominate a title or vote. We employ clever software to ensure that each person only votes once whilst, at the same time, ensuring the whole thing is very easy to use. Voters simply click up to five stars to register their score. Even one star is considered a positive endorsement. We ask people not to vote if they don't wish to support a title, rather than treat one star as negative. This ensures the primary measure is the number of people who click to vote and the number of stars is used for a tiebreak.

At the same time, the People’s Book Awards is building a veritable library of books worth reading.

Ironically, whilst the strategy I settled upon back in 2008 has been a success for the awards and the participating authors, it hasn't been open to my own titles. It might be regarded as a bit dodgy if I entered my own books! But it gives me great pleasure to see the support given to nominations and even more when their subsequence success buys them valuable media coverage.

So what next?

Earlier, I mentioned that the main assistance authors require is publicity. Whilst that may be so, there is another aspect of publishing that often causes heartache to authors and readers alike and sometimes results in negative or unflattering book reviews of what would otherwise be a good story. I refer, of course to editing. To be more precise, editing and proof reading.

Acclaimed Books has always required authors to take responsibility for these services themselves. As a 'not for profit' organisation with no paid employees, the lengthy process of reading and correcting every manuscript would simply be too time consuming. This is especially so because a single reading is never enough to iron out all of the flaws. But we have always wanted to provide, or at least recommend, complete solutions for authors. And so a new and innovative service has just been announced that plugs that final gap.

The AuthorServices Network is a division of Acclaimed Books Limited, but is open to authors with any or no publisher. Following the 'not for profit' principles, it utilises the 'crowd-sourcing' model to improve both the quality and speed of the proof reading process. Unlike traditional practice, proof reading takes place before editing, and is offered as a service on its own without full editing if the author prefers. By ‘crowd-sourcing' the proof reading process, manuscripts are scrutinised by a team rather than a single person and each manuscript undergoes three sweeps before moving into the editing process. Just one person undertakes the final edit, so that ‘whole document improvements,’ such as continuity and style can be addressed. But with typographical corrections already made, this process is quicker and benefits from a higher degree of focus. This results in a lower cost and higher quality service to authors. 

Crowd-sourcing also benefits those who wish to join the network as proof readers and editors. Previously, people have been put off this type of work because of the time required to take on entire manuscripts. The crowd-sourcing model remedies this. A proof reader can juggle personal or other commitments with a series of short projects (perhaps just 20 pages) and elect whether or not they are available for work at all, whilst still earning some extra income. The network is currently signing up proof readers and editors for whom this type of arrangement is appealing. Successful applicants will need to score 95% on our test. For more information about using or joining the network, visit the website www.authorservicesnetwork.com.

9 comments:

Chris Longmuir said...

Interesting post. I followed up the links but the 2 links for authors services don't work. Great ideas though.

julia jones said...

This is an interesting post which deserves a wide readership among independent writer-publishers - whether print or electronic. Of course I'm biased as the Salt-Stained Book won an award in the printed books category in January. Of course this doesn't mean that it was the greatest book in the world in that particular month. It meant that I asked friends and readers (a blurred boundary line)if they'd consider voting and mentioning to others. So yup, all this means is that the SSB has very good friends. But for me that felt great - a real boost and some lovely comments from all over the world. Peter was very supportive in writing a press release to help me make the best of this and I can confirm The Book Awards 'does what it says on the tin'. The new venture - crowd sourcing to help with proof reading sounds similarly imaginative and helpful. I'll be following the progress of the Author Services Network with interest.

Pete said...

Chris and other readers - The full stop seems to have formed part of the last link, apologies it should be as follows: http://www.authorservicesnetwork.com/

julia jones said...

Yes, that works. I've just been there. Very interesting and clear.

Dennis Hamley said...

Peter, I don't think entering books on your own list counts as 'dodgy'. You didn't write them yourself and authors might feel they are this penalised by publishing with you, which would be a shame. The People's Book Prize, which I knew of from my days of republishing o/p books PoD with the now sadly defunct Solidus Press/Back-to-Front, is a wonderful institution and I feel has been crucial in making small-press and indie publishing respectable and worthwhile. 'Crowd-sourcing' is a great system. I'd offer, but feel my chances of getting 95% are pretty slim.

Dennis Hamley said...

...as writing 'this' for 'thus' in the second line suggests!

Pete said...

Thank you Dennis!

Just to clarify, I am happy for titles of the other authors in Acclaimed Books to be nominated, I was referring to those books I've penned myself. I agree it wouldn't be fair on the others to exclude them.

Pete said...

I should add that I too would struggle to get the 95%, I leave the clever stuff to the others!

julia jones said...

Maybe we should all have a go - with results supplied in strictest secrecy!