I don’t claim to be an expert on ebook sales, neither do I sell many thousands of copies; but I do receive a variety of emails relating to the subject, and I often spot frequently missed opportunities for sales and some rather more obvious reasons why books don’t sell.
EDITING. The single most important process of publishing a book is structural editing and proofreading. The lack of consistent, industry standard editing will kill sales in record time. Readers can forgive a smattering of minor mistakes throughout an 80,000 word novel, but if the first thing they see when they look inside the book sample are glaring grammatical errors – then there’s little chance they will buy. It’s a false economy to skip the editing process simply because your sister said it was ‘ok’. Or someone you met in a Facebook group said they’d edit the entire manuscript for £100. Only employ a recommended editor with a good track record and be aware there are many, many plausible fakes out there. Be super critical and don’t publish too soon.
COVER. The cover can and should work in a number of ways to help sell your book. Mostly it needs to match the content and the expectations of the genre – ie: not a photograph which you happen to like and may be related to the material in some vague way, but means absolutely nothing to a prospective reader on the other side of the world. Do some research and look at other books in your genre. Unless you have an eye for design, understand book marketing, and own the relevant software to be original and creative; pay someone who does. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to make your own cover with free software through Amazon’s publishing platform or something like Canva, but if the end result looks homemade – and you want to reach beyond friends and family – then consider the commercial impact.
FONT. Often overlooked, but the font is a vital bit of selling kit. Nothing screams homemade more than a bog-standard font scrawled across a third-rate cover image. If the cover and the font look third-rate, then the reader is fully entitled to presume that the content is much the same. Do the research: you will not find a loopy font on a cold-blooded thriller. Consider the impact of this and apply accordingly.
FORMATTING. If you can’t handle the formatting, then please pay someone who can. It might be the best story ever and perfectly well edited but if there are blank pages, irregular indents, or oversized margins, then after a while it just becomes too irritating to read. Your text needs to look consistent on a variety of screen sizes.
BRANDING. If you’ve got all the above in order then do also consider branding. If you write across different genres this can be difficult but covers which are easily recognisable as one of yours, do help follow-on sales – so at least consider keeping the font of your author name consistent. Four or five cross-genre books with variable cover styles are notoriously difficult to sell. Same applies to using more than one author or pen name. This is why traditional publishers like material which is easily branded to match their current list. It’s easier to market and sell, and the reader knows what to expect. More on branding here: https://janruth.com/2016/06/24/the-importance-of-branding/
SHORT LINKS. Every time you talk about your book across social media add the buy link! Potential readers will not go searching, and if you also use a pen name which is different to your social media persona, this can be an impossible task. Why make it so difficult and confusing? The social media audience has a very short attention span at the best of times. Make a short universal link – it’s so easy – and use it. I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve tried to find a book and given up because the author didn’t use a buy link and I couldn’t remember the exact pen name or the specific use of initials.
PRICE. Study the market and take note how much is free or priced at 99p. How much do you spend on ebooks? Personally, I’m cautious at anything over £1.99 if the author is unknown to me. It makes more sense to sell 10 books at 99p than one book at £2.99. Free books have lost their impact in raising visibility. Still useful if you’re offering the first in a series as a free download – which hopefully will attract readers to buy the next, and the next. But always price the first book in the series less than the sequel – as a loss-leader – not the other way about!
KINDLE SELECT, CATEGORIES & KEYWORDS. The Kindle Select programme (staying exclusive to Amazon) is worth considering, rather than spreading yourself too thin and being available on every other sales platform. Amazon Kindle remains the most popular so why not use this to your advantage – at least initially – and use the free promotional tools available. Select also means you can enroll in other programmes such as Kindle Unlimited. This allows readers unlimited access to books in the Select programme and for the author, pages read can earn as much – if not more – than those elusive sales. Experiment with categories on Amazon, the smaller ones are more likely to get your book noticed. Likewise the keywords – it’s worth doing some research, there are plenty of articles about keywords and which are trending and are currently effective
SOCIAL MEDIA & WEBSITES. Build a social media platform before you launch the book, not as an afterthought a few months later because ‘you really don’t do promoting, advertising, Twitter, or all that stuff…’ Your ebook is an internet-based product which is targeted at an internet-based audience who own an e-reader and therefore browse the internet for their next read. A commercial page – use your author name for this, not your book title – on Facebook and a website are both worth having because they are public sites and allow readers to discover you. They will not discover you via a personal Facebook profile. A website is more static – a ‘go to’ place to locate the books and hit that universal buy-link. Keep it clean and simple. Get rid of the dancing cats, change the white text on a black background to the other way about, and fix the links that don’t work.
REVIEWS. Reviews do help to sell books in that they increase customer confidence in the product. Approach book bloggers and reviewers who are interested in your material and whose opinions carry some weight; they will also have a good presence across social media. Don’t approach other authors or send multiple requests through Messenger to all your friends begging for reviews. And the other biggie: don’t respond to negative reviews in public. Nothing looks worse to a prospective reader than to witness an angry response to someone who didn’t enjoy your book. They are entitled to their opinion and if it’s malicious then interacting in any way will add fuel to the fire. There are plenty of people who will enjoy a good to-and-fro at your expense. Not only does it look desperately unprofessional to join in, but it’s wise to remember that reviews are not directed towards the author. Neither are they an easy, cheap critique service – they are there to help other prospective readers decide if they might enjoy the book. Only take them to heart if there are several reviews flagging the same issue. And then… get it fixed.
BLOGGING & NEWSLETTERS. The clue is in the title… these are not meant to be hard-sell sales platforms. Blogs are a good way to build a slow but sure fanbase, but your blog needs original and interesting content. Write articles you can share across social media and build followers. I’ve written some equitation-based fiction so blogging about horses brings me into contact with the right audience. And if you cannot produce engaging, interesting, and informative content on a regular basis, don’t start a newsletter. Sending advertising copy through email disguised as a newsletter is SPAM.
MARKET TRENDS. Are you writing fiction the public are looking to read? If it’s a complicated contemporary romance set in Newcastle and your main female character is aged 45, it won’t sell as well as a formula romance set in Cornwall with a heroine aged 25; even if your book is more original and better executed. Sadly, this is the way commercial sales and marketing works for the big guys, and the independent publisher can either try and swim with the mass-market tide, or accept that writing to their own agenda and enjoying creative freedom will always produce books which are more of a struggle to sell.
What’s killing the indie author? Writers are sensitive souls often plagued by despondency, worn down by mindless promotion, and the inability to find a reason to not write. So I wrote this…
Do we really need any more books? The enormous volume of material available to download to Kindle alone renders the vast majority of new books coming onto the market, as more or less invisible. The number of books being published has exploded. According to the Bowker Report in September 2016 more than 700,000 books were self-published in the US alone, which is an increase of 375% since 2010. This doesn’t account for commercial publishing, or those 13 million previously published books recently made available to Kindle. Surely, the market cannot absorb this amount of reading matter? The market is completely saturated. https://www.bkconnection.com/the-10-awful-truths-about-book-publishing
The cost of visibility is increasing Readers and new authors might be shocked by the cost of advertising – BookBub is the current most effective site which offers amazing results to authors and publishers – but it comes at a price. It’s not unusual to pay in the region of £1,000 to advertise a single title. Lots of smaller sites have sprung up and they charge considerably less, but of course they don’t command anywhere near the same number of subscribers. Submit to a handful of these sites at £30 to £50 and you can soon be out of pocket. This leaves many authors at the mercy of social media, and at the risk of annoying their followers with mindless promotion. Even the commercial Facebook ‘Page’ has changed to one of pay-as-you-go. Visibility of posts has been severely restricted unless you hit that promo button and start entering your card details.
Free books. Publishers have always used the loss-leader approach with free copies, usually in exchange for a review, but not always. Where does this leave the individual publisher? I don’t know any indie author who willingly gifts paperbacks on a regular basis – they cost in the region of £5-£8 to print, depending on where you get them printed, and the exchange rate. This is without factoring in the shipping costs, and not forgetting those small background invisibles such as editing, proofreading, formatting, and cover design. And this is without factoring in the time you’ve taken to actually write the book. The profit from selling a paperback can be as little as £1. Unfortunately, readers are used to browsing a huge selection of free material for Kindle and although print costs can be waived in respect of electronic formats; writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and advertising, is exactly the same as for a print book.
Poor Production Homemade covers and un-edited books, give all indies a bad name. They do, but a word of caution. Authors should strive for excellence, not perfection. There is no such thing as a perfectly produced book. This is partly because a lot of the time perfection is subjective to any one individual. Even traditional publishers get things wrong and mistakes slip through. Some bloggers are quick to judge a book purely by the amount of typos, incorrect punctuation or too much padding and waffle. It’s easy to say there’s no excuse for this – and a lot of the time, there isn’t – but I do take a slightly kinder approach, albeit only slightly and I do feel some of the internet Grammar Police out there need taking to task on this and on the errors of their own scribblings. Tut-tut I spotted a run-on sentence once on a blog post written by a particularly over-zealous reviewer. This person ripped a perfectly good book to shreds with their painfully acidic views on punctuation and vocabulary. Let’s get this into some perspective.The overwhelming reason to read a book is to enjoy the story. If the story holds up, i.e. no serious, consistent issues, and I’m entertained, then I can overlook the occasional blooper, that something which takes me out of the story. Story is everything. A missing comma is just that… However, there’s another side to this woolly coin. The vast quantity of poor, unedited material out there gives the conscientious author a bad name the minute he declares himself self-published. Editing at any level attracts a cost, likewise with proofreading; but it’s a vital part of publishing a book for public consumption, and the competition to sell and be seen is at an all-time high, so, why wouldn’t you?
Reviews. Another reason to develop a second skin or buy a mouth guard to prevent nightly grinding of the molars. The current product review system employed by Amazon is clearly open to error: One star: totally loved it! Three stars: not read it yet, won’t download. And abuse, on various levels: Doesn’t make any sense, completely unreadable, don’t bother. Reviews which have the power to connect with other readers do help visibility and authors can use them to some effect through social media, but not all readers review books, even if they enjoyed their free or 99p book and would have no hesitation in recommending it to others. The frustration of garnering reader-reviews is real, but then authors can be their own worst enemy. I’ve seen some writers attack readers on social media for posting a low-starred review and going on to label said reader as a troll. (Could it be that they just didn’t like the book? Consider that other potential readers will perhaps read this and back-off reviewing for fear of reprisal or getting it ‘wrong’) And if the review does have a whiff of vindictiveness about it, then surely the most sensible thing to do is to stop drawing attention to it, since this is usually the intent. And then there’s always the option to pay through sites such as Net Galley – the big book giveaway for bloggers and book reviewers in exchange for reviews, although the publisher/author has to pay a handsome sum to be listed. I do think some sites and reviewers have become a bit too powerful, but some authors are desperate enough to pay for a handful of (glowing) reviews – from any source. Amazon have a problem controlling the unethical ones, and their sister site, Goodreads, actively encourages ‘readers’ to simply rate books with no purchase required, or even a simple acknowledgement that they’ve read the book in order to validate the rating. Why not get rid of all the star ratings? If a reader has an opinion about a book, have them write a review using prompts such as characters/plot/setting/ etc. Or, is it time to do away with book reviews completely? After all, we don’t rely on this system in a real bookshop. The sample and the book description should be enough to have us decide if we want to spend our precious 99p (That’s 35p to the author).
Success. Written a best-seller? Great! Now your agent/publisher/annoying little man in your head strongly advises you to write at least two more before the end of the year, otherwise no one will remember who you are and all those knock-on sales will be lost…
Where do ideas come from? Even if I tell myself I’m done with writing for a while – and I do, frequently – something will eventually worm its way out of my subconscious. This mutation of daydreaming is often coupled with observations of other people and happenings in their lives, as well as my own, until eventually all of these considerations are pulled together and mulled over, like some sort of fictional tombola. And for me, it’s those personal stories which add an extra layer of reality to a work of fiction. Write what you know is all about understanding your subject thoroughly, and preferably having experienced some of it first-hand.
I’ve been working with disabled people through my local RDA (Riding for the Disabled) for some eighteen months. Then earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to train as an assistant to a therapist working for WITH (Welsh Institute of Therapeutic Horsemanship). This is all about people with mental health problems, and the astonishing success of equine therapy relies purely upon the interactions between people and horses. I hope my modest experience adds a touch of reality and richness to the story of Gift Horse.
Of course, I’ve touched on horse-whispering techniques, therapies, and mental health issues in the Midnight Sky series, and part of Gift Horse is a natural continuation of that theme, one which this time connects more directly to my main character. Caroline is a product of her sheltered upbringing. In direct contrast her flat-mate, Niamh, is part of a loud, sprawling Irish family – including the gorgeous but licentious Rory O’Connor; Caroline’s nemesis. Unfortunately, Caroline is intent on pleasing everyone except herself, and there’s a price to pay…
Gift Horse is a contemporary time-slip novel about the choices women make, the healing power of horses, and the devastating consequences of human error.
I tend not to plan too much, other than factual things like dates, and timelines. And I don’t have a messy desk with endless notes stuck to my screen or big notebooks overflowing with complicated scribblings. What I do have is a good instinct for the order of things. I think this comes from reading a lot of good fiction and learning why and how something works; what to hold back, when to reveal, how much to tell, what to show, which scene works best as dialogue, or narrative. This balance will be slightly different for every writer, the literary stamp of personal style?
If there’s a parallel to be drawn between trying to break into commercial publishing and staying true to myself as a writer, then for me it’s the creative freedom to write the books I want to write. So many mainstream books are all following the same trend, and some of them feel like different versions of the same book! This might sound a bit like sour grapes, but I prefer to let a story grow and mature until it’s ready to be picked from the vine, and there’s a tremendous satisfaction in penning a story which is unique to me.
‘Ruth digs up the bones of what really matters to the human psyche and Gift Horse is no exception.’ John Hudspith, Independent Editor.
Imagine living eighteen years of your life around a mistake…
Caroline Walker’s daughter suffers a horrific riding accident. Her distraught parents wonder if she’ll ever walk again, let alone ride. And when Mollie’s blood group is discovered as rare, her husband offers to donate blood. Except Ian is not a match. In fact, it’s unlikely he’s Mollie’s father. Eighteen years previously, Caroline had a one-night stand with Irish rock star, Rory O’Connor. Caroline fell pregnant. Deeply flawed boyfriend, Ian, was overjoyed. And Caroline’s parents were simply grateful that their daughter was to marry into the rich, influential Walker family.
Caroline turns to Rory’s friend Connor; and although his almost spiritual connection with his horses appears to be the balm she needs, Caroline cannot forget Rory, or her youth – both lost to a man she never loved. Eighteen years on and after surviving cancer Rory lives as a virtual recluse in the Welsh mountains. Through his well-meaning but interfering sister, he is shocked to discover he has a teenage daughter. Or does he?
Someone has made a terrible mistake… someone is going to get hurt…
Christmas already seems a long time ago but it’s a fairly big contender for a C word so only fair to mention it early on; especially since I’m currently writing a Christmas themed novella. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is something cosy (come on, you know me better than that) It’s about an accountant who writes a novel in company time and how his subsequent literary journey with a small publisher impacts on his life. Obviously, it’s mostly satire.
This year, I was given a Cannon camera for Christmas. I also received another type of camera entirely – thankfully much smaller – in the form of a colonoscopy. I’m rarely ill but when I am I tend to do it in grand style. On this occasion, it was deemed by my doctor that since I was creeping up to one of those birthdays with a zero on the end, I should take advantage of the screening on offer and get checked out.
‘You’ll forgive me,’ she said. ‘Eventually.’
This wasn’t what I wanted to hear the week before Christmas. I’m well versed in the use of the colon: although I don’t always get it right. Semi; or full? Thank goodness for my wonderful editor. An empty colon is something else entirely. The preparation for such an investigation is pretty miserable. No solid food for 36 hours and awash with two litres of unspeakably vile liquid flavoured with artificial lemon, is arguably the NHS version of the Beverly Hills detox. And the Colonoscopy Clinic must be one of the most miserable waiting rooms – down to the fact that everyone in there is famished and not only dreading the procedure, but not especially looking forward to the distribution of those fetching paper shorts. Maybe it’s because I’m generally an upbeat sort, but I always find my writer’s observational slant is a good antidote for such times. Take my consultant; impossibly tall with unruly hair, booming voice, broken English. He laughed a lot too as he led my feeble body onto an operating table. I can’t recall his name but I still think of him as Herman Munster. The student nurse couldn’t find any veins in my arm in order to insert a cannula (something I’d happily gone along with as it promised mild sedation). Herman’s expertise with the needle in this respect was at least reassuring. And then we were off. I could even watch the whole thing on an overhead monitor.
Er, no thanks.
They never did find anything wrong with me, despite several biopsies. I worried I’d be sent for again; for another, more intensive examination, but several weeks later I received a letter to say I was discharged. Possible gluten sensitivity, it said in the notes. I reckon one is either intolerant, or not. I know stress is blamed for pretty much everything without a specific medical name, but I’m more inclined towards this than any other explanation. Do upbeat personalities become more prone to physical distress; are we guilty of putting on a brave face once too often? I think there may be some truth in this. I’ve taken the suggested course of action in reducing all stress on my digestive system. This comes down to reducing gluten heavy foods, cutting out caffeine and further reducing my moderate consumption of Chardonnay.
So far, so good…
But what of less visible stress? My brother and I have recently had to make the awful decision to place Mum into a dementia care home. It’s clean, safe, caring. But her quality of life is pretty dismal. Are we compromising quality for longevity? Without a doubt. Hidden, disguised stress is evident for all the family, especially Mum, who is trapped in an alien world in every sense of the word. Of course, any fiction writer knows that worlds are not required to be physical to exert considerable power. Authors often exist in an online bubble too. And this generally contrived world can be creepily competitive: Look at my amazing sales rank! Look at my gut-busting daily word count! Writing and publishing at speed is counter-productive to what was once, for me, an enjoyable experience. Or maybe I’ve simply exhausted my current genre and my writing brain needs a colonic! This comes down to reducing unnecessary reading matter, cutting out all trash and further reducing my moderate consumption of social media.
So far, so good…
As a result, I’ve spent considerably more time playing with my new camera than I have tapping at the keyboard. Why does this make me feel vaguely guilty? How crazy that the pressure of social media to present a constant stream of material can coerce and control the mind. It’s often an insular place to be on a permanent basis because much of the time, content is not only manipulated but it’s severely watered down. Real stories and information are difficult to find. When the soaps first started on the telly they were broadcast a couple of nights a week for half-an-hour, with ad breaks in-between. From the script-writers point of view this amounted to a manageable window of creativity. Now, of course, they’ve had to up their game, resulting a lot of the time in plot holes, repetitive devices to move the story on (eavesdropping is a big one), implausible character motivation and the worst of all – gratuitous violence. As a precursor to these pleasures we are warned before each episode that viewers may find some scenes upsetting.
I’m not being especially pedantic. A lot of the time I like Coronation Street. I think it’s the northern humour, and I fully understand the concept of wanting to sit and watch something which takes little or no effort. But I still want good content. Light entertainment, in much the same way as books labelled as light fiction, still need to offer a story. I don’t want more books and blog posts to read, I want less! In the case of blog-posts, lots of these amount to barely disguised advertising, and we’re already gagging from an abundance of that. The compromise for quantity is always going to be quality, although I shall strive to discover the pearls amongst the vast quantity of mediocre material out there… So, did you get anything good for Christmas? I got a colonoscopy! And a reminder that producing and absorbing good content paves the way to greater contentment. Now pass me a small and very expensive glass of vino; I want to toast those quieter books.
By Cathy Ryan.
Conwy library recently hosted two local authors, Jan Ruth and Gillian Hamer.
After an introduction by Tracey Mylechraine-Payne, head librarian at Conwy, Jan and Gillian talked about their books, the inspirations and passions which motivate and compel them to write.
Jan and Gillian’s books are set in North Wales and Anglesey but differ in subject matter. Jan’s books are contemporary and very much character driven with family and relationship issues, the landscape featuring vividly, while Gillian’s writing incorporates history, the paranormal and murder mysteries, again with beautiful backdrops.
Jan read passages from her books Silver Rain, a compelling family drama, and Dark Water, the second book in the Wild Water trilogy which features an element of crime and veers into the darker side of human nature.
Gillian also read from her books Crimson Shore, the first story in The Gold Detectives series, and The Charter, a story based on the Royal Charter which was wrecked off the north-east coast of Anglesey in 1859.
Gillian and Jan then discussed their publishing journeys and how the notion that self published books are inferior is still prevalent, unfairly so. After much frustration and disappointment, they both made the decision, with no regrets, to stick with self publishing.
After which there was an informal chat, questions were asked, books discussed and bought and several glasses of wine consumed. All in all a very pleasant and informative afternoon. Thanks to Cheryl Hesketh, head buyer; pictured with Jan and Gillian.
I was about to stuff a bundle of correspondence through the shredder when I thought these ancient yellowing letters might make an interesting blog post. I know they’re hopelessly out of date but fellow authors might find them amusing, enlightening, or in some aspects still relevant and relatable. Reading through them for a final time, I see nothing much has changed in the world of traditional publishing. It’s still frustrating and mostly baffling!
My journey started way back in 1986, 30 years ago. I was pregnant and bored, so I thought I’d write a book. I called it Summer in October and it happily consumed me for many months. When I thought it was finished, I sent it to the first agent I saw in the Writers & Artists Yearbook: Andrew Mann. Well, no point starting at the bottom was there? I had no idea how large and influential Andrew Mann were but when I received an offer within a couple of weeks I actually thought this was all I needed to do!
The offer wasn’t exactly from Andrew Mann, but from Anne Dewe, who wore two distinct hats. A senior editor for Mann, Dewe was also trying to operate as an independent publisher under the name of Love Stories. She wanted the kind of romance which consistently fell through the commercial net. In 1986 there was plenty of chick-lit and formulaic light fiction, but anything outside of that parameter had no clear label. Sound familiar?
15th September 1986: ‘I like your style and the way you tell the story very much, but it would need a lot of editing in minor matters, occasional misuse of words, spelling and so on, but that is usual and nothing much. I have a few more major criticisms… (listed) do they seem outrageous to you or might you agree that the book would be improved by some changes? If you felt prepared to revise, I would be prepared to take an option. The advance would be £650 against a 10% royalty…’
I applied the changes Dewe suggested – newborn on one arm – but several months later, she didn’t feel the revision was extensive enough. So my son had his first taste of a play-pen and I reworked the entire manuscript over the course of six months on yet another secondhand typewriter.
16th November 1987: ‘Congratulations! You’ve done the most fantastic job on the book. It’s really good, develops well, is hilariously funny in places and most convincing. Now, here comes the embarrassing part… I would very much like it for Love Stories but unless something comes from my selling efforts at Frankfurt book fair, we may have to stop publishing next year, but my main career is as a literary agent and I would very much like to take you on as a writer for this and other books. You clearly have talent and most important of all, determination…’
Sadly, Love Stories never really got off the ground and as a result my manuscript was taken on for Andrew Mann, with Dewe wearing her agents’ hat. The rejections from established publishers were disappointing but given her initial reservations about genre restrictions, not entirely unexpected.
Piatkus: Very readable. I’d be interested to see anything this author writes in the future. Michael Joseph: This isn’t quite suited to our current list. I think this is more suited to paperback publication? Headline: She writes with charm but I’m afraid that despite the background, the animals and the humour, this just wasn’t for us. Malvern: We regret we cannot offer to publish this as it is too similar to Applehurst Displayed, which we published two years ago. Severn House: I don’t think this is for us. I can’t see where we would have any luck in selling subsidiary rights.
So it all ground to a halt and the process was, for me, relegated to the back-burner as family life took over – including divorce – and my third typewriter fell to pieces. Dewe even tried – unsuccessfully – to place the manuscript as a young adult read as she thought this market was going to be big. She was right, but it wasn’t to be for Summer in October. It wasn’t until 2001, during my second marriage, and after a house move to North Wales, that I began to write again, this time using a modern word-processor. I hadn’t forgotten all the points Dewe had raised and the comments from some of the publishers. I’d since enjoyed a career in property, and the result was a novel called Under Offer. I did find it interesting that Dewe didn’t like this book at all and wasn’t interested but she was honest: It’s lively and very readable, but this one’s not for us. I am afraid you’ll just have to trawl the book. This business is so subjective one can’t really suggest other agents…
The result of this was that I stuck a pin in the Writers & Artists Yearbook again and sent the manuscript to Jane Judd. Once again, I received an offer to be represented. I knew what was coming this time, and braced myself for a re-write but Judd suggested I send the MS to an editorial company called Cornerstones.
This was a real turning point for me where I learnt about structure, plotting, and characterisation in specific detail and how it related to my work. The entire MS was line edited by a professional so I could see where and why she’d made changes and suggestions, including the title. So… I rewrote sections of the novel and Wild Water was born as a huge printed document which cost a fortune to send through the post! Fortunately, Judd was very happy with the result, and I signed a contract with her in January of the following year.
Pan Macmillan: A good combination of humour and poignancy. The author delves shrewdly into her characters, gradually allowing their traits to become evident and appreciated. However, I regret I can’t see a place on our lists for Wild Water. Headline: Read with interest, but no. Piatkus: I do like this author’s writing and it was interesting to read this kind of story from a male perspective. However, I didn’t feel any of the characters were sympathetic enough and I didn’t warm to Jack as the hero of the story. Simon & Schuster: She does write well but this is a tough, competitive and crowded area of the market. Selina Walker: I really like this. It’s well written and it has an unusual twist in that you very much sympathise with the wronged husband but in the end I thought it lacked Trollope’s take on personal relationships. Hodder & Stoughton: I’m going to say no. Time Warner Books: I very much enjoyed reading this. I was absorbed immediately. However, we’ve brought a number of authors writing in this area with two-book contracts and I can’t see a slot in our schedule for this one. It’s a shame and I do hope that you can find a good home for this promising author…
I can’t say my agents didn’t try and I appreciate the faith they had in the material, and the editors I worked with at Cornerstones were nothing short of revolutionary to a new writer. And none of it put me off – I did write another novel and in keeping with the suggested branding by Cornerstones titled it Midnight Sky. (In fact the characters of James and Laura in this story were pinched from the first book, Summer in October. The plot line from Summer in October went into Silver Rain… but that’s another story). I even sent Midnight Sky to Judd at her request, but she disliked it. Over the course of 2004 I consulted the Writers & Artists yearbook many times and sent out both Wild Water and Midnight Sky to several small publishers, thinking that a two-book deal with tentative branding was a stronger pitch; but with no success.
I think this final letter from Amanda Stewart of Severn House is a perfect summing-up of the years I’d tried to break in to publishing both with the backing of two prominent agents, and as a solo effort: Whilst I know Jane Judd well and respect her editorial judgement, I’m afraid we would not be able to publish these books. Severn House only takes on authors with a long-standing track record. We almost never publish ‘new’ writers simply because we do not have the funds to take risks on untried authors…
What didn’t fail was the knowledge I’d gained from the constant rejection. And the rest, as they say, is history. When Amazon introduced Kindle I found myself scanning in those huge typewritten manuscripts of both Wild Water and Midnight Sky to a laptop to produce an electronic file. Createspace allowed even more freedom and my books made it into libraries and a single independent bookshop by my own efforts. Wild Water won Cornerstones ‘most popular book’ in 2011. Both Wild Water and Silver Rain made the finalist list on The Wishing Shelf Awards and six of my titles were subsequently signed with another publisher in 2014/15. But wait… there’s a sting in the tail because the irony of this particular story is that I eventually ditched the publisher and returned to independent publishing…
Now… please excuse me as I have some shredding to do!
The alpaca is a glamorous member of the camel family and anything with a triple A in it has to be good at something. And I happened to meet a fellow author within days of coming across the alpaca, but I’ll start with the alphabet.
I’ve been in a shady place with all 26 letters for a good while. It all stems from that nonsense called Publishing One’s Book and entrusting it to an actual publisher. Well, that didn’t work, did it? Neither did the two name-worthy agents back in the old traditional days. Both agents said those immortal words: I’d love to represent you.
And the publisher said those other immortal words: I want to publish you.
It’s been a week of lows for a few of my author pals too. The reasons are all valid and as writers we’ve all been there at some point. Sometimes a random, scathing comment can be the straw that broke the alpaca’s back. Unjust reviews, reviews of the editing or formatting of the book rather than the story, editors who’ve charged a lot of money and not completed the job, paying out for marketing and not selling a single copy, people who expect books for free… no sales. It’s a tough industry and sometimes those who should be supporting independent authors, let them down in ways we find hard to swallow on a permanent basis.
Someone told me that the only technically perfect book she’d ever read was edited and proofread by someone who charged £2,000 for the job. When royalties come in at 35p per 99p Kindle book and maybe a quid for a paperback which has cost several hundreds of pounds to produce to a readable standard, then I think we can all work out an appropriate response to that!
This is not misguided moaning, an excuse for sloppy work or a mass wringing of hands. It may be more serious: I may have reached a stage of indifference. I started this venture for fun. Now, I’m unsure if I want to write novels anymore, and not only because sales and visibility are phenomenally difficult – with or without a publisher – but because funding the process is exhaustive, and not just in monetary terms, but emotionally and mentally too. Maybe – and this is the killer of all things creative – I’m just plain bored with it all?
I used to write for pleasure. Is it right to write for pain? Not for me. I publish myself through choice and this is perhaps the epitome of freedom for an author or any artist, but it’s a double-edged sword because I now know that none of the routes are golden. So many authors still presume the interest of an agent or a publisher is the mark of excellence or the end goal. It may work out for some, but there is still a hard line of prejudice in the commercial world as to what will sell or what is currently trending. The sad part about this is that the quality of writing seems to be the least important ingredient.
I write complex, multi-layered character family-drama. I write my stories because they are the kind of books I like to read myself. There’s a piece of me in each and every one, and I think this is what makes the process so enjoyable.
I guess I’ve hit rock bottom a few times over the previous six years and I managed it again in spectacular form a few days ago when I managed to propel myself down a full flight of iron steps. The close proximity of the Llangollen canal and the fear of breaking bones was especially unpleasant. My backpack, stuffed with miscellaneous rubbish, saved me from serious injury. Apparently, I’m not the first person to pitch down those steps and I guess as a metaphor we’re on the right track here because I did manage to walk away mostly unscathed, apart from a large bruising around the saddle area. I hobbled on, fortified by the lure of meeting Shani Struthers in a wine bar…
Sometimes, when the chips are down a curveball comes rushing in and we have to listen to what the universe is trying to say to us as individuals. There was something whispering in my ear that day. Could something as simple as removing the pressure to perform, bring its own reward? I used to really, really love writing. This was before I began the process of commercial publishing, sales, marketing and all that jazz that seems to be expected of us. If we remove these stumbling blocks is it enough to engage with a smattering of genuine readers who deeply connect to your material? If you can honestly answer yes, then I think I can promise amazing results and instant satisfaction by writing exactly what you want to write whilst spending the majority of your money on food and drink!
Alphabetti Spaghetti might be the answer… Bottoms up!
I talk to my editor, John Hudspith, about X-Factor Fiction, Halloween, Hugging Dermot O’ Leary and Saving the World!
John: It’s that time of year again, when writers send an avalanche to the ebook shelves hoping for a festive bestseller; when big-boobed slebs offer up their latest ghost-written shenanigans; when agents and publishers hire staff to handle the increased numbers of rejection notes. Had any good rejections lately? Jan: Rejection is a tough lesson. I grew up with plenty of it. (I’m talking creatively; as in, go away and do this again it’s not good enough). At primary school I was told it’s vital to experience rejection in order to improve. Character-building, even. John: did you sob, like an X-Factor reject? Jan: I don’t remember sobbing or clinging on to Dermot when my first manuscript thudded back through the letterbox for the umpteenth time; it had morphed into a hefty wedge of dog-eared paper with mostly derogatory scribble in the margins by then – but I guess if Leery had been available, I might have been tempted into a bit of clinging. John: Is that because you fancy him? Did you know he’s only 3 foot in his underpants? Jan: He is quite short, isn’t he? That’s suits the midget that is me; I’d still look up to him. I’d have fallen into his arms but only because he’s cuddly, not because I thought my life was over. John: Was it that bad? Jan: ‘This work has promise but it is overwritten and the scene where the shop blows up is ridiculous.’ It was, actually. Those times draw a fair comparison with past X-Factor winners who’ve taken the prize initially but then sunk without trace. And yet, those who’ve come in third or second have scooped the best prize of all: by going away to think, then coming back with quality material. In my case, I went away for several years and did it again, and again and again. In fact, I kept on re-writing until I was sick to death of it. John: And then they snapped you up? Jan: No chance, I really could have wept: ‘Congratulations on producing a novel that is fully engaging, the narrative is sharp and the dialogue excellent. However, we cannot see where we would place this book in terms of marketing.’
John: Ah, yes, the worried publisher… talent doesn’t matter, simplicity does. Jan: Right. I learnt that I wasn’t actually sick to death of it, more puzzled by these powerful gatekeepers, the agents and publishers who could make or break your day – your life! But this was traditional publishing BK. (Before Kindle, and before X-Factor) John: I do like X-Factor, and it’s a good comparison; the machinations of voracity versus real quality – the psychology of it all. Jan: We need the same show format for fiction, imagine the panel! Simon would be thrillers and crime with a strong leaning towards mafia bosses with lapdogs. And Louis Walsh – ‘I t’ink you should give her a chance, Simon. I t’ink it’s got something’ – he always ends up with the groups and oddballs, so, anthologies and something daft? John: Yep, the requisite annoyance. Remember Jedward? Maybe Louis could have sex with dinosaurs. The books, I mean. Big sellers, apparently. ‘I love, love, love, your book “T-rex on Top”… it looks good, it’s freaky, it’s got everything, it’s what this show’s all about!’ Jan: You know, I was amazed those dino-sex books actually exist. Who the hell reads dino porn? John: Louis Walsh, probably. What about Cheryl? I do like Cheryl, she’s a canny Geordie like me. Jan: Crybaby Cole? – ‘A was blown away by ye’ – sob – ‘but a have to turn ye doon cos o’ the typos, like’ – romance and true-life stories. John: She’s not Cole anymore though, is she? Some weird-sounding long name. When Dermot announces it, he sounds like he’s casting a spell, ‘Cheryl Fazhawazzfini’ or something like that. Jan: She should have gone back to Tweedy for her stage name, shouldn’t she? Simon and the panel get a far bigger intro than any of the wannabe artists. The judges – or let’s say, the book bloggers and reviewers and the big promotional sites – are set to become more important than the author, much like disc-jockeys did in the seventies. They just played the records but their endorsement and their inane chatter made them into far bigger celebrities than the actual artists. John: DJs from the seventies have a creepy image these days, though. Creepier than clowns, even. Jan: True story. Let’s not go there. John: So, for the initial auditions, they have to read a blurb? Then, at boot camp they’d get to read one page, then whine, `There’s better to come` when they’re told the narrative voice is out of tune, repetitive and boring. Oh, and at the `take a seat` stage, they’d read a longer, random section and provide evidence of social marketing skills before submitting the entire book to get to judges’ houses.
Jan: Where Simon isn’t happy with the lineup… Simon: ‘Hold on, you’ve all picked books that are well-written, we need a couple of dumbed down ones to get the bookworms annoyed, so they’ll hit the phones and vote. Remember guys, it’s a pound per phone call, so I’m going to swap The Extraordinary Life of a Turtle for She likes it with Next Door’s Dog by Crystal Balls. Louis: No one wants to read badly-written erotica, Simon! Simon: Fifty Shades of Grey would disagree with you. Louis, you’re out of touch. Louis: *blinks, grins, does the orangutan clap* John: Yeah, Simon likes his quota of weirdoes. Jan: Talking of weird, what about Sinitta? Where would she fit in? John: She’d appear at Simon’s house wearing three strategically placed bookmarks. Then she’d judge the books by their covers. Jan: And people do, don’t they? Although, as in the real show, they’d be looking for raw talent they could manipulate… I mean mould. So maybe all the books in X-Factor Fiction should start with brown paper covers. On the live shows the backstory footage would include the authors getting professionally designed covers. John: But some would want to use their own ideas… Simon: ‘What – the bloody hell – is that?’ (looking at an image of yet another ripped torso). Louis: ‘It’s all the rage, Simon.’ Cheryl: ‘Divint worry, pet. Simon’s just jealous.’ Mel B: ‘Phwoaaaaaaar, let me hug that boowk.’
Jan: Okay, here’s goes, it’s the Halloween show and we have to read a chilling paragraph to the panel. ‘He carried her to his bed. Clothing was removed, some of it snatched and torn in the process as if their connection had disturbed something feral. A hundred different thoughts, a hundred different reasons not to sleep with a man she’d only just met, a hundred different voices shouting in her head and yet, she slid beneath him, her underwear in disarray. They both seemed in perfect tune, one moment caught in the delicious intensity of anticipation, and then suddenly laughing at the craziness of it, laughing at the red freckles sprayed across his hands and face. He kissed every inch of her face, she kissed every inch of his face… Maybe it was then when she knew; that moment when she tasted that unmistakable metallic tang.’ APPLAUSE…
Louis: ‘You looked amazing, you sounded amazing, it was amazing.’ Simon: ‘You need a new script, Louis.’ John: Wise words from Simon. So many books, so many writers, but not enough depth, originality or imagination. Jan: Stop being grumpy. Readers will always determine what writers write, right? John: Very true. Teaching the next generation how to read is a must, not only for the future of decent storytelling, but, you know, that old save-the-world from humanity thing. Jan: Yes, there’s a long way to go with that. John: And it starts with the written word. Jan: Once upon a time…
I’m in the pub with my editor, John Hudspith, talking about school puddings and prose, Snowdonia, & the science of story-telling: *Setting: In a darkened bar on the edge of Snowdonia, where the wild buzzards roam. *Characters: Jan Ruth, Snowdonian Author, and John Hudspith, writer, editor and Magical Wordmaster.*Plot: alcohol-fuelled ramblings. (Pantser) *Dialogue: read on…