Category Archives: Author

The whitefox Perspective on the Hugh Howey Author Report Debate

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Been following the fascinating exchanges between Hugh Howey and Mike Shatzkin this week?

Of course you have. We just want to make a small but significant (to us, at least) point, in amongst the din. Contrary to one observation that’s often heard in the posturing on data and analytics, self-published authors do have a way of accessing the same support teams that publishers use. They can now lean on and buy into expertise traditionally available only to those who have been anointed with an advance and a colophon. That is the whole point of whitefox.

Reasons to be cheerful

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This talk was originally given at Voice Literary’s ‘Lost in the Amazon‘ event on the 14th Jan 2014.
[intro]Today was one of those days. We’re well and truly back into January. I’ve finished playing publishing techno-word bingo with the CEOs’ predictions for the year (mobile – tick, spotify for books – tick, discoverability – tick, e-books continuing to plateau…(can something continue to plateau? I guess it can) – tick). And a tweet even came in from one of our beloved clients reminding us that most publishing start-ups fail.[/intro]

So in the here and now, I want to make some suggestions as to why you, as a writer in the UK in 2014, should be cheerful:

1. If you want it, you have control

Gone are the days when writers were like good children – meant to be seen and not heard. Now you are the marketing and the PR, and everyone chants the same mantra that the only things that matter are writers and readers. So, hell, be happy that at least you are one of those two.

2. There’s no such thing as out of print

Books are forever. Which means that a year after it has been published, your book can be as relevant as the week after it was published. Your window of opportunity no longer has to be dictated by a bricks and mortar retailer who may have had no enthusiasm for ordering your book in the first place.

3. The supermarkets are coming

2014 will see Sainsbury and Tesco both seriously enter the fray in e-books and tablets. Can they start to represent serious competition to Amazon? They have large sheds. They have data. And they have families who come to them every day of the week, as opposed to slumped individuals absent-mindedly scrolling during their lunch break.

4. You are not alone

You have plenty of peers in the same boat – you just need to connect to them. You have a community.
You are stronger as a group than as an individual. This is just an extension of what has always happened inside publishing companies. One very successful editor I know calls it getting writers to “gather around a book“. But you don’t need a publisher to do that for you.

5. Publishing is still not a science

However many algorithms and data geeks inherit our world. There is still serendipity, word of mouth that is influenced by the quality of the content and not the efficiency of the marketing. And when publishers say less is more… well, they don’t control the tap any more.

6. If you don’t want to go it alone, then good news…

There will be more publishers not fewer – it is just that those publishers may well be authors or disaffected agents or editors cast adrift by old publishing houses. Because all you really need in this new publishing landscape are good acquiring skills and a dedicated, relentless PR and marketing focus.

7. There’s now a myriad of talented support out there

And they’re unencumbered by endless back-covering meetings, being cc’d on barely relevant emails and enormous overheads. whitefox don’t have a warehouse, but We do have a database, within which lie the details of the people who actually make a difference in publishing in the UK today. Not that accountant. Not that MD or Sales Director with his rapidly declining influence. But all the editors, marketers, publicists, digital experts and specialists to help anyone DIY. And as trade publishing squeezes out good talented people, from traditional salaried roles, so we are waiting at the gates to see whether we can make them available to anyone who wants to access their services.

8. Authors are learning Bookcraft

Bookcraft. I love that word (which, I know, I stole from Philip Jones in the Bookseller last week, but which he stole from Minecraft, anyway). How empowering is it to be learning new things at what ever stage you are in the publishing process.

No one has to be in their box anymore. If you want to you can be your own creative dedicated digital marketing expert, designer, marketer or publicist.

9. Global opportunities

The world is your oyster. You are only at the beginning of e-reader and tablet consumption in so many territories around the world, and those are all potential markets for your work. You just have to reach them.

10. Agents

The ones that you might take on are having to do more than have lunch and gossip. They have to adaptfast or become irrelevant faster. Skilling up, offering more services, running courses, understanding and translating more for their clients to represent real value added.

11. Speed

Even the best, most innovative publishers will be squeezing you into slots so far ahead in the future schedule. You might as well not bother knowing how to spell ‘zeitgeist’. If you want to, you can DIY publish properly, thoughtfully, and in a considered and planned way, and do so in a quarter of the time.

12. We’re only at the beginning

(Bingo cards ready) This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. We’re only just beginning to learn what structures and models might work in the future. So you have the advantage of being able to experiment without being tied to full term of copyright deals if you don’t desire that.

I could easily be convinced my glass should be half empty at the beginning of 2014. I’ve just read yet another piece about the death of the mid-list author and the reliance publishers have on established author brands.

But the good thing is that writers in my experience have to write, whether they are adept at finding their readers or not. And people involved in the publishing process, like any humans involved in any collaborative activity, want to feel they are making a difference and that they have an influence. We want to feel needed.

So that heady combination will propel me forward in 2014. Content that has to be created and good people trying to make a positive difference to that content. That, it seems to me, matters as much as it ever has.

An interview with David Nicholls

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[intro]David Nicholls is a novelist and screenwriter. His books include One Day and Starter for Ten, both which he has adapted to screen. TV credits include a modern version of Much Ado about Nothing, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, both for the BBC. He has had two BAFTA nominations to date. Before turning to writing, Nicholls trained as an actor.[/intro]
As both a novelist and a screenwriter, how do the editorial approaches to these mediums vary; is either more or less collaborative than the other? As a writer, does one medium offer you more creative control than the other?

Screenwriting is intensely collaborative, which is both its joy and its frustration. Unlike a novel, a screenplay serves no purpose except to be interpreted by someone else. It’s an instruction manual, a transcription of the film that plays in your head – ‘place this person in this location, make them say or do this at a particular time of day, in the rain perhaps, then go to this next scene.’ Within that framework, there are limitless possibilities. With the novel, you are the costume designer, the director, the head of casting, the musical co-ordinator. Of course there is input from other people, and I personally value that very much, but you’re in charge. For the most part, this is wonderful. But if the novel doesn’t work, you can’t blame the director.

Is there such a thing as too much or too little involvement in the PR or marketing of your novel or screenplay? How involved are you likely to be?

In film, very very little. The screenwriter is on a level with the cinematographer and the designer, and certainly below the director. Even the most ardent film fan will have trouble naming ten screenwriters – they probably know the names of more composers than writers. It’s rare for the screenwriter to go to festivals or on press junkets, but this is not necessarily a complaint. Film has always been a director’s medium, and actors are generally better-looking. But it is strange that the person who ‘authors’ the piece should get so little attention. TV is slightly different – the volumes are greater, there are limits on directorial interpretation, and TV writers generally have more control and involvement in all aspects of production, PR and marketing.

Personally, I have no desire to read JD Salinger’s twitter feed.

With novels, there seems to be a whole roadshow attached to the publication, and as an author it’s hard to be entirely hands-off. It can be a problem, I think. I’m sure most authors want a say in their cover designs – it seems to be the biggest source of friction between writer and publisher, though I’ve always been consulted and involved. Self-promotion can sometimes get a little out of hand. Certainly I couldn’t write a word of fiction for some time after the last book came out, but if the alternative is obscurity and lower sales, what choice does an author have? I’m very lucky to get that attention, and I really enjoy meeting readers and attending book festivals – work that isn’t really work. But it’s also important to support authors with a quieter demeanour, and to let the work speak for itself. I hope we don’t find ourselves in a situation where only the loudest are heard. I hope novelists retain the right to be left alone. Personally, I have no desire to read JD Salinger’s twitter feed.

You’ve adapted Great Expectations, Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd (currently in production) for screen. What is your approach to adapting the work of someone as illustrious as Hardy; do you rely on your own ideas and interpretations of the text, or consider the expectations of your potential audience?

It depends on the project. I adapted Blake Morrison’s And When Did You Last See Your Father, a wonderful, moving book but not rich in plot, so a certain degree of shaping was involved. I was asked to write a TV play loosely based on Much Ado About Nothing, one of my favourite plays, and though I love the original, the whole purpose of the project was to have fun with the material – consequently that’s an extremely free adaptation, more of an original play ‘inspired by -‘ than a straightforward adaptation. Great Expectations was about as faithful as you can be in 120 minutes – there’s hardly anything that isn’t taken from the novel, but the interpretation comes from the selection of material. A ‘faithful’ film would be twelve hours long. But Great Expectations is, I think, an almost perfect work of art. Madding Crowd is wonderful, but much more problematic – it has wild changes in tone, crazy melodrama, a lot of low-comedy. I’ve been encouraged to be a little more irreverent with the material, though there’s still very, very little that isn’t in the original. Adaptation is all about striking this balance – capturing the original while also altering it to work in an entirely different medium.

An interview with Joanna Penn

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[intro]Joanna Penn is a bestselling author, professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian Top 100 Creative Professionals 2013. Joanna writes thrillers, crime and horror as J.F.Penn, and practical non-fiction as Joanna Penn, including the #1 bestseller, How To Market A Book. Joanna’s site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs For Writers three years running and offers articles, audio and video on writing and creative entrepreneurship. Connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn[/intro]

Joanna Penn

How do you balance your work as an author with the demands of your blog, speaking appointments etc?

I have a sign on my wall, “Have you made art today?” so that is always my focus. I’m a morning person so I tend to create early on and then do other things later in the day. I schedule months out in a Filofax and also keep a timesheet on OfficeTime (app for the iPhone) which helps me track the hours I spend on various tasks.
My #1 priority is always to focus on the next book, but I juggle that with promoting existing work, professional speaking and ongoing tasks like interviews, blogging, my podcast and social media. Luckily, I enjoy everything I do, including the marketing, so all of this is my kind of fun!

In your experience, what are the top concerns for self-published authors?

* Building a trustworthy team in order to deliver a high quality product. This includes editors, cover designers, formatters and potentially marketing partners. Self-publishing is a misnomer as it’s all about teamwork, which is why I prefer the term indie (independent) author. I have a great team in place now, but it’s taken a while to get it right.

* Discoverability and being found. Even traditional publishers struggle with this, and professional indie authors are always on the lookout for something new to try. I am always open to new marketing ideas, and I love learning from others. It’s best to have an entrepreneurial attitude of bootstrapping, trying things out and not worrying if something fails.

Self-publishing is a misnomer as it’s all about teamwork, which is why I prefer the term indie (independent) author. I have a great team in place now, but it’s taken a while to get it right.

If you were a writer starting from scratch, how would you build your platform and brand as an indie author?

I don’t think it matters how you’re publishing, as traditionally published authors still need to build a readership too. If starting again, I would focus on writing several books first, so customers have more than one product to purchase and I have time to discover what my own brand might be. I would set up a website with images and information that my readers will enjoy, and I’d have an email list for them to subscribe to so I could communicate about new books and competitions. Then I’d choose one method of ‘discoverability’ and focus on that with lots of energy. That could be podcasting, or YouTube, or Twitter or Pinterest, or whatever. I’d pick one and focus there, meeting readers, connecting with others in the author community and building an audience slowly.

Joanna Penn

If authors are going to enlist the help of writer service providers, what should be their priorities?

Going back to the top concerns for indies, you need a team and this is a business. I invest primarily in professional editors of different kinds, professional cover design and interior design, as well as tech support for my websites when needed and email list management. I will also invest in specific marketing opportunities if there is evidence that it will deliver sales, for example, reader email services like BookBub.com which have proven sales capability.

What, for you, are the greatest benefits of self-publishing?

Creative freedom, control and speed are important to me, along with my entrepreneurial love of wanting to make an impact on the world.
I also find the financial possibilities of being an indie author attractive. A book is the ultimate scalable product, and fiction, in particular, can earn income for an author for their entire lifetime. My books now sell in 30 countries, and although many of those countries are only a trickle of sales right now, I foresee a huge boom in the digital market globally in the next five years. As an indie, I can move fast and take advantage of those opportunities, although I would always consider partnering with an entrepreneurial publisher for some projects. It’s certainly an amazing time to be an author!

An interview with Ben Hatch

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[intro]Ben Hatch is a writer, family man and self-proclaimed ‘lover of cheese’ with both fiction and travel books to his name. He has built an extensive Twitter following, which has helped catapult his book ‘Are We Nearly There Yet’ to the top of the Kindle non-fiction charts, and even made John Cleese laugh.[/intro]
Ben Hatch
Self-promotion was vital to the success of Are We Nearly There Yet?; can you tell us a little about how you used social media to make the book such a hit?

It all started when I joined twitter (a medium which, I am embarrassed to say, I had been previously been hugely skeptical of). I’d had some great advanced quotes from the likes of Terry Wogan, Danny Wallace, John Cleese, David Jason, Sophie Kinsella, Lisa Jewell, Mike Gayle, Jenny Colgan and others, but the book wasn’t in any shops and was getting almost zero publicity, so there was no way of telling anyone about all those kind words. The book was bombing; a serialization in the Express was canned when the London riots broke out and I was desperate. So I started tweeting the quotes, with friends very kindly retweeting to get some momentum going. Crucially I also stopped feeling helpless; it was no use complaining the book was being overlooked, that the publicity people at my publisher had moved on to other titles (though naturally I did complain about this!). Nobody else cared as much as I did, so it now felt up to me to get the word out.

I also contacted local radio stations, telling them a little about the book, along with funny stories from it that had happened in their towns. In all, I probably did 40 or so radio interviews. I then tweeted about these interviews, which earned me more and more retweets. Terry Wogan mentioned the book on his radio show and John Cleese tweeted about the book. But oddly it wasn’t so much the actual fact that I was mentioned/tweeted about as it was my own telling people that led to more sales and reaction!

After this the book got picked up for review – unusual, given that it had been out for some time at this point. One of my favourite authors John Harding gave me a lovely review in the Daily Mail. I appeared on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage. The Guardian gave it a little write up. Fran Kellett at the Daily Telegraph travel online also featured ten extracts. And many kindly book bloggers ran pieces as well. All the time I would retweet these reviews, expanding the audience that saw them.

I managed to get the book up to the Number One spot in Non-fiction, and it stayed in the top 100 for almost half a year. I was almost as proud of that fact as I was at having written the book in the first place. It felt like I had taken on the entire book world and won. My book from a tiny publisher that I’d been paid £2,400 to write was outselling all these well-known authors and celebs. I had written two novels before Are We Nearly There Yet? and not done a thing for either of them in terms of self-promotion. It had not seemed the kind of thing a published author did. Now I’d say it’s crucial.

 It felt like I had taken on the entire book world and won. My book from a tiny publisher that I’d been paid £2,400 to write was outselling all these well-known authors and celebs.

You might feel uncomfortable blowing your own trumpet but nobody else is going to do that for you (and they probably won’t even, at the best publishing houses). If you want to stay a writer in these very difficult days for authors when the shelves are swamped with celeb and misery memoirs, you’d better bite the bullet and start. You’ll get people complaining about it, telling you that’s not what twitter is for. But at the end of the day it’s your passion and your livelihood and if you’re talking about something you’re proud of, well, then that’s fair enough in my book. So be thick skinned.

 

How do you see the writer’s role within publishing changing/expanding as new digital and self-publishing models evolve?

I think the writer is absolutely central now in a way that they never used to be. Unless we’re talking about those at the very top of the cash tree, it’s now the writer who defines how they’re seen in the wider world of readers through their websites, twitter and facebook. Publishing houses remain important for editing and covers can be critical, but in terms of promotion and finding an audience, that’s down to the author. In fact I believe that will become even more apparent over time if things continue the way they are. As mainstream publishers begin to ignore middle list writers in favour of fishing more and more in the sales-safe waters of celebrity, and not being prepared to nurture talent in the long term if there’s not going to be an immediate return on their investment, then self-publishing will become more and more important. I can see if things continue the way they are going that publishing houses will evolve into simple add-on marketing departments for Saturday night TV stars, musicians and actors who want to tell their story in a few more words than a weekend supplement allows. That said there are exceptions such as my own publisher, Headline. Can you tell I’m pitching them a new book right now?

Road to Rouen

How do you set an idea for a new book in motion?

I used to just sit down, write and make it up as I went along, but since I’ve had kids and enjoy less work time, I have to plan more to speed things up. I do a rough chapter breakdown and use that very loosely to stop me straying too far off course but ultimately the final book never really looks much like the original idea. You’ll always hope to find a spark of honesty halfway through that carries the book off in an unexpected direction that also gives it its true heart. I wish I could, but I can never envisage what this is at the start. It does make writing book proposals tough. My proposal for Are We Nearly There Yet? never included the storyline about my dad, which turned out to be it’s central element. My proposal for Road to Rouen included nothing about the the marriage situation between my wife and I; again it’s point.

 

Finally, what are your top visibility tips for new authors?

Twitter has to be the main one. Get yourself on twitter. There is a great community of authors out there and wonderful discerning readers. Try and link up with them. They’re lovely. You can find me there: @BenHatch

 

An Interview with Alex Gerlis

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Alex Gerlis was a BBC journalist for over 25 years. He left in 2011 and is now a freelance writer, journalist, and media consultant. His first novel, The Best Of Our Spies, is an espionage thriller based around real events in the Second World War. It was published in 2012 by CB Creative Books with the help of whitefox.

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