What's In A Name? - Stephanie Zia

Like many writers, I made up a random name for my publishing website when I self-published my first ebook, Done & DustedIt all started in a slow, meandering way when I discovered that The Guardian were going to make a book out of their Saturday magazine Space Solves advice columns. The copyright to my contributions was mine but they had the right to republish as well. I made enquiries as to whether I'd be getting paid. The answer was vague. I hopped up and down a bit in that old, pre-ebook, smallfry-being-ignored-author way that used to be all too common and got my then-agent onto it and all that. It didn't matter in the end, the book was cancelled. But by then I had thought well, if they're going to, so can I. I learnt, by trial and (much) error how to format and, for less than a tenner, bought a Mr Site easy peasy build your own website kit. This included a built-in shop which linked to PayPal and sent customers their ebook automatically, plus a domain name for a year. All I had to do was choose a design, customise it with pretty colours, write the blurb and upload the PDF (in the olden days here). Brilliant! But what to call it? I looked around the flat. We have a small balcony which overlooks the private gardens below and a sea of trees in the garden square beyond. We get a good selection of London birds - robins, tits, wood pigeons, crows, magpies, woodpeckers, jays, wagtails - and blackbirds.
One particular blackbird was incredibly tame, she'd been visiting the garden below &, soon after I moved in, started appearing on the balcony in the mornings for the porridge flakes I put out. When summer came and the door was left open, she would step nonchalantly into the flat and wander around.
She probably did this in many other homes as well and, much as I love the naming process, we didn't give her a name, she's wild and not 'ours'. But she has ended up becoming the name and symbol of my website - Blackbird Digital Books.

The logo was designed and drawn by artist Jennifer Copley-May whose wonderful prints have recently gone on sale at Armadillo Central.
Over the years, the blackbird has made herself very much at home. This is a blackbird habit known as 'sunning'.
 She'll sprawl out like this for ages, holding her eye into the beam of the sun. Nobody knows why blackbirds do this. Seamus Heaney, I was told recently, is fascinated by blackbirds.

She's still around.
And so is Blackbird Digital.

It's coming up to three years now. I have affiliate editors, cover artists, designers and, not least, some wonderful authors publishing with Blackbird, including the ex-Transworld travel writer Susie Kelly and my old Piatkus stablemate Sarah Ball (who has since had her earlier novels republished by Piatkusentice). Several new books and several new authors are on the way - with more than one animal theme amongst them.    
Mrs Blackbird & baby. A good omen, I hope.


CallyPhillips said…
Stephanie. So interesting and apposite for me at this time. I'm at year zero of setting up a 'proper' publishing venture after 10 years of 'fiddling' with self pub and particularly looking for tips AND web support - estore especially. Interestingly I look at the ecommerce on MrSite and go 'shit, £20 a month' and wonder how I'll get that back in and then think - yes, that's part of the deal isn't it - actually TRYING to make money not just hoping it'll happen. So. Much food for thought and a cheapish option to explore. Thanks. And nice to see that 3 years in, you're so a) happy and b) productive in this environment. Gives me hope.
Stephanie Zia said…
Thanks, Cally. Yes, I am enjoying it very much. I actually don't sell from the website any more, and have moved from Mr Site to a free Wordpress.com, with a domain name upgrade so that 'wordpress' doesn't appear in the title (about $25pa or thereabouts) and a web design upgrade (around another $25pa). BUT I don't sell from the site any more. I was advised by a good friend, a super-techie professional, that having a shop on the site wasn't worth the hassle. I did have a shop on Wordpress for a while, via a software plug-in (around $70), but it had to go through a host server, which also cost. My friend said that, because the sales platforms Amazon, Smashwords etc. are so huge and well-developed, customers feel confident handing their financial details over for a sale. Also your own site is less hackable if it doesn't have a shop element to it. Another big reason is that customers don't go to Google to look for new books, they discover them on the big book sites. So I've simplified and streamlined that side now, the site is a platform with links to all the sales pages, and this has virtually eliminated all running costs. I can say, though, that the Mr Site shop worked very well, very efficient and the people there are very helpful also. All good luck.
Enid Richemont said…
Stephanie - I so much enjoyed this post. We have, only recently, become enamoured of blackbirds - we had some very intimate ones in the garden this summer, and their behaviour is fascinating.

Might you be interested in posting my eleven backlist out of print children's books on your site? Email me off this rather public platform, please.
Stephanie Zia said…
Thanks Enid. Have emailed :)
Lynne Garner said…
Lovely post and some fab images. I keep fingers crossed that baby is a good omen for you and Blackbird Digital Books goes from strength to strength.
Herbalgirl said…
Oh I can't get enough of this wonderful story. Is the blackbird alone among bird in "sunning", I wonder? Could it be a way of getting rid of mites, or perhaps getting her daily dose of vitamin D? Is she still visiting? I hope so.x
Stephanie Zia said…
Thank you Lynne & Deb. Yes, she's still visiting, we don't let her in any more though since I found her setting off for the kitchen, she could have lost sight of the exit & paniced. That's possible re the sunning because she fluffs her feathers out afterwards, as in the fluffy pic at the end. I don't know if other birds do it?? We thought she'd crashed into the window the first time it happened...!
julia jones said…
Extraordinary and fascinating (and that's just the feathery bits). Off to visit your site now
Stephanie Zia said…
Thanks, Julia, I hope you find the books match up to the feathers. A Tweet in from RSPB, 'sunning' is to "straighten feathers and help preen oil spread. It may remove parasites from plumage. wildlife@rspb.org.uk"

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