Henry Hyde: Designer, Writer, Editor

Writers & Artists Self-Publishing in the Digital Age

Writers & Artists Self-Publishing in the Digital Age

Bloomsbury Publishing organised the Writers & Artists conference “Self-Publishing in the Digital Age”, which took place at The Wellcome Trust on Euston Road, London on Saturday 29th November. I didn’t count the numbers present, but it felt like well over 100 people in the sixth floor venue had come to meet and listen to a succession of top-drawer speakers.

After registration and hot beverages, proceedings kicked off at 10am with an introduction by Dr Alison Baverstock who is Course Leader for the MA in Publishing at Kingston University. Alison also provided commentary between speakers throughout the day and proved herself a strict taskmaster, keeping proceedings running more or less on time. Given that organising creatives is like herding cats, this was no mean achievement!

Alison Baverstock

Dr Alison Baverstock giving her introduction

Alison’s excellent opening remarks highlighted the remarkable growth of self-publishing in recent years and provided some eye-opening statistics. Some 65% of self-published authors are women, and the majority are aged 41-60 (60%), with just 12% being aged under 40 and 27% over 60. These are also highly intelligent people: 32% of them hold an undergraduate degree (BA, BSc etc) and an amazing 44% have a postgraduate qualification (MA, MSc, PhD etc).

Self-publishers are also busy people. Half are in full-time employment, a quarter are in part-time employment, and only 16% are retired, with 10% “other”.

Our sector of the industry is becoming increasingly professional: at least 59% of self-published authors use an editor, with more than a quarter using some form of marketing support and 21% making use of legal services.

Alison went on to speak about how important it is for the self-published author to take responsibility for the quality of their own output, and the challenges they face because of the exponential growth of the market and the opportunities it presents. And whilst we are glad to see that the minefield of ‘vanity publishing’ has been largely cleared, there are new obstacles to negotiate in understanding the contracts offered by the new self-publishing services, not all of which are as author-friendly as Amazon or Matador.

Her session was rounded off with 10 Top Tips for Self-Publishers:

  • Take your time. It’s not a race and just because you can self-publish doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
  • Ensure your content is as good as it possibly can be. The audience roared when she quoted Joe Konrath: “Don’t write crap“!
  • Effective self-publishing is harder than it looks. Be prepared for hard graft.
  • Creating content needs a different hat and mindset from marketing yourself.
  • Value the time your readers invest as well as their money.
  • Research all your options thoroughly (such as the category for your book, cover design appropriate for your genre etc) but enjoy the process.
  • Remember that the self-publishing journey is a learning process.
  • Use what you learn to help you decide whether you want to be just a writer, a publisher, or both. It’s okay to realise that it may not be for you.
  • Realise the significance of taking responsibility. Be proud of having the guts to do this and be conscious of the enhanced role you have in the process.

 

Roz Morris on Editing

Next up was the ever effervescent Roz Morris. Her credentials are impeccable: not only is she a highly experienced freelance editor, but she has also been an editor in the publishing trade, has ghost-written novels that have sold over 4,000,000 (yes, four million!) copies* and is a literary fiction novelist in her own right.

Roz Morris

Roz Morris engaged the audience with a brilliant talk on the value of editing

Roz highlighted the three key steps in editing your work (aimed primarily at fiction, but I can tell you from personal experience that the steps are virtually identical for non-fiction, with the possible addition of fact-checking):

  1. Developmental editing — getting the story finished, making sure it works in terms of structure and that the characters have satisfying story arcs
  2. Copy editing — tidying up consistency and style, ensuring correct grammar and so on
  3. Proof reading — your final chance to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, check the spelling etc.

These stages are vital if you want to stand a chance against trade published books and want to be seen as a professional. Moreover, the order in which you carry out these editing stages is vital. They are numbered for a reason: if you do your proofreading as you go along, you may be wasting time and money if a developmental editor then suggests major changes! It’s vital to get the story down first and get that right before focusing on the little details.

It’s also vital to allow time for the editing process, so don’t set an artificial publication deadline too early. A major rewrite may become necessary which may take you weeks or even months. The editor will also need perhaps 6-8 weeks to go through your novel and submit a report. (It’s always preferable to send your novel in a single draft, by the way, rather than in chunks, so that the editor can assess the work as a whole.)

Roz made it clear that you should NEVER send ANYONE a first draft (and, as a magazine editor, I echo that advice!). You should always have the discipline of editing your own work before handing it over — Roz estimates that she probably edits her own manuscripts up to fifty times!**

Roz Morris with her presentation on editing

Roz Morris with her presentation on editing.

An editor will assess your characters, the plot, the story structure, your theme(s), the style, the ‘completeness’ of the story and, of course, the actual words you have used. You might spend £500-£1,000 on having a professional editor scrutinise your manuscript in detail, but it’s important that you see this as an investment, not a cost.

As well as a professional editor, it really helps if you build a team around you who will give you honest feedback. This might consist of family, friends, a writing group — but it really helps if they are people who read your genre regularly.

Who you choose to edit your book depends on how far you are taking the “self” part of self-publishing seriously. Hiring a completely independent editor will usually provide better value for money, and you can develop a quite intimate relationship with an editor over time as you get to know each other, and the mutual understanding of how you want to express yourself and what you want to achieve grows. On the other hand, a self-publishing service may have a bigger pool of expertise and experience of more genres. Either way, it’s important that you find an editor who is a good ‘fit’ with your personality and budget.

Finally, Roz made it clear that you really need to turn off your ego when receiving constructive criticism offered by an editor. They’re on your side! They want to help make your book as good as it can possibly be and you should remember that any comments they make are made with vast experience behind them of what works and what doesn’t. But of course, it’s your book, and you are at liberty to ignore any advice given.

Finally, Roz provided details of where you can find editing services, with The Society for Editors and Proofreaders at the top of the list. She also noted The Literary Consultancy and Cornerstones, as well as, of course, Services offered by The Alliance of Independent Authors.

* Of course, she can’t tell you which novels, or she’d have to kill you.
** Your mileage may vary.

 

Jane Dixon-Smith on Cover Design

Next on the agenda was award-winning graphic designer Jane Dixon-Smith who, as well as having considerable pedigree as a freelance designer, is also part of the Triskele Books collective — and to gild the lily, she’s also a highly accomplished, best-selling indie author in her own right. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is!

Jane Dixon-Smith

Jane Dixon-Smith delivers an excellent talk on book cover design

As it turned out, Mark Edwards and Nick Spalding reinforced the importance of cover design during their afternoon sessions, highlighting the skills of professionals like Jane in this process.

Obviously, cover design is a highly visual process, so my summary here can only give you the barest impression of the hard work Jane had put into her striking presentation. I think I’ll invite her to make a guest post on the subject here, as it was a delight for me personally to watch a fellow professional designer who really knows their stuff give such an elegant and concise demonstration of the importance of good design.

Jane’s first major point was that nowadays, cover designs have to work with the way people buy books — and that increasingly means online, as well as in book shops. As a result, your front cover has to work when reduced to the size of a postage stamp: the title, author and genre must be immediately apparent and draw the eye, despite being shrunk to 10% or less of their original size.

Being seen alongside so many other covers online, and perhaps only for a couple of seconds before the site visitor clicks away, means that it’s crucial that you produce the best possible design. If you want to see what can happen when things go wrong, or an author simply doesn’t seem to care, just take a look at lousybookcovers.com! [Warning: some of the covers seen here may induce a fit – you have been warned.] You can prevent your own book becoming a laughing stock by paying attention to these fundamentals:

  • Choose good images
  • Make good colour choices
  • Choose good, high quality fonts

These are hard to define in writing, but a picture really does speak a thousand words and Jane had a series of slides that made the differences between good and bad choices obvious!

Jane also highlighted the fact (and I agree wholeheartedly) that an illustrator is not a graphic designer and vice versa. They are two completely different professions, though perhaps occasionally you will find an individual capable of both. [I can cite myself as an example, but I know my limitations and only illustrate certain subject matter and in a particular style. My advice is simply to ask to see a designer’s or illustrator’s portfolio so that you can get an idea of their style.] What is more common are graphic designers who have developed photo-manipulation skills using Adobe Photoshop — and Jane is clearly just such a person.

Jane Dixon-Smith

Jane demonstrates the design process.

Jane highlighted a procedure with which I am intimately acquainted: commissioning a freelance designer to create your book cover. Here are the steps she outlined:

  • Make sure you provide a comprehensive brief. Don’t imagine the designer will read your book cover to cover! (Unless you’re prepared to pay £15-£30 an hour while they do so…)  Prepare a comprehensive summary, detailing the key characters, locations, themes and so on.
  • Be clear about what you want. Research and prepare a list of other book covers that you like, by authors you admire, regardless of whether they are traditionally or self-published. This applies especially to books in your chosen genre.
  • Prepare a budget: expect to pay anything from around £90 up to perhaps £350 for a professional design.
  • If you use a cheap and cheerful service like fiverr.com, you get what you pay for. If you want to be taken seriously, take your cover design seriously — it’s an investment in your future.

As well as the design of your book cover, think about how that can be applied to different formats (hardback, paperback, ebook, audiobook etc) and to other promotional materials (bookmarks, postcards, business cards, advertisements, book trailers and so on).

Jane also used her talk to highlight the importance of the design and layout of the interior of your book. Not only does amateur layout make it more difficult for readers, who may even give up on your book, but it may even cost you more money. The wrong font, used at the wrong size, with incorrect margins and indents and poorly thought-through headers and page numbering, can have a dramatic effect on production costs.

 

 Jon Fine on How to Publish Using Amazon’s Author Services

The next speaker was the ebullient Jon Fine of Amazon who, despite suffering from jet lag and a dose of the ‘flu, gave an enthusiastic presentation on the many opportunities this publishing and retail giant can offer the self-publishing author. Naturally, with Amazon so dominant in the marketplace, we were all agog at what he had to say.

Jon Fine

Jon Fine held the audience rapt with his riveting talk.

Jon opened with the mission statement created by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon:

Every book ever written, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.

Amazon needs no introduction, but Jon was there to reinforce the message that this giant company is constantly trying to find new ways to bring authors and readers together. The primary routes to market that Amazon offers are:

More tools are made available with KDP SelectAuthor Central, Amazon Associates, Search Inside the Book, Amazon Advantage and Fulfilment by Amazon. He also highlighted Kindle Singles for short fiction, Kindle Worlds which leverages fan fiction, and Kindle Unlimited, a form of lending library. Rather than describe these in detail here, the links will take you to the appropriate places online to get more information. Be aware that there may be some differences according to where you live.

Jon came prepared with a lot of impressive statistics about the growth of Kindle as a platform both here in the UK and in the US, with Germany next in the growth charts. He raced through his enormous Powerpoint presentation which could have easily  run for a couple of hours, so I took photos of as many as I could to give you the opportunity to read and digest them. [Slide show will open in a new window.]

The point that Jon reinforced time and again was that because the self-publishing market is growing so fast, you need to focus firstly on creating a professional, high-quality product; and secondly, you need to make your book as discoverable as possible for your potential readers. Ensuring that your book title, subtitle and description contain the right keywords is absolutely critical and you need to work hard at getting your ‘metadata’ right and keeping it up to date. He also recommended the ‘Look Inside the Book’ facility as by far the most powerful way of ensuring that your work will be found by the right readers. (Look Inside allows the reader to access around 10% of your book and has proved extremely successful.)

Jon rounded up his talk by pointing out that Amazon itself is also a publisher and frequently brings on authors who may have started via the self-publishing route.

Jon Fine with his extensive presentation

Jon Fine with his extensive presentation.

Jeremy Thompson of Troubador/Matador on Self-Publishing Companies and Marketing

Jeremy is MD of Troubador Publishing, which launched its highly respected self-publishing arm Matador in 1999, since when they have accumulated a huge amount of experience helping authors to achieve their goals. Troubador runs the annual Self Publishing Conference and publishes the quarterly Self Publishing Magazine.

Jeremy Thompson of Troubador/Matador Publishing

Jeremy Thompson of Troubador/Matador Publishing

Jeremy stressed the importance of marketing and that you need to start thinking about it even while you’re writing your book. Since the lead-in time for distribution, especially into shops, can be as much as six months, then that is the timeframe you must keep in mind when planning for a successful launch. It’s no good waiting until your book is on sale before marketing it!

Your strategy needs to be based on the classic “What? When? Who? Where? How?” questions, and the three most important of these that you need to keep in mind are:

  • How are you publishing?
  • Where are you distributing?
  • Who is actively doing the marketing for your book?

Self-publishing can seem daunting if you plan to tackle all of these aspects yourself, whilst also trying to find the time to write the book which will become your product, which is where self-publishing services like Matador come in.

It’s important that you understand and cultivate links with those who are important for your book’s success:

  • Retailers who can stock and sell your book, if you choose to have hard copies printed
  • The media who can write about and review your book, and perhaps even champion it
  • The readers who, we hope, will buy your book, review it and talk about it

Making your book discoverable, so that it stands out from the crowd, also involves concentrating on the metadata available to distributors and retailers as much as doing so on a website like Amazon. Including plenty of bibliographic data and obtaining an enhanced listing from Nielsen when purchasing your ISBN can also help.

If you really want to see your book in print, then it’s important that you understand the differences between Print On Demand (POD), where a copy of your book is produced only when it is ordered by a customer; and Sale Or Return (SOR), where the retailer orders a number of copies of your book to be stocked on their shelves, but if they are not sold within a certain timeframe, they have the option of returning the books to the retailer for a refund. The numbers from SOR may look more impressive initially, but they can camouflage the facts if your book does not actually fly off the shelves.

A piece of specific information that came up in the Q&A was that the average number of books sold is between 300 and 500, and authors using their services tend to break even or do slightly better. Obviously, there are ‘outliers’ that may not achieve these numbers, or do significantly better.

Jeremy Thompson with slideshow

Jeremy Thompson with slideshow

Something that Jeremy said which was perhaps surprising is that generally speaking, he doesn’t advise having advertising as a major part of the marketing mix. In his experience, advertising is far too ‘scattergun’ in its results and rarely provides value for money compared to other, more focused methods. [A note from personal experience: in a niche market, where you are already well known, advertising certainly can work when placed in publications that you are confident reach a high proportion of those interested in the topic.]

The sequence of pitching the book to distributors and retailers, organising press releases, ensuring that reviews are published to coincide with publication, and making plenty of influential contacts from networking both on- and offline is extremely demanding, as anyone who has done the whole thing themselves will tell you. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in admitting to yourself that you need help with these things from professionals who do this day in, day out. Yes, there’s a charge involved, but it’s an investment in the success of your book, rather than a cost.

Rounding off his presentation, Jeremy touched on the subject of vanity publishing and whilst, like Alison, noting that the ‘dark side’ of the industry is thankfully receding, he did want to pass on a warning. There are still some companies that disguise the fact that they make their money not from selling your book, with all the hard work that implies, but simply from the fees paid to them by you, the author. If you’re handing over a big fat cheque, and they have no stake in the success of your book, then why would they care if your book is a best-seller or sinks without trace? A reputable company like Matador, however, has invested heavily in people and systems aimed at helping you and your book to sell as well as any traditionally published book, and their own profitability relies on having far more hits than misses!

The bottom line is: study and understand any contract offered before signing!

 

Mark Edwards, Author

Mark Edwards is a best-selling ‘hybrid’ author, which is to say that he has been published by traditional publishers, but also self-publishes his own work. He sometimes works in collaboration with writer Louise Voss, as well as writing his own crime fiction. They were dubbed ‘internet publishing sensations’ after being the first UK self-published authors to reach the No.1 and No.2 spots simultaneously on Amazon.co.uk back in 2011.

Author Mark Edwards giving his witty presentation.

Author Mark Edwards giving his witty presentation.

In the course of a witty presentation, given under the duress of strict time pressure, Mark ranged far and wide in describing how he has achieved his success, which was far from overnight. He and Louise had both languished in the badlands of being unpublished writers for years, and he had even given up all hope and returned to his previous career of marketing before stumbling across the concept of self-publishing in 2010. In 2011, after a slow start, their Killing Cupid reached the Number One spot on Amazon within a few, short months.

Mark stressed the fact that with the boom in self-publishing, there is obviously more competition than there used to be, but reassured us that a great deal of what’s out there is still not of the highest quality. The market is still saturated with some pretty bizarre stuff that makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like a Booker Prize contender, and proved it with perhaps the most bizarre sequence of front covers the audience had ever seen. Let’s just say that most of us had no idea that lactation and dinosaur porn even existed! Rule One, therefore, of standing out from the crowd remains “Don’t write crap”!

Given his expertise in marketing, it’s hardly surprising that Mark dwelt on this aspect of being an indie author for much of his presentation, focusing on these points:

  • The book – its ‘hook’ (come up with an ‘elevator pitch’, reminiscent of the strapline you might see on a movie poster, condensing the story into as few words as possible); its cover design (like Jane above, he had found some hilarious examples of really bad covers); and the description you give it on sites like Amazon and, indeed, the back cover of a printed version.
  • Building an author platform and increasing the ‘discoverability‘ of both you and your books.
  • Networking with other authors and movers and shakers in the publishing industry who might be able to help and support you.
  • Communication – he stressed that you must own the relationship with your readers. He always makes the effort to reply to people who contact him, because they become evangelists on your behalf. The people you meet on the way up are the same as the people you meet on the way down…
  • The ‘X-Factor’. Hard to define, but that little sprinkle of magic dust can make the difference between success or failure.

Mark then got more specific about how to use the way Amazon presents ebooks to potential purchasers to your advantage. Next to your (obviously beautifully designed) cover image, you need to ensure that you have understood the demands of your genre. That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t break genres – you just need to understand that you have, and what the consequences will be for marketing.

Author Mark Edwards working his magic

Author Mark Edwards working his magic

We’ve already seen how he emphasised the need for a compelling description, and as part of the craft of writing your book in the first place, you should have come up with opening chapters that hook the reader and draw them into the book. Mark even suggested that you should study the way that Amazon’s “Look Inside” facility gives the purchaser a sample, and possibly tweak your writing to ensure that the sample (which normally amounts to around 10% of the book) ends with a cliffhanger of some kind. This is leveraging the technology to a fine degree!

Mark then moved on to talk about the art of finding, converting and retaining readers, and it’s clear that he has been very successful in building a loyal readership. He even runs competitions on his site, where the prize consists of a reader becoming a named character in his books! This is a remarkable tactic that clearly works very well for him.

Finally, as he was running out of time, Mark touched on the subtle art of understanding Amazon’s algorithms, which seem to respond best to lots of books being sold in short bursts, rather than ploddingly accumulating sales over a long time. [I can confirm this: my book shot to No. 1 in three categories when it was first released and sales saw a sharp ‘spike’.]

 

Nick Spalding, Author

One of the most remarkable self-publishing stories came from comedy romance writer Nick Spalding [and my apologies, because he was the only speaker whose photo, inexplicably, I failed to take!] His talk was brief, but potent.

 

Author Nick Spalding

Best-selling Author Nick Spalding

Once again, Nick focused on three critical aspects of being a self-published author, assuming you want to make this a full-time, well-paid occupation. Firstly, the choice of genre; secondly, deciding who you are writing for; and leading on from that, thirdly, your cover design.

Nick didn’t mince his worlds, and made it clear that he wanted to use writing to escape from his day job. Quoting from his own website, “Before becoming a full-time author, he worked in the communications industry, mainly in media and marketing. As talking rubbish for a living can get tiresome (for anyone other than a politician), he thought he’d have a crack at writing comedy fiction – with a very agreeable level of success so far, it has to be said. Nick has now sold over half a million books, and still can’t quite believe his luck.”

His first novel, Life With No Breaks, was written in a mammoth, 30-hour session, from start to finish. That’s right, not much more than a day. It sold steadily, but not brilliantly at first.

He researched the market and quickly realised that the most money to be made was in romance or thrillers, and that the biggest target market was women. He says himself that “try as he might, can’t seem to write anything serious,” so the obvious conclusion was to write a romantic comedy, which resulted in him writing  Love from Both Sides, published in 2012.

Rather than concentrating on the writing of the book, which by his own admission is a simple, romantic romp, Nick showed that he has a deep understanding of his market by focusing on the cover design [are you getting the message that cover design is important, folks?].

Love... From Both Sides Cover Sep 2011

Love from Both Sides original cover

When Nick first published the book in 2011, it had the cover shown above. Key things to note are the simple title, rendered in bold type, and using colours that are familiar to the genre in question (romantic comedy). Nevertheless, this version languished in the ‘also-rans’, barely registering on Amazon’s rankings. To quote Nick directly, it sold “f*ck all”!

Love from Both Sides version 2

Love from Both Sides version 2

At the suggestion of his girlfriend Gemma, he tweaked the cover to include the clip-art characters seen in the next version. Within 24 hours, it had sold 1,000 copies, and it has romped on to sell more than 250,000 copies so far.

Love-from-both-sides-cover later

Love from Both Sides most recent cover

What Nick concludes from this is that you really have to know your market and what it will respond to. The ‘male/female’ symbols in the original version might have seemed clever, but were indistinct and didn’t evoke any kind of emotional response in the viewer. The addition of the man and woman created a different, more inviting impression and their cartoony rendition made it clear that this was a comedy. As can be seen, Nick has continued to experiment with the cover, making the colours even bolder and rearranging the visual elements.

To conclude his talk, Nick highlighted the three variables that the author can control on Amazon and other online retailers (after, of course, writing a damn good book and making it as professional as possible): the price; the title; and the cover. He recommends that you experiment with all three to find the ‘sweet spot’, but only one at a time.

Nick was interviewed for the BBC and you can read his top 10 self-publishing tips here.

 

Darren Hardy of Amazon Interviewing Talli Roland

Author Talli Roland is yet another ‘hybrid’ success story and pens “fun, humorous, romantic fiction”. Her previous career was in journalism, then public relations, and finally teaching before she was able to turn her attention full-time to the writing that she loves. She was interviewed by Darren Hardy, UK Manager for Kindle Direct Publishing.

Talli Roland and Darren Hardy

Talli Roland interviewed by Darren Hardy

This was another extremely interesting session for the audience, hearing from a ‘rock star’ indie author who has achieved best-selling status in what seems a relatively short space of time but, once more, it quickly became clear that the charming Talli, who is Canadian by birth, has been working at her craft for many years. Her novels have been shortlisted twice for awards at the UK’s Festival of Romance, selected as Customer Favourites and Editor’s Picks on Amazon, and chosen as top books of the year by industry review websites.

You’re not going to be surprised when I tell you that Talli also reinforced the importance of cover design and knowing your market. In fact, it was useful that she appeared on the same platform as Nick Spalding, because you can see similarities in approach, especially in colour choice, typography and illustrative style of her romcoms.


Marriage to Measure by Talli Roland Build a Man by Talli Roland
One of the questions Darren asked was about the importance of pricing and her attitude to ‘giveaways’. Talli made it clear that she believes that ‘the power of the free’ has dropped like a stone in the last 12-18 months. Free books are downloaded by people who aren’t necessarily the audience you are aiming for, and they therefore are unlikely to enjoy your books – and, as a result, are likely to either leave no review at all or, worse, a negative review.

In Talli’s experience, self-publishing has become so much more acceptable because the readers no longer care how, or by whom, a book is published. As long as the production quality seems professional and, naturally, the story (or non-fiction information) is great, the route to market a book has taken is of no interest to them.

One interesting point that arose was to do with the editing process – and, as a footnote, Talli is really hot on editing! She now uses a Kindle as one of her testing methods at the end of the process. She reads the text on the device and, if she spots an error, or perhaps a paragraph that looks too long or unwieldy, she will use the Kindle’s highlighting facility to note the problem and then refer back to her text document to make the relevant corrections.

A final interesting point was that Talli referred to an often overlooked aspect of Amazon’s many ranking systems: the time taken to read a book. Right at the top of the conference, Alison referred to how authors should value the time a reader invests in reading a book, as well as their money. This can also form part of the decision-making process a customer goes through when purchasing – they don’t want to download War & Peace and spend months reading it if they are after a little light humour for a couple of evenings!

 

Jill ‘JJ’ Marsh and Jane Dixon-Smith of Triskele Books

The stand was now taken by Jill Marsh and, making her second appearance of the day, Jane Dixon-Smith, representing Triskele (pronounced Triss-Keel) Books, a team of self-published writers who, together, function somewhat like a small publishing company. Each of them is busy in their own right, but can bring something to the collective in terms of specialist skills, including financial nous, organisational skills, editing and graphic design. Their motto is “Going it alone, together”.

 

Jill Marsh of Triskele Books

Jill ‘JJ” Marsh of Triskele Books

Triskele Books was formed in 2011 by Gillian Hamer, who writes paranormal mysteries, chilling tales of sinister crimes along the Anglesey coast; JJ Marsh who is writing the Beatrice Stubbs series, international crimes set against striking backdrops ranging from Athens to Zurich; and Liza Perrat, who evokes the horror and joy of revolutionary France through the eyes of Victoire and rural Lucie-sur-Vionne.

 In 2012, they were joined by three more authors, each with their own distinctive slant on time and place: Jasper Dorgan, who writes a compelling story of love, duty and courage set in the war-ravaged deserts of British occupied Aden in 1965; JD Smith (Jane Dixon-Smith), who recreates ancient worlds, from 6th century Briton to the 3rd century Roman east; and Catriona Troth, a British/Canadian writer, fascinated by stories that explore identity and dislocation.

Jill explained that everyone in the collective retains all rights to their own books and keeps their own profits, unless it is a collective project, in which case profits go into the joint Triskele account. This is used to pay for publicity and PR for the collective, and if anything extra is required, funds are donated equally.

With the collective’s members located in three countries and two different time zones, they have to be in a position to work collectively, as well as on their own projects, so each member takes it in turns to be in the ‘hot seat’ for a week. During this week, they commit to achieving something for the collective as a whole. More important decisions are taken during Skype conferences, and twice a year they actually meet face-to-face to make strategic decisions, check the finances and so on.

JJ Marsh extolling the virtues of the collective approach

JJ Marsh extolling the virtues of the collective approach

The drive to create the collective came about from a desire to find a ‘third way’, a middle ground between traditional publishing and going completely indie. The advantages are:

  • Editorial input
  • Strong brand identity
  • Marketing teamwork
  • Shared expenses
  • Wider networking
  • More awareness of opportunity
  • Complementary skill sets
  • Joint contribution to a platform
  • It’s sociable and good fun!

The disadvantages, as Jill sees it:

  • Significant workload
  • The ‘four eye’ principle, meaning you have to commit to checking the work of fellow members
  • Potentially complex and cross-border communication issues

Triskele see their branding and platform as a key strength, and they share a commitment to high quality writing, professionalism and “a strong sense of place” in what they do. They also collaborate on The Triskele Trail, Words with JAM and Bookmuse, with the aim of reaching other writers, publishers, industry professionals and readers.

Jill’s enthusiasm for this model of publishing was well received by the audience and left many of us pondering the alternatives to completely going it alone. The appeal of the collaborative approach certainly has resonance with me.

 

The packed day ended with a useful summing-up by Alison Baverstock, followed by drinks, during which eager audience members got to mingle with the speakers. Many an autograph was signed, with fans queuing up with books open at their fly sheets and pens poised.

I’m sure I speak for everyone present when I offer my warm thanks to all those who gave talks during a long and fact-packed day, and to the friendly staff from Bloomsbury who organised and ran the event. They did a magnificent job and everyone I spoke to had clearly been both informed and enthused by the event. I shall certainly be looking forward to the next.

Roz Morris chatting with fans after the event.

Roz Morris chatting with fans

post-W&A-drinks

Drinks and chat with the speakers after the event

One thought on “Writers & Artists Self-Publishing in the Digital Age

  1. Pingback: Report from W&A Conference in London | Advice for Authors Who Self-Publish

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: