Category Archives: Author
Just as new indie authors benefit from the single-minded, entrepreneurial determination to make their books work no matter what obstacles they may encounter, they can also benefit from collaboration and compromise, based on the input from an experienced specialist publishing team around them.
Joel Ohman is a Florida-based tech entrepreneur. His debut novel, Meritropolis, self-published earlier this year, is already proving popular and has topped several of Amazon Kindle’s bestseller categories. We spoke to him about his writing, the publishing process, and how he’s managed to drum up such a buzz about the novel.
Andrea Atzori has worked as an editorial assistant and consultant editor for a number of publishers, has a Masters degree in Publishing, and is the author of a successful fantasy fiction series, Iskìda of the Land of Nurak, published in Italy. For his latest project he has overseen the translation and release of the first instalment of that series into the English-language market. We spoke to him about that process and how it differed from his experiences with traditional publishers.
The Other Side of Loss isn’t your first book; No Ordinary Experience, an autobiography about your nightclub business was traditionally published. Why did you opt for the independent route this time around?
As a 66 year-old debut novelist I was finding it very difficult to be taken seriously by either literary agents or traditional publishers. I also discovered that one reason for this was that traditional publishers have become much more risk averse, and therefore rather unadventurous and predictably conventional. I had sufficient belief in my first novel and was lucky enough to be introduced to the future of books – independent publishing – by a literary agent who liked the premise of my book but could see that it might have trouble attracting the attention of a traditional publishing house. I was able to self-publish to a very high standard and I feel that most readers would not be able to discern my book from one produced by a major publishing house.
How different is the process of writing a novel as opposed to a biography? Did you find one easier than the other?
I found writing a novel much harder than my first non-fiction book, which was a ‘warts and all’ corporate biography about the early years of my international nightclub business. It was actually fun writing that book as it was a riotous story! Writing fiction takes a great deal of effort and isn’t at all easy. It is also riskier; you have to be prepared to invest in, and show, a lot more emotion.
What have been the biggest advantages of publishing independently? And what difficulties have you come across?
For someone who doesn’t know a huge amount about the publishing process, using a publishing services company who can help guide you through it all is a great way to go. Having had everything explained, I was led through the whole confusing publishing process by professionals who knew what they were doing and who knew the publishing business from top to bottom. This additional help gave me the confidence to see the project through, which I might not have been able to do if I was entirely alone; one thing I learned was that ‘independent publishing’ doesn’t have to mean doing it all by yourself.
While the process ran surprisingly smoothly, there were a number of challenges surrounding the technical aspects of book publishing, which I may not have been able to overcome without the help of the rest of the team working on the book. At one stage my eagle-eyed copyeditor spotted an issue with the ISBNs which could have been disastrous, and which would have gone entirely over my head if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me!
How important is collaboration with the likes of editors and cover designers for independent publishers? If you had to, do you think you could have done everything by yourself?
I think close collaboration between all parties – editor, copyeditor, publisher, cover designer, publicist, digital marketer – is vital for the coordinated success of any independently published book.
I’m hugely indebted to the designer for the really beautiful cover she created for The Other Side of Loss and I couldn’t have done any of the other things needed to produce a book of such high quality, nor generated its early success in book sales, without the help of other professionals.
Are you working on any more writing projects at the moment?
Yes, based on the early success of The Other Side of Loss I’ve started work on a sequel with the aim of having it finished by the end of 2015. I’m also looking at updating and republishing my first book No Ordinary Experience: The Juliana’s Story during the course of next year. The subject matter has become timely again on a wave of nostalgia for the great Rock ‘n’ Roll period of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s.
If you were to release another book in the future, would you go straight for the self-publishing route or would you prefer to work with a traditional publisher?
I’d almost certainly work with exactly the same team with whom I worked on this book. They are all talented people of integrity and I’ve grown to like them. In business we have choices and the older I get the more I want to work with people I like!
Dan Gennoe is a London based writer and novelist. A former music journalist, he’s written cover features, interviews and reviews for Esquire, GQ, Arena, FHM, Q, Mojo, Red, Time Out, The Independent and The Mail On Sunday. He’s mixed with rappers and rockstars, ghosted the memoirs of a celebrity chef and lent his musical expertise to Amazon, Yahoo and Google. He now writes stories about lost souls and their need to be found; his début novel, All Neon Like Love, is out in early Spring next year.
Susan Hawthorne, director of an independent Australian book publisher, wrote an interesting article for Publishing Perspectives this week. TLDR: mega publishers are too driven by a desire for commercial success, resulting in a homogenisation of their output; independent publishers, on the other hand – more interested in artistic merit than the potential for commercial success – are likely to put out more original material. The result of such quality-driven publishing decisions is the cause of what Hawthorne wonderfully calls ‘cultural bibliodiversity’ within the book market.
The Amulet of Sleep is the opening book in the Iskìda of the Land of Nurak trilogy, a series of epic fantasy novels for YA readers. Already award-winning in Italy, Andrea Atzori’s home country, the books look set to join the booming market for genre fiction. Having found success after publishing traditionally in Italian, Atzori turned his sights internationally. He saw the UK’s ever-increasing appetite for magical fiction as the perfect fit for his venture into independent, foreign self-publishing. Available this month from Kobo, The Amulet of Sleep will not disappoint fantasy fans of all ages.
You are a strong advocate of self-publishing. What makes this model so appealing to you?
Control! I’m sure all self-published writers feel the same way. When I was published by HarperCollins (having self-published my first two novels), I had no contractual say over the cover designs for my books, or even the titles. ‘Brand Polly Courtney’ was getting increasingly muddled, with each book cover looking different to the last and being out of alignment with what was inside. (The actual words seemed to be a minor consideration in my publishers’ minds.) In addition – and this is something that every published writer will tell you – I was offered next to nothing in marketing support. A part-time PR person spent half an hour with me, explained that she looked after all of the 52 titles that my imprint published each year and that she worked 3 days per week… well, by the time she’d finished explaining things I’d used up half of my allotted PR time and she was already thinking about the next author’s release. Now that I self-publish, I dictate the ‘look and feel’ of my books and make sure they are packages I can be proud of, which makes promotion a lot easier. I invest a lot of time in marketing.
Have the revelations in Hugh Howey’s Author Reports confirmed what you already believed, or have there been any surprises for you?
In many ways, the report confirms what I’ve been banging on about for a while: if executed well, self-publishing can be a very viable route for authors and that some of the most successful writers out there (measured by Amazon sales, which is a reasonable metric) are self-published.
My favourite chart in the first report is the one that looks at average price and average rating for top self-published books vs. top traditionally published books. Guess what? The traditionally published books are more expensive, yet not as good. This data backs up two trends that have been debated anecdotally for a while now: (1) large publishers haven’t woken up to the idea of flexible pricing and (2) the filters applied by these publishers are not always based on quality. There is so much risk aversion in the industry that a Z-list celebrity with a naff, illegible autobiography will stand a higher chance of getting published traditionally than a brilliant writer with only a small following. Self-publishing offers a way for those brilliant writers to find their audience.
What advice would you give first-time indie authors who feel that self-promotion and marketing isn’t their forte? And what role might social media have in that instance?
Self-promotion is a bit of a misnomer. You don’t have to stand up and yell “buy my book!”. In fact, doing that would be a really bad idea. Marketing is more about making your stuff visible to the people who want to find it. You need to think very hard about who your book is for before you set out to sell it. DON’T SAY ‘EVERYONE’. There will be people who don’t want to read your book. Get over it. Focus on the people you know will like it based on their interest in other books in the genre, or themes covered in the book, or communities that are aligned with you or your work. Once you have a good idea about who your target is, it’s much easier to seek them out and make yourself known to them. Social media has allowed us to do this without leaving our desk, even for niche groups. If you’re writing about naked gardening, I guarantee there’s a community out there, waiting to hear about your book. (Oh, wow. I just looked it up. World Naked Gardening Day is in a few weeks’ time!) Don’t go for the hard sell. Be authentic, get involved in discussions and then when you mention your book it will be of genuine interest to your newfound friends, who will (ideally) become your first advocates.
How do you approach pricing a new e-edition of your novel? Is there a formula for success?
I think all books are different. There’s definitely a supply-demand equation, but that demand comes from a different set of readers for every book. For my latest novel, Feral Youth, I knew that some of my readers would be young people on low incomes, so I didn’t want to price it too high. That said, I didn’t want to go below £2 on a permanent basis, because there’s a perception that cheapness equals poor quality. I set all my ebooks at £2.99 by default, although of course the retailer ultimately controls the price on the basis of demand. I occasionally flex the price for short periods and offer ‘freebies’, but I’m very aware that the type of person who grabs free books is not necessarily within my target audience – and won’t necessarily read the book! For me, the goal is to get my book read and enjoyed by as many people as possible. If I know someone won’t like it, I’d rather they didn’t buy it.
We hear that you sometimes crowd-source editorial input. How does that process work?
Aha. Yes, I use a bunch of crowd-sourced readers to supplement the work of my professional editor. When I’ve got a draft that I’m happy with, I put a shout-out to my fans on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and offer a pre-publication copy of my book in return for structural editorial input. The comments that come back are really diverse but, interestingly, not usually in conflict. I don’t take everything on board, but actually most of the input is really helpful and gives me ideas for shaping the book before my professional editor gets to rip it apart. Then I do the same at the proof reading stage. Frankly, the more eyes on it, the better. I’d rather hear about typos and inconsistencies from these guys than from Amazon reviewers!
How often do you communicate with your readers? And do you feel as if you operate within a community of indie writers?
I use multiple channels to reach my readers because they hang out in different places. For all my books, I have a note at the back, offering readers the chance be put on my (non-spammy) mailing list, so they can be told when my next book comes out. Some of them follow me on my website, so they get alerts when something new goes up, but most of the day-to-day communication is via Twitter and Facebook. More and more, I’m trying to do as many speaking events as I can fit in, because nothing beats face-to-face contact!
There is definitely a community of indie writers. I’m good friends with a lot of authors who either publish their own books or do so in collaboration with others. In fact, a couple of years ago I teamed up with a writer and an editor so that the three of us could launch the writer’s book, War & Piste – just because we believed in it so much. There’s a lot of support out there now – especially now that we have the Alliance of Independent Authors. It’s a great time to self-publish.