THIRD WAY HOUSE

authors, books, Ivy Moon Press, Jonathon Clifford, publishing, self-publishing, The Third Way, Urbane Publications, vanity publishing

Is there a middle option between conventional and self-publishing?
There’s no doubt that a good book deserves a professional service but most new authors – many with works of potential excellence – will know that their precious title is littering the floors of traditional publishing houses and will never see the light of day.
More and more often, with staff and cost cuts in the publishing industry, typos and errors are creeping into professionally-published manuscripts and many companies are reluctant to fork-out a percentage of their ever-decreasing marketing budget on their authors. Some of the smaller organisations have no marketing budget at all. The burden of promotion and proofing are therefore left almost exclusively to the author.
DIY publishing has been made easy and cost-free by the likes of Amazon and Smashwords but, with so much choice on the market, books are judged by their cover. A bad cover design can let an author down as can a poorly edited manuscript.
Then there’s the marketing and publicity of a book to get it seen. This, to most authors I have spoken to (conventionally and self-published), is where the real work begins. Months of endless networking, press releases and author interviews doesn’t necessarily equate to sales, unless you’re an established author with a strong fan base. I’ve also heard a lot of traditionally published authors complain that they have been forced to take responsibility for the promotion of their own works as publishing houses invest time and expense on other services and their better-established authors.
So, if a book’s worth publishing and an author is prepared to put in vast amounts of time and effort, why do we shudder at the thought of paying out cash for professional services?

I know a good few traditionally published authors who are finding the DIY publishing model far more lucrative. I don’t know any of them who do not pay for a professional editing service. Similarly, most of them fork out for a good cover designer. They do this to maintain the standard of excellent quality that readers expect from them and will continue to buy into. Some of those authors pay for the services of a publicist to professionally market their product.
Unscrupulous vanity publishers (and that’s not a syllogistic statement) have ruined perceptions on paying for publishing. The stigma attached to vanity and the warnings against them are a good reason to stay well clear. Jonathon Clifford, on his excellent site Vanity Publishing: A Campaign for Truth and Honesty makes it very clear what a good vanity publisher will NOT do: http://vanitypublishing.info/agoodvpwillnot.htm
So what’s the alternative? Is there a middle road to publishing between conventional and DIY?
I’ve been speaking to Matthew Smith (pictured right), director of Urbane Publications, a Kent-based company that calls itself a ‘collaborative’ publishing house: an organisation of professional book people who share the costs of publishing a book with the author in a mutually beneficial contract. He calls it The Third Way.
I’m not advocating their services but am curious as to the effectiveness of their delivery. Are they a brand new business model for the industry or just another vanity publisher under a different guise? If they are what they say on the tin, then this is indeed an exciting time for publishing.
Matthew Smith certainly puts up a compelling argument that his Third Way approach is the way forward. He says: ‘[There is a Third Way] that combines all the benefits of traditional publishing (an engaged editor, script development, knowledge, design, route to market, promotion etc) but gives the author creative and commercial engagement during every part of the process. Every aspect of the project is a shared experience with shared goals, a genuine partnership. And that includes the sharing of the revenue, because every author deserves a fair return on their words.’
If you’re interested in learning more, pop over to my Ivy Moon Press site and decide for yourself.

Guest interview

authors, Blogs, books, Giovanni Valentino, interviews, publishing

I’M ANSWERING questions over at Giovanni Valentino’s blog today: http://giovannivalentino.blogspot.co.uk
Giovanni is a fellow author who also spends his time and effort supporting others on their publishing journeys.
He’s also co-publisher at Strange Musings Press: http://www.strangemusingspress.com

Genre Benders: A speculative approach to fiction

Amazon, authors, books, FeedARead, Henlein, libraries, publishing, Smashwords, speculative fiction, writing
THERE was a time when all ‘genre’ fiction was regarded with haughty disdain by librarians and publishers of quality, realistic literary works. As more people learned to read, however, access to books was no longer the privilege of scholarly bureaucrats and popular fiction was born. 

In order to feed the voracious appetites of patrons and readers respectively, more novels were commissioned and written in a wide variety of subjects, themes, structures and functions. This led to the classification of popular fiction into subject matter or ‘genre’ as we know it.
Publishers rely on strict classification for promotion and marketing. Bookshops require that each new work of fiction is labelled with a ‘genre’ in order to maximise readership and revenue. By placing a book on the right section of the right shelf eases access to buyers’ preferences, thereby increasing sales. Libraries need a classification system by which to help their patrons choose what they want to read.
This has been the traditional way of the fiction market for a very long time and authors whose works crossed those fixed genres had a high chance of being turned down by publishers for the sole reason of failing to belong on a shelf.
Only a few years ago, most speculative, or cross-genre, fiction was sniffed at by many publishers who couldn’t see past their profit and loss accounts to take the risk of baffling bookshops and libraries with works they could not label. A similar treatment was given to erotica which was deemed only to be read by dirty old men in raincoats.
The very word ‘speculative’ denotes conjecture, chance, theory over practicality and a high risk of loss, suggesting that whoever dreamed up that category had a very cynical view of crossing stereotypical classifications. That said, there have been some very successful novels written in this sub-genre of general fiction but they are few in comparison to other more traditional genres.
Speculative fiction, as a concept, has been around for millennia. It was written by the great Greek dramatists and by Shakespeare long before Robert Henlein wrote Life-Line. In fact, every work of fiction can be said to contain a speculative element, no matter how subtle. It is only since the ’40s that the term has been further stretched and distorted to include an element of fantasy, sci-fi, horror or paranormal in the narrative.
The coming of the mighty Amazon, has opened the minds of publishers as well as the locks to their submission gates to speculative fiction as reader trends have demonstrated a hearty appetite for the genre. As superheroes, vampire-slayers and boy wizards wage war against evil in contemporary or dystopian societies – and also on far-off planets – on television, cinema, computer and hand-held screens, spec-fic novels are being gobbled up by new fans and are even appealing to younger readers who would otherwise say that books are for bores and losers.
E-pub websites have revolutionised the publishing business in that readers are now choosing what they want to read as opposed to publishers telling them what they should. The effect has been brutal on the established publishing houses who are all reeling in the wake of the e-book explosion and the movement away from the traditional business model. Without the watchdog of a publisher, however, the absence of quality in many self-published books is a serious cause for concern as is the saturation of the market by thousands of new books being published every day that is giving readers too much choice.
For authors, the likes of Amazon, Smashwords and FeedARead have granted them that freedom of expression that traditional publishing houses have denied them. Now anyone can be an author. Amazon et al have no limitations to their lists, no selection process and no submission constraints. They don’t discriminate on quantity or even quality but instead allow readers to enforce the rules.
Whether this is good or bad is a completely different subject for debate, suffice it to say that now every book has a chance to be read and speculative fiction in all its many guises has an undeniable position on the shelves of quality literature.

Author interviews

authors, Bill Kirton, books, fiction, Mary Smith, Michael Brookes, publishing
TRYING to keep up to date with the social networking platforms is exhausting but often the results are very satisfying.
While I’m busy promoting my own book, over at Ivy Moon Press I’ve interviewed three quality authors and would really like others to take a good look at their work.
Bill Kirton, Mary Smith and Michael Brookes are a diverse trio of talented writers who I’ve brought together in my publishers’ blog in the hope that my small efforts may get them noticed by a few more readers.
Take a look and see for yourself: http://ivymoonpress.wordpress.com/

Writing, designing, editing and selling: The journey of a new book

books, fiction, marketing, promotion, publishing, reading, Sara Bain, The Sleeping Warrior, writing

The Sleeping Warrior by Sara Bain

MANY people believe that writing a book ends with the words THE END. How wrong can they be?
I’m in half a mind to update those last two words of my debut novel, The Sleeping Warrior, to read IT BEGINS because writing the book is only a fraction of the time and effort it takes to bring a new work to the attention of the world’s readers.
I decided not to go with a publisher. I think I’ve got the experience and skills to go it alone, so started up a small press where the first book on its lists is written, published and promoted by me.
Publishing is not as straightforward a business as people think. From the initial editing process to design, through to making the work available on all reading formats, is a long and often frustrating task.
No matter how many times you proof your own work, there is always something to change. Even after having The Sleeping Warrior proofed by two very excellent editors, who I trust to be pedantic and subjective, I still found some little bits and pieces that needed amendment.
The trouble is, there is no such thing as perfection in the world of publishing any more. Too often, I open a traditionally published book and find glaring typos on the pages. Cuts to staff and the freelance budgets as well as department restructures across the publishing industry have taken a large toll on quality, even amongst the publishing giants.
In addition, I’ve heard that marketing budgets are minimal, so publishers like their authors to be ‘pro-active’ in the promotion of their own works. Roughly translated, this means that authors (unless the name is a marketable commodity in itself) must develop a presence on the internet by social networking; find outlets for reviews and interviews by undertaking their own press work; get themselves a spot on the literary calendars by finding hosts for book launches, talks and presences at book events; and generally sell their souls to anyone they know who is able to help them spread the word.
If authors are being forced to become their own press officers and advertisement managers, then why give away the royalties to a business that’s not prepared to invest in you?
Apart from said time and effort, it costs nothing to put a book up on the likes of Amazon, Smashwords and FeedARead etc. It costs nothing to set up a print on demand service and have paperback copies made available across the world and it costs nothing to make the book available to the big bookshops and worldwide distributors.
Initial outlay costs are low. Anyone serious about self-publishing who wants to keep complete control over sale of his/her/their books will need an ISBN which can only be bought in blocks of ten for about £128: these are cheaper if bought in bulk, as the larger publishing houses do. Otherwise, for the self-published author who just wants to get that book out there, Amazon et al will provide a free ISBN but also reserve the right to publish a particular version exclusively.
Investing cash in a good editor is vital as is finding a good cover design. Most authors are not graphic designers but most authors also have an inkling as to what they want their cover to look like: one that’s eye-catching and tells the story, or at least part of it. I’m lucky to be an able graphic designer and so can keep full control over what I want the end product to look like.
I’ve developed a good following on Twitter and am working on my Goodreads and Facebook profiles while trying to get the websites up and running.
The eBook version is out but I’ve had a few problems with CreateSpace which have delayed the proofs so the paperbacks won’t be available until the end of the month (or when I get to see the proofs, whichever is the soonest).
I need to do a few booklaunches and send out a few press releases but need the paperback copies before I can set these particular wheels in motion. In consequence, I am organising a small print run with my local printers.
Trouble is, I’m so busy blogging and networking, that the author part of me has become lost.
Why be an author if no one reads your book. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation at the moment, but I’ll get there.

The F word

author, fantasy, fiction, publishing

Before anyone writes in to complain or express disagreement or outrage, the following blog is solely the opinion of the blogger and any similarities to fact are purely coincidental.
There are loads of words beginning with the letter F that, when blurted, can cause serious offence depending on the temperament of the recipient. In the world of publishing, there is a certain F word that prompts violent reactions from all mainstream editors and literary agents when spoken out loud during a telephone query or appearing in a covering letter. From the odd raised eyebrow, to the derisory sniff; from the stifled titter, to a broken nose by a slamming door, there is no other word more anathema to a publisher than the one beginning with “F” and ending in “antasy”.
“Fantasy” — there, I have said it, and the furious bolt of lightning has seemingly missed me. It appears that, despite a big presence in the movies and many established authors still selling well, few readers are enamoured with the new stuff. In fact, according to one literary agent, Sci-Fi (a genre that was considered passé about 10 years ago) is in and new fantasy is struggling to survive in the book world. Apparently, the British readers are gorging themselves on a three-course menu of thrillers, crime and diet books — enough to give anyone a serious dose of indigestion. I jest, of course, I really need to go on a diet. Add to this the difficulties, frustrations and humiliation an unsolicited author (especially one that has no dubious celebrity status) faces in breaking into the publishing world, and you have a recipe for probable disappointment.
So, what is wrong with new fantasy fiction? First, I think, perhaps, that there are too many people doing it. Whether they are writing it badly or not, most precious fantasy submissions — and they are legion —end up at the bottom of the dreaded slush pile, many without even being read. Secondly, fantasy readers are Orced-out. Elves, dwarves, dragons and ethereal faery creatures of shadow and light have all been done to death and are simply becoming variations on a jaded theme. Thirdly, there are relatively few literary agents and publishing houses that actually deal in fantasy — most expressly forbid it. Fourthly, those literary agents that do work with fantasy generally stick to the same formula that has brought them success in the past (go back to point 2).
A bleak picture indeed, but that optimistic streak I find cowering in a corner inside me (the one behind the disheartened murmur) tells me that, like every dog, a good book will eventually have its day. I just hope that it will not be a posthumous one.