Thursday, 31 May 2012

Guest Post - Kate Allan: Why I'm not rushing to self-publish again

Snowbound on the Island by Kate Allan
          A recent survey of some 320 professional authors by literary consultancy The Writers Workshop published in The Bookseller last week demonstrated in statistics what many of us could have guessed; that many traditionally published authors are self-publishing or intend to seriously consider it. “The vast majority of authors are considering cutting out their publishers altogether in order to self-publish direct,” Tom Tivnan writes in The Bookseller (25 May 2012). But in fact the survey paints a more mixed picture and suggests that traditionally published authors are still uncertain and hesitant about self-publishing. Only 48% of the traditionally published authors who took the survey said that they thought it was “most likely” that they would have a traditional publisher in 10 years time. They are not rushing into the open arms of self-publishing just yet. 38% said it was “impossible to say”  whether they would still be with a traditional publisher and only 14% said “most likely not”. 
          It seems to be me that self-publishing's challenge to traditional publishing models are more complicated than a direct challenge. Traditionally published authors are not flocking wholeheartedly to self-publishing, while many writers who start by self-publishing still aspire to traditional publishing deals. 
          My own experience puts me very much in the camp of the former. I'm a traditionally published author whose first novel was out in 2005. I write in the romance genre, one of the genres doing especially well out of the ebook revolution. A few of my early books I was fortunate enough to have the ebook rights which I gave to a specialist genre ebook publisher in the US in 2007 and so I've had a while to watch their continuing steady sales with interest. I've been published now with four different traditional publishers, all independents so the money's not been great, and critically my main publisher I'm writing for now still does not do ebooks so I'm free to sell those rights elsewhere. 
          Last autumn I got a spark of an idea for a novella. I knew it wouldn't be a long story and indeed it was perfect at only 10,000 words. The length meant it wasn't suitable for any of my existing publishers so I thought I would have a go at self-publishing it on Kindle, figuring the experience would be educational and I had little to lose.
          My expectations of the sales being modest I didn't want to spend money on the cover and so I did that myself. I was also fortunate in being an experienced author and editor myself and the story being so short that it didn't need an external edit. So I only had it professionally proof-read before publishing. 
          I did all the same things to promote it as I have for my other books, using social networking. Having a short blog tour and making sure it was reviewed by some popular sites. Conscious of no publisher behind me I probably did more than I would for one of my traditionally published books. And I was pleased with the sales in the first month – over 100 units. But once I'd stopped actively promoting it the sales have fallen back to the steady trickle. Some of this I do think because the story premise has a seasonal appeal – it's called Snowbound on the Island and so it's the sort of romance readers want to read on the sofa in front of the fire the winter, not on the beach. But I haven't got the time to be flogging Twitter 24/7/365, besides which I wouldn't want to bore my Twitter followers to death going on and on about my latest book as I see some self-published authors do. Most importantly I need my author time for writing my next book – for a traditional publisher.
          Another recent survey, this time by Australian publisher and authors services business Taleist, of over 1,000 self-published authors found that less than 10% made enough to live exclusively off their earnings and that 75% of self-publishing revenue was earned by a small group of “top earners”.
          Unless you're lucky enough (or skilful enough?) to break into that top tier, then being traditionally published may still be the better option for professional authors looking to try and at least make a modest living from their writing.
          I'll be pleased when I get my cheque from Amazon for Snowbound on the Island but the effort involved in self-publishing and the relatively modest sales I've seen can't match what I can get from my traditional publisher who print my book, get it into Tescos, let me keep the ebook rights and also sell on other rights, for example to large print and audio. I'm delighted I can self-publish if I want to – especially being daft enough to write a story unsuitable for my existing publishers - but I can't replace the income I receive from traditional publishers with that from self-publishing, and that income is what allows me to continue to write.
          I have a couple of backlist titles I may self-publish, when I can find the time, but my frontlist is staying with traditional publishers for the foreseeable future.

Kate Allan tweets at @kate_allan

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The road less travelled by Cally Phillips

Tomorrow sees the 50th post on Authors Electric sister site Indie Ebook Review. Many Electric Authors have both reviewed and been reviewed on this site and the positivity of all concerned is one of its best features. 

Since a guest blogger has gone AWOL today I recommend that you take yourself over to the IEBR site and check out some of the past reviews. Spend a bit of time in the virtual bookshelf - familiarise yourself with the writing and the reviewing 'style' of our contributors and generally wallow in the stuff in preparation for the 50th celebrations tomorrow. 

Cally Phillips (editor IEBR) writes about indie ebook reviewing: 

The three months I’ve spent hunting down and reading ebooks (not for me the easy one click of free bestsellers on Amazon) have resulted in my coming up with an interesting observation or two.  And I feel it’s time to explore this as an analogy (inspired in part by one of the books I’ve been reading – a travel book).

I think ‘indie’ E-books are to traditional print publishing like independent travel is to package holidays. If you start with this view you will a) not get so annoyed about lots of things and b) have much more pleasant a journey and c) gain much more from the experience.

I’d like to consider some of the most frequent complaints about ebooks I regularly  come across.

People are always saying ebooks are poorly edited.  That the stories don’t ‘end’ the way I want or they ‘drop off’ in quality before the end.  Sometimes this is a fair point. A lot of the time it’s people saying ‘I didn’t like it.’  There is a difference.

If you read Amazon reviews you’ll see that many ‘reviewers’ really don’t have the basics of understanding the different between personal opinion and critical commentary (more of that another time).  Underlying these gripes however, is the fact that these complaints are basically surrounding issues  (or perceived issues) of ‘professionalism’ in both the skill of the author and the final publication. One can argue long and hard about this. One can give examples of poorly edited mainstream titles and disappear into etymology or definition of words like ‘professional’ and the responsibility of publishers. The relationship between author and publisher…. Yada yada….

I am not being an apologist for slack work here. Believe me. Of course one wants a book to be as well edited as possible.  As good a reading experience as it’s possible to be. But I think we may be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. Or of keeping in a package holiday mentality and thus losing the joy of ‘the road less travelled.’

I say. Get over it. Especially while prices are low to free.  Stop being so mean minded. In daily life one fairly regularly doesn’t get exactly what one wants. That bruised apple/tomato in a pack. That overpriced coffee/sandwich/meal. Do you complain about everything in life that doesn’t end up the way you want? If so, I suggest you stay away from ebooks.  But  I humbly suggest that what is needed here is a change in attitude. A re-alignment of expectations.

If you book a two week package holiday anywhere in the world you can be reasonably confident that you’ll have a particular experience.  If you travel to the same place independently you’ll have a different experience.  In the first instance you can expect things to go to plan (though you’re bound to have disappointments) but more importantly you can COMPLAIN if it doesn’t deliver what it says on the tin. And even get compensation if your expectations are dashed. But if you’re lucky you’ll just have a nice, relaxing, non threatening, non challenging experience (usually complete with Full English Breakfast if you want it) and come back with suntan from all that time spent reading ‘trashy’ novels on the beach. Okay?  If you book on a Saga holiday or an 18-30 holiday you have some expectation of what you are paying for right? All inclusive cruise, similarly. (Unless you run aground or sink!) But, if you choose to travel independently you’re going to have to take a whole new view on the thing.  Your experience will depend more on local conditions than on the security of homogenised holiday hotels.  It’s a lot more risky, a lot less certain… and if you are of a certain mindset… a lot more fulfilling.  There’s much less COMPLAINING goes on because you accept some responsibility for the problems arising yourself.

Well… let me venture to suggest that – for the moment at least – one should consider indie ebooks as analogous to an independent holiday experience.  You will read books where some
more careful ‘editing’ is required. Personally, when I read an indie ebook that’s not my first concern any more than if I buy something from a Charity Shop I’m going to complain if it’s not in BRAND SPANKING NEW condition.  I don’t expect M&S (sorry ‘YOUR M&S’) perfection in charity shop purchases (even if the items originated from M&S) You learn to adapt. You learn to see what’s important. In clothing this is – does it fit, is it suitable for my purpose – in ebooks this is – do I like the story? Do I feel a connection with the writer? Are we sharing something? Am I learning something?

In order to have this ‘experience’ I can live with things that are not ‘professionally’ perfect in terms of editing and delivery, as long as the story grabs me. That doesn’t mean it has to develop or end the way ‘I want’ or even how ‘I expect.’ It means I have to learn something, be moved by something, feel my time isn’t being wasted.

The 'Big Boys'  try to present us a homogenised view of digital publishing (the ultimate one click experience) but don’t be fooled. They are packaging product. They don’t care about your individual experience.  They are leaving it up to the combined ‘us’ to formulate the ‘experience’.  They’ll charter the planes. They’ll book the hotels but they don’t care whether you have a leaking tap/noisy neighbours/no beach view in your hotel room.  We can complain about this for ever. They won’t change. Their business is selling you product not enhancing your individual life experience. That’s up to you. They set up the hype and follow the money. 

What excites me about ebooks is the opportunity to go beyond this. To find things out. To take control of one’s reading beyond the market driven, money oriented or indignant personally biased reviews. I want to make my own choices.  And now I can.  I can’t guarantee I’ll always have the ‘best’ experience any more than I can know which is the best place to eat in a foreign country. 

Just remember. There’s a whole world out there. Your own perspective is important. You discover for yourself. You choose what you like as an individual. You don’t have to buy into what you don’t want to. You can take risks if you want. But don’t complain that it’s not EXACTLY as it SHOULD BE in the world of the giant corporate business of publishing.  This is NOT what indie publishing is about. It is about real individuals publishing their stories (fact or fiction) to the best of their abilities and if we price them out of the market by demanding the same rigorous (or anal) attention to ‘detail’ while expecting them to deliver us with perfect goods without the slightest typo or editing glitch, then we will end up with a diet of bland pre-packaged fare…. And isn’t that what we’ve been trying to get away from?

So… it’s a timely reminder that if you are the kind of person who will get up to 90 if there’s a spelling error you might be best not to dip your toe too far into the choppy waters of ebooks.  Or only buy from sources you can be 100% sure of.  That option is available to you.  Probably costs more though.  However,if you truly believe that content is king, if you want to explore the world from outside the package holiday, then indie is for you.  The better you research the less likely you are to part with money and then be unhappy with your purchase.  I’m not trying to convert anyone, but I think it’s important that people take some responsibility for their own engagement in the world of digital publishing.  Think about the arguments. About how and why you want to engage with it. 

At IEBR we are here to help you with that task.  We’re neither a large commercial tourist company nor a state sponsored tourist organisation. We are offering views on potential ‘holidays’ for independent travellers.  For individuals.  We can show you some places to go but we can’t decide for you whether you’ll enjoy the same journeys we have taken.

I am not suggesting that anything goes quality wise, just that we need to take a more flexible, more mature attitude to ebooks and not throw our hands up in horror if something we read doesn’t work out as we ‘expected’ or as we ‘wanted’ it to.  Reading a true indie ebook is being an independent traveller. Don’t expect the ride to always be comfortable, but it’ll all be part of the experience of life!  Less complaining about how someone else doesn’t live up to your personal whims or expectations and more finding out what you do like and why and researching where you can get the ‘best’ personalised experience for yourself. Think positive. Read positive. Judge positive.

I’ve found the best thing about running this site and reading and reviewing is that I’ve found what I want. In all sorts of places I never knew about.  I’ve encountered lots of challenging reading I would never have otherwise known about.  Sometimes some of it is hard going and takes me out of my comfort zone, but I like that in reading. I like to be challenged, to undergo a learning experience and to have the opportunity to make a virtual one to one connection with another person’s mind.  I write fiction that doesn’t suit everyone. I like to read fiction that doesn’t suit everyone. I reckon I’m pretty good at my initial research because by the time I commit to read something, I’m rarely disappointed.  Okay, sometimes I make a bad choice. It happens in life. Every day. You just have to get over it. It’s not like you shelled out a huge sum of money for a bad holiday now is it?  It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. You can always stop reading. But sometimes, if you carry on reading and get to the end, you realise the problem was less with the writer and more with you, the reader, and your misaligned expectations.  

I don’t suggest that everyone is looking for the same as I am in a ‘good read.’  I’m not suggesting that they should.  I’m just suggesting that some of the onus on whether an ebook ‘experience’ is good or bad is in the hands of the reader.  Read the label on the tin before you open it.  Browse. Download samples. Read reviews (critically) and look both ways before you cross the road! 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

FRIENDSHIP - it's so much more than just a 'support network' - by Hywela Lyn

When my first novel 'Starquest' was published by the American publisher The Wild Rose Press,  in 2008, I knew nothing about 'promotion'.  Come to that, I knew nothing about E-publishing either, but I was soon to learn about both as my novel would be available both in print and electronic format.

I'd decided to try my luck with an American publisher, since I felt my particular genre 'futuristic romance' had little chance of being published in the UK.  (Four years ago there weren't the same opportunities for self publishing as there are now, and there weren't so many sub genres over here in the romance market. Things have moved on quite a lot since then!)

I learnt that I had to join Author loops and 'make myself known', participate in groups and comment on Blogs.  Before long I found I found other authors were generously offering to interview me on their blogs, mentioning my book and generally helping me to 'learn the ropes.' As time passed, some became real and lasting friends, and we emailed every day, shared successes and disappointments, telephoned across the pond and generally got to know each other. Being published in the US, of course most of my author friends were American, but I also had many good and supportive friends here in the UK - and was lucky enough to meet some at The Festival Of Romance last year.  It was wonderful to meet people I'd only previously talked to by Email, and I was thrilled that the Festival was so close to home, since I don't do a lot of travelling.

One thing I never dreamed of, was that I'd get an invitation to travel to America.
View from the restaurant window.

Two other US romance authors, Mary Ricksen and Patsy Parker and myself, together with an amazing, courageous and inspiring blind author who was battling Type 1 diabetes, Sharon Donovan, collaborated on a  'Fun Blog', The Author Roast and Toast', to help promote other authors ('What goes around, comes around,' as they say, and it's our way of repaying authors who've helped us get our names 'out there' or to help those just starting out.) We became such close friends it's as if we've known each other for ever. Mary  (who lives in Florida) suggested I travel to Pennsylvania with her to meet Sharon.  Unfortunately Patsy wasn't able to make it, but Mary, Sharon and I started making plans, although I'd never been further than France in my life, so the prospect was both thrilling and a little scary.
Sharon's dad, mum, Mary Beth and me

Tragically, a month before I was due to leave for America, Sharon, who'd been admitted to hospital in January for a second major heart operation, suffered a series of setbacks and sadly died after putting up a tremendous fight. Mary and I  were heartbroken, but decided to go ahead and make the trip to Pittsburgh (me from the UK and Mary from Florida)  to meet Sharon's parents, and her sister, Mary Beth, who had been keeping in close contact with us to update us of Sharon's progress after her surgery.

They were just as lovely as we imagined them to be, like Sharon herself,  and we visited the places Sharon had loved with Mary Beth.  It was bitter sweet and we were so sad that Sharon had not made it, to share in our dream of meeting up, but we all felt her presence and felt that somehow she was there with us, sharing our experiences and conversations and helping us make wonderful memories. We went to one of her favourite restaurants, saw the 'spaceship' at Mars where Mary Beth lives, and visited the peaceful cemetary where Sharon was laid to rest, looking towards the trees and mountains, and the beautiful Church where she used to worship.

Mary and me with 'Ascha'
After five days in Pennsylvania, Mary and I spent a very relaxing few days at a lovely guest house, called 'Dream Horse'  in Ohio, in the heart of Amish country.  The owner of the Guest House breeds Hafflinger horses - and guess what, she has written a book about the house and its guests illustrated with the most beautiful photographs and paintings also done by herself.  Writers are naturally drawn to each other it seems, because we had no idea when Mary booked our reservation there that we would make yet another writer friend!

An Amish buggy in Ohio.

 So, from a Conference just half an hour's journey from where I live, to the other side of the world, I have been hugely blessed in being able to meet some of my dearest friends who, although we'd only previously been in contact by telephone and email, feel as though we've known each other for ever.

The writing community must surely be the most supportive and generous in the world, and this Blog, Author's Electric, is evidence of that.  I feel truly priviledged to be part of such a wonderful community.

(Hywela Lyn)

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST

Monday, 28 May 2012

Reading, and writing, in different formats, by Enid Richemont

I'm into a trio of print books at present, all borrowed from the Barbican Library. THE STORY OF MR SOMMER, a short, beautifully written/translated novel by Patrick Suskind, with exquisite illustrations by Sempe was both moving and haunting - just one of those books you can't forget. Jeanette Winterson's fantasy based on Noah and the flood makes an amusing contrast, and I have yet to savour the third - JUSTINE, by Alice Thompson... I've already dipped into its descriptions though - the sort of lavish and visual poetic prose I lap up.

There is a difficult-to-define difference between reading on my Kindle and reading a print book. All three print books are paperbacks, and so have rather springy pages which is annoying for breakfast reading - one hand on the coffee mug and the other on the book. There's also a subtle difference for me, as a writer, between reading/working on screen, and reading my eventual print-outs, and I do wonder if there is a similar one for people reading in different formats.

 Very recently, I've re-published WOLFSONG, the Young Adult novel I published with Walker Books, and re-reading and editing on screen does feel different  - I wonder what my readers will think. The house, CHANTELOUP (in La Vendee), which for me was the star of the story, has recently been almost destroyed by a fire which seems like yet another part of its turbulent history. I was once very ill there with some obscure viral infection, and I remember lying in bed, under a fragile linen sheet, reading a couple of antique children's books (there was an extensive library, all behind glass doors) - and this was long before I ever became a children's writer.

At the weekend, we went to Hampstead Heath to see the rhododendrons which a neighbour had told us were spectacular - and they certainly were. It was a perfect spring day, if chilly, and there were little clouds of strange insects to be avoided. We looked down at the city, as we've so often done from there, and I thought about David Gentleman's latest book - LONDON YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL - the result of spending a year walking around the city with a sketchbook. As an ex-artist - I deserted the visual for the verbal-visual - it gave me, as always, a guilty conscience - drawing =REALLY looking.

Finally, re-epublishing - self-publicity seems to be essential, and I'm finding that very hard, especially speaking as someone who once had a publicist who later became a very successful children's author... oh, well...

Friday, 25 May 2012

E-Book Anarchy! - by Susan Price

Katherine Roberts
          Katherine Roberts and I started this blog in 2011, because although it’s a fine thing to be an indie-author, it’s quite another to be an indie-author who’s known to exist by anyone outside their own family.
          Amazon stocks over 2 million books, and has a world-wide market.  You have to wave hard and jump up and down a lot to get noticed in a field that size.
          So Kath suggested getting a group together, so we could all wave and jump at the same time.
          What I didn’t foresee – though I should have  – is how quickly our bloggers would become a tight little community.
          I should have foreseen it because both Kath and I are members of  the Scattered Authors’Society (SAS), where exactly the same thing happened.  Cindy Jefferies set up the SAS’ posting forum: e-mails buzzed to and fro; personalities soon emerged and on-line friendships formed.  It’s one of the most supportive, helpful, wittiest groups I know.
          Some of our Authors Electric were recruited from the SAS, but most were, initially strangers.  They have, in a year, become friends, albeit friends whose voices I’ve never heard and whose hands I’ve never shaken.  But their personalities emerge so clearly from their writing that it hardly matters – and isn’t this the ideal?  To appreciate someone for their spirit alone, regardless of their gender, age or appearance?   As Pauline Fisk said on this blog last month, there is nothing ‘virtual’ about these friendships.
          Last month we co-operated on a ‘give-away’ of our books, to further publicise ourselves.  Many people worked heroic hours, for nothing, and in terms of making the blog better known, it was a great success.  I think it’s time people were named and praised.
Debbie Bennett
          Take it away, Debbie Bennett!  Debbie wrote the dark, gritty and thoroughly gripping Hamelin's Child, but was also my advisor and helper in building the Authors Electric website.  It’s largely down to her techie knowledge that the site looks as good as it does.  We spent hours in tedious cutting, pasting and mouse-clicking, but she was admirably prompt and efficient in getting the work done – all in addition to her own work, not only as a writer, but at her proper, grown-up job.  She also keeps track of our guest bloggers, and puts up their posts – and having read and admired Hamelin's Child, I want to read her collection of short stories, Maniac.
Lynne Garner and 'Tasha
          Now calling on Lynne Garner, our Tweet Deck Queen.  The blog is about letting readers know that we’re here, and one of the most effective ways is to tweet.  Lynne took time out of her busy life to learn to use Tweet Deck, and generously, tirelessly, tweets for those of us too technophobic to do it themselves.  She also gave hours of her time to organise the blog for our April 23rd ‘Book Giveaway’ – and still manages to look after poorly hedgehogs and produce books like Anansi: Trickster Spider!
Dan Holloway

Dennis Hamley
          And here’s our double-act, our charm-offensive, Dennis and Dan.  They have worked as a team at several conferences recently, spreading the word about Authors Electric – and Dennis often drops in on Dan’s poetry events.  It all helps to spread the word.  Dennis’ medieval mystery recently reached Number 1 in the mystery category in America, when publishers had told him the Americans wouldn’t be interested – and Dan puts tremendous energy into promoting other indie-writers and poets.
John A A Logan
          Step up, John A A Logan, who galvanised us all with his blog on how he spent 22 years struggling with publishers and agents, who raved about his book, The Survival of Thomas Ford, but wouldn’t publish it.  He finally brought it out as an e-book, and it’s a best-seller on Amazon.  With his very first post, he both inspired us and increased our audience – so thank you, John.
Catherine Czerkawska
          John seems to have joined forces with that excellent writer, Catherine Czerkawska, to form a fast-response team, which replies to the trolls who pop up in the comments of on-line forums.  The trolls will have it that all e-books are rubbish, published by self-deluded hacks.  Catherine and John are living, self-published proof that it isn’t true!  Catherine also set up our Facebook page and has given us some great posts.  I can personally recommend her books, Bird of Passage, The Amber Heart and A Quiet Afternoon In The Museum of Torture. (But all our authors' books are excellent in their different ways, because that's the point of this blog: to flag up some excellent books among the thousands out there.)
Roz Morris
          Here’s Roz Morris, who suggested the April 23rd Book Giveaway, which doubled our monthly hits and our US audience – hello to our American readers!  Her posts are always lively and popular, and I owe her personal thanks for the help I’ve had from her excellent book, Nail Your Novel.  I’ve been struggling to write the (extremely knotty) third Sterkarm book and, thanks to Roz, I think I’ve nailed it.
Cally Phillips
          And Cally Phillips, folks – Cally, who speaks to us like an oracle from her Scottish fastness, and keeps us focussed when we get over-excited and start to run round in circles.  Cally, almost overnight it seemed, set up the excellent Indie ebookreview – something there’s a real need for since newspapers and magazines mostly refuse to notice e-books (because they’re all rubbish published by self-deluded etc).  Cally’s site features peer-reviews of the very best e-books for your reading pleasure.  Cally also volunteered to gather and collate the data on the free downloads we gave away on April 23rd, providing valuable insights for the group to use in future.  This was unpaid, took hours of her time, and we’re very grateful.  Her books and plays can be found here.
Susan Jane Smith
          Step up Susan Jane Smith, a retired psychotherapist who knew little about epublishing, blogging or tweeting when she joined us.  She has enthusiastically learned much about these new subjects, and is one of our most valuable and industrious tweeters, generously sharing business contacts and hunting down newspapers to approach with PR.  Not to mention that she's written books full of down-to-earth, practical advice on how to change your life and be happier!
Sheridan Winn
          And take it home, Sheridan Winn!  Sheridan’s one of our newest members and,  as she came through the door, was stripping off her coat and taking on the job of collating and producing a very professional press release.  With help from others, especially Sue Smith, she organised the sending of the PR to local and international newspapers.  She is the writer of the Sprite Sisters series.
          I wish I had space to mention everyone because I’ve been impressed – and delighted, even awed – to see how quickly and willingly the group has gelled, and how effectively they cooperate.  It’s organisation on a voluntary, cooperative basis: anarchy in action.
          All of our members - including me, Susan Price - can be found here, on the website what Debbie and me built.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Getting Started in Ebook Publishing by Stephanie Zia

Hello. I'm thrilled to be here amongst so many fantastic UK authors who are also embracing digital publishing. For my first post I've been asked to say a little about me.

I began publishing at the beginning of 2010 when ebooks were very much an American affair. US Amazon Kindle was well underway but ebooks were mostly PDF documents sold from websites. They were packaged with funny, box-like, mock 3D real-book images, and usually advertised with lots of scrolling, bright red, writing with a massive "one time offer" only deal of £50.00, or even more, at the bottom.

I was trying to make ends meet, as you do when you've got an agent but no publishing deal and a very sick partner, working at home for a TV script transcription company. My only other regular work was as a household tips columnist in The Guardian Saturday magazine. I was asked to transcribe an interview with Tay Zonday for a programme about the future of the media. When his song Chocolate Rain went viral in July 2007, Tay became one of the first YouTube superstars. He predicted it all for books with 100% certainty in that interview.

My agent was sending out my novel at the time but had no interest in finding a publisher for my growing collection of Guardian columns. So, with her permission, I set up a Mr Site website for £9.99. This included a ready-made online shop that transferred digital documents instantly to purchasers and a domain name for a year. I made my PDF book, and an Amazon Kindle book for the US on the side, and started selling it. I'd been blogging for some time about the daily trials and tribulations of finding my second agent and getting my third novel out there. The mood of the blog lightened considerably over the following years! There was so much to learn about ebooks. I soon discovered Smashwords, run by a really friendly clued-up guy called Mark, and Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble et al opened up yet more sales platforms for no initial outlay. I tried to keep my blog posts on all the ins and outs of getting ebooks made and sold updated, but it was impossible to keep up with myself. So, for my second book I decided to put all of my posts and notes together into a guide.

One of the joys of ebooks and POD paperbacks is that they are so easy to update. I welcome readers' criticisms and suggestions and tend to update the ebook about once a month and the paperback about once a quarter. There's an accompanying update blog on my website so that those who've already purchased don't miss any new developments. For UK authors, getting a US ITIN tax number is a case in point. You used to have to jump through so many, many hoops to get this number which stops Amazon, US CreateSpace, Smashwords etc deducting 30% of all your income at source. A reader alerted me to the latest system:

Non-US authors can now apply for an EIN NUMBER (Employer Identification Number) by phoning the US Embassy in their country of residence. Thanks to blog reader JTR for this information:   ”I told them I was a UK based author and they said the EIN was fine, I was effectively the sole proprietor of my own business – I didn’t need to go to the US embassy..”

I haven't had any confirmation from anybody else yet that this new system works. When I do I shall be updating again.

Other recent developments relevant to UK authors:

CreateSpace, who now pay $ royalties into UK bank accounts, have just announced they are publishing POD paperbacks to European Amazon platforms. This gives your paperback readers the free postage option. It's not automatic though, books have to be opted in individually.

Amazon pays royalties directly into UK and other European bank accounts. This is for UK royalties only at the moment but hopefully US royalties will follow.

With input from a PR professional, an artist, an IT man and an editor from mainstream publishing, my little self-publishing website, Blackbird Digital Books, named after a tame blackbird who visits our flat, continues to grow. I've now parted with my agent, self-published that third novel and retrieved the rights to my first two novels as well. Instead of transcription typing late into the night, I am writing, publishing and getting paid for it.

I understand why new writers want to achieve "published author" status via the mainstream, and would encourage them to first go down the route of finding an agent. Books still need the professional editorial eye, proofreading etc. and good agents obviously have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to contracts, world markets etc. The difference is that before there were no alternatives for us. Now there are!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Top 10 Rules For Children's Writers (visiting schools) - Simon Cheshire

Me at a school
Talking to classrooms full of schoolkids is part and parcel of being a children's writer these days. I've no idea how this came about - in my day, the very concept of an author coming into school would have seemed bizarre. Anyway, a lot of children's writers visit a lot of classrooms.
For me, it's a joy. Truly. I should think 90% or more of visits to schools absolutely make my day, gladden my heart and restore my faith in humanity. School visits make it worthwhile putting up with all the practical, emotional and financial rigours that the jobbing writer endures.
As the end of the school year rapidly approaches, here are my personal thoughts on the subject, as distilled from loads and loads of schlepping around the country and trying to hold 10-year-olds spellbound for 45 minutes...
  1. It does get easier. When I started going to schools, I wasn't terribly good at the whole keeping-'em-spellbound stuff. Er, OK, to be brutally honest, I bombed. Big time. But now, though I say so myself, I'm a pretty good public speaker. After a while, all that stuff actor luvvies say about 'reading an audience' stops sounding like pretentious drivel and starts making sense. You really can play it on-the-fly and adjust your performance as it goes. And it is a performance.
  2. OMG, RELAX! Even if you're terrified, you must come across as entirely confident and at ease. Nothing loses a classroom full of kids quicker than nerves. Nothing.
  3. Find your natural habitat. Personally, I much prefer larger groups of kids, the bigger the better. I know others like the smallest groups possible. Stick to what you're comfortable with. If you don't like talking to more than one class at a time, don't be persuaded to address the entire school at Assembly. With that in mind...
  4. Learn to say 'no'. For example, I'm not a teacher. Never have been. I thoroughly enjoy talking to an audience and hearing their ideas, but I simply can't do the full 'workshop' thing and replace what a teacher would do during a lesson. I've learned from bitter experience that if a school says something like "we'd like you to lead a story-writing session and help grade their efforts" I must say (gently!) that my skills don't stretch that far. After all, they wouldn't expect a visiting firefighter to do that, would they? And with that in mind...
  5. Be clear and up-front. Have it right there on your website what you can do in schools. I try to make my Teacher's Page as comprehensive as possible. Go through the National Curriculum and see if you can tie what you talk about into something specific that children will have been learning about in class. Teachers really appreciate that.
  6. Me at another school
  7. Help schools help you. Do whatever you can to save teacher-time. Give them a flyer they can put up around the school, for instance; if books are going to be on sale, order the stock and do the fetching and carrying (see note below); email the school some free chapters - or send them a free copy or two, if you can afford it - that the children can read before the event.
  8. Do it yourself. Never let a third party organise a school visit for you, unless it's someone you know and trust (a personal contact at a publisher, for instance). If you're standing in front of a large group of kids, and they don't know who you are, or why you're there, and you're clearly wasting your time, you can bet there's a third party involved. I hate to say it, but public libraries are the worst offenders here. Not all of them, by any means. I've been doing some visits through Birmingham Central Library recently, and they're totally wonderful. But many aren't. Sad, but true.
  9. Charge a fee. I've done freebies in the past, and I'll very occasionally do them now, but the rule of thumb is: invoice 'em! Schools do expect to pay visiting speakers. You're a professional giving up your time. Of course, the million dollar question is: how much? A safe bet is to go by standard Society Of Authors suggestions, around £300 a pop, but I know quite a few writers charge more. I'd say, be flexible but don't undervalue yourself.
  10. Yes, it's World Book Day, and
    yes, I'm the twit in the
    Sherlock Holmes outfit
  11. Giveaways are nice. If your budget will allow, take along a supply a bookmarks or pencils - pre-printed with info about your books, of course - which every pupil can have. Even these days, you'll find the occasional school that gets jittery about the 'if one kid can't afford a book, no kid shall buy a book' idea. A giveaway helps reassure them that you're not some slavering greedy Bob Diamond figure.
  12. Whatever happens, smile. It's rare, but sometimes things do go wrong. I've been left alone with a class of baying maniacs; I've been berated in a crowded Staff Room for writing a book which included the word 'witch'; I've had teachers yattering and marking homework all through my talk; I've had secondary pupils tell me just how boring they thought my book was; I've talked to kids while the council rat catcher has laid bait behind me... At all times, smile sweetly. Never criticise, never walk out, and never lose your cool (well, cases of full-scale assault excepted, I suppose). Because, unfortunately, the only person it'll reflect badly on is you. All anyone will remember about you is your purple expression of rage. Not fair, but there it is.
As I said above, these are personal thoughts. If your own ideas or experiences contradict mine, feel free to say so. I once went to a (very prominent!) school whose pupils had, I later found out, chewed up and spat out more than one visiting writer, but which I found to be perfectly OK. 'Go figure' as they say.

Note on point 6: How many books should you take to a school? I've found that, on average, around 15%-20% of the children you talk to will buy a book. Ask the school exactly how many kids you'll be seeing and judge accordingly.

Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be your bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks. 
His website is at 
And his blog about literary history is at

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Der Überläufer – An Adventure in Translation

My writing has appeared in a lot of different places, including some other languages; my first novel was translated into Dutch, Japanese and German, back in the day when I brought out my fiction through traditional publishing houses.
The Defector, in German

After embarking on my indie or self-publishing project, Amazon started opening Kindle websites in places other than the US and the UK – and one of them was Germany. Ah ha, I thought, I have German editions of both my first two novels, I wonder if I can self-publish them as eBooks?

I was lucky (although it didn’t feel like it at the time) that the German publisher, Delius Klasing had already taken the books out of print. I have a rule to always get a rights reversion letter when this happens – if you’ve not seen one, it’s pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s a letter that confirms that the publisher of your book is no longer publishing your book, and that they accept that as a consequence of a clause (that should be) in your contract – they return the right to publish it back to you.

It’s a complicated way of saying that you can now go ahead and sell the book to another publisher, if you can find one. Or these days, self-publish it as an eBook or Print on Demand edition.

This is how The Defector ended up being published by Random House in the UK in 1996. Then taken out of print, so I could republish it with Harper Collins ANZ in 2002. And then taken out of print again, so I could self-publish it with Smashwords in 2009 and then Kindle in 2011.

I had already got the rights back from Delius Klasing to publish The Defector in German, and as they had already gone to the trouble of translating it I had a big headstart over my plans to make the book available in the other new Amazon Kindle markets – France, Italy and Spain. The problem was that I didn’t own the translation, Delius Klasing had paid for it, and they owned the right to its use.

It was an interesting negotiation, and it took months – but in the end I managed to get them down to an amount that I thought I had a half chance of getting back, and we did the deal. I got a simple letter saying that I had the right to use the German translation of both The Defector and The Wrecking Crew and, eventually, a PDF of the two books in German.

This is where the real work started.

The first stage was to get the books converted into the Word document format that both Smashwords and Kindle Direct need to be uploaded to their eBook service. A small fee to Adobe sorted that out. But once they were in Word, I discovered that the full-justification format that Delius Klasing had used, meant that there were dashes between any word that had been broken at the end of a line - thousands and thousands of them. Oh, and there was another problem, Word wasn’t interested in working in German.

It took a while, and some experimentation, but in the end, I got Word to love German, and found a global search and replace that would find and allow me to get rid of all the dashes. At least I think I did because, as it’s in German and I don’t speak the language, I don’t really know. Some of them should maybe have been there...

Now I needed a title, a blurb and a cover. I’m lucky to have a couple of good German friends, and after some brain storming we settled on a straight translation of ‘The Defector’ into ‘Der Überläufer’. The Wrecking Crew was more difficult, no meaningful direct translation was available, so we settled on Schiffe versenken – which is actually the name of the game that we know as Battleships in England. It had a good ring to it, even to my English ears.

 I returned to my accommodating (see last month’s blog) designers, and got them to do a German version for a small fee. And then I paid the same German friend to translate the blurb, and the front and end matter.  Finally, I was more or less home and dry, I’ve had plenty of experience formatting for both Smashwords and Kindle, and this wasn’t made any different by the foreign language.
The Wrecking Crew in German

I uploaded both books to Kindle Direct’s Select, and then waited until they had picked up a decent (five star) review. I set them to give away for free for the five days allowed by inclusion in Kindle Select, and waited. Both books were downloaded close to 5,000 times and reached the top two of the overall Kindle freebie charts.

When the free promotion was over, The Defector hit #3 on the overall ‘Paid’ chart and was #1 thriller for several days, spending a couple of weeks in the Top 100. The Wrecking Crew didn’t do quite so well, but a couple of weeks after the promotion is over, I’ve earned enough to cover all my costs, and probably cover the time I put into the project too. Now I just have to hope that the books will keep earning for a very long time... and that Amazon open a Japanese and Dutch Kindle store soon. Meanwhile, I have an Italian translation in progress, but that’s a story for another day.

Find Mark Chisnell online at:

Monday, 21 May 2012


This is a post about two lately-comers to the world of story, electronic publishing and flash fiction.  Wednesday 16th May was the first ever National Flash Fiction Day, celebrated not just across the UK, but online too, and across the world in some cases, Australia being among them and New Zealand as well.

In the county town of Shrewsbury, flash fiction was celebrated too.  It was a huge success - a packed coffeehouse event that saw strangers coming together to share their short, short stories, make common cause of their inspiration and write on table-cloths, backs of envelopes [well, one envelope - I wouldn't want to be seen exaggerating here], anything that came to hand. People having been stopping me on the street to say how much the evening meant to them. Some said they hadn't written stories since they were in school.  Others said it provided them with a way of getting personal without feeling exposed.  When are we doing it again, they wanted to know.  And it's that 'we' that I love.  Flash Fiction Eve wasn't mine, for setting it up.  It was OURS.

The connection with digital publishing, you may ask? It’s in the heading - that word 'democracy' - and in that other word 'ours'. In Shrewsbury on Flash Fiction Eve people claimed story-writing for their own.  For one fabulous night stories weren't something that only ‘proper’ writers could produce.  People wrote their own.  Sometimes they did this alone.  Sometimes they did it in groups.  Sometimes they wrote with friends.  Sometimes they wrote with total strangers.  But they wrote and wrote all evening and, as someone who's always had a passion for getting people writing, it was wonderful to see.  

In the e-publishing world, something similar is happening.  Some may get sniffy at dross in the e-book market giving digital publishing a bad name.  But  one person's dross is another's opportunity for self-expression.  People are doing it for themselves, that's the thing.  They're making story their own. They’re publishing online. Democracy again.  It’s their call.  

And it's our call too.  For published authors who have books beneath their belts, and writers of repute who have something good to say - here’s a chance in the world of story to say it in a whole new way.  No one knows what will happen next in electronic publishing.  But we’re in this all together.  We're doing it for ourselves, and doing it our own way, and and these are exciting times.  Democracy again.   

If you know nothing about flash, here are a couple of questions taken from my interview with Calum Kerr, the man behind National Flash Fiction Day.  The full interview can be found on my website.  

Q. What are the characteristics of flash fiction - apart from being short - that you most admire?

For me it's about being able to paint in miniature something which can shift your whole world. The right word in the right place making all the difference.

Q In your own flash, what are you trying to achieve?

It depends on the day! I've been doing a project to write a flash a day for a year. I finish at the end of April. Some days I'm just getting something done. Other days, I'm pushing myself, trying new genres, new styles, new perspectives. But, I think, with every story, I'm trying to give a glimpse of the world that is surprising and recognisable at the same time. Something which will make the reader nod and say 'Yes, that is how it is.'

Q. On a sliding scale of literature from great to shit, where do you rate flash?

What a great question! I rate it the way I rate any other literature, depending on the instance in front of me. I have read some very, very bad flash-fictions, but I have also read some that made me cry and some that made me laugh out loud in a crowded place. It's all about what the writer does with it. In a flash you can conjure a whole world very quickly and take your audience on a huge journey, and because it is so short the emotional impact of the piece can be that much greater than in, say, a novel. But, at the same time, if you get it wrong, it's just a bunch of misplaced words.  Personally, I like flash. I like the concise nature of it and the ability to do a lot in a small space. I think it's a really good exercise for a writer in how to cut out the dross.

For the completely brilliant short film of Shrewsbury’s Flash Fiction Eve event click HERE

If you want details of the film makers, who are brilliant – especially when it comes to filming arts events - click R & A COLLABORATIONS

Pauline Fisk is the author of eleven novels, including e-books MIDNIGHT BLUE and IN THE TREES.