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.
Category Archives: Author
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.