Getting Together - Kathleen Jones discovers there's power in numbers

One of the drawbacks of Indie authorship is that you're a one-man (or in my case a one-woman) band. You have to do what would normally involve an office full of people in traditional publishing all on your own. You are author, editor, proof-reader, publisher, printer and publicist. It can be exhausting and is one of the main reasons cited by authors for dropping out of the cyber-publishing sphere. It's also very hard for one person - a minnow in a very large lake - to make much of a splash.

So, when Australian author, musician and book designer Jessica Bell came up with the idea of some of us banding together to publish a Box Set of novels, it was the kind of intriguing experiment I couldn't refuse.

3D cover by Jessica Bell

There are seven of us.  It might have been more, but some authors decided that they didn't want to commit their work to a group project and risk losing individual sales.  So we became 'The Magnificent Seven'. We're all members of the Alliance of Independent Authors - ALLi - which is rapidly becoming the favoured support network for authors who choose to publish their own books.  (I refuse to use the term 'self-published' with its suggestion of amateurism and associations with vanity press.  I've heard it used too often by publishing professionals to denigrate and patronise.)  The project seems to be a good example of the best things about the Independent author community - it's all about co-operation and support.

A support organisation for Indie Authors
Two of us, Roz Morris (one of the founder members of Authors Electric) and American author Joni Rodgers, are also ghost-writers whose books have made millions for the celebrities whose names appear on the covers. (This says a lot about the values of traditional publishing.) However, both are also Indie best-sellers in their own right. Roz's guide for authors 'Nail Your Novel' is very popular and she's also one of the Guardian's writing tutors. Her first novel under her own name, My Memories of a Future Life, is in the Box Set.  I read it when it first came out and loved it.

 Joni is the author of one of my favourite titles -Bald in the Land of Big Hair - an account of being diagnosed with cancer as a mother with young children.  I also read her Hurricane Lover - a thriller set against the background of Hurricane Katrina - and reviewed it.  She's a New York Times best-selling writer.  Crazy for Trying is the first novel she wrote under her own name.

Orna Ross was listed by The Bookseller as one of the 100 'most important people in publishing'.  A Penguin author with a trilogy of novels set in Ireland, she entered the Indie arena determined to fight the snobbery and prejudice of Traditional publishing towards independent authors. She founded ALLi  in 2013 and it now showcases at trade book fairs in London and New York, vigorously taking on the establishment and doing everything possible to support and give publicity to its members. Her contribution to 'Outside the Box' is a powerful novel about a mother and daughter living with the legacy of a murder they each believe the other to be guilty of - Blue Mercy.

Jane Davis is also one of those who have suffered from commercial attitudes in modern publishing.  Her novel, Half Truths and White Lies was published by Black Swan and won the Daily Mail first novel award.  But the publisher didn't like the next book she wrote, because it didn't fit their marketing model, so they exercised their right of refusal. Their loss is our gain.  Jane has gone on to write 5 more novels - most of which address contemporary issues.  Her most recent, An Unchoreographed Life, about an ex-ballet dancer who chooses to turn to high-class prostitution in order to support herself and her daughter, is included in the Box Set.

Carol Cooper, who is a GP in another life, is a well-published health writer and Sun columnist.  Her contemporary fiction fling features a group of 30-somethings speed-dating in London. One Night at the Jacaranda is both funny and sad, but perfectly observed.  She says that it's being a doctor that hones her observation of people and their habits. Jessica Bell, who got us all together, is an Australian, living in Greece - so we're very international!  She edits the Vine Leaves Literary Journal and designs fabulous book covers.  Her contribution is White Lady - the story of a woman struggling with self-harm and drug abuse in her determination to be a good mother to her child.

So, how did it work?  Was there friction?  Mutiny in the ranks?  Sorry to disappoint, but we all got on very well, motivated by considerable respect and admiration for each other's work. We opened a secret Facebook Forum to communicate and thrash out any issues in private. We also agreed a small budget that was acceptable to us all. As far as possible, we did everything ourselves. Jessica, as an editor and designer, created the cover image and did all the boring html.  We proof-read each other's manuscripts, aiming for clean text. We set up a website and Joni created a trailer for the book, featuring Jessica Bell's music.   Publicity was the biggest problem, but we thought that contacts x 7 might help a lot.  Everyone has networks and we networked very hard. As a result, we're getting an extensive tour of the blogosphere. Our angle - you have to have one to get publicity - is that we're all feisty women, all writing about women in ways that aren't restricted by the categories established by traditional publishing.  Our female protagonists are unusual. We are all writing 'Outside the Box' - breaking out of the limitations of gender as well as traditional categories of publishing. It's stereotype-busting fiction!

Our female protagonists are definitely unconventional!
Sadly, prejudice is still alive and well - some contacts in the media used the fact that we were publishing this Box Set ourselves to say no. Others turned up their noses at e-books. One of the high spots was making the pages of The Sun (with our clothes still on) as a recommendation in 'Something for the Weekend'.  Another is the promised Guardian article which is going to be published tomorrow - Friday 6th March. It seems likely that neither of these features would have been possible without personal contacts. The project was launched on February 20th, so it's still very early days to make any judgements on how it's working.  Individual sales of my own books are slightly up, but I don't know if this is related. I will report back when we've got confirmation of our group sales.

We made The Sun fully clothed! 
Literary Fiction is a difficult genre to sell a lot of books in.  It's less easily defined than Romance, Crime, Sci-Fi or Fantasy.  Readers don't know exactly what they're getting, except variety and an excellent read. Our novels are very different, but they're all beautifully written and the stories are enthralling. They will make you cry and they will make you laugh.  They will also keep you up all night!  The Box Set is on sale until the 24th May.

'Outside the Box' Facebook Page

'Women Writing Women' Website


Chris Longmuir said…
An interesting project. Good luck with it, and it will be interesting to see how it goes. I hope you report back.
Dennis Hamley said…
Yes, an intriguing notion. Ideas like these are wonderful and it's even better to see them actually carried out. I shall buy the set.
Kathleen Jones said…
Thanks Chris and Dennis. I know that Box Sets have worked well for genre fiction and for individual authors, but this is something new and none of us know if it's going to work out. I'll report back at the end of May.
Mari Biella said…
Good luck with this, Kathleen - it's a wonderful idea, and I really hope it works out. It really is hard to make a splash when you're just one person, and I think that this sort of cooperation may be the way forward!
Chris Longmuir said…
I pinned this on Pinterest with the tag line 'This box set looks interesting' and it's been repinned several times. So there must be interest.
Lydia Bennet said…
This sounds like an excellent idea - I wonder how you decided to split any royalties coming in and who signed up as 'the publisher' on amazon? Perhaps some of us in Authors Electric could consider this, perhaps people who share genres. I see you are doing this as a temporary offer which i think is also a good idea. I hope you get lots of sales and congratulations for being 'something for the weekend'!
Kathleen Jones said…
Yes Mari - it is easier with a group rather than doing it on your own.
Thanks for the Pinterest tag Chris - that's really nice of you!
Lydia Bennet - we're sharing royalties equally after the costs have been covered. One of the group, who has her own imprint, agreed to be the publisher.
The temporary idea was deliberate - none of us wanted to tie up a book for a long time. It's a special offer and so the money we each earn from it is smaller than we'd get from selling individual copies.

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