Monday, 5 October 2015

Getting Published: Ask the Right Questions

There was a time, before I was published, when I would have signed anything to see my book in print. But now I’m much more aware of the potential pitfalls.

I was lucky that my first book deal was handled by an agent. I gnawed my nails as the e-mails between agent and publisher winged their way back and forth across the ether but I ended up with an author friendly contract. Not all authors are in such a fortunate position. Many authors have to negotiate their own contracts.

So how do you work out if you should sign the contract on offer? The answer is to ask the right questions and here’s a check list for you.

Cover art: This is an easy one to check out. Look at the titles on their website. You’ll quickly be able to see whether they’ve put much effort into them or if they are using stock library images. A cover sells a book so this matters.

Editing: The look inside facility on Amazon is great for this. A well written, well edited book is obvious right from the start. But what do the authors themselves have to say? Contact them and ask them. If they tell you their book didn’t need any editing then that is a red flag. Everyone needs editing. They should have gone through several different rounds, structural edits, line edits, copy edits.

Sales: This is a telling one. Ask the authors how their books are selling. I dare say some people don’t care to divulge this information in which case you have to wonder why. It really matters. If you’re books are only likely to sell in double figures then that’s pitiful. Hundreds could suggest that the publisher is doing nothing to market the books themselves and it’s all down to the author. Low thousands are better. Ten thousand is doing really well.

Marketing: The publisher should be able to tell you what their marketing strategy for your book is going to be. How do they plan to promote you? Obviously you’ll be expected to do your bit, but you should not be expected to do it all. If they don’t have a strategy or any clear indication of markets. If they can’t tell you where they will be sending review copies or about any other promotional activities they will take the lead on then you’re unlikely to sell many books.

Royalties: Are these net or gross? Understand the difference. Many publishers these days offer net, so make sure you’re happy with what you’re actually going to get for each title because your percentage may only be on the profits the publisher makes on your title rather than on what your book actually sells for.

Rights: Watch out for rights grabs. Make sure you are happy with which rights the publisher wants and check the clause for rights reversion. Do they act on the rights they buy? For instance do they produce the audio books they bought the rights for and do they sell their titles in other territories?

Of course, this is only the start. If all these things are to your satisfaction then you’ll want to delve deeper into the contract. Fortunately the Society of Authors offers a free contract checking service to members, so, if you don’t have an agent to lead you through the minefield then SOA are well worth the membership fee.

At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if what you are getting from the publisher is for you. Some authors are happy simply to have a book available that they can sell a few copies of to family and friends without the hassle of paying for their own editing and cover art.

If not then don’t be afraid to walk away. There are plenty of other options.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Red Rock Character Interviews

Good morning Danni, Gracie and Isaac. To start with please tell us about your home and family.

Danni: I live with my Uncle, Robert. He took me in when my parents died. He lives right out in the middle of nowhere. It’s really boring.
Gracie: My father is a businessman, in charge of a major global corporation. There’s only me and him. My mum left when I was small.
Isaac: I live in Italy with my parents and brother, and before you ask, yes I’m Italian.

Where do/did you go to school?

Danni: My parents were journalists and they travelled all over the world. So they packed me off back to England to this horrid boarding school. I hate it there. I’d much rather they had taken me with them!
Gracie: All over the place. Dad moves around a lot so I went to the nearest International School to wherever we happened to be.
Isaac: Yeah, weird that. I’m Italian and I go to school in England. It was my mum’s idea. She’s seriously into all things English. She thought an English education would be better for me so she sent me to this boarding school there. It’s not all bad though. I met Danni and she’s cool.

Who are your best friends?

Danni: My best friend is Isaac. I met him on my first day at that horrid school. He’s the only reason I can bear it there. He’s a real geek mind, but in a cool way.
Gracie: I don’t really have any. Not close ones at any rate. We moved too often so I got used to looking after myself. I make friends wherever I am but I don’t bother keeping in touch when we move away
Isaac: Danni, I just said. She’s at school with me.

What are your ambitions?

Danni: I want to go travelling. I know the world is a dangerous place and it’s not as easy as it used to be to take a gap year and go off backpacking, but I’m not one to let a bit of danger stop me doing anything. Bring it on!
Gracie: Crikey, that’s a tough one. I have absolutely no idea what I want to do, only that I don’t want to join my father’s business which is what he wants me to do.
Isaac: I’m going to write and develop computer games. I’ve already written a couple. Do you want me to show you? We can all play this one. (Fires up computer, gaming commences, rest of interview delayed by several hours.)

What is your favourite food?

Danni: Pasta – cooked by Isaac’s mum. She’s Italian you know.
Gracie: Chocolate. Yeah, I’m a bit of a chocoholic.
Isaac: Anything cooked by anyone other than my mum. Everyone else seems to think her food is great. Not me.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Danni: Hang out with Isaac. Watch films. I love going to the cinema it’s kind of cool and retro. And I love buying hats!
Gracie: I actually like to draw, you know, comedy cartoony stuff. Caricatures of people I know – but I don’t dare let them see them – they’re far from flattering (giggles)
Isaac: Computer games, writing them, playing them. It’s important to play a lot so that I get to know the competition when I set up in business writing my own.

What is your biggest passion?

Danni: Hats. The madder the better. Hats are cool!
Gracie: Shopping. I love shopping for new clothes. And shoes. Man you should see all my shoes.
Isaac: Err, I think I just answered that – computer games.

What annoys you the most?

Danni: People who tell me not to do things. Like teachers.
Gracie: Boys who come on to me when I’m not interested
Isaac: When I can’t play my computer games! Want to see another one? (Gaming recommences)

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A Bit of Blog Housekeeping

Over the years I've posted a lot of writing advice on this blog and much of it is hidden in the archives. So I thought it was time I brought it all together in one place so that other writers who visit this blog can access it easily.

I've created a new page, Tips for Writers, which forms an index and contains links to all the useful writing and submission related posts I have made over the years. I plan to add more advice on here and so this page will be updated.

I have also hosted many wonderful guests, some at the starts of their careers and some who have gone on to be hugely successful. Another new page on the bar above called Guests provides an index linking to all their guest posts and interviews.

I think you might find some of them rather interesting - as well as recognising a few names!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Victorian Gadgetry

During the summer break we took a trip north, and one of the places we visited was Cragside House near Rothbury, Northumberland – and what a fabulous feast of Victorian gadgetry and technology was waiting for us!

The house is stunning, surrounded by a truly amazing rock garden and extensive grounds. It was built by a very successful Victorian industrialist, engineer and inventor Lord Armstrong (inventor of the hydraulic crane) and his touch was all around, even though the astronomical observatory and laboratory were long gone.

Cragside was the first domestic house to be lit using hydroelectric power and to this day electricity is generated on the premises using an Archimedes screw. In the ancient world the Archimedes screw was used to move water uphill, but in this case the action is reversed, the flow of water from the burn being used to turn the screw which in turn runs the generator that provides electric power to the house.

The gadgets and devices inside the house were equally exciting. The house was fitted with a lift which which was controlled by a hydraulic pump and in one of the rooms I found this wonderful example of an early Victorian electric fire.

But my favourite was this – ever the practical man - the kitchen was fitted with a Victorian version of a dishwasher!

Cragside House is owned by the National Trust and well worth a visit if you are ever up that way.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Ten books you really ought to read:

I love discovering new books, especially those hidden gems that you stumble across unexpectedly – books that deserve far more attention than they have actually received. So I’ve put together a list of ten books that you may not have come across but I think you really ought to read:

1. Waking Up Dead by Emma Shortt
Part zombie apocalypse, part road trip, part love story.
Amazon UK  Amazon US

2. By the Sea by Henry Gee
Gothic horror meets modern day detectives.
Amazon UK Amazon US

3. Isle of Larus by Kathy Sharpe
Whimsical fantasy with a wry touch of humour.
Amazon UK Amazon US

4. Complicit by Gillian Hamer
Detective drama with a paranormal twist.
Amazon UK Amazon US

5. Saxons Bane by Geoffrey Gudgeon
When prehistory and the modern world collide.
Amazon UK Amazon US

6. The Museum of the Future by Anderw May
A collection of SF shorts to dip in and out of.
Amazon UK Amazon US

7. The Other Side of Here by Shuna Meade
Another collection with a general sense of otherness
Amazon UK Amazon US

8. The Descendant by MG Harris
Techno-thriller set in the same world as The Joshua Files
Amazon UK Amazon US

9. The Boy Who Buried Dead Things by Colin Mulhern
Gritty YA crime that will keep you hooked
Amazon UK Amazon US

10. On Parson’s Creek by Richard Sutton
There’s something mysterious in the woods!
Amazon UK Amazon US

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Skylarks and Storyslingers

One of the main disadvantages for a writer of living in a remote corner of rural England, is the fact that the publishing industry tends to be very London orientated. As a result opportunities to network with agents and publishers are few and far between.

But one such opportunity did arise recently when the relatively new Skylark Literary Agency decided to venture out from the city and visit writers around the country. One of their visits on this tour was to the Storyslingers writers group in Shaftesbury.

I felt particularly honoured because the Storyslingers invited me along to give an author’s perspective on the industry, so I packed up my bag of books and hit the road north.

The drive to Shaftesbury is, for me, a long and winding one, not helped by the fact that Friday is changeover day and the roads are clogged with holidaymakers. Or that this particular Friday every tractor in Dorset seemed to be on the same road as me!

The venue for the talk was in Gold Hill museum, at the top of that pretty hill, immortalised by the Hovis advert of the 1970s. The Room we were in looked out across the fields and hills and the view was stunning.

Amber and Jo spoke to us about the agenting business, what they provide for their authors and what they are looking for in clients. The Q&A which followed covered all aspects from negotiation of contracts to the agent author relationship and the use of pen names.

It was a lovely evening, interesting and insightful, wonderful to see the Storyslingers again and to chat with Amber and Jo. So thank you to the Storyslingers for organising such a useful and informative event, and to Skylark for coming all that way to talk to us. It was really nice to meet Amber and Jo in person –it’s always good meeting an online acquaintance in the real world!

Here’s a picture of us at the top of Gold Hill. We’re standing on a slope though so I’m not as tall as I appear.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Book Launches - Lessons Learned

I’ve now launched two books into the world; my YA novel Red Rock which came out in September 2013 and, just the other week, my collection of short stories The Scribbling Sea Serpent, published by CFZ Publishing.

For both these books I organised a book launch – but the launches couldn’t have been more different.

For Red Rock I booked out my local village hall and invited people who I knew locally, or who I knew had an interest in the book – parents and teachers from my children’s school – a local book group etc.

For The Scribbling Sea Serpent I organised and online launch by setting up an event on Facebook.

Both events were successful in their own way but there were definitely things I could have done better. And so I thought I would share my ‘lessons learned’.

The first problem with the physical launch of Red Rock was working out how many books to have available. I discussed it with the bookseller who was supplying the books and running the stall and we reckoned that, with just over 100 people coming, roughly half to a third would buy books, and so we ordered 50.

We were wrong. What we hadn’t reckoned on were the multiple purchases people made. Often they wanted a copy for each of their children or grandchildren or nephews and nieces. It was September and people were already starting to think about Christmas presents. And of course the book group representatives were bulk buying too. The end result was that the books sold out in 40 minutes and the poor booksellers were subjected to an awful lot of grief!

So lesson 1 – make sure you have enough books!

Of course, with the online book launch this wasn’t an issue. The books were available from Amazon and all I had to do was provide a link. The paperback soon ran out but kindle downloads never do.

But that’s not to say the online launch wasn’t without its issues.

Yes the books were readily available at the click of a mouse and obviously since all the refreshments were virtual this cost me nothing and there were no glasses or crumbs to clear up afterwards.

But my first mistake was setting the event to private rather than public. Private appears to be the default and once I realised what I had done people had already been invited and accepted. When I tried to change it I found that Facebook doesn’t allow you to. The only thing I could have done was to delete it and start again. I was therefore reliant on guests inviting other guests since I couldn’t share the link to the event in any of my networks. As a result I didn’t get the reach outside my own network of contacts that I could have done.

So lesson 2 – when setting up a Facebook launch event make sure you set it to public rather than private.

Whereas my physical book launch only went on for a couple of hours the online launch was set to run much longer. I ran it from 9am to 6pm at which point I had to head off to the creative writing course I was running. Unfortunately since the book is available worldwide this meant that people in other time zones who were coming online as I was leaving missed out. I’m not sure what I could have done about this one. Maybe I could have co-hosted it. Or asked someone to cover for me when I was away from the computer.

So lesson 3 – plan the timings to run across as many time zones as possible so that potential overseas customers do not miss out.

The event itself went well. I had a series of interesting and relevant links to post throughout the day and a number of discussion topics to start. It was really interesting to hear how many of my friends have seen a ghost or spotted a phantom big cat! There was lots of participation and a visible boost in sales.

But is a Facebook event the best platform for an online launch? The main disadvantage was that once it was over it ceased to be visible, and so all those interesting conversations were lost.

So lesson 4 isn’t really a lesson but more like a question. What other platforms could I have used for an online launch party?