When I was awarded the degree of MA in Creative Writing in December 2009, I had about 50,000 words of a novel already written. Today three years and many words later, my novel has been published and I have a printed copy in my hand. The cover with the bar code of a DNA sample on the cover feels smooth under my fingers and there is the smell of new paper. I’m not sure I always wanted to be a writer. Certainly when I was a teenager I dreamt of writing a bestselling novel and I wrote short stories about young love.
Then life took over. I went to University and studied Law. I thought about writing academic books about the philosophy of law – after all why do people by and large obey the law- it’s a question that’s difficult to answer. But I didn’t really want to stay on at University, I wanted to get on with living and experiencing everything. I became a practising lawyer and if I wrote stories then it was in the form of jury speeches.
The life of a barrister leaves little time for anything other than work so although from time to time I would try writing a crime novel I never succeeded in finishing one. Now I have and I have a great sense of achievement. I have taken the road of direct publishing as the traditional route takes so long and is such a gamble.
The story is of a mid thirties Barrister called Cassie Hardman. She is instructed to represent a young man, Lenny Barker, who is pleading not guilty to the brutal murder of prostitute Shelley Paulson. Initially Cassie believes him to be guilty until she discovers compelling new evidence. She risks her career and her ambition to become a QC to ensure Barker has a fair trial and will stop at nothing to locate the missing witness. Will she find the man in question before the jury retire to consider their verdict at the Old Bailey? And if Barker is acquitted who is really responsible.
There has been with the publication of my novel. The paperback copy of the book arrived last week. I was thrilled to finally see my novel in a tangible form. The book looked great and had a nice feel to it but… I thought the version of the front cover I had approved was the one to the right. On it you can clearly read the words a novel etc. However on the front of the paperback the colour was rather darker and the word a was invisible. It seems I agreed to this some time ago before the final cover spread was prepared for printing.
I was sure the version I had accepted was this one but if you look back to my post called Cover Spread you can see, just, the difference. I just could not let it stay with such a bad mistake. Fortunately as I have opted for print on demand it can be corrected and the final version will have all the words visible if partly obscured.
The mistake shows two problems, one is trying to compare colours on the computer. Even if you print a copy, as I did, there can be differences in the depth of colour because of the different printer and ink levels. The other is the ability we all have to read a sentence or even a paragraph when part of the letters are concealed. I have learnt a lesson that one needs to be extra careful when agreeing to any part of the process that turns a manuscript into a book.
Just returned from Abbey Dore Court in Herefordshire after attending a great weekend with a group of women writers on a retreat led by Lucy English and Rachel Bentham. Operating as Wordsmiths they had organised workshops, tutorials and discussions on writing and in particular on women’s attitudes to writing. The group comprised writers at all levels, but what a talented lot they were. Novels with great characters and covering many genres, including historical, crime, modern feminine. We acted out dialogue we’d written – we were really good at arguing in fiction.
We ate meals round the huge mahogany table in the dining room, had breakfast, mid morning coffee and afternoon tea snuggled round a light blue Aga, and finished the evenings round the wood burner in a former ballroom. We talked, played Actuality and read out our work.
Abbey Dore Court is a large quirky house close to the remains of Dore Abbey. A great place to hold a writers retreat. See http://www.thewordsmiths.org
This was my second year on a row at the Winchester Writers’ Conference, and what fun it was? A course on writing conflict in your novel, by Adrienne Dines and a course on Social Media Marketing for Authors by Eden Sharp. (www.wordshaker.co.uk should find her)
Both interesting but I think I learnt most from the Marketing course. The message I took away from that was, I need to get on Twitter. That’s going to be a big step as every time I’ve looked at Twitter I find my self totally confused by the site. But I have added it to my do to list.
Although a few of the direct publishing companies have had a presence at the Conference in the past, this year Amazon had a tabletop. They were doing presentations on how to publish for Kindle and on CreateSpace. They were so popular that the venue was moved from the rather cramped conditions in the Book Fair into the large lecture theatre. Which takes me to the theme of this post.
To explain – one of the attractions at the conference are the One to One’s. This opportunity to place your work in front of authors, agents and publishing representatives is an important use of the writer’s time. Because I have decided to publish my book directly I only went to see two agents and the rest were publishing experts. There was a difference in the approach between the agents and the others. The agents were very critical of my novel. One of them was rather infantile in her approach, demonstrated by her failing to realise that a barrister needs time to qualify and therefore the date she left home might be different from the date she began to work. The two publishing consultants, one the editor of the Writers and Authors Year Book, were complimentary about my writing and suggested ways of improving my synopsis and pitch letter. Which led me to think that agents who have acted as the gatekeepers for the publishing industry, and were the power brokers, need to realise that they have to offer something to the writer or she will publish their work directly to the reader. And that’s goodbye to their 15%.
I have made the decision to engage Authoright to provide a publishing package for my book Crucial Evidence. Gareth Howard, the CEO, has experience of both self publishing and of traditional publishing deals and he is passionate about authors having the choice of how to publish and indeed,making the right choice; something that suits them rather than the agent or publisher. Indeed the message I took away from the Author Lounge at the London Book Fair is that if a writer wants to keep control of the publication and marketing process then direct publishing is a good alternative. When I saw a publisher last year at the Winchester Writers’ Conference she said the publisher would want a series of five books, while I though three would be sufficient to take my main character Cassie Hardman from successful junior barrister to QC. Indeed I’m not sure I want to write so many books based on the same character or to write books to someone else’s timetable.
I am aware of some authors who have written amazing books getting very little marketing support from their publishers and having to do so much themselves. Paying for those front tables or window displays in well-known bookstore
is costly, only the books publishers think will be best-sellers get that kind of treatment, otherwise it’s do it yourself.
So perhaps direct publishing is the way forward for me. Decision made, I sent off quite large sum of money (think of it as vet’s bills for that imaginary horse) a copy of my manuscript and a synopsis and wait for Authoright to copy edit the novel and produce a cover, just as if it was produced by a mainstream publisher. I may be self -publishing but that does not mean it is going to be anything less than professional.
On another front I have formatted my skinny volume of poems for Kindle, very difficult, and for a paperback on CreateSpace, much easier; the two Amazon platforms for self-publishing. The proof copy arrived on friday and I need to check it for errors and then continue with the publishing process. Although the book will be for sale, it’s really a memento of our time living in this sixteenth century farmhouse which comes to an end this summer.
I have spent the last two days in The Authors Room at the London Book Fair listening to presentations from the various companies who offer services to authors who wish to self-publish. These included Matador who provide a
complete suite of services, the various e-book platforms Kobo and Kindle. Also a number of authors who have done both traditional publishing and also self-publishing. They provided a lot to think about, with the various options available. They emphasised the importance of marketing, including the design of the cover. It has to be something that looks good the size of a postage book, as well as on the book, because that’s what appears on Amazon. Get it done by a professional if possible. Similarly if you can get a professional edit, certainly a copy edit/proof read (although I’m not sure what the difference is, except that one happen before the book is in galley form and the other after). I’ll come back to this when I’ve had more time to think about it, but it did confirm for me my decision to take the self publishing route. Thank you to Authoright for organising this event.
Three days at the Winchester Writing Conference has left me too exhausted to put fingers to keys. I went to workshops, lectures and had the opportunity of discussing my novel Crucial Evidence with a number of literary agents and authors. I know the publishing industry is struggling with Amazon and the supermarkets cutting the price of books and now the rise and rise of the e-book, but their response seems to me to be inadequate. In order to cut costs they us literary agents as gate-keepers, assuming that they as publishers and agents have the same agenda. During my career at the English Bar, I soon learnt that my clerk, the man who took 10% of my earnings, did not have identical objectives to me. I think the same applies to literary agents. They all say they are looking for some amazing talent, but in fact they want someone who will sell books so they stick to the familiar. I have no doubt that someone will say that it is sour grapes because none of the agents I spoke to wanted to represent me and my novel, but I find that strange when one of the authors whose class I attended described my writing as brilliant, another as marketable and a consultant editor of a major publishing house wanted to read the complete transcript. I wasn’t the only writer with a similar experience. One of the men in the class on ‘Writing a Page Turner’ read out to the class the beginning of his SciFi/Comedy book, which had us all doubled up laughing. The agents he saw told him they found his work incredibly funny, but they didn’t want his book because they wouldn’t know where to place it. Which all suggests thet anything new, different or original will struggle to get published. I think self-publishing is the way forward. Has anyone else had similar experiences
As part of my campaign to find either an agent or a publisher for my book, Crucial Evidence, I am attending the Conference run by the University of Winchester. In addition to workshops on ‘How to write a Page Turner,’ and ‘How to get to Know your Characters’ there is the opportunity to have a ‘One to One’ with a selection of literary agents, editors and authors. I had to choose up to six individuals of whom four could be agents or editors and two authors. I found making a selection from about fifty people difficult. Of course ruling out some-one who has no interest in my genre was the easy bit, it’s not much good sending a crime novel to a poet or an agent who only wants children’s books, but that still left a considerable list from which to choose. Having made my choices I had to put together copies of a letter introducing myself and my novel, a synopsis and a section of the book. No two of the authors, agents or editors want the same thing. The number of pages of the book varies from two chapters, first ten pages, first 3000 words, first three chapters, first 500 words and first chapter. Making sure the right number of pages went with the right letter took me a whole day. Obviously one hopes that one of the agents or editors will love the book, and want to read the complete novel. I went to the same conference about three years ago and saw one agent who loved the sections I had sent her, but by the time I had finished writing the book, she was on maternity leave and her replacement was not so keen. They were very complimentary about my writing, but didn’t want to take it on. I hope I am more sucessful this time. Has anyone got some good advice on getting an agent or is there a problem with an industry in paralysis.
Perhaps the answer is self publishing.